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

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?

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.

 

Sexy Octopus: A Broad Stroke of Intelligent Insight

I just re-named my blog “Sexy Octopus.”

Sexy because I hope what I say is alluring to your mind and inspires you to think and act differently. Sometimes we are so comfortable in our lives that we get stuck in a sameness and miss the opportunity to try new experiences. The octopus is known to be an intelligent creature. I think intelligence or being intelligent in the digital age is about understanding the value of information coming from a wide range of subjects and “expertise”. Connecting the dots between superficially un-related topics does create meaning. So, I hope my voice provides the broad stroke of intelligent insight which can resonate with you.

 Cheers, Cara

Being Subhuman: My Insight for the Angelina Jolie War Epic

First, I want to say that Angelina Jolie can execute. Don’t de-legitimize her ability to tell an intense political and humanitarian story because she’s an attractive A-lister with power and Hollywood glamour.

Second, I want to say that I ‘witnessed’ and not just ‘saw’ In the Land of Blood and Honey which re-lived the Bosnian War of the nineties. Compelling and visceral, I was impressed by Ms. Jolie’s execution of the film as she directed, wrote and produced the human rights project which delivered a message of conscience for one and for all. Presented as a  private screening last Thursday night by Global Fund Women, the panel discussion afterward featured a Global Fund Women staff member who hails from the subject region and a human rights academic from UC Berkeley. Apparently, San Francisco was identified by Ms. Jolie’s staff as one of the key cities to broadcast the message of the film with Global Fund Women as the main sponsor, and I feel fortunate to have been able to participate in the initial screening.

Instead of retelling the summary of the film which you can find easily online I will share what I learned and what kind of dialogue has been initiated for the global audience. From the panel perspective, Angelina Jolie and/or her film offered these key statements for thought:

“War warps everything.”

“Why is this happening?”

“Why isn’t anybody doing anything about it?”

So what does this mean? In the context of the Bosnian conflict which started in the early 1990’s how could people be murdered because they wore the wrong label? How could they be de-humanized this way? This is how. You are placed into a category of humanness. There’s the human category and the subhuman category. If you wear the wrong label then you are not human, you become another category called subhuman.  And if you are a woman and subhuman that is almost the worst kind of subhuman. A lower tier of subhuman would be being a women AND wearing the label of Bosniak, or Bosnian Muslim.  Rape and sexual violence is one of the severe consequences of any war but the difference with Rape in the Bosnian War was the way sexual violence was used as a tool to systematically fight the war. Mass rape was used as a weapon of war. And one of the messages of the film is the postscript. What happens after the physical war of destruction stops? What are the after effects on multiple levels? What happens to the young girl who is traumatized and stigmatized so much that she cannot transition into mainstream society? Imagine if the ability to fall in love, something which makes us uniquely human was removed from your soul? What happens when there are hundreds, thousands of women who struggle daily because of this? It becomes a genocide on a societal level because then you have a population of women who have difficulties participating in the growth and evolution of a society and culture. Genocide is recognized as a war crime and a crime against humanity. But how is mass rape being prosecuted? I am not qualified to discuss law but my point is, and I think the message of the film is, why should systematic sexual violence against women be treated with less recognition and importance as a war crime, or crime against humanity? Why is there less awareness about it or why is it being subcategorized in the category of crimes against humanity?

Here is the trailer for the film which may help put these questions into context:

The film did portray a common “love in war” theme. And yes, war warps everything. One’s ability to love and trust may change but the bigger message is how could the international community fail to acknowledge the grave injustices that were being committed against their fellow human citizens. The film encourages us to start a dialogue with another entity. What can we do on the individual level, the societal level and on the global level, or as a citizen of the world? When most of the world is suffering how can one human being do something to make another human being aware of the suffering? It’s not about the simplistic and proverbial line we all hear, “One person can make a difference.” It’s about creating a larger, collective conscience which starts on the individual level.  It encourages one to just start talking about the current issues and injustices. Talk about it with your friend, tweet about it, blog about it. Just do something. The dialogue is important as it fosters awareness. The dialogue then creates an opportunity for action and for making that difference.

You can also read more here:

Love and War: Genocide, Human Rights and Angelina Jolie

When You’ve Already Won Her Heart, You Don’t Need to Win Every Argument

It’s Sunday morning. Instead of first being greeted by the traditional media outlets to inform me of all the negativity going on in the world now, I logged on to Facebook to visit my very own community of pseudo-journalists (aka “friends”). I discovered some insightful thoughts about life in the guise of my brother’s post of a blog entry. They were delivered as a convocation speech by a litigator (!):

http://blazingcold.blogspot.com/2008/08/speech-by-adrian-tan-at-ntu-convocation.html

Here are three thoughts which resonated with me:

(1) Pick your Battles (especially with loved ones): This is conventional wisdom but delivered in the context of love and relationships, “When You’ve Already Won Her Heart, You Don’t Need to Win Every Argument.” Change out the “Her” with “his” if appropriate. 😉 The litigator/speaker is offering this advice as a married man so I assume this applies to maintaining the peace in the household. Similarly, I recall having a discussion with someone I did business with during the Holidays and he asked me what my plans were. I told him I was keeping things simple by just staying in town and relaxing with friends. I reciprocated by re-asking the question to him and his rapid response was: “I’m just doing what the Wife tells me to do. That’s how I keep things simple.” I have never been married but based on what I hear from married friends and past clients, this is sage advice. Verbal sparring just seems like a huge energy and time waster especially when you are obliged to live under the same roof as the other individual. It’s interesting how Mr.Litigator speaker can point this out when he is essentially a Professional Fighter. Ah, yes. The power of the heart.

 A Big Heart in the Center of San Francisco

(2) Don’t Be Average: Think about all of those “life expectancy” statistics you hear about. Singapore (the residence of the speaker) is in the top tier but he points out that these expectancy statistics are based on averages. Averages set by people who tell you to get a good education, a good job, a good wife/husband, so you can have a good family. Why live based on boundaries set by average people? Don’t expect anything out of life because life is not roses. Life is hard. Bad things happen. Understand that you should not be entitled to anything. Just imagine that your life is over today. Get out there and play. Understand this and just do this and you will be free.

(3) Popular People Have Weak Character: People who are well-liked are accomodating. They don’t have the courage to speak their minds. They don’t have the courage of their convictions. Think about it.  All great figures who have contributed to the progress of humankind have been hated not by one, but by many. Well-liked pleasant people are pleasant to be around with, because well, they are pleasant. But to make great change on the scale of advancing humankind, being popular is not a favorable character trait. Do you think you are popular? If yes, maybe you are doing something wrong, or maybe you are content with being popular, being well-liked and sticking with the status quo. Maybe you are okay with being average.

I encourage you to read the original speech in its entirety. It’s a fun read. And then get out there. Fall in love, work less and do something courageous.