14 April 2019

Less apparent things outside our control

People. One cannot control other people.

This fact is hard to accept because to all of us it seems that we are so easily pushed around. In childhood by our parents, as adults by bosses and other humans around us, and all this gives us the impression that there is no way we can do what we wish, that we are controlled. So we assume that other people too can be somehow controlled. 

But people are usually unpredictable. 

One can learn how people work, learn how to recognize different types of humans, learn how most likely certain humans will react in certain situations. But in the end, you can never be sure how the other person will respond, simply because you do not know what is in that other person head. 

Scammers know that humans are unreliable. That's why they will do their best to provoke an emotional response from their victim and make sure that victim acts as fast as possible, creating a sense of urgency.  Because if a victim stops and thinks they will not fall for the scam. It is more straightforward to scam and control emotional people or people who do not think much. 
But the main factor behind scammer's success is correctly guessing what might be inner motivation for a human to go along the scam. And that also explains why you have that feeling that other people control you. In truth, you are actually following your inner motivation. Like going along the obnoxious work situation because you need income. 

I will repeat, we do not know what is happening in other people heads. If you are verse in body language, you can read the emotions and guess from there what person's next reaction might be. But in the end, the guess is the best you can do.  
The main obstacle is a human brain and errors it causes. When anyone judges others, they usually use themselves and their experience as a reference point. And as an additional complication, people often project emotions, thoughts, and motives on the other people. 
Moreover, different cultures have slightly different norms for expressing emotions and somewhat different ways to react to the same stimulus.  So chances that you will be correct in predicting how a person will respond depends heavily on your own experience with the culture of that person, and your ability to be aware of how your brain functions, so that you can correct for errors. 

There are ways to exert control, as any person who was a hostage of some kind will tell you. One can scare people in doing what they wish, or one can destroy a person’s self-esteem enough that they lose motivation to fight back. I’ve seen both techniques in action. And those techniques work up to a point. And the person who is trying to control never knows when the victim will reach that breakpoint. That's why over human history, sooner or later oppressor's career ends in a bloody uprising. 
And breakpoints happen not only on society scale, but also on individual one, where a victim ends up murdering a bully, or less newsworthy, merely leave the bully. You probably met ex-bullies that were abandoned by their victims. Such people are usually older, and when you take pity on them, very soon, you see that it is better to stay away. I have such an example in my neighborhood, an obnoxious old man, and just to avoid pointless arguments with him I changed where I walk my dog, so I do not have to bump into him. And I reached that point after just a few conversations/arguments with him. 

Maybe you can call it karma, but after the point of breaking is reached, scammer/controller is left in a predicament. Not only that victim is gone, but also all the time used to increase, and perfect control methods is basically lost.  
I'll point again, to even try to control other people one has to invest a lot of time to perfect the skills and methodologies, and during that time scammer does not learn anything else.  And that is usually scammer's downfall because they are ‘one pony trick’ people.  Again, most likely you can take yourself as an example. You fell for a particular con only once. No one, especially same conman cannot catch you on the same trick twice.

Anyway, one cannot control other people. You can follow the rules of your society to gain the most of the support of your social circle, but that usually is based on how kind and helpful you are towards others in your social circle. Basically, you can do your best and then wait for the outcome.

02 April 2019

Dealing with things outside our control

One of the hardest lessons is how to deal with an event that we cannot control at all.
The society usually makes us believe that we can even influence everything around us. If you wish to get something that is out of your reach you get advice to try harder or pray.
I tried both. And neither had a positive effect. The only thing I accomplished is torturing myself.
One of the wise advice I got is to accept the things I cannot change. In theory, the advice is great but very, very hard to accomplish.
First, it is tough to figure out what actually I cannot change and what needs fixing on my side. From childhood, I was trained to try harder. But sometimes working harder just creates more problems.

I will start with the events that are easy to recognize as something outside our control, and in future posts talk about the events and situations that are harder to identify as situations out of our control.

Death, War, and Catastrophes

Another issue that creates problems in figuring out what we can and what cannot control is a pain that comes with loss or big scale tragedies.
My first experience with events like that happened during the civil war in my country of origin.
Before the war, I was not actually paying attention much to the events unfolding. I was more focused on the cute boy from my high-school and plans of what to do with my future. Like any high-school teenager would do.  I was aware of the news and weird separation between members of the different religious groups, but I was not taking it seriously because my best friend was from a different religious group and we were fine.
So when the war happened, it was a full surprise to me. All the plans I had for my future crashed down like a house of cards. I was slammed by the event that was entirely out of my control. Absolutely nothing I do could stop it, change it, or make it go away.

Then deaths started happening. Boys I played with as a kid started dying in war. I still remember during one of the funerals I attended, mother of the boy who got killed tried to throw herself on a coffin while it was lowered in the ground, screaming for the coffin to be opened, screaming how her son is not dead, he is just sleeping.
It took the death of my loved one to figure out the strange behavior that mother had. I experienced that same feeling of disbelief that everything connected to a dead person is now over. For good.
I experienced that feeling of loss and refusal that there is nothing one can do to change this new situation.

It is very, very hard to deal with those emotions. I went through a war, lost many friends, lost my relatives, lost my mother, and still, I go through all those blasted five phases of the acceptance of the death. Now, it is just faster to go through the process. I learned that it is essential to let the grief go through all those five phases naturally and cry when even emotions make my eyes water. That really speeds up the grieving process, and one gets back to a semblance of normality sooner.

Death really brings to focus on the reason why religions exist. If you research a bit, each and every religion deals on what happens after death. Each and every religion has some answer what happens after death. Also, every religion has rituals to help during the loss and grieving period. And those rituals are helpful with grief. They give some kind of framework to work through the pain and keep your sanity.
But it can backfire, if one takes religious promises of some continuation of life too seriously and get stuck in grief, never passing through all the five stages of the loss acceptance. So be careful if religion is your only option for help.
And if you are not religious you still can benefit from those rituals, just adapt the wording to something that reflects your own values. Such adaptation is normal for religious ceremonies. Many monotheistic rituals today are actually modified polytheistic rituals.

The worse situations are when several deaths appear one after another. I experienced that during the war, but it does not take catastrophy of such kind to experience a similar situation. Recently my husband suffered something similar losing one friend after another. There was no apparent, logical or any other sort of reason for such series of events. But he is going on through the same shaite I went through during the first two years of the civil war in my country of origin, losing one friend after another.

You get one hit after another, and after some time you lose the hope in future and start to tense up just waiting for another hit.
It is tough to go through such a period in life or even recover after it. Honestly, if you are going through a situation like that, please ask for professional help.

I did not, and that resulted in severe behavioral changes that I had to deal with for years. See, in situations like those I mentioned above one develops specific coping skills, and those are awesome while the situation lasts because it helps you survive.
The problems arise later when those coping skills become a daily habit that you keep even after the situation stops. Those same skills that helped you now are the problem that is preventing you from living a normal life. From a helpful tool, they turn into an obstacle.

I was faced with such realization the first time when I moved out of my country of origin. I moved to Germany, and the first lightbulb turned on during the language class. A teacher asked us how we should react in some situation. She described a mildly annoying situation of interacting with another human. She was calling the students across the class asking them to answer in German, and of course, I made answer in my own head in case she calls on me. But then I got stunned with the mildness of the responses of other students. Majority of them did not even see the situation as adverse as I did. My answer was full of aggression, and I interpreted the presented case as an attack. And I was the only one who saw it as an attack. No one else did.
For me, that was a sobering experience. It was like someone poured the cold water on me. Sadly, my interpretation of the situation was normal behavior and perception for my own country of origin. Such definition developed during the war's adversities and just kept on even when the war stopped. I left my country of origin approximately five years after the war finished. And if you think that five years are enough to shed the useless old patterns of behavior, you’re wrong. When the whole area is influenced by the same event, then such patterns of behavior become a norm, and healthy behavior is perceived as strange or crazy.

That’s why I recommended the help of the professional if you landed in the life situation where life kept on hitting and kicking you over a more prolonged period of the time. It is hard to realize that your own that bad situation ended. It took me more than 3 years outside of my country of origin to calm down and relax.
And I’m not joking about it. I did not even realize that I was not relaxed until the relaxation finally happened.

Death is one of the hardest life events to handle. It is final, harsh, unrelenting. It is an ultimate example of events we cannot control, and it is an event that makes us face our own mortality. Depending on how you face it, it will help you grow or froze you in fear and tension for years.

21 March 2019

Bad Kind of a Jackpot

I did not write for a long time.
Unfortunately, I hit a sort of a Jackpot of the unfortunate events.
There were deaths and severe illnesses among family and friends. Some of the illnesses are still ongoing. My fingers ache of being crossed that illnesses do not turn to be fatal.

DSCN0874 2

The only event I can share online without jeopardizing anyone's privacy is the death of my beloved dog, Lytle. He passed away more than a month ago, peacefully.
Honestly, I hope that is it. I hope the lousy Jackpot is finally over.
If it is, I will continue my posts about science and other fun stuff.
I hope you can give me a bit of slack.

09 December 2018

Old Treasure

Today I was tidying up my writing files and found an old poem written by my high school friend. It is written in my native language, and in time I will try to translate it. But for now here is a lovely poem from N.K.P. (she prefers to be not identified, so I decided to go with initials only)

Bez naslova


Gledaj, to zvjezde padaju s neba
po njemu paleći vatreni sjaj.
Negdje u sebi u tami duše
odavno slutim da je već kraj.

I srce se raduje što samo će biti,
jer ja sam djete samoće i zime
i jesen u meni budi zle slutnje
zato idi, zaboravi me.

Ja te nikad voljela nisam,
jer moje je srce voljelo pre.
Od onog trena kad izgubih njega
neće da voli nikoga, ne!

Jesen je tužna, pjesnici kažu
onda nek tuga svjetom vlada!
I nek svi tuguju, ja plakat neću,
iako gasne mi svaka nada.

Zora kad svane i razdrma žive
ja zaželim tamu bićem svim,
jer noć je moja kraljica tuge
i dok svi spavaju ja budna bdim.

I razmišljam tako, čemu život
kad ne možeš imati ono što voliš,
uzalud suze, patnja i nada,
uzalud noću potajno moliš.

Mirno i hladno podnosim život
za mene nema ni sreće ni tuge,
jer zauvjek pustoš u srcu je mome.
Ne želim voljeti ni tebe ni druge.

I zato idi dok ići jos možeš,
odlazi za mnom ne okreći glavu
i nemoj da suza iz oka ti kane.
Mene prepusti zaboravu.

Mladost je tužna, kao i starost,
tek je u smrti možda spas.
Al' ko zna možda i tamo čeka
nekakva tuga il' patnja na nas.

Znam da ti je teško shvatiti mene.
Ti mozda misliš da sam ja luda,
jer ti živiš na krilima mašte
a ja sam već shvatila da nema se kuda.

Al jednog dana kad ostariš,
proći ćes kraj mene a pognućeš glavu
a onda, plačući negdje u mraku
shvatićeš da sam bila u pravu.

13 November 2018

Are we marionettes?


Yesterday I watched a documentary about Facebook and learned that the company does not collect only data from their platform, but also buys data from other companies and organizations. Meaning they have way more info about you than you suspected. They know stuff you do not know or never wished it shared (like data from credit score tracking companies that include your shopping patterns). The trouble is not that Facebook uses that data for their adds, but FB is also selling access to that data, in very insecure ways. Hence the scandal with Cambridge Analitica.
And if you think that problem is solved, think again. Yes, FB asked them to erase data, and they complied, but only after Cambridge Analitica completed certain Data Science analysis on the data which allows them to keep the useful stuff like their own. That's why another company sprung under a different name that does the same shaite, and it has the same people as leaders.
But as you know, getting add to buy a book, shoes, tools, or pet supplies is not a big problem. The truth is, we all learned how to ignore such adds. The problem is when Facebook and its data is used to manipulate you.

First, you have to stop fooling yourself that FB will solve that problem. They cannot. The root of the problem is their two main algorithms that are the basis of their business model. An algorithm that controls what you see in a newsfeed and an algorithm that chooses an audience for an add. Cambridge Analitica scandal was connected only with an add algorithm. And FB offered the patch. Now they stopped masking political adds as an element of the news feed. Now we can tell that political add is an add, instead of a post that you would like to see. But that is all they changed.
Oh, they did introduce some new rules if someone is trying to post political add, but they will not and cannot remove underlying cause. It is connected with the source of their income.
The more significant problem that remains is connected with the newsfeed algorithm. That algorithm is made to determine and show you the posts which are more likely to cause you to react to them. You see on newsfeed what algorithm thinks it will cause the most immediate emotional reaction from you. That's how FB can make you hooked on the feed, make you come back, and charge an add that appears somewhere on your landing page.

FB needs an algorithm that will emotionally provoke you to keep you coming back so that they can serve you more ads and earn more money. Your attention is what they sell to companies and individuals who are buying advertising space on FB. They will not change that. It would kill their company.

It is not surprising that 'extremization' of the users on social media sprung as a problem. It is not surprising that FB was used heavily to incite and sustain genocide in Myanmar. Because the more provoking the post is, the more emotionally outraged it is, the more likely is that you, the user, will react to it. The consequences of the algorithm to the well being of the users and society are irrelevant from the FB business point of view. And because FB is a publicly traded company with the primary duty to increase profit for their shareholders, their business model will not change. It works. It fulfills its primary function. It brings money to shareholders. Thinking that any publicly traded company has any other purpose than increasing the profit is merely naive.
So algorithm pushes extreme posts, manipulates you emotionally so that you keep coming back and at the same time, makes you more extreme. An algorithm does not wish you to think critically, because if you think you will not make knee-jerk reactions and keep coming back to the news feed.
That's why the news you get from Facebook is most likely fake. If news does not come from the reputable source, it is a manipulative post made only to provoke your emotions and control your actions.

I learned about Facebook’s newsfeed algorithm during 2016 and realized that I, to, fell as a victim of the manipulation. So I stopped getting my news from Facebook. I even stopped visiting Facebook on regular bases. From several daily visits, my visits dropped to maybe once every two-three weeks.
Instead, I performed research on news sources and collected all bunch of reputable ones, domestic and international. And it works, this time I am not manipulated. I use my brain, critical thinking and several simple analytical methods to make sure that stuff I hear about is a reality.
There is another interesting consequence of my rare visits to FB. Now my news feed is full of posts from my contacts. Last two times I visited FB (to announce the publication of my Sci-fi short story) I've seen only one add. A stark difference from my daily visits when I saw just adds and maybe one post from my contacts.

Because the FB business model relies on emotional provocations, it discourages critical thinking. Hey, it discourages any thinking. And that is my biggest beef with FB. Social media platforms are making dummies from us.

Every user is manipulated on social media. Your attention is the commodity they sell. Any social media will adjust design and what they are showing you to keep you on their platform for longer so that they can serve you more adds. The moment you start thinking, you might break free and leave. Not to forget that the more you can control your emotions and use your rational thought it is less likely you’ll be manipulated. That's why they do not wish you to use your brain.
In case of some reason you desperately need to go and visit social media daily, I'll post next time a few tips on how to arm yourself against manipulation. But I have to warn you, use of those tips will eventually reduce the time you spend on social media.


08 November 2018

Instinct for science


Yeah, I'm late again a bit. Another snafu. This time, my computer broke, and it took more than a week to get the replacement motherboard. That Murphy law really has me in its grip...
Anyway, this time I wrote few posts while waiting for the motherboard, so I'll post those in succession.

A few weeks ago Trump declared that he has an instinct for science. As much as I could understand, Trump thinks that he has this instinct for science because he had an uncle who was quite prominent in medical technology research. Of course, he used his argument about the instinct to back his science denial in the case of global warming.
So let me account all that is wrong with his statement.

First, the concept of instinct for science does not exist. A human can have an aptitude for science. And it basically means if that human decides to pursue science it will find more ease in scientific pursuit versus some other profession. However, even those aptitudes are not predictable of a person future career, not to mention that some people simply like a challenge. I will take myself for example, when I took the test for aptitude it turned out that I have an aptitude for languages and logic. Not math. But nevertheless, I ended up being an astrophysicist and publishing more than 30 scientific papers. The catch is that hard work is necessary for somebody to master science.

Second, having a relative who is the engineer or scientist does not give an average human any advantage or special abilities to understand science. And definitely not an instinct for science. Trump admitted that he never talked about science with his uncle. I find that not surprising. His uncle and I had a similar family environment. Only ones in the family who took up science. I cannot tell much about his uncle, but I know that I never talk about science with my relatives. The most significant amount of scientific talk I had with any of my relatives were trying to explain into three sentences what exactly am I doing. Any longer explanation they would interrupt and declare boring. The similar situation is with friends as well, especially friends who are not scientists. The only friends I would talk science with, are the friends who are scientist themselves.
Only once I spoke about a scientific subject with my own brother. The topic was not astrophysics but nutrition. My brother has only a high school education. And he is the big believer into conspiracy theories. Including pseudoscience surrounding food. The issue we talked about was acidification of the blood due to milk consumption. The conversation eroded to my futile attempt to explain the role of the kidneys and liver in the human organism, and that those two organs actually keep your blood pH value relatively constant and if a significant change in pH value of the blood occurs person dies. In essence, no food you consume can change the pH value of your blood. My brother was not convinced. And I was not surprised. When you know somebody as a kid, one doesn't see that person as a competent adult in any area that adult is actually expert, but as a silly child or annoying relative who cannot possibly know more than you.
Maybe this is just my family, but I found some of my scientist's friends who come from poor families had similar experiences. Somehow, when one is the only one who does science in a family, the rest of the family has an adverse reaction towards any talking about science. As much as I could figure it out that comes from the fact that they somehow perceive when I talk about science I'm somehow saying they’re stupid. It is a frustrating experience because, in the end, it is hard to argue with egos and emotions. And, I think, that might be a reason why Trump’s uncle never talked with Trump about science. Just think about the guy itself, Trump doesn’t allow anyone to say they know more than him.

Third, Trump used the argument about the instinct of science to back up his previously formally stated opinion about climate science. I have to say formally declared because for one of his golf courses in Scotland Trump used a climate change as an excuse for his request to mitigate erosion. I will not go into Trump’s personality, but I will point out that statement about instinct for science served only to justify his previously stated opinion despite the overwhelming facts and events that basically proved him wrong. In essence, he was invoking this instinct of science to show that he is right despite all the facts and reality. And that is a different can of worms.
Stay smart!

07 October 2018

Parsing adds

First I have to apologize for being late with this post. I had a traffic accident. I stopped at the red light, the car behind me did not. All in all, the damage on my car was not significant, just back bumper, but because I have a 2013 Chevy Volt, the repair cost is higher than the legal cutoff for reporting an accident. I informed the driver who hit me about it, and instead of giving me insurance info as required by laws in a case when damage requires reporting the accident, he instead started threatening me with violence so that I do not call the police. I did not because he did look like someone who will be capable of pulling out a gun on me there and then. White young male, so obviously member of this new neo-nazi movement. And yeah, the fact that I’m white too does not help. I’m a woman with a foreign accent, enough to be declared an unwanted immigrant. Instead, I drove to the police and reported him. I took photos of him and his car. Anyway, I’m still going through legal motions that got complicated because I did not call the police there on the spot. And it will take longer actually to get justice in this case. So I might be late with a few more blog posts as well.
Anyway, back on the subject of how to use critical and scientific thinking in everyday situations.


I live in the area with all season resorts, and we have here attractive slopes for snowboarders. Recently I entered into one of the local shops just to be greeted with a massive advertising setup from Red Bull company. They put a doll to represent a snowboarder on top of the bunch of the Red Bull cans. (Yes, it is October, but boy ski slopes are trying to get their season started, even though the weather does not cooperate.)
So I figured that some tips on how to deal with all those adds that bombard you on every turn might come handy.
See, Red Bull would like you to think that if you drink their product, you’ll be able to snowboard as athletic stars which the company hires to advertise their product.
If you stop and think about the concept, very quickly you realize that is a true Bull-shaite.
The truth is to become like one of those athletic stars the real effort is required, not some magical potion. First, you have to have a talent and then spend a decade or more in learning and practicing the skill. There are no shortcuts. Anything, any sport, any dancing, any art, any ability requires knowledge and years and years of practicing.
Adds of any kind would like you to believe magic and buy a specific product or support some agenda. Today, complex machine learning algorithms are used to figure out what kind of add is the best for you. So not only that adds tickle your emotions, and all those insecurities all of us have, but today adds can be personalized. And this means they are harder to resist.
So what to do?

I can just share what I do. I’m too influenced with adds. Decades of add bombardment where happy people proclaimed you will be happy also if you buy this product left some consequences. It is so easy to believe that I too can achieve happiness in a blink of the eye. But of course, it never happened. An object I buy ends up just being an annoyance after some time because inevitably joins to the growing mountain of clutter. Not to mention the pollution that was released during the production, transport, and sale of that product, something that goes directly against my own morality and values (if you did not know, approximately amount of pollution released during the production of any item is 7 times the volume of that product).
My weakest point from an advertising point of view is that I’m a sci-fi fan. I adore sci-fi stories. But I do not have loads of trinkets in the house that would tell you so. Oh, I have sci-fi books and DVD's, but not much of the nerdy/geeky toys. The truth is I love watching those toys. And I would not mind taking them into my hand and just playing a bit with them. But so far, I bought only two. Two little models of spaceships that currently sit on my shelf together with a model of a NASA's space shuttle and set of glasses with planets exterior drawn on them. I got glasses as a present from my friend. And they are collecting dust because I'm terrified to use them in case of damaging them. Basically dust collectors.

Honestly, I would love to have my personal office decorated in a way to resemble a ready room of Cap. Janeway. So yes, I drool when I see a neat little gadget or cute Möbius band decoration. But I still avoid to buy them. Because, in essence, getting an item that is not needed in my daily life but at the same time is causing a significant increase in pollution of the already fragile environment goes against my personal values.
To fight against adds, I started with a quite deep step. I thought about what is quintessential in my life. I figured out what kind of person I wish to be. I determined what I need to do to approach that state. And along the way, I make regular checks to ensure that I really behave like the kind of person I wish to be.
Yes, this is a kind of life philosophy, a practical sort.
And it works. The moment you figure out what is important to you, and what kind of person you wish to be, it is easy to resist adds. Even those hidden ones on facebook where you have no clue you’re served an add.
Now, when I see the cute sci-fi or science gadget I pull back and think does that particular item contributes to what is essential in my life. I question does that item really helps me to be human I wish to be. The answer is usually no.
It is a bit trickier to deal with adds that are trying to sell you an idea or make you do something (like voting for something or someone), or even convince you that there is no need to vote or take some action. It is trickier because today, such adds are hidden behind the faces what seems like an ordinary human. The add is served to you under the disguise of an opinion of the person who is just like you.

Another moment of honesty, during the 2016 USA election I fell for such adds. In the end, I did what I considered right. But it took loads of personal struggle to do what I believed to be the right thing, and most of the time I felt bitterness since I was voting for what I considered less of two evils. I hated the whole situation. Only after the election, I realized that not just USA  party, Republicans, were targeted by election meddling. Everyone was a target, targeted with the custom-made approach.

So to fight this particular issue, I now apply the exact same method as I would for adds for physical objects. I stand back, judge the reliability of a source of the message (meaning I ignore random unknown people commenting on the main article). Then evaluate the message, is the message something that requires action from me, and does that particular action actually reflect what person I am and the values I stand for. Only then I take action or decide to ignore the add. Because the trickiest part here is that adds are mixed with the calls for actions I wish to act on.

Like the last one call for action, I actually acted on, joining the push of the California governor to enforce the law and stop Nestle of draining the water from the drought-stricken region.
In such cases your own knowledge of your values, yourself, is crucial. Only when you know what kind of person you wish to be, you can understand what action or inaction is necessary to match that kind of person.

So in short:
  1. Determine your personal values
  2. Determine what kind of person you are.
  3. Determine what type of actions and decisions mark the person you are.
  4. Pull back on every add, every article, comment and evaluate does that object, idea, response matches you and your values.
  5. Make only the decision to match your values and yourself.
This will help you be true to yourself, live a happier life, look at yourself in a mirror with pride. Yes, life will not always follow your own values, but at least you will be at peace knowing that you did something that truly reflects the goodness you wish to embody in this world.
Another piece of honesty, this method helped me to be more like the person I wish to be.