Monthly Archives: July 2011

The Ramadan Experiment

Prologue: A woman gives out gifts relatives and friends. why? its Christmas time. A man practises his religion meticulously. why? it is Ramadan. (Ramadan is the Fasting Month of Muslims; considered the holiest month in Islam)

Understanding the “spirit” of Christmas can be confusing. Same applies to the “spirit” of Ramadan. Both require the practitioner to perform a virtuous act, emphasizing this requirement for a duration of time (Christmas season or Ramadan month).

You are not expected to be santa clause through out the year, getting gifts for everyone around you because it is impractical. Christmas has its non materialistic values as well, its just difficult to discern that after it has been commercialized so much that we are waiting for someone to patent christmas soon. On the other hand muslims still emphasize the virtuous values that are demanded of a Muslim during Ramadan.

Muslims as well are aware, not appalled any more, by the sudden changes in actions of Muslims during Ramadan from actions before Ramadan, and to actions after Ramadan. Count the number of people praying at mosques during these three interesting times to get a feel of the fluctuation in characters.

The Problem

Many Muslims take a rational and calculating attitude towards Ramadan. They do the math by noting that the rewards for good actions are multiplied during ramadan, compared to any other months. You might as well get a “rewards calculator” to keep track of your progress if that is how you swing.

The Missing Link

It turns out that the minimum number of days required for a habit change is 21 days, which is how long you require to make a daily action a habit. I believe this is one of the many blessings of Ramadan.

Dr Maxwell Maltz has written much on the subject. I haven’t read a book of his but with so many references to him, i believe he is the man in this field. Other experts who have worked further on the subject of habit change suggest 30 days. Among the advantages of 30 days is that it represents a month, so actually it could be 31, 28 or 29 days.

If you want the scientific take on it, here’s a quote from a blog discussing habit change:

Brain circuits take engrams (memory traces), and produce neuroconnections and neuropathways only if they are bombarded for 21 days in a row. This means that our brain does not accept ?new? data for a change of habit unless it is repeated each day for 21 days (without missing a day).”

The Quran says: “Oh you who believe! Fasting is prescribed to you as it was prescribed to those before you, that you may learn piety and rightousness” (Qur’an, al-Baqarah, 2:183)

In my opinion, the emphasis of the above verse is bold-ed. That is to say Muslims should use the opportunity for reformation of their habits. There are other known benefits to Ramadan but this just occurred to me recently.

The Setback

The reason many find themselves going back to their old ways may be that they basically force their way back to their former lifestyle after Ramadan. One reason may be that one just wants to be back to “normal” again, for no reason other than it is normal; the assumption is that one has participated meticulously in  Ramadan.

The Experiment

First ask yourself what habits of yours will you like to change; for life not just Ramadan. Pick one of these and make sure you don’t do it through  out Ramadan, NO MATTER the reasons you give yourself. After Ramadan, simply continue your life however you want but leaving out the habit that you have decided to abandon.

The expected outcome is that you will find it really easy to not do it, it may take some effort on your part to actually do it. If it is easy to avoid it, Alhamdulillah, you ve done it! I suspect it will be easier than before Ramadan in any case. I will be trying the experiment as well IA.

Remember though, its your habit so you have to be sincere about wanting to abandon it. You don’t have to be a muslim to try the Ramadan Experiment; no need to fast, only that you might not have a religious dimension to the act. We may understand Ramadan more, after many years of shallow acquaintance.

PS: More importantly, a new habit can be acquired this way.


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Getting Under the Lid: How a pop-corn pops

With technology improving, most users of these technologies are finding it easier to use. Take the first (Ford) cars invented and compare to a 2010 Ford. More recent, take a command-line computer and compare to your flashy window-based computers that allow you to view websites on browsers; it used to take researchers to use a PC now many users dont even know what a web browser is but they can facebook the hell out of it. Thanks to the HCI and Design guys making computers and equipment simpler to use.

All was going smooth, down the easy slope till this guys Nathan Myhrvold came along. I guess for the geeks, he is a saviour who is bringing an end to the tyranny of boredom in everyday activities. He was a Microsoft Chief Technology Officer who got bored and decided to venture in to the world of cooking. To give you a heads up, he founded Microsoft Research; he is the sciency type.

Traditional cookbooks get better Marketing when the cook’s got the charisma or the cook claims it was a recipe from their ancestors. I am pretty sure that even if your grandmum knows calculus, she left it outside the kitchen. charisma, on the other hand, will more probably reduce as you learn more calculus than to improve. Nathan Myhrvold Defies all these conventions.

Nathan Myhrvold, and his team, took upon themselves to create (not write) a cookbook that was decorated with heat equations of physics, calculus, graphs, chemistry of acidity, physics of materials and state of the art machine workshop (watch video below to understand), among other things. The best part is when all these come together with actual cooking instructions, it forms a work of art.

And they used a high speed camera too; no special effects can beat that. See how a pop corn pop in the video below.



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Tendencies and Operating Systems

What is an Operating System

Even if you know nothing about computers, the fact that you are reading this online means u know that there exists something called hardware and something called software. As it pertains to your computer, hardware examples can be your mouse or screen (blah blah blah) while software examples can be your internet explorer or windows xp. Software is basically that thing that makes your hardware do all the cool stuff they do.

Briefly, an operating system is a software that enables you to actually interact with your computer in any way. An operating system decides what happens on the screen, for example, when you move your mouse; it makes the mouse pointer to move on your screen as well. The thing to note is that the decision of what happens after moving your mouse is up to the Operating System. In most operating systems, moving your mouse makes the Operating System to make the mouse pointer move accordingly. Therefore, there can exist an operating system that may decide to do something else when you move your mouse (I will like to see that someday); it all depends on the person writing that operating system software.

What is Tendency?

I couldn’t find a better word to use so I chose “Tendency”. Tendency, here, means a person’s inclinations towards external stimuli. In other words, what a person is likely to do after an event.

For example, there is a guy called Adam. Adam is known to be a very temperamental who could easily get in to a physical fight over events that seem as trivial someone as stepping on his foot (with or without apologies afterwards). Then we can say that one of Adam’s tendencies is that if someone steps on Adam’s foot, Adam will fight.

A second example is due, let us call the second person Eve. Eve is scared of cats; she had a dream that she will be killed by a cat-attack and she believes it. It is safe to say that if you were to be talking to Eve, and a cat approaches the two of you, Eve is likely to flee. One of Eve’s tendencies is to flee when a cat approaches her. The event is the cat approaching and the tendency is to flee.

Regardless of the reason why Adam fights and why Eve flees, the underpinning element that makes these decisions in them is their minds (or memory of a bad feline dream).

Everyone has a tendency that is a product of their mind. Some tendencies are more innate while others are more superfluous. Innate tendencies are like to look for food when hungry, to take your hands away from a boiling water, to run as fast as you can when targeted by a tiger (or just faint). Superfluous tendencies are like the examples of Adam and Eve above.

How they Relate

Your body and flesh is the Hardware and your mind is the software. In this case, your mind is your operating system. Without indulging in to the debate of who writes the rules of your operating system, we can agree that both computer OS (Operating System) and your mind’s OS get updated; the first may be by Windows and the second may be by your experiences.

The Big Idea  

What if you can re-program yourself? Actually you can, see brain plasticity.

Whatever it is that you want to modify about yourself, you can (I don’t mean plastic surgery). Do you want to be a “nicer” (or “meaner”) person, braver (or more cowardly), more generous (or stingier)? It turns out you can reprogram yourself.

By nicer I don’t mean just to act nice, I mean the tendency to be nice; the same for the all other character types. Taking brave for example; assuming you are scared of dogs. You can act brave by staying put when a dog is barking at you, all the while wetting your pants. Or you can be brave (by having the tendency to be brave) by staying put and not worrying about your pants. Since this is a talk about tendencies, the question becomes what will you do when you wake up in wherever-land and find out there is only a dog and you?

Operating Systems, for the most part, decide what a computer does without “thinking”. Tendency means what a person would do without (or before) conscious decision making. In Hausa, Tendency will mean “abun da za kayi tsakanin ka da allah”.

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