Saturday, December 29, 2007

Daily Resolutions for Early in the Year

The other day, a co-worker asked me if I had made any New Year's resolutions. I reminded him that my New Year occurred already - several months ago, on Rosh Hashanna, the Judaic New Year.

Of course, I can't help making comparisons between the Judaic New Year and the Gregorian New Year. The way two people celebrate the New Year is so drastically different, that, even if I tried to ignore these differences, I couldn't. The Jewish New Year is spent in quiet introspection and prayer. While the holiday is joyous and families gatehr together for festive meals and conversation, a good part of the day is spent in solemn thought. We contemplate our past behaviors and resolve to improve ourselves for the coming year. Our prayers to God recognize Him as the king and ruler over our destiny, and ultimately, every action and decision we take in life is in God's hands. Nonetheless, we still resolve to improve ourselves and pray to God for His assistance.

That, I think, is the major difference with the two New Years. I know people resolve for physical, practical things - losing weight, exercising more, making more money. These are all useful resolutions, mind you. But seriously, if you asked yourself what resolution you made last year, would you really remember?

I know that I recall my resolution that I made on Rosh Hashanna. It's the same resolution I make every year, actually. What's that, you say? Shouldn't a resolution be new and something different? Well, not really. You see, my resolution is actually quite simple to phrase. My resolution is:

Do more of the things I do right and less of the things I do wrong.

The "right" things are the things that make a major difference in the world; a difference to other people. These are the things that help even one person live more easily and more comfortably. It could be a compliment, buying groceries for a disabled person or teaching my children how to do an algbera problem. The wrong things are the things that have no impact at all or, worse, harm someone else.

Why do I remember this resolution? Because I evaluate how I am doing not just once, but at least twice daily - once when I arise - so I can plan my day, and at the end of the day so that I can evaluate my own performance.

A New Year's resolution has meaning if it's something you can evaluate daily, not just infrequently, and certainly not just once / year. When you think about it, it makes sense to make a resolution that helps others. After all, when you help others, you'd be surprised how others can make your resolutions a reality and not just another meaningless promise.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Holiday Gifts and Resolutions

I must admit. I don't celebrate XMas at all except for the fact that my office gives me a day off. That's pretty good in itself, because it gives me a chance to think a bit more before I blog.

Each year, I find that the way people act between Thanksgiving and New Year's gets a bit more idiotic. I'm not sure I quite understand the idea that people madly rush to buy presents to give to people they don't like or care about too much, just so that the people that get the gift can return the present they didn't like or want, anyway. I've heard so many stories from co-workers and others about how they worry about making a nice cozy meal for their families and getting everything "just right" for the annual family gathering. Then, they spend half the day when the family is together bickering over something trivial that someone (didn't) say or (didn't) do.

Then, for about a month, I hear what kids want from Santa. Games, iPods, TVs.

I think it's time to stop all this craziness and commotion and view some basics, perhaps.

The holiday season in the U.S., at least, begins with Thanksgiving. That's a noble concept if we could well understand what that all means. We should be thankful for all the small things we have in life that we take for granted. Such as our health, our healthy families, our children, and the beauty of nature such as it is. We should also be thankful even for our own imperfections and quirks, because without them, we would have no challenges in our own lives to improve upon.

Secondly, life is about giving, not getting. People spend too much time working about what they might get from Santa because they were "nice." They run around figuring out the "perfect" gift. In reality, most people want nothing more than to hear a compliment and spend some time enjoying each other's company. If it's a co-worker you want to give a gift to, besides a compliment, how about offering to teach them something about the tasks they need to know or helping them out with a project so that they don't always feel overwhelmed?

Thanks should be a daily routine, and giving should also be a daily routine. I'm not sure why people feel that being nice and helpful lasts for about one month during the year - from Thanksgiving to XMas.

Oh, and if you feel that you must ask for a gift, perhaps you can learn a lesson from Solomon when he first became king. God appears to him in a dream and asks Solomon what gift he wishes. Solomon asks God for wisdom. Hmmm ... it seems it was a good choice then; it's an even better choice now. The world sure could use a few extra wise people.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Today's Stupidity Star

Every so often, I will offer a Stupidity Star to a person or group who comes up with a bizarre stupid expression, idea, or process.

Chanukah ended last week. Just before Chanukah started, a group (I don't recall, offhand who this was, so bear with me, while I try to find out the exact name) claimed that no one should light Chanukah candles because candles deplete the oxygen supply.

Let's award this group the Stupidity Star of the week. I suppose that chopping down XMas trees would be fine. If I remember my science correctly, trees give off oxygen that we humans need to breathe. So, if there are fewer trees in the forest, there's less oxygen for us to breathe too.

I have an idea. We should invent special XMAS forest rental areas. If you want a XMas tree, you give a huge deposit (like $2,500) and you rent the tree for the holiday. When XMas is over, you have to return the tree to the place you got it from and plant it back where you found it, so it can grow again for the next year. When you plant it back in its place, you get your money back. And the side advantage to all that besides preserving the forests and the green is that your tree grows and gets bigger for next year! Oh, and if you want, you can reserve your own personal tree in the forest so you can have it each year. But, the point is that at least after XMAs the tree doesn't get tossed to the trash or even made into mulch, pulp, or paper.

Oh, and speaking about depleting the oxygen supply, I guess we may as well stop breathing. That's not "green" either!

Monday, December 17, 2007

Breaking the Stupidity Chain

First of all, perhaps I should welcome myself back to the blogger. As you can see, it has been several months since I have last posted. Many busy things have happened in my life - some good, some bad, but all of them usefully challenging. I've learned something from every event. In time, I may get to some of these items.

I have decided to focus the discussion to tie it with my morallearning.com web site. In time, I shall try to post more items and lessons there. But, I'd like to make this blog more of a discussion forum and get your thoughts and feedback on some ideas.

So, I'll start with a question which I allude to in the morallearning.com site. It's something I call the Stupidity Chain. Essentially the concept is that leaders and people in charge do stupid things repetitively. Everyone around them realizes that their actions are stupid. However, these leaders try to use their power and rank to convince everyone else that their actions are smart. Eventually, others buy (or get forced) in, and the stupidity gets another link in the chain. The stupidity continues.

So, before I post some of the wacky crazy examples of this stupidity chain that I deal with in my life, I'd like to here some of your stories. Most of all, I'd like to hear your solutions. How do you break the Stupidity Chain in your life?

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Thoughts on various learning technologies

There are so many different technologies available for on-line learning that it's tough to decide which one I would like best.

I find that blogging is a pretty decent way to have a discussion going, as well as post my own thoughts on a topic. I can see blogging to be quite useful in terms of getting "on demand" information to people who need something quickly. Often, I have found that a lot of learning takes place "informally." Classes and formal self-paced programs are good for focusing on specific topics. But, often, learners want a quick answer to an immediate question. I think one of the biggest challenges in learning is to be able to hand over more of the responsibility to the learner. Have them find the information rather than feeding it to them. The catch is, how do learners locate the correct resources? Blogging can help, and a social link forum like del.icio.us seems to do a very good job with providing learners with some options while at the same time forming a collaborative learning group with others. I learn far more from peers than I do from many teachers. The peer role is very different.

Monday, July 2, 2007

The Talmud - An Ancient form of non-linear learning

The Talmud is a written compilation of Judaic law and ethics written between the second and fifth century Common Era. A typical page from the Talmud is divided into a main text area with various commentaries and cross references surrounding the page border. Studying Talmudic text requires the ability to jump from the text to the commentary, to other references, and sometimes explore more deeply into that references further reference, until, eventually, continuing with the text. Thus, the Talmud can be considered an "early" form of hypertext, without the use of computers, of course.

Talmudic learning is definitely non-linear. Can non-linear learning work on-line using computers? Do you think you can learn non-linearly?

Here's an interesting way to find out:
Go to http://www.ucalgary.ca/~elsegal/TalmudPage.html This page shows you an image of a page from the Talmud. The top of the page gives directions on how to use the image. Try it out, and see how it works.
Then, return to this same page and click on the link below the image - the one that tells you to click to see a hyperlinked selection of the texts in translation. It will display a lot of frames!

See if you can learn something by following the frames. These frames are there for a reason! It is an attempt to simulate Talmudic learning. Each frame represents a commentary or a reference to related texts to support the main text on the Talmudic page.

I learned this way throughout elementary and high school, and I still study Talmud this way! I'm not sure how comfortable I would be learning Talmud on-line with all these frames. But, I can learn non-linearly, and I actual prefer this style.

What's your opinion? Do you think you can learn non-linearly? If so, what requirements would you want or need in terms of screen lay-out and content?

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Definition of Excellence

I found a great Biblical verse that succinctly explains what the term "excellence" means:

The man became great. He continued becoming greater until he
was exceedingly great (Genesis chapter 26 verse 13.)

This verse is referring to Isaac. In a short verse, the message points out that even though Isaac was great, he didn't stop there. He became greater. This is what true excellence means. It is not a finite goal. It is an attitude that is continuous and has no end. Regardless of how great a person's accomplishment is, he should view this as step and an example to producing an even greater achievement. Of course, one should be proud of his accomplishments, but, at the same time, when one views a big accomplishment as the end of a path, one ceases to be excellent. The path from that point is downward. Instead, the path must always be upwards, striving to reach an even greater goal.

Further inspection of the next Biblical verse (verse 14 in the same chapter) states what Isaac gained - cattle, sheep, etc. numerous possessions. It is the end of that verse (verse 14) that states, "The Phillistines were jealous of him."

How sad that is! Notice that the verse did not state that they were envious of his possessions or his success, but they were envious of him, as a whole. In the end, the Phillistine king, Abimelech chased Isaac away because he and his people couldn't handle such envy and the competition. (Eventually, though, Abimelech relented, apologized, and made a peace pact with Isaac.)

The Phillistines, sadly, did not look as Isaac as a mentor. They could have asked Isaac how he became successful, and perhaps learned from him. Had they done that, perhaps, they would have become a more prosperous people and tribe. Instead, they became a savage, warrior group of people who brutally killed others and prided themselves on their physical strength.

Sadly, the way the Phillistines acted then, is common practice in numerous societies. Envy can be constructive when people use it as a means to learn and emulate someone else's success and moral behavior. Sadly, envy, more often results in distrust, hostility, and often, war.

If you know of someone else who is successful, don't be jealous. Learn from their knowledge. If you ask, they will, most likely tell you. Any truly successful person is smart enough to know that there is enough space in the world for success to be shared without detracting from his own success. If you have achieved greatness, why not make the first step and be a mentor to others?


Sunday, June 24, 2007

Using del.icio.us

I went on del.icio.us I had seen this reference on a number of sites during the past several years, and I thought it was a cute name, but I never paid attention to what this link was or even believed that a link with this name was "real". Now, through this course, I can see that a tool like this wouldl make a lot of sense for my course.

I can see using del.icio.us both at work as well as for my personal site.
At work, our group designs technical courses. Recently, most of the courses focus on MS Outlook and Excel. We have been delivering classroom training. I have been pushing a gradual (but agressive) trend towards supplementing the classes with on-line resources. (It will take a while to wean my place away from fear of the internet. Believe it or not, the majority of workers in the computer department do not have internet access. Our company likes to play "cop" because they fear that people will be surfing the web. Your typical case of a few bad apples spoiled the whole bunch!) Often, I find useful technical sites that are useful to me as I create the course manuals. (FYI - The majority of the intermediate Excel manual I am now creating was taken from already existing materials and samples on the web. Oh - forgot to mention that my group is one of the "nice guys" that gained an exception to the no internet policy. I guess I should throw a web party for the nice favor!) So, I can see del.icio.us as being a useful if not, in a sense, a necessary site to bookmark, tag, and even share all these web sites with the group.

On a larger scale, after we deliver a class course, I want our users to be self-sufficient and find answers and tips to their technical problems on their own. Many are tech savvy and want to learn. But, again, since they don't have access to the info., (again, no internet allowed) they have to call the help desk (which is what my group does in addition to tech training) to find out how to plug in a computer! Wouldn't it save a lot of time and educate them better if we delicioused (OK, I made it a verb!) a bunch of sites that could show them a video of how to plug in their computer? (Oops! I forgot, you can't view these sites unless your computer is plugged in! Shhh ... don't let this secret out! My technical job may be on the line if some of my users figure this out!)

For this site, the blog currently has manually posted links to useful web sites. I noticed on del.ici.ous there is an option that could update my blog links from my del.icio.us sites. I haven't had a chance to try this option, and I hope I correctly understood that concept. I could see that idea as being extremely useful.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Thoughts on the U.S. Declaration of Independence

I'm going to digress from the discusion trend of the last few posts, since Independence Day is coming soon.
I had a look at the beginning of the Declaration of Independence's text, specifically:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal,
that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness

I'm thinking - is happiness really something worthwhile pursuing, and, more specifically, is this something that the U.S. government should protect as an unalienable right? Happiness is really a state of mind. Yes, life and liberty certainly should be protected and guaranteed by the government. And, there should be equality and a "standard" definition of life and liberty. When people are oppressed and they are not free to make even basic decisions, then they are slaves to someone or something. But happiness has no equal standard definition. My happiness is not yours, so how can the government set an equal standard of what that is?

Oh, I know that the text of the Declaration does not state that you have the right to be happy. It just states that you have the right to pursue being happy. But, when I consider how many things change constantly in my own small environment as well as within the bigger scope of the world, wouldn't it be better if I learned to be happy with the things I have, with what I am now? Shouldn't that be more of a person's immediate goal than spending so much time and effort pursuing some form of happiness?

I think part of the problem is that "happiness" is viewed externally rather than internally. What I mean by that is that we define our own happiness by viewing others. It's the "Keep up with the Jones" mentality. We want what other people have, and we define our happiness by that standard. View a typical TV ad (or a newspaper / magazine ad.) Buy this car because everyone else has it. Few of my friends own convertibles, BTW. Most of them own SUVs or mini-vans. When I was younger, prior to the minvan, most of my friends' parents owned the clunky station wagon that had a few dents and a half-busted bumper. The point is, that these cars worked fine for them, and they were happy with what they had.

I think a large part of the U.S. founding principles was based on the Ten Commandments (at least some of them!) The last commandment is, "Do not covet." So, if you define happiness by competing with your neighbors' and friends' property; desiring what they have; even being envious of what they have - aren't you disobeying this commandment? So, to return to that unalienable right, do we really want a society that pursues this concept?

If I want to find something to pursue, I'd rather pursue peace. I won't get into a definition of what real "peace" is, here. That's something for a different blog post. But, the point is that a fundamental of peace already incorporates the concept of happiness, namely being happy with what I already have, what God has given me, and being happy, most of all to be in one of the greatest countries in the world - one that protects and promotes life and liberty - the United States. And, if you don't think that alone should be reason enough to be happy, look at about 50% of the world's countries and you can see how many people live in fear, are oppressed, and have no freedoms at all.


Monday, June 11, 2007

Moral Learning - Why and How

To begin this discussion, I must state that I believe that the universe was planned and created by God, and that he controls and recreates daily new events. Even if you, personally, ascribe to the evolutionist theory, we can agree that humans were created with a brain that is "superior" to that of all other animals. Humans have the ability to perform complex thinking and to reason in ways that no other animal can.

The "problem" is that nobody supplied us with a manual on how to use the brain properly. As a result we see so many supposedly smart people doing stupid things.

The problem, sadly, is far worse than we may imagine - at least in the United States. The media feeds off American's stupidity and actually talks "down" to a low intelligence level. Schools are lowering their learning expectations, so we are raising a future generation of lower intelligence in this country.

The problem, of course, is not limited to the U.S. Look at many of the leaders of corporations, large and small. Many of them have stupid leaders in charge. You could probably say the same thing about leaders of countries!


The scarier thing is that all these leaders use their power to convince you that their ideas and ways are smart. People buy into the idea, and now another link has been added to the stupidity chain.

Fortuunately, there is a manual that teaches ethics. Between the 2nd Century BCE and 2nd Century CE, Rabbi Judah compiled the Talmud, the Judaic oral code of law. The Talmud contains over 60 volumes or "tractates" covering various parts of Jewish law. One of the tractates is known as Ethics of the Fathers, or, in Hebrew Pirkei Avot. This book is available in English translation in any book store, and in several places on-line. I shall post some on-line resources in the links section in the future.

While this book contains many Judaic rules and adages, many of the ethics apply to humanity as a whole - Jews as well as non-Jews. As a matter of fact, it contains about 60 adages and principles related to learning, as well as more specifically, the responsibilities and relationships of teachers, students, mentors, and friends.

While some of the English translations are quite good, inevitably, no translation can fully capture the subtle nuances inherent in the careful choices of specific Hebrew words and phrases. It is my hope that via both this blog and the companion web site, www.morallearning.com , to explain, glean, and share some insights on the importance and correct methods of applying ethics and morals to improve learning and enhance the way you learn, think, and behave.

If you think about it, there is no reason why the leaders of the world should be stupid, when with some effort, they can become smart and wise. You can be one of these wise leaders!

What is Moral Learning?

Moral Learning is a method to have you think both about what as well as how you learn. Here are some basic question to ask yourself:


  • Do you consider yourself smart, or do you consider yourself wise?
  • How would your close friends consider you?
  • Lastly, do you understand the difference between being smart and wise?
    If you're not sure, then, this blog is probably for you! So let's start by answering that last question.

Smart people are those who know a lot. But, no doubt, you've heard the phrase, "Jack of all trades; Master of none?" What that phrase means, essentially, is that just because you know a lot about different things and subjects, it doesn't mean that you know how to apply that knowledge to good effective use.

When you were in school (or, perhaps, you are now!) did you take notes on every last word the teacher wrote? Did you copy word for word? In elementary school as well as a good deal in high school, I copied everything my teacher wrote on the board or said in class. Then, when it came time to study for the test, guess what? It was torture. It took hours! What was the problem? I didn't paraphrase. Worst of all, I didn't filter out the good from the irrelevant.


In a similar way, knowledge is simply an attempt to glean information and store it in your head. Wisdom is the ability to take that knowledge and filter out the "junk" leaving the things that are relevant and aplicable. Most all, knowledge is latent. It's just information that sits in your brain. That makes you smart, and, there's certainly nothing wrong with being smart. But wisdom is the ability to turn your knowledge into action that changes the world and makes the world a better more ethical place for you and everyone around you. Wisdom is the ability to apply the knowledge to a constantly changing environment.

So, do you think you really understand how to turn your knowledge into wisdom effectively? If you're not sure, or if you think you could use some help (I think we all can,) then, come join this community. Learn from this blog and share your thoughts. You'll be seeing a lot more on learning and ethics, here, in this space.

As a matter of fact, stay tuned for the next entry, where I shall discuss my method to help you learn and become a wiser, more moral person.