Archive for January, 2007

The Travelling Spirit

January 31, 2007

I used to be quite fond of travel. Whenever the opportunity arose to drop into a new city, or visit some country, I would jump up and down with excitement. There was nothing more joyous than getting totally lost and bewildered in a foreign clime, and then being able to navigate around after a couple of days.

But of late, this wanderlust has diminished. Not that I was ever a master globetrotter, there are people out there who live and die by Lonely Planet, but I’ve had my good share of travels and experiences. Still haven’t been everywhere, but I don’t feel the need as much.

I’ve been reading some wonderful travel blogs recently, and the writing is so good, the pictures so sharp and translucent, that I’m living out my travels second hand. This vicarious visiting is just too easy; almost like getting a hit of cigarette smoke just when you need it. I can take the shortcut and get all the travel highs, without going through the pain (although some people swear by the pain.)

I think I’ve swallowed the online bait.

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Transcending Tech – or, it was meant to be this easy

January 30, 2007

Computers and gadgets have come a long way. Gone are the days of 500 page manuals, and having to call your techie friend to help set things up. Just open the box, plug it in, and you’re on your way.

This is the way it’s meant to be. There was a time when cars were fickle and unreliable, and every guy had to learn his gaskets and gear belts as a rite of passage. No longer. Now it just works – most of the time.

Technology is meant to be the servant of man, not us spending hours and hours trying to figure out a simple feature. It’s there to help us, to make life easier, to save us effort and time.

And computers and the web have finally reached that mature point. That magic tv-zone. One button on, one button off, and it works. It’s taken a couple of decades, but it’s finally here.

We have transcended tech.

Newspaper Copy and the Death of Writing

January 29, 2007

There seems to be a lot of bland writing out there these days. Ok, I’ll call a spade a spade, it’s insipid. These words with no voice, no ideas, no sense of meter or beat; for someone who can appreciate the subtleties and fineries of the English language, it can be painful at times. It doesn’t have to be all Shakespeare, or glitz, but just well done and showing some effort went into those keystrokes.

It’s the newspapers that are to blame. Cost cutting has meant the closing down of foreign bureaus, shedding writers with great expertise, rushing stuff into print before giving it a thorough edit. Many papers these days are no more than shells for AP, Reuters, and Agence France-Presse (AFP). And throw in syndicated material from the world-reknowed papers (Guardian, Wall Street Journal), and the second tier newspapers are virtually one man operations; just printing machines for advertising.

This straight up, nothing but the facts approach is deadly. Ideas are what spark the mind, ideas are what can trigger a reaction. Presenting ‘data’ is not writing.

Or to put it another way, there is nothing that says style cannot be married with substance. You don’t have to choose just one, you can go with both. In fact, the style can often reinforce the message, make it more effective. Make it more readable.

There ain’t nothing wrong with style. All the best writers now and then have always had a distinctive voice. It’s humanity and it’s humane.

Down with machine language!

My Favourite Composer: Bach

January 28, 2007

Bach is my favourite composer
And there is no-one other
Cantatas, concertos, suites and more,
Heavenly treasures become sweet lore.

Bach wrote his summata, his art
A work we call the Well Tempered
C major begins the cycle anew
H moll is where the doors clang true

Bach is good for breakfast
As well as lunch and tea
Chew well, listen hard, and to you
He will show the Musical Clue.

Should History be Compulsory?

January 27, 2007

Once people pass out of the school system, everyone forms an opinion on what kids “should learn”. It’s like politics, it gets heated, and people get angry, but just like politics has a real world effect, so too does our schooling system.

So-called curriculum and the various ways of measuring it (A levels, SAT, outcome-based education) are real, because our kids are subjected to six years of it. So much of schooling is about peers and socialisation, but there is all this time spent in classrooms too.

So what makes a good foundation? The three R’s (reading, writing, ‘rithmetic) are taught at lower levels, and I take as a given. The latter two years of high school give students a choice in what they focus on, so there is personal discretion there. What of the middle years?

I wonder if history should be given a greater emphasis. Not the dates, but a broad grasp of civilisation and different cultures. Seeing all the mistakes and wrong turns taken, where positive steps have been made, how slavery was ended, how the vote was won. This “informing” of the mind to know where we came from to understand the world of today.

And this historical learning doesn’t go out-of-date (pardon the pun). It gives individuals tools for thinking about the world, and analysing events. Learning history seems to be empowering.

Of course, there are those who argue that history is highly subjective, and always filtered to present a particular point of view. There is some merit in that. But ignorance, and only studying “objective” sciences is no answer either. Better to be have an open system that allows people to question and redress any biases that may exist.

I can coming to the view that learning History may be a a very positive thing for young people (and slightly older ones too).

Potential and its Fullfillment

January 26, 2007

We all know we can be better than we are. There are skills we know are undeveloped, and talents left dormant. Duties of family and work are vital to who we are, but can consume almost every hour of our waking week. All too easily, 6 months can slip by, we get up, have a look in the mirror, and see the same person, a little older, a little greyer, but not much wiser. This drifting of life is something I’ve had to face – how do we keep moving forward, instead of just spinning our wheels in the tractionless dust?

We can improve who we are. The more we develop ourselves, develop understanding and wisdom, the more we can put back into the system, this vast, slurring ecosystem of life. We can help others.

Some people are funny, others logical, others good at making friends. Others are creative, some crazy, and some are good typists who never make any mistakes (not me by the way). All these skills. talents, and traits go into the human mixing bowl of society.

We withdraw to hone our skills, and then we return to give back to our fellow man. The more we fulfill our potential, the greater our gift.

Potential is a lovely upward climb, to see the stars, to go through ardour and challenge, to explore new greens. It’s a path each person has to walk for themselves, but help is everywhere to be found. We just have to make the effort.

I’ll see you on the journey!

A Food Experiment

January 25, 2007

I once tried living off fruit.

It lasted for about 3 months, and came at a difficult point in my life. I didn’t seem to have any control of my life, so I turned things inward – it became about food.

So yeah, apples, oranges, bananas, the stock stuff, plus the more exotic tangerines, kiwi fruit, and various melons. There was also peaches and pears, and cherries whenever I could afford them. I tried to be as diverse as I could.

It seemed like one long haze. There was a constant hunger, so I ate every 90 minutes, And fruit is mostly water, so I had to piss all the time. Sleep was light. Concentration very difficult.

In the end I just got bored of it. I started adding cooked vegetables, then rice, then breads and butter, and before long meats were back on the menu.

I haven’t looked back since.

A Little Buddhist Interlude

January 24, 2007

One thing that always gets me about Buddhism is how intensely psychological it is. It seemed to capture certain mental principles that weren’t fully understood until just recently, when medical science got into the brain.

Buddhism has flourished over the centuries because it works. Forget the spiritual aspects, think of Buddhism as yoga for the mind. You don’t have to be Hindu to do yoga, Buddhism is the same. It has lots of a-religious aspects, things that aren’t inside religion, but aren’t outside of it either; Buddhism is beyond it, it just works.

So hurry up, and give me some of it!

1. Right View – this is about removing the filters and emotional barriers. Seeing things for what they are, in an objective sense.

2. Right Intention – all things start in the mind. We set up our morals and ethics, and that sets up certain thoughts. Are we acting just for ourselves, or is there consideration for others?

3. Right Speech – words can kill. Seriously. If you’ve ever had sarcasm or bitterness directed at you, you feel the pain inside you. It hurts like a cut.

4. Right Action – how you go about doing somthing is important. In the west we say ‘the ends do not justify the means”.

5. Right Livelihood – if you’re Buddhist, I’m sorry, but you have to quit the mafia. Everyone has to earn an income, but it has to be done in the right way.

6. Right Effort – you shouldn’t waste your time. Time is the one thing you cannot get back. Don’t dally, use your time in the best possible way.

7. Right Mindfulness – this is where we start to get a little kooky. It ties into meditation, and knowing what’s going on in your head. Be aware!

8. Right Concentration – combining all these things will give you a united front. There will be a singular point of focus, which will shift automatically to what needs to be done. It will be directed, effective, purposeful, and beneficial to all. It is the zone.

That’s my take on the Noble Eightfold Path.

The Digital Tribe

January 23, 2007

As the bonds of society and place have fallen away, we have become increasingly disconnected individuals. The lone person, who has his family and his workmates, then faces the choice of who his personal friends are. We can meet everybody, but where is the meaningful connection?

This deep felt need is best reflected in the immediate generation. They are characterised by a single label – Myspace. This is the place where they construct their digital identity, network with interesting others, stay in constant global touch. Our youth feel this deep need to reach out, and connect.

That is their solution. Increasingly, adults faced with this same anomie, have found their own workarounds. A huge roster of email addresses is one way, this fantastic community of WordPressers is another. We all have our faces here, and our opinions. We contribute to each others lives by reading, commenting, bantering. We share an online existence.

We have become a digital tribe.

What is “change the world”?

January 22, 2007

I was on the train today thinking about the expression “change the world”. Since starting this blog, I have used the phrase on a number of occasions, without really explaining what I mean. Now is the time to “change the world”.

I start with –

1) every person has a collection of “thoughts and behaviours”. These can be modified.

2) whenever we engage with someone, in whatever way (conversation, email, phone) the outcome of that interaction is determined by the “thoughts and behaviours” on both sides. An outcome is produced.

3) what we know as society, is just a pyramid of all these interactions, happening millions of times per second. Society produces a collective result of what is acceptable and not acceptable. Think of smoking, think of slavery. At different times society determines what is ok to do. Politics and government is just a reflection of what society says is ok.

4) get back to point number one. We change our “thoughts and behaviours” and we eventually “change the world”.

Is this just too freaky? Is there a flaw in my thinking?