Monday, July 17, 2017

"Why you run might be different than why I run, but that's OK." Kyle Cassidy

"First, and most importantly: Everybody is Fighting Their Own War. The reasons we do things are all different and there's not a right one, or a wrong one....

"...You can lose weight by doing many, many, many different things. You can ride a stationary bike, you can skip rope, you can use an elliptical, you can swim, but for me, the thing that I didn't have was the thing that the jocks kept me from getting in high school -- the ability to think of myself as an athlete. I wanted to do something that I could accomplish on my own.... And ... very secretly, I wanted into that club of athletes that closed the door on me. Not the towel snapping, not stuffing people in lockers, not the hazing, but the respect. I wanted people with trophies to say "Well, Kyle can get up at five a.m. and run ten miles in twelve degree weather, why don't you ask him?" (This is one reason that I admire Rollergirls so much. It's a sport that's rejected the towel-snapping jockocracy and said "we don't pick athletes out of a lineup, we make athletes out of people....")"

http://kylecassidy.livejournal.com/764039.html

Sunday, July 16, 2017

I want to know

It doesn't interest me if there is one God or many gods.

I want to know if you belong or feel abandoned,
if you can know despair or see it in others.

I want to know if you are prepared to live in the world
with its harsh need to change you.

If you can look back with firm eye,
saying this is where I stand.

I want to know if you know
how to melt into that fierce heat of living,
falling toward the center of your longing.

I want to know if you are willing
to live, day by day, with the consequence of love
and the bitter unwanted passion of your sure defeat.

I have heard, in that fierce embrace, even
the gods speak of God.

~ David Whyte, 'Self-Portrait'

Monday, July 10, 2017

The magic of real human communication

"Every act of communication is an act of tremendous courage in which we give ourselves over to two parallel possibilities: the possibility of planting into another mind a seed sprouted in ours and watching it blossom into a breathtaking flower of mutual understanding; and the possibility of being wholly misunderstood, reduced to a withering weed. Candor and clarity go a long way in fertilizing the soil, but in the end there is always a degree of unpredictability in the climate of communication — even the warmest intention can be met with frost. Yet something impels us to hold these possibilities in both hands and go on surrendering to the beauty and terror of conversation, that ancient and abiding human gift. And the most magical thing, the most sacred thing, is that whichever the outcome, we end up having transformed one another in this vulnerable-making process of speaking and listening."

Maria Popova, of Brain Pickings, describing what Ursula K. Le Guin explores in a magnificent piece titled "Telling Is Listening" found in The Wave in the Mind: Talks and Essays on the Writer, the Reader, and the Imagination (public library).

Read more or subscribe to Maria Popova's excellent Brain Pickings newsletter:
http://mailchi.mp/brainpickings/tolstoy-on-love-ursula-k-le-guin-on-the-magic-of-real-human-communication-kafka-on-music-and-why-we-make-art

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Body is something you need in order to stay on this planet and you only get one. And no matter which one you get, it will not be satisfactory. It will not be beautiful enough, it will not be fast enough, it will not keep on for days at a time, but will pull you down into a sleepy swamp and demand apples and coffee and chocolate cake.

Body is a thing you have to carry from one day into the next. Always the
same eyebrows over the same eyes in the same skin when you look in the mirror, and the same creaky knee when you get up from the floor and the same wrist under the watchband.
The changes you can make are small and costly—better to leave it as it is.

Body is a thing that you have to leave
eventually. You know that because you have seen others do it, others who were once like you, living inside their pile of bones and flesh, smiling at you, loving you, leaning in the doorway, talking to you for hours and then one day they are gone. No forwarding address.

Monday, May 1, 2017

Einstein's brain

"I am, somehow, less interested in the weight and convolutions of Einstein's brain than in the near certainty that people of equal talent have lived and died in cotton fields and sweatshops." - Stephen Jay Gould

The acquisition of knowledge

"The acquisition of knowledge doesn't mean you're growing. Growing happens when what you know changes how you live." Marc Chernoff

Friday, April 28, 2017

Clearing by Martha Postlewaite

Do not try to save
the whole world
or do anything grandiose.
Instead, create
a clearing
in the dense forest
of your life
and wait there
patiently,
until the song
that is your life
falls into your own cupped hands
and you recognize and greet it.
Only then will you know
how to give yourself
to this world
so worth of rescue.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

The world isn't conspiring to make you feel stupid, someone just hasn't done their (usability) homework.

Recently, a colleague  and I took a usability workshop and wanted to share what we learned.

What is usability? It's the study of making things usable, or, as you may know from filling out your taxes, backing up your computer (Mac users don't count), or even gassing up a different car, we all must do things that can be unclear at times.

Usability is not an entirely new concept but is finally becoming more mainstream: if things were designed with the end user in mind, how much easier could they be? How much money and time could be saved?

It's easier to find a parking spot at BWI now that green lights indicate open spaces. Universities that pour walkways before researching paths spend more reconstructing trampled lawns as students make preferred shortcuts known. Clear road signs can prevent existential crises, like what must happen to literally *everyone* at the below intersection:

A usable world is simply a better one.

The workshop, called "Introduction to Human-Centered Design" ("human-centered" is the preferred nomenclature in the field) was mainly an overview of the process: how to gather data, compile ideas, and make and test prototypes, and why it works to do it in a particular way (inquiry / prototype / test / repeat).

Problem-solving starts with identifying the problem. What is the issue? You may think it's one thing but until you talk to the people who experience it, you can't know for sure.

For example, chronically running late may appear to be a traffic issue but may actually be a planning one. Poor sleep quality may not be the mattress after all but instead too much light or noise at night.

In order to find out, you have to dig.

The class walked us through the process and had us leap almost immediately into the "field" to begin practicing our new interviewing skills. We used a generic question that could apply to anyone just for the sake of learning the process. We asked, "Is there anything that gets in the way of your health? Or of you being as healthy as you want?" (In a real case scenario, the questions would be tailored to the field.)

We roamed the building for people to interview. Not having been telemarketers in a previous lives made us shy approaching strangers but the class instructor gave us tips. "Approach gently and explain who you are and what you're doing. When you start hearing the same answers over and over, you'll know you've amassed enough data."

People eyed us suspiciously at first but when they realized we weren't collecting money, out poured the litany of health destroyers. They came in the form of many things: long commute, expensive food (broccoli costs more than ramen), picky children, gyms that were too far away and days that started before dawn. Our subjects looked weary just recounting all the things.

We dug deeper using techniques taught in the class, such as the "5 Whys" (a strategy no doubt borne from a toddler) where you ask "why" multiple times, or encourage a story or ask for a visual.

Answers did start to get repetitive and we found that the common thread was time. People weren't taking as much care of their health as they wanted because they didn't have enough time.

Next step: now what? People need more time, how could we make that happen?

Our team rejoined and after a brainstorming session that nixed moving to Venus just to have 5,000 more hours in a day, we developed possible "prototypes" -- actual, physical implementations to show people -- and marched back into the field to see how they'd fare.

We interviewed more people but this time sporting a poster and miniature booklet as visual aids to illustrate our ideas: policies to improve work/life balance, like telecommuting, and utopia where folks could live near their work. After all, some folks spent 4 hours on the road every day. That's horrendous.

Other teams in our class came up with different ideas for improving health, like tools for information dissemination, apps to make exercise easier, and even a snazzy business plan to offer healthy food on the metro so travelers could save time eating breakfast on their commutes.

During this secondary idea-sharing stage, teams are encouraged to ask each other: what would you add to this idea? What questions do you have? What else should be considered? (We wondered, who would clean up the extra trash? Would we lose our seats if we got up to purchase a banana?) Input refines the idea.

Design thinking is iterative, meaning it can go around and around in loops. You start with the question, gather data, test your idea, ask more questions, test more ideas, lather, rinse, repeat.

The field combines elements of engineering and the social sciences: engineering because of the prototypes, and social sciences because of the interviewing.

Marry the two and you have inquiry designing prototypes, not designing before you find out exactly how a thing might be used.

It's also important to note that how people say they will use something isn't always how they will *actually* use it, as anyone who's ever bought a treadmill will know. Observation will always reveal the most reliable data.

We can't wait until the next class!

If you're interested in learning more, see:
And now, for a little fun.

Examples of Usability Fails:

Um...

The cone of shame: healing aid or diet platform?

Now imagine you're rushing to your doctor's office...
Don't assume it's usable until you test it first!

Finally, an honest pop-up.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

The truth of nostalgia

"[H]ere is the truth of nostalgia. We don't feel it for who we were, but who we weren't. We feel it for all the possibilities that were open to us, but that we didn't take.

Time is like wax, dripping from a candle flame. In the moment, it is molten and falling, with the capability to transform into any shape. Then the moment passes, and the wax hits the table top and solidifies into the shape it will always be. It becomes the past – a solid single record of what happened, still holding in its wild curves and contours the potential of every shape it could have held.

It is impossible – no matter how blessed you are by luck, or the government, or some remote, invisible deity gently steering your life with hands made of moonlight and wind – it is impossible not to feel a little sad, looking at that bit of wax, that bit of the past. It is impossible not to think of all the wild forms that wax now will never take.

[...] But then you remember – I remember – that we are, even now, in another bit of molten wax. We are in a moment that is still falling, still volatile – and we will never be anywhere else. We will always be in that most dangerous, most exciting, most possible time of all: the now. Where we never can know what shape the next moment will take." - _Welcome to Night Vale_ #21, "A Memory of Europe"

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Togetherness when life's journey hands you an illness

"Tracy was just like, 'You've got a stone in your shoe. We'll do what we can until you can get it out. In the meantime, if you limp with the stone, that's all right. You can hold my hand, and we'll get over that.' "

Michael J. Fox, on his wife Tracy Pollan after they received his Parkinson's diagnosis.

http://www.aarp.org/entertainment/style-trends/info-2017/michael-j-fox-aarp-magazine.html

(Sent from my phone)

Sunday, April 9, 2017

From a hospice nurse on the process of dying (another way to look at it)

What's happening to me?

Your body is figuring out how to separate from your spirit.

Oh. Yeah. That's it.

Are you having any anxiety?

I'm restless in here...(pats his heart). I haven't done this before. I'm a little nervous.

Your body knows what to do.

How long does this take?

The separation?

Yeah. How long.

It's different for everyone. Your soul knows. The separation has already started. I can see it happening. Can you feel it?

Yeah. I can.

Thanks for telling me this stuff.

Yes sir. We're glad you're here with us.

Me, too.

<He told us this morning his bags are packed and he's waiting for the train to come---and there's a female conductor. 😎The staff pulled out his bags for him so he can see them. He's very excited to travel and see his family.>

Martha Jo Atkins


(Sent from my phone)

Sunday, April 2, 2017

Bernie Sanders on spirituality

"Every great religion in the world — Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Buddhism — essentially comes down to: 'Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.' And what I have believed in my whole life — I believed it when I was a 22-year-old kid getting arrested in Chicago fighting segregation — I've believed it in my whole life.

"That we are in this together — not just, not words. The truth is at some level when you hurt, when your children hurt, I hurt. I hurt. And when my kids hurt, you hurt. And it's very easy to turn our backs on kids who are hungry, or veterans who are sleeping out on the street, and we can develop a psyche, a psychology which is 'I don't have to worry about them; all I'm gonna worry about is myself; I need to make another 5 billion dollars.' But I believe that what human nature is about is that everybody in this room impacts everybody else in all kinds of ways that we can't even understand. It's beyond intellect. It's a spiritual, emotional thing. So I believe that when we do the right thing, when we try to treat people with respect and dignity, when we say that that child who is hungry is my child … I think we are more human when we do that, than when we say 'hey, this whole world , I need more and more, I don't care about anyone else.' That's my religion. That's what I believe in. And I think most people around the world, whatever their religion, their color — share that belief. That we are in it together as human beings. And it becomes more and more practical. If we destroy the planet because we don't deal with climate change … Trust me, we are all in it together, and … That is my spirituality."

Bernie Sanders

Saturday, March 25, 2017

The Shallow State | Foreign Policy

"Art is not an adornment to society. It is not a luxury. It is the purpose of society. It becomes our legacy. It is also, however, our teacher; it helps us consider that which is around us and what we want to be. It makes demands on us that in turn lead us to place demands on ourselves and those with whom we live and work. And that is precisely why these programs have been targeted by Trump. They are the enemies of the shallow state. So, too, of course, are the members of the press whom Trump has mislabeled as "enemies of the people." The only people they are the enemy of are those who are at war with truth and thought: Trump and his supporters, the champions of the shallow state. That is why, while it is easy to simply be angry or to laugh at a president who doesn't read or to be distracted by half-baked conspiracy theories like the deep state, we must recognize that the shallow state is much more pernicious. This administration has come to power because America has allowed public discourse, the quality of education we give our kids, and the standards we set for ourselves to decline. Trump seeks to institutionalize that decline. He is at war with that which has made our society great. He seeks to eviscerate the elements of our government and discredit those within our society who are champions of the depth on which any civilization depends."

https://foreignpolicy.com/2017/02/22/the-shallow-state-trump/


(Sent from my phone)

Friday, March 10, 2017

The Narrow Bridge of Art, Virginia Woolf

"We all know people…who are at loggerheads with existence; unhappy people who never get what they want; are baffled, complaining, who stand at an uncomfortable angle when they see everything askew. There are others again who, though they appear perfectly content, seem to have lost all touch with reality. They lavish all their affections upon little dogs and old china. They take interest in nothing but the vicissitudes of their own health and the ups and downs of social snobbery. There are, however, others who strike us, why precisely it would be difficult to say, as being by nature or circumstances in a position where they can use their faculties to the full upon things that are of importance. They are not necessarily happy or successful, but there is a zest in their presence, an interest in their doings. They seem to be alive all over."

-- Virginia Woolf, The Narrow Bridge of Art

Friday, February 24, 2017

On taking advice

"You should take [yoga] advice from people who write about NOT doing yoga. Because not doing yoga means the person is struggling to do yoga, which means waking up every day and trying to do something new and difficult. ... Failing in front of you is a sign that the person is living the kind of life you'd like to live – one where every day you wake up and struggle to do something difficult. ... My instinct tells me that the best advice comes from the people with the most difficulties. Not in the past. But right now. Because that's where you want to be: doing something difficult right this moment."

Penelope Trunk