Simon Fowler's Blog

Archive for March, 2010

The problem of pain and its cure

Posted by Simon on March 31, 2010

There’s no ultimate escape from pain. Gautama Buddha observed the inexorability of suffering. Shakespeare, before we knew about evolution by natural selection, saw “Nature, red in tooth and claw”. It seems that suffering is at the heart of reality itself.

Even if we do escape it for a time, it just reappears in a different form. Or in a different person.

So our main problem, as M. Scott Peck observed years ago, is that we think having a problem is the problem. We think that pain and suffering and trouble and strife are bizarre and embarrassing abnormalities in an otherwise smooth and happy world.

The cure for that problem, dear readers, is courage and hope. And you’ll find courage and hope amongst the poor and those who work alongside the poor. You’ll also find it, in a very different way, amongst scientists, researchers and others who look at some of the world’s toughest problems straight in the face, day after day, year after year.

You may even find it in yourself. Courage and hope in the face of pain. Not looking away, not pretending it isn’t there. But also not letting it have the last word, as though it determines the course or value of your life.

The source of courage and reason for hope depends to some degree on personality and circumstance: personal failure, job loss, accident, cancer, depression, traumatic injury, poverty – all provide different possibilities of hope and will be reacted to differently by individuals.

But hope must not be confused with optimism: “You must never confuse faith that you will prevail in the end—which you can never afford to lose—with the discipline to confront the most brutal facts of your current reality, whatever they might be.” So describes the Stockdale Paradox.

I confess that I don’t totally understand it. I’ve not been in such a situation as to warrant knowing the difference. But I believe it, and I’ve witnessed it, amongst the poor and oppressed in El Salvador and in Burma; stories I may tell another time. I also see it exemplified, in fact, defined and extended, in the suffering of Jesus of Nazareth on the night before he was crucified.

On Maundy Thursday we Christians [must] remember with solemn humility that Jesus, knowing the betrayal, abandonment, suffering and death that was before him, did two amazing things. First he shared a last meal with his disciples, including his betrayer. Second, he washed their feet and told them, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.” In the face of death, Jesus turned his suffering into an act of love and an exhortation to love. Suffering, it appears, is at the heart of love, which is ultimate reality.

It is important also to remember, and to contemplate this Maundy Thursday, that his suffering was only just beginning. Resurrection was far off, almost unseen, almost unbelievable. Instead, death and hell was before him. A long, long night, increasingly alone, increasingly in despair.

Jesus suffered alone for us, so that we would suffer with, (lit. have com – passion), others. Because we have a God who literally identifies with our suffering, we can and must bear each other’s sufferings. We must bear it, in all its hideous ugliness and persistence.

People you know, or you yourself, know that there are usually no quick solutions to suffering; no platitudes, optimistic statements, or symptom relief that will satisfy. More than anything, you want presence; simple, helpless, powerless, wordless, loving presence that won’t give up no matter how bad it gets or how long it lasts.

On this day then, let’s cure the ‘problem’ of pain by being willing to face suffering, with and for each other.


Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a Comment »

:p How do you show feelings and attitudes in live online learning?

Posted by Simon on March 30, 2010

The good news is that words matter.

If you think by that I mean, “words?! pah! who cares about words?!”, then you didn’t read the sentence properly. Or you think I’m being sarcastic. Context will tell you if you’re right – context given by your knowledge of me as a person, and your knowledge of other things I’ve written. But absent those, the words mean what they say. They may be factually incorrect – maybe words don’t matter – but the sentence means what it says.

It’s commonly believed that 7% of communication is verbal; the rest is body language and tone of voice. Along with many people, I took that for granted, even though it made no intuitive sense to me, especially when thinking about learning live online.

But if you didn’t know already, the 7% is a myth; or rather, it’s a fact that’s only true in certain cases.

The original researcher, Professor Albert Mehrabian, looked at situations in which people say one thing and mean something else in a face to face situation. According to Mehrabian, the 7% holds true only when talking about feelings and attitudes. In those cases if you say one thing but indicate something else with your tone and gesture, the something else (the non-verbal 93%) will dominate the substance your communication. So the statistic seems to only matter if the non-verbal and verbal are in conflict. (See Training Zone, especially the video by Martin Shovel, shown also below).

However, this still rings true online if a facilitator says, “hey, like, yeh, this is going to be, like, yaaaawn, really fun … let’s do some really engaging interactive stuff on a whiteboard now, yaaawn”. It’s obvious, now that I think about it, that it’s the dissonance between the mode and content of speech that makes us largely ignore the content. Equally obvious is that words matter when mode and content are consistent: “You are, in fact, an idiot.”

The 7% is (mis)used to make an important point, however: Yes, words matter, but words are not always a necessary, adequate, or even feasible way to communicate. Especially when communicating feelings and attitudes.

So, here’s the question: how are feelings and attitudes communicated online, in a virtual classroom setting? What’s the real data about the relative power of mode or content in live, online communication?

And how do you show your feelings online, in an online classroom? Come on, you can tell me.

Posted in Communication, Learning | Tagged: , , , , | 4 Comments »

Balls and dropped balls

Posted by Simon on March 27, 2010

The First Follower project is a ball, but one of many. I realised in my last post that if I’m going to do a 30 day project it’s just going to have enhance the projects (loosely termed) to which I’m already committed. There’s only so much time in the day. I want to get better at doing and being what I already am: Christian, husband, father, brother, friend, neighbor, colleague, leader, clown etc. And a Word from our preacher last Sunday, sleep is an act of faith, confirms that the world doesn’t depend on me.

How to conceive a project that feeds and builds those aspects of me, perhaps even ties them together a little more neatly? Whatever I do, I hope it creates a little magic with what I already have.

I just hope I’m not too late with this post. The only rule Andrew Wicklander gave with the invite was, “you’ve got to blog once a week about the project”. That’s all. I thought it fair enough, and actually a genius way to keep us involved. He’s kept his word and dropped people (i.e. they can no longer get into the project website) with a sense of regret and feeling a bit of a jerk for doing so. But I don’t think he is; he’s shown great integrity in the process and importantly (for anyone who has to deal with him in life) that he’s a man of his word. I hope I’m not too late, I don’t know when the ‘week’ ends. But if I am, that’s okay. Some balls are meant to be dropped.

Posted in first-follower | Leave a Comment »

I want pebbles in my shower

Posted by Simon on March 19, 2010

The next 8 ideas from Andrew Dubber include a couple I love. An online tape for one person – a 45min mp3 of songs that deletes off the server as soon as it’s downloaded; and a tray of pebbles to stand on in the shower! Photo by Josh Simerman

Suddenly, just thinking about it makes me feel like I’m in Hawaii.

I’m busier than a busy thing wearing busy clothes in Busyville, so the thought of executing a project in 30 days on top of what I’m already committed to is a little daunting. So, I need to choose something that will make-faster/better whatever I’m already doing.

Andrew Wicklander, who is the First Follower of Andrew Dubbers, and who invited us to join him, has already started building idea number 5 (a 30-day calendar tool).

I’d misunderstood the goal, thinking that we’d all execute that one project together, but no, that’d be easy. We observe and help and support but WE have to come up with our own project to execute in 30 days, one of Dubber’s or one of our own.

Anyway, here are ideas 9 to 16:
09: Recordings in Concert
Acoustics and recorded music: People to turn up to a concert hall, sit down, and listen to a record. Listening experience would be curated and explained track by track by the person or people responsible for the recording. Then, after the concert, everyone would be handed a CD copy of the music they’ve just heard.
10: Vinyl scanner: exactly what it sounds like, convert vinyl to mp3 file with a flatbed scanner.
11: Photo Stack-and-Scan: It’s a photo scanner. It scans standard, everyday ordinary prints. You stack them in a box at the back of the machine. You press Go. You leave for work.
12: A Box of Cool: A subscription-based, home-delivered regular package full of things that are undeniably ‘cool’. (e.g. a high quality print magazine that you may not have come across before; a 180g vinyl reissue of an underappreciated recording like Leroy Vinnegar’s Glass of Water; a DVD of a film you probably haven’t seen, but should; a miniature taster bottle of a single malt scotch…)
13: Karaoke-Tube Celebstar Idol: Sing -> Mix -> YouTube
14: I Made You A Tape: Two 30- or 45-minute ‘tapes’ (i.e. several songs on one mp3), with liner notes, for one person. ‘Tape’ & original songs are deleted off the server when downloaded by the person. It only exists for them.
15: Newspaper download codes: < what it sounds like
16: Pebble Splash: It’s a tray. It has pebbles in it. You put it in the shower. You stand on it!

Posted in first-follower | 1 Comment »

I once threatened to go swimming in speedos

Posted by Simon on March 13, 2010

It was just a couple of weeks ago, in fact. My wife and I and a friend were emailing about going to family swim after our daughter’s lesson. Anyway, after my threat, my wife went to her colleague’s (Ruth, also a friend of ours) desk and commissioned her to write a short poem.

By the time my wife was back at her own desk Ruth had created this:

There is nothing you don’t know
But that it is revealed in a speed-oh!
It will cause lots of panic
If you appear in a banana hammock.
You will get a lot of flack
From wearing what’s called ‘a nut sack’.
Stretchy fabrics, a gripping fit!
What’s left to imagine – not a bit!

Don’t do it or else.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: | 2 Comments »

First Follower – 8 ideas – What to do?

Posted by Simon on March 11, 2010

A quick recap: Derek Sivers -> Andrew Dubber -> Andrew Wicklander -> me & 11 others.
Or, look at it like this (which took 20 mins on

One of the 12 (12? interesting number), DJ Phillips, helpfully summarized the 8 ideas that Andrew D has come up with so far (which I’ve copied below, thanks DJ!). And our intrepid leader, Andrew W, has already jumped on Number 5! I think he’d fail the marshmallow test.

Anyway, take a look below for the summary of the idea (a 30 Day Calendar), and on Dubber’s blog for the detail. What would you pick? I’ve yet to figure out what my role will be on this, but I’m still in the game.

1 – Keymash: It would be a computer program that detects when multiple keys are pressed at once (as when a baby mashes the keyboard) and immediately puts the computer to sleep with a baby-placating screensaver.

2 – Radio Alert: essentially Google Alerts for the radio. You would enter whatever it is you are interested in and the program would alert you when it is mentioned in a radio program.

3 – Only Famous: This idea is for a romantic comedy movie script. The protagonist creates a reality show around an average person taking the whole “famous for being famous” thing to its most literal extreme. And then of course they fall in love and yada, yada, yada.

4 – Modularized Podcasts: splitting radio programs/ podcasts into their sections (news, interviews, weather, reviews, etc.) and then re-packaging them to one’s liking.

5 – 30 day calendar: This idea centers around a blank 30-day template to use for motivational and goal-achieving purposes.

6 – SpringCleanr: a computer program that helps keep your hard drive organized and clutter-free by regularly (upon a customizable schedule) prompting you to “Keep It”, “Chuck It”, “Archive It” or “Action It”.

7 – Street Graffiti Gallery App: This is an idea for a mobile device application that will provide gallery/artist information for graffiti artist.

8 – Coded Business Card: a business card with a bar code that would provide all of your relevant and editable information.

Posted in first-follower | 4 Comments »

The delusion of a British accent

Posted by Simon on March 2, 2010

A few years ago, when I was well settled in the US, a wise and funny colleague pinned this to my cube. And really, I can get away with the most amazing nonsense.

Posted in Uncategorized | 5 Comments »

%d bloggers like this: