Ode to Joy

Few things in life compare to the thrill of playing Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, the famous “Ode to Joy” symphony as it is commonly known.  Recently I played this piece for only the third time in my life and it was just as exhilarating as the first time. Most people are familiar with the last movement, which is the one with the choir and the well-known theme.  However, the first three movements are just as stunning and set up the story for the action happening in the last movement.

The opening notes from the violins sound to me like the first rays of sun starting a new day.  Everything is waking up.  And the symphony just builds from there interweaving themes and instruments in a seamless way.  It’s like listening to a novel developing the plot and the characters to tell a story of this magical day.  I am completely present and focused for the entire time I’m playing, which is around 90 minutes.

As one of my musician friends once said to me, “Ah, Beethoven 9, the symphony that lasts forever and passes in the blink of an eye.”  Strangely enough, that’s exactly how I feel playing it.  I’m so focused and absorbed during the performance that when it ends, it’s as though I was transported somewhere for a period of time and I’m not quite sure what happened when it’s all over, but I know that something very important transpired.

This is when I must rely on my human archives to capture and claim the small magical moments and any new discoveries made, even though I’ve listened to it so many times I’ve lost count.  I look forward to hearing my favorite parts such as a certain passage in the fourth movement that always makes my throat catch, or the opening of the march section which features the bassoons and always makes me want to giggle, even though it’s kind of a serious moment.

It will take me days to process everything and calm down from all the excitement and the joy I now feel from the latest performance. I enjoy being able to relive the moments purely based on what I remember and how I’ve internalized the experience.  Somehow listening to a recording just isn’t the same.


Addicted to Speed

I recently read a book by Jack Kornfield called A Path with Heart: A Guide Through the Perils and Promises of Spiritual Life written in 1993.  In one of the chapters he talks about our addiction to speed.  Although this was written over 20 years ago, I find myself thinking about this idea in today’s context of rapid interactions, instantaneous results and the capability to do anything anywhere with our portable devices.

Meaningful conversations are exchanged through abbreviated text punctuated with emoticons and acronyms as though we can’t be bothered to take the time to spell out entire words.  As soon as an email is sent or a social media post goes up, the expectation is for an instant reaction or response.

Our expectation for a fast pace is partially, if not entirely, driven by the capability of the technologies we use.  When I first started connecting to the internet via a phone modem, I remember leaving the computer for minutes at a time waiting for an image to download pixel by pixel. Now I feel irritated if I have to wait a few seconds for the images (note plural) to appear on the screen.  And this expectation for fast and instantaneous results has seeped into our interactions with other humans and non-technological services.  How did this association happen?

In some ways it seems completely unrealistic because humans are not machines, so therefore we shouldn’t be expected to work at the same pace.  But on the other hand, the faster technology does allow us to respond faster because we’re able to access information anytime, anywhere in seconds.  Does the speed detract from our enjoyment?  Or does it enhance our experiences because everything happens so fast it allows us to cram more in and not spend so much time waiting for things to happen?

Why are we so addicted to speed?  If we could choose which things we want to happen fast and which things we want to slow down, what would we pick?  Sometimes there’s value to be gained in not responding instantly, or taking a few moments to appreciate something to process it fully before snapping a picture and posting it on Facebook or Instagram.

Interest-based Advertising

After last week’s posting, Big Data Targets, about a woman employing various strategies to prevent her pregnancy from becoming an advertising target, I felt a renewed interest to explore more about how my data is collected and used each time I use the internet.  And when I say “use the internet” I basically mean using any type of web-based application, such as Gmail or Facebook, any online shopping and just general browsing.

One of the most obvious uses of collected data is for interest-based advertising, which is basically what it sounds like, advertising that is targeted to the specific interests of a potential consumer.  So example for a pregnant woman this would include things like diapers, strollers, pre-natal vitamins, baby clothes, etc.  The interests are derived through a variety of means, but as I understand it, it’s mostly done through the use of cookies, which are small packets of data that get installed on your device when you visit certain websites or click on advertisements.  This data then gets transmitted back to the originating company or service for analysis.  Data collected includes things like your IP address, which gives a general idea of your location, search terms used, sites visited, ads clicked on, etc. It’s a data mine.  Some companies, like Amazon, are direct about the interest-based advertising and allow users to opt-out through the settings.

Although I’ve known about this for some time, understanding how everything works is so complicated that I sometimes just accept it as a necessary part of using the internet.  However last week’s post, and the research I did on the topic, got me thinking about a few things:

  1. How can we have more control about who sees what we’re doing?  And do we care?  Do we like the benefits of interest-based advertising? 
  2. What is being collected?  What is the primary or intended use of the collected data? 
  3. What else can be done with the collected data?  

Some people enjoy the benefits of targeted advertising because it means they get discounts for products/services that specifically interest them. And other organizations and services exist, such as Adblock Plus, Tor, and the Networking Advertising Initiative that are more invested in empowering consumers to have a bit more control about how their data is being mined and collected.

Here is an article explaining the difference between the Dark Web and the Deep Net, and how to access them anonymously.

How do you feel about receiving targeted advertisements?

Big Data Targets

I recently read an article titled “How One Woman Hid Her Pregnancy From Big Data”.  In the article, Janet Vertesi, assistant professor of sociology at Princeton University, attempts to hide her pregnancy from marketers by employing the following basic strategies:

  • ensuring her pregnancy wasn’t mentioned anywhere on social media
  • only purchasing baby- or pregnancy-related items in cash so nothing could be tracked to her credit card or loyalty cards
  • using gift cards, also purchased with cash, for online purchases that were confirmed with a different email address and sent to a storage locker
  • browsing the internet with Tor, a software designed to help prevent browsing habits and locations from being collected

Ironically enough, according to Vertesi, she said that her habits flagged her as being a criminal rather than a pregnant woman.

This article might not have caught my eye but I recently finished a book called The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg. One chapter in the book mentions the work done by statisticians hired by Target to analyze buying habits of pregnant women.  Target wishes to earn the loyalty of these particular consumers and intends to do so by analyzing the buying habits and then sending targeted ads at specific times in the pregnancy.  For example understanding the best time in the pregnancy to send the expectant mother ads or coupons for diapers, strollers, clothes or other baby-related items, when she will be ready for purchasing.

From having discussed this idea of targeted advertising with my friends, based on analysis of our buying habits, it seems that there are two sides to the issue.  Some people really enjoy targeted advertising because it means they get coupons or discounts for the exact items that they are interested in.  And others, like myself, feel slightly creeped out that so much data about me is being divulged, collected and analyzed without my complete consent and awareness.

I realize that targeted ads or customized discounts to match an individual’s preferences may seem harmless and can be beneficial, but it always makes me wonder what else can be done with the data.  Or what else is already happening with the data that I don’t know about.

Patagonia: Lago Gray Glacier Hike

Last time I posted about the afternoon hike on New Year’s Day to see The Horns.  Earlier that day, we spent the morning walking to see the Lago Gray Glacier.

After crossing a bridge, I welcomed the cool, misty feeling of the forest, and the intensity of the green.  It felt rejuvenating after a long day and a long night.

The Verdant Forest

The Verdant Forest

The day before, one of the bus wheels had blown out on our way to the Chilean border. Pieces of shredded tire were everywhere.  A small square of metal had fallen from somewhere inside the bus and punctured one of the rear tires. Luckily they were a pair. In addition to blowing out the tire, something else was damaged.  I don’t remember all the details, but it was fixed with the plastic tubing of a Bic pen!

But at this moment, it no longer mattered as we descended from the forest onto a wide expanse of stones with gusts of winds bringing us a taste of the glacier, cold and frosty.

The long, rocky traverse to climb up to see the glacier.

The long, rocky traverse to reach the climb up to the glacier viewpoint.

Along the way small touches of color and wild flowers peeped out reminding me that it was summer.

Small, sunny patches of wild flowers grew everywhere, reminding me that is was summer.

Small, sunny patches of wild flowers to warm me up along the way.

We hiked up a small incline to get a view of the glacier far off in the distance.  Ice cubes of bluish, glacial ice bobbed in the water, like a strange Patagonian cocktail.  This past winter has been long and cold; I feel too chilly to show a picture of the glacier.  Brrrr.

And then we went back the same way we came.  The descent with the sunny patches of flowers, the expanse of smoothed stones, a verdant forest and the bridge…maximum 6 people!

El Puente: Maximo 6 personas!

Just to give an overview of the trip, below is a map of the route we took after landing in El Calafate via Buenos Aires.  Red = land travel, Blue = the cruise

Map of the route we took through Patagonia.  Lines in red denote land travel, while those in blue are for the cruise.

Map of the route we took through Patagonia. Lines in red denote land travel, while those in blue are for the cruise.

Los Glacieres National Park = The Ride and Perito Moreno Glacier and

Torres del Paine N.P. = The Guanaco Playland, The Horns and Lago Gray Glacier Hike

After that we drove through Puerto Natales and stopped off at a ranch where we ate a freshly barbequed lamb.  A day later we arrived in Puenta Arenas on the Magellan Straight to board the cruise.  Stay tuned for Tierra del Fuego Island and los pinguinos!

I Forgot It for a Reason

I often don’t give my brain enough credit for the processing it does each day.  When I fail to remember something important I’m quick to be self-critical, chastising my brain for forgetting.  But this doesn’t take into account the thousands of things my brain “deletes” so that I can go through my daily routine unhampered by mundane details that frankly would just clog up the gray matter.

I noticed that a lot of people use social media apps, such as Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram to capture a moment in time of something funny, cool, extraordinary, etc. with a post and/or a photo.  Surely these small snippets in time are something that you will want to remember forever and ever.  But to me, it’s externally storing weird, silly things that I forgot for a reason. I trust my brain to go through the accumulation of a day’s memories and do some deleting so that it doesn’t get cluttered up.

A lot of stuff I have posted on social media, which admittedly is not much, is nice to have and look at, but if it wasn’t there my life would not be greatly impacted.  Maybe I should feel relieved to have some memories captured in external storage where I can benefit from having them, without taxing my precious brain to remember all these tiny, insignificant things.

In the last year I’ve read about memory apps that will aggregate timelines, posts and images from different sources, social media included, to provide the user with a “memory”.  The apps make connections by linking dates, places and people together, but this is not necessarily how a human brain would remember something.  Human brains link and connect things in all kinds of strange, meandering ways.   Maybe the trigger is a smell, a person, a type of food, or an event.  The path taken to the memory is quite different than the one prescribed by a memory app suggesting how and what I should be remembering when.

Are we losing something by keeping too much or by “forcing” the reconstruction of memories?  I’m assuming many people appreciate the benefits that come with using social media to keep track of events and people and places visited.  If my brain forgets something, I trust the reason behind it and appreciate my brain’s amazing capabilities to do this work for me.