Tag Archives: life

Africa: Or How Over-Generalization Can Undermine Your Cause

This post was inspired by Waikisays’ There’s More to Africa Than Corruption and Poverty.


Indeed, there is more to Africa than corruption and poverty. I have never visited any African country, but I can’t wait to. It’s a very rich and diverse continent, full of magnificent architecture and breathtakingly beautiful natural areas. This may surprise you given that the image of Africa we get from the news in Europe is, from north to south: where illegal immigrants come from (10%), a huge desert (40%), the place where the documentaries are filmed (5%)  blood diamonds, sickness and starving children (40%), some rich white people (5%) .

This is Africa, too. Photo by Dr. Andrew Hill of Yale University.

I understand why the news give so much attention to these issues. It’s because these issues matter and need to be solved. But in their attempt to concern the general public about everything that’s wrong with Africa, they overgeneralise and forget to mention everything that’s right with Africa! And this is very, very bad for all those issues we cared about in the first place.

Why is it so bad? Because it causes detachment. In the first world it is very hard to consider African countries as equals because the media never talks about the things we have in common. You’ll never hear about the African girl who just wrote an outstanding thesis for her Architecture final year, you’ll hear about the one who didn’t go to school because she had to take care of her brothers. You’ll never see the exotic fashion the middle class is designing, you’ll see the rags and patches of the poorest. Judging from the news, Africa hasn’t discovered concrete yet.

This isn’t helped by the fact that most black characters in American media are African-American, born in America, raised in America. A fantastic example of the opposite is Lt. Uhura from Star Trek (1966), whose nation is the fictitious United States of Africa and whose mother tongue is Swahili. She’s also a female. Take that, inequality. Note that this doesn’t happen only with Africa… non-white characters in American TV tend not to be too foreign. Sadly, American media reaches the whole world, thus perpetuating this negative view.

But there’s one reason why it’s even worse: the common belief that Africa is a helpless mess paralyses the potential aider! The failure to show how Africa’s pulling itself out of poverty tricks the viewer into believing that his little aid will only help one child live a little longer, and then everything will be the same. It makes us think it’s a helpless cause, while it is clearly not.

I’ll be honest with you. I have no idea what Africa is really like. I’ve never been there. But I know it’s not a mess of a continent. I know it had a very rich history. I know that not everybody is dying of malaria and starvation.  I know that there are African scientists, doctors, historians and teachers who are just as good at what they do as any European guy. And I know that Africa is definitely worth helping solve the problems it currently has. So take action now.

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When Nothing Makes Sense, The Problem Is You

We all have our model of reality, which is different from everyone else’s. Some people think we humans are good by nature while others will die to defend the opposite. Some believe that a supernatural entity created the heavens and the Earth, and some don’t.

We all want, to some degree, to have an accurate model of reality. To achieve that, some turn to philosophy: a field of knowledge where every great figure is in disagreement with the others. Quoting Logicomix:

A Platonist thinks appearance is but a bad copy of real reality… while an Aristotelian puts all his faith in observation! Are mental concepts innate or acquired? “Innate”, says the great Kant! “Acquired”, says the great Hume! Is there an opposition between mind and matter? Yes, says Descartes. No, says Spinoza. “Why, it’s all in the mind” Berkeley says [bumps into lamppost] A rather extreme view if you ask me.

Given that science has not (yet) answered all questions we have about life, it seems impossible to get to a safe conclusion here.

However, this does not mean you can stick to your own interpretation of events if it’s wrong! Let me explain. Have you ever heard someone say, or said yourself, that “nothing makes sense”? For example:

  • Why would someone want to do harm to others? It doesn’t make sense!
  • Why does God allow for hunger in the world? It doesn’t make sense!
  • Why did he help me if he couldn’t get anything out of it? It doesn’t make sense!

But for most people is takes much more than one inconsistency to start questioning their models of reality. It shouldn’t take more than one. If philosophy was a science, then one counter-proof to your model means that something is wrong with it and it needs revision! It is certainly more likely that your model of reality is wrong than that millions of people are behaving wrongly, everyday, for thousands of years, isn’t it? Would you approach a person with “excuse me, sir, but I am afraid you are behaving incorrectly. People don’t work like that. Could you please act accordingly to my personal views”?

So folks, don’t assume you are right about life. If you observe something doesn’t work as you think it does, you are wrong. We are all attached to our philosophical views (they’re the one thing that’s ours after all), but trying to be accurate in such a chaotic area won’t do any harm.

Best regards, and wear sunscreen. Those bastards reach you even when you’re inside, looking at a glowing rectangle, in winter.

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Basic Guide To Learning

This is not a comprehensive guide to the mastery of any subject (as the title implies). It’s just a set of three principles that it’s good to keep in mind every time we try to acquire some new knowledge.

Learning principle number 1: Everything is connected.

Politics is really Psychology. Psychology is really Biology. Biology is really Chemistry. Chemistry is really Physics. Physics is really Maths.

Have you ever wondered why so many great minds are multidisciplinary? Take a look at  Leonardo da Vinci: “Italian polymath: painter, sculptor,architect, musician, scientist, mathematician, engineer, inventor, anatomist, geologist, cartographer, botanist and writer”. Well, turns out, every area of knowledge is connected with all the others. maths can teach you how to paint.

This is especially evident with languages. The more languages you know, the easier it is for you to learn new ones. This is where I discovered the importance of learning all those technical names for the words we already know how to use.

This is why I find it hard to believe that some scientists subscribe to the argument “you can’t apply the scientific method to religion and morals, it’s based on faith”. You either apply the scientific method, or you don’t. There is no such thing as unrelated areas. If you can affirm something is true without evidence in religion, you may be just as willing to do that in physics (my advice: be consistent!).

For further insights on this topic check out Holistic Learning(.pdf) and The Loom of Language(book).

Learning principle number 2:  Background matters.

“I study and study, but I can’t possibly pass this subject! How can it be, if it’s my favourite?”.

While it is a fact that some people are smarter than others, I believe the most important factor that differentiates a dedicated C student from a dedicated A student is when they started caring.

The people who is doing best in my class these high school years happen to be the ones that were interested in the subjects since they were very little. They read books, they asked questions. They have been building a knowledge base for their lifetimes.

On the other hand, some students have recently started caring about the subject at the same level than their A-obtainer counterparts. They probably used to study by repetition, not really understanding the content. They lack understanding of the most basic concepts of the matter, and thus have it extremely difficult to understand the more complex ones.

According to the first principle, the base you need to build for a new area of interest must be wide and comprehend several other areas. For example, if you want to learn Swahili, it’s not enough to learn the basic syntax and pronunciation. It’s also important to learn the history of the language and the culture of the people who speak it, among other things.

Learning principle number 3: Learning is organic.

“School is like Britannica. Learning is like Wikipedia”.

The educational system we have is linear. That means that you start at one point and you follow a line of increasingly complex concepts until someday you know enough and  get a diploma. The content is sorted in complexity order the same way the words are sorted in alphabetical order in a classical encyclopaedia.

There is no traced line from beginning to mastery of a subject or skill. You should not start learning by the basics, if the basics are not what interest you most. Learning must be a pleasant experience, always. Learning is like navigating Wikipedia. You see something you like, so you learn about it. While learning about it, you see related concepts that interest you, so you learn about them. Repeat.

When you learn in a non-linear way (organic if you will), the principle of background matters applies itself. You will not understand the most complex ideas so you will expand your knowledge until you do.

Note that this is closely related to “everything is connected” (as is should be, ’cause everything is connected ;))

For further insights on this topic check out Bring On The Learning Revolution(video), Math Class Needs a Makeover(video) and The Learning Revolution(Facebook Group).

I apologize for the made-up quotes on principles 2 and 3. I don’t know any quote that fits there! 🙂

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5 Reasons Why Procrastination Done Right is Good For You

What is procrastination done right? Procrastination done wrong is when you spend the time you should have spent working on that report feeling guilty for not working on that report. Procrastination done right is when you spend the time you should have spent working on that report relaxing and playing piano.  In other words, when you’ve got yourself some quality time.

1. It forces you to be creative

You’ve pushed the time you were going to start designing that brochure to the last possible minute. Now what? Now you’ve got to use all of your resources and even invent new ones out of the blue, pushing the borders of your creativity to new territory. You’ve got to really give your best, or you’re fucked.

Waiting until the last night to study for tests for all my high school years has forced me to come up with a whole new set of memory, reading and comprehension skills I could have never dreamt of. Some of them include the “10 minute intensive background research to get interested in the topic and learn the stuff fast” or the “30 second mind map in every class before the test hour”. I never go below a B and I remember what I learn for years (one thing that can’t be said of most students who memorize 2 hours a day), because the only way to learn something fast is to understand it.

Procrastination usually provides high-quality results.

2. It helps you build self-confidence

Do you know how good I feel when I get an A on a test? I feel like I’m the king of the world. All these people who obtained the same grade I did spent a lot time studying -probably just memorizing- and only improved in the five better-known study methods, which have little use outside school. Me? I’ve learnt to learn a little faster than yesterday. I feel great. I feel like I can do anything. When you do a month’s project in two hours and the result is brilliant, you feel like you’ve achieved the impossible.

3. It makes you happy and relaxed (95% of the time)

Imagine you have 5 hours to do a task. But you don’t feel like doing it. If you got to it and tried to finish it really fast, you couldn’t, because your only motivation to do so is that you are bored with it. You’ll probably spend 4-5 hours doing the task, with many, many ultra-short breaks to check your email, wash your hands for the 5th time and so on (in other words, procrastination done wrong).

Those four of five hours wouldn’t be much enjoyed. You probably would start stressing because you don’t feel like you’re advancing with the task.

But if you instead took four of those five hours and used them to do something you really want to do, such as playing your favourite musical instrument or reading a book, you would have got yourself some quality time to enjoy life and improve your skills. Now, back to the task. A 5 hour job in under 1? Now it’s a challenge! You’ll probably be stressed while you do it, but I think it’s worth to trade 5 hours of boredom for 1 hour of stress.

4. It teaches you to remain calmed and avoid stress

Many times, procrastinators stress about the tasks they have to do in such a short time, but realizing that they can accomplish things in a shorter time than others and do it well helps them remain calmed in most of other situations where people who don’t believe in the power of procrastination would break down screaming “two days! he wants us to do that in two days!”.

Also, there comes a moment in the life of every serial procrastinator when they realize that not stressing enough lead them to that situation, and stressing too much would only make them lose even more time, so they achieve the perfect stress balance: the state in which you get things done.

5. It saves you time

Indeed, the methods and techniques to finish stuff fast you learn while you procrastinate provide highly useful later in other tasks. For example, when I study something I’m interested about I am a much faster learner than I would be if I had not developed all those fast-learning tips and tricks.

Procrastination teaches you how to get things done fast, and well.

But remember! All these things only work if you are committed to deliver a high-quality product: if you don’t accept anything less than your best.

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My 2 Role Models

Felicia Day (Actress)


This gorgeous girl is not only a brilliant scriptwriter and a great actress but also a total maths nerd and video game geek. She holds two university degrees: mathematics and music performance.

Similarly to what I said about Captain Kirk from Star Trek, she proves that you can be smart, beautiful and creative at the same time. But she also is a girl, so she inspires me even more.

What I like about her is that she is an actress who starts projects of her own. She inspired me to write a play, and guess what? We represented it this year in my school. And that was the day I discovered I loved to be on stage.

She proves to be a great singer in Joss Whedon’s Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog, which I highly recommend you watch. She is also the writer and main actress of the web series The Guild, which is about a group of MMO (Massive multiplayer online role-playing games) players.

I highly enjoy all of her performances and I want to grow up to be more like her.

Bertrand Piccard (Psychiatrist and Balloonist)


Piccard was, along with Brian Jones, the first to complete a non-stop balloon flight around the world. This amazed me because what people do mostly is to beat previous records. Few people are “firsts” these days, specially in something as old as ballooning!

He wants to repeat the adventure, but this time on solar-powered plane designed and constructed by his team. He says that this is to prove that we can rely on solar power for everything. That if we can fly one man around the world today, it’s just a matter of time to fly two hundred. And no one could ever say again that it is impossible to get rid of our dependency on fossil fuels.

The project is called Solar Impulse and dubbed “a great human adventure”. On the Solar Impulse website, you can read a fantastic Jules Verne quote: “All that is impossible remains to be achieved”.

It deeply inspires me that there are people like Bertrand Piccard in the world, innovating and pushing the human race forward. I sincerely hope he and his team succeed and prove their plane can work day and night on solar power.

Honouring the name of this blog, I’ve purchased their set of badges, or the “adventurer” package on their website (you can also personalize a solar cell or write your name on the plane). They’re awesome!

Check out his incredible talk on TED.

I want to be like him when I grow up. Actually, I’m getting a small craft pilot licence as soon as I’m old enough to do so.

But what’s the lesson you can learn from both? They do what they love. Unless you do what you love, you have zero chances of success. At least, of this kind of success: the kind that leaves a mark and inspires others to do the same.

If you are a parent, I encourage you to present this kind of people to your children as role models instead of what they usually get from TV: Hanna Montana, Lady Gaga, etc. It really makes a difference.

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Best Things I’ve Done: Learning A New Language.

Update! For an in-depth guide on getting started with languages, check out How To Become A Polyglot.

I first started learning English in school at the age of 6 and French at the age of 12, but I never became fluent in any of those languages until I finally understood the real benefits of speaking those languages.

The moment I realised I really wanted to become fluent in English was when I was watching Blade Runner in said language with Spanish subtitles and I understood one line they said, then read the subtitle line and said “but it’s not the same thing he said!”. In that moment I noticed that there are certain thoughts and messages that can only be expressed in one language. Every time I watch now a film in English with subtitles (when I watch it with someone else) I can see the subs say the same thing the characters say, but it’s not quite the same thing. Many deep levels of film lines are lost in translation.

But then it hit me even harder: “Wait. What about books? All my favourite books are in English!”. Now I really, really had to learn English.

The same thing happened to me with French. I wanted to read Jules Verne and many other writers as they originally intended their thoughts and words. I don’t want to risk missing anything. I don’t believe in translations any more. Lately, I’ve been thinking how great it would be to read Solaris in Polish. It’s one of my favourite novels so it might be worth it.

But there’s one more wonderful thing about foreign languages. It’s the moment you realize you can actually think in a different language. You have to experience that (it sounds like Also Sprach Zarathustra and it feels like awesome). no more translating word-by-word in your head before speaking. Now you are expressing yourself with a whole new set of words and even different rules. Along the lines of the previous idea, you are thinking differently. Such a great brain exercise, isn’t it? You may even be able to express ideas you couldn’t express before. The more languages you speak, the better you understand yourself. It’s like learning new vocabulary, but in a whole new level: learning new syntaxes.

Also, you feel like you understand something you previously didn’t. When you translate in a language word-by-word, you don’t quite think of it as anything more than a different set of words, but when you use it in your head, to think, it’s an eureka moment. That set of strange words and rules finally make sense.

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My Essential iPhone Apps

DoIt (Tomorrow) Free

I just love how simple and well-designed this app is. I’ve tried 2Do and Awesome Note and they were great, but I ended up not using them because of their complexity: it took me to long to do anything.

Here there’s no calendar, only today and tomorrow. As I write my appointments on the iPhone calendar anyway, that’s all I need. You can write your tasks for today and your tasks for tomorrow, and if you don’t want to do something today, you can easily procrastinate it by tapping the cute arrow on it’s right.

iBooks Free

I’m in love with the design of this app. Since I got iBooks I have read a book a week and haven’t paid a cent for it. There are thousands of free classics in there. Some of the books I’ve read are Great Expectations, Vanity Fair, The Mysterious Affair at Styles and Siddhartha.

It has an extensive dictionary so you can look up any word just by tapping it twice, and you can easily highlight and annotate passages in several colours (the highlighted sentence in the image is there to illustrate the point. Note that I do not consider the clerk opening the door of deep philosophical meaning or anything ;)).

GoalBook $1.99

Another app I love because of it’s simplicity. You write the goal, you cross it off when you achieve it. Allows you to set your motto at the app home screen. Mine is a Jules Verne quote: “All that is impossible remains to be achieved”.

It has many other functions like geo-tagging your goals, sharing them or adding pictures, but I don’t use any of them. I just add and delete when finished.

These are my goals: Two 30-day challenges, one long-term goal and the short-term future for my blog (about that one, a subscription would be much appreciated ;))

Amazon UK Free

It is from Amazon that all my films and film memorabilia come, so it’s great to have a quick access for when I want something.

I love it very much the way Amazon tells you to buy their stuff. A message can be seen when the shopping basket is empty that reads: “Your shopping basket lives to serve. Give it a purpose by filling it with books, DVDs, electronics and more”.

By the way, Amazon always nails it with the recommendations. Oh, Amazon, you are my favourite mega-store. I feel almost guilty for buying my eBooks from Apple.

There is a USA version too.

Advanced English Dictionary Free

Dictionary + thesaurus. Handy for non-native speakers like me. I like to discover new words and synonyms when I’m on the bus, train or waiting in a line.

It gives a definition, uses of the word in a sentence, antonyms, synonyms and related words. Tons of each.

I’ve found it better than many of it’s paid (and all it’s free) counterparts.

🙂

🙂

🙂

🙂 (don’t forget to be happy and smile!)

European Union Factbook Free

I’m an European Union lover and as with English, I use this app when I’m waiting in a line and such to discover new facts and figures about the EU countries.

It tells you about everything there is to know about a country: history, flag, borders, capitals, landmarks, climate, coastline, renewable water resources, natural hazards, population, birth rate, life expectancy, and hundreds of other things.

It also has a quiz.

You may say I’m weird but I like learning random obscure country trivia in my spare time 🙂

MyNetDiary Free

This app is amazing! It has every food on it’s database, even obscure Spanish food I thought nobody outside my city would know about! With MyNetDiary I’ve discovered that I used to eat way more than I should, and now I’m eating less and healthier. I’ve already lost 0.3 kilos in three days.

This app has many many functions (and many many more in the Pro version) but I only use it to input my weight, meals and exercise time. It tells me how much I should be eating and it reviews my daily intake of sodium, calcium and that stuff so I don’t overdo my diet and risk my health.

Tetris $2.99

This is my favourite iPhone game. The only downside is that it takes you through way too many menus before getting to play, but it takes less than 10 seconds anyway (I’m just a bit too impatient).

You can play the classical way or with variations, such as the one shown in the image, where you can collect and use several bonuses. You can start the game at any level, too.

Controlling the pieces is very easy, just move them around with your finger and tap to rotate them. The graphics are sleek and colourful.

IMDB Free

I’m a film geek and this app is my best companion. Helps me calm my mind when I can’t remember if Martin Landau was or wasn’t in that film.

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