Preferred Mind States


I was meditating tonight, and going into the meditation was in a fantastic mood. I’m starting something new, which always excites me (it’s the persisting that’s the downer), and had been listening to Eddie Vedder’s Acoustic Songs.

A common trap in meditation is to judge a session as “good” or “bad”, and usually it’s “good” if we’re not having many unpleasant thoughts, or many thoughts at all. We can easily take an effect of meditation, less unconscious engaging with thoughts, and make a goal of reducing thoughts. All this ends up doing is suppressing thoughts, leading to a kind of dullness.

I was having a “good” session because I felt great, not because there weren’t many thoughts. I wasn’t really doing much meditation – my mind was engaged and hurtling forwards to all the future possibilities, as it usually does.

At the recent retreat I was on, we spent some time on preferred mind states. It’s a paradox in that everyone meditates in order to feel better, become better, yet this grasping after a particular state is one of the blockages. We reject our current state, and wish for some improved future state. Materialists fall into the trap of saying something like “When I buy my new car I’ll be happy”, meditators say “when I progress more in my meditation I’ll be happy”.

I was feeling really sick on one of the days on the retreat. The kind of day which I’d normally spend groaning in bed feeling sorry for myself. Instead, I meditated. It wasn’t fun, but it was interesting, because I was meditating in the kind of state I normally wouldn’t be. It helped me see a mindstate I usually take into meditation.

It’s so easy to look for preferred mind states in meditation, as a result of meditation, and before we start meditating. We may not even start to meditate if we don’t feel “in the right space”.

Instead, try some radical acceptance. However you’re feeling, whatever’s coming up.

Related Posts:

Image from Wikimedia Commons

October 2014 African language Wikipedia and Wiktionary update

It’s only been a few months since my last update on the state of the Wikimedia projects in Africa, but seeing as the Wiki Indaba was held since then, and this weekend is Wikimedia South Africa’s AGM, it’s a good excuse to take another look.

First, the Wiktionaries. Wiktionary is a much less well-known set of projects compared to Wikipedia, and aims to have a dictionary definition for each word in every language.

African Language Wiktionaries

Language 3/8/2009 30/5/2010 15/5/2011 17/6/2014 29/10/2014
Malagasy 142 4,253 - 3,191,393 3,599,084
Afrikaans 14,128 14,669 14,731 15,792 15,794
Swahili 12,956 13,000 13,027 13,885 13,903
Wolof 2,675 2,689 2,693 2,310 2,310
Sotho 1,387 1,389 1,398 1,343 1,343
Zulu 127 131 510 586 587
Rwandi 306 306 306 366 367
Oromo 186 218 264 269 322
Swati 31 371 377 290 290
Amharic 311 319 377 204 206
Tsonga 358 359 363 92 92

In short, besides the Malagasy bot activity that’s creating up a storm, and some flickers in Oromo, spoken mostly in Ethiopia and parts of Kenya and Somalia, not much activity at all. Even, the Afrikaans Wiktionary, which has shown steady, organic, growth in the past, had little activity.

What about the Wikipedias?

African Language Wikipedias

Language 11/2/2011 13/4/2012 9/5/2013 17/6/2014 29/10/2014
Malagasy 3,806 36,767 45,361 47,144 47,061
Afrikaans 17,002 22,115 26,752 31,756 33,392
Yoruba 12,174 29,894 30,585 30,910 30,989
Swahili 21,244 23,481 25,265 26,349 27,021
Amharic 6,738 11,572 12,360 15,968 16,229
Egyptian Arabic   8,433 10,379 12,440 12,934
Somali 1,639 2,354 2,757 3,646 3,680
Shona     1,421 2,077 2,091
Lingala 1,394 1,816 2,025 2,077 2,087
Kabyle     1,503 1,876 1,967
Kinyarwanda   1,501 1,817 1,832 1,834
Hausa - - - - 1,386
Wolof 1,116 1,814 1,161 1,201 1,148
Igbo - - - - 1,017

Two new languages have joined the 1000 club. Hausa, spoken natively in Niger, Nigeria and Chad, but also as a trade language across numerous others, and Igbo, spoken mostly in Nigeria.

While most of the languages are showing some sort of activity, the article count in a couple of languages has dropped. This just means there’s been a cleanup of some articles that perhaps were never worthy of the name. Although there’s been little activity on either, Shona has passed Lingala, while Kabyle is catching up to both.

Afrikaans continues to be the fastest-growing African-language Wikipedia, with a healthy, active community.

Onto the South African languages specifically:

South African Language Wikipedias

Language 19/11/2011 13/4/2012 9/5/2013 17/6/2014 29/10/2014
Afrikaans 20,042 22,115 26,754 31,756 33,392
Northern Sotho 557 566 685 691 966
Zulu 256 483 579 630 686
Tswana 240 490 495 510 513
Swati 359 361 364 400 408
Xhosa 125 136 148 333 380
Tsonga 192 193 240 303 309
Venda 193 190 204 209 208
Sotho 132 145 188 197 202

The pace on most of the South African languages has picked up slightly, with signs of life. Besides Afrikaans, mentioned above, Northern Sotho showed a burst of activity, mainly new date stub pages, but there are fairly regular edits.

Zulu has shown signs of stirring, mostly due to its healthy coverage of porn stars, and probably boasts the highest ratio of porn star to other articles of any Wikipedia language edition. The porn star articles also happen to be some of the most well-endowed compared to the usual stub pages found throughout the Zulu and most African-language editions.

I’m very happy to see that Xhosa continues to show good relative growth, and that it’s newfound life in June wasn’t just a reaction to Wikimedia ZA announcing in April that its attempts to activate it had been put on hold due to lack of success, but seems to be sustaining itself.

Otherwise, not too much to note, although Sotho is closing in on Venda as it tries to haul itself off the bottom spot.

As always, I should mention that article count is an imperfect metric. It’s possible to have higher article counts with not much activity (stubs or bot-creations), but the reverse isn’t possible, and it’s a reasonable indicator of the signs of life.

Related articles

Image from Wikimedia Commons

Testing misleading organic and natural claims

I was excited this week to come across TOPIC, an organisation formed to test the authenticity of natural and organic product claims. I’ve had in mind forming an operation just like they have – there’s such a need for it – so I’m very happy someone else has done it and there’s no need for me to!

Organic food is just the way things should be. Food produced in a way that doesn’t harm, and doesn’t endanger farm and farm communities. Farmers, and particularly farmworkers, work in some of the most hazardous conditions, breathing in and spraying pesticides on crops, and it’s heartbreaking so that so many give their financial support to products that further marginalise, or that have caused such harm so they can look pretty on the supermarket shelves.

It’s an obvious choice.

So while organic is better for everyone involved, it’s unfortunately also seen as a luxury, as elitist, something that can be more profitable, so there’s the temptation for producers to mislabel in order to charge more.

It wasn’t uncommon, while I was at Ethical Co-op, to be approached by a supplier whose claims didn’t hold up under scrutiny.

TOPIC allows people to nominate products they’d like to see tested, and, after a voting process, the selected products will be bought from three different locations, and sent to the laboratory (or laboratories – this part isn’t clear yet) for testing.

This provides a great way for organic farmers and producers,especially those that are not certified, to prove that their products are actually organic, as well as to test out products that there are questions about.

I’m looking forward to contributing and seeing the first products coming through, and expect to see some embarrassed faces soon.

Image from Wikimedia Commons

You’re fat, and the 7-minute workout

You're fat?

I paid a visit to the Ethical Co-op warehouse the other day, and Thembi, one of the warehouse staff who’s been there from the very early days, greeted me with a loud “You’re fat!” as I walked in.

I was a little taken aback and didn’t have an immediate response, so she carried on “Yes! You were so skinny when you used to come to the warehouse, and now you’re fat. That’s good, you were too skinny. No stress anymore!”

I know she means “fat” as a compliment, but I’m not quite sure how I feel about her kind words.

Which brings me to the Seven-minute workout. This was a routine developed in 2013 by researchers in Orlando, using the latest research to design the best possible exercise routine, aimed in particular at office workers who don’t do enough exercise in general.

High-intensity interval training is today recognised as providing the most efficient returns for your time. Essentially, bursts of mayhem with brief rest periods between.

It’s claimed that just a few minutes of training at close to maximum capacity (that’s the high-intensity part) can produce molecular changes within muscles similar to those of several hours of running or bicycle riding.

The seven minute workout claims to work out all major muscle groups and give a combination of metabolic and resistance work. The exercises can all be performed from home, without any need for special equipment.

I was sold. Actually, it was the seven-minutes that did it. Egoscue involves long periods of lying in one position, and an abridged routine can easily be 30 minutes. Tai chi? Well, it’s wonderfully beneficial, but it doesn’t exactly build Hulk Hogan arm muscles (if it does, you’re doing it all wrong).

The extremely erratic exercises I would do before involved much pausing to admire the dust mites on the floor between repetitions, so perhaps not as intense as required.

A walk in the forest or on the mountains? Great, but, as well-served as Cape Town is, it takes me more than seven minutes just to get there, and a bit longer to get to the top (unless I’m ‘walking’ with Craig, in which case seven minutes to the top is about right).

So, how does it work?

Each exercise is done for 30 seconds, as intensely as possible, followed by a ten-second rest. The exercises are:

  • Jumping jacks
  • Wall sit
  • Push-up
  • Abdominal crunch
  • Step-up onto chair
  • Squat
  • Triceps dip on chair
  • Plank
  • High knees/running in place
  • Lunge
  • Push-up and rotation
  • Side plank

You can download an app on your phone to help keep track of the order and timings, and go to the New York Times article to read more.

So, how has the routine been for me? Well, I’m convinced that what Thembi saw as “fat” is simply the buildup of lean muscle around my stomach, so I’d say it’s working out quite well. Though I have upped the frequency and occasionally doubled up on abdominal crunches. Just in case.

Related posts:

Image from Wikimedia Commons.

Leaving the Ethical Co-op

Ethical veggies
Way back in April, a lifetime ago that seems like yesterday, I stepped down from the Ethical Co-op, which I’d been involved with from the very beginning in 2005.

There were about 10 founders, mostly drawn from two communities. Permacore, the Permaculture Foundation of South Africa, which is no longer running, and the Community Exchange System, a system designed to do away with the need for banks and central currency, which still is.

The vision was to source and support ethical produce. Organic food was hard to come by, and much of it organic in name only. Many of us used to visit the same places to get the best food, so pooling our efforts and getting them to bring it to us made sense.

The founding members all paid for their first orders, about R200 on average, and so, with a massive startup capital of R2000, it all began. To date, except for a loan from myself to purchase a vehicle, that was the only financial investment it ever had.

Yet, somehow, it’s still going 9 years later. Many other businesses, sometimes with huge financial investment and far greater financial resources, have splashed, crashed and burned.

What was lacking in money was made up for in time, however, with many people making hefty contributions.

From the beginning, and over most of its existence, there was a great team of people involved, feeding off each other’s energy. The skillset was diverse – I had an IT background and built the systems it runs on, and everybody dived in where they could.

Over time, the original members left. Some were no longer able to commit so much time for so little money or better and more interesting opportunities came along. Until, eventually, of the original members, it was just me left. It became a drain on my energy, most of my involvement was spent doing things I don’t enjoy: HR, finances, driving trucks (ok, that one is quite fun, but not so much unexpectedly at 7am after 4 hours sleep), packing boxes, customer service. I think over the years I’ve performed every role there was to perform.

The drain on my time meant I was missing other opportunities, saying no to friend’s invitations, missing my son Dorje’s school activities. And finally, when my mother was dying, it became something I resented, not allowing me the energy or time to share the process with her as I would have liked.

With my father ill at the beginning of this year, I’d finally had enough, and it was time to move on. There was only one viable person to hand it over to at the time, which was Anique, Dorje’s mom, who was involved at the time. At first she wasn’t keen to continue without me, so out went the closure letters to suppliers and customers.

But after an outpouring of support (people usually only say what things mean when it’s too late), she decided to continue it, and I was happy that something I’d put so much love and sweat into would be continuing.

Leaving was hard. I’d put so much energy into it, and the vision many of us had for it, although never actualised, always felt just around the corner.

But I was happy to leave, and have been enjoying a resurgence in energy and the time to explore new things.

When the site launched, in September 2005 if I remember (so this month is its 9th birthday), the code I wrote was already a jumbled mush of spaghetti, thanks to scope creep of the sort comparable to driving to the shops for milk turning into a 3-week trip across Namibia. Eventually it turned into what’s there today, with an automated backend that allows a tiny team to keep things running.

Still today, all the products are listed on one page, a legacy of its original conception as a ‘box scheme’, where a customer would choose from 15 or so items to put in a box. Now there are hundreds of items. Some people hate the long page, but I love it as a customer. It makes searching for items instantaneous, and placing an order very quick.

There were lots of things to enjoy. Being the kind of business it was, designed to do good rather than make its shareholders or founders rich, it attracted lots of inspiring people, who worked for very little reward. Inspiring is not a word I use loosely – I really was inspired and energised by the people I worked with.

There were some tough times too. As with any group of people, there were personal conflicts, differences of opinion. An early test was asking a key founding member to leave. The other members all agreed that this was needed, and it fell to me to tell the person who’d brought me into the project, and was responsible for so much of the early energy, to leave. The person wasn’t happy, and spread all sorts of rumours afterwards, but it was the right thing to do, and the rest of us continued with a new lightness and purpose.

I lost count of the number of times it was called the ‘unethical’ co-op, often for the most trivial of reasons (“My carrots had their tops chopped off this week! I like to use them, and now you’ve chopped them off! How can you call yourselves ethical, you should be called unethical!)

But the accusation never hit home, as the the name always reflected an intention that we did our best to live up to. It saddens me to see something that should be the norm, healthy, organic food, where animals roam free and are well-treated, becoming a marketing slogan, an excuse to price gouge, a race to meet the lowest standard that meets the term. Supermarkets offering free range and organic produce that meets the letter (and sometimes not even that), but is far from the spirit of the term. Food at markets that claims or is assumed to be organic, beautifully displayed, but that I know is simply the conventional food being resold at an expensive price. The prevalence of pesticide-laden farms, with workers facing higher rates of asthma and other health conditions, all while the pesticide fumes they live in are claimed to be ‘safe’.

I still buy almost all my food from the Ethical Co-op. It’s clear where the food is grown, I still know many of the farms where the food is grown, and they’re of a scale that can support small producers, a dire need in a country with so many small suppliers all at the mercy of giant chains squeezing them for every cent.

It was a fun eight and a half years that I’m already looking at through rose-tinted glasses. Thanks to everyone who was part of the journey. Good luck to Anique and all the remaining staff, I hope you can make a thriving success of it.

Modern American Cryptographic Poetry

Having a little bit more free time these days, and suffering from an extreme compulsion to spend all this free time, I signed up for two Coursera courses at the same time. Both of them are lots of fun, but both are also a little more time-consuming than the ones I’ve done before, so I’ll probably be dropping one.

Which one to stick with, Modern American Poetry or Cryptography?

Although they’re both fun, it’s no contest. Modern American Poetry includes some of my favourite poets (Allen Ginsberg and Walt Whitman), is introducing me to some new and related poets I’d never read before, and is a fantastic format. It’s fast paced, with lots of poems each week, and, unlike other courses featuring a video lecture by a professor, contains video discussions, a tut group featuring the course co-ordinator and a number of his students.

Even more unusually, for the first time I’m finding the Coursera forums highly stimulating. Overall, the forums shed far more light on the poems than the interesting videos, with so many interesting perspectives.

It’s the most fun I’ve had in ages.

It’s probably too late to sign up for this one, but I highly recommend registering for the next one.

And even if poetry is not your thing, how can you resist James Earl Jones (Darth Vader’s voice) reading from Walt Whitman’s Song of Myself.

Related posts:

Image from Wikimedia Commons.

A comparison of WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger and Telegram permissions on Android

Recently I’ve seen quite a few postings of the article The Insidiousness of Facebook Messenger’s Mobile App Terms of Service , claiming you should remove your Facebook Messenger because of the control the app has over your Android device. Many have suggested Telegram instead, which I’ve been using a while. “Using”, I should add, in the same sense I would use a carrier pigeon. It’s nice to have, but there aren’t many others to share the fun with.

So how bad is the Facebook app compared to others? Here’s a comparison between the permissions demanded by Facebook Messenger, Telegram and Whatsapp on Android:

Permission Facebook Messenger Telegram WhatsApp
Retrieve running apps No No Yes
Find accounts on the device Yes Yes Yes
Find accounts on the device No Yes Yes
Read your own contact card Yes Yes Yes
Read your own contact card Yes Yes Yes
Read contacts Yes Yes Yes
Modify your contacts No Yes Yes
Approximate location (network-based) Yes Yes Yes
Precise location (GPS and network-based) Yes Yes Yes
Edit your text messages Yes No No
Receive text messages (SMS) Yes Yes Yes
Read your text messages Yes No No
Send SMS messages Yes No Yes
Receive text messages (MMS) Yes No No
Directly call phone numbers Yes No Yes
Read call log Yes No No
Test access to protected storage Yes Yes Yes
Modify or delete contents of your USB storage Yes Yes Yes
Take pictures and videos Yes Yes Yes
Record audio Yes Yes Yes
View wifi connections Yes Yes Yes
Read phone status and identity Yes Yes Yes
Read sync statistics No No Yes
Receive data from internet Yes Yes Yes
Download files without notification Yes No No
Run at startup Yes Yes Yes
Prevent device from sleeping Yes Yes Yes
View network connections Yes Yes Yes
Install shortcuts Yes No Yes
Change your audio settings Yes No Yes
Read Google service configuration Yes Yes Yes
Draw over other apps Yes Yes No
Full network access Yes Yes Yes
Read sync settings Yes Yes Yes
Read sync statistics No No Yes
Control vibration Yes Yes Yes
Change network connectivity Yes No No
Toggle sync on and off No No Yes
Use accounts on the device No No Yes
Modify system settings No No Yes
Uninstall shortcuts No No Yes

The permissions that have got most people worried, with visions of their phone starting to video them and record their conversations, “Take pictures and videos” and “Record audio”, are shared by all the apps. In Android’s permission system, they’re required to function. So if you want to use the chat functionality, you have to give the app these permissions. If the software is proprietary (Facebook and Whatsapp), you’ll need trust the company behind the app (Facebook owns Whatsapp as well). Telegram is open source, and therefore anyone can (and does) check the code. If you’re worried about security, you should be as concerned about what happens to your messages and data in transit, and here the best option I know of right now is Telegram, which is designed with a focus on privacy.

Now if only more people would use it…

“As I went out one morning”, better known as “OOH AH”

Many years ago, it wouldn’t have been uncommon to find me screeching in my bedroom. If you could stand the racket, you may have made out some of the words. “Ayee yeaaah ah, OOH AH”.

It’s not really surprising that, given what I remembered, even in the age of Google, I couldn’t track down the band responsible for all those primal grunts.

Until recently that is. Thanks to Brian Currin’s Top 40 Rock Legends, I rediscovered Tribe after Tribe. Shockingly, they didn’t even have an English Wikipedia article. Happily this is now rectified (a German version of the article did already exist). The song is actually a cover of a Bob Dylan song, but for me, Tribe after Tribe’s will always be the original.

Enough words, here’s the music:

June 2014 African Wikipedia and Wiktionary update

This weekend sees the first Wiki Indaba, a gathering of African Wikimedians. Since my last look at the state of African language Wikimedia projects was in May 2013, and my last look at Wiktionary (the dictionary project, not as widely-known as its more popular sister, Wikipedia) was way back in 2011, it’s time for an update.

African Language Wiktionaries

Language 3/8/2009 30/5/2010 15/5/2011 17/6/2014
Malagasy 142 4,253 - 3,191,393
Afrikaans 14,128 14,669 14,731 15,792
Swahili 12,956 13,000 13,027 13,885
Wolof 2,675 2,689 2,693 2,310
Sotho 1,387 1,389 1,398 1,343
Zulu 127 131 510 586
Rwandi 306 306 306 366
Swati 31 371 377 290
Oromo 186 218 264 269
Amharic 311 319 377 204
Tsonga 358 359 363 92

The startling progress of Malagasy is most notable, and here it seems bot activity is primarily responsible. Malagasy is one of the more interesting languages linguistically, so it’s not surprising it’s attracting interest. Afrikaans and Swahili also showed some activity in the last year, while other languages are static, with many showing a reduction in the number of articles due to cleanups.

What about the Wikipedias?

African Language Wikipedias

Language 11/2/2011 13/4/2012 9/5/2013 17/6/2014
Malagasy 3,806 36,767 45,361 47,144
Afrikaans 17,002 22,115 26,752 31,756
Yoruba 12,174 29,894 30,585 30,910
Swahili 21,244 23,481 25,265 26,349
Amharic 6,738 11,572 12,360 15,968
Egyptian Arabic   8,433 10,379 12,440
Somali 1,639 2,354 2,757 3,646
Lingala 1,394 1,816 2,025 2,077
Shona     1,421 2,077
Kabyle     1,503 1,876
Kinyarwanda   1,501 1,817 1,832
Wolof 1,116 1,814 1,161 1,201

Afrikaans continues to show the most consistent growth and the healthiest community. Yoruba overtook Afrikaans thanks mostly to a burst of bot activity, but Afrikaans has now once again overtaken it. Malagasy, again thanks to bot activity, is well ahead, but the consistent growth in Afrikaans means it is closing the gap, and has higher quality articles.

Of the other African languages, Amharic, Egyptian Amharic, Somali and Shona are all showing reasonable activity, so the signs are good.

Focusing on South Africa specifically:

South African Language Wikipedias

Language 19/11/2011 13/4/2012 9/5/2013 17/6/2014
Afrikaans 20,042 22,115 26,754 31,756
Northern Sotho 557 566 685 691
Zulu 256 483 579 630
Tswana 240 490 495 510
Swati 359 361 364 400
Xhosa 125 136 148 333
Tsonga 192 193 240 303
Venda 193 190 204 209
Sotho 132 145 188 197

I’ve discussed the success of the Afrikaans Wikipedia above, and the other language showing good progress has been Xhosa, which survived the proposal to close it in 2013. Wikimedia ZA announced in their April newsletter that they were diverting resources away from Xhosa, after numerous failed attempts to activate the language.

However, in March, the Xhosa Wikipedia started to show signs of life. For a small Wikipedia, all it takes is one or two active editors, and Xhosa has found one, so the article count, as well as the article quality, has jumped noticeably. Xhosa has leapt from last place (excluding Ndebele, which is the only South Africa official language not to have its own Wikipedia) to sixth, above Tsonga, Venda and Sotho.

The other Wikipedias are still only showing flickering signs of interest, and have only a small number of new articles.

Related articles

Image from Wikimedia Commons

Before, you are wise, after, you are wise. In between, you are otherwise.