Sunday, October 31, 2010

Unintended usage of iPad

It is amazing to see an increasing number of ways that iPads are used among adults and children with disability.

  • Text-to-speech applications for patients with spinal cord injury to browse the Internet.
  • Applications to teach autistic children basic skills such as brushing teeth
Pro: versatility, affordability
Con: Need human fingers to touch screen, touch screen technology can sometimes be too sensitive

Several questions remain to be studied:
- What is the effectiveness of iPad for people with disability?
- What is the efficacy of different design alternatives for different kinds of disabilities?

Here is a link to the full story on the New York Times.
Here is a link to another story on the Wall Street Journal.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Please call me by my true name

A beautiful poem by Thich Nhat Hanh:

Do not say I depart tomorrow,
for even today I still arrive.

Look deeply: I arrive in every moment,
to be a bud on a branch,
to be a tiny bird with wings still fragile,
learning to sing in my new nest,
to be a caterpillar in the hearth of a flower,
to be jewel hiding itself in a stone.

I still arrive in order to laugh and to cry
in order to fear and to hope.
the rhythm of my heart is the birth and
death of all that are alive.

I am the may fly metamorphosing
on the surface of a river,
and I am the bird, which when spring comes,
arrives in time to eat the mayfly.

I am the frog, swimming happily
in the clear waters of my pond,
and I am the grass-snake who,
approaching in silence,
feeds itself on the frog.

I am the child in Uganda, all skin and bones,
my legs as thin as bamboo sticks,
and I am the arms merchant, selling deadly
weapons to Uganda.

I am the 12 year old girl, refugee on a small boat,
who throws herself into the ocean
after being raped by a sea pirate,
and I am the pirate, my heart not yet capable
of seeing and and loving.

I am a member of the politburo
with plenty of power in my hands,
and I am the man who has to pay his
“debt of blood” to my people,
dying slowly in a forced labor camp.

My joy is like spring so warm it makes
flowers bloom in all walks of life.
My pain like a river of tears, so full it
fills up the four oceans.

Please call me by my true names,
so I can hear all my cries and my laughs at once,
So that I can see that my joy and my pain are one.

Please call me by my true names,
so I can wake up,
that so the doors of my heart can be left open,
the doors of compassion.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Angry chicken

"In order for chickens to produce more eggs, the farmers create artificial days and nights. They use indoor lighting to create a shorter day and a shorter night so that the chickens believe that twenty-four hours have passed, and then they produce more eggs. There is a lot of anger, a lot of frustration, and much suffering in the chickens. They express their anger and frustration by attacking the chickens next to them. They use their beaks to peck and wound each other. They cause each other to bleed, to suffer, and to die."

From the book "Anger: Wisdom for Cooling the Flames" by Thich Nhat Hanh

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Integrating Buddhism's wisdom to Leadership

According to the Dalai Lama, leaders should respect three values in their decision making:
  • Dependent origination: The law of cause and effect or action and consequences. Competent leaders should think deeply and holistically about consequences of their decisions before making actual decisions.
  • Interdependence: All our actions and decisions have effects on ourselves and on others.
  • Impermanence: This concept is sometimes referred to as "emptiness". It means that things keep changing. This belief helps all leaders not to become victims of adherence to ideas, profits, losses, etc.
From the book "The Leader's Way: The Art of Making the Right Decisions in Our Careers, Our Companies, and the World at Large

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Value of life

Two profound quotes from Melinda Gates

"One life on this planet is no more valuable than the next."

"A woman with a voice is by definition a strong woman. But the search to find that voice can be remarkably difficult."

Saturday, October 23, 2010


"The old dreams are good dreams. They did not work out. But I am glad I had them."

From the movie "The Bridges of Madison County"

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Artificial ... and ... Unfortunate

Here is an interesting argument about the downside of "artificial" and "unfortunate" division among disciplines. This is what I learn from the book "Happiness Quantified: A Satisfaction Calculus Approach". Although they talk about traditional disciplines like economics, psychology, etc., the lessons can be applied to more recently established disciplines like information systems and computer sciences.

Why artificial? -- "Because it is hard to argue that economics has nothing to do with sociology or psychology, or the other way around." (p.1)

Why unfortunate? -- "Because these artificial scientific boundaries make it difficult to make a complete study of phenomena that have economic, sociological, and psychological aspects." (p.1)

Perhaps, this strikes at the core of what "interdisciplinary" program needs to do:
  • Break down the invisible walls between disciplines
  • Respect different approaches, theories, and methods to examine a phenomenon

Monday, October 18, 2010

Human rationality in science

How much weight should we put on "human rationality" when it comes to scientific research? The answer is "it depends on which discipline we are taking about." Let's investigate what we can learn from Psychology and Economics by looking at the two recent articles in the NYTimes.
Here are a few key highlights from Psychology:
  • Daniel Gilbert, a psychologist at Harvard, made an argument that there are certain numbers such as 7, 10, 24 that may dominate our thinking, decisions, and ultimately our behaviors. For example, why do we have to take antibiotics for 7 days? Gilbert argued: "A recent study of antibiotic treatment published in a leading medical journal began by noting that “the usual treatment recommendation of 7 to 10 days for uncomplicated pneumonia is not based on scientific evidence” and went on to show that an abbreviated course of three days was every bit as effective as the usual course of eight."
  • What is such a big deal about the amount of pills to take or the length of time to take them? The answer is it has implications on healing costs if each of us is taking a few pills too many to cure our diseases. On the other hand, if we take too few, it may create the superbugs that can prove to be more detrimental to human kind in the far future.
  • My take is our decisions and behaviors do not always follow the law of rationality and rational calculus. In some cases, heuristics win over rational thinking not only in our every day life but also in science.
Here are a few key highlights from economics:
  • The NYTimes article started out with an interesting observation about economists. Why they do not always agree on key questions such as which policy decisions we should take? and what are the impacts of important policy such as the $787 billion stimulus? These are important questions that guide fiscal and other national policies.
  • The answer is economists look at complex phenomena i.e., a country's economy. As Solow argued "It (the stimulus bill) has run its course over the past year and a half, but it is not an isolated event. One thousand other things were happening that had an effect on employment and real G.D.P.,” a measure of a nation’s total output adjusted for changes in prices. “You want to trace the effect of one of a very large number of significant causal effects, and that’s a very hard thing to do.”
  • For economists to predict/explain complex economic outcomes, they have to make a strong assumption on "human rationality". Prof. Ariely from Duke University argued: “But there’s a good reason that human irrationality isn’t part of the standard economic models, and this gets to the dilemma of economics. If you have a simple problem, you can offer a simple solution. But the economy is a hugely complex problem. So we either simplify the problem and offer a solution, or embrace the complexity and do nothing.”

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Reason .....

Wisdom from "How the Grinch Stole Christmas" ......

The Grinch hated Christmas! .....
Now, please don't ask why. No one quite knows the reason.
It could be his head wasn't screwed on just right.
It could be, perhaps, that his shoes were too tight.
But I think that the most likely reason of all
May have been that his heart was two sizes too small.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Argument about human motivation

An interesting argument from the New York Times reader:

"All pain caused by humanity can always be synthesized down to ego and greed.

There is no action taken by an individual, and thus collectively by civilization, that is leading us away from enlightenment that cannot be attributed to these two destructive motivations, ego and greed.

It is only by making choices that resist these temptations that humanity has a chance of survival, and any one of us has a chance of living a life of peace and joy."

Monday, October 11, 2010

Description of feelings

I admire people who can vividly describe their feelings. How about these examples?

  • Pain
    Feeling a pain like “a finger crushed under the door, or a tooth under a drill

  • Misery
    Your soul shrinks down to the size of a pea

Friday, October 8, 2010

Russell and Stillwater

Today, I feel that I want to sit down and have a dialogue with Russell from the movie Up and Stillwater, a Zen panda from the children book Zen Shorts. Perhaps, they can help me make sense of things.

I am drawn to the dialogue between Russell and Mr. Frederickson when they first met. Here how it goes:
Russell: Good afternoon. Are you in need of any assistance today, sir?
Carl Fredricksen: No.
Russell: I could help you cross the street.
Carl Fredricksen: No.
Russell: I could help you cross your yard?
Carl Fredricksen: No.
Russell: I could help you cross...
Carl Fredricksen: No!
[closes the door on Russell's foot]
Russell: Ow.

Here is a summary of Zen Shorts:
"Michael," said Karl. "There's a really big bear in the backyard." This is how three children meet Stillwater, a giant panda who moves into the neighborhood and tells amazing tales. To Addie he tells a story about the value of material goods. To Michael he pushes the boundaries of good and bad. And to Karl he demonstrates what it means to hold on to frustration.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

A case of an empty seat

Today, I read an Op-Ed piece from John Edgar Wideman in the NewYork Times:

This is a story about a black person (who is a professor at Brown University). He has to ride an AMTRACK train from New York city to Providence. Over the four years period, he learned that the seat next to him is almost always empty. Nobody really wants to sit next to him. Why?

His conclusion is "because I can’t accept the bounty of an extra seat without remembering why it’s empty, without wondering if its emptiness isn’t something quite sad. And quite dangerous, also, if left unexamined. "

Very disturbing evidence of why we tend to focus more on our differences than our similarities as human beings.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Rahm Emanuel from David Brooks' perspective

Rahm Emanuel is a departing chief of staff for President Obama. He left the white house to pursue a campaign for a mayor of the city of Chicago.

Here is what David Brooks summarizes Rahm Emanuel as the person he knows:

"Any smart pat of butter would spot him at 100 yards and flee. That’s because Rahm is completely in touch with his affections and aversions. He knows who and what he loves — Obama, Nancy Pelosi, Chuck Schumer, the city of Chicago — and there is nothing hedged about his devotion to those things. He may be a professional tactician, but he speaks the language of loyalty and commitment, not the language of calculations and self-interest. "

"I’m writing this appreciation of Rahm because success has a way of depersonalizing its beneficiaries. From the moment kids are asked to subdue their passions in order to get straight As to the time they arrive at a company and are asked to work 70 hours a week climbing the ladder, people have an incentive to suppress their passions and prune their souls. "

"That’s especially true in Washington, a town with more than its fair share of former hall monitors, a place where politicians engage in these pantomime gestures of faux friendship and become promotable, hollowed-out caricatures of themselves. "

Monday, October 4, 2010

Forming ideas ....

"The most difficult subjects can be explained to the most slow-witted man if he has not formed any idea of them already; but the simplest thing cannot be made clear to the most intelligent man if he is firmly persuaded that he knows already, without a shadow of doubt, what is laid before him"

Leo Tolstoy, 1897

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Focusing on our commonalities

"No matter what part of the world we come from, we are all basically the same human beings. We all seek happiness and try to avoid suffering. We have the same basic human needs and is concerns. All of us human beings want freedom and the right to determine our own destiny as individuals and as peoples. That is human nature."

Nobel peace price acceptance speech by the Dalai Lama

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Karma and compassion

"You need to contemplate ... that you must die ... When you have done so, you will pay more attention to the deeper aspects of life; you will focus on the way that karma works--the ways your own actions bring about specific effects. When you recognize that ..., you will determine what is important ..."

From the book "Becoming Enlightened" by His Holiness the Dalai Lama