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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Sir Winston Churchill

It is a good thing for an uneducated man to read books of quotations. Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations is an admirable work, and I studied it intently. The quotations when engraved upon the memory give you good thoughts. They also make you anxious to read the authors and look for more.

Sir Winston Leonard Spencer-Churchill,  (30 November 1874 – 24 January 1965)

(Source: en.wikiquote.org)

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.

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.

5 Reasons – Why procrastinating writers should not be blogging

Reason 1 – Blogging is simply another way to continue procrastinating
I was actually proud of the fact that I have actually kept one of the resolutions I made for this year – to blog every day. I was happy until the moment I started analysing what I have accomplished in the first quarter of 2012. I am ashamed to say that all of my other resolutions have failed. I am far from a flat tummy. I haven’t even started exercising yet! I stopped keeping a To Do list a long time ago. It was supposed to help me overcome my procrastination by setting doable goals every day. Instead I spend hours on the internet researching for the next post, writing the next post, replying to comments on past posts or researching my Stats page every other minute. While every view makes me feel happier it also binds me to continuously refresh the Stats page, wanting to get another adrenaline rush associated with a new view.

Reason 2 – Writing posts takes away time that could be used to write that book
As some of you might be aware of, I have been procrastinating in various areas of my private life. One such area is writing a novel. I have aspired to become a novelist for as long as I can remember. I love writing and I believe that I can communicate my ideas well in the written form. Therefore as I was making my resolution for this year, I decided that this would be the year I write that first book of mine. At that moment, I thought blogging would be a great way to get writing practice. While I might have written a handful of fictional pieces, most of my posts are about topics that caught my interest somehow. These posts take time to research and to condense the information in a readable post length. (My hunch is that most people do not read posts that are about a thousand words or more – too time consuming.) All that time invested for nothing much to show for it except for maybe a couple of likes. In the meantime that time and energy could have been invested in finally writing that draft novel.

Reason 3 – Building and maintaining the blog’s followers is a time consuming process
What is the use of writing, if no one is reading it, right? Well spread the message that you have a blog! You could post it on your Facebook profile but as I have mentioned in another post, chances are only 16% of your “friends” would even see that post. More than 2 months after I started blogging, I keep getting questioning remarks on my Facebook wall asking, “You have a blog?” So even if you have hundreds of Facebook friends, the number of views referred by FB could be really low. At the moment I get an average of 2 views per day referred to my site by Facebook. I have about 365 friends. You can calculate the percentage rate.

What else can you do? If you want to increase traffic to your site, WordPress advices you to read other blogs. But reading and liking a post is not enough to entice other bloggers to your own blog. You have to leave interesting comments on them. It might sound kind of sneaky but there is some sense to what they are proposing. After all, a comment is a teaser, showing your writing style and personal interests. Furthermore reading other blogs could help you improve yours, find new inspiration and simply become part of the blogger community. I have to admit that I have come across a few blogs that I would not have found otherwise. But the point is it is time consuming to get people to read your posts. (How many hours were there in a day?)

Reason 4: Bloggers are too nice to criticise
I have had the good fortune that I have only had friendly people visit my blog. Most visitors leave encouraging comments. I have posted some creative pieces, which I personally thought had weak parts. But I was surprised that I only received positive feedback. As I mentioned, the blogger community is too kind. I was thinking that I should add a comment at the bottom asking for constructive feedback. My work is not going to improve much, if it continues in this fashion.

Reason 5: Blogging is an ego-inflator
This point follows reason number 4. With all the praise and likes a post receives, it is difficult not to feel good about oneself. Feeling good is a good thing, right? Wrong! Feeling good in this case would mean that you are reaping the reward before even seriously starting to work on that book. For this very same reason, it is not recommendable to talk about your goals. It is how our brains are wired and I wrote more about it in this post. If you feel the reward, what is to entice you to do work afterwards? Suddenly I catch myself dreaming about getting Freshly Pressed instead of being published.

Conclusion
While blogging brought me into writing mode, it is keeping me away from the writing that novel. Soon I would be working fultime again and have much lesser free time. I shudder when I think about it.

Do you agree with me? Are you an aspiring author? What is your experience with blogging in relation to your goal to write a book?

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?