Archive for September, 2006

Photography: Beauty, to each their own.

I remember the day my father & I made my first ‘pinhole‘ camera from a National Geographic Magazine’s special ‘cut out’ insert.  From doing a quick Google Search, I discovered it was the August 1977 issue of National Geographic World (now NG Kids).  (*interesting to note that a Muslim scientist named Ibn Haitham (965-104- CE) invented the first pinhole camera or “camara obscura”). There is no lens involved and the trick is to make the hole just small enough to let enough light through the aperture to produce a clear enough image, and adjusting the shutter exposure time by lifting the hand held flap accordingly.  aa-laos.jpgWe probably created some interesting photos, but unfortunately memory does not serve me well now, as to what we actually photographed!  What I do remember is how neat I thought it was that such a simple box could take pictures and photograph inanimate objects.  I knew I wanted to learn more.  No cheap disposible cameras back then – no digitals either, of course.  My father took photos with much enthusiasm, and with the birth of my sister and myself, the photos were most often portraits of the family. (This one of my sister & I was taken in Vientiane, Laos, c. 1978 ).

My father almost always had a camera in hand.  Pentax was his brand and he also had numerous lenses and filters.  I found it fascinating.  I think I in earnest began taking photographs with my first camera (handed downinstamatickodakcamera.jpg from my father), the Kodak Instamatic Cube Flash camera.  You can find them on Ebay and they are now considered ‘vintage’ (I didn’t realize how old that made me feel, until I saw it in print!).   It was the best ‘point and shoot’ of the 70s, and took some lovely day and night-time snaps.  I remember how he always told me to look at my subject and be able to create a ‘depth of vision’ with the camera by adjusting the f/stop and shutter speeds. 

I next took a photography class in High School where we had to use a manual SLR lens camera, shoot photos in black and white and develop the photos in the dark room using the smelly chemicals, enlargers and unique and stylistically challenging techniques for developing the photos.  I next inherited my father’s old Pentax manual, along with some wide angle lenses.  I fell in love with photography.  I think I took photos of thedonald.jpgEVERYTHING, trying to get unusual perspectives, close-ups and portraits, abstract and the real as well.  My favorite shoot during that class was going to my father’s office in Mid-town New York City, and take photos from the 13th floor of his office building, looking down at the pyramid glass rooftops of the adjacent buildings.  I also remember going to the Trump Towers (newly minted in the mid-80s) and finding the ‘Donald’ signing some new book of his in the lobby.  My first celebrity shot. 

After trotting off to college, I just snapped photos of long cherished carefee days and memories of faces I no longer see or even know where they are now.  But the photos captured it all, preserving moments in time, locked away in my memories somewhere.  Till this day, I am often derided for being the ‘Kodak’ lady and always clicking away.  I think I must have at least 5-8 ‘book’ boxes of developed photos along with their negatives!  I kept telling myself to separate the negatives from the photos, lest they all perish in a conflagration some day, God forbid!  I went through some nasty point and shoots, and became revolted by their lack of depth and dimension.  I had to move on.

After earning my own keep in the post college years, and before my marriage, I finally bought my first NEW camera.  I had to keep true to the family brand, and got a Pentax ZX-5, SLR (Manual/Auto).  The memories had piled up in print, ranging from college days to international travels, new friends, cities lived in, a wedding, honeymoon, family, Pakistan, and then eventually the children!  While the pace has slowed down, the photos are still collecting, and thankfully now, they just consume large amounts of HD space on my computer, vs. those heavy overstuffed boxes I now lug from one house move to another.  (And there have been at least 5 in the last 8 years).  Digital photography has revolutionized the way we photograph and preserve.  Online photo (public) sites now allow us to view ‘e-published’ photos of places and people we may have never known, unless we travelled there ourselves or owned many photography/travel books. 

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A day of Firsts: Iranian-born female space tourist blasts off into orbit

The first female tourist, first female Muslim and first Iranian went into orbit early Monday, from Baikonur, KHAZAKHSTAN.  Anousheh Ansari (age 40) is an Iranian-American telecom entrepreneur.  She hopes that her trip will inspire women and Iranians to pursue their dreams. 

While space tourists typically pay their way (as much as $20M!) to get a seat on space missions, it still takes courage to pursue this endeavor.  She has paved the way as far as ‘firsts’ go, and for that she deserves her day of fame.  Whether or not it is the best way to get a Muslim woman into space, is a matter for later debate! 

“By reaching this dream I’ve had since childhood, I hope to tangibly demonstrate to young people all over the world that there is no limit to what they can accomplish,” said Anousheh Ansari, chairman and co-founder of Prodea Systems, Inc.

On another note, there are reports that a Pakistani woman, Numera Aslam/Saleem will be the sent by NASA in a space mission sometime in July 2008, when commercial operations are supposed to begin.

Article from Reuters follows.  You can also view her Blog and her Official website.

From: REUTERS, September 18, 2006 

By Shamil Zhumatov

anousheh-ansari1.jpgBAIKONUR, Kazakhstan (Reuters) – A Russian Soyuz spacecraft blasted off on Monday carrying a woman set to notch up three space records: the first female tourist, first female Muslim, and first Iranian in orbit.

Anousheh Ansari, 40, an Iranian-American telecommunications entrepreneur, joined a Russian cosmonaut and U.S. astronaut in the cramped interior of Soyuz TMA-9 for a flight to the International Space Station (ISS).

The Soviet-designed spacecraft lifted off into a clear blue sky at 0409 GMT from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.

“The flight is normal, the crew feel fine,” a flight controller at Mission Control near Moscow said.

Unlike American Michael Lopez-Alegria and Russian Mikhail Tyurin, who are starting a six-month stint in space, Ansari will return to earth in 10 days with the outgoing U.S.-Russian crew.

Ansari, a U.S. citizen based in Dallas, Texas who left Iran in 1984, has said she wants to be an example to her compatriots.

“I think my flight has become a sort of ray of hope for young Iranians living in Iran, helping them to look forward to something positive, because everything they’ve been hearing is all so very depressing and talks of war and talks of bloodshed,” Ansari told Reuters last week.

FLAG

She has been told, however, to remove an Iranian flag from her spacesuit and, at the insistence of the Russian and U.S. governments, promise that there will be no political messages during her trip.

Looking relaxed and smiling at a pre-launch news conference at the Baikonur Cosmodrome on Sunday, Ansari said she would still pack another Iranian flag for her trip.

The United States and Iran have not had formal diplomatic relations since students took 52 Americans hostage at the U.S. embassy in Tehran in 1979. President Bush has called the Islamic Republic part of an “axis of evil”.

Ansari has not said how much her ticket cost but previous space tourists have paid the Russian space programme about $20 million.

She had originally been scheduled to join a later Soyuz mission but took the place of Japanese businessman Daisuke Enomoto when Russian space officials said last month he was not able to fly for unspecified medical reasons.

Several hours before the Soyuz blast off, the U.S. space Shuttle Atlantis undocked from the ISS.

The Soyuz craft will dock with the space station early on Wednesday. Atlantis is scheduled to land at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida a few hours later.

(Additional reporting by Guy Faulconbridge in Moscow)

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Urdu, Expats and Angst. Are your children Bilingual?

This post also appears in part on All Things Pakistan: Pakistaniat.com’.

If like myself, you are parents of children growing up ‘abroad’ (outside of countries where Urdu is spoken as a major language), then we probably share a common angst if our children do not or cannot speak our native language.  Having grown up outside of Pakistan my entire life, save numerous long summers during early schooling years and then later, almost bi-annual winters during college and thereafter, I am able to converse and understand spoken Urdu.  It is thanks to my parents, who spoke Urdu throughout my young formative years, daisyeggurdubk.jpgand our visits to the motherland, that I am able today, to appreciate more of my rich culture because I have the ability to communicate and comprehend Urdu.  My wish and hope is that my children too, are able to have this wonderful gift and opportunity.  In the world we now live in, especially for our American/foreign born children, the need for them to have a strong sense of belonging and a positive self-identity in the western societies they live in, is paramount in my opinion.

As a parent of two young children now (ages 5 and 2), my husband & I constantly struggle with the fact that our children are not speaking Urdu.  We think they understand the language in some minimal capacity, but not nearly enough to elicit proper comprehension or more far flung verbal communication.  We (or rather I!) think they are in reality absorbing more than we give them credit for, but the reality is that it is not a two way road (yet).  I am a sincere optimist in this regard.  It really boils down to whether or not we as parents make the exherted and consistent effort to actually SPEAK to each other in Urdu, and therefore with our children.  It has been noted that even in households where parents speak Urdu, the children living abroad either stop speaking their native language soon after entering preschool, KG, etc. or never felt comfortable speaking it at all.  So, if your children don’t speak Urdu either because you as a parent are not using it as the first language of communication in the household, or even if you are, and your children still either cannot or refuse to, I still feel that there is good in continuing to speak.

There are a lot of theories and much evidence that while children may not speak their native language, if they are around it and hear it being spoken, their young minds may be absorbing more than you think.  Language acquisition begins from birth onwards.  Many linguistic experts agree for the most part that the years from birth to before puberty is when the brain is able to absorb the most language, as well as the proper accent and more ‘native-like’ fluency and pronounciation.  This is considered the ‘critical’ or the milder term, ‘optimal’ period for first and second language acquisition.

Psycholinguists and cognitive scientists have debated this ‘critical period hypothesis’ quite enthusiastically (from: “Cognitive Scientists on Bilingual Education”, UPI, Steve Sailer – October 27, 2000):

MIT linguist Noam Chomsky is famous for demonstrating that children are born with an innate ability to learn words and grammar. He suggests caution on the subject but pointed out, “There is no dispute about the fact that pre-puberty (in fact, much earlier), children have unusual facility in acquiring new languages.”

Chomsky’s younger MIT colleague, cognitive scientist Steven Pinker, [now at Harvard] author of the bestsellers “The Language Instinct” and “How the Mind Works,” states, “When it comes to learning a second language, the younger the better. In a large study of Chinese immigrants who entered the U.S. at different ages, those who arrived after puberty showed the worst English language skills. Still, this finding of ‘younger is better’ extended to far younger ages. People who began to learn English at six ended up on average more proficient than those who began at seven, and so on.” As an illustration, Pinker points to the famously thick German accent of former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, who arrived in America at age fourteen. In contrast, his younger brother developed a standard American accent.

Pinker’s arch-rival, Terrence W. Deacon, a biological anthropologist at Boston University and author of “The Symbolic Species,” replies, “I have to agree with Steve Pinker[on this one particular issue]that learning a language early in life can be an advantage for developing language fluency and sophistication.”

I know from personal experience, that languages in which I was immersed or was spoken to during the ‘critical period’ years, are still with me, and seem to possess the ability to speak with minimal non-native accent.  I lived in Thailand until age 14 and also learned French in elementary school (as well as being exposed to French in Laos-French IndoChina- during ages 5-9).  Almost 2 decades later I can still converse to some coherent degree in those languages.  I learned Spanish in my mid-twenties, and many (!) years later, I can barely remember 5-10 basic sentences!  There is something to be said about exposing children at the youngest of ages to more than one language.  The method and order may vary.  On a separate note, I find it quite perplexing, given the evidence, that most [public] schools in the United States only begin to offer foreign language study after adolescence, in middle school or more popularly in High School!  No wonder many who take these courses end up not really becoming fluent or compentent lifelong speakers (I personally know far too many people who are in this boat).

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Maid in India turns into Best Selling Author – Her Difficult Life: Documented.

Baby Halder is being hailed as a best selling writer.  Her humble and cruel life story give us a window to a world we have never imagined or want to experience.  Her courage and determination are inspiring.

Article is from the August 07, 2006 edition of The Christian Science Monitor.

(Photograph) UNLIKELY AUTHOR: Baby Halder’s employer encouraged her to write after finding her looking at his book collection.
SCOTT BALDAUF

Indian housemaid pens Dickensian memoir of poverty

By Scott Baldauf | Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor
The hardships of Baby Halder – abandoned at 4, married off at 12, a mother herself by age 13 – could fill a book.

Small surprise then that Ms. Halder’s breathtaking memoir, “A Life Less Ordinary,” is causing a stir in the Indian publishing industry. Halder’s book offers a window into a world that shocks many Indians, one in which women, and particularly poor ill-educated women, remain second-class citizens.

Still in its first printing of 3,500 books after three months, admirable for a first-time author in India, Halder’s personal memories as a poor domestic worker aspiring to a better life seems to be selling best in bookstores that cater to foreigners in India. But the book’s buzz also has the potential to stir debate about the social responsibilities of India’s wealthy as the country moves toward greater individual opportunity and fewer collective obligations.

“The semifeudal contract that existed before between rich and poor, between master and servant, has broken down. And nothing has come to replace it,” says Nandu Ram, a sociology professor at Jawaharlal Nehru University and specialist in caste issues.

Many older prejudices have waned, as citizens of lower castes are taking greater part in the political process, and as more of those of humble background prove themselves in the today’s marketplace. But the waning of caste prejudice has not meant that more Indians are suddenly doing more for those less fortunate, says Mr. Ram. “There is a generation gap of our younger people who are becoming more and more self-centered, with not much consideration for the poor, for even the older members of their own family.”

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