Dante’s Invention–Inferno

Dante and Beatrice – inseparable inferno-ites and love-mates. A great poet in the making since his early days in Florentine with his love in disguise & secrecy with heartthrob Beatrice. Alighieri was part aristocrat part merchant and straddled between one of the major fault lines of the then Florence where conflict between nobility and guilds were rampant. He participated in the triumphant Campaldino war which in due course provided some material for descriptions in his poems. Beatrice died at an young age when he was 25 and has to settle down with Donna Gentile. Later actively participated in local politics and went on a trip to Vatican and Rome during the advent of 14th century, exactly 1300, ‘the holy year’ as Pope Boniface baptized it to mark the beginning  of the new century. The ascension of Pope Boniface after Celestine (a true ascetic) resignation happened during Dante’s time. Dante due to his diplomatic mistake and political affiliations, was ostracized by aristocratic gentry who triumphed in the battle to take over Florence from merchants and he was in exile conducting his business of diplomacy and love for poems.

From the book Dante’s Invention by James Burge:

The language Dante uses to tell his tale is direct, even simple, and his sentence structure is straightforward. If you know a little French, Latin, it’s possible to get the gist of Dante’s Italian. Even for someone who doesn’t know a single word of Italian its is worth listening toi the Comedy being read aloud at least once. The rhythmic pattern of consonant and vowel ripples like intricate music. The short elven-syllable lines of Comedy rhyme, following a pattern called terza rima which Dante devised for the purpose: interlocking triplets (the magic number 3 again) following the pattern ‘aba, bcb, cdc, ded, etc’ keep his verse rolling on and hold the listeners’ attention as the story unfolds over 14,000 lines. Dante’s language is perfectly crafted for the task. He gives the poem a powerful but unobtrusive voice, personal yet perfectly suited for a vision of the entire Universe.

It’s interesting to compare Dante’s verse with Shakespeare’s ten-syllable iambic pentameters. In both cases the effect is to produce a comforting world of rhythm which unifies poetry. The main difference between the two is that Dante’s verse rhymes.

Sample from Canto I:

nel mezzo del camin di nostra vita
mi ritrovai per una selva oscura
che la diritta via era smarrita

Ah quanto a dir qual era e cosa dura
esta selva selvaggia e aspra e forte
che nel pensier rinova la paura


Inferno Vocabulary that caught my eye:

Primum Mobile – adobe of Angels
The Empyrean – adobe of God


Technology Introduction, Horse Whispering & Singapore Academic Success

From the book “ Giving Wings to Children’s dreams” by Paul D Houston:

How do we introduce technology to students? There is a guy called “Horse Whisperer” who has the ability to break wild horses and train them, not by using old methods of riding the horse until he breaks it down and into submission. His technique is called “meeting up” with the horse. He approached it with respect of one creature meeting another on equal ground. He would talk gently to it, and through kindness, perseverance, he would persuade it to do his bidding. This is a wonderful metaphor on how to work with children and also how to use technology in schools and not trying to force it in ways that will not work.

Assignments will be on handhelds, groups and teams will operate virtually. Tablets galore with providing versatile reading and working device. Technology is out there to provide Individualized Learning Program rather than streaming a group of students according to their capability and locking them in one class. Joshua Ramo (2009), in his book, The Age of unthinkable, suggests that in the emerging era of chaos, wealth will be measured not in money and power but in the ability to change and adapt. He suggests that a more users a centralized system has, the closer it comes to exhaustion, but more the users a decentralized system has, the more efficient it becomes because the work can be spread around. Rather than trying to hold the decisions and the expertise at adult level, giving students more ownership and opportunity to contribute will create faster and deeper changes.

Singapore students excel in academic success than their American counterparts. If you look at these same students later in life, Americans are outperforming them – particularly as inventors and entrepreneurs. But both countries are meritocracy based on testing, and America was a meritocracy based on talent – no wonder America runs lots of reality shows – American Idol, The Apprentice, The Bachelorette and America Got Talent, Of course HOT or NOT. There’s no test for creativity, curiosity, ambition, or sense of adventure. The real key to success comes from challenging conventional thinking. Singapore doesn’t emphasize these things and has a way to go to catch America. Creativity is an outgrowth of culture. If a culture values and supports creativity, it flourishes. even though China And India catches up in numbers, all you need to have is most creative and innovative ones.

Leader ~ Paradox

A leader should understand that their lives are bathed in irony, They are surrounded by paradox. Richard Farson (1997) author of the book, Management of the Absurd: The paradoxes of Leadership, once suggested, that if leaders are solving problems, there was something wrong in the their organizations. Every problem that has a solution should be solved lower in the organization. The person on top is dealing with paradoxes that have no solution. Their job is to wrestle with dilemmas that have no clear outcomes.

Measured Belt Holing

<I did this part of my writing exercise, hence behold of its triviality>

Belt is both a utilitarian and fashion symbol depending on the vanity and purchasing power of its proud owner. Ready-made garments, which are the hallmark of productivity, early on than other industries, require some additional tightening device to secure from falling and prevent any disgrace or wardrobe malfunction. No wonder ‘belt tightening’ is an oft heard word in today’s furious economic cycles that grapples us constantly as their span of occurrence becomes shorter and shorter. Belts when purchased are usually long and cater to the mildly obese as well. But for the normal and slender (not thin), it requires extra care to fit the belt to their sizes optimally. Perhaps their existing belt would have fit them nicely, adjusts to their eating habits too, not so tight after a hearty meal and yet fits comfortably off meal times. Belts carry holes, roughly 5 to 6. Since they are ingeniously made, adjustments can be made quickly by shortening on the buckle side – a strong scissor can accomplish the job. Care has to be exercised as you go on this austerity measure, if too aggressive your belt ends up a pony tail, beware. Certainly a measured and scientific assessment can greatly reduce the unhappiness in getting the belt adjusted for the right fit, comfortable yet secure, ultimately providing the satisfaction and reminding to stick to better eating habits maintaining the existing belly bugle. I always refer back to my old belt to determine the distance between the buckle’s prong tip to the hole it clasps, and ensuring that the same distance is achieved in the new belt. I don’t do shortening, as it wastes the precious leather and moreover looks pony. I always believe the belt should extend and cover until your hip level to achieve a complete & perfect fit, after you have buckled and inserted the remaining belt (after the hole) on the trouser hinges. Belts are quintessentially a masculine ornament until 19th century and now a fashion symbol; perhaps diamond studded designer wears satisfy the ostentatious but not the common man like us. Hence be sure about its durability when you buy and exercise care in holing it properly to get a comfy fit and majestic look. This makes your attire impeccable, complete and indeed improves self-esteem.

Giving Wings to Children’s Dreams

Paul D Houston in this great book discusses ideas about how America should go about reforming their schools and is applicable to all schools wherever in the world. These are my collected gems out this book:


Our hopes are high; success is in god’s hands. Every class has to pick a motto and this is dumbest motto any class ever picked because if we hadn’t been successful it wasn’t god’s fault; it was ours. The teacher was sure that their students had not made much of themselves and in the next reunion, he’ll check them out. Success isn’t up to someone else. It’s up to each of us.

Attitude = Altitude

The surprising truths about what motivates us: The real motivators are not extrinsic, carrots & sticks, nearly as much as they are intrinsic. Path to high performance comes from intrinsic rewards. Certainly if the work is mechanistic and repetitive then external rewards are effective. If you’re doing piecework on factory line, then more production can be rewarded. But if the work is complex and sophisticated an if/then approach is counter-productive. This calls for intrinsic rewards such as autonomy, mastery, and purpose. This is the very counter way we’re approaching schools in the era of accountability. Certainly if/then never works for creative outcomes.

But the most important thing a teacher can do to motivate a student is to give them a part of themselves, the core of motivating lies in giving love.

Crawling out of the box

The concept of disintermediation is very important – when a new technology comes on to the scene. A good example is Guttenberg printing press. Prior to that time, if people wanted to know what God intended for man, they would go to a priest who would tell them. The clergy held the ability to transfer God’s will to man. Once press was there, Bibles were mass produced and people had direct access to God’s words. If by one prediction, by 2020, half of all students will be educated via technology rather than in classrooms, then what is the role of formal schooling have? There’s still a softer side of education, Machines have not yet mastered what it means to be human. Habits of mind have to demonstrated and taught. Social skills are gained in social settings. Learning to tolerate and appreciate different value systems and thinking is best be gained by being with other people. So the new design for schools would incorporate the modern with the ancient

How it ought to be?

“You know, if Lute Olsen (the Men’s Hall of Fame Basketball coach at Arizona) did basketball the way we do school, the players would get together every afternoon, and they would read books about basketball, they would write papers about basketball, and they would discuss basketball. They would never play basketball!”. It hits the problem dead on. We give children all sorts of reflected activities (reading, writing, talking) but we rarely give them real & practical activities.

Getting kids ready for democracy

Six pillars of character that schools should be teaching kids include 1) Trustworthiness, 2) Respect, 3) Responsibility, 4) Fairness, 5) Caring and 6) Citizenship. Even ethics also need to be taught.

Getting schools ready for kids

Students should learn to think and to learn: The abstract formal reasoning of mathematics, intuitive patterns of thought in arts, empirical and inductive methods of scientific investigation, insights into humanities, statistical enquiries into social science and concrete problem solving of technology.

Children need to learn to communicate: express thoughts clearly & concisely in writing or verbally and being able to listen sympathetically yet critically. And they should be familiar with various non-verbal modes such as signs, symbols, gestures, music and plastic arts.

Children need to learn to cooperate: Need to learn to work together in a multivalued, complex and interdependent society. They need to participate with common understanding in the common enterprise of a civilized culture.

Writer’s Arsenal–Part III

Some more arsenal to equip to battle writing and turn victorious but in the end it’s the reader who has to succeed, getting the benefit. Then naturally writer follows suit.

Mastering Story Telling

Ø  Oral Tradition: Retell a story from oral tradition & our cultures. Read the story until you know and now let your imagination make pictures of events. Once ready tell the story from your own words, imagining that you’re talking to an eager listener. After this practice, reflect on what do you notice?

Ø  Oral History: It is the recounting of real events by people who participated or witnessed them. Take a historical event and tell in your own words

Ø  Stories from the News: Newspapers and Magazines are rich sources of stories

Ø  Gossip and Overheard stories: Listen to people’s conversation, their trials and tribulations are great sources

Ø  Place and Things: Myths, folktales that explain about a place or natural phenomenon – how bear got its tail? Native American stories, etc.

Ø  Stories from within: From our own memories and imagination

Voice in writing

Most simply, voice on the page is the sound of a person speaking which, we can hear with our “inner ear”. Every writer has his or her own distinctive voice.

Words on Words

Writing is a dance between content and words. Sometimes What-I-want-to-say leads, sometimes what-I’m-saying (words) take over. The real art of writing is to manage this ying yang, the sustained balance between the two.

Getting it written

1.    Define your project

2.    Plan your project

3.    Develop content

4.    Write a Zero draft

5.    Consider audience and purpose

6.    Communicate

7.    Clarify



Writer’s Powers–Part II

These are the writer’s powers to use in drafting masterpieces:

v  Creativity:
Ask questions on what interests you most? your strong opinions? what’s in your mind lately? what do you do to change the world? — These give you fodder to write about. Used your focused freewriting to direct your creative faculty: Write about trees?

v  Memory & Expertise:
What stories, moments, favorite memories, places, and kinds of things do you carry in your mind? Memory is a great source for writing memoirs, essays, histories, letters to friends, etc. Expertise, is to understand what you know and what are the gaps and collecting materials to fill the gap

v  Observation:
This uses noticing minds not judging minds: To observe is to slow down. Do external collecting: hear stories from others, when something grabs your attentions – an odd name, color of sky at dusk, an incident in the subway. Collect sensory details: what each sense feels of the things that unfold. We had a good time, food was delicious – are generalities, go for specifics – why, how, what , where and when

v  Imagination:
Is a mental faculty that lets us create in our minds pictures of things that aren’t actually present in our senses. Try to make the picture as detailed as possible:- let yourself not only see, but smell and taste and feel – even hear – the cereal or the toast and coffee. Once you’ve gotten this picture in mind, open your eyes and look around you, ensure you bring this to your senses virtually. Mass media, TV, affects imagination. In one study, an average unimaginative student is reported to have completed 10800 hours of schooling and 15000 hours of television. Hence the experience of a child is passive. It is not that his imagination is being exercised, but that of some middle-aged writer in Hollywood. Whereas Radio, Audiotapes and books, unlike TV, do encourage the active use of imagination. Reclaim and exercise your imagination: Observe your senses, make pictures and read for pictures

v  The Subconscious:
Be aware of state of activity and state of receptivity. In western culture, basic on/off (active/receptive) rhythms of nature which sustained humans for millennia has been replaced by constant “on” state of machines – especially like electronic devices are always on, we like to be active. All our lives – except while sleeping and sick is devoted to being active and in our obsession being active, we miss out receiving the rewards of allowing ourselves to rest and receive. Like the eureka moments, make time for your subconscious mind to work, rest and relax and contemplate.

v  Curiosity:
The desire to know – is the essential foundation for any real learning. Wake up your curiosity: e.g. as you watch a juggler: ask questions: Isn’t that dangerous? What would make a person to do that? How does he do it? Do research and interview to expand your knowledge

v  Be a Sherlock Holmes:
Use all your powers so far. Begin with making some observations in a particular place. Then consider, on paper, what do your observations tell you about the people or things observed? Allow your faculties to collaborate.


How to be a Writer? Part I

Surefire tips from Barbara Baig on building your creative skills through practice and play to become a writer in her bestseller “How to be a writer”. I have some tips summarized.

Writing Practice
Vladimir Horowitz, the world famous pianist, said “I practice every day. If I don’t practice for one day, I know it. If don’t practice for 2 days, the critics know it. If I don’t practice for three days, audience knows it”

  1. Writing practice: It’s not merely mindless repetition. when aspiring baseball players practice, he’s not swinging the bat over and over but concentrating on gripping at times, on ball trajectory at times. This same directing of attention to one thing at a time, when we practice putting words on paper, is also the essence of writing practice
  2. Forget what you’ve learned: Don’t write under performance conditions, try to relax, it’s only practice
  3. Don’t treat practice like school: learn at your own pace and move away from school mindset
  4. Make a safe place for your practice
  5. Give yourself time to practice
  6. Engage in spiral learning: You’ll find that every time you return ri a practice and do it for a while, you’ll learn something new.
  7. Let go of expectations
  8. let yourself play
  9. Give writing practice a try
  10.   Start freewriting: 10 minutes 3 times a week, this is to become comfortable putting thoughts to words on a page without getting in your own way.

Starting the Journey
Answer these questions as you begin your journey:

  1. Where are you now as a writer?
  2. What do you most want to learn about writing?
  3. What do you think your 1st step might be?
    And setup the practice earnestly to take that first step as Lou Tzu said, “The journey of thousand miles begins with one step”.

Kindling the content mind

  1. Do freewriting
  2. Do collecting: keep a notebook of whatever interests you
  3. Do voracious Reading: Read, read, read everything – trash, classics, good and bad and see how they do it
  4. Reflect on your writing: how is it?