Have you ever had a conversation with a friend about the latest iPhone, only to see adverts, on the web later?
How could your phone know what you were talking about earlier? It feels creepy, like you’re being spied on.
The truth, is that you are giving so much data to Facebook and Google by using your phone, that your phone doesn’t need to listen to what you say.
They have so much data, they can predict what you like to buy or search for.
How Facebook and Google Stalk You
Facebook and Google have access to you all over the web.
In 2017 Google had trackers on 75% of the top million websites in the world, Facebook had 25%. Both those numbers have increased since then.
When I talk about trackers I am referring to Tracking Pixels or Spy Pixels. As the name suggests they stalk you.
Tracking Pixels are invisible pieces of code in emails or web-pages you visit. You won’t even know they’re there.
These Tracking Pixels follow you to other websites, reporting back to their parent company, which sites you visited, what you did, how long you were there, what device you were using, where in the world you were… The list creeps on and on.
Google and Facebook’s services are free to use, because you are the product. They sell your data to companies who want to sell you things or change your worldview.
Your data can be sold to anyone who wants to use it.
This is an invasion of your privacy and an attack on your human right own your data.
Over the course of this series of posts I will explain in depth, why.
From marketing products to using your data to manipulate you.
How To Stop Tracking Pixels
DuckDuckGo’s plug-in for your browser (Chrome or Safari etc) blocks trackers. Their mobile app blocks Spy Pixels when you browse the web too.
Do you shower with the door open?
Do you tell everyone your salary?
Do you openly discuss your doctor’s visits?
If you answered “no” to any of the above, you care about privacy. So you should care about digital privacy.
You might think that it’s okay if big companies want your data, because you’re “too boring” for them to bother with you.
Google and Facebook don’t think you’re boring. Big Tech are now the most valuable companies in the world and they run on your data.
If you want to see an in-depth, terrifying account of how our data can be used against us, you must watch the Great Hack on Netflix. It explains the ways your data can be used against you by these companies, using Cambridge Analytica as an example.
Facebook has more users than any single sovereign country and has founds ways to get people to volunteer their most personal information, only to use it against them or sell it to people who will.
Facebook can stalk you around the web even when you aren’t using the app and sell that information to other companies. So even if you trusted Facebook (why would you?) then you need to make sure you trust all the companies they sell to as well.
Google knows where you go (maps), what you want to know (search) and pretty much anything else that can be turned into data.
Don’t Hide, Protect
Privacy is not about hiding, it’s about protecting your information. You have a right to keep your information to yourself.
The law has not been able to keep up with technology, so while you do have a right to privacy, Big Tech doesn’t have a legal obligation to care yet.
Start Simple with DuckDuckGo
A quick look through their website will show you how they can protect your privacy and most of my ideas for this post came from one of their own blog posts.
I plan to write more about data privacy, why you should care and how to protect yourself in my upcoming posts.
I am not affiliated with DuckDuckGo or being paid by them for recommendations, my opinions are my own.
Follow your passion is the most common career advice you will hear these days.
It’s a nice idea, but how easy it to actually do? And how much does it actually help?
An article on HBR explained that passions are made not found, passions are more about your values than what you enjoy, and passion can only take you so far.
Don’t Wait to “Find” Your Passion
People aren’t born with a passion.
Think about your favourite hobby. Did you start doing it in the womb? Or did you start it and gradually get better with practice and start to love it. You may have started so young you can’t remember, but you did start.
Passions are developed.
So if you don’t like something the first time you try it, that doesn’t mean you will never like it. If you care about the results your work produces, keep practising. You can get better bit by bit and you will find yourself starting to enjoy it more and more.
Focus on Meaning, not Fun
Your preferences change all the time, think about your hobbies now, the TV shows you watch, the books you read.
How many are the same from your childhood? or even 5 years ago?
Pleasure is short-lived. You are not going to love doing the same things your whole life, because you as a person change so much throughout your life.
Meaning however, deepens with time.
If you love making someone’s day or knowing that something you taught someone could make their life just a little easier, this feeling will last much longer than the pleasure of a massage.
Passion Can Work Against You
There are two big situations where passion can work against you:
- You are passionate about something that someone else is passionately against
- You are willing to sacrifice other things in life for your passion
For and Against
Imagine you are trying to convince your friend of all the benefits of Android. You can talk all day about the features, the lower cost and wider choice of phones. But if the person you are talking to is a strong Apple supporter, you are more likely to make them support their side more strongly.
Passion in something we disagree with actually makes us push back and think of all the reason that person is wrong. So beware how passionately you speak when trying to persuade someone before you know which side they’re on.
Sacrifices of Passion
If you love your job so much that you would secretly do it for free, you may think you’ve found yourself the best deal in the world.
The problem is when immoral managers start to notice just how much you love your job.
They may start asking you to do unpaid overtime, because they know you love it enough to keep going.
They may ask you to work a few weekends, just to get this project done.
They may ask you just to help them for 10 minutes, which turns into 2 hours, so you miss your lunch-break.
A few months or years later, you will find you have no time and no energy to do anything but work. You will forget why you loved this job so much as now it is just an endless mountain of work and waterfall of stress.
So remember, passion is better developed than “found”, passion lasts longer when it appeals to your deeply held values and passion can be used against you.
If you understand a problem you can solve it. I don’t expect this post to be used to train Intelligence service officers, but it was a question I was interested in. NewScientist answered this question in their Collection – 17 MORE Ideas You Need To Understand.
What is a Terrorist?
Marc Sageman, of the CIA, says you can’t reduce terrorism down to ideology, religious motivations or personality disorders. In fact you can’t point to a pattern of actions and say “that’s a terrorist”, the same way you can point to types of serial killer like organised and disorganised killers, there is no terrorist type, just people who commit acts of terror.
From a terrorism prevention point-of-view, this makes things difficult as we can’t categorise potential terrorists.
In a 1981 paper by Martha Crenshaw (Causes of Terrorism), she found that what most terrorists have in common, is they are all really normal. They aren’t the Lex Luthors of the world, they’re the Average Joes.
Terrorism Depends on Whose Side You’re On
People who commit terrorist acts are usually part of a group, like a shared religion or country. This group will fear that another group will kill them or destroy their way of life. This is the same motivation many people have for the leave campaign in Brexit and that doesn’t make them terrorists.
A normal person who feels threatened will eventually lash out. Inside the group, the people who commit terrorist acts are seen good people, who are just providing a warning to the outside group to leave your group alone. They are heroes, protecting their families.
Someone in the west may see these bombers as evil people who just want to cause us harm, but suicide bombers consider themselves the victims to western military power.
Terrorism as PR
The author of the NewScientist article, Peter Byrne, says that for the terrorist, their act of terror is just a military public relations scheme to make a political point. It’s not a day job or an inbuilt ideology. These people don’t wake up a terrorist, go to work a terrorist and go to bed a terrorist. It’s just a tactic to make a point.
People Don’t Always Know Their Motivations
Criminologist Andrew Silke, at the University of East London, has interviewed people who have committed acts of terror and most of them say that they did it for their beliefs. The characters we see on TV shows and the videos that accompany horrific violent acts would back this up.
Silke interviewed terrorists, gathering a detailed history of their lives. These interviews usually reveal family issues, school issues or employment discrimination and wanting revenge for their people’s deaths as coming way before they were drawn into the ideologies of ISIS or the group they joined.
When Silke presented this evidence to Western Governments fighting terror, they chose to believe that terrorist threats were down to Islamic Radicalism, rather than try to understand the complex social and psychological issues that could be preventable.
Blame the Elites
In the “Causes of Terrorism” paper by Crenshaw, she found that the first people to turn to terrorism, who then convert the masses of underprivileged people, are more likely to be members of the upper middle class. The Jihadi leaders are often medical doctors and PhDs.
Before it was commonly believed that terrorist leaders were from underprivileged backgrounds.
Locals Just Want a Job
People living local to terrorist groups often are often very poor due to wars and violence destroying their neighbourhoods.
Terrorist groups offer competitive salaries, health insurance and benefits to keep sending money to your family, should you die in battle. This makes the job quite attractive to someone who is struggling to provide for their family, wives have been known to even encourage it.
It would be shameful to let your family starve when a well-paid job is readily available to you. You don’t have to join because you fully agree with the ideals, you may just want to feed your family.
Availability of good jobs is an economic problem. The kind of problem that can be much more easily solved than defeating terrorism. ISIS could be dealt a real blow, if there were just better job opportunities provided to locals.
You Can’t Fight them On The Beaches
Many experts believe that defeating ISIS in Mosul (a known hub for ISIS) through military action won’t stop the threat of terrorism.
Killing leaders of terrorist groups like Bin Laden and al-Baghdadi doesn’t stop these groups being able to carry on with their mission.Terrorist groups can easily splinter off into new groups, re-organise and carry on committing acts of terror without their previous leader.
Drone strikes that target high profile leaders have been shown to increase the number of terrorist attacks, because the threat of a drone strike gives these terrorists groups fuel for their anti-western propaganda.
How To Actually End Terrorism
Military force not being effective isn’t all doom and gloom. Terrorist groups do disband, they tend to do so because of:
- Political solutions to the problems they face
- Grievances that originally angered them being solved or dissipated
- The group losing support because it displays too much brutality and the insiders don’t approve
The more we know about terrorism the sooner we can stop it. There is much more information in the original article, which doesn’t have a link available yet, but it will be on here soon and you can get a copy in stores.
This was a much more complex and sensitive topic than I usually write about, so please feel free to let me know if I was unclear or wrong below.
Does your work light a fire inside you or does it consume you? If you’re passionate about work, it can be the best feeling in the world, or it can burn you out.
This is the kind of passion you want in life.
Harmonious passion will give you energy, harmonious passion will give you meaning, harmonious passion will make your life vibrant.
You will perform better at work, you will seem happier to your friends and you will be more resilient to the struggles of life.
Then there is the other kind of passion…
Obsessive passion is always on your mind, even when you don’t want it to be.
Obsessive passion interferes with your social life, you just can’t help but check your emails over dinner. You find yourself unable to hold conversations because you’re too distracted and anything not building your dream feels like a waste of time.
If something goes wrong at work, your whole world comes crashing down. You feel like your value and self-worth comes from your work, so if you fail or get fired, you are a failure.
You are obsessed.
This is not healthy.
Choose harmony, not obsession.
As you master a skill, you will find there are fewer resources available and fewer people who’s skill level exceeds your own.
Once you reach the boundaries of human knowledge in a subject, there is no set path to improving.
You have to experiment and figure out what works for yourself.
3 Types of Experimentation for Learning
Experimenting in learning is about testing an idea, seeing if it works and doing more of what works.
Experimenting with Resources
To experiment with your resources plan a small project using a new medium or learning resource, dedicating a noticeable amount of time to it.
Then move on to the next if you don’t like it, if you do, then stick with it.
Experimenting with Technique
Once you have the basics of a skill down, its less about “how should I learn this?” and more about “what should I learn next?”.
If you were learning to draw, you may have got by doing perspective by eye, but you could try improving your perspective with vanishing points or a full perspective grid.
Experimenting with Style
There’s no one right way to do art or solve a problem.
Raphael, Picasso and Van Gogh all have completely different looking art, yet they are all considered masters.
Maybe you can’t draw with a pencil, but you create beautiful paintings or charcoals. Try each style aggressively before you move on.
Learn your strengths and weaknesses so you can cultivate your favourite styles or create your own.
This is a combination of a Growth Mindset (knowing that your knowledge and skills are not fixed, but can be improved at any time) and the knowing that you don’t know what you don’t know.
You can only find out by exploring for yourself.
How to Experiment
It’s all well and good, knowing that experimentation helps, but how do you do it?
Copy, then Create
Choose some work you admire, then copy it.
It’s that simple.
This will allow you to draw inspiration from others and help you to deconstruct what is and isn’t good practice in your chosen skill.
If you were a writer looking to explain things more clearly, you could read good explanations and break down what makes them good.
Is it their use of examples? Analogies? Or something else?
Spot the Difference
Remember the game from when you were a kid, where two similar pictures were next to each other and you had to spot where a character’s tail was missing in one or a window had a face in one but not the other?
Try this with your learning.
Take two approaches to learning a skill, then compare the results.
This could help you find a technique you prefer or it could show more than one solution to a problem.
You could, if you were a developer try solving a coding problem, use two different languages to see how they’re performance differs or if one requires less challenging syntax.
Introduce New Constraints
Sometimes being constrained actually forces you to be more creative.
One of Dr. Seuss’s most popular works “Green Eggs and Ham” came about because someone bet him he could not write a story only using 50 unique words.
Haiku’s are massively popular despite their rigid rules (five syllables, then seven, then five again) and many of Shakespeares greatest poems were confined to the rules of sonnets (rhyming as such: a-b-a-b c-d-c-d e-f-e-f g-g).
Find your unique combination of skills
You probably aren’t the best striker in the world, nor the best mathematician or best violinist.
You may just be the best mathematical-striker-violinist.
The author of Dilbert has said before that he is not the funniest person ever, nor the best at drawing or workplace satire, but he can combine all three to make a hugely popular web-comic series.
Explore the Extremes
Many great things happen at the boundaries.
Some of Van Gogh’s best works were using the brightest colours, the thickest paints, the fastest drafts.
Take something to the limit and see what you can achieve.
Please let me know below if you have any experiments you want to try.
If you see the top athletes in the world performing, they aren’t spending hours agonising over every move they make.
They are reacting in real-time, making bold moves.
It’s like they’re on a different level.
Because they are.
They can intuitively see how things will play out due to years of experience giving them an edge that most people will never attain.
Think about the racing lines F1 drivers take, they aren’t the ones you would want to take, that’s because you haven’t driven cars like that at those speeds, but they are the best in the world at it.
How To Build Your Intuition
It’s all well and good me telling you that experts are great, but how can you develop it?
Don’t Give Up So Easily
The worst part of learning something new, is the very beginning when everything seems too difficult and too confusing.
You might think that this just isn’t for you and you would do better just giving up.
Once you get through the difficult beginning, you will see yourself improving and maybe even start enjoying yourself.
If you reach a point where you feel you really can’t go on. Your head hurts, the problem or technique just isn’t getting any easier, set a timer for 10 minutes.
Then keep working even if it’s just to satisfy the stupid timer.
This will either be the little bit of extra time you need to figure the problem out, if not, at least you made it that far. Try again another time with fresh eyes.
Prove Things To Yourself to Understand Them
You understand things much more deeply, if you can prove it to yourself.
Want to see that magnets attract North to South, put two magnets together and see the like ends repel and opposite ends attract.
Young gives an example, do you know how a bicycle works?
Great! So draw one.
It doesn’t have to be a perfect rendering, just get the general outline. Now compare your drawing to the picture below. Did you get the chain in the right place? Did you include it at all?
Drawing something out or explaining to someone shows us where our knowledge gaps are and it forces us to confront them.
It’s easy to think you understand something, but actually proving it in writing or drawing it out will show you how much you really get it.
Always Start with a Concrete Example
Deeper processing of thoughts makes the memory more strongly imprinted in your mind.
So if you can relate a concept to another via an analogy, you are more likely to remember it and understand more.
Finding a good analogy is difficult. That’s what makes it so effective.
If you can relate two seemingly unrelated ideas, you must have understand what makes them similar and where they differ.
If you find your analogy doesn’t fit, great! You can find a better one. The process of improving each time will deepen your understanding with each iteration.
Don’t Fool Yourself
Yourself is the easiest person to fool (Richard Feynman said this first, not me).
To make sure you aren’t just gaining the illusion of understanding, you can test yourself against an expert, prove it to yourself or create an analogy as above.
Richard Feynman was a master of this, he taught himself new subjects all the time by breaking the idea down, analogising and teaching it.
The way he did it is well documented, and has been called the Feynman Technique
How to Learn Anything with the Feynman Technique
- Write what you want to understand at the top of a page
- Write out the idea or problem as if you are teaching it to someone else, add diagrams where necessary and use analogies to make it easier to understand for your imaginary student
- Now the most important step, check any areas you couldn’t easily explain, study it and try again from the beginning
Feynman used this to help him understand practically everything he wanted to learn and to explain it to others.
He went on to become one of the greatest minds of the 20th century.
Here are 3 ways to use the Feynman technique:
Understand Something New
Use the first two steps of the Feynman technique, but follow along with the book, video or wherever you are getting your information.
Constantly referring to the source, will make you less likely to remember it as you aren’t actively practicing recall, but in the beginning this is okay.
Understanding comes first, memorising comes later.
Problems You Can’t Solve
If you can’t figure something out, no matter how long you stare at it, it’s time to break down the problem and figure out where you’re getting stuck.
Try to understand every step of the problem.
You may just find something you didn’t see before and that will be the lightbulb moment that allows you to solve the problem.
If not, you will have a much clearer understanding, so if you do ask for help, you know where you’re struggling and can ask better questions.
Deepening Your Understanding
There is a famous saying that if you can’t explain something simply, you don’t understand it well enough.
Using the Feynman technique to fill in your knowledge gaps, analogise and teach others, you will be able to better understand any topic.
That’s actually why I started this blog. If I can share ideas I’ve read, so you can understand them, then I must have understood it myself.
What do you want to learn but are struggling with? Let me know in the comments below.
Remember, remember, the 5th of…Something.
Do you ever struggle to remember the Pythagoras’ theorem, even though it was drilled into your head in school?
Memory isn’t perfect.
We forget things.
Scott Young, who wrote Ultralearning, says there are 3 reasons we forget:
- Forgotten Cues
Memories fade over time.
Try to remember your Reception teacher’s face. What colour was their hair? What about their eyes? Did they have a soft or harsh voice?
Now do the same for your boss at work.
Much easier, right?
Memories lose their potency over time, because our brain has retrieved them recently, so the pathways in your brain become less defined, they decay.
Your existing memories can actually make it harder to make new memories.
There are 2 forms of Interference:
Something you have already learned makes learning something new more difficult.
Think of all the connotations you have for the word “Negative”.
Bad? Moody? A downer?
Then it may confuse you, when I say that in Psychology Negative Reinforcement can be a good thing.
Negative Reinforcement means to take something away.
This is neutral, it can be good or bad, the thing being taken away could be pain, which would be good. Or you could take away pleasure, which would be bad.
For example, you could have horrible pains that go away the moment you press a button. Eventually, through Negative Reinforcement, you will learn to press that button to take away your pain every time you feel pain.
This is where a new memory pushes out an old memory.
To be honest, I don’t know the neuroscience on this one, but I can tell you what happens.
An example, would be if you started to learn spanish and you began to forget your french.
This is the feeling when you are so close to remembering something, but you just can’t quite get the words out.
You know if you just hear the first letter or the start of the phrase, you could remember the name of the actor who played Professor X in X-Men.
The little jog you need to remember is your cue.
If you know your cue for remembering something, this can be very useful for triggering a memory when needed.
Like when people make L’s with their hands to remember left and right.
How To Remember
There are 3 main ways to retain memories long term
Spacing means learning your new skill over gradually increasing time-intervals, rather than all at once in one big cram session.
Spacing works best for things you can get right or wrong: facts, definitions, vocabulary ,etc.
Spacing needs to be done within reason, once a twice a week would be sensible, rather than once or twice every 10 years.
Too long a gap and you will have forgotten so much there won’t have been anything to retain.
I talked about Spacing in the post on retrieval.
Procedures, once learned, are easier to remember than concepts you have to describe.
You can test this right now.
Type the word “shunt” without looking at the keyboard.
You may make a typo but it was easy, right?
Now tell me the two letters either side of “u” on the keyboard… I guessed “i” and “w”.
If you look at your keyboard you will see I got one right and one very wrong.
Did you find typing the word or remembering the letters easier?
Automating skills makes them easier, this is why you can ride a bike your whole life, but describing how to do it to a newbie, so they can actually do it, is very difficult.
Overlearning is where you take your learning of a skill to the next level, to make sure you’ve really mastered it.
By learning something so tightly that you can do it without thinking, you make the pathways in your brain so strong, that even if they start to decay you will still remember most of it.
There are 2 ways to Overlearn:
- You can keep practicing even once you have mastered the skill. You may be able to play a song end to end. Can you do it 5 times in a row with no mistakes and no hesitation? Can you play the song with no warm up? Just pick up the guitar and strum it out? If no, then you can still overlearn some more.
- Practice at a level that is more difficult than required. The famous cartoon threat of “I could beat you with one arm tied behind my back” may actually have some relevance here. If you can master a song at a faster tempo than is actually required and with added accents on notes, then the real thing will be easier. If you forget your own harder version, your memory may just decay to the actual level needed.
Retention is easy to confuse with retrieval, but they are different. Retrieval is about being able to recall a memory or learned skill when needed, retention is about maintaining the same level of skill or ability to remember over a long stretch of time.