Category Archives: Life Challenges

Is it a good time to call?

Back in the days before mobiles, texts and such like, nearly as far back as 2 channels and black and white TV, I was raised to believe that phoning someone after say 9pm or before about 8am was intrusive and rude. Worse, it typically signified bad news: the death of or critical injury to someone close.

I know that if I get a call out of those “normal” hours, I get quite anxious, fearing the worst.  It doesn’t happen very often, but when it does it feels quite stressful until I answer the call.  

When staying in hotels, I’m always surprised when I hear phones going off in other rooms at all hours of the night. Does it mean that the participants are on different sides of the world? Or insomniacs? Or just need very little sleep?  The fact that I hear the phone ringing is enough to wake me and disturb my sleep, which is rude enough.

Whenever I’m away from home Dee and I talk regularly, but are very cognisant of the time difference. We speak and message just after we’re both awake, and just before we go to sleep, as well as at other times when we know we’re both awake. We have two clocks in the house, one showing UK time and one for the time zone wherever I am.  That way we can maintain as normal a conversation and dialogue as possible, without disrupting sleep.  It’s one way that we stay connected, that we maintain our close relationship, that we stay together.  Services like Skype and FaceTime also help with staying close, which has to be a good thing, right?  

Just because the world is an increasingly connected place, does that mean people should call whenever they feel like it, irrespective of time? Isn’t some down time, away from technology, a good thing, a desirable thing? If there was some way of setting your phone to not receive or make calls between certain hours, would that be a useful feature? 

I’m guilty of spending too much time with technology too sometimes, sitting with a really good book in one hand but distracted by the glowing screen of my phone in the other. I need to physically say to myself “put the phone down and read your book” but the temptations and distractions are huge. 

Maybe I’m getting older, and losing touch with how these barriers have shifted. If that’s the case, I don’t think you’ll ever be able to convince me that removing the social norm around phone calls is a good thing.  

How thought provoking do you want your films?

The other night Dee and I sat down to watch a DVD. It was the film Eye In The Sky, and we’d bought it on the strength of Helen Mirren and Alan Rickman being in it: it’s generally difficult to go wrong with either of them. We didn’t even read the synopsis on the back.

**** SPOILER ALERT! *** I’m going to talk about the film in a little detail now, so if you don’t want to know what happens, best stop reading now!  

The basic premise of the film is that the UK and US governments have been following known terrorists for some time and finally have them in their sights in a house in Nairobi, Kenya, and a Kenyan army force is on standby to try to capture them.  There is an armed drone in the skies above, and it is relaying images back to teams in the UK and US. 

The suspects then move to another part of Nairobi which is effectively a no go area for the authorities. Further surveillance reveals two men putting on explosive vests and preparing to move out into the population.  It is only possible to follow one target with the drone, so if the bombers move out there’s a choice to be made of who to follow. The drone targets the premises they’re in, and a calculation of likely collateral damage gives acceptable figures.  

Then, a young girl appears and sets up shop selling bread her mother has made, right outside part of the target building. The collateral damage calculation shows she is likely to die.  

And here’s the crux of the film, one which they draw out very well, looking for approval from various government departments, the military and all interested parties.  The question is: do you take the opportunity to kill known high level terrorists you’ve been chasing for 6 years along with two imminent suicide bombers who are likely to kill 10s if not 100s of people, but it also means an innocent young girl will almost certainly die? Or do you hold back, and save her life at the expense of unknown numbers of others.  

The film presents good arguments for both decisions, as there is merit in both. There are also arguments to be made against both. Things like – if they let the bombers walk, when they detonate their vests they will be blamed, but if the US and UK kill an innocent girl then they are likely to stir up anti-Western feeling. And where does the law sit on this, with two nations launching a lethal attack on the home soil of a third, friendly, country?

I wouldn’t necessarily rush to watch the film again, but it certainly provided a lot of food for thought.  What would you do? What choices would you make?

Remember the past

I’ve not seen much in the press or online reminding us that today, the 27th January, is Holocaust Memorial Day.  I know it’s the same date every year, but am surprised that there’s not been much about it in the media. Yes, there have been other stories, other news items, other events, but surely there should be more said and done to mark this day?  

I’d like to ask you to take a moment or two to read this story from the BBC website today.  It’s short, it’s simple, and it is a stark reminder that now, over 70 years after the event, there are still people alive who not only witnessed the horrors of the Holocaust but also survived them.

I visited Auschwitz in 2014: what I saw there still haunts me to this day. I’ve visited the Holocaust exhibition at the Imperial War Museum in London, and I’ve visited the Holocaust centre in Oslo.  I’m not Jewish, and I’m not using these visits as some sort of voyeuristic endeavour.  I’m just human, trying to figure out how one person or group of people can treat another like that.  I read about those times, about the events and the actions of men, to try to understand, to make sense of it all, and I can’t.  

I also can’t understand why more isn’t being said or done to stop such actions taking place again.   There’s a plaque in Auschwitz which says:

He who cannot remember the past is condemned to repeat it

I believe that was originally said by Santa Ana after The Alamo, but in these days where a US president is talking about building a wall to keep people out of his country, where there’s a suggestion of having a register of muslims in that supposedly secular country, that statement is more powerful than ever.  

From this side of the Atlantic, what we’re hearing from some in the US is similar to the rabid nationalism that emerged in the 20s and 30s and which finally gave the world the Holocaust. Far from looking to embrace the rest of the world, to be more inclusive, some in the US government seem to be moving to a more isolationist stance of “America first and stuff the rest of you”. I’m worried by this apparent approach, that the lessons of history, that the events which unfolded at Auschwitz and other camps across Europe, are being forgotten or ignored. 

The voters in the US elected an outsider, someone without any of the political baggage that many of the other candidates on both parties had, and that choice cannot be changed.  But those same voters (and those who voted the other way) can and should hold their administration to account, can speak out when policies or actions are being decided on which are not in the best interests of the world or which, worse still, disenfranchise, alienate and segregate others purely on religious, political, gender or other grounds.  

Just because someone doesn’t hold the same beliefs, or have the same ancestry, or skin colour, or whatever else, that you do, does not make them a bad person.  Whatever happened to “love thy neighbour” and “innocent until proven guilty”?       

Today, perhaps more than any other day, we must not forget where that road leads.  We cannot allow the Holocaust, or anything even slightly resembling it, to be repeated, ever.   

Remember the past: do not repeat it

Why are Facebook, Gmail etc all free?

Have you ever wondered why a lot of the internet services and products that you use are all free for you to use? I’m reading Future Crimes by Marc Goodman at the moment, and it explains why in very clear detail. I’m only about a third of the way through, and it’s pretty scary reading. All it’s done so far is to set the scene about the data we share. To give you a little clue, check out this clip from the Onion News Network.

You may think that the myriad of advertisements which appear on your screen when you visit all these sites are what is paying for your free service, and you’d almost be right. What’s actually happening is that you are the product, not the advertisers. Every bit of data you post, every tweet, every picture is captured, along with details on every device you use, its location, every browser or app you use. That will include this blog article and the tablet device I’m writing it on right now. All of this information is bought and processed by data aggregation companies, and sets of data are then sold to advertisers.

Ever wondered why, if you shop at the same supermarket chain (not even the same store) regularly and use a loyalty card, the vouchers you get are for product which may complement your regular shop? So if you buy a lot of cheese, there’s a high likelihood you’ll get vouchers for crackers which go well with cheese. More and more complex algorithms are being developed to predict what you are likely to want to buy, and where you are likely to be in the next few days.  For example, if you buy a selection of swimming trunks, shorts, t-shirts and sun tan lotion, it’s likely the adverts you see will include travel insurance and holidays to sunnier places.  All of this is down to the trail of data you leave, even if you’re unaware of it. 

And the big secret? You can’t stop it. Have you read any of the Terms and Conditions you’ve signed up to? Probably not – those documents are big, they’re convoluted, and they often refer to other documents. In Future Crimes for example, evidence is given to show that the Terms and Conditions for PayPal are actually longer than the play Hamlet by Shakespeare. In them, you will almost certainly have consented to data which is collected being shared with others, without additional permission from you, and also to allowing the Ts and Cs to be changed whenever the company wants.  Oh, and get this – they also probably say somewhere that your data can be harvested from any kind of technology, known or unkown ie on systems that haven’t even been developed yet.  

If you’re trying to reduce your footprint, wave goodbye to store cards and credit cards, use cash at all times, and don’t carry a mobile device of any kind, because those are also pumping out data which tracks you.  They’re your own personal GPS!  Living off the grid is practically impossible.  

I’ll just say, read the book, and prepare to be dazzled!  

Share your strengths

Of all the places to find inspiration for a post, the tag on a teabag was one of the last places I’d think to look!  For some time (actually, since I went caffeine free for August last year) I’ve been drinking all sorts of different teas.  I’m not too keen on black tea, and there’s caffeine in that anyway, so I’ve been going through a couple of brands here in the UK, Pukka and Yogi.  The tea bags from both are individually wrapped and they have little tags on them: the Yogi teas have some kind of “thought for the day” or mindfulness quote on the tag.  

Share your strengths, not your weaknesses

– Harbhajan Singh Yogi

Today’s tag was Share your strengths, not your weaknesses, and I thought that was a really good way to look at life. I know that Bing Crosby sang about something similar back in the ’40s or ’50s with the release of Ac-Cent-Tchu-Ate The Positive, but it strikes me that this is a really sensible approach to the stresses and rigours of life these days.  

I had been unhappy at my previous employer for several years before I finally plucked up the courage to leave.  One of the main problems I had was that I was really good at finding reasons why someone else wouldn’t employ me (I had a limited skill set, I had no marketable skills, that sort of thing) and I was really bad at finding reasons why they should.  I had talked it through a number of times with Dee and eventually sat down to draw up a SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats) chart, a bit like the one below. 

It was hard going, but I managed to come up with a number of things which I thought I was good at, and then set about targeting roles which allowed me to capitalise on them. It also helped me figure out what sort of role I wanted, what sort of working environment and conditions I wanted, etc. I found what I was looking for and have gone from (pardon the pun) strength to strength.  It turns out that the blend of skills I had was exactly what my new company was looking for too, and I’m really please I made the move.  I try to play to my strengths all the time, but in the background I’m also working on my weaknesses, so that I’ll be able to develop them into positives too. 

How many of us get bogged down in negative thoughts and poor self esteem?  When talking to people, do we talk about the good things or the bad things we’ve experienced?  For example, mention to someone that you’re going in to hospital for an operation, and the chances are you’ll get a horror story back from them about someone they know who went in for the same thing and who had the worst experience imaginable?  What about if someone is waiting for a book deal, or about to take their driving test? There are endless examples which I’m sure you can come up with.  
Why do you think that is?  Why do you think there’s a tendency among many to focus on the negatives, on the pessimistic outcomes?  

Here’s a thought.  Next time you hear a conversation that’s going down a negative route, why not look on the positive side, give a helpful example where everything worked out ok?  Try it, and see how the people you’re talking to react.  See how you feel after sharing a story with a positive outcome.  Is it better, or worse, than when you’ve done the opposite?  

For the record, I’ve had nothing but positive experiences from my two stays in hospital since I turned 16.  

This sort of positive approach is allied (in my opinion) to the view that “before you say anything, ask yourself if it is true, if it kind or if it is helpful: if the answer is no, then don’t say it”. In this case it becomes “if you can’t say anything positive about something (a person, event, activity, place etc) then don’t say anything”.  I think the world would be a much happier (and dare I say, quieter) place if we could all do this.