Tuesday, November 04, 2008

My Little Taste of a Huge History

As I write this, Barack Obama has been elected the 44th president of the United States. This is a watershed moment in American history. Politically, this is like the moon landing. Right now, I can hear celebratory noises outside my apartment complex. Make no mistake, history's just happened.

I started the day manning a phone bank for the Obama campaign. Called a lot of numbers in Virginia (which later went for Obama). Donald Sutherland was there too, but I couldn't get a picture with him. Here's the pic I could take...

Later in the day, the election results started coming in, and it didn't look so sure. Was the US going to vote for McCain? I had a hard time working. I needed to see the action, I needed to see the process happening, to be a part of it as much as I could, so I asked a friend of mine, Jules, if I could come with her to a polling place. This was where she was casting her vote...

I watched as people came in to cast their votes. Listening on the radio to the various states going red or blue, it was still a toss up when we were at the polls.

Folks, I've lived in different parts of the world. I grew up in the Middle East, India, and Canada. I can safely tell you, in no uncertain terms, that this is the greatest country in the world, and this is why. People, anything is possible here! You can be anything in this country. If you work hard with a goal in mind, if you apply yourself, you'll get to your goal. How cool is that?

Update November 5th:

Here's what the ballot looks like, with Jules holding it:

And here I am pretending that I voted:

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Getting What You Want

I've had days, more than I should have, where I just feel helpless. It's like I see a goal, or something I want, but can't get it. I fester when this happens, the disappointment builds up in me, and I get depressed.

Food helps, sometimes. Music helps, sometimes.

However, these [and others] are just short-term fixes. They'll pick you up for a while, and drop you down again.

The big question though remains unanswered, "why?", as in, "why am I not where I want to be?".

Hmmmm, tough question you think? I bet you there's a slightly tougher question that needs to be answered first.

What, exactly, do you want?

Pay attention to that second word.

What do I mean by "exactly"? Well, I mean exactly that, exactly.


What I mean is, can you provide specifics about the goal you're aiming for? Can you picture yourself at your goal? If I asked you what you were doing in this picture, would you be able to describe it to me? Would you be able to describe in detail the situation that you're picturing wherein you'd know you had achieved your goal?

If not, then *that* becomes the first step. It's not an easy one, trust me. People ask me what my long-term goals regarding some particular thing (like, "do you see yourself married in a few years?") and I have difficulty seeing these things. I've recently come to terms with that particular question.

So, the first step to getting what you want is to define exactly what you want. This is important because the rest of the stuff depends on this answer, and it also gets easier from here :)

Let's take a simple example, you want to lose weight and get six-pack abs. Seems clear enough. I think we can do a little better though. In this case, simply saying it may not be clear enough. Do you know what you'd looks like with abs? Well, there's a simple way of finding out, take a picture of yourself sans shirt (if you're a girl, keep the sports bra on) and draw on the hardcopy. Draw the outlines of the changes you'd like to see. When you're done, *that* is your precise, exact goal.

So, now we have our goal. We now have two pieces of information:

- We know where we are now.
- We know where we want to be.

We now need to know how to fill the bits in between. This is easy (so to speak) now because we have specifics on where we want to be.

Goal: I want six-pack abs.

Well, to get a six pack, I probably need to have less fat.

If I need less fat, then I should probably get my body to use the fat it has.

If I need the body to use the fat it has, I should also not add too much to what I've got, and I want to stay healthy too.

So, I should probably be more active, and eat healthier, and probably less than I'm burning.

If I'm going to be doing that, I need to know what I can eat and how much too.

If I need to know what I can eat, and how much, then I should probably do some reading, research and consultation (with someone who knows what they're doing) to find out.

That's a basic outline of the thought process, you'll need to fill out the details once you have some general ideas on the steps. You'll also need ... milestones.

Remember that bit about "exactly", there's a reason we need it, so we can measure the progress to the goal you've defined so well.

You need to be able to measure your progress, and to do that, you also need some kind of time frame. If it's to get a six-pack, then when do you want to have it by? Maybe a friend's annual party at the beach? Or for a shoot you'd like to do? Or a family reunion?

The time frame is important because you need to be able to see it on the horizon. You need to be able to see this goal and deadline get closer and closer.

So, in addition to the stuff above, what would a time frame look like? Well, let's see where we are now and where we want to be:

- I'm currently at 205 pounds and no abs.
- I want to be at 150 pounds with six-pack abs by the time Jane has her beach volleyball party, which is 8 months away.

Those are, again, rough outlines, but you get the idea. Now, work backwards:

- 8 months from now, 150 lbs six-pack clearly visible
- 7 months from now, 155 lbs six-pack kind of visible
- [...]
- 1 month from now, 195 lbs no six pack, but visibly getting leaner
- Now, 205 lbs, no six-pack, not feeling or looking very lean

NOTE: I should stress, this is an example (i.e. don't use this exact outline to plan your own physical goals, assuming that is your goal).

So now you have a goal, a timeline and you're probably researching what you need to do to get to each of those steps. Always remember your goal. It is your goal for a reason.

There are very few things in life that are easy to do if they're worth doing. Remember that, as long as you have faith in yourself and apply yourself, you can get anything you want, you just need to know what it is, exactly.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

The body you want, in the time you have. Part One.

Tell me if you've heard this before, from yourself or others:

"I'd work out, but I just don't have the time"
"I don't like spending time in the gym"
"I don't want to get all big like those gross bodybuilders"

and so on? Are you not happy with what you see in the mirror? Do you want to get in shape? Well, I'd like to help you out.... and all I need is your credit card number.

I'm kidding!

I used to be really obese. I was, at one point, roughly 200 pounds, most of it fat. My bad cholesterol was incredibly high (I'm not saying what the number was). For a vegetarian, that's an accomplishment, let me tell you.

I needed to change it, I knew that, but I didn't want to waste time in the gym. I had a job at a startup company that ate up a lot of my time (I would very willingly spend my weekends there). Besides, the only people I saw at the gym were these vain types, running on the treadmills that faced the mirrors, or the buff types flexing more often than lifting.

It didn't really hit home until one day, I woke up choking. I couldn't breathe, my chest was feeling heavy and leaded. The feeling went away after fifteen minutes, but its memory stays with me to this day.

I had a membership at a gym, one that I'd never used, and with it came a free personal training session. I spent my Saturday morning and talked to the trainer. The first thing we did was measure my body fat percentage.

Looking at the results, we initially thought it was instrument error, maybe he messed up the test somehow. While there are better tests than an impedance test, this type still produces good results.

The reading was 60%, I'm not kidding. That means, the electrical current that passed from one electrode (left hand) to the other (right hand) encountered more fat than water. We couldn't believe it. I still can't. We did the test twice, same results.

So, what could I do? I told him I didn't have much time and I didn't like spending too much time in a gym. He suggested something which helped a lot, and in six months, I'd gone from 200 to roughly 145-150 pounds.

Yes, I'm a tease, I'm sorry.

You have to understand something though, almost all exercise programs work if you follow them properly, even the ones that get you to work out for 30 minutes three times a week. But what makes them work? What makes you succeed and someone else not succeed?

The answer is, actually, you. Yes, I'm looking right at you.

If you don't tell yourself you want something, you'll never be motivated enough to do it. Seriously. If you want something, pick something specific about it and run to that goal. This is the hardest step, trust me. After this, it gets easy and fun.

Okay, tease time's over. What the personal trainer suggested was something called Interval Training. The idea here is that you challenge your body by introducing a change in your workout and then change back.

Take running on the treadmill as an example. Say you're running on the treadmill at a pace of 3 (out of 10). Try this:

- Run on the treadmill for four minutes at 3.
- Sprint on the treadmill for one minute at 6.
- Repeat for a half hour.

When I say "run", I mean run at a pace that let's you talk, but not sing. If you can belt out Ave Maria, you're going to slowly. If you can't wish someone a good morning, you're going to quickly.

The "sprint" is just that, a sprint. You need to run like a thief being chased by the police, like a deer being chased by a lion, like an intern being chased by Bill.

Running on a full stomach's a bad idea, so what you can do is to run in the morning with a very light breakfast. Maybe a piece of fruit, a cup of milk. Something that'll hold you for the time it takes to get to the gym and run for that half hour.

Why the morning? For the (among others) simple reason that you'll get it out of the way. There are other benefits, as I've found, but I'll leave it to you to discover them.

After you're done the run, cool down, have a shower, and then have your breakfast (sandwiches for me, I'm not psychic so I don't know what you'd eat :)). Then go to work and live your life.

Now, I would also suggest that you watch your diet. Two simple things I did were:

- give up pop
- stop eating white/refined stuff (bread, rice, sugar, etc). You can replace these things with brown rice, whole wheat bread, honey (or splenda).

But it was the run that saved me, I know it. I remember the first time I hit what's called the "runner's high", where the body switches from carbs to fat for fuel (which is another reason to have something very light before you run). I felt like there was a healing light above me, like I could run for another hour, like anything was possible.

And it is, believe me. More importantly, trust and believe in yourself. You can achieve anything, the first step though is wanting it.

NOTE: The baby in the pic isn't mine, she's my friend's daughter.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Scientific Philosophy, Universal Origins and the head honcho upstairs

I will preface this by saying that I am not a scientist, or anyone else with an expertise on matters of dimensionality and physics and the like. However, I had some ideas that I would like to posit.

We'll start with a point, like this one --> .

It's not much, it has zero dimensions.
Making it a line gives it freedom in one dimension (the line goes from left to right).
Making this line a square gives us freedom in two dimensions (left, right, forward, back).
Making this square a cube now gives us freedom in three dimensions (left, right, forward, back, up, down).

I could go on about higher dimensions, but this video explains it better than me:

Imagine, if you will an apple. If an apple could visit the second dimension, a denizen of that dimension would only see cross-sections of the apple. This video explains it better than I ever could:

Now you know as much as I do about this dimensional stuff. I had two thoughts though...

Assume for a second that Time was the fourth dimension. That would mean that any fourth dimensional entity coming through a three dimensional universe would alter in appearance. Hmmm, maybe this is what age is?

Think about it, everything that is born must die and as a consequence, would age. To that end, perhaps our birth, life and death is merely the passage of four dimensional entities through the third dimension. Maybe we're three dimensional projections of a fourth dimensional self?

The reason I think about this is because of something called the mind-brain problem. In Artificial Intelligence, there's a debate (at least there used to be) about the separation of the mind from the brain. The idea being that there is no clear physical explanation of what makes the mind. If the mind is an emergent property of the brain (i.e. it just arises from the complexity of the brain), then how does it affect the body? How is it the case that me thinking about raising my arm affect my body doing it?

The idea that we're parts of higher dimensional entities is appealing, but there's no scientific basis in fact for this, but from a philosophical point of view, it is intriguing. What if two or more people were the projections of the same higher dimensional entity? What if this was actually the soul?

Also, what stops those higher dimensional beings from being projections of even higher dimensional beings? In theory, one could abstract (just as noted in that first video) up to a final singularity, which would all there is, was and ever would be, the Alpha and the Omega.

Again, we (humanity) don't have scientific evidence for this, it is merely an exciting conjecture.

The other thought I had was about our universe. The current scientific theory is that our universe is expanding, a result of a collosal explosion called the Big Bang. We know this because there is the Cosmic Background Radiation as well as the observed effect of the rest of the universe rushing away from us (like when I play the piano in a hotel lobby).

I wonder, what if our universe was a fourth (or higher) dimensional entity that was passing through the third dimension (or at least our 3 +1 dimension)?

I don't think this idea holds much water the more I think about it. This analogy wouldn't explain the *expansion* as we're seeing it. Ah well.

Still, it is tempting to think that, perhaps, just perhaps, there's an explanation for a cosmic supreme entity. I don't think it would fit the definition of God as defined by any religion. This kind of philosophical conjecture can at least be tested (once you've defined a prediction that *can* be tested in a proper manner). Maybe the people who follow us will look at our conjectures now and smile the way we do when our kids talk about The Great Pumpkin, Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy.

Monday, April 09, 2007

Letting go

How many times have you been told, "Just let it go"? How easy has it been for you to do that? It's probably easier for some things and harder for others. I wonder why. Recently I've been through one of those experiences, and let me tell you this experience hurt me like there's no tomorrow. Just thinking about it stings my heart. My emotions tell me I'm right, my mind would love to agree, I doubt that it does.

As an aside, if there is anyone I've caused this kind of pain to, please accept my sincerest and humblest apologies. It was never my intention to do that. I realise it comes off as cold comfort, but it's all I can offer (e-mail me if you feel different).

Carl Sagan once said, "Where we have strong emotions, we're liable to fool ourselves". It's a true statement, but I wonder if in this instance I am fooling myself or not.

In any case, I keep telling myself to 'let it go', to just let it pass through. This is easier said than done. Why? Well, if I can borrow from my previous post, then it seems likely that this thought process of mine mentally resonates in a stronger way than other thoughts, overpowering them.

So how does that, in fact help us? Well, one way it helps us is to find other pathways to activate. That is, do other things that help us make the more productive thoughts grow in intensity. In fact, this is what is suggested for most people when they're mired in the pit of an emotional down.

This means that if you're hurting, then you need to do things that reduce the hurt. This is as true physically as it is emotionally. Do not dwell on the things that hurt you emotionally. How? Well, focus on other things. Focus on the things that you've always wanted to do and try to do them.

I know, this is easier said than done. I doubt there is much in life that's easier done than said if it's worth doing. I know that it's hard for me to do, there's just so much sometimes that feels like it needs to come out. However, I suspect that part of the process of growing up (and even adults grow up) is learning to deal with this type of problem.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Back to that selection thing....

If you've never read anything by Richard Dawkins, I suggest two books:

- The God Delusion
- The Selfish Gene

The latter book is what the author rose to fame for, it's a work of art really. I can't describe it in any other way. I'm reading this now and I cannot believe how much my view of the world has been changing because of it. Things seem clearer.

The other book was actually the first one I read. It's a powerful book, but there's so much anger in here. Dawkins is an avowed atheist and basically lambasts religion (he focuses on the Old Testament based faiths).

But I'm not writing this to discuss Dawkins' work per se. His book 'The Selfish Gene' (and I'm not even finished with it) got me thinking about something I hadn't thought about in a while, the nature of thought.

The process of Natural Selection works like this; You have many organisms that live, but only some can survive. Nature (or some selection mechanism) 'picks' those organisms that, by accident, are better fitted to survive (they get to breed). The others either breed less or die without breeding.

With any luck, I've defined that correctly, but what does that have to do with human thought or even consciousness? You see, the human brain (most other mammalian brains too) contains several hundred million neural connections. Neural impulses fire ad nauseum in a living person's brain.

Assume for a second that a thought can be broken down into a collection of neural impulses (we can assume that it's been stimulated by sensory input). How do we become aware of that thought? Well, assuming it's competing with several other thoughts, we may never be aware of it... unless it fires with more strength than the other thoughts. Then, it gets selected to become a conscious thought. The thought lives, perhaps spawns more thoughts, mutates, and then dies (well, moved off to the subconscious anyway).

In 'Cosmos', Carl Sagan mentions that, as genes are the units of human evolution, ideas are the units of cultural evolution. Dawkins calls this the 'meme', a cultural gene that is selected to continue or die. In human breeding, you have the slots in the chromosome that two alleles (genes) compete over. You have the same thing in culture. In a war, the two opposing sides would be the two genes competing for space on the cultural chromosome.

Here's a thought, what about religion. Could that not also be a meme? Could the idea of religion also be a unit of cultural evolution? Why not? How could it have arisen? Well, many thousands of years ago, we didn't have knowledge of germs, real causes of lightning, earthquakes, etc. So in an effort to answer the question, we created explanations (ideas). Many of them. The ones that stuck (i.e. were selected) were the ones that we could easily appreciate (or relate to). If you look at the old religious stories (or histories, take your pick), how many of them are about two competing ideas (alleles) fighting over mindshare?

I'm lucky in that respect I guess. I'm Hindu, which acknowledges that there may be no God, or perhaps there is. The best lines I can think of that describes it are:
Who knows for certain? Who shall here declare it?
Whence was it born, and whence came this creation?
The gods were born after this world's creation:
Then who can konw from whence it has arisen?

None knoweth whence creation has arisen;
And whether he has or has not produced it:
He who surveys it in the highest heaven,
He only knows, or haply he may know not.

Back to human thought. Could internalized natural selection be how we think? How we reason? It sounds like it should be. This would explain why people are seen as 'creative'. Why? Because the selection mechanism that picks the resulting thought(s) that pop into their minds when solving a problem are different from what others might use.

All this sounds great on paper, I have no proof of this I realise. But it is something to think about, isn't it? How many phenomena could we describe accurately with the aid of natural selction (the process)?

Monday, March 20, 2006

A new year, and a new Idea

Wow, it's been a year since I last posted. My friends had been bugging me about putting something new in here, and I kept postponing it. I think one main reason has been a lack of things to talk about. I wanted this space to be a set of ideas that I could put out in the ether. A place where I could make a difference.

That's the thing though isn't it? Exactly what does it take to make a difference? Do you have to do something grand? Or is it the case that [all?] you need to do is some small things here and there and hope it adds up? I'm hoping for the latter, but something tells me that you need some of the former as well. If you consider what it means to do the little things, those take much more discipline than doing the one big thing, because you have to be disciplined and make your efforts consistent.

Kinda like blogging.

I just read this on slashdot. It was a response to an article about the current US government censoring scientists, essentially by inserting enough ambiguity into their statements. The statement was:

---- SNIP ----
When the Polynesians found Easter Island, they found a paradise.
Seas teeming with porpoises, huge edible palm trees, bountiful flightless birds and tillable soil from coast to coast.

Unfortunately, they also brought rats with them on their canoes.

The rats ate the birds and bird eggs. The trees were cut down for timber and kindling.
The land was farmed to exhaustion.

And the entire civilization that arose there quickly collapsed under its own weight.

The whole time, people thought things would last forever,
but they couldn't see the end coming.

We have our rats too.

---- SNIP ----

There's something missing there, the rats are never identified. Now, it's easy to pick on the US and say that they aren't doing anything. But that's not fair. Every nation has a responsibility. In the 80's the world was concerned about being nuked left right and center. This is our new world concern. Seriously, every nation needs to look at this.

Why couldn't we manufacture cheap solar cells in India and China and use them in their deserts? Why couldn't groups of people pool their resources together and buy some panels and hook them to thie windows and roofs to help add to the power supply of the local region?

Think about it for a second. India is one of the hottest places I've ever lived in. You could replace the windows with solar panels, make a dome on top of the roof with transparent solar cells and plug that power into a generator that feeds electricity to the occupants of the building. Now, it's not going to be much, but it's a start. As technology improves, the models will improve, but you need to start somewhere.

I'm a fan of the bottom up approach to doing certain things. I like the feeling of getting my hands dirty doing something productive. I think most people like doing this. It's easy to give up, to say that 'this country is corrupt' or that things will never work, but do you want your children to think that you're a quitter?