Tuesday, 28 April 2009

Chocolate Link To Insomnia?

The claim: Chocolate can be disruptive to sleep.

The fact: Chocolate can stir up feelings of affection and awaken the taste buds, but some people wonder if it can have a less pleasant side effect – keeping them up at night.

Chocolate contains caffeine, as many people know, but in varying amounts depending on the type. A 42.5g Hershey’s milk chocolate bar, for example, contains 9 mg of caffeine – about three times as much as a cup of decaffeinated coffee. However, a dark chocolate Hershey’s candy bar has far more – about 30mg. That is the same as a cup of instant tea and slightly less than a typical cup of brewed tea which contains about 40mg of caffeine.

In other words, a dark chocolate desert, eaten late enough, might leave you counting plenty of sheep.

Chocolate also has other stimulants. One is theobromine, the compound that makes chocolate dangerous to dogs and cats because they metabolise it so slowly. Theobromine, which increases heart rate and causes sleeplessness, is found in small amounts in chocolate, especially the dark variety. The National Sleep Foundation recommends avoiding chocolate – as well as coffee, tea and soft drinks – before bedtime.

However, there is an alternative. White chocolate does not contain any theobromine and little if any caffeine.

The bottom line: Eating chocolate at night may keep you awake.

- The New York Times 

Monday, 27 April 2009

Why Is There So Much Suffering In The World?

There is so much suffering because there is so much sentience, or experience. We are sentient beings. We feel as well as think. We experience life on many levels. Because of that, we can live deeply. But because of that, we can suffer tremendously.

The smarter you are, the more you can suffer. Until you really wise up. Then you can put things into a bigger perspective and endure what before would have been unendurable.

But again, why is there so much suffering? Our freedom is so powerful, we can create enormous suffering for each other. And we do. That explains part of it. Some of that is intentional evil. Some is just stupidity. But even apart from malice and thoughtlessness, suffering enters our lives.

We can’t always say why. We can’t always understand the suffering that we see around us. And this frustrates us. But we can respond to it better than we typically do. And here is a fascinating fact about human life that I’ve noticed. The people who respond to suffering the best seem puzzled and frustrated by it the least. And this itself is something well worth philosophising about.

- Tom Morris 

Sunday, 26 April 2009

A Joke

              A little girl and her mother were out shopping one afternoon when they ran across one of the mother’s old school friends. “How ugly you are!” the little girl blurted out when she was introduced to the woman.
              Horrified, her mother scolded her by saying, “That’s a terrible thing to say to someone!”
              “It was just meant as a joke,” the little girl said lamely.
              Without thinking about what she was really saying, her mother replied, “Well, the joke would have been much better if you’d said to Mrs. Jones, ‘How pretty you are!’”

Saturday, 25 April 2009

Those Were The Days

The following has been making the rounds on the internet. Although I have read it many times, it still brings back vivid memories of days gone by – memories of the innocent years, as well as the harsh times – whenever I read it. If you are one of those born in that era, you will no doubt see the progress of the times. 

To all those who were born in the 50s, 60s and 70s

First we survived with mothers who had no maids. They cooked and cleaned while taking care of us at the same time. We took aspirin, candy floss, fizzy drinks, shaved ice with syrup And diabetes was rare. Salt added to Pepsi or coke was remedy for fever. We had no childproof lids on medicine bottles, doors or cabinets and when we rode our bikes, we had no helmets. As children, we would ride with our parents on bicycle motorcycles. Richer ones in cars without the seatbelts or airbags. Riding in the back of a private taxi is a special treat. We drank water from the tap and not from the bottle. We would spend hours in the fields under bright sunlight, flying our kites. Without worrying about UV rays which never seem to affect us. We go into the jungle to catch spiders without worries of Aedes mosquitoes.

With mere 5 pebbles (stones) would be an endless game. With a ball, we boys would run like crazy for hours. We caught guppies in drains or canals and when it rained we swam there. We share one soft drink with 4 friends from on bottle and no one actually worried about being unhygienic. We ate salty, very sweet and oily food, candies bread and real butter and drank very sweet coffee or tea, ice kachang, but we weren’t over weight because…. We would spend hours repairing our old bicycles and wooden scooters out of scraps and then ride down the hill, Only to find out that we forgot the brakes, after running into the bushes a few times we learn to solve the problem. We did not have Playstations, Nintendos, X-boxes, multiple channels on Cable TV, DVD movies, no surround sounds, no phones, no PC, no internet.

We had Friends. And we went out and found them. We fell out of trees, got cut, broke bones and teeth and we still continued the stunts. We never had birthday parties until we were 21. The idea of a parent bailing us out if we broke the law was unheard of. They actually sided with the law! Yet this generation had produced some of the best risk-takers, problem solvers and inventors ever. The past 40 years have been an explosion of innovation and new ideas. We had freedom, failure, success and responsibility and we learned how to deal with it all.

If you are one of them CONGRATULATIONS! You may want to share this with others who have the luck to grow up as kids, before the government regulated our lives for our own good. And while you are at it, Forward it to your kids so they will know how brave their parents were!

Thursday, 23 April 2009

Learning The Art Of Small Talk

I came across this article decades ago. Being rather shy then, I had hope to pick up some tips on how to open a conversation or respond to one. Guess I must have learned the art of small talk from here. :-)

Many shy people just disdain small talk. While others ‘unselfconsciously’ open conversations with comments about the weather; shy people remain silent because they fear being boring, unoriginal. They are sure that if they ever looked up from the gory pictures in their morning newspaper to say to a neighbouring stranger, “God, what a terrible plane accident,” he or se would snort contemptuously and move to another subway car. They are very wrong!

As your desire to free yourself from the shackles of shyness intensifies, begin to study how others open conversations with strangers. You’ll notice how often people use opening lines that sound inane, clich├ęd, and trite. In movies and books, heroes and heroines exchange clever, witty remarks. In real life, the opposite seems to be the rule.

Small talk helps to unleash the thoughts that are on the tip of everyone’s tongue. To be sure, even the most ordinary citizens have profound inner reflections on death, humour, love, sex, and religion buried in the deep recesses of their mind. But, for whatever reason, the great majority of the people you come across in this world would rather leave their complex thoughts where they are, particularly when first getting to know a stranger.

Granted, small talk can appear boring, unchallenging, even hypnotizing in its dullness. It sometimes feels like sawdust in your mouth. But once you discover its immense power to interest your fellow women and men, to make them feel good, to help them to trust and like you, you can begin to employ it whenever you see someone you are drawn to.

From there it’s easy to continue on to topics more profound and fulfilling. But there’s nothing like small talk to get things off the ground. If you’re not convinced, just spend the next few weeks eavesdropping on the people around you. You’ll be astonished at the frequency with which small talk is used in office reception areas, at lunch counters, in pubs, on commuter trains and buses. And you’ll be even more astonished at its acceptance.

So don’t torture yourself trying to be Shakespeare. It’s not necessary. Don’t clam up because you’re convinced nothing you can think up could possibly impress anyone. People don’t want to be impressed. They want to be liked, listened to, and appreciated. Just keep you ear open for small talk. And practice using it yourself whenever you get the chance.

Small talk works a little like a Ping-Pong game. You serve your opener. The other person relates an anecdote or tells a story while you listen. Then it’s your turn again. There’s no need to be brilliant or personal or deep. Just play the game of friendly small talk. You will find small talk a magnificently powerful way to meet new people.

- Author Unknown

Monday, 20 April 2009

Is happiness Really Possible in Our World?

Yes. It sometimes seems as illusive as anything you can imagine, but it is available in this world. Happiness should never be confused with self-indulgence or even with gleeful giddiness. It is, in the end, less an emotional state than a total state of being. Evil makes it difficult. Suffering tries to hold it at bay. It sometimes seems that so many things hold us hostage in this world that we can never shake free to be truly happy. And how can I be happy today, not knowing what tomorrow will bring? Again, without even worrying about the future, the past itself may weight on you and hold you back from the happiness you crave.

The most insightful philosophers have made it clear that the only moment we ever really possess is the present. And yet the past and the future are constantly trying to assert ownership over us. One of the most important forms of liberation to be attained in this world is freedom from the times that we do not really possess. Haunted by the past or held by hopes of the future, most people never really experience the present moment in all its fullness. And yet this is the foundation for experiencing true happiness.

The great philosophers have made it clear that engagement in a process of working toward worthy objectives, along with other good people – a process that you can enjoy along the way – is a fundamental key to the universally sought state of personal happiness. It is not, for most people, attainable as a solitary pursuit. And it can’t be bought or borrowed. It must be created as the by product of loving, creative activities that make a difference for good in the world.

There are happy people in this world. Actually, there are many. Sometimes you have to move a bit outside the normal spheres of your daily activity to find them. But finding one of them can be an inspiration for life. Being one of them allows you to inspire others for life.

- Tom Morris - 

Sunday, 19 April 2009

Basketball Coach

              The basketball coach stormed into the university President’s office and demanded a raise right then and there. 
              “Please,” protested the college President. “You already make more than the entire History department.’’
              “Yeah, maybe so, but you don’t know what I have to put up with.” The coach blustered. “Look.”
              He went out into the hall and grabbed a jock who was jogging down the hallway. “Run over to my office and see if I’m there.” he ordered. 
              Twenty minutes later the jock returned, sweaty and out of breath. 
              “You’re not there, sir,’’ he reported. 
              “Oh, I see what you mean,’’ conceded the President, scratching his head. “I would have phoned.”

Friday, 17 April 2009

The Road Not Taken

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveller, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less travelled by,
And that has made all the difference.

- by Robert Frost

Wednesday, 15 April 2009

Optical Illusion

Here's a couple of Optical Illusions.

Can you read the words 'OPTICAL ILLUSiON' in the first picture?

Or the word 'EVIL' in 'GOOD' in the second picture?

How about the 'you' in 'me' in the third picture?

Tuesday, 14 April 2009

What’s The Best Time For Exercise?

The claim: Morning is the best time to exercise.

The facts: Without a doubt, exercise at any time of the day beats no exercise at all. However, are there physiological advantages to working out in the morning versus evening, or vice versa?

              In various studies, scientists have found that subjects tend to do slightly better on measures of physical performance – including endurance, strength output, reaction time and aerobic capacity – between 4 and 7pm. 
              The explanations are numerous: the body’s temperature and hormone levels peak in late afternoon, making muscles more flexible and producing the best ratio of testosterone (muscle-building hormone) to cortisol (the hormone that does the reverse). Stress activates cortisol secretion.
              However, these variations have only small effects and studies have shown that the body can adapt to the time of day that you train. 
              In several long-term studies, for example, scientist randomly split people into groups and instructed them to train only in the morning or only in the early evening.
              In the end, the morning exercisers generally did well on tests of physical performance while the evening exercisers did better when tested later in the day. 
              On a practical level, that means that if you plan to run a marathon that starts in the morning, it maybe best to schedule your training runs early in the day.

The bottom line: In general, research suggests that the ideal time to exercise is late afternoon, though the advantages are slight.

- The New York Times 

Monday, 13 April 2009

Can we Ever Really know anything?

Being capable of some knowledge, we can know much more than logical trivialities. And we can know beyond the reach of proof – which is in itself, something well worth knowing.

We know plenty of things about the matters of daily life. We know how we like to be treated. We know that our time is an extremely limited commodity. We know what it feels like to be busy. We know what it feels like to suffer. Philosophy is the attempt to build on those ordinary things that we all realize we know and to come to some extraordinary conclusions about fundamental issues that we don’t usually contemplate in the frantic rush of daily life.

Knowledge doesn’t require universal agreement. It doesn’t even require that everyone I respect should agree with me. Sometimes you or I can be privy to a fact or an inkling of truth that is not universally recognized. A lack of clear-sightedness or perspective on anyone else’s part, though, can never undermine the ability that you have to attain real knowledge by your own means.

In fact the existence of disagreement between ourselves and others is something that can spur us on to further knowledge. If we are open-minded enough to learn from it what is there to be learned. And then we increase our knowledge.

- Tom Morris - 

When someone opposes me, he arouses my attention, not my anger. I go to meet a man who contradicts me, who instructs me. The cause of truth should be the common cause for both. - Montaigne 

Sunday, 12 April 2009

Who Did What To Whom

              Tom and his friend Bob, and a beautiful girl and an old woman are sitting in a train. The train goes through a tunnel. It gets completely dark. 
              Suddenly there is a kissing sound and then a slap! The train comes out of the tunnel. The woman and Tom are sitting there looking perplexed. 
              Bob is bent over holding his face which is red from an apparent slap. 
              The old woman is thinking: “Bob must have tried to kiss that girl and has got slapped."
              Bob is thinking: “Damn it, Tom must have tried to kiss the girl, she thought it was me and slapped me.’’ 
              The girl is thinking: “Bob must have moved to kiss me, and kissed Tom instead and got slapped.”
              Tom is thinking: “If this train goes through another tunnel, I could make another kissing sound and slap Bob again."

Saturday, 11 April 2009

Lesson In Perseverance

Have you watched birds when they have to face adverse circumstances?

They spend day after day weaving their nest, collecting building materials, sometimes brought from distance places, and when it is almost ready and they are prepared to lay eggs, actions of the weather, human beings or other animals destroy the nest which was built with so much care, effort and love.

What does the birds do? Stop and give up? Not at all. They start over, and over again, until the first eggs are laid in the nest.

Many times, just before chicks are born, an animal, a child, a storm once again destroys the nest, but now with its precious contents.

It hurts starting from zero. But in spite of it all, the bird never gives up. It carries on singing and building, building and singing.

Moral of the story:

Even if life hurts you again and again, do not give up! Collect all the bits and pieces of your broken hopes, and dreams, put them together, and go forward again. Do not worry if you get scarred in the process, it is something to be expected.

It does not matter how many obstacles you have to overcome. Do not lose courage. Have faith and keep going. Life is a constant challenge. Accept the challenge, and above all, like the birds keep on Singing!

Thursday, 9 April 2009


Making a decision can be compared to painting a picture. The painter begins with an idea of what he hopes to create on the canvas. If he paints something he doesn’t like, more is involved than simply starting over again. He has already committed his time, energies, paint and canvas to the effort.

In the absence of guaranteed outcomes, many of us decide never to commit our resources. Consequently, our chances of painting satisfactory pictures of our lives are practically nil.

What about those nagging little decisions that hang us up, in which the outcome hardly seems worth the time and energy spent deciding? Why do we have such a difficult, frustrating time with day-to-day choices: which dress to buy, whom to invite to the party, what to have for dinner, how to handle a phone request, where to spend the weekend?

While it might be argued that all of these choices could be very important under special conditions, normally they are not. And yet we agonize over them. These little decisions do have all the elements of a major decision, but they are different in one major respect: they are not critical enough to call for a long and involved decision-making process. In the absence of any process, however, these little decisions can become a hit-or-miss exercise, almost like flipping a coin, which doesn’t convince the decider of the effectiveness of her choice. People in decision-making seminars sometimes declare that they prefer more difficult choices; because they can be more thorough and consequently more confident in the action they take.

But little decisions actually provide an excellent opportunity for you to learn about yourself and about what is involve in a choice. A nagging minor problem may be telling you something about what is important to you or may be related to a major issue in your life. The struggle over buying a dress may relate to anxiety about your appearance and what others think about it. You debate over party invitations may show a concern about the quality of some friendships, or about your lack of self-confidence socially. So a good beginning point for dealing with the little decision is try to identify the source of irritation. You might ask yourself why it is so difficult.

Don’t get hung up on results. Even a good decision can yield poor results, and the best decision-makers can come up with very unsatisfactory outcomes. Instead of wasting your time on regret, try to determine what went wrong in your choice. Think about how you made the decision, how you applied the decision making process so that the results will be better next time.

Your decision is a definition of yourself. Try to be more than what you are at the moment. Try hard to set the ceiling you want on life and know that your expectations for yourself need to be clarified before a decision is possible.

- Adapted from articles on Decisions 

Wednesday, 8 April 2009

Sunset Pictures

Knowing my fascination with pictures of sunset, a friend who travels a fair bit contributed these for my blog - a set of 3 sunset shots of contrasting colours of the same scene.

Thank you Rosie!

Far away in the sunshine are my highest aspirations. I may not reach them, but I can look up and see their beauty, believe in them, and try to follow where they lead. - Louisa May Alcott

Tuesday, 7 April 2009

Run Faster On Coffee

This sounds far-fetched. I wonder if all sports personnel, after reading this, are going to have a cup of coffee before a competition. 

Just a small cup is enough to better your performance by 5 per cent and it works for all sports, say researchers.

              New York – Mr Weldon Johnson first tried caffeine as a performance enhancer in 1998. he was not a coffee drinker but had heard it could make him run faster. So he went to a convenience store before a race and drank a cup of coffee.
              For the first time in his life, he ran 10 km in under 30 minutes.
              “I remember being really wired before the race.” He said. “MY body was shaking.”
              From then on, he was a convert.
              Mr Johnson, a founder of LetsRun.com, would avoid caffeine, even in soft drinks, for a few weeks before he competed in a race, wanting to have the full stimulant effect.
              “It might have been a huge placebo effect but I swore by it,” he said.
              Or maybe, it was not a placebo effect. 
              Caffeine, it turns out, actually works. And it is legal, one of the few performance enhancers that is not banned by the World Anti-Doping Agency.
              Exercise physiologists have studied caffeine’s effects: Does it help sprinters? Cyclists Swimmers? Athletes whose sports involve stopping and starting such as tennis players? The answers are yes and yes and yes and yes.
              From as long ago as 1978, researchers have been publishing caffeine studies. And they concluded that it actually does improve performance. In fact, some experts, such as Dr Mark Tarnopolsky of McMaster University in Canada, are just incredulous.
              “There is so much data on this that it is unbelievable.” He says. “It is just unequivocal that caffeine improves performance. It has been shown in well-respected labs in multiple places around the world.”
              The only new questions are how it exerts its effects and how little caffeine is needed to get an effect.
              For many years, researchers thought the sole reason people could exercise harder and longer after using caffeine was that the compound helped muscles use fat as a fuel, sparing the glycogen stored in muscles and increasing endurance.
              But there were several hints that something else was going on. For example, caffeine improved performance even in short intense bursts of exercise when endurance was not an issue.
              Now, Dr Tarnopolsky and others report that it increases the power output of muscles by releasing calcium that is stored in muscle.
              The effect enables athletes to keep going longer or to go faster in the same length of time. Caffeine also affects the brain’s sensation of exhaustion, the feeling that it is time to stop, that you cannot go on any more.
              The performance improvement in controlled laboratory settings can be 20 to 25 per cent, Dr Tarnopolsky says. But in the real world, the improvement may average about 5 per cent, still significant if you want to get your best time or even win a race.
              Ms Louise Burke, head of sports nutrition department of the Australian Institute of Sport in Canberra, reports that athletes get the full caffeine effect with as little as 1mg of caffeine per kg of body weight. So an 80kg man could drink one small cup of coffee or two cans of Coke to enjoy a lift.
              And even if you are a regular coffee drinker, if you have a cuppa before a race, you will do better, Dr Tarnopolsky says.
              He puts the research to use when he trains and competes. He is an elite triathlete, ski orienteer and trail runner. Besides, he loves coffee: “I love the smell. I love the taste. It is heaven.”

- The New York Times

Monday, 6 April 2009

Is Philosophy Practical?

For whose who wonder about the role of Philosophy, the following is adapted from Tom Morris' answer in "Philosphy For Dummies".

What is it for something to be practical? Something is practical if it helps you to realize your goals. If your goals include knowing who you really are, what life in this world is all about, and what’s ultimately important, then philosophy is eminently practical. 

The greatest philosophers always seek to understand life. They want to attain the deepest perspective they can about this world and about another world that may exist. They take nothing for granted but question and probe in search of illumination, insight, and what some call ‘enlightenment.’

Philosophers want to understand the context within which we live and move and exist. They ponder the most important things in life. They tackle head on some of those most fundamental issues that we too often dance around and never really address.

What illusions are you living under right now? What things do you value that really lack the importance you attribute to them? What could you be ignoring that is really of true value? What assumptions are you making about your life that may be based on appearances and not realities? Most people are chained down by all sorts of illusions. It is the goal of philosophy, to help us all break those chains.

Can philosophers argue endlessly over ultimate issues? Sure. But that doesn’t mean that there are no answers or that the answers don’t matter. There is wisdom to be had in life even where strict proof is not available. And philosophy is the search for the wisdom.

In their look at the great philosophical questions, philosophers ask basic and probing questions about what it is to be a human being in this world, what life is all about, and how we can live in the most satisfying ways. 

However, in philosophy, ultimately, there are no authoritative experts. Consult your intuitions. Philosophy is, at its best, a passionate commitment to pursuing and embracing the most fundamental truths and insightful perspectives about life.

Sunday, 5 April 2009

Telling A Joke

              The inmates of a prison had a joke book they all had memorized. The way they recited jokes was by the number of the joke. Some fellow would call out a number from one to one hundred and all would laugh. 
              A new man in the prison, after studying the book, said he wanted to tell a joke. They said, “Okay, shoot!”
              He said, “Number ten,” but nobody laughed. He said, “This is funny. What’s wrong; why aren’t you laughing?” 
              A fellow nearby said, “Some can tell them and some can’t.”

Wednesday, 1 April 2009

Painted Floor / Mural

Would this mess up your mind? Would you be able to walk in to this bathroom?

This is a ceiling mural in a smoker’s lounge.