Árstíðir – Heyr himna smiður (Icelandic hymn) in train station

This is not normally what I would listen to, but the acoustics in this train station are just perfect for this 800 year old Icelandic hymn. If you can block out the train station announcements, you’ll feel like you were transported to a massive medieval church.

It is great to see these talented musicians have exceeded their expectations with their Kickstarter Campaign. They have now moved into the Toppstöðin abandoned power plant, which is helping to inspire and shape their third album.

Visit their website for more music


B H4appy

Be Happy

I love two things about this number plate:

  1. The message – hopefully someone that is in a road rage moment will read it and rethink their extreme reaction
  2. I love that the human brain can happily convert that “4” into an “A” – we take so many things for granted, but the computing power to do abstract tasks such as reading is immense. Look at how long we have been trying to create robots that can carry out simple daily tasks, and we are still well chart of the ease and accuracy the brain can achieve.

Inspirational people – Nick Vujicic

“I am thankful to have been born 30 years ago with no arms and no legs” is the opening sentence on Nick’s webpage. With such an amazing attitude it is no wonder he now spends his time touring the globe as a motivational speaker. This wonderful attitude came about not through some innate joy that had always filled his soul, but through overcoming adversity and more importantly through a conscious decision on his part to appreciate his abilities and his loved ones.

Born and raised in Melbourne, Australia, he arrived in this world without limbs and only a left foot, which he affectionately calls his “chicken drumstick”, to manipulate objects. A supportive family tried to provide him with a relatively normal life and a loving environment, but Nick could not in visage a bright future ahead and became depressed. At age 10 he decided to end his life by drowning myself in a bathtub. However, after a couple attempts, he realized that he did not want to leave his loved ones with the burden and guilt that would result from his suicide.

The real change in his attitude came at age thirteen, when he injured his foot, which he uses for many things like typing, writing and swimming. It was this injury, that could well have been the final straw for most people. Instead it made him decide to be more thankful for his abilities and be less focused on his disabilities.

At age seventeen he was convinced by a school janitor to speak to people about his motivation and beliefs. After a few small engagements he found himself in front of three hundred students. His nerves soon subsided as he realized that within minutes half the girls were crying, and most of the boys were struggling to control their emotions. One young girl raised her hand: “I am so sorry to interrupt, but can I come up and hug you?”. As she hugged Nick, she whispered in his ear, “Thank you, thank you, thank you. No one has ever told me that they loved me and that I am beautiful the way I am.”

This touching moment inspired Nick to venture on a speaking tour that spanned 44 countries and 2,000 engagements. He realized that we all need love and hope and that he was in a unique position to share that with people around the world.

He worked with a speaking coach on developing his presentation skills: “He especially worked on my body language as my hands flew everywhere at first!”.

So if you are ever feeling down on yourself, feel like something is out of your reach or just want to give yourself a boost, then watch the video below. In Nicks words: “Dream big my friend and never give up. We all make mistakes, but none of us are mistakes. Take one day at a time. Embrace the positive attitudes, perspectives, principles and truths I share, and you too will overcome.”

Visit Nick’s website

8-year-old takes up fight against childhood hunger

Via Huffington Post

8-year-old William Winslow of Raleigh, N.C., has taken it upon himself to fight childhood hunger in his community.

It all started a year ago, when William heard about BackPack Buddies, a hunger-relief program run by Inter-Faith Food Shuttle. Moved by the idea of young children in his community going without food, he decided to forgo the usual gifts and turned his 7th birthday into a donation drive.

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Unwilling to rest on his laurels, he then proceeded to ask his mother to drive him to the local grocery store so he could convince the manager to start a food drive. His motivation was simple “I can’t stand the thought of my classmates being hungry” and in that unencumbered childhood way he went for it.

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The inaugural food drive, in 2013, raised $305 and amassed 1,400 pounds of food. A fantastic result, but William wasn’t going to stop there. 

This year he involved four grocery stores, a restaurant, his parents and around 50 volunteers. Together they gathered 3,335 pounds of food and more than $3,000 in donations. enough to feed at least 16 children for an entire year.

William has the goal of eradicating childhood hunger. He has received a $500 grant from the Sodexo Foundation, which works to end childhood hunger, and with it he wants to grow the program further. In William’s words:  “I see no kids hungry”.

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“It took my breath away. He just believes with his whole heart that he can help make this better. He doesn’t understand why people wouldn’t help kids in need,” said his father. “He just wants to help feed hungry kids and he expects others to help him. I don’t think he gets how inspiring he is or how incredible it is to be so empathetic at such a young age.”

Perhaps we should all take a page out of his book. 

Via Huffington Post

3D printing helps baby breathe

I just love it when human ingenuity and technology create amazing medical breakthroughs.

Poor Garrett Peterson was born with a defective windpipe. A condition, known as tracheomalacia, means that his trachea is so weak that it can collapse at any time and cut off his ability to breathe. Something as innocuous as changing a diaper or a small tantrum, could cause him to stop breathing.

The family reached out to a specialist Dr. Glenn Green at the University of Michigan, who teamed up with Scott Hollister, a biomedical engineer. Together they created a 3D printed device capable of holding open Garrett’s airway until it’s strong enough to work on its own.

Taking exact scans they used the 3D printer to create an external splint for the windpipe, that would be attached surgically, but would eventually be resorbed by the body and be replaced by Garrets own tissues.

As with all experimental surgery it was high risk. Special approvals were required and it was a scary choice for the parents. However, given that Garrett had not been able to leave the hospital for the first 16 months of his life and the fearful episodes could happen any day, the parents chose to take the risk.

At the time of the original article Garrett was still in hospital, but was doing far better and starting to respond more like a normal 16 month old. Fingers crossed he continues to improve at the same rate!

The options for 3D printing are endless, especially now that scientists have even used human tissue to print skin and blood vessels. Imagine getting a hip or knee replacement using your own culture grown bone. Personalized spare parts!

Are happiness and fulfillment mutually exclusive?

I stumbled across this fascinating article by Emily Esfahani Smith: There’s more to life than being happy

In it she talks to Roy Baumeister who’s research seems to indicate that the pursuit of meaning is what makes us all uniquely human. Discarding our selfish interests in pursuit of service to someone or something larger than ourselves, and “giving” rather than “taking”, we  acknowledge that that there is more to a good life than the pursuit of simple happiness.

Interestingly some of the research goes as far as to say that, in order to lead a meaningful life one must contemplate the future and the past. This in turn can actually reduce your happiness. Presumably because one contemplates negative so well as positive events. In contrast the happiest people, live for the moment and think almost exclusively about the present.

I come from the world of double blind experiments and placebos, and am always cautious about research that extrapolates conclusions from what may well be a biased and very small sample group. Surveys are notoriously unreliable and cultural differences are always interesting to add to the mix. Take for example the German word “Schadenfreude” – yes the joy of laughing at others misfortune. Surely a culture that has a word for such a thing must have different way of looking at happiness. 

Emily goes on to quote Kathleen Vohs, who explains that “Happy people get a lot of joy from receiving benefits from others while people leading meaningful lives get a lot of joy from giving to others,”. Ah, now that sounds like people leading meaningful lives can also be happy!

Ah, to oversimplify and generalize is so much fun. What if we could do both! Shoot for the moon and be meaningfully happy. After all if meaning can derive happiness, why not commit meaningful acts that you enjoy. I personally like being happy and I like helping others, does that make me odd? If so, I’ll get over it 🙂 



Can one love everything?

A good friend of mine is fond of saying: “people that love everything make me suspicious”. As a slowly reforming cynic I would have to agree with him.

I guess it is my black and white Swiss roots, but it is OK for people not to agree with me or not to like something, but I don’t understand why people need to pretend they do.

SoCal is a beautifully optimistic place. It adds another dimension to an already positive American attitude and an innate belief that anything is possible. It is wonderful, contagious and allows people to bounce right back from failure. Compare this to the Swiss that often fear to dream let alone realize their dreams. It is wonderful.

However, in this bubble of positivity exists a plasticity and falsehood. Why do people feel the need to rave and praise things that they do not like. Why lie? Praise the person’s determination, their ingenuity or their zeal, but be true to yourself. We are all different and we see things in different ways. That is OK. Accept the differences and be honest.

People will come in and out of our lives, it is a natural cycle.

“I think about all the different ways we leave people in this world. Cheerily waving good-bye to some at airports, knowing we will never see each other again. Leaving others on the side of the road hoping we will.” – Amy Tan

Tiny gifts of kindness

Yesterday I was listening to NPR and heard one of those heart warming stories, that I believe, the media should add to their daily broadcast.

As is often the case with radio interviews, I didn’t catch the beginning of the story. I have no idea if the person on the interview is famous or if they were purely there for this anecdotal story. An experience this person had that changed, in a small part, the way they lead their life.

The gentleman in the interview told the story of how he had broken down on the side of the road with his daughter in the car. I’m not sure why he couldn’t call for help or what exactly was wrong with the car, but a lot of time passed and many tow trucks drove straight past.

Then, unprompted a family of Mexican descent pulled over to lend him a hand. Time and assistance was given, laughs were exchanged and the family even gave his hungry daughter one of their tamales.

Everything fixed, the family jumped back in their car and went to drive off. The man in question tried to give the family $20 for their time and food, but the Mexican gentleman just smiled and waved him off. The man broke into tears.

This small gesture had a lasting impact on the narrator. It seems he now regularly stops to help people and even drove 50 miles out of his way to drop someone at an airport. These acts of kindness not only help the people he assists they give him meaning and satisfaction.

It made me think of some recent research that suggested that wealthy people are less empathetic. It is something I have never really thought about, but observed frequently in life. It has been particularly obvious in my travels in developing countries. Random strangers have often lent me assistance, given me food and literally given me the shirt off their back…never expecting anything in return.

If I compare this to say San Diego, which is probably the most “generous” town in terms of donations that I have ever lived in. There are numerous charities and vast amounts of money are donated by generous individuals. So, how does this fit with the research. These people are giving, but not of themselves. Is that still empathy? Or is it the act of giving of oneself that is important and a reason why people of fewer means often seem so much happier?

Like all research, which is a series of data points that have been aggregated and twisted by assumptions, it will never tell the full story.

As an anecdote, to the contrary, I can offer a small scene that I recently witnessed. A car was stopped on the side of the road billowing with smoke and two big burly guys stood by helplessly. As I gazed further up the road I saw a shiny new Lexus pulled over and an attractive lady, dressed in business suit and high heels, running back toward the overheating car clutching a small fire extinguisher and a grin on her face.

Everything about the scene was reversed and that is what made it so special and memorable. Yes, it looked like the car was merely overheating and not actually on fire. However, this wonderful person had taken the time to try make a difference. Her facial expression told the story and no doubt the guys waiting by the car would greatly appreciate her intervention regardless of the outcome.

Perhaps it is time to set a goal of helping a random stranger at least once a week. Not with money, but with time, a smile or positive words. Compliment them on their clothes, pick up something they dropped…. anything, it all makes a difference and humanizes us all. Something that can get lost in a fast paced, technology driven, material world.