The Quantified Self

A blast from the past.

366 Degree

Have you heard the terms “Quantified Self” or “Self-tracking” before? I have to admit that I have heard them for the first time last week. A radio talk show host was kind of against the idea of self-tracking. She saw this leading to others knowing about her personal data like when and how often she has gone to the toilet that day and what she ate for breakfast, etc. I find her stance on this topic absurd. After all self-tracking does not necessarily mean, you have to publish your personal data to the world but you can if you want to. It is like just because there is the functionality to upload photographs on Facebook you do not have to upload photos of you dancing on a table with a bottle of vodka in your hand but you can if you want to. I guess it depends on how extroverted…

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The Hate Game

Amanda closed the cubicle door. She lowered the lid and sat down. Her pulse should have been racing, given but she felt extremely calm. She took a box of Panadol out of her school rucksack. She had bought one at the pharmacy last week to add to the package she had found at home. She popped one pill out of the blister package. Her fingertip traced the groove in the middle of the pill. Would breaking them in the middle quicken the effect? She held each end between a thumb and index finger and pressed. It was harder to split the pill in the middle than she had expected. She decided to leave the remaining pills whole. She couldn’t risk dropping any of the pills; she needed every single one.

Her heart skipped a beat at the shrill ring of the school bell. She prayed that no one would enter the toilet. She had chosen the one on the third floor because most of the rooms were only used for Extra-Curricular Activities. She had one more free period before her next lesson started. How fitting that it would a Math class; since she hated it and hopefully wouldn’t have to live through it. It would have been nice, if it were music instead because singing made her happy. Amanda wiped the tears on her right sleeve.

There was no other way out.

She needed to put an end to the pain. She threw the ham and cheese sandwich, her mom had made for her lunch, in the bin in the cubicle; the lunch menu has changed. She removed the remaining pills from the blister packages and put them in her lunch box. She concentrated on the monotonous action and managed not to think about the chain of events that had brought her there. She had 47 pills in all. She hoped it was enough for her plan to be successful. She stuffed the empty packages in her rucksack. She stood up, righted her uniform, swung her rucksack over her right shoulder and left the cubicle.

Amanda knew the perfect spot, where she could consume her special lunch in peace. There was a bench next to the canteen, overlooking the school garden. There was a rose bush right next to the bench. She loved sitting there because the roses smelled lovely. When she closed her eyes, she imagined being in a candy shop, surrounded by the sticky sweet smell of roses. She bought a can of Coke from the vending machine. She had read on the internet that carbonated drinks increased the effect of paracetemol. Even if it did not, it was much tastier than plain water.

She placed the first pill onto her tongue. She took a sip from her can and swallowed the mixture. The next 5 followed swiftly in the same manner. However she couldn’t hold back the tears for long. She wiped her tears with a tissue paper, folded it and blew her nose. She hoped no one noticed her crying, especially not a teacher. She was doing the right thing. She couldn’t live another day reading the lies her classmates spread about her on Facebook. The names they had for her went through her mind, virtually burning, hitting, spitting on and shaming her before hundreds of spectators. Some were strangers but most she knew personally. They encouraged her demons with their applauding and cheering! Why her? Some of her tormentors used to be her friends. She has looked for a reason many times before as to why they had turned on her. But she always came up blank. There was no sense to the madness that had overcome them.

Amanda had difficulties swallowing the remaining pills. Her throat felt constricted and she was sure that the slightest pressure could result in her puking into the rose bush. But she would see this through. She wanted her death to haunt her tormentors with guilt for the rest of their lives. She practically shoved the remaining pills one by one down her throat and washed each down with Coke.

The bell rang again. Amanda stuck the empty lunchbox in her rucksack and threw away the can. She was starting to feel ill, comparable to the time she had the flu. Her stomach was cramping as she slowly made her way to class.

“Amanda, you’re late!”

“Sorry! I don’t feel well.”

“What is wrong with you?”

“I don’t know.”

“You do look pretty pale. Cynthia, please escort Amanda to the sick bay.”

“Not Cynthia. I can go myself.”

“You look as if you would faint any moment. Now get to the sickbay quickly.”

Amanda and Cynthia walked to the sickbay in silence. Amanda wanted to tell her a lot of hurtful things but she couldn’t get a single one out. Instead as they stood in front of the sickbay she said, “Hope my death makes you feel happy.” The shock in Cynthia’s eyes was enough to make Amanda feel temporarily happy. At least Cynthia will suffer after her death.

“Here’s a pail my dear, in case you need to be sick again. Your mom is on her way here. She will bring you to the doctor. You have a slight fever. It is probably only a stomach-flu. Have had a couple of kids come down with it last week. You will be fine in a few days time.”

***************************

“Amanda! You have visitors.”

“Mom! Who?… Oh! What do you all want here?”

Cynthia and five other classmates entered her bedroom. Cynthia held a bouquet of roses up and spoke.

“We want to apologise for being mean to you. We did not seriously mean the things we said. It was only fun. We have deleted all the posts about you. We hope you can forgive us.”

Live Webcast: Ethics – Educating the Mind and Heart | The Office of His Holiness The Dalai Lama

There will be a live webcast of His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s public talk at Delhi University entitled “Ethics – Educating the Heart and Mind” on March 22, 2012 in New Delhi, India, from 2:00pm – 3:30pm Indian Standard Time (GMT+5.30). Live webcast can be viewed at

Live Webcast: Ethics – Educating the Mind and Heart | The Office of His Holiness The Dalai Lama.

Springtime Blues

Irene squeezed her eyes shut blocking out the sunrays and pulled the blanket over her head.

“Wake up sleeping beauty. It is a beautiful day!”

M opened the windows letting in the sound of birds chirping and thousands of invisible pollen. Although she could not see them, she felt their presence immediately. She rubbed her tongue against the roof of her mouth. With closed eyes she groped for the packet of Kleenex she always kept on the nightstand. The itch spread to her nostril and she felt the pressure to sneeze growing within her. She was ready to give in to it.

M said loudly, “Achoo!”

“Why did you do that for? It is bad enough that you rip me out of a wonderful dream. Am I not even allowed the satisfaction of a sneeze?”

“Stop complaining and eat. We are going to make the best use of the first sunny day after winter.”

Without another word, Irene ate her toast with jam and drank her semi-hot cup of chocolate quickly. M was probably trying to make her agreeable by serving breakfast in bed. She dragged herself from the bed and into the bathroom.

“I assume you already have it all planned out. What are we doing?”

The hot shower caused the sore skin around her upper lips to burn; another reason why she hated spring. The following weeks she would be wearing a moustache of crusted skin, caused by the attrition of super soft paper handkerchiefs against her even softer facial skin.

“We are going to the mobile home fair. It is outdoors. What better way than to spend a day like this outside?”

“Afterwards I’d like to go to that newly opened frozen yoghurt place. I forgot the name. Michel was raving about how great it is the whole day yesterday at the office.”

“Fine with me! Now get changed quickly. The later we get there, the more difficult it would be to find a parking lot.”

“15 more minutes, if you let me get ready in peace.”

Irene washed down her allergy tablet with a big gulp of water. She packed her anti-allergic eye drops and nasal spray in her handbag. She was ready for the wild outdoors!

************

Irene stopped in midstride and pressed her upper thighs together. Another watery glob of pollens came charging out of her nostrils. But she was ready to capture it with a new paper handkerchief. She folded the tissue in half and held it before her nose like a hygiene mask, ready for the next sneeze. The tingly feeling in her nose was a dead giveaway that she wouldn’t have to wait long for the next one.

She scanned the crowd around her. Where was he? She had only paused for a few seconds. He couldn’t have gone far. That is the problem with visiting an outdoor mobile home fair. On the one hand, the constant pollen attack was weakening her physical state of being. On the other hand, she kept losing track of M in the blink of an eye it took her to sneeze. She remained standing in the middle of the path. He had to come out of one of these mobile homes sooner or later.

She felt drained of all energy. Too bad she was too old to lug a schnuffeltuch around. She would love to curl up on her sofa with a comforter and give in to the feeling of sickness that overwhelmed her. But she couldn’t hide indoors all spring or could she? She contemplated the repercussions of such a decision when someone tapped her on the shoulder.

“Would you like some apple juice?”

“No thank you. My panty wouldn’t remain dry for long when I have to walk around with a full bladder and sneeze unrelentingly. Let us get on with this show. A frozen yoghurt is waiting for me.”

They walked down the aisle hand in hand.

Neglected by evolution or man’s own doing?

What do the following biblical characters have in common apart from the fact that their related by blood; Adam, Seth, Enosh, Kenan, Mahalalel, Jared, Enoch, Methuselah, Lamech and Noah? They are also known as the Antediluvian Patriarchs, which translates as Scriptural Fathers of the Pre-Flood Age. According to the bible, they all lived to be a couple of hundred years old. That was my first thought when I read the synopsis of a TED talk under the theme; “Might you live a great deal longer?”

This is the final post on an unintentional series about ageing. I have written about immortality, the youth culture and the final act. Today’s post looks at Aubrey de Grey’s assertion that the first human beings to live to a 1000 years have already been born. The British researcher on gerontology claims that we need to develop treatments that repair the damage caused by ageing and thereby delaying pathology. Below you will find the video of his TED talk. However be warned that he talks really fast and packs a whole lot of information into 18 minutes.

Basically Aubrey claims that ageing leads to pathology because of physical damages accumulating in our body. He identifies 7 areas where this damage occurs; Cell loss/atrophy, Death-resistant cell, Nuclear Mutations and Epimutations, Mt DNA mutations, Protein crosslinks, Junk inside cells and Junk outside cells. (These points were listed on a slide Aubrey used during the talk – 16th minute.) I need an encyclopaedia to make sense of some of these points. But the gist of it is metabolism damages our cellular structures, which culminates in death.

Aubrey proposes that it is possible to repair the damage through treatments. He says that anti-ageing treatments would keep improving and treat people before they enter the certain death phase and thereby increasing their life duration century by century. As a result of these continuous treatment improvements it would be possible to reach a life span of a thousand years. However we need to invest in the research of such treatments immediately, if we want to experience longevity to this extent.

In the Q&A session after the talk, Aubrey stressed that ageing is not the result of selection. In his opinion, evolution has neglected to find a way to resolve mortality because it would require too much energy and more sophisticated genes. In other words, if evolution were more hardworking we probably would be immortals by now.

This brings me back to the topic of the Antediluvian Patriarchs. I probably would get to hear that the bible is a fictional work and thus not a fitting reference when trying to find answers to a scientific question. Since this is my post, we will stick to the assumption that the Antediluvian Patriarchs had existed. The last of this group, Noah, supposedly lived up to 950 years. Therefore according to the bible, men started out with life spans of almost 1000 years. However after Noah, the life span continually decreased until King Solomon only lived to be about 70 years old. According to WHO statistics from the year 2009 the median life expectancy is at 71 years. It would seem that human life expectancy has been constant for thousands of years.

Why has the time we spend on earth shortened after Noah? It would appear that sin and men distancing themselves from God led to a drastic cleansing through the flood. Noah was the chosen one to start a new civilisation on earth. However this new world became tainted by sin too.

Since I believe in the existence of God, I do not find it too farfetched to assume that God’s original creation had very sophisticated genes. However the quality of genes deteriorated overtime as a result of our indulgence in activities harmful to our physical wellbeing. Therefore I think it is plausible to undo these damages through advanced medical treatments.

Do I think this is the right time to invest in such medical treatments? No. In my opinion, if such treatments were available now, it would only benefit the rich. After all, we have vaccinations for diseases that still kill thousands of children in the third world country. The reason for their death is lack of money, which bars their access to the medication. Thus you can imagine how it would be, if it were possible to live for centuries. It would be naive to assume that such treatments would be free of charge.

What do you think?

Related Articles
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Antediluvian
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Patriarchs_%28Bible%29#Antediluvian_Patriarchs
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Noah
http://www.biblestudy.org/maps/life-span-of-bible-patriarchs-before-after-the-flood.html
http://www.who.int/healthinfo/statistics/mortality_life_tables/en/index.html

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?

Thirties are the new Twenties

I keep hearing the phrase “Thirties are the new Twenties”. But what does that really mean? Here is my list describing the lives of Twenty-year olds – partly derived from my own life and partly inspired by The Big Bang Theory and How I met your Mother. (Warning: This list is full of sweeping generalisations! It is supposed to provoke.) Continue reading