Month: November 2017

The November Fitness Review

So, November was the first month I really wanted to stick to a written training plan. Ultimately, that training plan, while not very ambitious, was something of a stretch goal. I didn’t get it done but did do more than I would have without it.

Successes

I’m counting the fact that I still try to get my plank workout in each day as a success. It doesn’t always happen (happened early today, I’ve learned that I’m more disciplined in the morning) but it happens more often than not. And, as an extra plus, my back, shoulder and arm pain is much improved, if not yet eliminated.

My foot hurts less severely and less often. I’m chalking that up to the foot exercises and will continue them.

The realization that running form matters. While out on what should have been a hard run, I decided to focus more on form than intensity, because my food had been acting up. I was surprised that it was just as effective — as measured by speed — as focusing on intensity would have been, but not quite as mentally draining. (Focusing on actually doing something seems easier than just trying to push myself.)

Failures

For a variety of lame reasons, I only hit my three-times-a-week goal twice in November. And, that was evident in the fact that I slowed down for the first time ever in my monthly 5k for time. It was 28:38 this month, as opposed to 24:37 in October.

Summary

It’s ridiculous to think I’ll get a lot of exercise in in December. December is the month that I spend the rest of the year trying to work off. Still, the experiment was good enough that my next step will be making a plan for December. At least, for the time up to the holidays.

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Alter your perspective

This is another post in my ongoing series on the individual chapters in “The Obstacle is the Way.” I don’t know how useful or interesting it will be out of context.


This is the first chapter in The Obstacle is the Way that didn’t really blow me away. The fundamental lesson seems like it can be summed up very briefly: how you look at things changes the way you react to them. And, either I haven’t properly internalized how profound that is, or it’s not Earth-shaking news following up on the previous chapters.

I get this. I was frustrated yesterday because I tried twice to make a sort of explainer video for the worksheet project. Both times, the webcame video didn’t record. (And I even put on a nice shirt for the occasion.)

I already said I was frustrated. I didn’t have time for a third run-through before work.

But, on the other hand, I had two great rehearsals. In the first, there were a few minor things that frustrated me. (I wanted it seamless, and there were a few vocabulary that didn’t have definitions in the system when I made it, to there were about two minutes of me entering vocab.) And the second one was smoother and much shorter.

When I get around to recording the same thing today, I expect it to be tighter, shorter. And that’s valuable.

I probably would not have, on my own, run through the whole video twice in preparation, but the whole webcam-not-recording thing upped the quality of the finished product.

That’s changing the perspective, according to the book. The obstacle itself cannot be changed. The idea seems to be that changing your perspective doesn’t necessarily change the amount of work you have to do, it changes your perception of the work, and that can be enough.

I’ll finish this with the two paragraphs that finish the chapter:

How we interpret the events in our lives, our perspective, is the framework for our forthcoming response–whether there will even be one or whether we’ll just lie there and take it.

Where thehead goes, the body follows. Perception precedes action. Right action follows the right perspective.

More of the internet should cost money

Here’s an unpopular opinion: we should pay for more of the Internet. By ‘we,’ I mean the people who use it.

Let me put down a bit of foundational work:

Advertising leads to tracking

My argument is this: I would rather pay Facebook, or Google, the money myself, rather than have them collect data on me and target ads. Further, think of the resources that these “engines of innovation” are dedicating to tracking us and serving ads, when they could be dedicating them towards solving problems.

For a savings of $20/year, I have abdicated the ability to be the final customer of Google, Twitter and Facebook, and instead became the product.

That alone would be a reason to consider paying for websites and leads me to what I think is a bigger point.

Advertising prioritizes eyeballs over experience

These tech companies are keeping their customers happy, but we’re not the customers (see above, but none of that is really a new idea). But I don’t think people emphasize enough the social costs of this.

Ask yourself, if the cost was $5/year for a Twitter account, would there be 48 million bots on Twitter? Further, what if Twitter spent the energy they now invest in finding advertising customers and serving ads in actually cleaning up the user experience? The could have actual people and not A.I. checking abusive tweets. That alone would be a step up.

Further, imagine the user who has already paid for a Twitter account. Most trolls have a separate account only for trolling. Maybe they still would, but how often would they pay the $5 registration fee after being banned for abusive behavior? In most cases (I’m willing to wager), a warning that “if this behavior continues, this account will be suspended” would be enough. After all, Twitter wouldn’t have to try and figure out if there were duplicate accounts, allowing users to create a second (or 48 millionth) account after suspension would be equivalent to a $5 fine for abusive behavior.

Would people still get trolled? Sure. Would trolls become more subtle? Yes. But, would the total level of trolling go down? I think so. And the customers — the users — would be much happier about it.

It’s easier to expand than to fix…

I feel like everything I learn about coding is already a well-known software truism. But, I wanted to report in on my progress with the EFL worksheet software by saying that it’s moved back to the top of the priorities list and I’m working on it, but slowly.

There was a bug where the gap fill sentences created for capitalized vocabulary (‘Baltic Sea’ and ‘Vienna’ are examples) didn’t work correctly.

I immediately realized that the code put the entire sentence into lowercase (with Python’s .lower() method) before looking for the word. No problem, I thought, I’ll just find where the word is searched for and have it search for the lowercase text of the word. Problem solved.

I genuinely thought that was something I could do quickly, by way of getting back into the coding game…

More than an hour later, I found the spot where I forgot the extra .lower() call and everything was fixed. But I needed a full hour to figure out where in my code that happened.

A full hour.

I’m discouraged that I had such a hard time finding my way through my own code.

If you want to teach English, be ready to learn

I’m going to say right now that I’m not a normal teacher. I didn’t like school, I wasn’t big on university, and I certainly didn’t want to be a teacher.

And, I believe, that’s part of why I’m a good teacher.

Why “teaching” doesn’t work

For better or for worse, the people I teach have been conditioned by years of experience that teachers teach and learners learn. And, as soon as they recognize that I’m teaching, most of their brain shuts down and they go into ‘learner mode’ which is just a step above ‘hibernation.’

And, learning (and teaching) does take place, but it’s an uphill, grinding process.

Sometimes, it’s what students need. But, I’m lucky that I hate doing it as much as they do, and they can see that. Then, they’re willing to accept that it’s something that I, in my professional opinion, think is necessary and know I’ll try to get us through it as quickly as possible.

The important thing is this: nobody thinks that I shift to ‘teacher mode’ to avoid demonstrating my ignorance of their work.

Learning is a better model

First, most EFL teachers will agree that we never understood English grammar so well as when we started teaching it. There’s something about teaching that makes you really understand a thing.

Once my students are able to start putting coherent sentences together, they learn a lot more if I ask them to teach me. Then, building on the fact that they’re fully engaged in trying to explain something — with pictures and gestures as well as with language — they’re quick to pick up vocab. (I only have to introduce the word ‘screw’ once, if it’s important for explaining how to use their product.)

This builds on a few things. First and foremost, most people in highly specialized jobs are used to (but not happy with) being surrounded by people who say “this is my husband, he is an engineer but I don’t really understand what he does.” They’re ready for someone to want to understand.

Second, most people are, by their nature, helpful. If I can find something even tangentially related and can genuinely need their help, they’re engaged and motivated to use the language.

How to be a teacher who learns

The trick, I think, is to be humble and curious. There is no shame in saying “I don’t understand your work, but I understand practicing an instrument. Is it like that?”

The first lesson or three with me is generally spent getting to know the person, of course, and establishing what they’re goals are, but my agenda is mostly to find the things about their job that I think are interesting. Once I have found those, I try to ‘master’ them if I can (“take me to your desk and show me how you do this”) and get to understanding other parts of their job relative to them.

I am blessed in that I enjoy building up my mental model of the world, and can be fascinated by the design processes of battery systems because they help me think about other things better. If you’re not naturally curious, I suggest you figure out how to be unnaturally curious.

An example

I will be restarting private lessons with a woman who works as the head of the accounting department in a company nearby. In the last block of lessons, she was willing to endure book exercises, but only really spontaneously used vocab when talking about sports (not what she was paying me to get better at discussing) or teaching me to appreciate the nuances of finance.

If I could find a newspaper story about a company selling its building and leasing it back, I knew I had an hour of conversation just by going in and saying “why does this make sense?” She was proud of what she did and happy to show me why some things that seem counter-intuitive (why sell something that you know you will need) actually can make sense.

As I approach restarting the lessons and I need a plan, I know we’ll stick with the book we had, but I bought myself a copy of Financial Intelligence for Entrepreneurs. If I ever want to be an entrepreneur I need to learn it, and I know that I’ll have conversation material for a half year’s worth of lessons.

Google Fit Goals – A meditation on motivation

A while ago, Google Fit introduced the possibility of adding weekly goals in Google Fit. Of course, I didn’t use them.

After all, I liked Google Fit as a pedometer and activity tracker. I was too busy to count my steps or time my activity throughout the day, but I wasn’t too busy to know how often I’d been jogging that week. The idea seemed stupid to me.

Then, recently, while playing absent-mindedly in the Google Fit menus, I set up my “run three times a week” goal.

Screenshot_20171112-182058.png

And, I’ve grown to like it. I feel a pressure to get that purple line all the way around the circle, and really want to avoid having to see an incomplete-goal icon for the next weeks. It’s genuinely a motivation.

I like to think I embrace motivation

I teach a lot of middle-aged Germans who grew up in communist East Germany and who feel baffled by anything that smacks of ‘gamification.’ After all, they didn’t need points and badges to get things done back then, why should they need them now?

These are the same people who think that Carnival (or Halloween) is stupid because they don’t need to be forced to have fun. (But go ahead and ask them when they last put on a costume…) Or that Valentine’s Day is a joke imported from the west and they can be romantic anytime. (But then, ask them when they last bought roses…)

My point is, there are people who think they are strong enough to not need tricks. But, in most cases, they’re the ones who are also mostly satisfied with their current level of… whatever. They might say “I should run more” or “I need to take more time for my wife,” but the inevitably say it in a tone of voice that makes clear they have accepted it will not happen.

On the other hand, I like to think that I embrace motivation. I have a sense of who I am and who I could be, and a clear understanding of how big the difference between those two people is. And, though the person I want to be (a third person altogether) might have the willpower to not need motivational tricks, the person who I could be certainly embraces them.

TL;DR: The Google Fit weekly runs tracking is more motivational than I thought, and I’m frustrated that I didn’t realize that I was dismissing something I would like to embrace.

On the need for new business vocab and some bad suggestions

Listening to a recent episode of StartUp on the race for autonomous cars, I heard a (former?) Uber executive say that Uber was a “tech company.” This was said as a way of explaining Uber focusing on the tech of self-driving cars.

The idea seemed to be “don’t think of us as a taxi company, we produce tech.” And, I guess that’s an acceptable worldview.

The thing is, I don’t think the world needs tech. The world needs something more… But I don’t know what.

Let me try to explain what I mean

I don’t think that anyone, anywhere, is looking for more tech. We use tech but really what we want is to recombine the things around us. Recently, the tech sector has broken things apart and put them back together in new ways. It’s what Uber did, and Airbnb, but what people needed was a way to better utilize cars and apartments, and make some money.

What I’m trying to say is that I wish we had companies that looked at the world in general and said “what could be? And how can we contribute to making it happen?” Most of what makes our future utopia happen will involve tech, but, much more, it will involve using tech to change the way other parts of the world function. Ideally for the better.

Hearing the unnamed exec say “we’re a tech company, so we’re focused on the tech” (paraphrase!) I thought Hmm. His vocabulary is limiting his worldview. He needs to see the world differently.

Some alternatives

So, what vocab can be used to see the world better? To be honest, I don’t know. But, here are a few possibilities.

  • Solutions. As in “we’re a solutions company.” pros: we need solutions. cons: It sounds like empty corporate talk.
  • Holistic. As in “we take a holistic approach.” pros: Existing vocab, already means something close to what I want it to mean. cons: Sounds fatuous, will frequently be ignored or made equivalent to “using crystals for health.”
  • Big picture. As in “we’re a big picture company.” pros: Should encourage big-picture thinking. cons: Corporate newspeak, so universal that it already has been parodied in “re your brains.”
  • Intrastructure. As in “we’re in intrastructure company.” pros: I made it up, so it can mean whatever we want. (Infrastructure is the structure between stuff. Intrastructure are the structures that connect things.) cons: Doesn’t have a meaning yet and can easily become another empty word. Will be mocked before being adopted.

All of those are bad ideas. But, I don’t think I have to wait to have a solution before I point out the problem. I am, of course, eager to hear what your ideas for an alternative are.