The Contemporary Man’s Thirty Minute Guide to Understanding Women

I had a fantastic long weekend. One of my friends had a birthday gathering in Hayes Valley and the occasion also turned into a nice reunion of sorts to catch up with folks who were out of town for the Holidays. The group was a lovely blend of men and women highlighted by animated conversation and hysterical laughter. Some sidebar discussions were peppered with terribly inappropriate, politically incorrect commentary. It was a hoot. Life would be quite dull if there was too much correctness, right?

Women talked with men. Men talked with other men. And women talked about men. I had several sidebars with a couple of friends updating me with their dating escapades. And it got me wondering if men talk about women with their manfriends as much as women talk about men with their womanfriends when it comes to getting advice about the behavior of the other sex.

The message I’d like to offer for men in the modern age is this:

If you would like to understand women better, just spend thirty minutes on Pinterest. Pinterest is the gathering place for the universal woman. And half an hour is all you’ll need. Really. And if you want to explore further and develop a deeper understanding, become a community member.

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The Octopus: Intelligence and the Distributed Mind

I am writing about this topic again because people continue to ask me about the name of this blog ‘Sexy Octopus’ and my complementary Twitter handle @thesexyoctopus……

The nature of the intelligence of octopuses remains a mystery. Scientists may find it easier to investigate other “intelligent” animals such as dolphins or chimpanzees because they are more closely related to human beings as vertebrates. However, the octopus is an invertebrate. Furthermore, the question has arisen whether the octopus mind lacks the cohesiveness of the single consciousness that humans have. For example, do octopuses make decisions based solely on their brain or do their nerve-infused arms play a collaborative role? Is there a distributive role?

Learn what a distributed mind is  and how to think like an octopus here.

What if human beings had decentralized brain power? What if humans viewed the world with eight different view points?

Perhaps there is another planet out there inhabited by octopuses. Or intelligent aliens.

‘Females, it seems, sometimes eat the males.’~ Harvard Philosophy Professor Peter Godfrey-Smith, regarding the difference between humans and octopuses

The StartUp World: Buzz Words and Terrible Elevator Pitches

I just got an assignment for another one of my Stanford Startup business classes which starts next week. The assignment is “to find a really bad description of a company”. This is also called a terrible elevator pitch. My instructor posted an example from a student:

(Company X) is an enterprise social media internet cloud company that enables user-created, annotated, and self-published media. Users personify areas with dynamic and rich content, complete with web 2.0 modalities. “

Huh? This is not clear, concise communication. (I’m scratching my head.) Who are they targeting? What do they really do and how do they make money?  I call this Buzzword Barfing. If you are trying to build a tech related business, have you tried explaining it to non-technical, ordinary people? Do they understand you? If you are still not clear on what a buzz word is, just visit a LinkedIn resume.

I see and hear buzz words all the time, everywhere. I’m even guilty of using them.  This brings me to another thought which poses the question: What is the difference between “buzz words” and “jargon”. I looked it up in Wikipedia but was confused by their explanation. So I Googled it and found a more clear and concrete opinion about it here: Jargon Good. Buzzwords Bad.

This assignment makes me think of the way we communicate daily with each other as human beings. Would we become better communicators if we tried really hard to use less words to convey a thought? Is concise communication the road to better relations? In any case, let’s choose our words carefully.

Learning to Code Part I: The Power and Elegance of Ruby

I love the San Francisco Ruby community. This community is not based on jewelry lovers but refers to  Ruby, the computer programming language which originated in Japan. The San Francisco Ruby or SFRuby community is a group of developer volunteers and learners.

This weekend I was fortunate enough to participate in the Railsbridge Outreach for Women to learn beginning coding via Ruby on Rails. Ruby on Rails (RoR) is a framework for Ruby. Railsbridge workshops were founded by Sarah Allen who contributes her time and resources to encourage the representation of women in the technology space. She recognized the need to improve the diversity gap in programming. The Railsbridge community is currently based in the San Francisco Bay Area (imagine the Golden Gate Bridge) and Ms. Allen’s vision is to “bridge the gap from aspiring developer to contributing open source community member through mentoring, teaching and writing.”

The Golden Gate Bridge: I took this photo when I first moved here.

The Railsbridge workshop started on Friday evening and was completed as an all day event on Saturday. I learned enough skills to build my own game by the end of the course! My instructor was engaging and funny. He had long hair and wore a pink shirt. I had fun learning the new lingo. It was cool to learn about hash rockets (=>), arrays ( [  ] ), and strings ( ”  “) among other things. And even though I got barfing text along the way (think error message), the journey was rewarding.

The guessing game I built.

To me learning Ruby on Rails was not about applying technical skills or thinking like a Math major, but more like using a humanities approach of learning a new (foreign) language and thinking like a Philosophy major. Perhaps the misconception of computer coding is that you have to be equipped with technical skills to learn it effectively. Not so.

At the end of the day, Ruby is a language. Human beings use language to communicate effectively with each other. We learn foreign languages to do good and metaphorically build bridges with outside lands to foster peace and goodwill.  In the Ruby case, we are simply trying to communicate with another entity called a computer. Similar to the multi-lingual diplomat who is trying to do good, the aspiring developer dreams of building something big that will impact society in a positive way. I am not denying that evil exists and there are multi-lingual people who do bad things with their skills, and evil hackers determined to break something good or destroy the world. However, I think the power and elegance of learning a new language is in its potential to do good. Both the diplomat and the developer are both attempting to improve the human experience. I’m just connecting the dots between politics and technology. What have you done lately to contribute to society?

The Asian Jetset: Discovering Champagne Powder in a Mystical Village

I just read about Niseko, or the St. Moritz of the East in the New York Times this morning which, sadly has been predicted to be one of the few remaining independent newspapers in the next five years. Print media and traditional journalism must be gasping for air (but that’s another blog post). Expiration Date: 2017ish

Niseko is located in Hokkaido, Japan‘s northernmost island. It’s where the jetset of Asia (think well-heeled gliterrati from Hong Kong and Singapore) play. The snow there has been described as ‘champagne powder’ and although the scenery may not be as dramatic as the Alps, the reporter calls it ‘mystical’. So here is an excerpt from the article explaining the allure of this mystical resort village:

‘Niseko was coined the “St. Moritz of the Orient” by insiders in the 1960s, but the area still remained seriously under the radar until the ’90s, when it became the preferred playground for Australian snowboarders tipped off to the powder.’

 Hot Springs at Niseko resort

The way the reporter describes his experience in Niseko  it sounds like an ideal retreat for a skiing/snowboarding enthusiast who also wants a luxurious meditative and poetic journey away from home.

I suppose describing a destination as The _________ of the East, or The ________ West, or ____________ is the Paris of ____________, etc…. helps us to visualize the place. Have you heard that Buenos Aires is THE Paris of South America? Or that Boston and San Francisco are kind of European? The latest I heard was from a German engineer who just moved here to San Francisco. I was in a Ruby (computer language) coding workshop and we were discussing the Start Up scene in Europe. He mentioned that Berlin is a hot spot for tech and Start Up activity. He feels that Berlin is THE San Francisco of Europe. (That’s why he moved here). Lots of creativity and creative people. Actually, there was a Slovenian, Belgian and several English engineers in my work group that evening. Europe was generously represented. But come visit San Francisco and you’ll meet many citizens from non-European nations, too. People converge from all over the global community to San Francisco and the Bay Area at large. Diversity is a beautiful thing.

How War Shows the Beautiful Side of Humanity

 

Before my memory fails me I want to talk about a very short but important book I just completed. It’s called “Overcoming Speechlessness” and the subtitle reads, “A Poet Encounters the Horror in Rwanda, Eastern Congo, and Palestine/Israel” It’s written by Alice Walker. I think you may recognize who she is from The Color Purple.

I was captivated by her ability to write so powerfully yet elegantly about the savage acts of war. She effectively conveys the state of speechlessness as you, the reader bear witness to gruesome acts of torture. Men, women and children are brutalized but Ms. Walker also manages to uplift your spirit with tales of courage and hope. You read about the new bride who is raped, tortured, murdered and has her eyeballs torn out but you continue to learn about the journey of another Congolese woman who despite being brutalized, survives and refuses to be a beast of burden. She has come through and continues to smile. She will start a new business and yearns to learn how to use the computer. We learn that the oppressors cannot tear out her heart, her soul or her dignity. They cannot break her spirit.

 

Descriptions are graphic but not gratuitous. The prose is delivered in a way that we want to learn more and understand what our individual role is in all of this. As global citizens, Ms. Walker believes that ‘allowing freedom to others brings freedom to ourselves.’ War has two sides. It’s easy to associate ugliness with it. But it also shows the beautiful side of humanity by calling upon us to do something. The beauty of the tragedy then is how it enabled one Voice (Alice Walker) to eloquently talk about the horror to raise human awareness everywhere. The Voice helps us overcome despair and by doing so it encourages the creation of our collective global voices to spread the word. The World can now find its Voice.

Read more about human rights and international justice in the context of the Bosnian conflict here.

 

Mint Plaza: Cattle Friendly Italian Food and Start Up Stories

Here is a photo I took on New Year’s Eve 2011 at Mint Plaza in the SOMA neighborhood of San Francisco. (I was organizing my Desktop and this photo winked at me.)There was something about the yellow leaves and the gray tiles which captured my attention at that moment in time. 

I discovered Mint Plaza when I first moved here and a childhood friend from Honolulu invited me to dinner at 54 Mint, an Italian restaurant. The food was great, the value was agreeable, and the ambiance was terrific. It wasn’t mom-and-pop style nor stuffy white tablecloth establishment. In the landscape of food politics, it felt philosophically very Center or maybe marginally Right of Center towards the white tablecloth. In general, it was a very San Francisco dining experience. After all, they “perform regional Italian cuisine” and they serve “responsibly raised meat.” (as per their website) Remember that this City is a stage where you can be anyone at anytime and how you treat your cattle is very important.

If you look closely at the photo you’ll be able to spot the “One Way” sign. The big windows behind the sign peers into Blue Bottle coffee. I am not partial to Blue Bottle or Philz Coffee for that matter, two very popular non-Starbucks coffee venues and also two San Francisco Bay Area based companies. I recall one of my Quora inbox updates (tagged under Entrepreneurship, I think)  which answered the question: Which coffee shops have inspired startups?( Or which coffee shops bring together a group of people to discuss ideas?)It listed a handful of places in San Francisco and a few in Palo Alto. Blue Bottle was mentioned specifically at this Mint Plaza location and I remember it since I like the general space at the plaza. It feels modern, clean and discreet compared to the rest of the immediate neighborhood.

Fantastic Italian fare and local coffee houses in San Francisco. Nothing new there. But throw in the right people with the right dialogue and the weeknight dinner event or standard coffee house becomes an incubator of ideas.