When Does a Blog Stop Being a Blog?

According to the Caraballo Principle of Blog Viability*, two conditions must exist for a blog to be considered an “ongoing concern”. They are:

1) Content must be written and posted.

Cat-writing-skills

I, for one, totally believe this cat is actually writing sophisticated content for his own blog.

2) Content must be read by someone other than the original poster.

blogging-cat

Am I the only one who thinks the keyboard on that laptop is waaay too small? Even for a cat?

You, my dear blog reader, are the peanut butter to my jelly, the milk to my cookie (I must be hungry), the yin to my yang (and that is not dirty in any way) – completing the wonderful symbiosis that is needed to keep this crazy thing going.

I’ll be back with more …

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Always,

- Felix

*The Caraballo Principle of Blog Viability is a wholly unscientific rule I made up this afternoon. Let’s see if it sticks.

Image Credits:

Writing Cat: exquisitewriting.com

Reading Cat: matthewfarmer.com.au

Evil Cat: izismile.com

Why Dissonance Resonates, the Road to Abilene, and Lying to Yourself (and others!)

Have you ever enthusiastically recommended a book or movie you didn’t really like to someone? Get home from a less than ideal vacation, only to tell people how great it was when they ask? Or how about this: have you knowingly taken a mind-numbing job because you “had to”, only to find yourself increasingly extolling its virtues the longer you are in it? Enter Dissonance Theory, one of the more famous social psychology theories out there (insofar as theories seek fame), which seeks to describe our attempts to ease the cognitive “discomfort” of doing things which don’t “make sense” to us, or even run contrary to our beliefs.

shells

Messages of peace and love written by children on artillery shells? Cognitive Dissonance.

If the picture above hasn’t provided you with enough to think about, the fine folks at BBC Future explore Dissonance Theory a little more closely – including a link back to the classic study results originally published by Leon Festinger and James Carlsmith in 1959. While the original article is itself very short, allow me to summarize further: If you are induced to do something that is against your personal beliefs/values/opinions, you are likely to change your original beliefs/values/opinions to match the behavior. However, the larger the pressure needed to induce the behavior, the less likely it is you will change your own beliefs/values/opinions. What does this mean?

the_beatings_will_continue_until_morale_improves

Common practice on pirate ships and in board rooms around the world.

For individuals this can manifest itself in a number of ways, but as a coach I have heard and seen it primarily through the “work” lens – when clients are at a point in their lives where 1) they’ve been working for a long time at something they just “weren’t into”, and 2) there is great pressure to take a step they just don’t want to take; “selling out”, a line in the sand, the last straw. The point where they are looking at a fork in the road where the two paths represent wildly different choices: either giving in or starting over. Of course the choice is ultimately theirs to make, but as a coach one of my responsibilities is to ensure they truly explore where they are standing and what is around them before deciding where to step next. What brought you here? Where do you want to be? Are there really only two choices? Who do you become if you go down path A, B, or C (or x, y, or z)? What happens if you turn around, or start building a ladder/digging a hole? Who else is on this path? Echoing back to (and/or shamelessly promoting) an earlier post – it’s about exploring the full spectrum of possibilities, not just exploring the two conflicting options we see or emotions we feel.

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The Road to Abilene. Literally.

I actually feel that folks who are conflicted are in many ways better off than those who just continue “down the road”. Acknowledging the conflict is critical if you want to change directions. If we failing to recognize the conflict, we are putting ourselves into a solo Abilene Paradox – sending us “happily” down a path we really aren’t keen to travel (no offense to the fine folks of Abilene).

“But Felix, I don’t want to go to Abilene!” (again – no offense … Abilenians? Abilenese? Abileños? People of Abilene). Well, time to apply some intuition and courage, and not necessarily in that order. Doubt is not bad. Your “shoulder angel”, voice in your head, feeling in your gut – these shouldn’t be summarily dismissed. They are likely the result of the cognitive conflict you are going through as a result of the mismatch between your actions and your values. Have the courage to look for it if you aren’t hearing or feeling it naturally. Once you have identified that voice, more courage still is needed to act on it. Find the truths and the lies, and most importantly, find the possibilities. Decide your path, and have the courage to walk it.

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Some paths will be easier than others.

Semper,

Felix

 

Photo Credits:

Kids and Artillery Shells – http://www.guardian.co.uk

Beatings & Morale – http://www.voraciousrationalist.com

Texas Highway – http://www.aaroads.com

Trail Sign – Al_HikesAZ via photopin cc

Men and Women See the World Differently – the Proof in Black and White. Or is that Ivory? Ecru? I don’t know …

Science once again comes through to “definitively” prove what we all knew (or felt we knew): that women are in fact better at distinguishing subtle color variations than men, and (depending on how you read the research) can actually see more wavelengths (read: shades) of color in a given light condition. This month’s Smithsonian shares the results of research conducted by neuroscientists at the City University of New York, and while no surprise, I believe it provides additional impetus to learn the science about why we’re different. It is much easier (for me, anyway) to work from some basis of fact rather than just accept, “Oh that is just how he/she is!” After all, greater knowledge ideally leads to better understanding. Spoiler alert: it probably has to do with hormones.

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Four colors here, really. Red, yellow, green, and blue.

For my sanity (and that of my wife), I had given up on arguing about what color an object/article of clothing was a long time ago and simply accepted the color that she (or any other female) indicated for that item. More importantly, I learned never to dress our children (when the were still the age of having to be dressed) entirely in “one color”. Apparently, “one color” to me was not “one color” to her, but in fact a horrific mish-mash of hues which displeased her greatly. Looked fine to me. Know we know why.

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Wait! Is that … A DOUBLE RAINBOW!?!?!

Now this research is not all bad news for the fellas (if bad news means you can’t tell blue from … not blue). Men are apparently better at discerning objects moving across our field of view, which in my humble opinion is a ton more useful than knowing the difference between red and … not red. Behold Agent Smith (from The Matrix) dodging bullets below. His superior ability to see things moving in his field of vision allowed him to not get shot (never mind that he was some sort of sentient computer program/virus):

agent Smith

Seeing stuff moving is important.

Thus I am ready to declare that despite researchers saying that neither of these differences imparts a particular advantage to either sex, seeing things moving in your field of view is WAAAAY better than being able to tell green from … not green. I mean really, when would being able to see the exact color be that important.

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Oh. Colors might be important here. Especially if there were more wires.

Okay – when defusing a bomb, colors might be important. Or when identifying poisonous plants. Or dangerous reptiles. Or under-cooked meat. Or lots of things. Got it.

The point is we all see the world a bit differently from each other for a variety of reasons, and not all of them (in fact very few of them) are “scientifically” based. This doesn’t make one person’s observation less valid than someone else’s, but it can lead to plenty of confusion when folks aren’t sharing the reasons for their point of view or taking the time to be curious and find out where somebody is coming from. It’s not about attacking or defending a position, but sharing perspectives. When you don’t try to make it black and white, it’s a lot easier to see (and appreciate) the full spectrum of ideas and possibilities that are out there.

Always,

Felix

 

photo credits:

Colored Pencils – shewatchedthesky via photopin cc

Double Rainbow on Sidewalk – Cle0patra via photopin cc

Agent Smith gif – sciforums.com

Bomb – tvtropes.com

 

 

The Cult of Doing – Explained (Sort of)

tetris-blocks

This will make sense shortly.

No secret here – we are doers:

“Just Do It” – Nike

 

“The way to get started is to quit talking and begin doing.” – Walt Disney

 

“It is wonderful how much may be done if we are always doing.” – Thomas Jefferson

And this is a good thing, since without doing we would likely be incredibly thoughtful and articulate dead people, able to expound on life’s great mysteries but quite incapable of putting together a decent sandwich. This sandwich-free world would be a sad place indeed, and I would want no part of it.

Hovis-Sandwich-Main-1

Ridiculous. I love it.

 

In fact, our affinity to the Action Imperative is pretty obvious. We ask each other, “How are you doing?”, we reward “results delivered”, politicians promise to “get things done” on behalf of their constituents. We are often chastised for “just sitting around” but “busy” people are left to continue their activity uninterrupted. We even expect certain levels of productivity from inanimate objects (heaven forbid your money sits in a non-interest bearing account!). Why this attention to doing? What happened to the pleasure (and I would say necessity, despite the risk of no sandwiches) of just being?

Bluma-Zeigarnik-1921

Maybe she has the answer? Read on!!

Enter Bluma Zeigarnik, a Russian psychologist who in the late 1920s came upon a memory and motivational theory whilst observing the waiters at a Viennese coffee house. She noticed that the waiters could only remember the orders that were “in progress”; that no matter how simple or how recent a completed order was, the waiters had already forgotten it, “making room” for the next order in queue. Studying further (in more controlled, less caffeinated lab conditions), she found that our mind wants to know what is next, it wants to finish the next task, and it will keep working at that “next” task, even when interrupted with new tasks. Later psychologists labeled this the “Need for Closure” – the need to end uncertainty and to resolve unfinished business.

So what’s with the Tetris blocks then? First of all, if you have never played the game, go here and play for a bit: freetetris.org. Please set a timer before you go, lest you never come back. Basically, Tetris (and life!) is a series of interrupted tasks which your brain is constantly trying to resolve. The psychological need to complete the task (complete a row of blocks) in Tetris is the same psychological need driving you to complete your “to do” list. It is very powerful and to a certain extent quite fulfilling, and this is where the danger lies.

Doing Things vs. Being Someone

Here’s the rub: if you spend your time doing things, “working” your list, or chasing achievements and you haven’t spent any time defining who or how you want to be while doing those things, you run the risk of quite literally losing yourself in the activity. How many devoted parents “lose” their identities when they enter the cycle of caring for their kids? How many people have “no life” outside of work? How many celebrities or sports figures physically change who they are in order to meet their professional goals, or compromise their ideals in order to be “on top”? How many of us have sold out somewhere in our lives in order to achieve something – literally traded being something for the ability to do something? Most importantly, what are we ready to do in order to be ourselves? Oh the irony!

Always,

Felix

 

Article References:

BBC Future

Scientific American

Image Credits:

Tetris Blocks

Bluma Zeigarnik

Big Sandwich

Brain Building – The Key to Ending Mental Illness or The Beginning of the Robot Takeover?

So as usual, I am not sure what to make of an intriguing article, therefore I am sharing it with you (from the BBC Future “Will we ever” series): Will we ever… simulate the human brain?. For those who may not have the time to make the jump to the article it is basically this: the European Commission has granted One Billion Euros to the Human Brain Project (an aside: One Billion is always capitalized when paired with a major currency – it’s a rule I just made up. I call it the Caraballo Currency Capitalization Convention). As the “Human Brain Project” name implies, it aims to build a computer-based “simulated” human brain within 10 years.

digi brain

The a-MAZE-ing brain!
Ha! Get it?
Because it looks like a … oh never mind.

Two main points here:

  1. One Billion Euros is a whole lot of money. I mean, it’s like A TRILLION DOLLARS (see the above mentioned Caraballo Convention). Okay, okay. Actually, it is more like $1.3 Billion Dollars. Still, that’s a whole lot of €s and/or $s.
  2. Isn’t this how every dystopian sci-fi comic book, novel, movie, video game and music video starts? Try to do something awesome and it goes horribly, horribly bad? Did Terminators 1, 2, 3 or 4 (are there more?) not get released in Europe? Apparently not, since the Brits launched their fourth – fourth! – Skynet satellite in December 2012. At least we know who to blame when serving our robot overlords.
sony_13

The beginning of the end … robot line-dancing?

Now there are lots of good, scientifically sound reasons for building such a simulated brain, such as being able to beat all of the other scientists at chess, to count cards at the local casino, and of course, to beat up on all of the mere mortals on Jeopardy (Watson is now fully engaged in the fight against cancer, btw). While those are certainly fine reasons, the main purpose behind “creating” a human brain is it would (theoretically) help us better understand how parts of the brain interact with one another. Of particular interest is how one part of the brain compensates (or doesn’t compensate) for another part, without having to “test” (read: injure or impair) the actual brains contained in the actual heads of actual people. This would, in fact, be awesome, and revolutionize the care and treatment of those with severe brain injury or mental illnesses, and possibly even impact the way we organize and share information.

Abby Normal

What is a normal brain, anyhow?

The main problem is – we don’t really know how the brain works right now, so how do we build a model that simulates it? Apparently we’ve been trying for decades and have a few models that can do a few things, but nobody has had the audacity and/or the funding to build something as complex as the entire brain. Until now.

Here’s how we thought the brain worked 130 years ago. The map may have changed – but do we really know enough to build one?

I am all for bold research, but here’s the analogy that came to mind for me: early attempts at heavier than air flight. Some very smart and ambitious folks spent a whole lot of time and money looking at birds and building contraptions that tried to mimic the structures and movements of our feathered friends (just as the researchers in this project are building their model by mimicking the structures and activities they “see” in the brain). As it turns out, successful heavier than air flight (for humans) has nothing to do with feathers or flapping wings. Why would we think a successful “model” of the brain will “look” anything like the ones in our heads?

096235-red-bull-flugtag-sydney

Capes – not much better.
But don’t tell THIS superhero!!

Another reason for concern – two telling quotes from some recent research conducted at the University of Iowa’s Neurological Patient Registry:

… self-awareness corresponds to a brain process that cannot be localized to a single region of the brain … In all likelihood, self-awareness emerges from much more distributed interactions among networks of brain regions.

Followed up with this:

Clearly, neuroscience is only beginning to understand how the human brain can generate a phenomenon as complex as self-awareness.

In short – we aren’t sure how the brain becomes self-aware, but we’re going to go ahead and build one. Hmmm. So, what if it happens to become self-aware in the process? Maybe it won’t try to destroy us, but would it be ok to hurt it, or turn in off? Then what?

Finally, there is this – according to a top researcher (not associated with the HBP) the “race” to build a human brain is really about “who can get the most biological functions and animal-like behaviours” from their program. So, super-brains that behave like animals and make mistakes? Great. At least the big (real) brains at Cambridge have the funding to investigate how to mitigate the risk of robot uprising as well. Hopefully they finish before the brain-builders!

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Granted, some animal behaviors are less dangerous than others.

So in case you couldn’t tell – I am not a fan of trying to replicate the human brain. In my opinion, the defining characteristic of the human brain … is the human heart.

What do you think?

Always,

Felix

 

photo credits:

Digital Brain – dailygalaxy.com

Dancing Robots – PC Watch – Japan

Abnormal Brain – Young Frankenstein (A great Mel Brooks movie, 1974)

Phrenology Chart – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Phrenology

Red Bull Flugtag – Sydney Telegraph

Cute Puppy – Awesome Joolie via photopin cc

Stickin’ it to “the Man”: A Cautionary Tale of (Self) Sabotage, Wasted Energy, and Really Strong Cleaning Products

Many people are familiar with the term “saboteur” – a person who secretly and intentionally destroys property or equipment belonging to another. In the context of coaching, a saboteur is an “inner voice” (often negative) that often articulates seemingly logical roadblocks which in the end, prevent you from taking bold action in pursuit of your dreams. As a coach I help people come up with strategies to recognize and overcome their saboteurs so they can find the energy and a way to “make things happen” – getting them closer to fulfilling their goals.

Gremlin2

That big hammer? Many saboteurs are a bit more subtle.

The following story, however, is an example of what can happen when we let the saboteur run rampant. Unfortunately, it is all true!

A little over three years ago, in the far-away land of England, a 41-year old mid-level employee at a global marketing research firm was denied a pay raise. While understandably upset, the employee decided at that point that he needed to take action, and put his considerable skills to work devising a plan. And while his plan involved staying in his current position at his current pay, he committed himself to it, knowing that he would be rewarded for his diligence and determination. What do you think that plan might have been? What type of plan would you commit to when faced with a similar setback?

spray_bottle

Maybe it’s time for a clean slate.

Well, if your plan didn’t involve spraying caustic chemicals into company computers over a span of three years, you weren’t on the same wavelength as Mr. Edward Sobolewski. That’s right, his plan was revenge. Rather than look inwardly to address some of the issues in his own life (which he did finally share in court – just before being sentenced to 8 months in prison on top of a $16,000 fine), he decided to destroy £32,000 (that’s a lot of £s – just over $50,000) worth of his employer’s computer equipment over a three year period.  Not in a fit of rage after being denied his raise, not three months later after some other boardroom slight, but slowly, thoughtfully, and deliberately from 2009 until he was eventually caught in 2012. While that is one of the longest acts of workplace (self) destruction I have heard of, the real shame is in what could have been. What if he had turned that energy into improving himself instead of harming others? What if he had turned his focus into pursuing an outside interest that would have made him happy, instead of a long-term covert action campaign that would land him in jail (with much diminished employment prospects)?

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Using art to stick it to The Man – unlikely to land you in jail.

It’s a little too late for Ed to confront his saboteurs, but not for us. Despite Jack Black’s entertaining “you can’t win” rant (the “live” version of the .gif image above) from “School of Rock”, he manages to succeed by focusing his energy on what he really wants, not really by trying to “fight the man” (although it is a recurring theme).

Where is your energy directed? Who are you fighting? The Man? Or maybe yourself?

Always,

Felix

photo credits:

Bugs Bunny Gremlin – http://looneytunes.wikia.com/wiki/The_Gremlin

Spray Bottle – http://www.scarletcleaning.co.uk/pages/commercial.html

School of Rock .gif – tumblr

Science Says: Stress out and be helpful – it’s good for you!!

Want to live a longer, healthier life? Researchers in California who recently updated the results of a longevity study begun in 1921 (yes, 90+ years ago) have come up with some advice for those who do, and it may fly in the face of what many of us have been taught:

“The people who said, ‘I don’t stress, I take it easy, I retire early,’ – those were the people who tended to die at a young age.

Seriously

Yes. Seriously.

Well there goes my plan – totally not cool! Thank you very much smart people from  Stanford University and the University of California. Now I need to hone my road rage skills and work until I die.

Wait a minute, that’s not what it means at all! What they’re really telling us is that a little worry is a good thing, just don’t overdo it (Moderation? Balance? What’s that?). The idea of eustress vs distress. And although it is pronounced “you stress”, it may not mean what you think it means.

pygb45

No. It does not. Nor does “Dessert Sue” serve eustress.

Okay – I kind of figured that already. A little stress is what “gets us going”, gives us the “edge” we need to perform at our best and to be ready for action when sharpness and alertness really counts, like here:

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No stress, no rescue of Princess Peach. It’s that simple.

The most interesting part of the research (for me, anyhow) suggests that people who lived a more worthwhile and socially responsible life, helping others, being involved with other people and in their community groups, lived longer.

Huzzah! New plan: develop eustress around helping others, live forever. Maybe not physically, but certainly in the hearts and minds of those I am able to help along the way. Even if the theory doesn’t pan out, I will have hopefully left the world a better place.

So what will you stress about today? You-stress … see what I did there?

Always,

Felix

 

Check out the full article here: BBC News – The science of a long life.

photo credits:

Seriously? face – knowyourmeme.com

Futurama Fry – memelatte.com

Super Mario Bros. “Boss Fight” – wikipedia.org