The Dreaded Red Box

This is a 100 word plus the prompt, …the red box…, flash fiction challenge hosted by Julia.

Pete stared dreamily at the photocopier. The CEO was scheduled to arrive that morning. Maybe he would be in the meeting too and witness Pete’s strategy to increase sales. That overdue promotion could finally be his! He caught a flash of colour from the corner of his eyes. He turned to look directly at Mr. Smith walking down the aisle. He was carrying the red box. Pete felt sweat beads rolling down his forehead. His colleagues had noticed the box too; their eyes glued on its path. All were silently praying it was not their time to pack their personal belongings into the box.

A simple idea led to free education for all

I watched another TED video by Adam Savage. You know the guy from Myth Buster; not the one in the beret, the other one. He was talking about how simple ideas have led to profound scientific discoveries. Do you know how Eratosthenes’ calculated the Earth’s circumference without the help of powerful computers? Do you know how Hippolyte Fizeau measured the speed of light using a toothed wheel, a light source and a mirror? This informative video is 7:32 minutes long and holds the answers to these questions. I would encourage you to watch it. Basically Adam’s message is that by only using our senses and minds we can come up with simple ideas to make the world a better place.

Do you believe in coincidences? Or do you believe somehow everything that happens is meant to happen that way. Either way on the same day I came across another interesting video of the CBS news show 60 Minutes. The title of the show was “Khan Academy: The future of education?” The video portrayed how a simple idea is revolutionising education and the role of teachers worldwide.

Who is behind Khan Academy?


Sal Kahn has 3 degrees from MIT and an MBA from Havard Business School. He started his career as a hedge fund analyst. He did not have a sudden vision to provide free education to all. In fact it started out as a simple idea to help his cousin, who was struggling with Mathematics in school. Since she did not live nearby, he decided to tutor her over the internet. Later when other relatives and friends approached him for his tutorials, he decided to post them on YouTube. This was when he discovered the real demand for the kind of tutorials he was producing. In 2009 he decided to quit his job and pursue a fulltime career producing tutorial videos for his YouTube channel.

In 2010 Bill Gates revealed in an interview that his children were learning using the tutorials on Khan Academy. Later with his financial support, Sal Kahn was able to make Khan Academy even bigger. There is a new platform to host the videos and he has employees, working on continually improving Khan Academy. It is still a non-profit organisation and is dependent on the goodwill of others to donate or volunteer to translate the videos into other languages.

To being with I am really impressed by the simplicity of his idea and how he has been able to help numerous students all over the world with it. I watched a couple of videos on algebra to judge for myself, why his tutorial style is widely appreciated. I have to say that had I seen these videos when I was in secondary school, I would not have failed my math exams. He explains the sense behind a topic, something I had missed in school.

How is Khan Academy revolutionising the world of education?
For starters, there are a couple of schools in America, which are testing out a new teaching model in collaboration with Khan Academy. Students are expected to go through the tutorials on a particular topic at home. The following day, students solve exercises on this topic in the classroom. The teacher can track real time how the students are progressing, how fast they complete a task and who is having problems. The teacher can then focus on helping those who require assistance. In other words, the learning takes place at home and the homework is done at school. The role of the teacher is more of mentor and coach.

Furthermore Khan Academy helps students from poor families, who can’t afford a private tutor, or families where the parents are not able to help with their homework. The child can learn at his or her own phase by repeatedly learning a lesson as often as required. If the child still does not understand the topic, the teacher is there to help the following day.

Even adults can benefit from Khan Academy. They can refresh their memories on a certain topic to help their children with schoolwork. It could help those, who dropped out of school, to possibly finish school and improve their academic qualifications. As a result, they could have better careers.

In conclusion, Khan Academy shows how it is possible to tremendously help others with little effort. I am sure that Khan Academy has the potential to help millions of children and even adults all over the world.

Related Articles

  1. http://cnettv.cnet.com/av/video/cbsnews/atlantis2/cbsnews_player_embed.swf
  2. http://www.khanacademy.org/

Similarities between Gouda and Life

I love Gouda. I love the creamy taste of its young body rubbing against juicy ham between 2 slices of soft white bread. I love the slightly crunchy taste of its older body and gladly wash down the saltiness with a glass of fine red wine. It would be wrong to assert that Gouda gets better with age. To claim the opposite would be wrong too. Gouda tastes great in any age to me.

To me Gouda presents a suitable metaphorical comparison to the human lifecycle. As it is with Gouda, I will not claim that life gets better with old age. Surely there might be aspects that get better with age like our wealth of knowledge and experience. Similarly there are aspects that definitely worsen over time like our eyesight.

We should refrain from comparing old age with middle age or youth or focusing on the things that no longer function as well as they used to. Instead we should be seeing it as a unique phase of the human life cycle. As a unique phase that has its own ups and downs and potentials for self-realisation.

I used to liken life to the seasons in nature. Spring symbolises Childhood, summer symbolises Adolescence, autumn symbolises Midlife and winter symbolises Old age. Is one to view life as a process that progresses from growth, maturity, decay and ends in waiting for the cold embrace of death? That sounds like a rather pessimistic view of life. It doesn’t have to be that way. Winter can be a wonderful time for relaxation. A time to go on a virtual trip together with a good book, with a cup of hot chocolate in a hand, while snuggling under a fluffy blanket. Winter is also a wonderful time to take walks in the nature, especially for those who like me suffer from hay fever. Such a walk provides an excellent opportunity to reflect on the meaning of life, while breathing in the cold and crisp winter air. Therefore there are ways we can make the wintery phase of like more pleasurable.

Although I have about thirty years to reach this phase of my life, I was inspired to write this post after watching a TED talk by Jane Fonda titled: Life’s third act. Below you will find a video of her talk, which lasts about 11:20 minutes.

Here is the gist of her talk. We live on average 34 years longer than our great-grandparents and a whole adulthood could fit into this time span. However old age is still viewed as the time before death – a time when our bodies weaken and degenerate. Jane Fonda calls the last three decades of our lives <em>The Third Act</em>. She talks about how an ageing demographic has forced (the intellectual) society to rethink its definition of this period in life, which has its own unique characteristics and opportunities. Traditionally life is viewed as an arch; where it is all downhill after the peak in midlife. But she thinks the metaphor of a staircase to more suitable to describe ageing. As we age –ascend the staircase – our spirits become wiser, more whole and more authentic.

Jane Fonda relates about the time when the thought of growing old made her depressive. Now she is right in the middle of the life phase she was terrified of and she realises she has never been happier. She does admit that ageing is no bed of roses and we might encounter problems as a result of our genetic construct. Nevertheless we can undertake measures to make use of the extra life time we have available. Old age presents us with the opportunity to review our lives. We can tie up loose ends, find closure for unresolved business, forgive others and ourselves and move on. As a result, we can change our relationship with our pasts.

In closing, she makes a point that as children we know who we are and what we want. As we grow older, to be part of a group or another person’s life we compromise who we are. In old age, we have the freedom to focus on our person again and redefine our lives. This would not only impact the rest of our lives but also impact the lives of the younger generation, who can use our new gained knowledge to (re)shape their own lives.

I agree with Jane Fonda, although in her stead I would have used the Gouda instead of the staircase as a metaphor. 🙂 Do you agree with Jane Fonda’s view of The Third Act? Do you already have plans to make your third act special?

A Father’s take on Gender Stereotypes

(This is a comment on my post on Gender Stereoptypes. It is written by a father and he makes such great arguments, I thought it is worth being a post of its own. Here is the link to the author’s blog: Covered by the Dust. Thank you for sharing your views with us.)

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My wife and I worry over gender stereotyping with our daughter… especially before she was born. Everything we bought was gender neutral, but I look over to my 8 month old now and she’s dressed in pink. Ok its leggings and a t-shirt rather than a dress, but still typically ‘girly’. The clothes were a gift

So why did we relax about it and put these clothes on her? Well we came to realise that to impose gender neutrality is still imposition. As Tabitha grows she’ll know she’s a girl as will the world, by hiding her gender the world will not suddenly treat her in a non-gendered fashion… in fact it’ll become more amplified. We don’t buy Tabitha dolls and we never bought our older son an action man. But our boy does have a lot of ‘boyish’ things… he was into Ben 10 so he has some Ben 10 stuff. We try hard not to re-enforce gender stereotypes but nor will we legislate completely what they have… so we dont deny our son a toy on the basis of it being too girly or too boyish. As it turns out our son isn’t at all sporty, he likes to write stories and draw and do a number of things that other boys around him think him strange for, but importantly he doesn’t feel uncomfortable in his skin because as parents we’ve never made it a ‘thing’. So what if a boy wears a bow in a hair and prefers a hand bag to a rucksack… it’d be a mistake to judge against that because of stereotypes… but I do think that it is possible to take it too far the other way and make everything loaded and have meaning as a gendered thing or activity… when to kids it doesn’t even enter their heads, but they can pick up on it from us. I think its just as bad to bring a kid up as being hyper aware of gender through denial as it is to force them into traditional gender roles. Kids should be allowed to be kids, and what kid doesn’t want to clop around in their mums high heels… its funny!

People always mistake tabitha for a boy… even on days when she’s in pink. Thats because physically babies look the same whatever their sex. The social signifiers of hair length isn’t in play yet I suppose but more to the point it says to me that gender isn’t even something at play till much later, any gender worry is totally the imposition of adults.

What I hope to do with both my children as they grow is model and explain how to be the best they can. I hope to demonstrate how to be a good person but also to my son I hope to show how to be a good man, by which I mean that I want him to understand that societal gender disparity is a construct and I want him not to contribute to it. Same with Tabitha.

I certainly think that the story of Sasha and many others like him has noble aims but I’m not sure that it doesn’t contribute to the problem of a child’s gender, treatment and later sexuality being something constructed by outside forces… its just a different set of forces.

Forever young – I want to be forever young

As I write this post, the chorus of the Alphaville song Forever Young is playing over and over again in my head, like a broken record. There is a line in the song that goes, Youth like diamonds in the sky and diamonds are forever. Some time ago, I blogged about why immortality is not as great as it sounds. This post is about what I believe to be more than a trend in modern society – the mission or obsession to remain youthful and also about why I hate Jennifer Aniston and the likes of her.

When I was about 16 years old, I participated in a public speaking competition. There were two parts to the competition. The first part was delivering a prepared speech and the second part to make an impromptu speech on a topic given by jury. My prepared speech was on the topic of Youth Culture. I spoke about, if it is just a trend or a way of life. I am so sure about what I spoke about so long ago because I was traumatised by a case of total mental blackout on stage that day. But I also remember that most of the points in my speech came from my teacher. Honestly what can a youth know firsthand about trying to stay young as long as possible? However ever since I have crossed the thirties threshold, I am confronted with this topic every day – whether I want to or not. With age comes wisdom and I believe I have enough experience of my own to add my two cents worth to this subject.

Wrinkle free skin and a body I would have been proud of in my twenties
Wrinkles and grey hair are widely accepted as the first signs of growing old. I was distraught the day I turned thirty and the salesgirl, who packed my “make-me-feel-good” shopping items, added a sample of an anti-wrinkle cream to the lot. I still do not know what I did to her to deserve such horrible treatment!

The ladies in Hollywood are turning the natural process of ageing into a nightmare for me. Have you noticed how incredible actresses like Demi Moore look the older they get? I am certain Jennifer Aniston looks better in her forties than in her twenties. I know that a lot of money and effort is invested in maintaining this appearance. But the mind only hangs onto the thought that it is possible to look age defying young. If they can do it, I should be able to do it too, right? Who cares that even in my youth I did not have toned muscles or a flat tummy? I can imagine that I am not alone here and that others feel the same way too. So whose idea of youth are we trying to emulate? (Again the word stereotype comes to mind.)

Manipulating our age to look younger
We have a couple of ages. There is the calendar or chronological age, the biological age and the perceived age. The calendar age is self explanatory. It is the number of calendar years we have lived. The biological age is much more difficult to ascertain. It is a combination of various factors, which reduce, slow down or reverse the constant cellular deterioration that constantly goes on in our bodies. The perceived age refers to the age others estimate us to be at based on our appearance, attitude and behaviour.

There is nothing we can do about our calendar age; apart from forging birth certificates. But it is possible to manipulate our biological age. Here is an interesting talk by Dr. Dean Ornish, a clinical professor at UCSF.

From the sound of it, it takes more than creams, hair dyes and clothes to being youthful. No pain, no gain. I am not referring to the pain due to plastic surgeries or Botox injections. (Honestly taking away the mimic from your face does not make you look younger. Instead it makes you look like a well embalmed zombie.) I am referring to the muscle aches as a result of exercising and the pain of having to abstain from sinfully delicious fatty food. The good news according to Dean Ornish is that sport, a healthy diet and lifestyle have a positive effect on our cellular structures. This helps us reduce our biological age.

My perceived age is younger than my calendar age, which is actually a curse in disguise. It keeps me from exercising because my subconscious tells me that there is no need to start just yet. (In project management speak; I am using up my puffer time.) In my opinion, two factors contribute to the perceived age. First is the appearance factor, which is influenced by the physical appearance and fashion sense. Certain types of clothes or hairstyles can make us appear older than we are. Second is the attitude factor, which is the way we think and behave. Our attitude towards technological advances and affinity to new social media could make us appear younger.

Why do we want to be youthful?
One reason that comes to mind is that looking youthful has an impact on the level of success in our career. On the one hand, looking old might give an impression of not being up-to-date. On the other hand, looking youthful is associated with being dynamic, open-minded, flexible and able to easily adapt to changes. It might sound shallow but it is common knowledge that good-looking people are more successful in their careers. (I blogged about it some time ago.) Given the choice between a youthful looking candidate and a old looking candidate with the same qualification and experience, I am pretty sure that the youthful looking candidate would be chosen. In this case, it would not even be a case of ageism.

Another reason I can think of is the fact that we live longer than our ancestors did. Retirement may mark the end of one’s career but it marks the beginning of life. Retirees finally have enough time and money to catch up on all the dreams postponed in favour of the career and the quest of earning money. Therefore being physically youthful is necessary to support an active and possibly adventurous lifestyle.

As I have expressed in this post forever young could mean many different things. Do you want to be forever young and what does being young mean to you?

Are gender stereotypes overhauled?

Stereotypes are one way of simplifying a complex world. But some people forget that stereotypes are oversimplified generalisations. They constrain us when we use them as behavioural guidelines, when we accept them as the law of nature, when we let them dictate our actions or when we use them to judge others.

Some time ago, I read about a British couple, who kept the gender of their child a secret for 5 years. Apart from a few people, no one knew that Sasha was a boy. When I read this article, I was impressed by the extreme step the parents took to protect Sasha from stereotypes and the resulting societal behavioural expectations and pressures. Who decided that it is alright for girls to play with Barbie dolls but not boys? Why is pink considered a girly colour? Why is a girl, who climbs trees and likes to play ball games with the boys, a tomboy?

This British couple stressed that they did not hide his sex from Sasha. He knew that as a boy, he has different body parts than girls. All they wanted for him was the freedom to be a child, without society indirectly dictating and judging his behaviour. I applaud the parents for their courage to take such an extreme step for an applaudable cause.

What I do not understand is the backlash that the couple faced from the general public. People seemed appalled by what the couple had done. Some even called for the child to be taken away from them. In my opinion, such reactions show how unwilling people are to break away from gender stereotypes. Megan Gibson mentions in her article that probably people see sex and gender interchangeably. I found it an interesting thought. I always thought that gender and sex referred to the same thing. What is the difference between gender and sex?

According the online edition of the Merriam Webster dictionary, Sex is used to distinguish individuals based on their reproductive organs. Gender can refer to the sex of an individual or the stereotypes typically associated with a sex. Given this ambiguity, it is understandable that people were confusing sex with gender and the resulting backlash. But was it justified?

While researching this topic on the internet, I came across an NBS news piece about a then 5 year old boy, who liked to wear dresses. At first, his parents were against it because everyone knows that boys do not wear dresses, right? Until one day, the boy’s elder brother asked his mom a question. What’s wrong with his brother wearing dresses, if it made him happy? This innocent question caused both parents to realise that they were the ones with the problem. They allowed their younger son to wear dresses. Naturally they told him that boys do not usually wear dresses but he was free to wear what he wants. By the way, his favourite colour is pink. 🙂

This small boy with his love for pink dresses and all things sparkly caused me to think that possibly prevailing gender stereotypes are overhauled. By the way, there was a time when young boys did wear dresses.

I found this photo on Wikipedia. The note, “English boy, 1871. Without his name on the back the sex would be hard to determine”, is captured below the photo. This page also shades light on the reason for boys to switch from wearing dresses to pants.

It goes to show how stereotypes constantly evolve to suit prevailing societal “norms” and I guess we are ready for the next update.