B is for Bad Poetry

Just discovered the (bad) poetry of Pamela August Russell.

Contains such fun verses like:

Security Question (Please Choose One)

A) What is your mother’s maiden name?
B) What is the name of your first pet?
C) What is it with your heart that it breaks so easy?


Tea For Two (A Tragedy)

It wasn’t until after
I poured the second
Cup that I realized
I was alone

and also:

You with the stars in your eyes
Put them back in the sky
You are ruining it for the rest of us

This reminds me of Grooks by Piet Hien:

Problems worthy
of attack
prove their worth
by hitting back.


Taking fun
as simply fun
and earnestness
in earnest
shows how thoroughly
thou none
of the two


We ought to live
each day as though
it were our last day
here below.

But if I did, alas,
I know
it would have killed me
long ago.


A poet should be of the
old-fahioned meaningless brand:
obscure, esoteric, symbolic, —
the critics demand it;
so if there’s a poem of mine
that you do understand
I’ll gladly explain what it means
till you don’t understand it.

and finally:

Here lies, extinguished in his prime,
a victim of modernity:
but yesterday he hadn’t the time —
and now he has eternity.

How Cognitive Science Can Improve Your PowerPoint Presentations

Harvard scientist Stephen Kosslyn studies how the brain works. And has decided to apply those insights into improving the Powerpoint presentations of the world. That resulted in the book “Clear and to the Point: 8 Psychological Principles for Compelling PowerPoint Presentations“. See this article for some of his basic ideas. Excerpt:

The Rule of Four is a simple but powerful tool that grows out of the fact that the brain can generally hold only four pieces of visual information simultaneously. So don’t ever present your audience with more than four things at once. This is a really important piece of information for people who tend to pack their PowerPoint slides with dense reams of data. Never give more than four pieces of information at once. It’s not that people can’t think beyond four ideas — it’s that when we take in the visual information on a slide we start to get overwhelmed when we reach four items.

The Birds of a Feather Rule is another good rule for how to organize information when you want to show things in groups. “We think of things in groups when they look similar or in proximity to each other,” Kosslyn pointed out. Translation into PowerPoint? If you want to indicate to your audience that five things belong in a group, make them similar by giving them the same color or shape. Or group them very close together. This sounds basic, but it often means taking your data apart and reorganizing it. Kosslyn’s co-panelist, Stanford psychologist Barbara Tversky, explained that one of the fundamental principles of data visualization is, ironically, misrepresentation in order to get at the truth.

See full article.

Book-Reading Meme

My blog is not really a blog. More than anything else, it is a glorified bookmarks list. My friend Deepa chided me once that this blog does not really give any insight into the real me – i.e. what my opinions are, what I stand for, etc. A few days back, Venkat tagged me with a book-reading blog-meme which gives me the opportunity (excuse?) to go all I-me-myself on you. So here goes:

Books that changed your life – As a kid, instead of studying, I would read Ya. Perelman’s books: Physics for Entertainment, Figures for Fun, and a book on algebra whose name I forget. Interestingly, as a result, I ended up doing really well in my exams without really studying for them. I must be one of the few people who ended up high up in the IIT-JEE rankings without ever having read Resnick and Halliday or any of the other bibles of cracking JEE.

Even today, whenever any kid I know shows some interest in Physics or Maths, I give them a set of these four books.

Books you’ve read more than once – Douglas Adams’ Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. For a few years, I would keep this by my bedside, and just before fallling asleep, I would open a random page and start reading. A great combination of humor and insight.

Book you would take to a deserted island – A notebook. I don’t really see myself reading some book over and over and over again on a deserted island. I could however spend lots of time writing things.

Book that made you laugh – Jerry Seinfeld’s SeinLanguage. Another great combination of humor and insight, this time in the most trivial things. All done in tiny bite-sized chunks that are easily digested.

And of course, P.G. Wodehouse, especially the Jeeves series, definitely needs to be here. And Mark Twain, especially his short stories.

Book that made you cry want to kill yourself – I don’t really get depressed from reading books. But there were some that did make me cry. The one I really remember is Kramer vs. Kramer. But that was a while back. More recently, I think I’ve just stayed away from books that might have had a deep emotional impact. Not sure why.

Book you wish you had written – This doesn’t really match my style of thinking. When I read a good book, I don’t go “I wish I could write like this”. So nothing in this category for me.

Book(s) you wish had never been written – I wish 99% of Atlas Shrugged had never been written. I do find the central argument of the book interesting, but having to wade through the 1000+ pages of one-dimensional characters, repetitititive repetitions of the same argument over and over and over again, and a fairly silly plot, is just torture. Nobody should have to read that. It would be much better as a short story.

Book(s) you’re currently reading – Roger Zelazny’s Lord of Light (thanks Ganesh). Francine Prose’s Reading Like a Writer: A Guide for People Who Love Books and for Those Who Want to Write Them. This was a rather eye-opening experience for me – since I don’t have any background in arts or literature (being a science and math person all through) I was completely unaware of how writers use language to achieve the impact they want to. And this book helped me start looking in the right places.

Book you’ve been meaning to readOutline Of History by H.G. Wells. Another topic that I hated while I was in school, but now find very interesting.

Book you have been meaning to finish – J.A.B. van Buitenen’s Mahabharata series. It is an (incomplete) unabridged translation of the Mahabharata. I read the first couple of volumes and found them fascinating. The unabridged version has some really cool things that are missing from the shorter versions like C. Rajagopalachari’s book (which I love by the way). You get a real feel for why Krishna is so godly until you read his decimation of an opponent’s argument in full unabridged glory. But it’s just too long, and parts (especially the ones that deal with ancestry and lineage) are very boring. Someday…

And now I tag Paul, Rujuta, and Krish Ashok.