CategoryPhilosophy

Maximizing Mental Agility

One of the advantages of working for a Tier 1 public university in the U.S. is the access to excellent (and inexpensive) professional development opportunities. I’ve been attending seminars offered by the Human Dimensions of Organizations program at UT Austin[1]. I’m usually skeptical of any self-help seminars or talks but these are led by UT faculty from the Department of Cognitive Psychology and all material is backed by solid field-tested academic research[2].

Anyway, this post is mostly for my reference in transcribing and collating my handwritten[3] notes from the latest seminar I attended, Maximizing Mental Agility led by Dr. Art Markman. So this may be long but here goes:

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Footnotes:
  1. I do four of the one-day seminars and I get a certificate. But even as stand-alone programs, they’re excellent. []
  2. As an aside, check out the Two Guys on Your Head podcast on our local NPR station led by one of the HDO professors; its a fun and educational seven-minutes every week. []
  3. Apparently handwritten notes are better for memory retention than ones taken on your laptop (I knew it!). Behaviorally, since you can’t write as fast as the presenter talks, you try to summarize in your head first and write next whereas on your laptop, you’re basically transcribing []

New Years Resolutions for the Ages

I’m not a person who makes New Years Resolutions. One reason is that I never keep them but mostly because I find them futile. Why wait for an arbitrary date when you can get started right away? Nevertheless, Supremus’ list of New Years’ resolutions sounds more than you can achieve in a year so I consider it more like a life’s mantra. I hope he doesn’t mind me posting it here in full.

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May the Crazy One Live On…

My first Apple product was, like most PC owners, an iPod but the real Apple experience was when I got my first Mac. In 2009. Yup, I was very late to the party. The iPhone followed soon after and then the iPads, the Apple TV, and even the AirPort Extreme. People often mistake my love for simplicity in design, be it architecture (my major in a previous life) or technology, as fanboyism. I wear that badge with honor. But I never bought Apple products because I was in love with Steve Jobs. Actually, before buying a Mac, I had never heard a single Jobs famed keynotes. You could say I was living in the anti-reality distortion field.

I bought and loved Apple products because they just work and Steve Jobs philosophy, as I later discovered, emphasized just that. Breaking the shackles of complexity from computers and making users feel at ease was his underlying design principle, be in in hardware with a single scroll wheel or in software with the simple yet robust Mac OS X. Although the cult of Mac is derided and mocked relentless on any web forum, the sense of community is strong even if its growing by the millions every year (23% market share compared to less than 5% ten years ago). I remember my sense of puzzlement when I first got my Mac. As an avid Windows tinkerer, I had to unlearn all that. I still remember Supremus’ advice which he in turn had received from his Mac-using colleague:

When I got my first mac, my colleague had told me that I would go through 3 phases. 1st would be when I would get find myself comparing everything to windows and find things annoying with mac (ex: 2 button mouse, no way to expand apps to occupy full screen real estate etc). 2nd phase would be when I’d gloat over the fancy gui and tastefully done aesthetics and how everything fits together in OS X. The 3rd stage he told me was when I’d start looking *beyond* the beautiful UI and start knowing how the operating system has been designed, and that is when I’d appreciate OS X fully.

I went through the stages exactly as he described and if you are a recent convert or are planning on becoming one, I ask you to keep this in mind (although some things like “expand apps to occupy full screen” are now better than in Windows). As Supremus describes, it is hard to explain and has to be experienced firsthand with an open mind. If you think that the Mac is a toy then you haven’t yet delved into the wonder of AppleScript and Terminal which I’m no expert by any means. I have been proven wrong enough times by a work colleague who whips up a tweak that does things I have not thought possible on a Mac or any other platform.

As John Gruber put it succinctly, that Steve Jobs greatest legacy is not any particular Apple product but it was Apple itself. The company that he founded is instilled with this philosophy of providing the best user experience there is. Things may not be as ‘open’ or convenient or even have the latest top-of-the-line specs but the whole is always going to be greater than the sum of its parts. I hope this philosophy remains strong at Apple for as long as it can and although the domineering presence of Steve Jobs isn’t around anymore, we can only hope that his lessons have seeped in deep enough. Like all things, Apple may eventually fade away and be replaced by yet another innovative company but all I can hope is, that company would be guided by the same principles that Steve Jobs proved were so pivotal in creating a lasting and wondrous consumer experience.

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Practical Wisdom

“A wise person uses moral will and moral skill.” From the excellent talk on practical wisdom by Barry Schwartz at TED.

No Woman President this time

Are Clinton women voters racists? Well, by their definition, probably so. A NY Times article quotes several prominent women leaders who have supported Clinton as saying they will not vote for Obama because he is sexist. Just because he is a man who has beaten the woman candidate? Admittedly, the world is not perfect and women haven’t yet got their share of justice even after nearly 80 years past the suffrage movement but to label not choosing to vote for Clinton as sexist is as ridiculuous as not voting for Obama is racist. Geraldine Ferraro, the ex-vice-president nominee went as far as suggesting that she might not vote for Obama in the fall because he was “terribly sexist”. Now pray, where did she get this from? From his “likeable enough” remark?

When this campaign started, pundits were asking questions like, is America ready for a woman or black president. The voters showed them how far behind were they in understanding America’s preferences. As the campaign between Clinton and Obama dragged on, it brought out the best and the worst in not only the media but also the candidates.

Initially, I quite liked Clinton who projected confidence and experience but adversity revealed her character as her post-Feb.5th campaign crumbled. She launched attacks on Obama in a similar vein as the Republican attack machine would. She failed to see that by doing so, she would only seek to prove her point that Obama was not strong enough to withstand attacks wrong. But when others attacked her, she chose to hide behind her gender complaining that the boys club was out to get her. By projecting herself as the first female candidate, Clinton revealed little about how different she was from her male counterparts but instead choose to act tough like any pompous man would. If she was acting just like any other man, why would we want to elect her as the first woman candidate?

I don’t understand how is it empowering for women to be expected to vote for a candidate based purely on their gender. In fact, it is counter productive. Isn’t the current feminist issue, the pro-choice movement about giving the women the right to choose? In fact, Naral Pro-Choice America group endorsed Obama instead of Clinton setting off protests from other women’s groups. Why? I recall the tremendous harm done to the Indian political sensibility when Pratibha Patil was elected as President simply on the basis of her gender when in fact, women had achieved far more powerful positions in Indian politics before her without the help of their gender.

Ultimately, it doesn’t matter whether you are a man or a woman but it boils down to what kind of a person you are. If you are caught lying about your experiences in Bosnia, then it doesn’t matter whether you are a man or woman but it simply shows you as an individual of dubious character. Especially more so considering your spouse’s biggest folly involved lying as well. Hillary Clinton may have done more harm than good to the woman president movement by her actions in the previous two months but hopefully most of America will not hold all women accountable for the actions of one. If electing a woman is so important then why not other women? Surely, Clinton wasn’t the first to contest the Democratic nomination as Obama wasn’t the first black man to do so. As one prominent female celebrity put it succinctly, I want to see a woman president but just not this one.

But at the same time, to her credit Hillary’s campaign has shown that women are perfectly capable of running a successful campaign and raising money in U.S. politics. Clinton proved that Americans did see women as commander-in-chief and perhaps in her zeal to prove so, she may overdid it. As Obama, she brought many new voters out and helped infuse an active interest in politics. Hopefully that should crack the glass ceiling and get more women to seek office as well.

PS. The headline could’ve read Women Voters Consider Obama Sexiest, Not Sexist but then that would be stereotypical :)

On Turning 40

If you must read one post today then read Rajesh’s mini-autobiography on turning 40. You might remember him from 1999 when his company IndiaWorld was sold for Rs.400 crore. He has been busy investing that wealth in India’s future guided by his amazing vision.

Security and Privacy – Zero Sum Game?

“If privacy and security really were a zero-sum game, we would have seen mass immigration into the former East Germany and modern-day China.” Wonderful essay by Bruce Schneir on the tradeoff between security and privacy.

One Tree Hill

Taken during a casual walk through Wolf Pen Creek Amphitheater Park:

One Tree Hill

At the top of the world or…

One Tree Hill

…a long way to go. It all depends on your perspective.

What Leads to Success?

This is a question that funds many a personal development or secrets-to-success seminars but frankly the real answers irrespective of the field you are in, are the same. And just because they are so simple we find it hard to believe that and exclaim, “That’s it?” Watch this three-minute video from TED [via Atanu]:

Moral Indignation

“Moral indignation is jealousy with a halo.”
 – H.G.Wells

Ah-ha! I’m saving this to use at an opportune moment.

Pyaar ki Jhappi

The power of YouTube – 6 million views and counting. Spreading hugs all over the world. Reminds me of that Mata Amritanandamayi Devi who did the same but had the monopoly on giving hugs.

Self-Realization

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, and fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small doesn’t serve the world. There’s nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We are born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us, it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”

Probably a tad Christian and even evangelical but I largely like Marianne Williamson’s hopeful and positive message, especially the last line. I last heard it in the movie, Akeelah and the Bee. Nelson Mandela also used it in his inauguration address in 1994. I won’t dissect it too much.

Conservatize Me

Liberal John Moe spent thirty days as a conservative and wrote a book about it. Did he also read only Little Green Footballs and Instapundit?

Why silence is golden

Don’t argue with idiots; bystanders have a hard time telling the difference.

Couldn’t have said it better. Probably also explains my silence elsewhere. Via Abi who got it from Doug Natelson’s Views.

Technorati Tags: argument, silence, idiot

Spread of an Idea

For an idea to spread, it needs to be sent and received:

No one “sends” an idea unless:
a. they understand it
b. they want it to spread
c. they believe that spreading it will enhance their power (reputation, income, friendships) or their peace of mind
d. the effort necessary to send the idea is less than the benefits

No one “gets” an idea unless:
a. the first impression demands further investigation
b. they already understand the foundation ideas necessary to get the new idea
c. they trust or respect the sender enough to invest the time

Too Godin! I stumbled upon this forgetten gem of analysis via Kottke who goes on to relate each point to his blogging style. We often are unable to understand why certain things get more popular than others. Success is often attributed to smart marketing gimmicks or effective promotion but in today’s age of ubiquitous computing (love that phrase!), the costs are minimal and reason varied. No one can really explain why the Numa Numa video was such a rage or why the Dancing Baby, back in the slower days of the Internet, caught on. Nothing intellectual or earth-shattering about those, right? When something spreads, all we can say is that, it was an idea ‘whose time had come’.

Technorati Tags: idea, seth godin, numa numa, dancing baby

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