Sunday, March 18, 2012


I have a new post up at my tech blog about Product Management: The Will to Product

Saturday, March 17, 2012

The Courtship of the Philosopher

I can no more mix with you
than stone can mix with air.
Like stone I am, and feel so low
and hard and strong and rare.

Were you with arms to lift me up
my nature would show true.
I was born to scorn the sky
and seek out earthy truth.

Were I made of softer stuff
I too would dance days past,
drifting each from place to place
each moment like the last.

But I find my joys in heavy things -
filling soul at wisdom's feast.
Come here! Feel your weight as well with me
substance, knowledge, lasting peace!

But rock leaves no mark on wind
and soon you fly away.
Chance meet, chance part, and parting goes
each back to natures' place.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

The Hunger Games - Book Review

I started and finished “The Hunger Games” trilogy this weekend. It has the gritty teenage violence that fans of “Ender’s Game” will love and an improbable love triangle that “Twilight” fans will obsess over. It is written in a breezy style that nobody should find challenging. In other words, it was engineered to be a blockbuster. And popular it is - a big-budget movie adaptation is hitting screens less than four years after the first volume was published.

From the perspective of a young male reader, the action too often halts for a rehashing of the love triangle. When we embark on yet another trip around the hamster wheel which is Katniss Everdeen’s brain running in circles over boys my eyes automatically shift into skim mode. But the author’s sense of pacing saves the day. When my patience starts to wear out, Katniss snaps out of her romantic stupor long enough to put an arrow through somebody’s throat. Suzanne Collins is mindful of serving her bimodal audience consisting of action-craving boys and boy-crazed girls.

The books are incredibly gory. Contestants in the games are killed by an endless array of explosion, electrocution, trident, arrow, axe, sword, bee sting, poison, fire, drowning, acid, beast, and too many other ways to remember. It's fun and disturbing to cheer on the shy Katniss as she grows into a killer. The movie budget must have a eye-popping line item devoted to buckets of blood and rancid flesh. And it is a relentlessly bleak story. Katniss is repeatedly disillusioned and abused. All her supports prove to be ephemeral as her friends betray her with a hidden dark side or otherwise are killed without ceremony. By the end of the series, I was forced to like the protagonist out of sheer pity. The Hunger Games contain the most abuse of a main character since Elie Wiesel's “Night”.

Politics and culture in The Hunger Games is shallow. The political system underlying the world of the Hunger Games is self-evidently evil and designed to be so. When she’s not in the world of kill-or-be-killed that is the eponymous games, the system that created and supports the hunger games is Katniss’s major enemy. There is little nuance or food for thought in the political realm but this is dystopia, after all. The most provocative scenes show ordinary citizens of the capitol who are fans of the bloody games without being conscious the moral evil they are supporting. People in many historical nations have been  complicit in similar evils, and it is easy to do so today if we are not careful.

The first book is clearly the best of the three - it most purely captures the creative vision behind The Hunger Games. But the series doesn’t die to sequel syndrome as it could. The second and third books wander for a bit, but they ultimately culminate in a satisfying ending.

Fans of dystopian sci-fi should pick up “The Hunger Games” to read on a long plane flight. It is a mass-market book and it shows, but it has many redeeming qualities.

Oh, and count me on team Peeta!

Like a City with no Children in it

There is a pervasive hostility to the idea of having children among people in my peer group (urban yuppies, mostly). I blame it on the culture of short-sighted hedonism we live in. It’s true that raising young children is a chore, but having children increases happiness in the long run, and the more children the better.

More importantly, what kind of society are we building when the most educated and successful among us, people who make great parents, refrain from having children and passing on their values? When creating the next generation is left to impulsive people who are poor providers and poor sources of wisdom?

What happened to the ideal of leaving the world a better place than you found it?

If you're a sensible, smart person without a criminal record, please consider contributing to the next generation. It's a public good, and you'll eventually be happy you did it.