How was 2015 to you?

OK, this is interactive.

Maybe you are a little shy. No worries. Just write something and let others write some more if they feel bold enough to do so.

How can you write here? Simple, just click where it says comment and let your computer do the rest. Then write what made you feel great, whatever lifted you off the ground, whatever made you expect for the best, whatever thrilled you… Well, you know. Exactly that in your mind, yes! That will do.


Are Americans dumb?

Glad you asked. I grew up in the States, and have lived here in Europe for the past 14 years, so I think I might be able to answer your question.

First of all, we must talk about GDP: the US clearly does not hold first place. That honor goes to Luxembourg, where I live. The US ranks 10th in the world. Furthermore, it’s not too hard to have the highest GDP in the world when you print the world’s reserve currency. This has more to do with winning WWII than it does with the average IQ of the nation.

Now, here are some reasons:

– In the US, more than half the population (depending on the poll) rejects evolutionary theory in favor of the explanation offered by whatever religious group they happen to belong to. This number is higher by far than in any other industrialized nation. Likewise, climate change is still discussed as if the reality of it is an open question.

– Most high school students can barely be called that, as they spend most of their energies socializing, attending pep rallies and sporting events, selecting the most qualified candidates for student government, and hanging out of their phones. Every college-bound European student, by contrast, must necessarily complete a BAC, which a rigorous program that is equivalent to about two years of college in the US. School has no other function than to educate.

– In Europe, it is acceptable to have a conversation about some aspect of philosophy, art, or history at a keg party. In the US, raising such a topic is more likely to elicit blank stares and derision.

– Americans seem obsessed with making money. This might go some way to explaining the “highest GDP” claim, and it also explains the general lack of sophistication among Americans regarding non-lucrative subjects such as math, history, arts, culture… etc. In the US, the question of how this or that education will lead to more money is raised constantly. I suspect it won’t be long before the subjects above are simply cut from high school curricula.

– Every European nation (save a few such as Luxembourg) is embarrassed to consider itself to be the worst at languages. By this they mean that they have difficulty expressing complex ideas in a foreign language. In the US, speaking only English (and just barely even that) is considered a point of pride.

– The US seems like a cultural wasteland to Europeans, who are used to thousand-year-old cities, museums of art and history, and cultural events in the streets. When Europeans visit the US, they tend to ignore the cities (save New York) in favor of that natural splendor of Yosemite or the Grand Canyon.

– The images projected by American brands overseas are generally devoid of any intellectual aspiration. Disney, Coke, McDonald’s, most Hollywood movies, much of pop music… all of them seem to cater to the lowest common denominator.

– Europeans value careful deliberation and subtlety in thinking. Americans are perceived as being slow to think and quick to act.

– Americans are seen as loud and proud. They can be obnoxious, and have a bizarre tendency to claim to be “the best country in the world” (viz. this question). Also, they tend to dress like slobs.

– A vast majority of Americans (about 80%) have never traveled beyond their borders, and many don’t seem to care to.

– The virulent religosity that is pervasive in society. Europeans think it’s weird the way we write “In God we Trust” on our money… and now, on police vehicles.

– The flagrant nationalism and frequent assertions of being “the best”, which strikes Europeans as conceited and undignified.

– The food, which is perceived as utterly unsophisticated, if not total junk. This may largely be due to the fact that international brands like McDonalds and Pizza Hut are the only exposure many Europeans have to American dining habits, but I think there is some truth to it.

– Guns. While I will reserve my opinion on this topic, I can say that most Europeans unequivocally see no purpose in allowing citizens to carry guns. They see the US as a gun-crazed, violent place where gangs and deranged highschoolers shoot at random people for fun. Huh, blame Hollywood, I suppose.

Yes, I’ve been tremendously unfair, and I know it. Stupidity is about evenly distributed in the world, and to be sure, we have our share here, too. To be fair, one could easily make an equally long list of American perceptions of European stupidity.
But Americans have their own special brand of it.


Is running daily OK?

In what ways does your body improve when you make a habit of running a few miles every day?

Note first of all that if you want to run, it’s actually better to run every other day than every single day. Running strengthens certain muscles, but if you run the same way every day, you’ll be training exactly the same muscles, and in the same way. It’s better to have a more varied schedule, to cross-train and to give yourself some time off.

Still, it’s better than nothing. It burns calories and increases cardiovascular fitness. As your muscles get acclimated to the effort, they will become stronger and have more endurance. You will find that you run the same distance in less time, and you should increase the distance to keep running for the same amount of time. Estimates vary, but the general advice is that you should exercise for at least 20 to 30 minutes at a time in order to derive real benefit from it.

There’s definitely an advantage to doing something every single day, as it does become habit, which encourages you to keep doing it and to make time for it. That’s a mental change, not a physical one, but the mental benefits of running are at least as big as the physical ones.

Physically, running also appears to improve the overall strength of your bones and your joints. Bones respond to the stress of running by becoming denser and stronger. It is a myth that running damages joints; joint damage is caused by a lot of things as you get older, and running is seen in most studies to help the joints.


My view from 70 years on this planet

Don’t think your sh-t doesn’t stink, it does and so does everyone else’s.

Don’t waste any time.
It goes by so quickly, but you won’t know that until you get old and you can’t do anything about it.

The saying, “Youth is wasted on the young” is true. You have no idea how much it matters until you don’t have it anymore.

You don’t matter.
Even if you’re the CEO of Everything, people won’t remember or care. There are a few people who will be remembered forever; don’t think you’re one of them.

Maybe you’re a Steve Jobs, a Michelangelo, an Elon Musk, or a Theda Bara. Don’t recognize the name? She was a famous silent film star. I know who she was, but her name will be lost and forgotten.
Remembered or not, dead is still dead.

It’s okay.
You were here and hopefully you made the most of it. When you’re gone, your torch passes onto a new generation who could care less.

I found this out when I realized that I was talking to a person for whom John Fitzgerald Kennedy’s death existed only in a history book, while I’d watched it on live TV. If you don’t recognize the name, and believe me, there are people who don’t, look it up.

The world doesn’t and never will revolve around you.

Carpe Diem – Seize the day.
You won’t, but perhaps you can try. Why won’t you seize the day? You believe you are immortal. You aren’t.

“Gather ye rosebuds while ye may,
Old Time is still a-flying;
And this same flower that smiles today
To-morrow will be dying.”
Robert Herrick

You believe that the things you do today don’t matter.
You think that there you have endless numbers of days and each presents with so many more things to do.
You’re wrong.

Pay attention.
If you don’t you’ll miss so much and once it’s passed, something that you needed to hear, see, touch, feel or smell, won’t ever come back.

Don’t be the person everyone will remember as, “The One We Didn’t Want to be With.”
Don’t be an ass who always touts their own successes. Rather, try to be quiet sometimes and listen to what other people have to say.

They all know you’re special, but hearing it all the time becomes very tiresome.

Give Back.
If you’re lucky enough to be in a position where you can help someone else, do it.

Remember that we’re all human beings, living on the same blue globe, and at least for the foreseeable future, we aren’t going anywhere else.

Money Doesn’t Buy Happiness.
I know you don’t believe me, but it’s true. Trying to fill up the hole we all carry around with us, with stuff, doesn’t work. Keep trying to find happiness in things, but one day you’ll realize that it doesn’t work.

Money does help to keep the anxiety of “What am I going eat today”, “Where am I going to sleep tonight”, “How am I going to able to support my family”and “How will I be to be able to afford good medical care”, at bay. Those things are important and can be solved by money.

As a country, we don’t believe that if those questions keep you up at night, the rest of us ought to help you. I do, but I respect other people who don’t.

Beyond that, even owning the latest Lamborghini or Tesla or whatever floats your boat, doesn’t work. If you’re always looking for the next toy to buy, you’ll understand why the saying, “In the end, he who has the most toys wins” is a lie.

Don’t Rely on your Looks.
Here’s the truth; you can’t be nipped, sucked and tucked, lifted and separated, martinized or pasteurized, and think you’re going to look the same way you do today.

All the money in the world and all the operations you have, won’t bring back the glory of youth that you have today. I’m thinking about you Joan Rivers, and you Cher.

It’s not nice to speak ill of the dead so let me say this:
Cher, you look awful. You’re sixty-nine and you look exactly like a 69-year-old who’s trying to look young and failing. Get over yourself.

Find something to do that makes you happy.
Find someone to love who makes you feel special.
Find something to care about.

None of the above has anything to do with your retirement fund, how much money you make, what your stock portfolio looks like or even what you look like.

That’s the best news you’ve heard all day.

Don’t do dangerous drugs.
When Cory Monteith, who starred on Glee, died from an overdose at 31, I was upset that someone who’d had such a bright future, would throw it away for heroin.

These folks decided that heroin was more important than living.
River Phoenix
Philip Seymour Hoffman
John Belushi
Janis Joplin
Jim Morrison

Don’t believe that drugs, sex, money or having more things is the answer.
If you do, you’re going to be very disappointed.


Why do most programmers prefer macs?

This is an opinion by an independent game developer, so it quite unbiased, objective and honest. No influence by a company or a brand to choose or praise any computing choice:

I was a die-hard Windows user & coder. It makes a lot of sense writing code on the OS you write software for and Windows always was my primary target. I used a friend’s Mac for some graphic stuff at times, always disliked it. When I wanted to write stuff for iOS I took the easy path and bought my first Mac, reluctantly so. Also the first time for me using OS X 10.5. It took a few months and I madly fell in love with it.
Think of the Windows registry, BIOS settings, msconfig, etc. Complete waste of time and with each new PC and Windows version it felt I was doing more of it. Enter the Mac and this amazing OS.
The productivity that machine offered was eye-opening for me. It booted fast. It didn’t get slower over time. It woke from sleep in a second. Apps didn’t bog it down. No virus scanners being all egocentric with the machine’s resources. And a great screen, key when you write software.

Apple got me when I was weak, in the most convincing way possible. Now true, things are changing, Apple is making some questionable choices, MS is getting better but that’s not what you asked.
This is how I learned to love the Mac and still do. They are powerful, beautiful and overall they just work, which is what I need.


The facebook confessions

I have a Facebook problem.

The problem is, I love Facebook. I love posting about my day, connecting with friends near and far, and seeing the funny/crazy/sweet things people share. But I also hate Facebook, for being such a time suck, for making me feel bad about myself when other people’s lives seem so much more exciting than mine, and for leading me to spend more time interacting with a screen than with the real world. And when I log off Facebook, Instagram and Twitter are there clamoring for my attention, a never-ending scroll of links and tweets and photos and conversations that feels impossible to keep up with.

A few weeks ago, I’d had it. It seemed like social media was bringing me more guilt and frustration than happiness. So I decided to go on a fast, starting immediately. Here’s what I’ve learned:

Cold turkey was the way to go

I’ve made attempts to cut down before, setting rules like “Only check Facebook first thing in the morning” or “Only check Twitter during lunch” or, when I came back to work after maternity leave, “Only use social media while pumping breast milk.” But one quick check in the morning always turned into needing to get back on at 11am to see if anyone commented on that one post, which turned into composing witty replies to those comments, which turned into OMG I’m late for that meeting! I had no self-control. Cutting myself off from social media completely was the only way to ensure I’d stay honest. I even deleted the Facebook app from my phone.

The FOMO wasn’t as bad as I’d feared
Yes, I missed a bunch of birthdays, and yes, I would have missed the news of a former coworker’s engagement if another friend hadn’t seen the post and clued me in (thanks, Camille!). But to my surprise, even from day 1 of my fast, I didn’t feel like I was truly missing out on anything. My best friend from high school texted me cute pictures of her 2-year-old. I caught up with people over email or even on the phone (remember that?). I checked my favorite news sites for the day’s headlines. I was good.

What I wasn’t getting: constant updates about the awesome vacations people were taking (making me feel like a boring homebody), or the amazing educational activities they’d planned for their kids (making me feel like a slacker mom), or the IMPORTANT POLITICAL THING WE SHOULD ALL TAKE ACTION ON NOW that inevitably devolved into a nasty name-calling flame war (making me feel tired). I didn’t miss any of that at all.

Facebook, on the other hand, seemed to think I was missing out big-time. Since day 3 of no Facebook, I’ve been getting increasingly desperate daily emails.

I was way more productive

I had never realized how often during the workday I clicked on Facebook out of sheer habit—I caught myself typing in the URL on autopilot way too many times that first Facebook-free day. But the real shocker was how much more I got done at home, when my evenings no longer disappeared into a black hole of sitting on the couch scrolling through my feeds. I read actual books! I made a quilt! I worked out! It was almost embarrassing how much time I suddenly had on my hands.

I was more present

When I wasn’t constantly thinking about how to describe every moment in a perfect tweet or status update, I got to actually live the moment. I took pictures of my kids just for me, rather than for a filtered-and-framed Instagram shot. When we went to the beach or had dinner with friends, I savored the experience for itself, not for how good it would make me look when I posted about it.

I might be cured of my Facebook addiction

I stayed on total social media blackout for two full weeks. Then I decided to let myself hop back on Instagram once, to post a photo of the Lightning McQueen cake I made for my son’s birthday. A few days later, I started sending out a few tweets. But Facebook…oh, Facebook, you ultimate time-suck. I was really worried that I would get back on Facebook and immediately fall back into my old ways. Was it even possible for me to use Facebook in a healthy way?

Last night I got on Facebook, for the first time in more than three weeks. I scrolled through my feed for about five minutes. And then…I closed my browser. I put away my laptop. And I went to bed. And I don’t really feel like going back.

It turns out my Facebook addiction was just a (really) bad habit. By interrupting the habit, I might have broken the cycle. I won’t quit Facebook completely—all those things I love about it haven’t changed. But now that I know I can go without it entirely, it seems easy to limit myself to just checking in, say, twice a week. Wish me luck!


Avoiding tailgating cars

For some reason, I tend to think about taillights more than a healthy person should. And that thinking recently turned into a vision — a vision of a bold new taillight function that I think could be very helpful: the non-brake-activated stop light.

A stop light. Not a brake light. Keep in mind, there hasn’t been a new innovation in taillight function since 1986’s Center High Mount Stop Lamp — and I’m sure all of you remember exactly what you were doing when that was announced.

What I’m proposing today is perhaps the most radical change/addition to the pantheon of rear lighting since, oh, the noble reversing light. It’s the first automotive light that would be activated by actions other than the driver’s. Here’s what I’m thinking.P

This lamp, which I’m going to call the Proximity Activated Stop Lamp (PASL) would leverage current commonplace technology already found on many cars — rear parking sensors and/or rear-view cameras. The basic function of the light would be to illuminate when a car from the rear is either too close to the car in front, or approaching the leading car too rapidly, regardless of what the forward car’s driver is doing with the brake.7P

So, it would be activated in situations like this: you’re driving along, at a reasonable speed, when some jackass comes barreling up behind you, at about 10 MPH more than your speed. The PASL would activate when it saw the car approaching your car’s ‘safe zone’ to let the driver behind you know, hey, slow down, jackass. You would never need to apply your brakes or anything.8P

Same goes for situations on, say, the highway where someone is following you far too closely to stop safely if they had to. Say you’re both doing 70 and they’re two car lengths behind you. That’s not uncommon at all, and if you had to stop suddenly, that car behind you would rapidly be climbing into your back seat. The PASL would activate as long as they were too close.9P

As far as what the activation of the light would be like, I’m thinking there’s no need to introduce a new segment into the light clusters. A PASL would look like a rapidly-flashing CHMSL. I think to differentiate it from tapping the brakes, it should only activate in the high-mount brake light, and the rapid flashing would call more attention to it than the standard brake lights.

Technologically, I think this shouldn’t be too bad to accomplish. Current-use rear parking proximity sensors could be the basis for this sort of thing, but their range would need to be retuned for the distances that the PASL would deal with, and those distances would be based on speed, so it’s not bothering people at stop lights. So there’d need to be a bit of logic here, but modern cars have plenty of CPU cycles available to handle this sort of task.14P

The soon-to-be-mandatory rear-view cameras could also be used for this, with a bit of image processing for a computer to see how close a car is behind you, and by referencing that with your speed and how quickly the car approaches (grows larger on the image) from frame to frame, the PASL could be activated.P

I could see this also being useful in low-visibility situations, where a car can very dramatically show you where it is, automatically, as you approach from behind in situations where even seeing normal taillights would be difficult.P

I feel like the technology is readily available and just about already built into many cars to accomplish this, and it would fill a valuable safety hole in our current abilities of car-to-driver communication. Because it uses the same lens as an existing light, car stylists don’t have to figure out where to incorporate it, and it keeps costs down for automakers.