Category Archives: random thoughts

Hacking

While it may not be the new verb on the block, hacking has morphed into a new comfort zone, shedding some of its bad rap.

When I was young, the ‘hacking’ I knew was messy.  Hacking a branch off a tree was sloppier than cutting it off.  Hacking was also the loud bursts of a spasmodic cough you could hear coming out of heavy cigarette smokers.  And of course, hacking was the description serious golfers gave to my golf swing.  The fact that I unintentionally hacked off a few plants at the roots with a gold club made me a hacker.

Could this have been the reason I was a hacker?

Then came personal computers, their coded languages, and the unauthorized access to other’s data.  Computer hacking was born.  If you hacked, you were a hacker.  Hackers were, and many still are, devious, spreading bugs, viruses and stealing what isn’t theirs.

Then at some point in recent evolution, we included building something quickly and being able to solve a problem using a shortcut, as part of the hacking definition.  Hacking became a good thing.  You can now find online life-hacking tips.  Dave Asprey, in his book Head Strong, discusses various techniques for hacking the brain to optimize its use.

One suggestion for brain hacking

Vanessa Van Edwards, the author of Captivate, outlines a multi-step approach to hacking the personality traits of others, for enhanced relationships.  I recently read a blog post by a doctor discussing the benefits of exercise hacking to improve workouts.  Hackety, hack, hack, hack.

Many of us are looking for shortcuts and tricks to gain an edge.  That now means hacking, which is okay, if, in the end, we are more productive, efficient, healthier, and good to each other.

If that’s the case, count me in.  I could be down for some serious hacking, wherever I can find it.

No-Fault Thought

It’s an insurance policy I took out for myself several months ago.  No-fault thought (NFT) — prevents crashing into a wall of nonsense.

Gibberish thoughts tend to badger the consciousness more often than necessary.  Those thoughts are the slight annoyances that occur when, say, someone pulls in front of you, either when walking or driving, or when someone says something or behaves a certain way that doesn’t suit us.

If I feel like this at times, it’s a mirage

Why, I contemplated a few months ago (in a moment when the mud must have cleared), should anyone or anything annoy me?  Because I’m human?  Because I’ve got ego and emotions?  Because I’m right and someone else is wrong?  They are (seemingly) justified rationalizations, but only a mirage.  So I took out the policy.

The essence of NFT is that everyone’s actions or words are justified in their own minds.  If their conduct doesn’t conform with mine, no one is at fault.  If someone crosses my path, utters remarks I don’t appreciate, or otherwise interrupts my rhythm, it’s not their fault. They were acting or moving according to their own tempo.  Our rhythmic waves intersected for a split second.  No one’s fault.

The policy helps curb the voice which insists, periodically, that the universe should act a certain way.   NFT doesn’t mean that some people are not irritating at times.  It just means that in their heads, we’d have done the same thing.  By turning to the policy, it helps to allude a moment of annoyance.

This guy was vexing if only for the time being before I remembered NFT

Being exasperated with anything or anyone is really an admission of impatience, or more often, displays our limited understanding.  Even a flicker of irritation shows us that we didn’t, at that moment, have the capacity to understand.  The NFT policy is a blanket license to admit we actually don’t comprehend why others do what they do.  We can’t.  None of us has the experiences of another.

The clever suggestions in our heads can so easily justify a form of self-righteousness.  The downside — it’s most always ill-perceived and leads to moments of unhelpful grit.

Have there been times I’ve forgotten about NFT?  Sure, fog runs thick between my ears more often than I care.  On the bright side, NFT has been seeping into consciousness with more frequency since I picked up the policy.  It must be, like most things, a matter of practice.

Until I can find a way to paste No Fault Thought in my frontal cortex, the times that I can recall the policy helps to serve as a reminder that I’ve got a limited capacity for understanding others, and I am better off nipping tiny worthless thought spirals in the bud.

“In my heart of hearts, I believe…,”

Says the guy to the woman he was walking with as I passed them on a busy crosswalk of 23rd at 5th Ave/Madison Square Park in New York yesterday.  Since we were moving in opposite directions, a split-second glance at his face told me that he was engaged in an intent explanation.  And who wouldn’t look purposeful uttering the idiom ‘my heart of hearts.’

Whoever wrote this didn’t add the heart as a source

Shakespeare supposedly gave us this phrase, but he used the singular version, ‘my heart of heart.’   We like many hearts to proclaim something at the core of our beliefs. As emotional beings, we like to express depth and profundity.  It helps convey a level of certainty.

We invoke the heart, or hearts, because we love believing in things. Believing in something self-assures us that we are not idiots.  And if we can believe profoundly, it helps us feel that we are not on shaky ground.

It’s said though, that the only thing we can truly believe is our ability to change.  All other beliefs are built on experiences, which are somewhat like fantasies.  And like snowflakes, everyone’s belief structure is unique.

Heart of hearts or a 10 of hearts, we love our hearts

I believe that the world is flat until I find out it’s round and that it’s round until I learn it’s a spheroid.  And, I believe that what I’m doing at this very moment is positive and healthy.  In fact, I believe from the bottom of my heart, which must be somewhere near the gut, mixing itself in the intestinal instinct fluids.

A belief that reaches the depth of our consciousness, the core of our hearts, helps conquer empty space.  The trick, since beliefs are self-constructed, quasi-realities, is to prevent them from growing too rigid or giving them too much validity, lending them to be more heart healthy.

I’m not sure where my heart of hearts lies.  I can’t think of a conviction I’ve got that is so profound.  If I had a gun to my head, I would proclaim with a certain degree of certainty, ok, my heart-of-hearts, at least for the near future, that the New York Yankee’s will win (something) and that dogs will remain man’s best friend.

Staying modern

An ever-changing, sometimes elusive, interpretative state of being.  Whether the topic is medical, engineering, fashion, government, technical, or scientific, the adjective modern receives its share of use.  This current attribute seems to be popping up all over the place lately, or maybe it’s just booming louder in my eardrums,…modern equipment, modern practices, modern way of life, our modern world.

Most of us like to think and describe ourselves as modern.  Unless we’ve hit that comfortable bar we don’t want to cross, we, as individuals and organizations, don’t want to be, nor can we afford to be, out-of-date or old-fashioned.

Modern is not quite an anachronism.  But it could be.  When we describe recent history as it’s taught in (Western) schools, the Modern Era started during or with the Renaissance.  Some say it started with clock time, during the 16th century.  The history books call our current age, post-1945 to the present, as the Contemporary phase of the Modern Era (the present, evidently, is whatever year the definition is being read.) What will our history books call the years surrounding 2017?  Will it be another version of modern?

A soon to be modern?

Most of what we know about the universe, both beyond our planet and within it, we’ve discovered in the last few decades.  Still, our knowledge outside our natural sight, in our current modern world, is not much.  Those who study what we can’t see, say that what lays outside our current modern comprehension is enormous.  It’s estimated, (as much as we can estimate a percent without a firm grasp of the whole), that we may know less than 3% of what this earth, and the universe, is about.  For now, though, we are as modern as it gets.  Just don’t blink too often, because modern has been gaining momentum and is moving faster than ever.

A few hundred years ago, not much changed between generations.  By comparison, the last few have been moving at warp speed.  In our modern day of just twenty-five years ago no one used the internet.  Apple’s first iPhone launched only 10 years ago in 2007, starting the smart-phone revolution.  Now, almost everyone on the globe spends precious time bowing to those devices.  A mere 10 years ago, our modern-day had no apps, Facebook and Twitter were just coming onto the scene.  Instagram and WhatsApp were born just seven years ago.  WeChat, introduced a mere six years ago, now dominates in China not only as a must-have social media app, but also as a platform for the majority of everyday purchases and currency transactions.

In the fashion world, so that we don’t overuse modern, we circulate other descriptives, like current, contemporary, up-to-date, in-trend, chic, fresh, fashionable, cool, hip.  In fact, modern gets a new definition every season.

What was modern yesterday, even ultra-modern, may not be tomorrow.

Every generation in history has lived in modern times. Current practices and knowledge will soon be dust, considered ancient and antiquated.  Future humans will look back to our present day, 2017, and say, wow, do you remember when people actually drove cars, sat in traffic, made cheap industrial food, and polluted the atmosphere without regard?  How crude and barbaric.

But hey, we can’t get hung up on modern.  It’s only an overworked adjective trying to be helpful.  So what that modern’s description has become fleeting.  The good news is, it won’t take much effort to stay relevant.  We are all on the modern fast train, and it’s just pulling out of the station.  We have little choice.

Modern Art. A move from tradition to experimentation. Country Road by Vincent Van Gogh, 1889

Fluently Fluenz

Although there is still much more about our brains that we don’t know than we do, what those who study our noggins have discovered is that learning a language is an activity that pays relatively high dividends.

Learning a foreign language creates more connections

For most of us, because of the complexity, learning a new language is not easy.  It takes time, thought, effort, recall, and lots of practice.  It’s kind of like aerobics, resistance training, and yoga all combined into a well-rounded mental workout.  And like physical exercise, the results are proportional to the effort we invest.  When we learn a language, brain scans are showing the firing of neural synapses actually help expand the plasma membrane where we need it most — memory and recall.

Good advice, but may not be too helpful for actually learning the language

As an added bonus, brain heads are also detecting a host of extra side benefits from learning a language, such as an increase in creativity, flexibility, openness, focus, and an improvement in general cognitive skills.

This seems to be about my speed

Having been in rural China (on and off) for a few years means that getting to know the basics of Mandarin not only makes life a bit easier but also a tad more enriching.  Fortunately, or unfortunately, most business communication is conducted in English, giving me an excuse and an out.  Still, I’ve poked around at several different learning methods, from podcasts, to classes, to a book and CD — each one improving my rationalization skills for avoiding the mental workouts.  I even tried using a stone of the rosetta variety, but nothing was sparking the neuron stimulation I was looking for. Then I found Fluenz.

While I’m still well entrenched in the beginner stage, it’s kind of thrilling to be able to direct a taxi and order food without pointing to everything like a dumbo.  After a few years, that’s not saying much.  Anyone with normal intelligence would be a lot further along.  But the fact that I’ve found something that is not a chore is thanks to the structure and format of this online and downloadable course.

This must mimic my own circuitry — minimal

The co-founder, Sonia Gil, has developed a method that actually makes learning the language engaging.  The premise of Fluenz is that each language requires a slightly different approach, at least for English speakers. I can’t speak for their other courses, but the Mandarin version consists of three levels, each one with more than a couple dozen sessions.  Each session is broken down into many, aptly named, workouts.  The exercises include a short dialogue with and without translation, explanations, matching words with photos and sentence structures, practice writing what you hear with the correct inflection (pinyin), and more. The sessions are pleasantly mixed and diverse enough that the learning process is stimulating.  Additionally, the iPad and iPhone versions are appealingly interactive.  The course also includes digital flashcards in a variety of formats, mobile podcast practice, and a short dictionary.

My rationalization skills for avoiding study time are still well-honed.  Many days spent justifying why not studying Mandarin is in my best interest has made me an expert at fooling myself.  The one phrase I’ve got memorized for the Chinese people who try to speak to me is “tīng bù dõng” which in essence means, I’m clueless about your language, so it’s fruitless to talk with me. But because I’m an oddball in their world, the locals are curious.  They want to converse. By not trying, tiny grains of richness evaporate, so it doesn’t seem right that I deny them, or myself, those scattered yet potentially wholesome morsels.

With luck, if the gray matter is not too thin and I can somehow overpower the phony excuses, I’ll eek out of baby phase at some point and into toddlerhood. If so, I’m hoping to eventually savor some of those residual benefits.  I won’t hold my breath, but if there’s a chance, it will be thanks to the Fluenz course.

And if I can power through, I just may pick up another Fluenz language and chalk it up to encephalonic health care.  Not being in the country where the language is spoken doesn’t mean there isn’t value in the effort.  Daily mental calisthenics with so many perks could be a worthy commitment.

Catching restorative Z’s

During my 40’s & 50’s, I was an avid alarm clock user.  It was set for 5 am, weekends included.  I was either in the gym or outdoors doing something active every day at 5:30 am, no matter what.  The daily morning engagement was a commitment.  It didn’t matter if the evening prior was filled with late fun, the outdoor date with myself at 5:30 in the morning held.

To get up at five, meant I should have been in bed and asleep by nine the evening prior.  That never happened.  It was more like 11 pm, or sometimes 12.

We should not need one of these

In my 30’s I didn’t get up that early.  But the idea may have been festering for years. During the time I lived in San Francisco, I met a young, upwardly mobile, apparently successful and vibrant couple, each running their own business.  We became friends and occasionally jaunted up to Napa and Sonoma on our motorcycles for lunch.  Curiosity led me to ask about their workout routine.  They explained that they got up at 5 am to workout in their home gym so they could fit in their physical activity before their day jobs.  Their answer to “what time do you go to bed and sleep at night” left me with my jaw hanging open.  Nine pm they said. They were my age, early 30’s.  How could anyone go to sleep at 9 pm every day I thought.  But they did. They were not going to trade-off sleep.

It wasn’t until my later 50’s, that I was slapped upside the head (actually the neck).  Yea, ok, I’m a (real) slow learner.  Little did I realize that length, and of course quality, of sleep, is just as important as eating and exercising well.

Sleep researchers say that adults need between 7-9 hours of sleep a day.  Throw out the 3rd standard deviation, and that leaves more than 80% of us requiring between 7.5-–8.5 hours daily — depending on our individual rem sleep cycles.  If we trim or curtail our required sleep-time, we are not doing ourselves, or our bodies, any favors.  In other words, cutting sleep short creates metabolic distortions.  And, if we are getting the right amount of sleep we shouldn’t need an alarm clock to get out of bed.

A common habit — eating into healthy sleep time.

Most of us have (self-created) demanding, competitive, activity-filled lives, hell-bent on productivity and getting ahead, that a major challenge is squeezing life into our waking hours.  Unfortunately, sleep usually takes a hit.

It’s not surprising.  Many business success self-help books extol the virtues of waking up earlier, burning the midnight oil, and other push-the-envelope advice, ignorantly neglecting the health repercussions of extended sleep deprivation.

We’ve all had to work on less sleep from time-to-time, but when it becomes a lifestyle, then long term health is compromised.  The right amount and quality of daily sleep set us up for optimal physiological and biological performance.  It’s just as important as exercise and diet, if not more so.

The challenge for most of us is not waking up early, but getting to bed, lights out/devices off, so that we can wake up, alarm free, after a full night’s sleep.

I still have the morning date with myself but without the alarm clock.  It’s still a tug-of-war getting to bed on time.  But seeing that compromising sleep-time is a health disservice, it’s worth protecting like gold. 

Cigarette smoking is not harmful

And if you believe that you might also be convinced that cellphone microwave emissions are not harmful.  But then again, it’s possible they both are.

One could argue, and make a strong case, that smoking one, two, or three cigarettes would not cause physical harm.  Likewise, the same could be said that one, two, or three five-minute phone calls with a cellphone against your head is harmless.  But the answer is, in both cases, different if we are talking about the cumulative effects over decades.

Smoking was sexy

It only took us (in the USA), about 100 years to go from romanticizing cigarettes after WW1, to permitting smoking in airplanes and hospitals, to then thinking they may be harmful, to realizing that they indeed are,  then making it compulsory for a warning label on the side of their package, to banning the marketing of them, to the airlines slowly going smoke-free, to moving the warning to the front of the cigarette package, and only recently prohibiting them from restaurants, bars, and public spaces.  Are we in the romance stage for cellphone usage?  It’s much too early to say, but initial studies are showing there are indeed undesirable effects.

No other generation in history has carried powerful handheld devices that emit radio frequency close at hand as we do today.

Taken from Dr. Devra Davis presentation

It was barely 25 years ago when I acquired my first clunky mobile cellphone.  It was a business expense since I was in the field working in Brazil, so not everyone had them.  It also wasn’t so smart and didn’t stay with me like an appendage.  There was no such thing as WiFi at that time.  Now of course, just about everyone on the planet has smart handheld devices and/or tablets with them at all times.  The market is so device saturated that we’ve begun advertising phones to children and tablets to babies.

Consider that the electromagnetic waves that power cellphone connections are the same kind and frequency used in microwave ovens.  They both generate heat.  The only difference is the power used to produce them.  The few studies done so far for cellphone electromagnetic safety have been industry funded studies.  (sound familiar?)

Taken from Dr. Devra Davis presentation

Consider also that companies like Apple bury the warning inside legal mumbo jumbo, advising against the use of these devices against the body.  The headset that is provided is not because they want to give us something extra, but because the radio frequency absorption rate tests indicate a potential health risk. They are implying that there could be consequences for not keeping space between your body and the device.  The statement leaves them legally off the hook.

In the about/legal section of every Apple mobile device

The fact is, we don’t know exactly how unhealthy sustained exposure to these microwaves is.  We do know that children and babies have softer bones and tissue.  Several countries, such as France, have recently banned marketing cellphones to children.

Cellphones emit the strongest pulse radiation signals when 1) a call is answered, 2) we travel (walk or drive) and connectivity switches from tower to tower or 3) there is other cellular activity.  The non-industry testing that has been done so far suggest that constant use over decades, beginning at an early age, points to negative consequences.

We won’t have real data until perhaps 40 years into continuous use.  We’re not there yet.  Then again, the difficulty will be the lack of control groups as nearly everyone uses these devices.  Therefore, it may be prudent to be safer rather than sorry(ier).

Following are a few tips:

  • Keep the phone on airplane mode whenever possible and use Wifi (wifi dosage is less than cellphone RF)
  • Use a headset or speaker to talk on the phone, not the phone against the head
  • Don’t keep the phone on your body when not in airplane mode (i.e., pants pockets or bra)
  • If you keep the turned-on device on your person, line your pockets or bag with an RF blocking material
  • Don’t sleep next to your turned-on device
  • Don’t let children carry phones if it can be prevented (unless you don’t mind them being part of a large experiment)

Of course, there’s always the option of keeping the phone turned off most of the time and living life outside the device.  But we may have reached the point of no return.