RAOK challenge – Days 4 to 6

Day 4
What I did:
I open doors to people regularly, so this day’s RAOK was nothing special for me. Unfortunately, this day was a lazy Sunday with little contact to other people, so I had no good chance to open a door to someone.
From past experience I know that opening the door to someone usually earns a smile and a thank you. It also gives you a good feeling, a feeling of having helped someone. 

Day 5
What I did:
I totally missed this. I meant to pay for someone’s coffee or something like that. Having done my grocery shopping today, I realized I could have paid the couple of sodas the person after me was getting.
I did not do today’s RAOK.

 Day 6
What I did:
I shared my little knowledge on plumbing at the nearby bouldering hall. I noticed in the heating pipes an open valve that should’ve been closed, closed it and notified the personnel that it had been open.
The hall personnel thanked me and I felt good knowing that I had done the right thing, not having closed my eyes and thought: “Not my business.”

Poland, bouldering and yoga – a lesson on emotions

I had planned to fly to Poland to take a short vacation there last week. On the eve of my departure, Lufthansa gave notice that due to their pilots’ striking my flight was cancelled. The same evening I looked for alternative flights but couldn’t find any reasonably priced ones that would have allowed to spend enough time in Poland before the return flight. I decided to seize Lufthansa’s offer of cancelling my flights and having the full ticket price remunerated.

Having received the news on the cancellation I was disappointed after anticipating the trip for a couple of months. On the same day as the flight to Poland was cancelled, I went bouldering with my colleagues in a nearby hall. For me it was the first time and I was immediately fascinated. After the bouldering I searched for the alternative flights but couldn’t find any. I then decided to sign up for a basic course on bouldering and to visit the hall two times during my vacation. Somehow this made the disappointment go away, which was kind of strange. I wouldn’t have thought that bouldering in my home town would be equal to traveling to Poland and spending a long weekend there. Coincidentally, I quickly learned that they actually were and that there was a simple explanation to that.

Why do you feel that way?

Last Saturday, instead of being in Poland, I went to the regular yoga class. Our yoga teacher told us about how we should always probe our feelings and the reasons behind them. For example, if your spouse comes home from work and sits at the dinner table and just eats without saying a word, you might get upset. If you asked yourself for the reason, you might answer yourself that receiving no thanks from your spouse for the prepared dinner makes you feel bad. You might also find that saying this aloud helps no just release your bad feeling, but might also fix the problem: your spouse might realize the effort you have put in and thank you for it.

Instead of immediately blasting your bad feelings at your spouse, you might say that not receiving any recognition for your efforts makes you feel bad. Arguably this is more efficient communication and gets to the root of your feelings. This probing also helps you get better in touch with your emotions and their causes.

During the yoga lesson I quickly realized why I had been hardly upset by the cancellation of my flight. First I asked myself, why I had wanted to travel to Poland in the first place. The answer was: to try something new, to get out of the rut. Second I asked myself, why I was so keen on getting more into bouldering. The answer: to try something new, to get out of the rut. So obviously, although my vacation in Poland did not take place, the ultimate goal of trying something new was realized in bouldering. Also, as I found bouldering to be something I want to do more, it should provide something new on the long-term.

From business consulting to emotions

Probably all business consultants and many industry managers know the so called “five times why” -method that dates back to the 1950’s Toyota and Taiichi Ohno. The method is known for its application in business and engineering problems, but I have never heard of it being applied to human emotions, which is kind of strange. The method on its own is not dependent on any problem domain, but lends itself to any problem where asking ‘why’ is sensible. As my yoga teacher made me realize, we should ask ourselves ‘why’ when feeling a certain emotion. The answer might help us understand what we are missing, what needs to be fixed and how to communicate this to others.

The root cause of our feelings, be they good or bad, might be caused by people around us, our wanting something or any other reason. Whatever the reason, by asking ourselves “Why do I feel this way?”, we can find that reason and act upon it. If we ask ourselves why we are happy in a given moment, we are one step closer to finding the keys to our own happiness.

RAOK challenge – Days 1 to 3

Day 1
What I did:
I told my colleague what a great person she is and how I feel myself lucky and privileged to know her and being able to work with her. No matter how good my day is, she always makes it a bit better.
It felt good to say how I much I appreciate my colleague as a person, especially as I too seldom tell people in full how much they mean to me.

Day 2
What I did:
I went through some clothes to find five pieces to give to charity. Because I have already reduced the number of things I own, finding something useless was difficult. In the end I did not give anything yet, but might donate a few pieces of clothing after I have slept on it.
I was slightly disappointed that I could not give anything while also a bit proud that I have few things that are useless to me.

Day 3
What I did:
I greeted people today with a smile.
Smiling at people often gets you a smile back. And even if you don’t get a smile, your own smiling makes you feel better anyway.

Be kind, be a RAOK star

Live Your Legend challenges us to be the RAOK star of our live, doing random acts of kindness for the next thirty days. I am participating and am eager to see what will happen in the coming month. You can also join here and I highly encourage you to if you want to have an impact in your surroundings and make peoples’ lives a tiny bit better.

As suggested in the challenge, you should make it a daily habit to check the day’s task each day at the same time. Otherwise you might forget it, which would be a pity. Go for it and be the RAOK star of your own life.


Edited on 26.11.2016: Corrected typos.

Animal husbandry and ethics

Mid-October I was spending an afternoon at a colleague of mine, and we paid a visit to a local cattle fair. Rows of cows were on display, representing different races and ages. From that fair I remember two things that really got me thinking. The first one was, as one cow was mooing constantly for a minute or two, as if in despair or agony. Not being an expert on cows, I can only guess for the reason, but it sounded as if the animal was in some way unwell. The second thing was a sign, standing in the beginning of one of the rows, saying: “Life-performance 90’000 kg”.

Seeing the sign and hearing the one cow mooing made me ask myself, whether we have the right to keep animals and use them for our own purposes of feeding and agriculture? Thinking from a human perspective, describing someone’s life performance with one figure seems harsh, even more so when the figure is decided upon by others. A counter-argument to this line of thought might be that we should or cannot humanize animals, since they do not make ethical judgments. On the other hand, shouldn’t we act and judge our own actions according to our standards, human standards, our own moral?

Taking my thinking a bit further, I was faced with the question, whether the very creation of agriculture and use of animals for food production had been a pre-requisite for our moral pondering. Before the invention of agriculture and animal husbandry later on, humans lived as hunter-gatherers, from hand to mouth. Then you would have little time to think about ethics, as you needed a larger portion of your time for finding food and shelter. As the resources needed for food production diminished with the introduction of agriculture, humans could start developing our modern civilization. There was more time for other things than taking care of daily sustenance and survival, so our ancestors were equipped to develop arts, science, philosophy, ethics and so on. In this view, I would argue that the question of the ethics of animal husbandry would be mute, hadn’t our predecessors developed animal husbandry in the first place. Not only, because there would be no topic to discuss, but also because our ancestors might not have had the resources required for developing modern culture and ethics. They wouldn’t have had the time to think, whether using animals as food is ethically acceptable.

The above argument can of course be countered by noting that plant-based diet is a possible choice for human beings, and I realize that. I do not claim that animal husbandry was absolutely necessary for the development of modern culture, although it most likely accelerated the process. My main argument is a more general one: when we face an ethical dilemma, it might be that the choices made in the past were required to give us the time and capacity to ponder about the ethics of those very choices. We might not have the tools for questioning and evaluating those choices now, had we not made those very choices in the past. Therefore, as we now have more and better food and are able to think about the ethics of animal husbandry, we should indeed do so. Since we have the ethical and moral tools for such thinking, we should use those tools to assess ethics in all areas of life, including animal husbandry.

Now, since we have recognized this potential ethical problem, we should try to solve it. If it requires reducing, or even abolishing animal husbandry, then we should do it, as a potential logical consequence of ethical ponderings. Being an avid user of animal products, I do not claim that any radical changes are easy. There are arguments for and against animal husbandry, and I have not educated myself enough in this area to take a definitive stance. But visiting that animal fair made me think, and I will try to find out, what I, as a consumer, ought to do. Furthermore, if we want to keep improving our moral character, we must eventually expand our ethical thinking beyond us humans to other life forms.

Sprague-Grundy functions in game theory

I have again spent some time studying game theory a bit further with Thomas S. Ferguson’s book Game Theory. The latest topic was Sprague-Grundy functions that are used to describe, how to choose a winning strategy in combinatorial games. Sprague-Grundy functions are often used to analyze games, when it is not clear which positions in the game are P-positions and which are N-positions. If the Sprague-Grundy functions exist for all the positions in the game, a winning strategy is easily found. For simple games, the Sprague-Grundy offers little added information, since it just provides us the P- and N-positions in the game, but for more complex games it gives information that a simple analysis of P- and N-positions does not provide. I will take a look at this in a later post.

Sprague-Grundy function

The Sprague-Grundy (S-G) function g(n) of node n is defined recursively as follows:

  1. For all terminal nodes g(n) = 0.
  2. For all other nodes g(n) is the smallest non-negative integer that does not belong to the Sprague-Grundy values of the nodes direct followers.

It is easy to show, that the definition of a Sprague-Grundy function is equal to the definition of P- and N-positions in a game.

We remember that P- and N-positions are such positions, that the Previous player to move into or the Next player to move from that position can always win the game. The three definitions of P- and N-positions in combinatorial games are:

  1. The terminal position is a P-position.
  2. An N-position is such that there is at least one possible move into a P-position.
  3. A P-position is such that from it is possible to move only into an N-position.

We will now show that Sprague-Grundy functions fulfill these three conditions, where g(n) = 0 is a P-position and g(n) > 0 is an N-position.

Definitions 1 and A show that for the terminal position the S-G value equals the P-position.

For every other position we have either g(n) = 0 or g(n) > 0, respectively. If g(n) = 0, it means that each predecessor of that node must have an S-G value larger than 0. Therefore, from every position with an S-G value of larger than 0 we can move into a position with an S-G value of 0 (definition 2). Also, if we are not at the terminal node and g(n) = 0, we can only move to positions with an S-G value of larger than 0, since otherwise the position we are in could not have an S-G value of 0 (definition 3).

In conclusion, we see that from positions with an S-G value of larger than 0 we can always move to positions with an S-G value of 0 (equal to definition 2), and from positions with an S-G value of 0 we can only move to positions with an S-G value of larger than 0 (equal to definition 3).  Thus, we have shown that the Sprague-Grundy functions give us the P- and N-positions in a game. The difficulty is that they must be defined recursively, and that they do not exist for “circular paths” in games, where you might end up in a previous position after a certain number of moves.

Praise to maintenance

In a recent podcast on maintenance Freakonomics discusses the importance of maintenance and its relationship to innovation. The amount of maintenance our society needs just to keep running made me think, how importance maintenance is, both in the society and in our personal lives, and how new things can make maintenance become a burden.

We are inclined to see new things as being better than old ones, be they hobbies, jobs or public goods. Public infrastructure projects are often welcomed, especially if it’s something new, e.g. new roads that are built to allegedly improve traffic connections and reduce congestion. But seldom, if ever, do we discuss what the maintenance of this new infrastructure will cost. We ask what it costs to build, but hardly ever do we think, what it’ll cost to maintain and if we can afford it.

Like with public projects, in our private we tend to give new things more value than to old ones. New and more seems to be better, as the western consumerism requires us to believe. However, our possessions might become a burden, a realization that is in the center minimalism, a counter-trend to consumerism.

Acquiring and owning things doesn’t only give us the freedom to use them. Our belongings also bind us and oblige us to take care of them, for without maintenance they will eventually fail and we will lose the freedom to use them, while becoming free from the previously required maintenance efforts. I would bet that of all the people looking for a house, a larger portion is thinking about their own yard and the nice living room instead of contemplating on having to clean the drainpipes of leaves every autumn.

When acquiring or taking on something new, we should consider what we are trying to improve. If this novelty is to truly improve our lives, it must allow us to give up something else. Otherwise we are increasing our maintenance efforts, since we are not giving anything up but are introducing something new in to our lives. This pertains to many aspects of life, like work, hobbies and belongings. Acquiring something new means acquiring new responsibilities and duties. Wouldn’t you want to give some of the existing ones away before taking new ones?