Creature of habit

Man is largely a creature of habit, and many of his activities are more or less automatic reflexes from the stimuli of his environment.

G. Stanley
(Source: http://www.brainyquote.co m/quotes/quotes/g/gstanleyh393266.html)

Mr. Stanley should know what he is talking about. After all he was a psychologist. I have been skimming past some of my old posts. In effect although years have gone by, I still struggle with the same bad habits. The worst is basically being a couch potato and passively consuming shows, movies, etc. Many years ago it was sitting in front of the television. Then it was cable TV. Meanwhile it is Netflix. You know the worst thing is I watch Netflix on my mobile. It doesn’t matter that even the early televisions had a bigger screen. I just need the sound of dialogue in the background, regardless of what I am (trying to) do.

Probably like many others I binge watch on Netflix. I always find a reason to start the Netflix app on my mobile or tablet. For instance, just after my son was born, I binge watched Doctor Who. I told myself I am too tired to watch something more brainy and my attention should be on the baby any ways. “Exterminate! Exterminate!” “Delete! Delete!” I wish I could do that to some of my memories of this time. (Not necessarily that of Doctor Who. I have come to like the series. J)

But looking back; I regret not having used my maternity leave wisely and productively. I definitely could have written at the very least a handful of blog posts. But being a creature of habit, I am caught in same the behavioural patterns. A habit is like a sticky spider web and I am the insect caught in it. The more I fight to get out of it, the more I get stuck to the sticky threads. The irony of the situation is that I spun the sticky web myself.

Is there no way out of this? How can I get rid of this habit that is preventing me from spending time on activities that would make my life feel richer und fulfilled? Well there seems to be a way. I came across an article on the web that mentioned one could create a new habit in 21 days. Wow! How great is that? Why didn’t I hear of this earlier? Do something for 21 days and presto it becomes a habit that you do automatically. Alas it is not quite that simple. It seems that Dr. Maxwell Maltz is being quoted out of context. He was a plastic surgeon and realised that it took his patients about 21 days to get used to their new image. Therefore he came up with an exercise to change ones self-image in 21 days. All it takes is a 30 Minute „meditation“ session, where you imagine yourself acting in certain situations the way you would like to act not how you usually would act. (Source: http://griefandmourning.com/self-image) So in my case I would probably imagine myself in my free time, instead of searching on Netflix for something to watch, writing posts for my blog. At some point these images would be stored in my mind like a memory. As a result, being a creature of habit my mind would be tricked into doing something other than watching Netflix. At least that is the theory.

I will try out this exercise and let you know, if it helped me break out of old behavioural patterns.

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All’s well that ends well

My first work day started with a virtual trip to Australia. For one, at the train station I was surrounded by people pulling their trolley luggage around. Then I sat next to a couple on the train, who had just returned from a three week holiday to Australia. We exchanged travel stories and I was reminded of the wonderful things we had done on our trip in 2010.

 

Things even got better. Since I was too early, I decided to buy buns for breakfast at a supermarket close to the company. Strangely the single open cashier had a long queue of people with full shopping carts. After seeing that I had only one item, the lady standing in front of me in the queue let me overtake her. The same thing happened again and again and I was in front of the line in no time at all. Everyone has super friendly to me today.

 

I ended yesterday with terrible backaches and a nagging fear I would oversleep. After taking a bath and a pain killer, I went to bed feeling extremely tired. However my nagging fear did not leave me alone and I dreamt that I had overslept. I woke up all nervous and looked at the alarm clock. The time was 4:48 am – way too early for me to wake up. But I couldn’t fall asleep again being all revved up as I was. I took my time getting ready and before I knew it, it was time to leave the apartment and I had to skip my breakfast. 😦 Not a healthy way to start a working day. However given how the day proceeded, I have to admit I couldn’t have had a better first working day.

 

All’s well that ends well. Looking forward to work tomorrow. (Wow! Did I just say that?)

Racism has many faces

At several points in my life, I have been confronted with racism. These occurrences were not life threatening but they were hurtful nonetheless. When I started going out with Mr.M, I often heard that he was only with me to have fun on his holiday. You know white guy goes on holiday to South East Asia. He promises the innocent Asian girl that he loves her. But we all know what he is after, right? Wrong! I am glad that I trusted my instincts in this case because Mr. M turned out to be my soul-mate. But he had a hard time convincing others of his honest intentions. Once we were walking down a street and a man passing by on a scooter, shouted profanities at us. Since we were the only ones walking on the path, we assumed he was offended by the fact that we were a mixed couple. We could see his face; he was one from my race.

I live in Germany for more than eleven years now. I am often asked, if I have faced racism during that time. I can only say that wherever I have been, I have been welcomed in a friendly and accepting manner. In fact my physical difference seems to add a certain level of exoticness to my being. People often want to know where I come from and what it is like there. The Germans I have met so far are extremely open to other cultures and love travelling, which I think helps to expand one’s mental horizon. They love foreign cuisine too; evident in the number of döner, pizzeria, Chinese or Thai restaurants in most towns.

Having said that, after we moved to the village we are living in now, I heard from several sources that the area we moved to was a stronghold for neo-nazis. The first time I went to the post office, which is actually integrated into a small store run by an old lady, I was hurt by the abrupt way she treated me. She was grouchy and unfriendly. I assumed that the rumours were true and was in tears when I related my experience to Mr.M. I dreaded going there again but I had to post Christmas cards. This time she was extremely friendly to me and chatted with me for a long time. The next day when I came back to post the second batch of cards, she even told me that she had pasted Christmassy stickers on the cards. She was probably having a bad day when I first met her. However the “news” I had heard caused me to interpret her actions wrongly. Imagine how it would have been, if I had only gone there once? I would have unknowingly and falsely confirmed the racism claims.

However recently I had an upsetting conversation with a German teenager. The teenager was never interested in excelling academically. He has the minimum school education. He was complaining about the fact that he had difficulties finding an apprenticeship. He has been rejected with the explanation that he was not qualified for the position he applied for. I thought he was going to admit that it was a mistake that he did not take school seriously. Instead he said in an angry tone, “Instead of training me, a local citizen, they rather employ skilled workers from overseas. They support foreigners, who only come here for the money.” If you asked him, he would not say that his remark was racist. In fact he feels as if he is being discriminated against. Is this the beginnings of racism? How to make it clear to such people in similar situations that their anger is misdirected?

I watched a documentary on the Ku Klux Klan aka the Knights Party yesterday. The reporter followed members of this group for a certain period of time. One of the men interviewed admitted to being a Neo-Nazi as well. He said that his parents did not share his sentiments. However he has felt the hatred against Jews since he was a child. He hated Jews for being Jewish, not because he was taught at home to hate them or because he was hurt by them.

Where does racism start? Does racism sprout off stereotypes? Do clichés fertilise racist ideas? Like we all have the propensity to do evil; do we all have a racist part in us? Does ignorance and hatred cause this side of us to surface and take over our minds and guide our actions?

It cannot be said often enough, be our differences are only skin deep. Inside we are all the same. We have the same anatomy. The colour of our blood is the same. If you need a blood transfusion to save your life, only the blood type and not the race of the donor matters. The same things can hurt us physically. We go through the same cycle of birth, life and death. Ultimately we all want to live a happy life. Living itself is complicated and it is unnecessary to further complicate it with racism.

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/

The Cloud Beckons

This post is about Cloud Computing as understood by me, a nonspecialist in technology. A few days ago the CeBit, one of the world’s leading ICT trade fair, was held in Hanover, Germany. During this week, one of the trending topics was Cloud Computing. Then on the TED website, I came across a feature on a company called Akamai, which provides platforms for Cloud Computing. The signs were there, urging me on to write about it. Therefore here I am writing a post about this super-duper what-ever-it-is.

If Cloud Computing conjured an image of a computer in the clouds turning water into food, I have to disappoint you. No, it has nothing to do with resolving world hunger ala “Cloudy with a chance of meatballs”. That would have been pretty cool. However Akamai claims that Cloud Computing would help fight against global warming. How you ask? To find an answer to that we need to define Cloud Computing.

What is Cloud Computing?

There is no single definition of Cloud Computing and so the following explanation is my personal understanding of it. In essence Cloud Computing refers to sharing server capacity by numerous users and/or organisations around the world. A suitable metaphor I can think of is a safe. You can either store your valuables in a safe at home or you can store them in a bank vault or you can use both to satisfy your need to protect your valuables. Storing at a bank has the added advantage, that there is someone looking after your property all the time and they probably have more resources to protect your property than you might have at hand and you don’t have to buy an expensive safe.

However Cloud Computing is not restricted to sharing hardware only. There are services offering licensed software for the users in their clouds. Therefore instead of buying x number of licenses, which at times might be restricted to use in specific devices, you can make use of a software via the Cloud regardless of the device you are using.

How does Cloud Computing support sustainability?

Carbon footprint has become a household term. When you book a flight, you pay a fee to offset your carbon footprint. When you order a package to be delivered to your house, you pay a fee to offset the gases emitted by the delivery van. You cycle to work and walk to the grocery shop. Your conscience is clean. Maybe you should think again. Do you know how much electricity you consume each day? Laptops, iPads & co., mobile phones all need energy to operate. Do you have any idea what your personal carbon footprint in this area is like? I have to admit I don’t but it probably accumulates to a substantial amount in my lifetime.

Companies are all into sustainability nowadays. Cloud Computing helps you be green and at the same time reduce costs. Have you ever been inside the server room of your company? The rooms are usually cool to prevent the hardware from overheating and there are lots of blinking lights, even when no one is in the office working. Therefore there is energy consumption without corresponding productivity or in other words value creation. By joining the Cloud, you are basically outsourcing these servers. You no longer have hardware taking up valuable office space and consuming energy even when they are idle. You store all your information in the Cloud.

Now those offering Cloud Computing platforms do have hardware, with all the associated non-green aspects mentioned earlier. Is the concept really green? The key point is by serving a wider user base, the Cloud can effectively reduce idle time and utilise the server capacity available. Therefore instead of 500 000 thousand servers being used by various organisations, the Cloud only needs about 40 000 servers to do the same amount of work. (These numbers were cited by Akamai in a promotional video.)

How does Cloud Computing impact you?

Chances are you have already had contact with the Cloud in some form. You are simply not aware of it. Akamai alone has some reputable customers and there are so many other providers of Cloud Computing on the market.

Have you ever lost a work laptop? You lose more than the presentation you were working on. There are usually sensitive company data stored in the hard-drive. Data and information equals to money and competitive advantage in today’s world. If you were using the cloud, no data would be stored locally and ergo no data lost and no breach in security to fear.

Security leads me back to the metaphor of bank vaults. It is common knowledge that valuables are stored in bank vaults. Therefore they are often the target of criminals, who want to get rich quick by getting possession of these valuables. Likewise the Cloud might become a target for hackers and if you are unlucky, they might find a way to get hold of your data. By storing data in the Cloud, you are solely dependent on the Cloud to protect it for you.

My Conclusion

Every cloud has a silver lining. But clouds could cause floods too. As a private individual, I would probably buy an external hard drive to store my personal data; like photos. As it is Facebook and Google know way too much about me, I don’t need to add the Cloud to that list too. I shiver at the thought of what would happen, if they all joined forces. 🙂 That is my view on Cloud Computing.

Related Articles

  1. http://www.ted.com/pages/266
  2. http://www.akamai.com/html/misc/ted.html
  3. http://www.cebit.de/home
  4. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cloud_computing
  5. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Server_%28computing%29

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?