Category Archives: Auto

Turn your browser into a notepad with one line

This post has been automatically generated. I use this blog to collect links that I have bookmarked. All activity is automated.

Sometimes I just need to type garbage. Just to clear out my mind. Using editors to type such gibberish annoys me because it clutters my project workspace (I’m picky, I know).

So I do this. Since I live in the browser, I just open a new tab and type in the url tab.

data:text/html, <html contenteditable>

Voila, browser notepad.

You don’t need to remember it. It’s not rocket science. We are using the Data URI’s format and telling the browser to render an html (try “javascript:alert(‘Bazinga’);”). The content of said html is a simple html line with the html5 attribute contenteditable. This works only on modern browsers that understand this attribute. Click and type!

via Hacker News

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Machine Learning Cheat Sheet (for scikit-learn)

This post has been automatically generated. I use this blog to collect links that I have bookmarked. All activity is automated.

As you hopefully have heard, we at scikit-learn are doing a user survey (which is still open by the way).
One of the requests there was to provide some sort of flow chart on how to do machine learning.

As this is clearly impossible, I went to work straight away.

This is the result:

Needless to say, this sheet is completely authoritative.

Thanks to Rob Zinkov for pointing out an error in one yes/no decision.

More seriously: this is actually my work flow / train of thoughts whenever I try to solve a new problem. Basically, start simple first. If this doesn’t work out, try something more complicated.
The chart above includes the intersection of all algorithms that are in scikit-learn and the ones that I find most useful in practice.

Only that I always start out with “just looking”. To make any of the algorithms actually work, you need to do the right preprocessing of your data – which is much more of an art than picking the right algorithm imho.

Anyhow, enjoy 😉

via Hacker News

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Worst. Bug. Ever.

This post has been automatically generated. I use this blog to collect links that I have bookmarked. All activity is automated.

Some bugs are the worst because they cost money. Some because they cost lives.

Others would cite bugs buried deep in a framework or hardware as “the worst”.

For me, the worst kind of bugs are those were the solution, in hindsight, seemed so obvious. You end up more frustrated with the bug after knowing the fix.

I encountered my worst bug during a summer internship after my sophomore year of school. I was helping a research team at Purdue write simulation tools for nanophotonics — I say this not to sound like I was some kind of genius, but to highlight that I was in over my head in a very unfamiliar domain.

A group of research scientists and grad students would work out the math needed to simulate the performance of different nano-scale lenses and I was responsible for wrapping the computations in a web interface and plotting the results.

The team had an existing set of MATLAB scripts that they used internally, but these scripts were hard to modify and distribute. But, on the bright side, I could hook into the MATLAB scripts and leverage their existing work.

When I finally got everything wired up and started comparing the results of a few test cases, they didn’t match. I did my best to debug the MATLAB script, but the math was outside of my comprehension (optics theorems, higher order integrals, and complex numbers). And when I ran the simulation with the same inputs in the stand-alone script, I would get the correct results. Hmm.

The web interface was built on a proprietary framework — it could leverage an entire grid computing cluster as the backend, but wasn’t exactly something that StackOverflow could help with.

After about of week of stepping through the code line by line (even verifying some of the calculations by hand), I finally isolated the section of code where the results diverged.

for i=1:length(LensLayers)
  d[i] = compute_diffraction_at_wavelength(LensLayers[i], WAVELENGTH)

It seemed pretty innocuous; loop over an array, perform a calculation on each element, store the result in another array.

Do you see the bug?

Remember when I said there were some PhD-level computations being done? Most of them dealt with complex numbers, which are natively support in MATLAB like so:

x = 2 + 3*i

Figure it out yet?

I was using i as my loop index, but as a side-effect the imaginary constant i in MATLAB was getting overwritten! So 2 + 3*i was evaluating to 5 for the first iteration, 8 for the second, etc. Sigh.

Changing the loop variable name immediately fixed the problem and the results became correct (an alternate solution is to use 3i instead of 3*i).

To this day, I’ve never run across another bug with such a frustratingly obvious solution.

It may have taken three weeks to solve, but at least I got a good “Worst. Bug. Ever.” story out of it.

via Hacker News

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HackerRank Will Host Back To School Hackathon, Bringing College Students To Hot Startups

This post has been automatically generated. I use this blog to collect links that I have bookmarked. All activity is automated. hackerrank logo

HackerRank has hosted college-focused hackathons before, but on February 2, it plans to connect some of the top coding talent in universities with some of the best-known companies in Silicon Valley.

Developed by the same company behind InterviewStreet, a site where companies find programmers by hosting “CodeSprints,” the HackerRank service launched last fall at the TechCrunch Disrupt conference. Co-founder Vivek Ravisankar said the goal is to create a community where hackers can complete programming challenges and see how they stack up against others. Unlike Coursera and Udacity, HackerRank is less focused on teaching you the basics of programming and more on letting coders practice their skills, he said.

For now, Ravisankar said that InterviewStreet is the company’s moneymaker, while at HackerRank he’s just trying to “build the user base and a very sticky platform.” Ultimately, he plans to make money by connecting programmers with companies they want to work for, but he said that will be a purely opt-in system.

As for the upcoming Back to School Challenge, Ravisankar said he has realized that college students, especially those who don’t go to a school in the San Francisco Bay Area, don’t really know much about Silicon Valley. The contest’s main prize is supposed to address that. The top 10 competitors will receive an all-expenses-paid trip to Silicon Valley, where HackerRank has organized tours at a number of companies, including Quora, Counsyl, PocketGems, OpenTable, RocketFuel, Weebly, Scribd, Pinterest, and Twitter. There are other prizes — the top prize includes $2,000, a meeting with a partner at Y Combinator, and office hours with the HackerRank founders.

The contest will take place over 24 hours and consist of five challenges, with the first one focused on artificial intelligence. Ravisankar said he’ll be doing outreach at more than 30 schools, including Stanford, Berkeley, and Purdue, but any college student can participate — you just need to have a .edu email address.

Ravisankar said he’s hoping to host these types of Back to School challenges three or four times every year. You can read more and sign up here.

via TechCrunch

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The Cellphone Glued to Your Hand (

This post has been automatically generated. I use this blog to collect links that I have bookmarked. All activity is automated.

I’m a student, so as such, it should surprise no one to learn I spend a lot of my week in classrooms. I have to sit next to fellow students who give varying degrees of a damn about the class they’re in. Most of them look fairly normal, they appear to care enough to try something new, and all of them sound pretty intelligent. You’ll actually find if you sit down and talk to anyone for a while that whoever you talk to probably comes across as intelligent, but I digress.

The one thing most of these students have in common is their inability to put away their cellphone. These days, most students carry a smartphone, but the choice seems to affect little. The proclivity to whip out a phone mid class to text friends or browse Facebook appears the same among smartphone and feature phone users. This distracts me and anyone else not staring at a phone every waking moment.1 It disrespects the classroom and the idea of learning something when one believes a response to Eric’s message, “hey hw u doin wanna hang out 2nite,” takes precedence over a 50 minute to hour and a half class.

I study English, so many of my classes involve workshops — we focus on helping each other, fostering a small community in a classroom. To disrupt it with the constant vibration of a phone and one’s noticeable shuffle to grab the phone inside the backpack, conveniently laid on the desk in front of him or her to hide the phone, shows a sad lack of care for that community. In writing courses, most of us hope to become better writers. We wouldn’t take courses with such loose guidelines otherwise, though I grant some may take the workshop because they feel they can pass it easily.2 The same goes for other classes: the phone disturbs others, makes it difficult to focus on the task at hand, and makes the phone-obsessed difficult to work with.

I can’t say whether the phone harms students using it, nor if their grades suffer. Phones help in class too, so one shouldn’t ditch the little device. Folks can use them for plenty of good: looking up definitions, finding information the instructor or another student couldn’t recall, and other little situations. Smartphones can make one more productive with their easy access to information. Facebook does not. Texting does not. These students should show up, put their minds in the class mentally as well as physically, and respect the time others put into the class.

So if you find yourself ogling your phone in class, please stop yourself. Shut out your outside life in class and try to respect your classmates for the remainder of the class. We’d like to make it through without hoping a bus hit you on the way to class. One can’t avoid emergencies, but Brad’s wicked awesome keg stand can wait, much like his business degree.

via Hacker News 20

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Fast Inverse Square Root

This post has been automatically generated. I use this blog to collect links that I have bookmarked. All activity is automated.

This post is about the magic constant 0x5f3759df and an extremely neat hack, fast inverse square root, which is where the constant comes from.

Meet the inverse square root hack:

float FastInvSqrt(float x) {
  float xhalf = 0.5f * x;
  int i = *(int*)&x;         // evil floating point bit level hacking
  i = 0x5f3759df - (i >> 1);  // what the fuck?
  x = *(float*)&i;
  x = x*(1.5f-(xhalf*x*x));
  return x;

What this code does is calculate, quickly, a good approximation for


It’s a fairly well-known function these days and first became so when it appeared in the source of Quake III Arena in 2005. It was originally attributed to John Carmack but turned out to have a long history before Quake going back through SGI and 3dfx to Ardent Computer in the mid 80s to the original author Greg Walsh. The concrete code above is an adapted version of the Quake code (that’s where the comments are from).

This post has a bit of fun with this hack. It describes how it works, how to generalize it to any power between -1 and 1, and sheds some new light on the math involved.

(It does contain a fair bit of math. You can think of the equations as notes – you don’t have to read them to get the gist of the post but you should if you want the full story and/or verify for yourself that what I’m saying is correct).


Why do you need to calculate the inverse of the square root – and need it so much that it’s worth implementing a crazy hack to make it fast? Because it’s part of a calculation you do all the time in 3D programming. In 3D graphics you use surface normals, 3-coordinate vectors of length 1, to express lighting and reflection. You use a lot of surface normals. And calculating them involves normalizing a lot of vectors. How do you normalize a vector? You find the length of the vector and then divide each of the coordinates with it. That is, you multiply each coordinate with


Calculating x^2+y^2+z^2 is relatively cheap. Finding the square root and dividing by it is expensive. Enter FastInvSqrt.

What does it do?

What does the function actually do to calculate its result? It has 4 main steps. First it reinterprets the bits of the floating-point input as an integer.

int i = *(int*)&x;         // evil floating point bit level hack

It takes the resulting value and does integer arithmetic on it which produces an approximation of the value we’re looking for:

i = 0x5f3759df - (i >> 1);  // what the fuck?

The result is not the approximation itself though, it is an integer which happens to be, if you reinterpret the bits as a floating point number, the approximation. So the code does the reverse of the conversion in step 1 to get back to floating point:

x = *(float*)&i;

And finally it runs a single iteration of Newton’s method to improve the approximation.

x = x*(1.5f-(xhalf*x*x));

This gives you, very quickly, an excellent approximation of the inverse square root of x. The last part, running Newton’s method, is relatively straightforward so I won’t spend more time on it. The key step is step 2: doing arithmetic on the raw floating-point number cast to an integer and getting a meaningful result back. That’s the part I’ll focus on.

What the fuck?

This section explains the math behind step 2. (The first part of the derivation below, up to the point of calculating the value of the constant, appears to have first been found by McEniry).

Before we can get to the juicy part I’ll just quickly run over how standard floating-point numbers are encoded. I’ll just go through the parts I need, for the full background wikipedia is your friend. A floating-point number has three parts: the sign, the exponent, and the mantissa. Here’s the bits of a single-precision (32-bit) one:

s e e e e e e e e m m m m m m m m m m m m m m m m m m m m m m m

The sign is the top bit, the exponent is the next 8 and the mantissa bottom 27. Since we’re going to be calculating the square root which is only defined for positive values I’m going to be assuming the sign is 0 from now on.

When viewing a floating-point number as just a bunch of bits the exponent and mantissa are just plain positive integers, nothing special about them. Let’s call them E and M (since we’ll be using them a lot). On the other hand, when we interpret the bits as a floating-point value we’ll view the mantissa as a value between 0 and 1, so all 0s means 0 and all 1s is a value very close to but slightly less than 1. And rather than use the exponent as a 8-bit unsigned integer we’ll subtract a bias, B, to make it a signed integer between -127 and 128. Let’s call the floating-point interpretation of those values e and m. In general I’ll use upper-case letters for values that relate to the integer view and and lower-case for values that relate to the floating-point view.

Converting between the two views is straightforward:

m = \frac{M}{L}

e = E - B

For 32-bit floats L is 223 and B is 127. Given the values of e and m you calculate the floating-point number’s value like this:


and the value of the corresponding integer interpretation of the number is

M + LE

Now we have almost all the bits and pieces I need to explain the hack. The value we want to calculate, given some input x, is the inverse square root or

y = \frac{1}{\sqrt{x}} = x^{-\frac 12}

For reasons that will soon become clear we’ll start off by taking the base 2 logarithm on both sides:

\log_2 y = {-\frac 12}\log_2 x

Since the values we’re working with are actually floating-point we can replace x and y with their floating-point components:

\log_2 (1+m_y) + e_y = {-\frac 12}(\log_2 (1+m_x) + e_x)

Ugh, logarithms. They’re such a hassle. Luckily we can get rid of them quite easily but first we’ll have to take a short break and talk about how they work.

On both sides of this equation we have a term that looks like this,

\log_2(1 + v)

where v is between 0 and 1. It just so happens that for v between 0 and 1, this function is pretty close to a straight line:

ln2(1 + x) vs. x + sigma

Or, in equation form:

\log_2(1 + v) \approx v + \sigma

Where σ is a constant we choose. It’s not a perfect match but we can adjust σ to make it pretty close. Using this we can turn the exact equation above that involved logarithms into an approximate one that is linear, which is much easier to work with:

m_y + \sigma + e_y \approx {-\frac 12}(m_x + \sigma + e_x)

Now we’re getting somewhere! At this point it’s convenient to stop working with the floating-point representation and use the definitions above to substitute the integer view of the exponent and mantissa:

\frac{M_y}{L} + \sigma + E_y - B \approx {-\frac 12}(\frac{M_x}{L} + \sigma + E_x - B)

If we shuffle these terms around a few steps we’ll get something that looks very familiar (the details are tedious, feel free to skip):

\frac{M_y}{L} + E_y \approx {-\frac 12}(\frac{M_x}{L} + \sigma + E_x - B) - \sigma + B

\frac{M_y}{L} + E_y \approx {-\frac 12}(\frac{M_x}{L} + E_x) - \frac{3}{2}(\sigma + B)

M_y + LE_y \approx {\frac 32}L(B - \sigma) - {\frac 12}(M_x + LE_x)

After this last step something interesting has happened: among the clutter we now have the value of the integer representations on either side of the equation:

\mathbf{I_y} \approx {\frac 32}L(B - \sigma) - {\frac 12}\mathbf{I_x}

In other words the integer representation of y is some constant minus half the integer representation of x. Or, in C code:

i = K - (i >> 1);

for some K. Looks very familiar right?

Now what remains is to find the constant. We already know what B and L are but we don’t have σ yet. Remember, σ is the adjustment we used to get the best approximation of the logarithm, so we have some freedom in picking it. I’ll pick the one that was used to produce the original implementation, 0.0450465. Using this value you get:

{\frac 23}L(B - \sigma) = {\frac 23}2^{23}(127 - 0.0450465) = 1597463007

Want to guess what the hex representation of that value is? 0x5f3759df. (As it should be of course, since I picked σ to get that value.) So the constant is not a bit pattern as you might think from the fact that it’s written in hex, it’s the result of a normal calculation rounded to an integer.

But as Knuth would say: so far we’ve only proven that this should work, we haven’t tested it. To give a sense for how accurate the approximation is here is a plot of it along with the accurate inverse square root:

Graph of approximation vs. accurate value

This is for values between 1 and 100. It’s pretty spot on right? And it should be – it’s not just magic, as the derivation above shows, it’s a computation that just happens to use the somewhat exotic but completely well-defined and meaningful operation of bit-casting between float and integer.

But wait there’s more!

Looking at the derivation of this operation tells you something more than just the value of the constant though. You will notice that the derivation hardly depends on the concrete value of any of the terms – they’re just constants that get shuffled around. This means that if we change them the derivation still holds.

First off, the calculation doesn’t care what L and B are. They’re given by the floating-point representation. This means that we can do the same trick for 64- and 128-bit floating-point numbers if we want, all we have to do is recalculate the constant which it the only part that depends on them.

Secondly it doesn’t care which value we pick for σ. The σ that minimizes the difference between the logarithm and x+σ may not, and indeed does not, give the most accurate approximation. That’s a combination of floating-point rounding and because of the Newton step. Picking σ is an interesting subject in itself and is covered by McEniry and Lomont.

Finally, it doesn’t depend on -1/2. That is, the exponent here happens to be -1/2 but the derivation works just as well for any other exponent between -1 and 1. If we call the exponent (because e is taken) and do the same derivation with that instead of -1/2 we get:

\mathbf{I_y} \approx (p - 1)L(\sigma - B) + p\mathbf{I_x}

Let’s try a few exponents. First off p=0.5, the normal non-inverse square root:

\mathbf{I_y} \approx K_{\frac 12} + {\frac 12}\mathbf{I_x}

K_{\frac 12} = {\frac 12}L(B - \sigma) = {\frac 12}2^{23}(127 - 0.0450465) = \mathtt{0x1fbd1df5}

or in code form,

i = 0x1fbd1df5 + (i >> 1);

Does this work too? Sure does:

Graph of approximation vs. accurate

This may be a well-known method to approximate the square root but a cursory google and wikipedia search didn’t suggest that it was.

It even works with “odd” powers, like the inverse cube root

\mathbf{I_y} \approx K_{\frac 13} + {\frac 13}\mathbf{I_x}

K_{\frac 13} = {\frac 43}L(B - \sigma) = {\frac 43}2^{23}(127 - 0.0450465) = \mathtt{0x2a517d3c}

which corresponds to:

i = (int) (0x2a517d3c + (0.333f * i));

Since this is an odd factor we can’t use shift instead of multiplication. Again the approximation is very close:

Graph of approximation vs. accurate

At this point you may have noticed that when changing the exponent we’re actually doing something pretty simple: just adjusting the constant by a linear factor and changing the factor that is multiplied onto the integer representation of the input. These are not expensive operations so it’s feasible to do them at runtime rather than pre-compute them. If we pre-multiply just the two other factors:

L(B - \sigma) = 2^{23}(127 - 0.0450465) = \mathtt{0x3f7a3bea}

we can calculate the value without knowing the exponent in advance:

i = (p - 1) * 0x3f7a3bea + (p * i);

If you shuffle the terms around a bit you can even save one of multiplications:

i = p * (0x3f7a3bea + i) - 0x3f7a3bea;

This gives you the “magic” part of fast exponentiation for any exponent between -1 and 1; the one piece we now need to get a fast exponentiation function that works for all exponents and is as accurate as the original inverse square root function is to generalize the Newton approximation step. I haven’t looked into that so that’s for another blog post (most likely for someone other than me).

The expression above contains a new “magical” constant,  0x3f7a3bea. But even if it’s in some sense “more magical” than the original constant it depends on an arbitrary choice of σ so it’s not universal in any way. I’ll call it Cσ and we’ll take a closer look at it in a second.

But first, one sanity check we can try with this formula is when p=0. For a p of zero the result should always be 1 since x0 is 1 independent of x. And indeed the first term falls away because it is multiplied by 0 and so we get simply:

i = -0x3f7a3bea;

Which is indeed constant – and interpreted as a floating-point value it’s 0.977477 also known as “almost 1″ so the sanity check checks out. That tells us something else too: Cσ actually has a meaningful value when cast to a float. It’s 1; or very close to it (ignoring the sign bit).

That’s interesting. Let’s take a closer look. The integer representation of Cσ is

C_\sigma = L(B - \sigma) = LB - L\sigma

This is almost but not quite the shape of a floating-point number, the only problem is that we’re subtracting rather than adding the second term. That’s easy to fix though:

LB - L\sigma = LB - L + L - L\sigma = L(B - 1) + L(1 - \sigma)

Now it looks exactly like the integer representation of a floating-point number. To see which we’ll first determine the exponent and mantissa and then calculate the value, cσ. This is the exponent:

e_{c_\sigma} = (E_{C_\sigma} - B) = (B - 1 - B) = -1

and this is the mantissa:

m_{c_\sigma} = \frac{M_{C_\sigma}}{L} = \frac{L(1 - \sigma)}{L} = 1 - \sigma

So the floating-point value of the constant is (drumroll):

c_\sigma = (1 + m_{c_\sigma})2^{e_{c_\sigma}} = \frac{1 + 1 - \sigma}2 = 1 - \frac{\sigma}2

And indeed if you divide our original σ from earlier, 0.0450465, by 2 you get 0.02252325; subtract it from 1 you get 0.97747675 or our friend “almost 1″ from a moment ago. That gives us a second way to view Cσ, as the integer representation of a floating-point number, and to calculate it in code:

float sigma = 0.0450465;
float c_sigma = 1 - (0.5f * sigma);
int C_sigma = *(*int)&c_sigma;

Note that for a fixed σ these are all constants and the compiler should be able to optimize this whole computation away. The result is 0x3f7a3beb – not exactly 0x3f7a3bea from before but just one bit away (the least significant one) which is to be expected for computations that involve floating-point numbers. Getting to the original constant, the title of this post, is a matter of multiplying the result by 1.5.

With that we’ve gotten close enough to the bottom to satisfy at least me that there is nothing magical going on here. For me the main lesson from this exercise is that bit-casting between integers and floats is not just a meaningless operation, it’s an exotic but very cheap numeric operation that can be useful in computations. And I expect there’s more uses of it out there waiting to be discovered.

via Hacker News

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Rewind: How it all started for Del Bosque

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September 14th, 2012 by Fiifi Anaman

Today, Vicente Del Bosque González  is the man; the epitome of success in football coaching.  The legend. The man whose cv is coveted by all other managers, with two UEFA Champions League titles, A World Cup, and a European Championship. He has them all, all three of the most prestigious competitions in football, an unprecedented achievement.

It has not always been this rosy. Throughout his career, he has been doubted, ridiculed, villified and undermined, often based more on his personality rather than his concrete achievements . At Real Madrid for instance, he was undermined and accused of being inept, and having the galacticos doing his work for them. He was also accused of being too soft spoken,‘safe’and diplomatic, always shying away from confrontations with his charges as well as media polemics. With Spain, people have suggested that he inherited Luis Aragones’s dimunitive tiki taka wizards (as well as enjoying a beneficial continuity of Barca’s philosophy at the national level), therefore having very little to do.

There has always been an auror of pessimism anywhere he’s been, despite always delivering. Maybe it is because he does not have the phenotype of ‘the media’s favourite’ – because he never attracts controversy or looks like the monolithic figure his that the high profile positions he has occupied is used to. Maybe his efforts – like keeping a winning team in winning mode, or achieving with a star studded side – have not been the sort of efforts that is on the surface, easily seen and praised. Maybe his hardwork has always been eclipsed by certain circumstances through no fault of his.

Due to all this perhaps, despite his stunning achievements, the calm, unassuming Salamanca born manager of the Spanish National team – a team already heralded as the greatest ever –  hardly ever receives the kind of media spotlight that, say, Guardiola or Mourinho receive today.

But that is not, and has never been, a problem for the famously moustachioed 61 year old. In fact, he refers it that way, he loves the quiet away from the media lens. And he could not care less about being criminally downplayed and underrated. His immense success speaks for itself.

But how did it all begin for him? Well, his journey towards the pinnacle of success began in 1999, with an unusual first season.  A first season that captured his familiarity with the concept of the underdog, and of achieving against the odds. A first season I’m sure, he’ll always look back on with nostalgia.

Humble beginnings

During his playing days, he was a midfielder. His most notable period was with the club dear to his heart – Real Madrid. He played in Madrid for 14 years, between 1970 and 1984, winning 5 La Ligas and 4 Copa Del Reys. After that spell he worked diligently behind the scenes for almost 16 years, during which he coached the Real Madrid B side, and at times handled the first team on an interim bases during times that there were no substantive managers(11 matches in 1994 and 1 match in 1996)

The man, once described in a 2003 BBC article as being ”as cool as a cryogenically frozen cocumber”,  never rushed. He was patient, working hard and taking all his chances as and when they came. He knew he would one day eventually end up in the manager’s seat at the Bernabeu on a full-time bases. Managers came and left, and humble Del Bosque was remained behind the scenes, learning, waiting.


And then it came. His time. His opportunity. On the 17th day of November 1999. The board at Real led by Lorenzo Sanz – after having problems with manager John Toshack and his non performance – felt it was time to shake things up on the technical bench, and finally time to give Del Bosque his chance. Real Madrid had been managed by a staggering 7 managers in three years. The club sought some sort of stability. There was a need to secure the services of an astute trainer for the long term. Debts were also piling up. There was the need for success. The board turned to modest Del Bosque , and he did not turn them down. He officially assumed the most popular hot seat in football on the 18th day of November, 1999.

It wasn’t exactly a high profile appointment. He wasn’t the most popular of candidates. But the board felt they had to try something new. Just like how Barcelona recruited Guardiola or Inter did Strammacioni. He had not been a manager at the top level for a full season before. Experience did not favour him. It was basically a gamble. But Del Bosque had been working with the club for almost all of his life. He knew the club well, he loved it. Above all, he was hardworking.

Tough task

He had a tough job to do. John Toshack had drawn and lost most of the league games at to that point, and the team was sitting 8th on the table. There was also the Champions league, and qualification to the next round from the second group stage (Toshack had already qualified the team from the first group stage). And there was the Copa Del Rey too. The task was ginormous, and the then 48 year old Del Bosque had been thrown in at the deep end. Even though he was a faithful Madridista through and through, there was no way he was going to evade the sack if he messed up. Politics at Real meant Lorenzo Sans was virtually betting his presidential future on Del Bosque. It was more or less make or break.

He got to work in earnest, trying to juggle the demands of all three competitions and their accompanying expectations. But he held his own, remained focused, and sought to deliver.

The rookie’s success

Del Bosque finished the 1999/00 La Liga season in fifth place – a position which would have been normally disastrous for a club like Real Madrid – but it was not.

Why? They achieved a points tally of 62, only 7 points behind champions Deportivo La Coruna, impressive, considering how bad they started the season. Also, 5th position then, meant Champions League qualification – which in fact they found out they wouldn’t need, because…..

……they went on to win the Champions League itself, beating fellow Spanish club convincingly in the final, with a 3-0 win. This was after qualifying narrowly from the second group phase(above third placed Dynamo Kyiv via head to head), and subsequently flooring their quarter and semi final opponents.

It became their second triumph in four seasons. Interestingly, Del Bosque also reached the semi final of the Copa Del Rey, only losing to eventual winners Espanyol. The man who took over in medes res, amidst poor performances and instability, united the club, raised their game, and went on to secure the biggest trophy in club football. And this was all done in his first full season in his top level management career. This was, also done at the biggest, most successful club in the history of football, where the pressure is unimaginable.

The first chapter of a remarkable success story had been written.

Don Vicente went on to win 6 more trophies in his next three seasons at the helm, including another European Cup in 2002 as well as two La Liga titles, in what became the club’s second most successful era.


Author Info

Fiifi Anaman

Fiifi Anaman is a young freelance football writer from Ghana. Writes for Ghana, amongst other outlets. Occasionally talks about football on radio.

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Self-Taught Developers: Are You Missing Your Foundation?

This post has been automatically generated. I use this blog to collect links that I have bookmarked. All activity is automated.

About a month ago, I wrote about software development being an art, which got me thinking about the importance of practicing alongside experienced programmers as part of the education process. A Computer Science curriculum provides important background science and strips away the layers of perceived computer “magic,” while an apprenticeship hones the practice and application of the science.

But, what if you’re missing the first part of the equation? Biologists, physicists, small business owners, and people with interesting ideas everywhere are seeing ways that software could help them and are acting to build it themselves — and that’s great! I think we’ll eventually see software development taught in many non-technical programs, just as we do with reading and writing English.

In the meantime, if you find yourself in that boat, here are a few basic things every developer should know about the science of computers and software.

1. Data Structures

Using the right data structure for the job will save you a lot of headaches. Not only is an associative array more clear in intent than two arrays with related values, you’ll write less code and (chances are) it will perform better because you’re using the data structure for its intended purpose.

Work to gain an understanding of the strengths and weaknesses of even a few relatively basic data structures and you’ll be much more prepared to deal with the varied challenges that come your way. I recommend at least the following:

There’s an incredible depth to this topic, but that should be a great start for many practical programming needs.

2. Boolean Logic

Boolean logic is an essential topic, and one that’s easy to dismiss because it seems relatively simple. But its apparent simplicity can also be a stumbling block when you, inevitably, make a mistake. Who hasn’t messed up the negation of (a && b) at least once?

Having a solid grasp of at least basic boolean logic makes it easier to spot those embarrasing mistakes and confidently flip statements around so they’re easy to comprehend.

3. Algorithms

Don’t let the word algorithm put you off — it just means a series of steps you follow to accomplish a goal. By that definition, you’re creating an algorithm every time you write software, which is why this topic is so important. Learning how we’ve solved well-understood problems in software along with their respective performance characteristics will help you better understand the performance and complexity of your own software.

These are a few areas in the vast realm of algorithms I recommend starting with:

4. At Least a Little Set Theory

Relational databases are extremely prevalent — you’re probably working with one now or will be someday soon. Do you know what a cartesian product is? Or that the results of that SELECT statement you’re writing are a set projection? You should.

Projection, union, intersection, complement, and cartesian product are all examples of set theory operations you’ll encounter writing SQL statements against a relational database. Sean Mehan has written a nice overview of Set Theory and SQL Concepts that would be a good place to start.

What’s Missing?

What else should be considered part of the bare necessities of a working knowledge of computer science for the purposes of software development?

Don’t forget to share!

Reference: Self-Taught Developers: Are You Missing Your Foundation? from our JCG partner Lisa Tjapkes at the Atomic Spin blog.

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The Disappeared

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Afterward, when the world was exploding around him, he felt annoyed with himself for having forgotten the name of the BBC reporter who told him that his old life was over and a new, darker existence was about to begin. She called him at home, on his private line, without explaining how she got the number. “How does it feel,” she asked him, “to know that you have just been sentenced to death by Ayatollah Khomeini?” It was a sunny Tuesday in London, but the question shut out the light. This is what he said, without really knowing what he was saying: “It doesn’t feel good.” This is what he thought: I’m a dead man. He wondered how many days he had left, and guessed that the answer was probably a single-digit number. He hung up the telephone and ran down the stairs from his workroom, at the top of the narrow Islington row house where he lived. The living-room windows had wooden shutters and, absurdly, he closed and barred them. Then he locked the front door.

It was Valentine’s Day, but he hadn’t been getting along with his wife, the American novelist Marianne Wiggins. Five days earlier, she had told him that she was unhappy in the marriage, that she “didn’t feel good around him anymore.” Although they had been married for only a year, he, too, already knew that it had been a mistake. Now she was staring at him as he moved nervously around the house, drawing curtains, checking window bolts, his body galvanized by the news, as if an electric current were passing through it, and he had to explain to her what was happening. She reacted well and began to discuss what they should do. She used the word “we.” That was courageous.

A car arrived at the house, sent by CBS Television. He had an appointment at the American network’s studios, in Bowater House, Knightsbridge, to appear live, by satellite link, on its morning show. “I should go,” he said. “It’s live television. I can’t just not show up.”

Later that morning, a memorial service for his friend Bruce Chatwin, who had died of AIDS, was to be held at the Greek Orthodox church on Moscow Road, in Bayswater. “What about the memorial?” his wife asked. He didn’t have an answer for her. He unlocked the front door, went outside, got into the car, and was driven away. Although he did not know it then—so the moment of leaving his home did not feel unusually freighted with meaning—he would not return to that house, at 41 St. Peter’s Street, which had been his home for half a decade, until three years later, by which time it would no longer be his.

At the CBS offices, he was the big story of the day. People in the newsroom and on various monitors were already using the word that would soon be hung around his neck like a millstone. “Fatwa.”

I inform the proud Muslim people of the world that the author of the “Satanic Verses” book, which is against Islam, the Prophet and the Koran, and all those involved in its publication who were aware of its content, are sentenced to death. I ask all the Muslims to execute them wherever they find them.

Somebody gave him a printout of the text as he was escorted to the studio for his interview. His old self wanted to argue with the word “sentenced.” This was not a sentence handed down by any court that he recognized, or that had any jurisdiction over him. But he also knew that his old self’s habits were of no use anymore. He was a new self now. He was the person in the eye of the storm, no longer the Salman his friends knew but the Rushdie who was the author of “Satanic Verses,” a title that had been subtly distorted by the omission of the initial “The.” “The Satanic Verses” was a novel. “Satanic Verses” were verses that were satanic, and he was their satanic author. How easy it was to erase a man’s past and to construct a new version of him, an overwhelming version, against which it seemed impossible to fight.

He looked at the journalists looking at him and he wondered if this was how people looked at men being taken to the gallows or the electric chair. One foreign correspondent came over to him to be friendly. He asked this man what he should make of Khomeini’s pronouncement. Was it just a rhetorical flourish, or something genuinely dangerous? “Oh, don’t worry too much,” the journalist said. “Khomeini sentences the President of the United States to death every Friday afternoon.”

On air, when he was asked for a response to the threat, he said, “I wish I’d written a more critical book.” He was proud, then and always, that he had said this. It was the truth. He did not feel that his book was especially critical of Islam, but, as he said on American television that morning, a religion whose leaders behaved in this way could probably use a little criticism.

When the interview was over, he was told that his wife had called. He phoned the house. “Don’t come back here,” she said. “There are two hundred journalists on the sidewalk waiting for you.”

“I’ll go to the agency,” he said. “Pack a bag and meet me there.”

His literary agency, Wylie, Aitken & Stone, had its offices in a white-stuccoed house on Fernshaw Road, in Chelsea. There were no journalists camped outside—evidently the press hadn’t thought he was likely to visit his agent on such a day—but when he walked in every phone in the building was ringing and every call was about him. Gillon Aitken, his British agent, gave him an astonished look.

He found that he couldn’t think ahead, that he had no idea what the shape of his life would now be. He could focus only on the immediate, and the immediate was the memorial service for Bruce Chatwin. “My dear,” Gillon said, “do you think you ought to go?” Bruce had been his close friend. “Fuck it,” he said, “let’s go.”

Marianne arrived, a faintly deranged look on her face, upset about having been mobbed by photographers when she left the house. She didn’t say much. Neither of them did. They got into their car, a black Saab, and he drove it across the park to Bayswater, with Gillon, his worried expression and long, languid body folded into the back seat.

His mother and his youngest sister lived in Karachi, in Pakistan. What would happen to them? His middle sister, long estranged from the family, lived in Berkeley, California. Would she be safe there? His oldest sister, Sameen, his “Irish twin,” was in Wembley, with her family, not far from the stadium. What should be done to protect them? His son, Zafar, just nine years and eight months old, was with his mother, Clarissa, in their house near Clissold Park. At that moment, Zafar’s tenth birthday felt far, far away.

The service at the Cathedral of St. Sophia of the Archdiocese of Thyateira and Great Britain, built and lavishly decorated a hundred and ten years earlier to resemble one of the grand cathedrals of old Byzantium, was all sonorous, mysterious Greek. Blah-blah-blah Bruce Chatwin, the priests intoned, blah-blah Chatwin blah-blah. They stood up, they sat down, they knelt, they stood, and then sat again. The air was full of the stink of holy smoke.

He and Marianne were seated next to Martin Amis and his wife, Antonia Phillips. “We’re worried about you,” Martin said, embracing him. “I’m worried about me,” he replied. Blah Chatwin blah Bruce blah. Paul Theroux was sitting in the pew behind him. “I suppose we’ll be here for you next week, Salman,” he said.

There had been a couple of photographers on the sidewalk outside when he arrived. Writers didn’t usually draw a crowd of paparazzi. As the service progressed, however, journalists began to enter the church. When it was over, they pushed their way toward him. Gillon, Marianne, and Martin tried to run interference. One persistent gray fellow (gray suit, gray hair, gray face, gray voice) got through the crowd, shoved a tape recorder toward him, and asked the obvious questions. “I’m sorry,” he replied. “I’m here for my friend’s memorial service. It’s not appropriate to do interviews.”

“You don’t understand,” the gray fellow said, sounding puzzled. “I’m from the Daily Telegraph. They’ve sent me down specially.”

“Gillon, I need your help,” he said.

Gillon leaned down toward the reporter from his immense height and said, firmly, and in his grandest accent, “Fuck off.”

“You can’t talk to me like that,” the man from the Telegraph said. “I’ve been to public school.”

After that, there was no more comedy. When he got out onto Moscow Road, journalists were swarming like drones in pursuit of their queen, photographers climbing on one another’s backs to form tottering hillocks bursting with flashlight. He stood there blinking and directionless, momentarily at a loss. There was no chance that he’d be able to walk to his car, which was parked a hundred yards down the road, without being followed by cameras and microphones and men who had been to various kinds of school and who had been sent down specially. He was rescued by his friend Alan Yentob, a filmmaker and a senior executive at the BBC. Alan’s BBC car pulled up in front of the church. “Get in,” he said, and then they were driving away from the shouting journalists. They circled around Notting Hill for a while until the crowd outside the church dispersed and then went back to where the Saab was parked. He and Marianne got into the car, and suddenly they were alone. “Where shall we go?” he asked, even though they both knew the answer. Marianne had recently rented a small basement apartment in the southwest corner of Lonsdale Square, in Islington, not far from the house on St. Peter’s Street, ostensibly to use as a work space but actually because of the growing strain between them. Very few people knew that she had this apartment. It would give them space and time to take stock and make decisions. They drove to Islington in silence. There didn’t seem to be anything to say.

It was midafternoon, and on this day their marital difficulties felt irrelevant. On this day there were crowds marching down the streets of Tehran carrying posters of his face with the eyes poked out, so that he looked like one of the corpses in “The Birds,” with their blackened, bloodied, bird-pecked eye sockets. That was the subject today: his unfunny Valentine from those bearded men, those shrouded women, and that lethal old man, dying in his room, making his last bid for some sort of murderous glory.

Now that the school day was over, he had to see Zafar. He called his friend Pauline Melville and asked her to keep Marianne company while he was gone. Pauline, a bright-eyed, flamboyantly gesticulating, warmhearted, mixed-race actress full of stories about Guyana, had been his neighbor in Highbury Hill in the early nineteen-eighties. She came over at once, without any discussion, even though it was her birthday.

When he got to Clarissa and Zafar’s house, the police were already there. “There you are,” an officer said. “We’ve been wondering where you’d gone.”

“What’s going on, Dad?” His son had a look on his face that should never visit the face of a nine-year-old boy.

“I’ve been telling him,” Clarissa said brightly, “that you’ll be properly looked after until this blows over, and it’s going to be just fine.” Then she hugged her ex-husband as she had not hugged him since they separated five years before.

“We need to know,” the officer was saying, “what your immediate plans might be.”

He thought before replying. “I’ll probably go home,” he said, finally, and the stiffening postures of the men in uniform confirmed his suspicions.

“No, sir, I wouldn’t recommend that.”

Then he told them, as he had known all along he would, about the Lonsdale Square basement, where Marianne was waiting. “It’s not generally known as a place you frequent, sir?”

“No, Officer, it is not.”

“That’s good. When you do get back, sir, don’t go out again tonight, if that’s all right. There are meetings taking place, and you will be advised of their outcome tomorrow, as early as possible. Until then, you should stay indoors.”

He talked to his son, holding him close, deciding at that moment that he would tell the boy as much as possible, giving what was happening the most positive coloring he could; that the way to help Zafar deal with the event was to make him feel on the inside of it, to give him a parental version that he could hold on to while he was being bombarded with other versions in the school playground or on television.

“Will I see you tomorrow, Dad?”

He shook his head. “But I’ll call you,” he said. “I’ll call you every evening at seven. If you’re not going to be here,” he told Clarissa, “please leave me a message on the answering machine at home and say when I should call.” This was early 1989. The terms “P.C.,” “laptop,” “mobile phone,” “Internet,” “WiFi,” “SMS,” and “e-mail” were either uncoined or very new. He did not own a computer or a mobile phone. But he did own a house, and in the house there was an answering machine, and he could call in and interrogate it, a new use of an old word, and get, no, retrieve, his messages. “Seven o’clock,” he repeated. “Every night, O.K.?”

Zafar nodded gravely. “O.K., Dad.”

He drove home alone and the news on the radio was all bad. Khomeini was not just a powerful cleric. He was a head of state, ordering the murder of a citizen of another state, over whom he had no jurisdiction; and he had assassins at his service, who had been used before against “enemies” of the Iranian Revolution, including those who lived outside Iran. Voltaire once said that it was a good idea for a writer to live near an international frontier, so that, if he angered powerful men, he could skip across the border and be safe. Voltaire himself left France for England, after he gave offense to an aristocrat, the Chevalier de Rohan, and remained in exile for almost three years. But to live in a different country from one’s persecutors was no longer a guarantee of safety. Now there was “extraterritorial action.” In other words, they came after you.

The night in Lonsdale Square was cold, dark, and clear. There were two policemen in the square. When he got out of his car, they pretended not to notice him. They were on short patrol, watching the street near the flat for a hundred yards in each direction, and he could hear their footsteps even when he was indoors. He realized, in that footstep-haunted space, that he no longer understood his life, or what it might become, and he thought, for the second time that day, that there might not be very much more of life to understand.

Marianne went to bed early. He got into bed beside his wife and she turned toward him and they embraced, rigidly, like the unhappily married couple they were. Then, separately, lying with their own thoughts, they failed to sleep.


He was in his second year of reading history at Cambridge when he learned about the “Satanic Verses.” In Part Two of the History Tripos, he was expected to choose three “special subjects,” from a wide selection on offer. He decided to work on Indian history during the period of the struggle against the British, from the 1857 uprising to Independence Day, in August, 1947; the extraordinary first century or so of the history of the United States, from the Declaration of Independence to the end of Reconstruction; and a third subject, offered that year for the first time, titled “Muhammad, the Rise of Islam and the Early Caliphate.” He was supervised by Arthur Hibbert, a medievalist, a genius, who, according to college legend, had answered the questions he knew least about in his own history finals so that he could complete the answers in the time allotted.

At the beginning of their work together, Hibbert gave him a piece of advice he never forgot. “You must never write history,” he said, “until you can hear the people speak.” He thought about that for years, and it came to feel like a valuable guiding principle for fiction as well. If you didn’t have a sense of how people spoke, you didn’t know them well enough, and so you couldn’t—you shouldnt—tell their story. The way people spoke, in short, clipped phrases or long, flowing rambles, revealed so much about them: their place of origin, their social class, their temperament, whether calm or angry, warmhearted or cold-blooded, foulmouthed or polite; and, beneath their temperament, their true nature, intellectual or earthy, plainspoken or devious, and, yes, good or bad. If that had been all he learned at Arthur’s feet, it would have been enough. But he learned much more than that. He learned a world. And in that world one of the world’s great religions was being born.

They were nomads who had just begun to settle down. Their cities were new. Mecca was only a few generations old. Yathrib, later renamed Medina, was a group of encampments around an oasis, without so much as a city wall. They were still uneasy in their urbanized lives. A nomadic society was conservative, full of rules, valuing the well-being of the group more highly than individual liberty, but it was also inclusive. The nomadic world had been a matriarchy. Under the umbrella of its extended families, even orphaned children had been able to find protection and a sense of identity and belonging. All that was changing. The city was a patriarchy, and its preferred family unit was nuclear. The crowd of the disenfranchised grew larger and more restive every day. But Mecca was prosperous, and its ruling elders liked it that way. Inheritance now followed the male line. This, too, the governing families preferred.

Outside the gates of the city stood temples to three goddesses, al-Lat, al-Manat, and al-Uzza. Each time the trading caravans that brought the city its wealth left the city gates or came back through them, they paused at one of the temples and made an offering. Or, to use modern language, paid a tax. The richest families in Mecca controlled the temples, and much of their wealth came from these offerings. The goddesses were at the heart of the economy of the new city, of the urban civilization that was coming into being.

The building known as the Kaaba, or Cube, in the center of town, was dedicated to a deity named Allah, meaning “the god,” just as al-Lat was “the goddess.” Allah was unusual in that he didn’t specialize. He wasn’t a rain god or a wealth god or a war god or a love god; he was just an everything god. This failure to specialize may explain his relative unpopularity. People usually made offerings to gods for specific reasons: the health of a child, the future of a business enterprise, a drought, a quarrel, a romance. They preferred gods who were experts in their field to this nonspecific all-rounder of a deity.

The man who would pluck Allah from near-obscurity and become his Prophet—transforming him into the equal, or at least the equivalent, of the Old Testament God “I Am” and the New Testament’s Three-in-One—was Muhammad ibn Abdullah of the Banu Hashim clan. His family had, in his childhood, fallen upon hard times; he was orphaned and lived in his uncle’s house. Muhammad ibn Abdullah earned a reputation as a skilled merchant and an honest man, and at the age of twenty-five he received a marriage proposal from an older, wealthier woman, Khadijah. For the next fifteen years, he was successful in business and happy in his marriage. However, he was also a man with a need for solitude, and for many years he spent weeks at a time living like a hermit in a cave on Mt. Hira. When he was forty, the Angel Gabriel disturbed his solitude there and ordered him to recite the verses that would eventually form a new holy book, the Koran. Naturally, Muhammad believed that he had lost his mind and fled. He returned to hear what the Angel had to say only after his wife and close friends convinced him that it might be worth a return trip up the mountain, just to check if God was really trying to get in touch.

It was easy to admire much of what followed, as the merchant transformed himself into the Messenger of God, easy to sympathize with his persecution, and to respect his rapid evolution into a respected lawgiver, an able ruler, and a skilled military leader. The ethos of the Koran, the value system it endorses, was, in essence, the vanishing code of nomadic Arabs, the matriarchal, more caring society that did not leave orphans out in the cold, orphans like Muhammad, whose success as a merchant, he believed, should have earned him a place in the city’s ruling body, and who was denied such preferment because he didn’t have a powerful family to fight for him.

Here was a fascinating paradox: an essentially conservative theology, looking backward with affection toward a vanishing culture, became a revolutionary idea, because the people it attracted most strongly were those who had been marginalized by urbanization—the disaffected poor, the street mob. This, perhaps, was why Islam, the new idea, felt so threatening to the Meccan élite; why it was persecuted so viciously; and why its founder may—just may—have been offered an attractive deal, designed to buy him off.

The historical record is incomplete, but most of the major collections of hadith, or stories about the life of the Prophet—those compiled by Ibn Ishaq, Waqidi, Ibn Sa’d, and Tabari—recount an incident that later became known as the incident of the “Satanic Verses.” The Prophet came down from the mountain one day and recited verses from what would become Surah—or chapter—No. 53. It contained these words: “Have you thought on al-Lat and al-Uzza, and, thirdly, on Manat, the other? They are the Exalted Birds, and their intercession is desired indeed.” At a later point—was it days or weeks, or months?—Muhammad returned to the mountain and came down, abashed, to state that he had been deceived on his previous visit: the Devil had appeared to him in the guise of the Archangel, and the verses he had been given were therefore not divine but satanic and should be expunged from the Koran at once. The Archangel had, on this occasion, brought new verses from God, which were to replace the “Satanic Verses” in the great book: “Have you thought on al-Lat and al-Uzza, and, thirdly, on Manat, the other? Are you to have the sons, and He the daughters? This is indeed an unfair distinction! They are but names which you and your fathers have invented: God has vested no authority in them.”

And in this way the recitation was purified of the Devil’s work. But the questions remained: Why did Muhammad initially accept the first, “false” revelation as true? And what happened in Mecca during the period between the two revelations, satanic and angelic? This much was known: Muhammad wanted to be accepted by the people of Mecca. “He longed for a way to attract them,” Ibn Ishaq wrote. And when the Meccans heard that he had acknowledged the three goddesses “they were delighted and greatly pleased.” Why, then, did the Prophet recant? Western historians (the Scottish scholar of Islam W. Montgomery Watt, the French Marxist Maxime Rodinson) proposed a politically motivated reading of the episode. The temples of the three goddesses were economically important to the city’s ruling élite, an élite from which Muhammad had been excluded—unfairly, in his opinion. So perhaps the deal that was offered ran something like this: If Muhammad, or the Archangel Gabriel, or Allah, agreed that the goddesses could be worshipped by followers of Islam—not as the equals of Allah, obviously, but as secondary, lesser beings, like, for example, angels, and there already were angels in Islam, so what harm could there be in adding three more, who just happened to be popular and lucrative figures in Mecca?—then the persecution of Muslims would cease, and Muhammad himself would be granted a seat on the city’s ruling council. And it was perhaps to this temptation that the Prophet briefly succumbed.

Then what happened? Did the city’s grandees renege on the deal, reckoning that by flirting with polytheism Muhammad had undone himself in the eyes of his followers? Did his followers refuse to accept the revelation about the goddesses? Did Muhammad himself regret having compromised his ideas by yielding to the siren call of acceptability?

It’s impossible to say for sure. But the Koran speaks of how all the prophets were tested by temptation. “Never have We sent a single prophet or apostle before you with whose wishes Satan did not tamper,” Surah No. 22 says. And if the incident of the “Satanic Verses” was the Temptation of Muhammad it has to be said that he came out of it pretty well. He both confessed to having been tempted and repudiated that temptation. Tabari quotes him thus: “I have fabricated things against God and have imputed to Him words which He has not spoken.” After that, the monotheism of Islam remained unwavering and strong, through persecution, exile, and war, and before long the Prophet had achieved victory over his enemies and the new faith spread like a conquering fire across the world.

Good story, he thought, when he read about it at Cambridge. Even then he was dreaming of being a writer, and he filed the story away in the back of his mind for future consideration. Twenty-three years later, he would find out exactly how good a story it was.


There was a novel growing in him, but its exact nature eluded him. It would be a big book, he knew that, ranging widely over space and time. A book of journeys. That felt right. He had dealt, as well as he knew how, with the worlds from which he had come. Now he needed to connect those worlds to the very different world in which he had made his life. He was beginning to see that this, rather than India or Pakistan or politics or magic realism, would be his real subject, the one he would worry away at for the rest of his career: the great question of how the world joins up—not only how the East flows into the West and the West into the East but how the past shapes the present even as the present changes our understanding of the past, and how the imagined world, the location of dreams, art, invention, and, yes, faith, sometimes leaks across the frontier separating it from the “real” place in which human beings mistakenly believe they live.

This was what he had: a bunch of migrants, or, to use the British term, “immigrants,” from India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh, through whose personal journeys he could explore the joinings-up and also the disjointednesses of here and there, then and now, reality and dreams. He had the beginnings of a character named Salahuddin Chamchawala, Anglicized to Saladin Chamcha, who had a difficult relationship with his father and had retreated into Englishness. Chamcha would be a portrait of a deracinated man, fleeing from his father and his country, from Indianness itself, toward an Englishness that wasn’t really letting him in, an actor with many voices who did well as long as he remained unseen, performing on radio or doing TV voice-overs, a man whose face was, despite his Anglophilia, “the wrong color for their color TVs.”

And opposite Chamcha . . . well, a fallen angel, perhaps. In 1982, the actor Amitabh Bachchan, the biggest star of the Bombay cinema, had suffered a near-fatal injury to his spleen while doing his own movie stunts in Bangalore. In the months that followed, his hospitalization was daily front-page news. As he lay close to death, the nation held its breath; when he rose again, the effect was almost Christlike. There were actors in southern India who had attained almost godlike status by portraying the gods in movies called mythologicals. Bachchan had become semi-divine even without such a career. But what if a god-actor, afflicted with a terrible injury, had called out to his god in his hour of need and heard no reply? What if, as a result of that appalling divine silence, such a man were to begin to question, or even to lose, the faith that had sustained him? Might he, in such a crisis of the soul, begin to lose his mind as well? And might he in his dementia flee halfway around the world, forgetting that when you run away you can’t leave yourself behind? What would such a falling star be called? The name came to him at once, as if it had been waiting for him to capture it. Gibreel. The Angel Gabriel, Gibreel Farishta. Gibreel and Chamcha: two lost souls in the roofless continuum of the unhoused. They would be his protagonists.

The journeys multiplied. Here was a fragment from somewhere else entirely. In February, 1983, thirty-eight Shia Muslims, followers of a young woman named Naseem Fatima, were convinced by her that God would part the waters of the Arabian Sea at her request, so that they could make a pilgrimage across the ocean floor from Karachi to the holy city of Karbala, in Iraq. They followed her into the waters and many of them drowned. The most extraordinary part of the incident was that some of those who survived claimed, despite all the evidence to the contrary, to have witnessed the miracle.

He had been thinking about this story for more than a year now. He didn’t want to write about Pakistan, or Shias, so in his imagination the believers became Sunni, and Indian. As Sunnis, they wanted to go to Mecca, not Karbala, but the idea of the parting of the sea was still at the heart of the tale.

Other fragments crowded in, many of them about the “city visible but unseen,” immigrant London in the Age of Thatcher. The London neighborhoods of Southall, in West London, and Brick Lane, to the east, where Asian immigrants lived, merged with Brixton, south of the river, to form the imaginary central London borough of Brickhall, in which a Muslim family of orthodox parents and rebellious teen-age daughters ran the Shaandaar Café, its name a thinly disguised Urdu-ing of the real Brilliant Restaurant, in Southall. In this borough, interracial trouble was brewing, and soon, perhaps, the streets would burn.

He remembered hearing an Indian politician on TV talking about the British Prime Minister and being unable to pronounce her name properly. “Mrs. Torture,” he kept saying. “Mrs. Margaret Torture.” This was unaccountably funny, even though, or perhaps because, Margaret Thatcher was not a torturer. If this was to be a novel about Mrs. T.’s London, maybe there was room—comic room—for this variant of her name.

In his notebook, he wrote, “How does newness enter the world?”

“The act of migration,” he wrote, “puts into crisis everything about the migrating individual or group, everything about identity and selfhood and culture and belief. So if this is a novel about migration it must be that act of putting in question. It must perform the crisis it describes.”

And he wrote, “The Satanic Verses.”

The book took more than four years to write. Afterward, when people tried to reduce it to an “insult,” he wanted to reply, “I can insult people a lot faster than that.” But it did not strike his opponents as strange that a serious writer should spend a tenth of his life creating something as crude as an insult. This was because they refused to see him as a serious writer. In order to attack him and his work, they had to paint him as a bad person, an apostate traitor, an unscrupulous seeker of fame and wealth, an opportunist who “attacked Islam” for his own personal gain. This was what was meant by the much repeated phrase “He did it on purpose.” Well, of course he had done it on purpose. How could one write a quarter of a million words by accident? The problem, as Bill Clinton might have said, was what one meant by “it.”

The ironic truth was that, after two novels that engaged directly with the public history of the Indian subcontinent, he saw this new book as a more personal exploration, a first attempt to create a work out of his own experience of migration and metamorphosis. To him, it was the least political of the three books. And the material derived from the origin story of Islam was, he thought, essentially respectful toward the Prophet of Islam, even admiring of him. It treated him as he always said he wanted to be treated, not as a divine figure (like the Christians’ “Son of God”) but as a man (“the Messenger”). It showed him as a man of his time, shaped by that time, and, as a leader, both subject to temptation and capable of overcoming it. “What kind of idea are you?” the novel asked the new religion, and suggested that an idea that refused to bend or compromise would, in all likelihood, be destroyed, but conceded that, in very rare instances, such ideas became the ones that changed the world. His Prophet flirted with compromise, then rejected it, and his unbending idea grew strong enough to bend history to its will.

When he was first accused of being offensive, he was truly perplexed. He thought he had made an artistic engagement with the phenomenon of revelation—an engagement from the point of view of an unbeliever, certainly, but a genuine one nonetheless. How could that be thought offensive? The thin-skinned years of rage-defined identity politics that followed taught him, and everyone else, the answer to that question.


The British edition of “The Satanic Verses” came out on Monday, September 26, 1988, and, for a brief moment that fall, the publication was a literary event, discussed in the language of books. Was it any good? Was it, as Victoria Glendinning suggested in the London Times, “better than ‘Midnight’s Children,’ because it is more contained, but only in the sense that the Niagara Falls are contained,” or, as Angela Carter said in the Guardian, “an epic into which holes have been punched to let in visions . . . [a] populous, loquacious, sometimes hilarious, extraordinary contemporary novel”? Or was it, as Claire Tomalin wrote in the Independent, a “wheel that would not turn,” or, in Hermione Lee’s even harsher opinion, in the Observer, a novel that went “plunging down, on melting wings toward unreadability”? How large was the membership of the apocryphal Page 15 Club of readers who could not get past that point in the book?

Soon enough, the language of literature would be drowned in the cacophony of other discourses—political, religious, sociological, postcolonial—and the subject of quality, of artistic intent, would come to seem almost frivolous. The book that he had written would vanish and be replaced by one that scarcely existed, in which Rushdie referred to the Prophet and his companions as “scums and bums” (he didn’t, though he did allow the characters who persecuted the followers of his fictional Prophet to use abusive language), and called the wives of the Prophet whores (he hadn’t—although whores in a brothel in his imaginary city, Jahilia, take on the names of the Prophet’s wives to arouse their clients, the wives themselves are clearly described as living chastely in the harem). This nonexistent novel was the one against which the rage of Islam would be directed, and after that few people wished to talk about the real book, except, usually, to concur with Hermione Lee’s negative assessment.

When friends asked what they could do to help, he pleaded, “Defend the text.” The attack was very specific, yet the defense was often a general one, resting on the mighty principle of freedom of speech. He hoped for, felt that he needed, a more particular defense, like those made in the case of other assaulted books, such as “Lady Chatterley’s Lover,” “Ulysses,” or “Lolita”—because this was a violent attack not on the novel in general, or on free speech per se, but on a particular accumulation of words, and on the intentions and integrity and ability of the writer who had put those words together. He did it for money. He did it for fame. The Jews made him do it. Nobody would have bought his unreadable book if he hadn’t vilified Islam. That was the nature of the attack, and so for many years “The Satanic Verses” was denied the ordinary life of a novel. It became something smaller and uglier: an insult. And he became the Insulter, not only in Muslim eyes but in the opinion of the public at large.

But for those few weeks in the fall of 1988 the book was still “only a novel,” and he was still himself. “The Satanic Verses” was short-listed for the Booker Prize, along with novels by Peter Carey, Bruce Chatwin, Marina Warner, David Lodge, and Penelope Fitzgerald. Then, on Thursday, October 6th, his friend Salman Haidar, who was Deputy High Commissioner of India in London, called to tell him formally, on behalf of his government, that “The Satanic Verses” had been banned in India. The book had not been examined by any properly authorized body, nor had there been any semblance of judicial process. The ban came, improbably, from the Finance Ministry, under Section 11 of the Customs Act, which prevented the book from being imported. Weirdly, the Finance Ministry stated that the ban “did not detract from the literary and artistic merit” of his work. Thanks a lot, he thought. On October 10th, the first death threat was received at the London offices of his publisher, Viking Penguin. The day after that, a scheduled reading in Cambridge was cancelled by the venue because it, too, had received threats.

The year ended badly. There was a demonstration against “The Satanic Verses” in Bolton, in the northwest of England, where the book was burned, on December 2nd. On December 3rd, Clarissa received her first threatening phone call. On December 4th, there was another one; a voice said, “We’ll get you tonight, Salman Rushdie, at 60 Burma Road.” That was her home address. She called the police, and officers stayed at the house overnight. Nothing happened. The tension ratcheted up another notch. On December 28th, there was a bomb scare at Viking Penguin. Then it was 1989, the year the world changed.


Two thousand protesters was a small crowd in Pakistan. Even the most modestly potent politico could put many more thousands on the streets just by clapping his hands. That only two thousand “fundamentalists” could be found to storm the U.S. Information Center in the heart of Islamabad on February 12th was, in a way, a good sign. Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto was on a state visit to China at the time, and it was speculated that destabilizing her administration had been the demonstrators’ real aim. Religious extremists had long suspected her of secularism, and they wanted to put her on the spot. Not for the last time, “The Satanic Verses” was being used as a football in a political game that had little or nothing to do with it. Bricks and stones were thrown at security forces, and there were screams of “American dogs!” and “Hang Salman Rushdie!”—the usual stuff. None of this fully explained the police’s response, which was to open fire, using rifles, semiautomatic weapons, and pump-action shotguns. The confrontation lasted for three hours, and, despite all that weaponry, demonstrators reached the roof of the building and the American flag was burned, as were effigies of “the United States” and him. On another day, he might have asked himself what factory supplied the thousands of American flags that were burned around the world each year. But, on this day, everything else that happened was dwarfed by a single fact: five people were shot dead. Blood will have blood, he thought.

Here was a mortally ill old man, lying in a darkened room. Here was his son, telling him about Muslims shot dead in India and Pakistan. It was that book that caused this, the son told the old man, the book that is against Islam. A few hours later, a document was brought to the offices of Iranian radio and presented as Khomeini’s edict. A fatwa, or edict, is usually a formal document, signed and witnessed and given under seal at the end of a legal proceeding, but this was just a piece of paper bearing a typewritten text. Nobody ever saw the formal document, if one existed. The piece of paper was handed to the station newsreader and he began to read.

It was Valentine’s Day.

“Threat” was a technical term, and it was not the same as “risk.” The threat level was general, but risk levels were specific. The level of threat against an individual might be high—and it was for the intelligence services to determine this—but the level of risk attached to a particular action by that individual might be much lower, for example, if nobody knew what he was planning to do, or when. Risk assessment was the job of the police-protection team. These were concepts that he would have to master, because threat and risk assessments would, from now on, shape his daily life.

The Special Branch officer who came to see him on the morning of February 15th was Wilson, and the intelligence officer was Wilton, and they both answered to the name of Will. Will Wilson and Will Wilton: it was like a music-hall joke, except that there was nothing funny about anything that day. He was told that because the threat against him was considered to be extremely serious—it was at Level 2, which meant that he was considered to be in more danger than anyone in the country, except, perhaps, the Queen—and, because he was being menaced by a foreign power, he was entitled to the protection of the British state. Protection was formally offered and accepted. It was explained that he would be allocated two protection officers, two drivers, and two cars. The second car was in case the first one broke down. It was explained that, because of the unique nature of the assignment and the imponderable risks involved, all the officers protecting him would be volunteers. He was introduced to his first “prot” team: Stanley Doll and Ben Winters. (Names and some details have been changed for this account.) Stanley was one of the best tennis players on the police force. Benny was one of the few black officers in the Branch and wore a chic tan leather jacket. They were both strikingly handsome, and packing heat. The Branch were the stars of the Metropolitan Police, the double-O élite. He had never met anyone who was actually licensed to kill, and Stan and Benny were presently licensed to do so on his behalf.

Regarding the matter at hand, Benny and Stan were reassuring. “It can’t be allowed,” Stan said. “Threatening a British citizen. It’s not on. It’ll get sorted. You just need to lie low for a couple of days and let the politicians sort it out.”

“You can’t go home, obviously,” Benny said. “That wouldn’t be too kosher. Is there anywhere you’d like to go for a few days?”

“Pick somewhere nice,” Stan said, “and we’ll just whiz you off there for a stretch until you’re in the clear.”

He wanted to believe in their optimism. Maybe the Cotswolds, he thought. Maybe somewhere in that picture-postcard region of rolling hills and golden-stone houses. There was a famous inn in the Cotswold village of Broadway called the Lygon Arms. He had long wanted to go there for a weekend but had never made it. Would the Lygon Arms be a possibility? Stan and Benny looked at each other, and something passed between them.

“I don’t see why not,” Stan said. “We’ll look into it.”

He wanted to see his son again before diving for cover, he said, and his sister Sameen, too. They agreed to “set it up.” Once it was dark, he was driven to Burma Road in an armored Jaguar. The armor plating was so thick that there was much less headroom than in a standard car. The doors were so heavy that if they swung shut accidentally and hit you they could injure you quite seriously. The fuel consumption of an armored Jaguar was around six miles to the gallon. It weighed as much as a small tank. He was given this information by his first Special Branch driver, Dennis (the Horse) Chevalier, a big, cheerful, jowly, thick-lipped man—“one of the older fellows,” he said. “Do you know the technical term for us Special Branch drivers?” Dennis the Horse asked him. He did not know. “The term is O.F.D.s,” Dennis said. “That’s us.” And what did O.F.D. stand for? Dennis gave a throaty, slightly wheezing laugh. “Only Fucking Drivers,” he said.

He would grow accustomed to police humor. One of his other drivers was known throughout the Branch as the King of Spain, because he once left his Jag unlocked while he went to the tobacconist’s and returned to find that it had been stolen. Hence the nickname, because the King of Spain’s name was—you had to say it slowly—Juan Car-los.

He told Zafar and Clarissa what the prot team had said: “It will be over in a few days.” Zafar looked immensely relieved. On Clarissa’s face were all the doubts he was trying to pretend he didn’t feel. He hugged his son tightly and left.

Sameen, a lawyer (though no longer a practicing one—she worked in adult education), had always had a sharp political mind and had a lot to say about what was going on. The Iranian Revolution had been shaky ever since Khomeini was forced, in his own words, to “drink the cup of poison” and accept the unsuccessful end of his Iraq war, which had left a generation of young Iranians dead or maimed. The fatwa was his way of regaining political momentum, of reënergizing the faithful. It was her brother’s bad luck to be the dying man’s last stand. As for the British Muslim “leaders,” whom, exactly, did they lead? They were leaders without followers, mountebanks trying to make careers out of her brother’s misfortune. For a generation, the politics of ethnic minorities in Britain had been secular and socialist. This was the mosques’ way of getting religion into the driver’s seat. British Asians had never splintered into Hindu, Muslim, and Sikh factions before. Somebody needed to answer these people who were driving a sectarian wedge through the community, she said, to name them as the hypocrites and opportunists that they were.

She was ready to be that person, and he knew that she would make a formidable representative. But he asked her not to do it. Her daughter, Maya, was less than a year old. If Sameen became his public spokesperson, the media would camp outside her house and there would be no escape from the glare of publicity; her private life, her daughter’s life, would become a thing of klieg lights and microphones. Also, it was impossible to know what danger it might draw toward her. He didn’t want her to be at risk because of him. Reluctantly, she agreed.

One of the unforeseen consequences of this decision was that as the “affair” blazed on, and he was obliged to be mostly invisible—because the police urged him not to further inflame the situation, advice he accepted for a time—there was nobody who loved him speaking for him, not his wife, not his sister, not his closest friends, the ones he wanted to continue to see. He became, in the media, a man whom nobody loved but many people hated. “Death, perhaps, is a bit too easy for him,” Iqbal Sacranie, of the U.K. Action Committee on Islamic Affairs, said. “His mind must be tormented for the rest of his life unless he asks for forgiveness from Almighty Allah.” (In 2005, this same Sacranie was knighted at the recommendation of the Blair government for his services to community relations.)

On the way to the Cotswolds, the car stopped for gas. He needed to go to the toilet, so he opened the door and got out. Every head in the gas station turned to stare at him. He was on the front page of every newspaper—Martin Amis said, memorably, that he had “vanished into the front page”—and had, overnight, become one of the most recognizable men in the country. The faces looked friendly—one man waved, another gave the thumbs-up sign—but it was alarming to be so intensely visible at exactly the moment that he was being asked to lie low. At the Lygon Arms, the highly trained staff could not prevent themselves from gawping. He had become a freak show, and he and Marianne were both relieved when they reached the privacy of their beautiful old-world room. He was given a “panic button” to press if he was worried about anything. He tested the panic button. It didn’t work.

On his second day at the hotel, Stan and Benny came to see him with a piece of paper in their hands. Iran’s President, Ali Khamenei, had hinted that if he apologized “this wretched man might yet be spared.” “It’s felt,” Stan said, “that you should do something to lower the temperature.”

“Yeah,” Benny assented. “That’s the thinking. The right statement from you could be of assistance.”

Felt by whom, he wanted to know; whose thinking was this?

“It’s the general opinion,” Stan said opaquely. “Upstairs.”

Was it a police opinion or a government opinion?

“They’ve taken the liberty of preparing a text,” Stan said. “By all means, read it through.”

“By all means, make alterations if the style isn’t pleasing,” Benny said. “You’re the writer.”

“I should say, in fairness,” Stan said, “that the text has been approved.”

The text he was handed was craven, self-abasing. To sign it would have been to admit defeat. Could this really be the deal he was being offered—that he would receive government support and police protection only if, abandoning his principles and the defense of his book, he fell to his knees and grovelled?

Stan and Benny looked extremely uncomfortable. “As I say,” Benny said, “you’re free to make alterations.”

“Then we’ll see how they play,” Stan said.

And supposing he chose not to make a statement at all at this time?

“It’s thought to be a good idea,” Stan said. “There are high-level negotiations taking place on your behalf. And then there are the Lebanon hostages to consider, and Mr. Roger Cooper in jail in Tehran. Their situation is worse than yours. You’re asked to do your bit.” (In the nineteen-eighties, the Lebanese Hezbollah group, funded by Tehran, had captured ninety-six foreign nationals from twenty-one countries, including several Americans and Britons. Cooper, a British businessman, had been seized in Iran.)

It was an impossible task: to write something that could be received as an olive branch without giving way on what was important. The statement he came up with was one he mostly loathed:

As author of “The Satanic Verses” I recognize that Muslims in many parts of the world are genuinely distressed by the publication of my novel. I profoundly regret the distress that publication has occasioned to sincere followers of Islam. Living as we do in a world of many faiths this experience has served to remind us that we must all be conscious of the sensibilities of others.

His private, self-justifying voice argued that he was apologizing for the distress—and, after all, he had never wanted to cause distress—but not for the book itself. And, yes, we should be conscious of the sensibilities of others, but that did not mean we should surrender to them. That was his combative, unstated subtext. But he knew that, if the statement was to be effective, it had to be read as a straightforward apology. That thought made him feel physically ill.

It was a useless gesture, rejected, then half accepted, then rejected again, both by British Muslims and by the Iranian leadership. The strong position would have been to refuse to negotiate with intolerance. He had taken the weak position and was therefore treated as a weakling. The Observer defended him—“neither Britain nor the author has anything to apologize for”—but his feeling of having made a serious misstep was soon confirmed. “Even if Salman Rushdie repents and becomes the most pious man of all time, it is incumbent on every Muslim to employ everything he has got, his life and his wealth, to send him to hell,” the dying imam said.

The protection officers said that he should not spend more than two nights at the Lygon Arms. He was lucky the media hadn’t found him yet, and in a day or so they surely would. This was when another harsh truth was explained: it was up to him to find places to stay. The police’s advice was that he could not return to his home, because it would be impossible (which was to say, very expensive) to protect him there. But “safe houses” would not be provided. If such places existed, he never saw them. Most people, trained by spy fiction, firmly believed in the existence of safe houses, and assumed that he was being protected in one such fortress at the public’s expense. Criticisms of the money spent on his protection would grow more vociferous with the passing weeks: an indication of a shift in public opinion. But, on his second day at the Lygon Arms, he was told that he had twenty-four hours to find somewhere else to stay. A colleague of Clarissa’s offered a night or two at her country cottage, in the village of Thame, in Oxfordshire. From there, he made phone calls to everyone he could think of, without success. Then he checked his voice mail and found a message from Deborah Rogers, his former literary agent. “Call me,” she said. “I think we may be able to help.”

Deb and her husband, the composer Michael Berkeley, invited him to their farm in Wales. “If you need it,” she said simply, “it’s yours.” He was deeply moved. “Look,” she said, “it’s perfect, actually, because everyone thinks we’ve fallen out, and so nobody would ever imagine you’d be here.” The next day, his strange little circus descended on Middle Pitts, a homely farmhouse in the hilly Welsh border country. “Stay as long as you need to,” Deb said, but he knew he needed to find a place of his own. Marianne agreed to contact local estate agents and start looking at rental properties. They could only hope that her face would be less recognizable than his.

As for him, he could not be seen at the farm or its safety would be “compromised.” A local farmer looked after the sheep for Michael and Deb, and at one point he came down off the hill to talk to Michael about something. “You’d better get out of sight,” Michael told him, and he had to duck behind a kitchen counter. As he crouched there, listening to Michael try to get rid of the man as quickly as possible, he felt a deep sense of shame. To hide in this way was to be stripped of all self-respect. Maybe, he thought, to live like this would be worse than death. In his novel “Shame,” he had written about the workings of Muslim “honor culture,” at the poles of whose moral axis were honor and shame, very different from the Christian narrative of guilt and redemption. He came from that culture, even though he was not religious. To skulk and hide was to lead a dishonorable life. He felt, very often in those years, profoundly ashamed. Both shamed and ashamed.

The news roared in his ears. Members of the Pakistani parliament had recommended the immediate dispatch of assassins to the United Kingdom. In Iran, the most powerful clerics fell into line behind the imam. “The long black arrow has been slung, and is now travelling toward its target,” Khamenei said, during a visit to Yugoslavia. An Iranian ayatollah named Hassan Sanei offered a million dollars in bounty money for the apostate’s head. It was not clear whether this ayatollah possessed a million dollars, or how easy it would be to claim the reward, but these were not logical days. The British Council’s library in Karachi—a drowsy, pleasant place he’d often visited—was bombed.

On February 22nd, the day the novel was published in America, there was a full-page advertisement in the Times, paid for by the Association of American Publishers, the American Booksellers Association, and the American Library Association. “Free People Write Books,” it said. “Free People Publish Books, Free People Sell Books, Free People Buy Books, Free People Read Books. In the spirit of America’s commitment to free expression we inform the public that this book will be available to readers at bookshops and libraries throughout the country.” The PEN American Center, passionately led by his beloved friend Susan Sontag, held readings from the novel. Sontag, Don DeLillo, Norman Mailer, Claire Bloom, and Larry McMurtry were among the readers. He was sent a tape of the event. It brought a lump to his throat. Long afterward, he was told that some senior American writers had initially ducked for cover. Even Arthur Miller had made an excuse—that his Jewishness might be a counterproductive factor. But within days, whipped into line by Susan, almost all of them had found their better selves and stood up to be counted.

When the book was in its third consecutive week as No. 1 on the New York Times best-seller list, John Irving, who found himself stuck at No. 2, quipped that, if that was what it took to get to the top spot, he was content to be runner-up. He himself well knew, as did Irving, that scandal, not literary merit, was driving the sales. He also knew, and much appreciated, the fact that many people bought copies of “The Satanic Verses” to demonstrate their solidarity.

While all this and much more was happening, the author of “The Satanic Verses” was crouching in shame behind a kitchen counter to avoid being seen by a sheep farmer.

Marianne found a house to rent, a modest white-walled cottage with a pitched slate roof called Tyn-y-Coed, “the house in the woods,” a common name for a house in those parts. It was near the village of Pentrefelin, in Brecon, not far from the Black Mountains and the Brecon Beacons. There was a great deal of rain. When they arrived, it was cold. The police officers tried to light the stove and, after a good deal of clanking and swearing, succeeded. He found a small upstairs room where he could shut the door and pretend to work. The house felt bleak, as did the days. Thatcher was on television, understanding the insult to Islam and sympathizing with the insulted.

Commander John Howley, of the Special Branch, came to see him in Wales. It now looked as though he would be at risk for a considerable time, and that was not what the Special Branch had foreseen, Howley told him. It was no longer a matter of lying low for a few days to let the politicians sort things out. There was no prospect of his being allowed (allowed?) to resume his normal life in the foreseeable future. He could not just decide to go home and take his chances. To do so would be to endanger his neighbors and place an intolerable burden on police resources, because an entire street, or more than one street, would need to be sealed off and protected. He had to wait until there was a “major political shift.” What did that mean? he asked. Until Khomeini died? Or never? Howley did not have an answer. It was not possible for him to estimate how long it would take.

He had been living with the threat of death for a month. There had been further rallies against “The Satanic Verses” in Paris, New York, Oslo, Kashmir, Bangladesh, Turkey, Germany, Thailand, the Netherlands, Sweden, Australia, and West Yorkshire. The toll of injuries and deaths had continued to rise. The novel had by now also been banned in Syria, Lebanon, Kenya, Brunei, Thailand, Tanzania, Indonesia, and elsewhere in the Arab world. In Tyn-y-Coed, on the Ides of March, he was flung without warning into the lowest circle of Orwellian hell. “You asked me once,” O’Brien said, “what was in Room 101. I told you that you knew the answer already. Everyone knows it. The thing that is in Room 101 is the worst thing in the world.” The worst thing in the world is different for every individual. For Winston Smith, in Orwell’s “1984,” it was rats. For him, in a cold Welsh cottage, it was an unanswered phone call.

He had his daily routine with Clarissa: At seven o’clock every evening, he would call to say hello to Zafar. If Clarissa couldn’t be at home with Zafar at seven, she would leave a message on the St. Peter’s Street answering machine telling him when they would be back. He called the Burma Road house. There was no reply. He left a message on Clarissa’s machine and then interrogated his own. She had not left a message. Oh, well, he thought, they’re a little late. Fifteen minutes later, he called again. Nobody picked up. He called his own machine again: nothing there. Ten minutes later, he made a third call. Still nothing. It was almost seven-forty-five on a school night. It wasn’t normal for them to be out so late. He called twice more in the next ten minutes. No response. Now he began to panic. He called Burma Road repeatedly, dialling and redialling like a madman, and his hands began to shake. He was sitting on the floor, wedged up against a wall, with the phone in his lap, dialling, redialling. Stan and Benny noticed their “principal” ’s agitated phone activity and came to ask if everything was all right.

He said no, it didn’t seem to be. Clarissa and Zafar were now an hour and a quarter late for their phone appointment with him and had left no word of explanation. Stan’s face was serious. “Is this a break in routine?” he asked. Yes, it was a break in routine. “O.K.,” Stan said, “leave it with me. I’ll make some inquiries.” A few minutes later, he came back to say that he had spoken to Metpol—the London Metropolitan Police—and a car would be sent to the address to do a “drive-by.” After that, the minutes moved as slowly and coldly as glacial ice, and when the report came it froze his heart. “The car drove by the premises just now,” Stan told him, “and the report, I’m sorry to say, is that the front door is open and all the lights are on.” He was unable to reply. “Obviously the officers did not attempt to go up to the house or enter,” Stan said. “In the situation as it is, they wouldn’t know what they might encounter.”

He saw bodies sprawled on the stairs in the front hall. He saw the brightly lit rag-doll corpses of his son and his first wife drenched in blood. Life was over. He had run away and hidden like a terrified rabbit, and his loved ones had paid the price. “Just to inform you on what we’re doing,” Stan said. “We will be going in there, but you’ll have to give us approximately forty minutes. They need to assemble an army.”

Maybe they were not both dead. Maybe his son was alive and had been taken hostage. “You understand,” he said to Stan, “that if they have him and they want a ransom, they want me to exchange myself for him, then I’m going to do that, and you guys can’t stop me doing it.” Stan took a slow, dark pause, like a character in a Pinter play. Then he said, “That thing about exchanging hostages, that only happens in the movies. In real life, I’m sorry to tell you, if this is a hostile intervention they are both probably dead already. The question you have to ask yourself is, Do you want to die as well?”

Marianne sat facing him, unable to provide comfort. He had no more to say. There was only the crazy dialling, every thirty seconds, the dialling and then the ring tone and then Clarissa’s voice asking him to leave a message. There was no message worth leaving. “I’m sorry” didn’t begin to cover it. He hung up and redialled, and there was her voice again. And again.

After a very long time, Stan came and said quietly, “Won’t be long now. They’re just about ready.” He nodded and waited for reality to deal him what would be a fatal blow. He was not aware of weeping but his face was wet. He went on dialling Clarissa’s number. As if the telephone possessed occult powers, as if it were a Ouija board that could put him in touch with the dead.

Then, unexpectedly, there was a click. Somebody had picked up the receiver at the other end. “Hello?” he said, his voice unsteady.

“Dad?” Zafar’s voice said. “What’s going on, Dad? There’s a policeman at the door and he says there are fifteen more on the way.” Relief cascaded over him and momentarily tied his tongue. “Dad? Are you there?”

“Yes,” he said, “I’m here. Is your mother all right? Where were you?”

They had been at a school drama performance that had run very late. Clarissa came on the phone and apologized. “I’m sorry, I should have left you a message. I just forgot. I’m sorry.”

“But what about the door?” he asked. “Why was the front door open and all the lights left on?”

It was Zafar on the other end again. “It wasn’t, Dad,” he said. “We just got back and opened the door and turned the lights on and then the policeman came.”

“It would seem,” Stan said, “that there has been a regrettable error. The car we sent to have a look looked at the wrong house.”

Bookstores were firebombed—Collets and Dillons in London, Abbey’s in Sydney. Libraries refused to stock the book, chains refused to carry it, a dozen printers in France refused to print the French edition, and more threats were made against publishers. Muslims began to be killed by other Muslims if they expressed non-bloodthirsty opinions. In Belgium, the mullah who was said to be the “spiritual leader” of the country’s Muslims, the Saudi national Abdullah al-Ahdal, and his Tunisian deputy, Salem el-Behir, were killed for saying that, whatever Khomeini had said for Iranian consumption, in Europe there was freedom of expression.

“I am gagged and imprisoned,” he wrote in his journal. “I can’t even speak. I want to kick a football in a park with my son. Ordinary, banal life: my impossible dream.” Friends who saw him in those days were shocked by his physical deterioration, his weight gain, the way he had let his beard grow out into an ugly bulbous mass, his sunken stance. He looked like a beaten man.

In a very short time, he grew extremely fond of his protectors. He appreciated the way they tried to be upbeat and cheerful in his company to raise his spirits, and their efforts at self-effacement. They knew that it was difficult for “principals” to have policemen in the kitchen, leaving their footprints in the butter. They tried very hard, and without any rancor, to give him as much space as they could. And most of them, he quickly understood, found the confinement of this particular prot more challenging, in some ways, than he did. These were men of action, their needs the opposite of those of a sedentary novelist trying to hold on to what remained of his inner life, the life of the mind. He could sit still and think in a room for hours and be content. They went stir-crazy if they had to stay indoors for any length of time. On the other hand, they were able to go home after two weeks and have a break. Several of them said to him, with worried respect, “We couldn’t do what you’re doing,” and that knowledge earned him their sympathy.

In the months and years that followed, they sometimes broke the rules to help him. At a time when they were forbidden to take him into any public spaces, they took him to the movies, going in after the lights went down and taking him out before they went up again. And they did what they could to assist his work as a father. They took him and Zafar to police sports grounds and formed impromptu rugby teams so that he could run with them and pass the ball. On holidays, they sometimes arranged visits to amusement parks. One day, at such a park, Zafar saw a soft toy being offered as a prize at a shooting gallery and decided that he wanted it. One of the protection officers, known as Fat Jack, heard him. “You fancy that, do you?” he said, and pursed his lips. “Hmm hmm.” He went up to the booth and put down his money. The carny handed him the usual pistol with deformed gun sights and Fat Jack nodded gravely. “Hmm hmm,” he said, inspecting the weapon. “All right, then.” He began to shoot. Boom boom boom boom—the targets fell one by one while the carny watched with gold-toothed mouth hanging wide. “Yes, that should do nicely,” Fat Jack said, putting down the weapon and pointing at the soft toy. “We’ll have that, thanks.”

They weren’t perfect. There were mistakes. There was the time that he was taken to his friend Hanif Kureishi’s house. At the end of the evening, he was about to be driven away when Hanif sprinted out into the street, waving a large handgun in its leather holster above his head. “Oy!” he shouted, delightedly. “Hang on a minute. You forgot your shooter.” But they took great pride in their work. Many of them said to him, always using the same words, “We’ve never lost anyone. The Americans can’t say that.” They disliked the American way of doing things. “They like to throw bodies at the problem,” they said, meaning that an American security detail was usually very large, dozens of people or more. Every time an American dignitary visited the United Kingdom, the security forces of the two countries had the same arguments about methodology. “We could take the Queen in an unmarked Ford Cortina down Oxford Street in the rush hour and nobody would know she was there,” they said. “With the Yanks, it’s all bells and whistles. But they lost one President, didn’t they? And nearly lost another.”

He needed a name, the police told him in Wales. His own name was useless; it was a name that could not be spoken, like Voldemort in the not yet written Harry Potter books. He could not rent a house with it, or register to vote, because to vote you needed to provide a home address and that, of course, was impossible. To protect his democratic right to free expression, he had to surrender his democratic right to choose his government.

He needed to choose a new name “pretty pronto,” and then talk to his bank manager and get the bank to agree to accept checks signed with the false name, so that he could pay for things without being identified. The new name was also for the benefit of his protectors. They needed to get used to it, to call him by it at all times, when they were with him and when they weren’t, so that they didn’t accidentally let his real name slip when they were walking or running or going to the gym or the supermarket and blow his cover.

The prot had a name: Operation Malachite. He did not know why the job had been given the name of a green stone, and neither did they. They were not writers, and the reasons for names were not important to them. But now it was his turn to rename himself.

“Probably better not to make it an Asian name,” Stan said. “People put two and two together sometimes.” So he was to give up his race as well. He would be an invisible man in whiteface.

He thought of writers he loved and tried combinations of their names. Vladimir Joyce. Marcel Beckett. Franz Sterne. He made lists of such combinations, but all of them sounded ridiculous. Then he found one that did not. He wrote down, side by side, the first names of Conrad and Chekhov, and there it was, his name for the next eleven years. Joseph Anton.

“Jolly good,” Stan said. “You won’t mind if we call you Joe.” In fact, he did mind. He soon discovered that he detested the abbreviation, for reasons he did not fully understand—after all, why was Joe so much worse than Joseph? He was neither one, and they should have struck him as equally phony or equally suitable. But Joe grated on him almost from the beginning. Nevertheless, that monosyllable was what the protection officers found easiest to master and remember. So Joe it had to be.

He had spent his life naming fictional characters. Now, by naming himself, he had turned himself into a sort of fictional character as well. Conrad Chekhov wouldn’t have worked. But Joseph Anton was someone who might exist. Who now did exist. Conrad, the translingual creator of wanderers, of voyagers into the heart of darkness, of secret agents in a world of killers and bombs, and of at least one immortal coward, hiding from his shame; and Chekhov, the master of loneliness and of melancholy, of the beauty of an old world destroyed, like the trees in a cherry orchard, by the brutality of the new, Chekhov, whose “Three Sisters” believed that real life was elsewhere and yearned eternally for a Moscow to which they could not return: these were his godfathers now. It was Conrad who gave him the motto to which he clung, as if to a lifeline, in the long years that followed. In the now unacceptably titled “The Nigger of the Narcissus,” the hero, a sailor named James Wait, stricken with tuberculosis on a long sea voyage, is asked by a fellow-sailor why he came aboard, knowing that he was unwell. “I must live till I die—mustn’t I?” Wait replies.

In his present circumstances, the question felt like a command. “Joseph Anton,” he told himself, “you must live till you die.”

via The Feature

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It’s More Important to Be Kind Than Clever

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One of the more heart-warming stories to zoom around the Internet lately involves a young man, his dying grandmother, and a bowl of clam chowder from Panera Bread. It’s a little story that offers big lessons about service, brands, and the human side of business — a story that underscores why efficiency should never come at the expense of humanity.

The story, as told in AdWeek, goes like this: Brandon Cook, from Wilton, New Hampshire, was visiting his grandmother in the hospital. Terribly ill with cancer, she complained to her grandson that she desperately wanted a bowl of soup, and that the hospital’s soup was inedible (she used saltier language). If only she could get a bowl of her favorite clam chowder from Panera Bread! Trouble was, Panera only sells clam chowder on Friday. So Brandon called the nearby Panera and talked to store manager Suzanne Fortier. Not only did Sue make clam chowder specially for Brandon’s grandmother, she included a box of cookies as a gift from the staff.

It was a small act of kindness that would not normally make headlines. Except that Brandon told the story on his Facebook page, and Brandon’s mother, Gail Cook, retold the story on Panera’s fan page. The rest, as they say, is social-media history. Gail’s post generated 500,000 (and counting) “likes” and more than 22,000 comments on Panera’s Facebook page. Panera, meanwhile, got something that no amount of traditional advertising can buy — a genuine sense of affiliation and appreciation from customers around the world.

Marketing types have latched on to this story as an example of the power of social media and “virtual word-of-mouth” to boost a company’s reputation. But I see the reaction to Sue Fortier’s gesture as an example of something else — the hunger among customers, employees, and all of us to engage with companies on more than just dollars-and-cents terms. In a world that is being reshaped by the relentless advance of technology, what stands out are acts of compassion and connection that remind us what it means to be human.

As I read the story of Brandon and his grandmother, I thought back to a lecture delivered two years ago by Jeff Bezos, founder and CEO of, to the graduating seniors of my alma mater, Princeton University. Bezos is nothing if not a master of technology — he has built his company, and his fortune, on the rise of the Internet and his own intellect. But he spoke that day not about computing power or brainpower, but about his grandmother — and what he learned when he made her cry.

Even as a 10-year-old boy, it turns out, Bezos had a steel-trap mind and a passion for crunching numbers. During a summer road trip with his grandparents, young Jeff got fed up with his grandmother’s smoking in the car — and decided to do something about it. From the backseat, he calculated how many cigarettes per day his grandmother smoked, how many puffs she took per cigarette, the health risk of each puff, and announced to her with great fanfare, “You’ve taken nine years off your life!”

Bezos’s calculations may have been accurate — but the reaction was not what he expected. His grandmother burst into tears. His grandfather pulled the car off to the side of the road and asked young Jeff to step out. And then his grandfather taught a lesson that this now-billionaire decided to share the with the Class of 2010: “My grandfather looked at me, and after a bit of silence, he gently and calmly said, ‘Jeff, one day you’ll understand that it’s harder to be kind than clever.'”

That’s a lesson I wish more businesspeople understood — a lesson that is reinforced by the reaction to this simple act of kindness at Panera Bread. Indeed, I experienced something similar not so long ago, and found it striking enough to devote an HBR blog post to the experience. In my post, I told the story of my father, his search for a new car, a health emergency that took place in the middle of that search — and a couple of extraordinary (and truly human) gestures by an auto dealer that put him at ease and won his loyalty.

“What is it about business that makes it so hard to be kind?” I asked at the time. “And what kind of businesspeople have we become when small acts of kindness feel so rare?”

That’s what’s really striking about the Panera Bread story — not that Suzanne Fortier went out of her way to do something nice for a sick grandmother, but that her simple gesture attracted such global attention and acclaim.

So by all means, encourage your people to embrace technology, get great at business analytics, and otherwise ramp up the efficiency of everything they do. But just make sure all their efficiency doesn’t come at the expense of their humanity. Small gestures can send big signals about who we are, what we care about, and why people should want to affiliate with us. It’s harder (and more important) to be kind than clever.

This article is reprinted with permission from the author. William C. Taylor is co-founder of Fast Company magazine and author of Practically Radical: Not-So-Crazy Ways to Transform Your Company, Shake Up Your Industry, and Challenge Yourself.

via Hacker News


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