opinion

MUCH THE BETTER!

January 10, 2020

We could spend all year living healthier, more productive lives, so why do we only decide to make the change at the start of the year? Why do we all make (and break) New Year resolutions? Many of us will start 2020 with resolutions – to get fit, learn a new skill, eat differently. If we really want to do these things, why did we wait until an arbitrary date which marks nothing more important than a timekeeping convention? British psychologist Tom Stafford asked this. And not only he. The answer tells us something important about the psychology of motivation, and about what popular theories of self-control miss out. Today is a very cool and rainy day. I am lazy. Not on the mood to do anything. It's even difficult to write this column. But my motivation gets bigger and bigger while writing. New Year resolutions? Many writers discussed about this topic already. Here are my two cents in. While celebrating during New Year's night, my family and friends found out, that what we want isn't really straightforward. At bedtime you might want to get up early and go for a run, but when your alarm goes off you find you actually want a lie-in. When exam day comes around you might want to be the kind of person who spent the afternoons studying, but on each of those afternoons you instead wanted to hang out with your friends. Believe me - I heard it many times from my students. You could see these contradictions as failures of our self-control: impulses for temporary pleasures manage to somehow override our longer-term interests. One fashionable theory of self-control, proposed by Roy Baumeister at Florida State University, is the 'ego-depletion' account. This theory states that self-control is like a muscle. This means you can exhaust it in the short-term – meaning that every temptation you resist makes it more likely that you'll yield to the next temptation, even if it is a temptation to do something entirely different. A corollary of the 'like a muscle' theory is that in the long term, you can strengthen your willpower with practice. So, for example, Baumeister found that people who were assigned two weeks of trying to keep their back straight whenever possible showed improved willpower when asked back into the lab. But, and more importantly, that theory doesn't give an explanation why we wait for New Year's Day to begin exerting our self-control. If your willpower is a muscle, you should start building it up as soon as possible, rather than wait for an arbitrary date. Another explanation may answer these questions, although it isn't as fashionable as ego-depletion. George Ainslie's book 'Breakdown of Will' puts forward a theory of the self and self-control which uses game theory to explain why we have trouble with our impulses, and why our attempts to control them take the form they do. The virgin page of a new calendar marks a clean break between the old and new you - a psychological boundary that may help you keep your resolutions. And, so to speak with Tom Stafford again, Ainslie gives us an answer to why our resolutions start on 1st January. The date is completely arbitrary, but it provides a clean line between our old and new selves. The practical upshot of the theory is that if you make a resolution, you should formulate it so that at every point in time it is absolutely clear whether you are sticking to it or not. The clear lines are arbitrary, but they help the truce between our competing interests hold. Let me ask you now,  my dear readers: How about your 2020 resolutions! +++ Email: doringklaus@gmail.com or follow me in Facebook, Linkedin or Twitter or visit www.germanexpatinthephilippines.blogspot.com or www.klausdoringsclassicalmusic.blogspot.com .  

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FLIGHT TIMES GETTING LONGER?

January 3, 2020

Ever wondered why flight times seem to be getting longer? Yes, I do. Checking my last ticket Davao-Manila-Davao and remembering some  real flight times from the past, I wonder why.  I learned from BBC-author Kathryn B. Creedy, that it’s called "padding", a phenomenon that helps airlines arrive on time – but at a cost. My previous flight back to Davao from Manila one hour twenty minutes. My ticket showed a "flight-time" of exactly 2 hours. I guess, it’s a secret the airlines don’t want you to know about, especially given the spillover effects for the environment. Padding is the extra time airlines allow themselves to fly from A to B. Because these flights were consistently late, airlines have now baked delays experienced for decades into their schedules instead of improving operations. It might seem innocuous enough to the passenger – after all, what it can mean is that even though you take off late, you’re pleasantly surprised to arrive on time at your destination. Remember the final arrival announcement by the smiling stewardess last time? Kathryn Creedy is right in saying that however, this global trend poses multiple problems: not only does your journey take longer but creating the illusion of punctuality means there’s no pressure on airlines to become more efficient, meaning congestion and carbon emissions will keep rising. “On average, over 30% of all flights arrive more than 15 minutes late every day despite padding,” says Captain Michael Baiada, president of aviation consultancy ATH Group citing the US Department of Transportation’s Air Travel Consumer Report. The figure used to be 40% but padding – not operational improvements – boosted on-time arrival rates. “By padding, airlines are gaming the system to fool you.” So, how late is late? The ultimate goal is ‘A0’, or arrival at the gate exactly on time. If a flight is early or late, it can disrupt several other things – like gate availability and airport capacity. To be fair, global airlines have invested billions of dollars in technologies to enable more efficient flight paths, according to industry body Airlines for America. But this has not moved the needle on delays, which are stubbornly stuck at 30%. A lot of different things can cause a delay but Baiada believes 80% of the factors involved – like schedule, airport arrival flow queueing, aircraft availability, gate availability, maintenance and crew legality – are within the airlines’ control. But to date they have left it to air traffic control to remedy once planes are in the air. Another option could be to reduce the number of flights – but airline flight schedules are designed to meet buyer demand. So, if there were fewer flights, fares would increase. Well, should we give up and telling ourselves: better late than never? So what does all this mean for passengers? With airlines gaming the system, as it stands, flight times will likely increase as more and more planes take to the skies. Fact is also that many airlines will try to make it tricky for passengers to get an eligible claim accepted. The tactic of extending flight times is yet another way to decrease a passenger’s chance of filing a claim and getting financially compensated for the hassle they have gone through.  Better late then never? I guess so. +++ Email: doringklaus@gmail.com or follow me in Facebook, Linkedin or Twitter or visit my www.germanexpatinthephilippines.blogspot.com or www.klausdoringsclassicalmusic.blogspot.com .

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CHRISTMAS AND VACATION

December 21, 2019

During the Christmas holidays, we tend to be caught up in the hustle and bustle of the season, that we sometimes forget the essence of Christmas. We even remove Christ from the word Christmas reducing it to X'mas or substituting it with a name of a product or a shopping center." Yes, guys, honestly, that's it... I really don't enjoy received "XMAS GREETINGS"... . Somehow, I am glad looking forward to a two weeks vacation "between the years" - meaning to say between December 21 and January 7. No German consulate office, no teaching at University of Southeastern Philippines, although most students wish to be prepared for their January exam in Manila. I might spend only a very office hours in my agency office. A rest from some occupation, business and other stressful activities is waiting for me. Strictly speaking, vacation concerns those who are in school or studying in colleges and universities. "Furlough" would be the appropriate term...  Christmas and vacation: Speaking about myself - I want to bring back Christ to the holiday season and indeed wish to share my blessings with the less fortunate. One of the best-known religious poems is "The Hound of Heaven" written by Francis Thompson, who tried to run away from God. He wanted to have a vacation from God. In reality it is Thompson's own life. His poem shows clearly the fact in this world that we can have a vacation from physical and mental activities, but never from God. As I stated in one of my previous columns here : according to the book of Genesis, after God created the universe in six days, he rested on the seventh day. In other words, he took a vacation. So if God rested after working for some period of time, there is no reason why man, who is finite and limited in his physical strength, should not take a vacation. Vacation is freedom or release from tension or pressure of work. And, believe me, I learned already from my students, that they will enjoy Christmas and vacation. Many of us feel tired and weak. We are stressed, overwhelmed, depressed and worried about the future - the enumeration, in any order whatever, could be incessant. Relaxation, meditation, and reinvigoration are badly needed for most of us nowadays. Life, affected by the "burnout syndrome" needs to be animated with energy and strengths. Yes, Christmas has always been equated with all these worldly ways. Sure, there is indeed nothing wrong with this. I might sound like an old and broken record - but: let's don't only focus on non-stop merrymaking and countless gifts. Let's take a break, and let's try to imagine and enjoy the real meaning of Christmas. Merry Christmas again to everyone - also from this corner... . +++ Email: doringklaus@gmail.com or follow me in Facebook, Linkedin or Twitter or visit www.germanexpatinthephilippines.blogspot.com or www.klausdoringsclassicalmusic.blogspot.com .

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Climate Change and Major Emitters

December 17, 2019

While all of us already experience what climate change is all about, delegates from developing countries have reacted angrily to what they see as attempts to block progress at the COP25 meeting in Madrid. Yes, I get already big problems remaining patient while watching live stream news from Madrid.  One negotiator told the BBC that the talks had failed to find agreement on a range of issues because of the blocking actions of some large emitters. Carlos Fuller from Belize said that Brazil, Saudi Arabia, India and China were "part of the problem". Other observers said there was a serious risk of failure at the talks. Daily headlines let me feel bad. Greenland ice melt 'is accelerating'. Amazon oil boom under fire at UN climate talks. And so on and so on ... I am writing this while living in the Philippines -  a country hit most by climate change. Ministers from all over the world have arrived in Madrid for the high-end negotiations that will determine the final outcome of this conference. Despite a huge climate demonstration on the streets of the Spanish capital last Friday, hopes of an ambitious declaration at COP25 have smacked straight into the realities of politics and entrenched positions. I am afraid, also "Madrid" won't help anymore. There's an effort right now to block the words 'climate urgency' in text from Brazil and Saudi Arabia, saying we haven't used these words before in the UN, so we can't use them now," said Jennifer Morgan, executive director of Greenpeace International. "This gap between what's happening on the outside and what's happening in the science, and this 'UN speak' that won't react and drive something is very frustrating." One issue that has caused a good deal of anger are the attempts by Brazil, China, India and Saudi Arabia to have the actions that were due to be completed before 2020 by richer nations, re-examined as part of the overall deal here in Madrid. Distressing ... . +++ Email: doringklaus@gmail.com or follow me in Facebook, Linkedin or Twitter or visit my www.germanexpatinthephilippines.blogspot.com or www.klausdoringsclassicalmusic.blogspot.com .

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BEING OLD FASHIONED?

November 28, 2019

Most students take a laptop or smart phone with them to lectures. My students too. Although, these units are not allowed most of the time during my classes. I think, there are times when they might be better off taking a pad and pen? And honestly, more and more do so. Writer Claudia Hammond (I don't know her age, but I think age matters if we come to today's topic) says, " These days many people can type faster than they can write by hand, particularly if they’ve grown up using laptops. This is a hugely useful skill of course and allows you to take copious notes, quickly and easily, which must surely be a good thing, right?" Maybe not. In an experiment, run by Pam Mueller at Princeton University published in 2014,  students were given Ted talks to watch and were told to take notes. Half were given laptops and half took notes with a pen and paper. You might expect little difference in the notes, since students are so used to using a keyboard these days. In fact, there was. The students using a keyboard were more likely to type the lecturers’ words verbatim, while the students writing more slowly by hand had no choice but to engage with the information in order to allow them to summarize. Afterwards the students were given some tricky intelligence tests to distract them, and were then quizzed on the content of the lecture. Verbatim note-taking involves a shallower form of cognitive processing. You can even do it without thinking about the content at all should you choose to. But when using a pen and paper you process the information more deeply because you can’t possibly write it all down. The other advantage of using a pen and paper is that you can move around the page very quickly, circling, underlining or adding extra information in the margins.   When it comes to set and note new appointments or different scheduled work to do, and very import deadlines to be remembered, laptops are convenient, but turn out to be not the best option some of the time. My offices are full of note pads. ... Yes, I might be old fashioned... . Following Claudia Hammond, who says: surely in the long run if your notes are more complete,  help, when it comes to revision?  Maybe not. When the students were allowed to revise from their notes before being tested a week later, the pen-and-paper group still did better. The reason is that cognitively processing material more deeply while you listen, helps you both to understand it and to remember it later on. Even if you never refer back to your notes again, the process of creating them can be useful. The exception is with learning simple facts. Then taking notes on a laptop can work just fine. The advantage of not having to take notes is that you can focus your full attention on what’s you’re being told without worrying about writing it down. A more passive way still of keeping track of information from lectures is to record them so you can listen again or re-watch them later. But is there a risk that because you know everything is there for when you need it, you might not concentrate properly? Or does it free you up to concentrate fully on what’s happening because you’re not distracted by trying to take notes? Within psychology when a task like this is outsourced to technology, it’s known as cognitive off-loading. But does it help? If you want to remember your notes, research suggests you should be reaching for a pen. That's why, most of my students are asking for a minute to re-write such things, I pinned before at the white board. On the other hand the advantage of not having to take notes is that you can focus your full attention on what’s you’re being told without worrying about writing it down, because they can always listen again later. But the benefit of taking notes is that it forces you to process the information and think about it in order to work out the best way of summarizing it.   But there was one surprise here. When the students knew they could see the video later if they wanted to, they actually took more notes and drew more diagrams, which was something of a mystery. Of course, if you can type fast and you want a transcription, then a laptop is ideal, but if your aim is to understand the material better and not just to create a record of the material, then take notes by hand. And the other lesson from all of this, of course, is to make your notes concise.  +++ Email: doringklaus@gmail.com or follow me in Facebook, Twitter or Linkedin or visit my www.germanexpatinthephilippines.blogspot.com or www.klausdoringsclassicalmusic.blogspot.com .

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Are you impossibly talented?

November 23, 2019

Some people are. I don't belong to them. For sure. Polymaths excel in multiple fields. But what makes a polymath – and can their cross-discipline expertise help tackle some of society’s most pressing challenges? I came across an article by David Robson,  author of The Intelligence Trap, which examines the common thinking errors of smart people, and the ways we can avoid them.  "In the late 1930s and early 40s, Hedy Lamarr was already the toast of Hollywood, famed for her portrayals of femme fatales. Few of her contemporaries knew that her other great passion was inventing. (She had previously designed more streamlined aeroplanes for a lover, the aviation tycoon Howard Hughes.) Lamarr met a kindred spirit in George Antheil, however – an avant-garde pianist, composer and novelist who also had an interest in engineering. And when the pair realized that enemy forces were jamming the Allied radio signals, they set about looking for a solution. The result was a method of signal transmission called ‘frequency-hopping spread spectrum’ (patented under Lamarr’s married name, Markey) that is still used in much of today’s wireless technology. It may seem a surprising origin for ground-breaking technology, but the story of Lamarr and Antheil fits perfectly with a growing understanding of the polymathic mind. The research suggests we could all gain from spending a bit more time outside our chosen specialism Besides helping to outline the specific traits that allow some people to juggle different fields of expertise so successfully, new research shows that there are many benefits of pursuing multiple interests, including increased life satisfaction, work productivity and creativity. Most of us may never reach the kind of success of people like Lamarr or Antheil, of course – but the research suggests we could all gain from spending a bit more time outside our chosen specialism." In addition to starring on the silver screen, Hedy Lamarr, a famous polymath, also co-developed a transmission method that has carried into today’s technologies. Let's try to answer the question: What’s a polymath? Even the definition of “polymath” is the subject of debate. The term has its roots in Ancient Greek and was first used in the early 17th Century to mean a person with “many learnings”, but there is no easy way to decide how advanced those learnings must be and in how many disciplines. Most researchers argue that to be a true polymath you need some kind of formal acclaim in at least two apparently unrelated domains. One of the most detailed examinations of the subject comes from Waqas Ahmed in his book The Polymath, published earlier this year. The inspiration was partly personal: Ahmed has spanned multiple fields in his career to date. With an undergraduate degree in economics and post-graduate degrees in international relations and neuroscience, Ahmed has worked as a diplomatic journalist and personal trainer (which he learnt through the British Armed Forces). Today, he is pursuing his love of visual art as the artistic director of one of the world’s largest private art collections, while also working as a professional artist himself. Despite these achievements, Ahmed does not identify as a polymath. “It is too esteemed an accolade for me to refer to myself as one,” he says. When examining the lives of historical polymaths, he only considered those who had made significant contributions to at least three fields, such as Leonardo da Vinci (the artist, inventor and anatomist), as German language professor my idol Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (the great writer who also studied botany, physics and mineralogy) and Florence Nightingale (who, besides founding modern nursing, was also an accomplished statistician and theologian). Maybe, right now, you think you’re a polymath? Not so fast. Waqas Ahmed argues that polymaths can only be those who made major contributions to at least three different fields. From these biographies, and a review of the psychological literature, Ahmed was then able to identify the qualities that allow polymaths to achieve their greatness. As you might expect, higher-than-average intelligence certainly helps. “To a large degree that facilitates or catalyses learning,” says Ahmed. But open-mindedness and curiosity were also essential. “So you're interested in a phenomenon but you don't care where your investigation leads you,” Ahmed explains, even if that pushes you to delve into unfamiliar territory. The polymaths were also often self-reliant – happy to teach themselves – and individualist; they were driven by a great desire for personal fullfillment. Many children are fascinated by many different areas – but our schools, universities and then employment tend to push us towards ever greater specialization. Like any personality traits, these qualities will all have a certain genetic basis, but they will also be shaped by our environment. Ahmed points out that many children are fascinated by many different areas – but our schools, universities and then employment tend to push us towards ever greater specialization. So many more people may have the capacity to be polymaths, if only they are encouraged in the right way. Allow me to go back to my idol Goethe. While polymaths like Johann Wolfgang von Goethe indeed have higher-than-average intelligence, curiosity is essential for anybody looking to broaden their specialisations. Nobel Prize-winning scientists are about 25 times more likely to sing, dance or act than the average scientist. As David Epstein has also reported in his recent book Range, influential scientists are much more likely to have diverse interests outside their primary area of research than the average scientist, for instance. Studies have found that Nobel Prize-winning scientists are about 25 times more likely to sing, dance or act than the average scientist. They are also 17 times more likely to create visual art, 12 times more likely to write poetry and four times more likely to be a musician. It is telling, for instance, that Antheil had previously worked on scores involving synchronized self-playing pianolas, and together he and Lamarr drew on the mechanism of those instruments to come up with their anti-jamming device. Allow me and  David Robson to ask you if you feel tempted to live a more polymathic life. Ahmed suggests that you can use your time more efficiently to make space for multiple interests. There is now a growing recognition that, when concentrating on any complex endeavour, the brain often reaches a kind of saturation point, after which your attention may fade and any extra effort may fail to pay off. But if you turn to another, unrelated activity, you may find that you are better able to apply yourself. Shifting between different kinds of tasks can therefore boost your overall productivity. Switching between different tasks, such as Albert Einstein using music for scientific inspiration, can boost overall productivity and creativity. Wannabe polymaths can use this to their advantage by alternating between their interests – ensuring that they are using their brains at maximum efficiency in each domain, while avoiding wasted effort after they have reached that cognitive saturation point. Albert Einstein, who was an accomplished violinist and pianist as well as a physicist, apparently used this approach. According to his son and daughter, he would play music whenever he faced an intractable problem, and would often finish the performance by saying, “There now, I’ve got it”. It was a much better use of his time than continuing to fruitlessly agonize over the maths or physics. Yes, think it over, we have many advantages compared to the polymaths of the past. The internet, after all, is now full of free online courses in many different disciplines, and it is easier than ever to hook up with an expert teacher through apps like Skype even if they are based hundreds of miles away - as David Robson correctly said. +++ Email: doringklaus@gmail.com or follow me in Facebook, Twitter or Linkedin or visit my www.germanexpatinthephilippines.blogspot.com or www.klausdoringsclassicalmusic.blogspot.com .

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