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Posted by Arshu John

“Destitutes Compound,” a story by Naiyer Masud, is about a young man who leaves his home after an argument with his father. After his only friend dies, the man concludes that it is time for him to return to his family. As he makes preparations for his homecoming, he realises that the children he met when he first arrived at the compound now have greying hair. When he returns, he learns that both his parents have passed away, but an old, blind grandmother still sits in the house’s entrance cracking betel nuts, just as she had when he left. The image of the grandmother rhythmically cracking betel nuts has stayed with me for years. To me, she symbolises time itself, resting still, awaiting our return.

Masud is the author of four acclaimed collections of short stories in Urdu. Most of his stories meticulously detail everyday feelings and sensations, but in ways that render them unfamiliar, uncomfortable and new. The narrator of “Ba’i’s Mourners” is consumed by a fear of brides when he learns of one who died from a scorpion bite before reaching her groom’s house. In “Obscure Domains of Fear and Desire,” the narrator describes the complex sensations that old houses evoke in him—some sections of them make him feel afraid, while others evoke an eerie expectation that a distant desire will soon be fulfilled. “Dustland” features a narrator who experiences an uncontrollable attraction towards dust storms. Most of Masud’s stories are told in the first person. Sabeeha Khatoon—Masud’s wife, who was always his first reader and critic—told me, “When I read his stories, I felt I was the narrator. I never quite understood what was happening or why it was happening, but felt that I was experiencing the same emotions as the narrator.” Masud’s focus on sensations, rather than events, helps create this effect. For the most part, I find it hard to recall the plot of Masud’s stories, even immediately after reading them, but I can never elude the feelings they conjure.

Not all critics have praised Masud’s disregard for narrative. In 1994, partly in response to readers’ criticism that his stories, while enthralling, lacked kahanipan (storytelling) and were difficult to follow, Masud wrote “The Myna from the Peacock Garden.” This endearing tale is set in Lucknow, during the mid 1850s, when it was the capital of the state of Awadh. In it, the main character, Kale Khan, tends to the king’s mynas in the royal garden, and his young daughter begs him to gift her one of the birds. Kale Khan is reluctant, but eventually he succumbs to his daughter’s pleas and steals a myna from the king’s garden, knowing he will face dire consequences if his crime is discovered.

“The Myna from the Peacock Garden” is arguably Masud’s best-known story. It earned him the Saraswati Samman, one of India’s most distinguished literary awards. This story, however, stands apart in Masud’s oeuvre. Not only does it have a clear plot and plenty of kahanipan, but it is also set in a very specific place and time—during the last years of the rule of Wajid Ali Shah, the final nawab of Awadh. Masud explained in an interview that he hoped this story would “offer a corrective to the bad reputation Wajid Ali Shah had acquired. Certainly, he had weaknesses but he had good qualities as well. I wanted to deal with him, Lucknow, and the culture of Lucknow in a story.” Masud’s father, Syed Masud Hasan Rizvi, a renowned scholar of Urdu and Persian literature, had long being fascinated by Wajid Ali Shah, and collected many of the aesthete king’s works. Rizvi also owned several hundred books and manuscripts about nineteenth-century Awadh. Masud’s story was in large part inspired by his father’s research, and, in particular, by a poem that describes Wajid Ali Shah’s decorative birdcage and his affection for mynas.

Masud was born in 1936 in Lucknow, and lived there, in a house built by his father, for most of his life. His father chose to stay in Lucknow after Partition, even as most Muslim families in north India faced increasing pressure and discrimination, and many migrated to Pakistan. Masud taught Persian literature at Lucknow University, from 1967 until he retired in 1996. In addition to his fiction, which earned him world fame, Masud also authored countless articles and radio features about the Lucknow-born marsiya (elegy) poet Mir Anis, and the city’s literary culture. In particular, Masud’s scholarship explores how Lucknow became a literary centre under the patronage of various kings, while the Mughal courts in Delhi declined. Naturally, many readers associate Masud with Lucknow. Yet, I believe that his stories possess a vision simultaneously larger and smaller than his native city.

Lucknow, of course, does show up in Masud’s fiction. Its artisan culture features in many stories: the glass worker in “Sheeha Ghat,” the chikan embroiderer in “Ganjefa,” the perfume maker in “Essence of Camphor.” In “Interregnum,” a mason carves designs of fish into the facades of buildings. Fish designs just like these were once the emblem of Awadh, and they adorn Lucknow’s Asifi Imambara, as well as the frontages of many buildings in the neighbourhoods of Chowk, Ashrafababad and Aminabad. Whenever I spot a fish on an old Lucknow building, I inevitably think of the mason in “Interregnum.”

I am, however, uncomfortable with tributes that bind Masud to Lucknow. They form part of a larger tendency to read South Asian authors, particularly those who write in Indian languages, as windows into a distinctive local culture. This approach misses the essence of Masud’s fiction. His Spanish translator, Rocío Moriones Alonso, once noted that Masud’s stories show us that the universal can be found in the extreme local. The blind grandmother cracking betel nuts in “Destitutes Compound” might be an undeniably Lucknavi—or at least north Indian—character, but the sensation she evokes is that of motionless time and placelessness.

Moreover, Masud was in many ways a global writer. He was a professor of Persian, a former global language, and a translator of Persian and English into Urdu. His own works in Urdu were translated into many languages. A few years ago, I found a Spanish translation of a collection of Masud’s stories in Mexico City, in a bookstore called Libreria Gandhi. As I sat rereading “Essence of Camphor,” I realised that Masud might have hardly left his native city, but he travelled more widely than most who board a transcontinental flight every year. One of his most commendable accomplishments is that, through his stories, he ultimately expanded Urdu’s reach. And he did so precisely at a time when the language—as well as its speakers, readers and writers—faced harsh political pressure, and many in India actively sought to restrict and confine it.

I had the pleasure of knowing Masud during the last decade of his life. By then he was ailing. Nonetheless, it was not hard to see how his writing reflected his lifestyle. He owned several books about crafts, and his home was decorated with pieces of art he had created. Masud once told me that he often was afflicted by “craft spells” and described how, two decades earlier, he had become obsessed with making wood and clay sijdegah—small tablets used by Shia Muslims to rest their foreheads on during prayers. He made many sijdegah and gave several dozen away to friends and relatives. Some of them, however, are still lying around his house, and his son, Timsal Masud, offers namaz on one of them every day.

Masud’s writing style echoes the rhythm and meticulousness of his craft projects. His prose stands out for its precision and unhurriedness. Muhammad Umar Memon, his English translator, once said that “there is absolutely nothing arbitrary or rushed” about Masud’s “verbal choices.” The unhurriedness of his prose also helps create the sensation of motionless time that permeates his stories.

More than a decade ago, Masud suffered a stroke that left one side of his body paralysed. Later, a series of fractures further impeded his mobility. Not being able to leave the house with ease, however, did not seem to concern him. Even before falling ill, he left only sparingly and reluctantly. “This is the only place where I can write,” he remarked. “I’ve never written anything outside of my home.” Even while his imagination spanned great distances, Masud’s home is undeniably present in his writing. The neem tree, the entrance, the staircase and the garden of Masud’s home show up in various stories, as do the people that inhabited the place. Home to three families, Masud’s house was never a quiet library, but rather a place filled with the noises of a full life: the laughter of children, the clatter of cooking pots, the azan from nearby mosques, the singing of visiting beggars, the unceasing traffic and the voices of people going about their daily lives.

Masud passed away on 24 July 2017, at the age of 81, with his wife and son at his side. A few days later, I asked Sabeeha Khatoon how long it had been since her husband had stepped outside the house. Maybe three years, she responded. I told her that in the seven years I had been his daughter-in-law, I had not seen or heard of him ever leaving his home. “Well, he went to Delhi to receive an award,” she said. “I think it was 2007.”

“I believe he briefly attended a Muharram procession. It must have been after that trip to Delhi,” his oldest daughter intervened, but she could not recall exactly when. Neither woman seemed surprised at their inability to remember.

The day after the panjum ki majlis, which commemorated the fifth day after Masud’s death, I visited his grave. He rests next to his mother and father, in a cemetery only a few blocks away from his beloved home. When the wind blows, white flowers from a nearby tree fall and decorate Masud’s grave. As I stood in the cemetery thinking of the life and death of a great artist, I was overwhelmed by the sensation that I was standing in one of his stories.

The post Finding the Timeless and the Universal in Naiyer Masud’s Short Stories appeared first on The Caravan.

2 links 17 August 2017

Aug. 17th, 2017 11:15 pm
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Eric Deggans on NPR (All Things Considered):

Netflix, ABC Portrayals Of Autism Still Fall Short, Critics Say


You can read or listen to this piece, which is about "The Good Doctor" and "Atypical".

Best Old-School Italian Restaurant

Aug. 18th, 2017 01:54 am
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Posted by /u/BookMarkJ

What's your favorite red sauce joint in the area? I've tried newer places like Vite Vinosteria, Vite Bar, Il Bambino, etc., but I'm looking for some solid neighborhood spots. I'm talking eggplant parm, ricotta cheesecake, a little Sambuca with coffee beans floating in the glass.

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60 beans closed :(

Aug. 18th, 2017 01:13 am
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Looking for a decent cold brew on ditmars. Ok cafe cold brew is alright, but looking for more options.

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Linkspam Confronts Hates At Home

Aug. 17th, 2017 09:16 pm
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Alex Schiffer @ Washington Post: Teen tackled by bystanders after vandalizing Boston Holocaust memorial
It was the second act of vandalism in less than three months at the site, located in Carmen Park near historic Faneuil Hall.

Steve LeBlanc @ US News: Gov. Baker Signs Resolution Denouncing White Nationalism
BOSTON (AP) — Republican Gov. Charlie Baker joined with Democratic leaders to sign a resolution Thursday denouncing neo-Nazism and white nationalism.

ETA: Combined Jewish Philanthropies (CJP): Donate to the New England Holocaust Memorial
Read more... )

On Canon, by vintagegeekculture

Aug. 17th, 2017 11:58 pm
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Posted by lorimori

The amazing thing about the term “canon” is that it didn’t bubble up from the undifferentiated mass of fandom (who actually knows who came up with memes?). We know exactly and … Continue reading

No trains to the city this weekend

Aug. 17th, 2017 09:27 pm
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Posted by /u/Azndragon89

No N and R if you really want to go to the city, take the Queens bound R train and transfer to Jackson Heights than transfer to the city bound train but thats a lot of work

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Posted by Jason Kottke

Timeline of The Far Future

Timeline of the far future is one of my favorite pages on Wikipedia. It details what might happen to humanity, human artifacts, the Earth, the solar system, and the Universe from 10,000 years from now until long past the heat death of the Universe. Information is Beautiful has made a lovely infographic of the timeline.

Reading through the timeline is a glorious way to spend time…here are a few favorites I noticed this time around as well as some from my first post.

August 20, 10,663: “A simultaneous total solar eclipse and transit of Mercury.”

20,000 years: “The Chernobyl Exclusion Zone, the 1,000 sq mi area of Ukraine and Belarus left deserted by the 1986 Chernobyl disaster, becomes safe for human life.”

296,000 years: “Voyager 2 passes within 4.3 light-years of Sirius, the brightest star in the night sky.”

1 million years: “Highest estimated time until the red supergiant star Betelgeuse explodes in a supernova. The explosion is expected to be easily visible in daylight.”

1 million years: “On the Moon, Neil Armstrong’s ‘one small step’ footprint at Tranquility Base will erode by this time, along with those left by all twelve Apollo moonwalkers, due to the accumulated effects of space weathering.”

15.7 million: “Half-life of iodine-129, the most durable long-lived fission product in uranium-derived nuclear waste.”

100 million years: “Future archaeologists should be able to identify an ‘Urban Stratum’ of fossilized great coastal cities, mostly through the remains of underground infrastructure such as building foundations and utility tunnels.”

1 billion years: “Estimated lifespan of the two Voyager Golden Records, before the information stored on them is rendered unrecoverable.”

4 billion years: “Median point by which the Andromeda Galaxy will have collided with the Milky Way, which will thereafter merge to form a galaxy dubbed ‘Milkomeda’.”

7.59 billion years: The Earth and Moon are very likely destroyed by falling into the Sun, just before the Sun reaches the tip of its red giant phase and its maximum radius of 256 times the present-day value. Before the final collision, the Moon possibly spirals below Earth’s Roche limit, breaking into a ring of debris, most of which falls to the Earth’s surface.

100 billion years: “The Universe’s expansion causes all galaxies beyond the Milky Way’s Local Group to disappear beyond the cosmic light horizon, removing them from the observable universe.”

Tags: Earth   Universe   astronomy   humans   infoviz   science   space   timelines
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... is a Kickstarter-funded project that's almost over. I'm so lucky to be able to fund it.

Uncanny Magazine -- whose editors have personal relationships to disability -- picked up the mantle of "create a wonderful anthology themed by marginal creators" from Lightspeed.

Even if you can't contribute money, Uncanny is posting free essays from SF writers about the connection between SF and disability. The essays are wonderful, and I've learned something from every one of them.

I kept meaning to post a highlight entry, and wowza [personal profile] beatrice_otter has done it for me!

So, go read this post and read wonderful essays


[food] Beans bourdeto, sort of

Aug. 17th, 2017 08:24 pm
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I went to Corfu! I was introduced to Corfiot bean stew! I was a fan. I am also struggling to track down a recipe that will let me recreate the But That's Amazing Though that I experienced there, because it's generally made with fish and there are relatively few recipes online, which means my ability to take the average of multiple recipes is limited. Nonetheless!

Read more... )

... which I served up with The Rice Of My People, which I'd apparently somehow not made for A before; he is a Fan. It turns out. Read more... )

Fuck D&D and the tabletop RPG scene

Aug. 17th, 2017 12:58 pm
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Content note: This week, the notorious sexist, transphobic harassment machine Zak Sabbath got another transgender games writer to drop off the face of the internet and/or social media. This is the third transgender (or otherwise non-cis) victim of his that I know of, who has committed infosuicide or otherwise severely curtailed their online activity because of him.

Frustrated with the tabletop games industry -- especially the regressive, authoritarian part of it called the OSR, or "Old School Renaissance / Revolution," but also people like Mark Diaz Truman who have helped to create a false equivalence in people's minds between abusers and their victims -- I had a public meltdown about it on Google+. This post reproduces that meltdown in its entirety.

For more information on the GamerGate of the tabletop games scene, Zak S, see Ettin's compilation thread and this compilation thread on Google+. Keep in mind that most of the TG scene is okay with this, or is cheering him on, and that Zak S was credited in the latest edition of the Dungeons & Dragons Player's Handbook.

Vent posting follows )

Parting Thought

Aug. 17th, 2017 01:51 pm
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I'm headed up north for my customary two-week sojourn by a cool lake (as pictured in the icon).

I'll leave you with this handy keyboard tip.

When I realize I want to delete a lot of text in the middle, I start a new line before and after. That way I can use the triple-click or keyboard commands without fussing with selecting between words.

Mid-week Anti-procrastination Post

Aug. 17th, 2017 06:58 pm
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Well, it's a little belated but we've not got to the weekend here yet, so I figure we're still good to call it a midweek anti procrastination post.

So what have you been tackling? How's that motivation going? What's your priority absolutely must not be procrastinated task?

If you're in need of a challenge or a little encouragement.... Hmmm, now let me think... How about 10 minutes (or whatever time suits) to tackle something clothing related - suggestions include : sorting washing into loads that can be done together, actually tackling a load of laundry, handwashing some items, folding some dry clothes, ironing, re-organising a drawer, shelf or wardrobe space to make it more user friendly. I'm sure there are other related tasks. Ooh, I've thought of another - repairing an item e.g. sewing a button on.

Set the timer for the amount of time you think you can spare or manage energy wise and go for it. Surprise yourself with just how awesome you are! And share with us.

Good luck, team! You're awesome!

Is this the gate you want to keep?

Aug. 17th, 2017 05:13 pm
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Posted by Heidi Waterhouse

Today on Twitter, I said:

Guarded by succulents

That’s a lot of response for me. Like “Livetweeting @kelseyhightower” levels of reaction. So let’s stop and talk about that for a bit.

Honestly, I wrote the tweet because a group I respect put out a call for coders to help under-indexed coders do something that is entirely unrelated to coding, and I was frustrated.

Developers are not automatically the smartest people in any room, and I wish we would stop treating them like they were. It leads to all sorts of workplace toxicity. Yes, this is about the Google thing. And the Uber thing, and the thousand and one other sexist and racist things we could rattle off.

Certainly, deifying coding is a contributing part of coders acting like they’re little tin gods. Why wouldn’t they be cocky, if everyone they work with acts like their skill is all that keeps the company afloat? Heck, sometimes entire companies are “acqui-hired” just to get a functional team of coders – the supporting cast and the product are jettisoned, as if they had no value.

I’ve worked with several startups, and at a certain stage, investors stop asking about your coders and developers, and start making noises like maybe there should be a manager, or a financial officer, or a CTO who thinks strategically and not tactically. That’s because at some point, coders are people who exist to execute a vision, but somebody had better have a vision.

A vision isn’t just a rosy sales plan – it comes with understanding the industry, the problem space, the user experience, the way other people will see and use and touch the product. It comes with sales and marketing and QA and tech docs and support. If you are not actively courting the best support staff money can buy and paying them enough to show you respect them, you are, flatly, a fool. A good support person can make or break customer retention.

I know a lot of developers, and I mostly like them. They’re smart, and they sometimes have an amazing array of interests and passions, within and outside work. But they’re not magical. You can’t actually multiply productivity with them, and they won’t save your company. They can execute. The really good ones can execute and anticipate your strategy and build toward it. But developers don’t end up leading companies because they’re really good at Javascript. They end up in leadership because they didn’t let their coding skills be their entire definition. They worked on getting better at people, and meetings, and product, and even more people.

So every time you talk about teaching girls to code, or asking coders to help other coders with non-code stuff, or putting on a code school with no exploration of other aspects of software development, you’re saying that there is only one right way to be in technology. That is a narrow gate you’re setting up. I don’t like it. It makes me angry, and not just because I don’t code, but because it devalues the contributions of all the other people who make the magic happen.

It takes so much more than code to make a product happen.

Here’s to the PM who works hard to balance conflicting priorities and goes to dozens of meetings, to make sure things turn out as well as possible.

To the QA tester, who designs and runs endless tests in permutations you would swear no human would try, because there is no one more cynical about human intelligence than a tester, and they’re always right.

To the UX designer, who is so often dismissed as “making things pretty”, when they’re actually “making your product usable”. They run hours of human tests, watching and iterating until your product is almost invisible to the user.

To the writers, both technical and marketing, who spend all their time trying to figure out how to make the product real and relevant and useful to the people at the sharp end of the stick.

To the sales and marketing teams, who really do sweat the small stuff, who are actually kind of sick of fancy dinners and travel and airport seats, but who keep at it because they believe in this product and its ability to solve problems. Also sometimes they make us stickers.

To security, who may actually be the smartest people in the room, but have harnessed it all to righteous paranoia so that we don’t have to sit up every night worrying the way they do.

To support, who spend all damn day talking to people who are angry that something is broken, and still pick up the phone and say “How can I help you?” at the next call. They get everything from eyerollingly stupid user errors to actual arcane and intermittent bugs, and we expect them to know their way around our entire stack to troubleshoot. They know so much about the product and the customers, if only we ever asked.

To sysadmins, operations, cable pullers, and the invisible backbone of our infrastructure. We only notice you when things go wrong, but they go right so much more often, and we never notice the rough spots you sanded over already.

To finance and accounting and accounts payable and HR and company operations, who keep the lights on, and the fridge stocked, and who do get paged at 2 in the morning if the cleaning crew sets off the burglar alarm. I’m looking forward to the day I see an office manager tweet an #oncallselfie. They are amazing, attentive, organized, detail-oriented people, and I’m in awe.

To everyone who brings us food, cleans our toilets, vacuums at 2 in the morning, and otherwise lets us live like petty royalty – we owe you so much, and we are too self-conscious to even say thank you sometimes.

To management. Yes, management. Who go to so many meetings, you don’t even know. They’re out there making tradeoffs and calculations and doing the best they can with what they have and when you think about it, they have zero ability to make any difference in the product. All the responsibility, none of the power, at least in that direction.

The next time you hear someone talk about tech jobs as if they were all coding, stop and think a moment. I don’t want to devalue coding – it’s pretty cool. But I do want to pull all these other positions into the limelight of tech, and say,

“All of us make the product, and that’s awesome.”

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Ian McEwan's acclaimed novels On Chesil Beach and Saturday both take place over the course of a single day, in an improbably lily-white version of England. Race-bending this formula is the fundamentally good idea beneath Black Bread White Beer. When we meet Amal and his white wife Claud, they have just lost a pregnancy in the first trimester, but they go ahead and visit Claud's parents in East Sussex as planned.

The novel is at its sharpest and funniest when Amal is reporting his Pakistani parents' reactions to his horrible in-laws:
‘What she means is, we wish you all the luck in the world, Amal, but you must watch your back. Her people look like a bunch of backstabbers. Never trust them for an instant.’

There are also some moving passages where Amal imagines what he and Claud would be like as parents:
Theirs would not be paraded about like Sussex show ponies. There were plenty of cool, funky children they could take as their template.

or what their lives would be like child-free:
They could buy a holiday home abroad. Two. One on each hemisphere if that is what would make her happy. He racks his mind to think of the childless couples they know – not the kids from the office; guys their age and older – but cannot dredge any up. In their immediate circle, there are no trailblazers, only conformists. No matter. They are taste makers, she and him. They can set the precedent.

As with McEwan, though, I found these characters difficult to warm to. Amal and Claud both struck me as joyless corporate drones, preoccupied with status, their world devoid of beauty and pleasure. A technically adroit book, but not for me.

Aziz Ansari, Modern Romance, 2015

Aug. 17th, 2017 10:01 am
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I loved Aziz Ansari in Parks and Recreation and I revere his own series, Master of None. The "Thanksgiving" episode of Master of None is one of the best things I have ever seen on television. So I picked up Modern Romance with some enthusiasm.

In a classic Tom Haverford move, rather than just write the obligatory you-have-succeeded-as-a-comedian-on-TV book (Bossypants, Girl Walks Into a Bar, I'm Just a Person, Paddle Your Own Canoe, Self-Inflicted Wounds, The Bedwetter, Yes Please... yeah, it's a genre), Ansari teamed up with Stanford sociologist Eric Klinenberg to figure out both why technologically-mediated dating is such an unrelieved horror show and, reading between the lines, why Ansari was finding it difficult to meet a nice woman.

The resulting book reminded me a bit of Bill Bryson's A Short History of Nearly Everything in that it's as curious and interesting as it is funny. Ansari's quizzical sweetness shines especially in his reporting on the specific dating scenes in Buenos Aires, Doha, Paris and Tokyo.
In Japan, posting any pictures of yourself, especially selfie-style photos, comes off as really douchey. Kana, an attractive, single twenty-nine-year-old, remarked: “All the foreign people who use selfies on their profile pic? The Japanese feel like that’s so narcissistic.” In her experience, pictures on dating sites would generally include more than two people. Sometimes the person wouldn’t be in the photo at all. I asked what they would post instead.

“A lot of Japanese use their cats,” she said.

“They’re not in the photo with the cat?” I asked.

“Nope. Just the cat. Or their rice cooker.”

“I once saw a guy posted a funny street sign,” volunteered Rinko, thirty-three. “I felt like I could tell a lot about the guy from looking at it.”

This kind of made sense to me. If you post a photo of something interesting, maybe it gives some sense of your personality? I showed a photo of a bowl of ramen I had taken earlier in the day and asked what she thought of that as a profile picture. She just shook her head. OH, I GUESS I CAN’T HOLD A CANDLE TO THAT STREET SIGN DUDE, HUH?

For me, the most engaging part of the book was seeing insights that later ended up as jokes in Master of None. I endorse and seek to emulate this kind of creative reuse! As for meeting a nice woman, the gossip rags tell me that Ansari was in a relationship with pastrychef Courtney McBloom for a while, but they parted amicably last year. So it goes.
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Posted by /u/free_toast

WE DID IT! The owner has been found and thoroughly shamed for not having a collar on the dog. Thanks Reddit!

Anyone Recognize me?

Hey Astoria! I found a dog yesterday at 30th St and Newtown Ave. She looks to me like she's well cared for and is missing her owner. I've filed reports with the police and local shelters and so far no owner. She's approximately 4 years old. No collar or microchip. Unspayed, seems freshly groomed! Approximately 15 pounds. Very sweet!

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