transparency to life

Avoid Illness by Making Your Body Resilient

on Dec 18, 2011

It’s that time of year again. No, not just the holidays, but the time where it seems that everyone is becoming sick. Perhaps you’re one of the lucky ones that’s not [yet] been afflicted. So you’re avoiding making contact with people with symptoms – telling that coughing coworker to stay at home to spare the rest of your team. And you’re not touching those infested subway poles. And you wash your hands all the time, just to be safe. I call this mindset the contagion model, where a person becomes sick if they’re exposed to agents that contain infectious bacteria or viruses – people and objects included. While there’s a lot of truth to this way of thinking, I feel we rely too much on it. The contagion model is rendered moot by the resilience model, where one can avoid illness altogether by strengthening and conditioning their bodies in various means. This seemingly impossible feat results from developing a strong immune system and a stress buffer. Thus, even if a resilient individual is exposed to infectious pathogens, her body is able to resist and ward off the potential illness.

Although I’m not a doctor, I’ve mixed together a slew of information, from microbiology to stress research, with self-experimentation and introspection to develop this model. Here’s the kicker – as of this writing, I haven’t been sick since December 2005. That’s 6 years! At worst, I’d feel like I have something coming down which slightly bothers me for a day, and then it’s gone. Now, because I only have a single data point – myself – it’s not entirely clear what factors are more prominent to building resilience. Still, I have a bunch of ideas that I consider to be significant factors.

The body is more likely to succumb to illness when it is placed under stress. So it’s important to keep oneself in tip-top shape by eating well, being very physically active, and getting plenty of sleep. I should note two important things I had done in 2005, when my illness-free streak began: I stopped drinking soda and I began serious martial arts training. My body has felt amazingly better since. Likewise, pursuing meaningful or enjoyable activities (in both work and play) and being social go a long way keep us unstressed and consequently stave off illness. If this perspective sounds familiar, it’s because this is core and time-tested health advice, not to mention a central point of this blog. I believe the way we live on a day-to-day basis most profoundly prevents sickness.

Shocks to the body are bad – like going from the toasty indoors to the freezing winter outside – so it’s helpful to acclimate oneself to the new season. Every Fall the past few years, I’ve gradually exposed myself to the colder outside temperatures. I tend to keep the indoor temperature on the low side, like in the 60s. And participating in outdoor physical activities, like roller blading, means putting up with moderately unpleasant cold temperatures as the season carries on. By the time the days get nastily cold, my body has a new set point and tolerance – I never have to feel the intense blast of cold in the dead of winter because my body is already used to the moderate cold. Reducing the cold imbalances in the season means reducing the chance of a cold in your system.

We should embrace germs instead of fearing them. I’m vehemently against the common use of antibacterial soap and hand sanitizers. Here’s why: not all bacteria are bad and we humans have evolved to coexist with many bacteria in mutually beneficial ways. There’s a trillion bacteria on our skin surface and most of them are either beneficial or don’t cause harm. The actual benefit is very interesting, because these typical skin bacteria often prevent the pathogenic bacteria from taking hold on the skin surface. Let this sink in – the bacteria that normally reside on our skin surface essentially give us a force field that protects us from infectious pathogens. Now what happens when we use antibacterial soap or hand sanitizers that kill off everything? The skin becomes a clean slate and an open invitation to all bacteria – good and bad. Think about this the next time you go for the antibacterial product.

The immune system is like a muscle. It requires a consistent workout to maintain its strength. Like an atrophied bicep that can barely lift a thing, a coddled immune system offers little protection when it’s called to action. Our bodies are designed to be exposed to the elements. A minor infection here or there gives the immune system practice and information. It helps us develop immunity and preps our bodies for the big game when flu season comes around. Hence, we shouldn’t be afraid to get a little dirty sometimes.

As I mentioned, these are a few ideas that have come from a lot of experimenting and consideration of the way the human body works. I understand that it may be a bit unconventional, or perhaps blasphemous. But at the very least, I know that something is working. It’d be nice to have some more data points. Have a healthy and resilient winter!

Learning from ‘Bahia Time’

on Dec 4, 2011

Here in New York, the way we use our time is, in a word, busy. We constantly have events that we’re rushing to attend. Likewise, we’re expected to be accessible 24/7 for the last minute changes or updates. A week and a half ago, I was in Salvador, Bahia, Brazil, one of the most laid back places on the planet. The way they saw time was the complete opposite. The rather slow and relaxed pace of like was something to experience first hand – it was a very good thing that I knew of it beforehand so that I could leave my NYC habits at home and enjoy the experience in Bahia.

What I found most interesting was how “Bahia time” infiltrated every aspect of what one would go through in a day. Here’s a handful of experiences that illustrate the phenomenon:

  • I usually woke up whenever, without any alarms. There’s no rush. I would have something to eat eventually and prepare to leave the apartment – again, eventually.
  • There would be some event I’d like to go to. It might start on time. Or it might not. Or it could be outright cancelled (I didn’t experience any cancellations myself, but I hear that it does happen and it’s not a big deal).
  • I wait for the buses somewhere between a few minutes and an hour. There wasn’t a schedule or even published maps of the bus routes.
  • After an event, my friends and I would go for dinner. In one instance, we had to hit up a second place to eat after we learned that the chef had gone home, after we placed our orders. At another dinner, we spent quite a bit of time talking, and many of the locals were laughing and singing together.
  • There was a store I wanted to check out, but it happened to be closed at the time I went – again, there’s no schedule.

These examples encompass the uncertainty aspects of a relaxed culture. From a busy New Yorker’s perspective, it sounds awfully terrible. How can anything get done? I myself like to make the most of my time, and most certainly would not want to live this way (though it was fine for the purpose of vacation and experimentation*).

Given all this, I still found a great value in Bahia time – no one there seemed to mind. That is, no one was ever in a rush. No one was stressed about waiting for something or someone. People really took their time doing things. For example, when I was late to an event, no one that was already there was upset, not even close. In fact, they were happy to see me. It was astounding to see this pervade the culture. I guess I shouldn’t have been so surprised. After all, a couple popular phrases were “relax” and “be happy, you’re in Bahia” (translated), said with a relaxed smile.

Now I’m not saying that we should just throw away our sense of time and be forever patient with everything and everyone. This might be a nice way to live if we were immortal, but many of us would prefer to get more done and do more things. Still, there’s much we can learn from this. We put ourselves under a great amount of stress in our always rushed, busy culture. “What if I’m late?” “Why isn’t she here yet?” “Don’t you know I have ten other things to do today?” This isn’t good for us. This isn’t good for anyone. There’s little happiness coming from this – and if you can’t be happy, what’s the point of living?

Although I’m not 100% sure, I believe there’s a happy medium between the get-it-done but stressful NYC time and the relaxed but uncertain Bahia time. Would it not be incredible to have certainty and accomplishment in one’s daily life while also doing so happily and with little unnecessary stress? I don’t have a precise answer yet, but I believe I’m onto something. Even before my trip to Bahia, I’d been deliberately making progress to become more relaxed and laid back over a few years (enough that coworkers were surprised to learn that I was a native New Yorker and not some hippie from California). The experience in Bahia has strengthened my resolved in being more relaxed and provided me insights to apply it more broadly.

Here’s a few thoughts to infuse the best of both worlds: We shouldn’t make a big deal over timing, especially lateness in ourselves and others – assuming that it’s not a common occurrence. We should attempt to be as timely as possible, leaving some buffers if necessary. Once in a while, stuff comes up or plans go awry. Assuming that this isn’t a frequent occurrence, neither side (the late person and the waiting person) should be stressed about the situation. We should also do our best to not blow up plans at the last minute. Ironically, planned events seemed to fare well in Bahia because it wasn’t feasible to change them – it seemed that not many folks had cell phones. Hence, people stuck to their word when they said that they’d be somewhere. While there was no guarantee of them being on time, we can do much better to hold up plans.

It’s helpful to have ways to make use of potential waiting time. I always keep a few articles, essays, or videos synced to my app phone in case I run into unexpected dead time. I’ll even keep a book with me if the waiting time is probable. There’s a great value in keeping around audiobooks. I use them while driving and listening to them while being stuck in traffic makes for a surprisingly relaxed situation – I almost forget that I’m trapped in a mess of cars.

I wish I could write up a more organized and flushed out post for these ideas, but there’s so much more to think about and experiment with. Still, between the extremes of how time is valued, between New York City and Bahia, there’s much good to pull from each. From the NYC side, it’s about filling those minutes with interesting things – taking into account for unplanned moments. From the Bahia side, it’s about not getting worked up when the unexpected happens.

* Note that this experience was not stressful for me because:

  • I was on vacation and let myself relax and not worry about things
  • a goal of the trip was to get me out of my comfort zone
  • I had a strong interest in experiencing first-hand how a culture lives its daily life in stark contrast to my own

How I Came to Embrace Reading and Became a Smarter Person

on Nov 13, 2011

Note: I refer mostly to the reading of non-fiction books in this post

“I love to read!” These are some words that every school teacher and parent would be enthralled to hear from their kids. And our teachers and parents work so hard to get us to read, telling us that it is essential to our success. Yet, through multiple metrics, like the repeated statistics that kids aren’t meeting reading standards or that adults do very little reading in general, there’s a clear disconnect between the the desire and the reality. I’m not sure what the perfect solution is to get people more interested in reading, but as someone who has gone from non-reader to a voracious reader, I share some experiences that provide light on the matter.

For most of my life, I didn’t like reading because iit was something I did only in school or had forced upon me by authority figures. It felt like something that was work and it was neither fun nor something that I chose to do. In most cases, I found the literary works uninteresting. But for school, I was required to read it and then participate in class discussions (and by discussions, I mean the desperate teacher prodding us students to guess the bazillion hidden intents made by the author). I found the whole exercise pointless and didn’t see how it connected to real life matters. I’m sure many of my classmates shared this sentiment. And we marched on through our school lives, reading only when we had to, associating it as some necessary and boring activity that required a lot of effort yet yielded little legitimate value.

It wasn’t until my third year of college – near the end of my formal education – that I saw a tiny light indicating otherwise. At the time, I was looking into ways to improve my eating habits and my exploration fueled my desire to learn about the machinery behind our food system. I picked up The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals by Michael Pollan. Despite the elegance of Pollan’s words, it took me about four months to finish the book. This wasn’t a surprise considering that this was probably the first non-fiction book I had ever read on my own accord. I wasn’t used to reading such a long work so it took an exorbitant amount of time and effort to get through it. However, the experience was very eye-opening – it revealed that reading such a work is enjoyable and a great way to learn.

Flash forward to now – four years later. I’ve probably polished off about seventy-five non-fiction books since. And my rate of reading has increased exponentially. That is, I read a handful of books when still in school, and even more after finishing school. And then it exploded – I feasted on books, reading one after another, or as more often the case, two or three in parallel. Despite that I began working full-time in 2011, I began to read even more, stuffing sessions into my commute and weekends. I’d become addicted.

So what happened? How did this transformation occur? The first and most significant factor was that reading allowed me to learn about the things I found interesting. And it became self-perpetuating – as I read more about things that interested me, I became interested in other things that the books discussed, and I ended up reading books on those topics. It was also self-fulfilling: because reading allowed me to delve into subjects I was passionate about (or became passionate about – the order is sometimes a blur), I became passionate about reading itself.

The second factor is that it became easier to read as I read more. The ability to read is much akin to training like an athlete or artist – it requires a lot of consistent practice and concentration – especially in the beginning when we’re prone to fumble around. The ease and grace comes after a lot of initial work. I sense that most people that don’t like to read, if not all, never get over this hurdle. They never get to a level where it’s easy to get into a reading groove and breeze through long or complex works with ease.

The third factor is that our school teachers and parents are correct – reading goes a long way to make us more intelligent, wise, and conscientious individuals – essential qualities to do well in our complex world. This is especially the case for non-fiction works. In my own experiences, I’ve found that I better understand the world and how it operates on a deep level because of all the explorations, research, and insights I’ve become exposed to from all the various perspectives of the authors. Likewise, this has bolstered my creative ability by providing more parts for my creative toolbox. Reading allows my experience in education to continue despite that I’m out of school. My formal studies involved the natural sciences and computer science, and I also had some informal study of the social sciences. But through reading, I’ve learned a great deal about psychology, economics, world problems, self improvement, social etiquette, business, history, media, and marketing. Here’s a handful of books that illustrate the breadth of knowledge out there:

Children of Jihad by Jared Cohen –  an American student reveals the story of the Middle East youth through a blend of his firsthand experiences from exploring the Middle East and the history that has brought its cultures to the present state

The Lucifer Effect by Phillip Zimbardo – the creator of the legendary Stanford Prison Experiment dives into details of his study and the analogous Abu Gharib tortures to show how human morality can be altered almost completely given the right environment

Food Politics by Marion Nestle – this nutrition, food studies, and public health professor exposes the relationship between the food industry and our political system and how it produces the our food system – one that is geared for the industry at the expense of our health

Linchpin by Seth Godin – this marketing genius shows how the way we do work has shifted away from an industrial model to one that allows us to become indispensable individuals that do meaningful work

Each of these works explores something that affects us profoundly – it’s difficult to argue that any of them don’t explore areas that are relevant to our daily lives. This is why I so strongly believe that reading books is so important for us as individuals and as a society. Likewise, this is why I find reading to be so interesting. I love to read. Why not say it too?

How I Make the Most of My Hours and Live an Awesome Life

on Nov 6, 2011

Note: I understand that as a young adult with no major family responsibilities, I have quite a bit more time than others, so this post is geared more towards my peers. Still, for those looking to make the most of their hours and also juggle family responsibilities, check out 168 Hours: You Have More Time Than You Think

I like to think that I live an interesting life. My days are spent doing challenging work at my full time job. My nights are filled with physical activities that include roller blading, martial arts, and indoor rock climbing. Plus there’s the non-fiction books I finish every couple of weeks, the blog posts I write, and other less frequent adventures such as mountain biking. All without cutting back on necessities like sleep and seeing friends. When I tell new friends or coworkers about the life I lead, they often ask me how I have the time to do all this. The answer is: I make time. I fill every minute with stuff that matters and cut out the things that don’t.

Let’s start with a few things going for me:
I’m young and free of major family responsibilities – this is also the case for many of my peers
My job has a very flexible work schedule, and I eat 2 meals a day there
I live in the same house as my parents and have a mom that loves to cook

One major thing I don’t have going for me:
I have a very long commute – it would be close to 90 minutes to 2 hours by conventional means, but after 9 months of experimenting, I’ve got it down to about 75 minutes each way, which is still a lot.

Because I’m fortunate enough to have some very flexible work hours I typically wake up at around 8:30 or 9:00am. Now this “sleeping-in” might not sound like the most efficient start, but it’s necessary because I usually get home around midnight. I make sure to have breakfast – and then begins the commute.

In part one of my commute, I drive halfway across Queens, which is about 15-20 minutes each way (because I leave late enough, I don’t hit traffic and I can find parking without much trouble). Still I don’t let this time go to waste – I listen to audiobooks while driving. I’m presently listening to one on Portuguese survival phrases – I’m visiting Brazil soon. But previously, I was listening to a book about the balance between rules and wisdom in our institutions. I already have some podcasts lined up for future drives.

The second part of the commute is the subway ride, which is about 40 minutes each way. Here, I often read non-fiction books (the topics range from social science to business to self improvement). But I also keep my app phone synced with TED Talks and long articles or essays.

I arrive at work at around 11:00am but stick around until nearly 8:00pm to get stuff done (sometimes I don’t get as much done as I’d like and I’ll let it overflow to a weekend with spare time – it all evens out eventually).

Next comes the fun evening activity. Depending on the night of the week, it’s either roller blading (10-30 miles around the city), capoeira, indoor rock climbing, or karate. I get home somewhere between 11pm and 1am, which allows me just enough time to have something to eat and get a decent amount of sleep.

Weekends are for all the things I’m usually unable to cover during the week. This means seeing family and friends, doing cleanup and laundry, replying to personal emails (which includes looking through articles and videos sent by friends). Weekends also serve for more special activities, from going out on mountain biking trips to writing these blog posts (I typically draft several of these articles at a time when my mind is feeling the zen of writing). Oh, and there’s an awesome capoeira class every Saturday night. Weekends also serve as sort of an overflow buffer. Since I’m running on the margins during the weekdays, I’ll sometimes have a little bit of sleep to catch up on or maybe a project at work that I obsessed with finishing since it’s ready in my head.

It’s important to note that I’ve cut out some less than fully satisfying activities from my life. I don’t watch TV or play video games. For many years of my life, I was obsessed with both of these (in the case of the latter, it was practically my life). It’s not that I actively stopped either of these things. Rather, they just got pushed off the table as I became engaged in more and more interesting and fulfilling activities. Fortunately, it was a rather painless process. There are many timesinks in our media-centric culture – it’s essential to understand their pervasive opportunity cost.

Putting in the time to take care of oneself pays off in spades to avoid disasters and the resulting anguish and time loss. For example, I make sure to get plenty of sleep. The kinds of challenges I have at work are pretty mentally demanding so the day is a wash if my brain isn’t up to the task. Likewise, my body needs to recover to be ready to handle the next day’s physical activities – not getting enough sleep puts me at risk for injury. Likewise, by eating well, being physically active, and keeping social, I stave off illness (at the time of this writing, it’s been about 6 years since the last time I got properly sick).

It’s not my intention to gloat or show off with what I’ve said here (ok, maybe a little bit of the latter). I just want to point out that our daily or weekly lives can be full of all sorts of fun, productivity, healthfulness, and meaning. I grow disappointed when I hear someone say that they don’t have the time to read this book or try that new activity, or even worse, not take care of themselves. The true disappointment, however, is on the individual, because he or she will miss out on living an extraordinary life that spans into the everyday. Make the time, be awesome!

Why I Ignore My Phone, and You Should Too

on Oct 31, 2011

As those who know me know, I’ve become pretty much impossible to get a hold of by nearly any means of instant communication. This might come as a shock, as it rides against the convention of our always on, always accessible culture. This isn’t a matter of disregard or a lack of consideration for others. It’s actually the opposite – by using these communication tools this way, I’m free to provide my full attention to the experience at hand, and the people I’m with.

We have so many technologies that allow us instant communication – phone calls, texting, emails, instant messages, and video chat. It’s not that I’ve stopped using them – in fact, I have access to all of them on my app-phone, a device that I almost always have with me. But I keep my phone on silent most of the time – it’s only allowed to get my attention when I’m expecting an important call or message. So for the most part, phone calls, text messages, and instant messages are used in a delayed response fashion (this goes doubly so for emails, where notifications are turned off altogether).

I do check on up on messages, but the interval varies immensely. If I’ve got some dead time while walking somewhere, or waiting for code to compile at work, or actually using my communication device to do some light reading, I’ll take a look and triage or reply to messages. But if I’m out doing stuff like skating around the city or spending time with friends, or if I’m in the middle of a coding spree at work, it could be hours before I check on messages.

Now this seems like quite a bit of inconvenience, for me in that I may miss important or urgent messages, and for others that are trying to reach me. But there’s two major points that ameliorate this concern. The first is that messages are hardly as urgent as they seem – many of them can be replied to later. Likewise, many seemingly urgent messages are artificially urgent, often due to a lack of foresight in planning. For many folks I interact with, this isn’t a problem [anymore] because they know to mention things to me early and not at the last minute if they wish to get a response. I find that this actually helps to make everyone’s plans more consistent.

The second and more outstanding point is that by ignoring my phone, I’m allowed to achieve flow, a mental state of intense focus, efficiency, and enjoyability. This is something we induced constantly in karate class, where we took the time to meditate at the beginning of every class. This served to put us in a mindset where nothing else mattered in the world outside of the dojo: any concern or problem was irrelevant and the training before us was the only thing we were to have in mind. In a pragmatic sense, this held very true, and this intense focus was necessary to push our minds and bodies to new levels. At the end of our training sessions, we meditated once more to  prep our minds to return to the real world. This tenet in karate to train only with an absolutely focused mind applies to most other aspects of life – when engaged work, play, learning, and with other people. I experience an enormous sense of liberation when I’m in such a state of mind – that there’s only one thing that I have concentrate on.

Fittingly, I feel most connected with the experience at hand when I’m disconnected from everything else – the benefits are incredible: At work, it permits me to engineer a solution to some complex and mentally demanding problem. When reading, it allows my mind to drift into that of the author, where our ideas mingle to form new ones. When writing, it means i can surface the months or years of experience and learning into a concise article, like this very one you’re reading.

Being inaccessible to others for the sake of the above examples seems to come off as a selfish act. But the application for flow applies when engaged with people because it imbues that one is completely accessible. At work, this means I can devote my full attention to answer a coworker’s question. When out roller blading, it means I can push my friends harder while minding the roads for hazards. When with friends and family, it means I can listen to their thoughts and ideas and make for a meaningful conversation. You can’t put a value on giving a person your full attention.

This manner of using [and ignoring] communication technology has come through a lot of mindful experimenting and observation. In the process, I’ve made plenty of mistakes and even offended a few people. But I’ve come out with a strong sense of how to make the best of these tools, gaining the ways to connect using new technologies while keeping intact the more sacred connections of here and now. I suggest trying your own experiment with this. Evaluate how you use phone or emails. You might find a life more focused on the things that matter most.

The Essence of Creativity

on Sep 26, 2011

Many folks consider me to be a creative person – that creativity is one of my more positive traits. Although endearing, I always found the compliment to be awkward because I feel that all people can be creative – that it doesn’t require being in a special class of individuals. I recently came across this quote on creativity by Steve Jobs. He’s pretty much spot on:

Creativity is just connecting things. When you ask a creative person how they did something, they may feel a little guilty because they didn’t really do it, they just saw something. It seemed obvious to them after awhile. That’s because they were able to connect experiences they’ve had and synthesize new things. And the reason they were able to do that was that they’ve had more experiences or have thought more about their experiences than other people have.

Creativity is indeed about putting ideas together. The more ideas you have (and the more varied they are), the more “parts” you have to work with in forming new ones. That’s really it. The upshot is that this makes creativity more a skill that can be developed than a talent that one is fortunate to be born with (though I suppose it helps to some degree to have a pattern mind).

The opportunity to develop creativity is better than ever before, considering the world of knowledge available to us today. But it requires an open mind. It means accepting different perspectives. It demands questioning what’s conventional. These are not easy things to do, but the payoff is massive. Creativity allows us to find wonder in new places. It provides us that aha! moment when we come up with a better way to design something. Most importantly, it instills progress. The “gift” of creativity isn’t about the individual – rather, the gift is what creativity gives us and the world.

The Quickening Generation Gaps – Can You Keep Up?

on Sep 12, 2011

“Kids these days, with their this and their that and the way they’re always doing that and this.” It’s a common mantra stated by the elders of the time – a fact of life for hundreds if not thousands of years. Who can blame them, though? It is often the case that the older folks making these remarks grew up in a world different than the one of the kids. Humans continue to advance – the kids will grow to adults and soon face a world vastly different than the one they’ve grown up in.

But something has changed in the last generation. The people that make these remarks now include individuals that are as young as 25 years. It’s outrageous how so many young adults are left totally perplexed about the behavior of people just 10 or 15 years younger than them. Again, who can blame them? We are in the midst of an incredible technological revolution – a consequence is that generation gaps are taking far less time.

Let this sink in – it’s a rather scary implication for anyone over the age of 20. It means that you’re already falling behind on technology. This is a bold claim and you can choose to accept it or deny it.

Most people fall into the latter, conforming to the pattern of dismissing what the youngins are doing. They’ll say that it’s stupid; that the kids addicted to some technology or another and not using it correctly; that things were better before all this complexity. In many respects,these claims may be right, but that isn’t the point. The kids foreshadow the future. They indadvertedly dictate how technologies evolve and be used.

If you’re in the former category and understand that what the young generations are doing is significant, you stand a chance at not becoming a dinosaur. There’s no guarantee though. Keeping up is no easy task considering the speed at which technology is advancing. Still, I offer a few hints:

Be open minded to the way you see people use technology – especially so if it’s in a manner that you find surprising. That goes double if it’s something that affects a large percentage of a generation. Try to understand the dynamics across the population. Be aware of how young people are not using technology – what have they found as inessential? Understand the viewpoint that the generation has. When a fourteen year old says that the iPad is better than a laptop because it does more, you get a world of insight.

But wait, isn’t there a risk in following the thoughts of people less experienced in life? Yes, there is much to wary of. The young folks will make many mistakes due to their naivety. But there’s still a lot of value in their world view if for one reason: they are not colored by the past; they have no allegiance for what existed before them – they only see the future based on the technology of the present.

This doesn’t mean that the teenagers are off the hook though – because it’s now not uncommon to see a two-year old legitimately interacting with devices like iPhones. Can you imagine the technological savviness such individuals will have when they’re older? Can you imagine what the world will look like through their eyes? We’ve all got our work cut out for us if we wish to keep up with this. The next few years and decades will be either more interesting or massively confusing – and it hinges on whether you’ve kept up.

Embrace the World of Knowledge

on Sep 6, 2011

I feel very fortunate to live in this ever evolving information age – that attaining knowledge has become so easy. There’s a story I love to share that really illuminates how amazing our time is. It is about encyclopedias.

When I was a kid growing up in the ’90s, I saw advertisements on TV for print encyclopedias. It was knowledge in a condensed form, but not condensed enough. It took up 3 bookshelves and cost quite a lot of money. In the late ’90s, when I was around twelve or thirteen years old, I had a personal computer in my house – something fairly rare among my peers. And with it, I had a CD with an encyclopedia on it. How amazing it was at this time, to have a boatload of knowledge in my home – I recall how awesome it was to look up information about the Hindenburg disaster, even watching video of the event itself.

Flash forward to today. There are three very interesting forces coming together. The first is the addition and organization of information. We have Wikipedia. We have YouTube. We have TED Talks. We have online video lectures. We have e-books. We have web access to newspapers archived into decades. We have Google to help us sort through all this. Nearly all of this is free. Almost none of this existed back in 1998. The second astonishing thing is the ease of access of this information in our modern world where high speed internet is common and, in metro areas, we have ubiquitous internet access between cell networks and wifi hotspots. The third is that the “computers” we use to access this information fit in our pockets. App phones are part of our daily carry. Tablets and netbooks are litter our travel bags and living rooms. There is little standing in the way to learning – neither time nor space.

I imagine the 14 year old version of me living today. He encounters something he’d like to know more about. So he pulls out his iPod Touch, connected to a free wifi hotspot, and finds what he’s looking for on Wikipedia. Then he finds a related video on YouTube. Then, when he gets home, he incorporates this knowledge into some project he’s working on. This kid, because he has such easy access to knowledge at an early age, has the potential to be smarter than anyone that has come before him.

In a sense, this principle applies to each of us, regardless of age. We are each presented the opportunity to become more knowledgeable today than anyone had just a few years ago. And as interesting as this world is today, I’m even more excited for what’s to come in the future. Imagine knowledge, in the pervasive and accessible form we have available now, multiplied across billions of individuals. Some amazing things are in store.

Why I Sleep on a Wooden Board

on Aug 29, 2011

Yes, I sleep on a plywood board – as part of an apparently successful experiment I began four years ago. At the time, I wasn’t sure how it would turn out. But I expected that it would be good experience to help build character and hardiness. So here’s what I’ve learned after four years:

  • I find it fairly comfortable – more so than a mattress
  • The pressure from my body weight is very soothing
  • The pressure also provides relief for sore muscles – which is a typical state for me given the amount of physical activity I do
  • It’s left me more adaptable – when I travel, a sleeping bag and slab of floor will do; no need for a mattress
  • It’s more pleasant in the summer because it doesn’t trap body heat like a mattress – it does require more blankets in the winter, however

A few notes:

  • I’m not sleeping directly on the plywood itself – at minimum there are sheets and perhaps a blanket between me and plywood
  • At first, I slept only on my back – this was an adjustment because I never did this before – but I’ve since come to sleep on every side
  • It’s not particularly comfortable to sleep directly on any bony parts

As mentioned, this is an experiment, albeit a long one. I don’t intend to sleep on plywood forever. Still, I believe a good bed is one that’s very firm. There’s a new experiment planned – sleeping overnight in a hammock. Let’s see how that works…

A Call for Less Photos

on Jul 30, 2011

The cameras – they are everywhere. Photos are being snapped at a pretty wild rate, and are often shuttled online. We see something interesting – out comes the camera. We attend some event – big or small, a special occasion or a weekly happening – and we take photos. Lots of them.

But is preserving every moment in digital form so important? Oftentimes, we focus so much on capturing the moment, that we miss it entirely – or take away from the experience of it. Or we disrupt the conversation of two individuals forging a connection, to make a record of their shared experience.

The high capacity of the digital camera has given us the wonderful ability to take photos without concern of waste. But is this always so much a good thing? It can very easily scramble the signal-to-noise ratio. That is, photos are taken with less care. The truly inspirational ones are lost in the pile.

What if there was a limit like in the days of film rolls? What if you could only take a small number of photos at an event. Perhaps 4 at a party. Maybe a dozen on a trip. What would you capture? How much more interesting or meaningful would each of those photos be?

Something to think about. Happy shooting!