under the weather

Looks like we’re in for a bit of a rough summer. We’ve already had some really hot days followed by fierce storms, and some hail too. And it’s only the start of November!

There’s also been a lot of dust and pollen in the air recently, and my workplace has just gotten something done to the aircon, so the air’s been quite cold and dry too. As a result, my sinuses have been suffering, and they’ve made sure I’m well aware of it.

Having come through winter relatively unscathed, I suppose this is just a small inconvenience, but it’s inconvenient all the same.

Still, one ought to be grateful that one has a home, and a sofa on which good books can be read and enjoyed. I think that will be my week-end taken care of.

worth sharing

Only a short post this week because this week has been exhausting (I finished work at 10pm on Thursday – a new record for me). Actually, barely even a post. I’m just going to share this list of TED Talks because it is actually worth sharing. It comes with summaries, so I won’t say more.

Thank goodness it’s a long week-end now.

quick post, slow lane

On my drive to work in the morning, when traffic is starting to get bad, I’ve noticed that I’ve developed a habit of tracking my progress relative to the cars in the next lane. I think I’ve always had a tendency to read other people’s number plates (being the compulsive reader that I am), but it was just out of interest to see what words or phrases I could come up with, or to see what personalised plates people had.

But in the mornings, after I enter the freeway, I commit a few number plates to my short-term memory, and try to figure out if my usual lane is faster, or if I should switch (and then switch back when needed). Often it’s a bit of leap-frog, and I think the overall difference is not significant enough to warrant manoeuvring through traffic when so many other cars are already jumping between lanes. Sometimes I think that I should have changed lanes, but sometimes I’m quite glad I didn’t.

In recent weeks, when I notice that I’m doing this progress tracking, I stop myself and wonder why I do it. Is it just my competitive side coming out? Is it my need to analyse everything, perhaps with the intent of making my commute more efficient? Or am I just trying to make this repetitive trip more interesting?

Sometimes when I get to these questions, I stop looking at the number plates of other cars, and I just tell myself that I’ll get to work around the same time either way — just relax and enjoy the ride.

uncovering hidden figures

Last week-end, I started reading Hidden Figures by Margot Lee Shetterly. It’s a non-fiction book about the African American women who, as the cover states, “helped win the space race”. I’m only a couple of chapters in, but I’m already fascinated by what I’ve learnt so far.

To be fair, I know very little about space exploration, engineering or physics, so it probably seems extra insightful to me, but it is thought-provoking in other ways too.

At the start, Shetterly writes about what it was like for her to grow up in Hampton, Virginia, with a father who was a NASA research scientist. There were a lot of African American women who worked there as “computers” — essentially mathematical geniuses — and to her, it was always normal to see African American women in this role. It was only later that it occurred to her how significant and under-acknowledged they were.

It really goes to show how one’s view of the world and the future can be shaped by the environment in which one grows up. It made me think of all the uproar many years ago about how girls’ toys were very limiting in their scope — always about fashion and beauty and cute things — but boys’ toys were more about action and adventure. It is easier to aspire to something greater if you are shown what is possible.

Early on, Shetterly introduces Dorothy Vaughan, one of the mathematical geniuses. Dorothy was originally a high school teacher, but applied for other jobs over the summer break to help provide for her family. One summer, in the midst of WWII, she applied for two jobs: one to launder uniforms for the military (a job that would, surprisingly, pay better than what she was getting as a teacher (African American teachers were paid much lower than their white counterparts)), and the other to the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA).

The book is written really well, in a conversational way, and I’m quite keen to keep reading, so this is all for this week’s post. I will almost certainly write more about this book as I read it.

hold your breath

A few years ago, I drafted a blog post about how I sometimes hold my breath when I walk past bins or smokers or people who, for one reason or another, look like they might smell. I never finished writing this post, and never published it because I thought it was too weird. 

(But I don’t mean to be judgemental. Sometimes it’s obvious that someone has just been to the gym, or maybe I’m out running, and there are other sweaty people out running. And it’s not always body odour — sometimes people who exercise wear too much deodorant.)

A few weeks ago, a friend of mine shared an article that detailed the findings of a Belgian study on the kinetics of exhaled air/vapour during exercise. Specifically, the study looked at walking, running and cycling; and the aim was to determine whether or not it was safe to walk/run/cycle behind or beside someone, with a view to minimising transmission of airborne viruses.

As it turns out, you probably want to stay at least five metres away from other runners, and stay further away from other cyclists, if that is your exercise of choice. 

Recently, I’ve noticed that I hold my breath more and more when I walk past people — perfectly normal-looking people with no suggestion of body odour or excessive fragrance usage, and not even a cigarette in hand.

The other day, I happened to walk past a man in the street, and he turned his face away from me as we passed each other. Perhaps it was just a coincidence, and perhaps he happened to see something interesting across the road, but maybe he was holding his breath too.

Who’s the weird one now, hey?

Meditations: within reach

Recently I’ve had a certain passage from Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations circulating around in my mind. As with other thoughts that float around in my head, I thought I’d record it here on my blog. I think it’s worth sharing too.

Do not imagine that, if something is hard for you to achieve, it is therefore impossible for any man: but rather consider anything that is humanly possible and appropriate to lie within your own reach too.
(Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, Book 6, Chapter 19)

Perhaps a good reminder in these uncertain and ever-changing times.

Perhaps, also, a good reminder for me as I continue to try to learn how to play the piano!

I wonder what prompted Marcus Aurelius to record this particular meditation. I wonder what could have possibly put self-doubt in the mind of a Roman emperor; or maybe it was just pre-emptive, anticipating the mind’s natural tendency to recoil from difficult and laborious endeavours.

Anyway, I don’t think the passage needs much more explanation, elaboration or deconstruction. Just something to remember in hard times.