terça-feira, 21 de outubro de 2008

Meu Deus

When hurricane Hannah separated two ultra-prosh white tigers from their mother, Anjana came to the ResQte. Anjana, a chimp at TIGERS in South Carolina, became surrogate mom and playmate to the cubs, even helping with bottle feeding, according to The Sun (and don't miss the slideshow). But here's the truly amazing part: Anjana does this all the time, having raised leopard and lion cubs.

quarta-feira, 8 de outubro de 2008

On Procrastination...

Nevermind the previous post, this one's a lot better. At least this one makes you happy!

Procrastination is not the problem. It is the solution
. It is the universe's way of saying stop, slow down, you move too fast. Listen to the music. Whoa whoa, listen to the music. Because music makes the people come together, it makes the bourgeois and the rebel. So come on people now, smile on your brother, everybody try to love one another. Because what the world needs now is love, sweet love. And I know that love is a battlefield, but boogie on reggae woman because you're gonna make it after all. So celebrate good times, come on. I've gotta stop I've gotta come to my senses, I've been out riding fences for so long... oops I did it again... um... What I'm trying to say is, if you leave tonight and you don't remember anything else that I've said, leave here and remember this: Procrastinate now, don't put it off.
By Ellen Degeneres, on "Here and Now"

Overcoming Procrastination Instantly with Directed Self Talk

Changing how we talk to ourselves is the easiest and most powerful way to overcome procrastination. No other method that I know of disarms procrastination so rapidly and at such a fundamental level: that of our own thoughts.

The Voices In Our Heads

We’re talking to ourselves all the time inside our minds. Even when you’re not paying attention, these relentless mental debates deeply influence our feelings and, ultimately, our behavior.

The good news is that just becoming aware of such mental dialogues — noticing patterns and turning them into productive statements — is usually all you need to overcome many unwelcome feelings and behaviors.

Let’s see how this can help us when it comes to procrastination.

The Procrastinator’s Motto

Consider the following thought, which for sure has crossed our minds many times in the past:

“I have to finish this long, important project. It should already be done by now and I need to plow through it.”

Now, tell me you don’t have this thought sometimes. For me, no other passage embodies our procrastinator’s mind so well: as we’ll see, this small, seemingly innocent thought contains almost every mental block that encourages procrastination. That’s why I like to call it the Procrastinator’s Motto.

We all use the Procrastinator’s Motto (or variations of it) every once in a while. If you’re a chronic procrastinator, chances are you repeat it to yourself very frequently — daily, perhaps.

But what’s so wrong about the Procrastinator’s Motto? In what ways do these words encourage procrastination so much — and what can we do about it?

From Procrastinator to Producer: A Step-by-Step Self Talk Guide

To understand what’s wrong with the Procrastinator’s Motto, let’s break it down in parts:

“(1) I have to (2) finish this (3) long, (4) important project. (5) It should already be done by now and (6) I need to plow through it.”

Now let’s consider each of these six parts in turn, replacing each of them with an empowering alternative. In doing that, we’ll turn the original motto on its head and create a productive call to action: a “Producer’s Motto”, if you like.

1. I Have To → I Choose To

‘I have to’ is every procrastinator’s favorite expression. It’s also the most disempowering.

Every time you say to yourself that you have to do something, you imply that you don’t have any choice. This choice of words implies that you feel forced or coerced to do the task — that you don’t really want to do it. That perception, of course, elicits a strong feeling of victimhood and resistance towards doing the task.

The solution to this problem is to replace ‘I have to’ with the immensely more empowering alternative ‘I choose to’.

Everything you do is ultimately a choice (yes, even completing tax forms). Using language that expresses choice reminds you of that and brings the feeling of power back.

For an in-depth exploration about the ‘I have to’ expression, check this early article dedicated entirely to this matter.

2. Finish → Start

When you focus on finishing something, you direct your attention to a vague, highly idealized future. Visualizing a finished project is motivating for many people, but from the point of view of who’s having a hard time starting a task, visualizing a hard-to-grasp future can be overwhelming — even depressing at times.

The solution in this case, then, is not to focus on finishing, but on starting.

Forget for a minute about the finish line, just concentrate on taking the first step. Bring your focus from the future to what can be done right now. We all know that if you start something a large enough number of times, you’ll eventually finish any task.

Starting — all by itself — is usually sufficient to build enough momentum to keep the ball rolling from then on. This is what Mark Forster calls the “I’ll just get the file out” technique, and it definitely works.

3. Long Project → Short Task

Constantly reminding yourself how long and challenging the upcoming undertaking is only adds to the feeling of being overwhelmed, and thus of procrastination.

Any undertaking, no matter how daunting, can be broken down into small steps. The trick is to, on each step along the way, focus solely on the very next smallest, doable chunk of work. Ignore the big picture for a while and just tackle that next short task.

Make it in a way you can easily visualize the outcome coming about very soon. Don’t write a book; write a page. If it still looks intimidating, you may try committing to a time box instead.

Of course, keep the big picture in mind, but use it for motivation and direction as needed, and not to frighten yourself before action.

4. Important Project → Imperfect Step

“This project has to impress everyone; I really can’t blow this opportunity.”

Placing such high hopes on a project only adds to anxiety and fear of failure. Perfectionism arises and only fuels procrastination even more.

The way to overcome this mental block is to simply give yourself permission to be human. Allow yourself to be imperfect just in this next small task.

Focus on giving an imperfect step; remember that you can always refine your work later. Better yet, make it in a way that you can’t possibly fail.

If you’re a serial perfectionist, go one step further and commit yourself to make a sloppy job on purpose, at least at first.

5. It Should Already Be Done by Now → I’ll Feel Terrific

The expression ‘should‘ is usually associated with blame and guilt. When you say you should be doing something (instead of what you’re actually doing), you focus on comparing an ideal reality with your current, “bad” reality. You focus not on what is, but on what could have been. Misused ‘shoulds‘ can elicit a strong message of failure, depression and regret.

The solution is to focus not on how bad you feel now, but on how good you’ll feel after you take action. Yes, directed action — even the tiniest of it — towards a goal is the best motivator I know of. The trick is to bring that expected feeling of accomplishment into the present — and know that the real joy of it is only a small task away.

6. Need to Plow Through → Have Plenty of Time for Play

“I’ve got to work all weekend”. “I am trapped in this laborious project”.

Long periods of isolation can bring an enormous feeling of resentment. This feeling generates a strong sense of deprivation and resistance towards the task.

The way to overcome this mental block is to not allow long stretches of work to creep in your activities. Schedule frequent breaks. Plan small rewards along the way. Have something to look forward to — not far away at the end of a long stretch — but in the very near feature. When rewards are small, frequent — and deserved — they work wonders.

Truly commit to leisure time. In fact, go ahead and make it mandatory. This “reverse-psychology” can by itself bring you to a whole different mindset, both more productive and enjoyable.

How Far Have We Come?

Time to check what we’ve accomplished with all the word substitutions. We started with:

“I have to finish this long, important project. It should already be done by now and I need to plow through it.”

And ended up with:

“I choose to start this task with a small, imperfect step. I’ll feel terrific and have plenty of time for play!”

Quite a change, eh?

Every time you catch yourself repeating the Procrastinator’s Motto or any of its parts to yourself, stop and rephrase it. Then check how you feel.

While it may seem just a matter of word choices at first, when you try this simple way to reframe your thoughts, you’ll see how instantly it changes your attitude towards working on your tasks. Moreover, if you turn it into a habit, you’ll be slowly reprogramming your thoughts, leading to a positive, permanent change in your mindset.

terça-feira, 7 de outubro de 2008

Ode to the Nice Guys

This is a tribute to the nice guys. The nice guys that finish last, that never become more than friends, that endure hours of whining and bitching about what assholes guys are, while disproving the very point. This is dedicated to those guys who always provide a shoulder to lean on but restrain themselves to tentative hugs, those guys who hold open doors and give reassuring pats on the back and sit patiently outside the changing room at department stores. This is in honor of the guys that obligingly reiterate how cute/beautiful/smart/funny/sexy their female friends are at the appropriate moment, because they know most girls need that litany of support. This is in honor of the guys with open minds, with laid-back attitudes, with honest concern. This is in honor of the guys who respect a girl’s every facet, from her privacy to her theology to her clothing style.

This is for the guys who escort their drunk, bewildered female friends back from parties and never take advantage once they’re at her door, for the guys who accompany girls to bars as buffers against the rest of the creepy male population, for the guys who know a girl is fishing for compliments but give them out anyway, for the guys who always play by the rules in a game where the rules favor cheaters, for the guys who are accredited as boyfriend material but somehow don’t end up being boyfriends, for all the nice guys who are overlooked, underestimated, and unappreciated, for all the nice guys who are manipulated, misled, and unjustly abandoned, this is for you.

This is for that time she left 40 urgent messages on your cell phone, and when you called her back, she spent three hours painstakingly dissecting two sentences her boyfriend said to her over dinner. And even though you thought her boyfriend was a chump and a jerk, you assured her that it was all ok and she shouldn’t worry about it. This is for that time she interrupted the best killing spree you’d ever orchestrated in GTA3 to rant about a rumor that romantically linked her and the guy she thinks is the most repulsive person in the world. And even though you thought it was immature and you had nothing against the guy, you paused the game for two hours and helped her concoct a counter-rumor to spread around the floor. This is also for that time she didn’t have a date, so after numerous vows that there was nothing “serious” between the two of you, she dragged you to a party where you knew nobody, the beer was awful, and she flirted shamelessly with you, justifying each fit of reckless teasing by announcing to everyone: “oh, but we’re just friends!” And even though you were invited purely as a symbolic warm body for her ego, you went anyways. Because you’re nice like that.

The nice guys don’t often get credit where credit is due. And perhaps more disturbing, the nice guys don’t seem to get laid as often as they should. And I wish I could logically explain this trend, but I can’t. From what I have observed on campus and what I have learned from talking to friends at other schools and in the workplace, the only conclusion I can form is that many girls are just illogical, manipulative bitches. Many of them claim they just want to date a nice guy, but when presented with such a specimen, they say irrational, confusing things such as “oh, he’s too nice to date” or “he would be a good boyfriend but he’s not for me” or “he already puts up with so much from me, I couldn’t possibly ask him out!” or the most frustrating of all: “no, it would ruin our friendship.” Yet, they continue to lament the lack of datable men in the world, and they expect their too-nice-to-date male friends to sympathize and apologize for the men that are jerks. Sorry, guys, girls like that are beyond my ability to fathom. I can’t figure out why the connection breaks down between what they say (I want a nice guy!) and what they do (I’m going to sleep with this complete ass now!). But one thing I can do, is say that the nice-guy-finishes-last phenomenon doesn’t last forever. There are definitely many girls who grow out of that train of thought and realize they should be dating the nice guys, not taking them for granted. The tricky part is finding those girls, and even trickier, finding the ones that are single.

So, until those girls are found, I propose a toast to all the nice guys. You know who you are, and I know you’re sick of hearing yourself described as ubiquitously nice. But the truth of the matter is, the world needs your patience in the department store, your holding open of doors, your party escorting services, your propensity to be a sucker for a pretty smile. For all the crazy, inane, absurd things you tolerate, for all the situations where you are the faceless, nameless hero, my accolades, my acknowledgement, and my gratitude go out to you. You do have credibility in this society, and your well deserved vindication is coming.

Fu-zu Jen, SEAS/WH, 2003

sexta-feira, 3 de outubro de 2008

What the West makes of Chinese science

Until fifty years ago, it was widely assumed that China had no tradition of scientific thought and innovation. Meticulous observation and reasoned deduction were taken to be European traits, as was the application of scientific principles to industrial production. The Chinese were supposed to be good at imitating, not originating; and the notion that the West’s scientific and industrial revolutions owed anything to the East’s inventiveness seemed laughable. We now know better. Ancient China’s precocity in almost every field of scientific achievement has since been acknowledged – in medicine, metallurgy, ceramics, mechanics, chemistry, physics, mathematics. Ridicule has turned to awe, tinged with trepidation.

This dramatic reversal is credited to one man, the redoubtable Dr Joseph Needham, plus a small team of devoted disciples and a monumental work of scholarship. All three provide rich matter for Simon Winchester’s Bomb, Book and Compass, while the stature of Needham’s great work may be judged by the appearance of a new volume on ferrous metallurgy, the twenty-fourth in his Science and Civilisation in China series. Fifty years since the first volume appeared, and thirteen since Needham died, the work of assessing pre-Qing China’s scientific achievement goes on. “Sci[ence] in general in China – why [did it] not develop?”, wondered Needham in an aide-memoire jotted down in 1942. Later touted as “the Needham question”, this conundrum about why so promising a tradition failed to generate its own industrial revolution has never been satisfactorily answered – by Needham or anyone else. But the idea behind it – that China did indeed once excel in science – has generated an industry of its own. Mining the world’s most richly documented culture for references to scientific and technological practice now provides employment for a host of scholars; many of them enjoy the resources on offer at Cambridge University’s specially built Needham Research Institute; and seldom has there not been a volume of Science and Civilisation in China making its stately progress across the print floor of the University Press.

For revealing how, in almost every conceivable field of scientific endeavour, the Chinese had preceded other nations, Needham was hailed as “the Erasmus of the twentieth century”, fawned on by the Left and feted by international academe. The Fellows of Caius College, Cambridge, made him their Master; Beijing, no less than Taipei, showered him with honours. Yet, boisterous and headstrong, Needham was not without his critics. Cambridge had cause to resent his long absences and reluctance to teach. Washington steadfastly refused him entry following his endorsement of Communist claims that US aircraft had dropped cholera-infected rats on North Korea. Forums designed to further the cause of international understanding were something of a deathtrap for Needham. He was hoodwinked by his Maoist friends – and by a Soviet-laid germ-trail in respect of the rats. It was not until the Cultural Revolution that his faith in Communist China began to waver. His flaws and foibles were legion, and it is these that seem to have recommended him to that connoisseur of bookish eccentricity, Simon Winchester.

Bomb, Book and Compass (these being some of the undisputed products of Chinese invention) is no more a standard biography than was The Surgeon of Crowthorne (Winchester’s book about William Minor and the OED). Instead, Winchester delivers a masterly narrative, rich in description and quirky asides, and as undemanding as it is compelling. Needham, we learn, though a distinguished embryologist, self-taught sinologist and general polymath, was susceptible to distractions. He was keen on steam engines, morris dancing, singing and swimming in the nude. A Communist in all but party membership, he yet remained a devout Anglo-Catholic; and a dedicated husband in so far as his compulsive womanizing permitted.

Nearly half of Winchester’s book is devoted to the years (1943–6) that Needham spent in China as the head of a wartime agency called the Sino-British Scientific Co-operation Office. Winchester insists it had nothing to do with intelligence gathering and was solely concerned with offering encouragement and materials to scientific institutions uprooted by the Japanese invasion. But it does seem to have involved more adventurous travel than the distribution of books and laboratory equipment strictly required. Though based in Chongqing, the capital of unoccupied China, Needham was seldom there. It was his first visit to China and would be his only extended residence in the country; he was determined to make the most of it. His three major journeys, one by truck to Gansu in the north-western desert, another by road to Yunnan in the south-west, and a third mainly by rail to Fuzhou in the south-east, were as notable for what he learned about Chinese science as for what he imparted to it. Indeed, the immense collection of books and artefacts that he brought back probably outweighed the largesse he distributed. Shipped to Cambridge, they would provide the raw material for Science and Civilisation in China and the core of the Needham Research Institute’s extensive library.

Winchester has retraced these expeditions exhaustively. He makes good use of the reports submitted at the time, and writes of China with real affection. The Man Who Loved China, which is the title of his book in the US, could as well apply to the author as the subject. But all this leaves little room for the rest of Needham’s career, which is sketched in the broadest of strokes, and none at all for the ongoing debate over the methodology of Science and Civilisation in China.

Needham’s purpose was to demonstrate not just the scale of early China’s scientific achievement, but its importance in the development of world science. Even his disciples have had difficulty with this. In his handsome contribution on ferrous technology – Part Eleven of the fifth volume, Chemistry and Chemical Technology, in Science and Civilisation in China – Donald B. Wagner dissociates himself from Needham’s faith in both “the essential virtue of Progress” and “modern natural science as a measure of historical value”. Like others, he is also unhappy with Needham’s extraction of Chinese science from its geographical, cultural and social context and his categorization of it into essentially Western disciplines – chemistry, physics, biology, etc – that were unfamiliar to the Chinese. And finally, though he wrestles with the Needham dictum that the West owed its eventual technological superiority to the East, Wagner concludes that in respect of iron, “the results are not by any means conclusive”.

Unfazed by such apostasy, Needham stuck to his task well into his nineties (he died in 1995). He devoured every available text and interrogated every known authority for the earliest Chinese references to any relevant technology. Finding that these generally predated anything in other cultural traditions, he then awarded to China a precedence based on priority and offered conjectures as to how this technology might subsequently have spread to other receptive societies. He was, in short, a committed diffusionist; he made no allowance for the possibility of independent invention and parallel development elsewhere. He also made no allowance for the profusion and antiquity of Chinese textual sources compared with those of other cultures. The doubtful nature of references to ferrous technology in, for instance, India’s historiography does not prove that this material was unknown there; witness the famous iron pillar at the Qutb in Delhi. It merely affirms the comparative paucity of the textual resources available for pre-Islamic India.

Notching up these Chinese “inventions and discoveries” and awarding to each a date based on the earliest known reference became something of an obsession for Needham. Several such listings appear in his published works and have since been adapted by admirers; Winchester reproduces a representative example. But while one can hardly quarrel with “Blast furnace – 3rd century b.c.”, “Book, printed, first to be dated – a.d. 868”, or “Crank handle – 1st century b.c.”, the whole exercise invites ridicule with the inclusion of items such as “Wheelbarrow, sail-assisted – 6th century a.d.”, “Great Wall of China – 3rd century b.c.”, or “Bookworm repellent – no date”. For reducing the painstakingly researched and elegantly written tomes of Science and Civilisation in China to the level of general knowledge trivia, Needham himself must bear much blame. But what Donald Wagner’s new volume well demonstrates is the extent to which recent archaeology, while modifying some of Needham’s conclusions, generally supports the veracity of the textual testimony and so the value of his life’s great work.

Simon Winchester
Joseph Needham and the great secrets of China

Donald B. Wagner
Volume Five: Chemistry and Chemical Technology Part Eleven: Ferrous Metallurgy