Looking Back at 2020: Comparing Two Epidemics

I rarely discuss politics on my blog. Actually, this is my first ever politics post! Here at the end of 2020, the United States has reached an incredible milestone and it needs to be said.


The other day I saw this video on Facebook, shared by Representative Carolyn Maloney of New York. This was a hearing with members of the Sackler family, who own Purdue Pharma.

The reason for the hearing is that Purdue Pharma has been held liable for having responsibility in causing what’s been widely and unanimously called the opioid crisis or opioid epidemic. This hearing was held to examine the personal role of family members in their company’s opioid crisis and whether they acted in such a way to avoid compensating their victims.

…There is no excuse for what you did.”

Representative James Comer

During the hearing it was reported that politicians from the left and the right agreed that the family’s actions were reprehensible. From the Dec 17 Reuter’s article, Sacklers apologize but deflect blame at U.S. congressional opioid hearing:

Representative James Comer, the committee’s top Republican, emphasized he was pro-business.

“But there are bad actors,” Comer said. “And to the Sackler family and Purdue Pharma, let me be as clear as I can be: You all are bad actors. And there is no excuse for what you did.”

It seems kind of rare to find political agreement these days. However, despite political disagreements, everyone seems to agree that there has been an opioid epidemic for the past several years. And not only that, there appears to be widespread agreement, including from left- and right-leaning politicians, that this family should be held to account for their role in creating the situation.

And yet….

Sadly, so much about the 2020 coronavirus pandemic has become so politicized and there is far less agreement about who should be held responsible and what actions the government should take. We all agree that there’s an opioid crisis, yet many people still don’t take the coronavirus seriously.

The other day, I heard a program on the radio where a reporter said that while he had a visceral, emotional response to September 11, 2001, he said he doesn’t feel the same now. This is despite the fact that on some days, more people pass from the coronavirus than from the terrorist attacks. It’s like people can’t put 300,000+ into perspective.

Comparing the numbers

After I watching this video, I started thinking about how opioid deaths related to COVID-19 deaths. Right now, we’re over 300,000 lost. I just started doing a search for answers to find out the two mass casualty events compare: “opioid deaths 2019”, “opioid deaths 2018”, etc.

I went back as far as I could find numbers for individual years. Around 2010-2013, the numbers were kind of lumped together. While I don’t know what 2013 was, I know it was less than 2014. So, I took 2014 and lopped off the end for 28,000.

Here are the numbers I found:

YearDeaths
201950,042
201846,802
201747,600
201642,249
201533,091
201428,647
201328,000
2013-2019276,431
Opioid related overdose deaths from 2013 – 2019.
  • Total opioid deaths: 276,431.
  • Total COVID-19 deaths (Dec 30, 2020): 341,000+.

In one year, we’ve managed to surpass the total number of opioid-related deaths from the past 7 years, combined. In my first draft of this COVID deaths are well over 300,000. I considered not even writing a number because it gets surpassed every day.

I find this really depressing and sad. It seems almost inevitable that someone in your family will be a victim of this situation.

I really wonder if our politicians will hold accountable the people who helped the US get to where it is with COVID, in the same way the Sackler family is being held responsible for their roles in the opioid crisis. Of course, this would require that they litigate themselves, so they probably will not anytime soon.


Anyway, I sincerely hope those who made to the end of 2020 will make it to the end of 2021. It takes little thinking about those who we’ve lost to help focus on what really matters right now.

Good luck!!


Making Cozy Winter

A recent radio segment discussed how to follow the example of Scandinavians in winter.

The radio segment is called “Hunker Down Week: Hygge”. It was presented on “All of It” with Alison Stewart.

As winter approaches and we all start spending more time indoors, maybe we should adopt koselig, the Norwegian equivalent of the Danish hygge. Stanford University health psychologist Kari Leibowitz shares what she learned from Norwegians when she moved to the Arctic Circle to find out how they survive the very short days and extremely long nights, as part of our “Hunker Down Week.”

The Finnish word for cozy is kodikas, according to Google.

There’s also another word, kalsarikannit, which translates to something like relaxing at home and enjoying drinks in your underwear.

Photo by Olivier Darny from Pexels
Photo by Valeria Boltneva from Pexels

The segment got me thinking about the photos from a Finnish friend and the images she frequently shares of her walks in what seems like a fairy landscape. She also apparently spent some time away from electricity and other devices in a cabin in Lapland.

She started sharing photos of her home after decking it out in many, many tea candles. 

And, yes, her home does look cozy. 

I came back to the episode later because I was curious about the psychologist and I wanted to see if she had more tips. I found her website, which features the article “What Scandinavians Can Teach Us About Embracing Winter” from the New York Times.

In the pandemic, rather than feeling depressed that the arrival of cold weather will mean you’ll be isolated indoors, try adopting a positive winter mind-set.

You can also read her research paper about it, if that’s your thing. https://internationaljournalofwellbeing.org/index.php/ijow/article/view/935

She has 3 tips for embracing winter:
  1. Get outside. She talked about this in the interview. Basically, she was saying that Scandinavians view being outdoors very positively, even in bad weather. She mentioned that after spending time in Norway, she realized she’d been dressing incorrectly for winter her whole life — even though she group up in New Jersey! I’m inspired to start looking for warm snow pants and a better winter coat.
  2. Make winter special. This is where she mentions hygge, which is also discussed in the interview. But, she said it’s more than just candles and socks. It’s like a comfort and openness to feeling close to friends. Or creating an environment in which good conversations can be had. Next time I attend a hygge, koselig, or kodikas dinner party, I’m going to congratulate the host.
  3. Appreciate winter. I don’t know about this. Well…maybe I do enjoy all the cooking I get to do when it’s not too hot to use the stove and the oven.

My big takeaway from all of this is that I need to make sure I’m properly dressed when headed outside in inclement weather. I may invest in a new rain jacket and potentially another coat that’s more water repellant than what I have now.


Featured image credit: Heather on Flickr. https://flic.kr/p/NZYFWJ

Cleaning Mindfully

Part two of my post on building a purposeful life. This post discusses a few of my life aims, how I came up with them, and how I have set out to achieve them.

Living a Life of Example, Living with Intention

In my last post, I discussed the concept of Be, Do, and Action goals, and how creating these help someone find and create a life of purpose. These goals help you become type of person you’d like to be. Be goals help form the central, self-organizing aim for your life – each one is a life purpose.

Be goals are aligned to our self-affirmations and life purpose. Be goals remind us why our Do goals are worth achieving. Action goals are how we achieve our Do goals. Here’s a cleaned up version of my Be, Do, and Action goals.

Pared down example of my purposeful circles.
A few examples from my purposeful circles. In the center circle are my Be goals, including Be a good example, Live intentionally, and Seek and share enlightenment. The middle ring has Do goals, Presentable and Well-read, Read a lot. The outer ring has crispy behaviors, the Action goals. These are Create a cleaning schedule and Read 20 or more books a year. I also have reminders off to the side about what Be, Do, and Action goals are.

Two of my Be Goals included living a life of example and living with intention. (I’m not sure if “life of example” is the correct way to put it, but that’s what I came up with for now.) One way I thought of to be a good example was to be presentable; this is my Do goal.

Being presentable can mean many things, I tried to brainstorm about how to achieve this. One action I came up with was cleaning. I liked the idea of cleaning, but it was a bit vague. To create my action goal, what the professor calls a “crispy” behavior, I needed to be more specific.

What I came up with was a cleaning schedule, which has so far turned out pretty well.


Japanese porch

Why Cleaning

I chose cleaning as helping me achieve my life purposes of living with intention and living a life of example for two reasons.

Meditation is all about being intentional and focusing your mind. Taking a meditative approach to cleaning, seemed like a great way to put that goal into action.

The other reason is that a clean home is presentable. I wanted to feel that if anyone walked at any moment, they could see I had a clean and presentable home. It was a great example and reflection on the type of person I want to be.

Cleaning and Mindfulness

The cleaning schedule borrows from the cleaning examples I found in the book A Monk’s Guide to a Clean House and Mind. The monk who wrote the book explained that his monastery uses a particular schedule for certain activities like when to shave their heads or mend their clothes.

I heard about the monk and this book after attending the Japan Society Talks event Clean House, Clear Mind: A Buddhist Monk’s Wisdom, on Wednesday 27 March, 2019.

1:02:10

The book, which I read twice, focuses on cleaning as a meditative practice. It gives advice on how to clear the mind when cleaning.

When I first read the book, I was obsessed with cleaning. And I did feel lighter having dusted everything and wiped everything. It’s amazing how much and where dust accumulates.

After the online course, I was able to connect cleaning with my personal values. Seeking to solidify specific actions to help me live my values. My cleaning schedule consists of 2 calendars and a separate inspiration page.


Schedules for a Clean Home and Mind

To create the calendars, I used InDesign. The fonts are Letter Gothic Std and Garamond. I created generic versions, so they can be downloaded for your own use.

Daily and Monthly Schedule

The first schedule lists tasks to be taken care of on a daily basis and monthly basis.

Schedule for daily and monthly cleaning tasks.
Monthly or daily cleaning events

Day to Day Schedule

The second schedule includes tasks that track close to the advice in the book. I split the 3 and 8 days into tasks focused on increasing light and reflections.

The second set of tasks, for 4 and 9 days, includes events focused on fixing things and more cleaning activities, like vacuuming.

Schedule for tasks that should be completed on the third and eighth day, and those on the fourth and ninth day.
For cleaning events that are scheduled on days ending in 3, 4, 8, or 9.

Inspiration Page

I thought it was important to keep in mind the mindset for why cleaning mindfully is important. The book refers to Zengosaidan which is a Buddhist concept focused on living in the moment, and not letting worries about work that is to be done or past failures weigh you down in them moment.

Zengosaidan inspiration focused on living in the moment, and not letting worries about work that is to be done or past failures weigh you down in them moment.
Zengosaidan inspiration

Put all of our efforts into each day to live without regrets. Live for today without grief for the past or worry about the future.

Eliminate the seeds that distract your mind with unnecessary thoughts about past failures and future challenges.

The longer you neglect to remove the impurities of the heart, the longer it will take to remove them.

Shoukei Matsumoto, “A Monk’s Guide to a Clean House and Mind”

Eliminate the seeds that distract your mind with unnecessary thoughts about past failures and future challenges.

Building a Purposeful Life

Part one of my post on building a purposeful life. This post discusses the course I took which helped set me on this path, concepts from the course, and a brief overview of the course activites.

I recently completed a new online course. It was very different from my usual string of courses. It was a self-improvement course, focused on neuroscience and public heath. It’s called Finding Purpose and Meaning In Life: Living for What Matters Most. It’s taught by Vic Strecher, of the University of Michigan’s Schools of Public Health and Medicine, on Coursera.

Course certificate, Finding Purpose and Meaning in Life: Living for What Matters Most. – https://www.coursera.org/learn/finding-purpose-and-meaning-in-life

The course has a 4.8 rating with over 1,000 reviews. Here is what Coursera provides in the description.

In this course, you’ll learn how science, philosophy and practice all play a role in both finding your purpose and living a purposeful life. You will hear from historical figures and individuals about their journeys to finding and living a purposeful life, and will walk through different exercises to help you find out what matters most to you so you can live a purposeful life…. By the end of this course, you will:

  1. Understand that having a strong purpose in life is an essential element of human well-being.
  2. Know how self-transcending purpose positively affects well-being.
  3. Be able to create a purpose for your life (don’t be intimidated, this is different from creating “the purpose” for your life).
  4. Apply personal approaches and skills to self-change and become and stay connected to your purpose every day.

Not only did I finish the course, I’ve started making changes. This first post covers the concepts and course topics. The next will be about how I applied the concepts and design artifacts I created to help me achieve them.


Socrates voor zijn huis, Reinier Vinkeles (I), after Jacobus Buys, 1792 – Find at Rijksmuseum

A Central, Self-Organizing Life Aim

The course focuses on helping students find a purpose in life. It’s important to point out it’s a purpose, not the purpose. A purpose in life is “a central, self-organizing life aim”; a predominant theme in a person’s life.

The lessons guide students by introducing topics in Buddhist and Greek philosophy, such as the “true self” known as atman (Hindu/Buddhist) or daimon (Greek), and connecting those concepts to brain function and the Ventro-Medial Prefrontal Cortex, VmPFC. The VmPFC is the part of the brain that is involved in processing information and our emotional response.

We return to the VmPFC often in the course, to understand our neurobiological responses to stimuli and how behavioral practices like Loving-Kindness Meditation can lead to a positive sense of self, which can help lead to positive behavioral outcomes.


Astronomy Picture of the Day, 2019 August 4
Rumors of a Dark Universe
Image Credit: High-Z Supernova Search TeamHSTNASA

“However vast the darkness, we must supply our own light.”

We also learn what it means to have a purpose and discuss concepts in existential philosophy by thinking about Soren Kierkegaard, Friedrich Nietzsche, Carl Jung, Jean-Paul Sartre, and Albert Camus.

We even learn about what Stanley Kubrick, who was apparently a big fan of Nietzche, and (loosely) 2001: A Space Odyssey have to say about purpose:

The most terrifying fact about the universe is not that it is hostile but that it is indifferent; but if we can come to terms with this indifference…our existence as a species can have genuine meaning and fulfillment. However vast the darkness, we must supply our own light.

Stanley Kubrick, 1968

Obviously, I have to have the music. 🙂

Strauss: Also sprach Zarathustra / Dudamel · Berliner Philharmoniker
Richard Strauss: Also sprach Zarathustra / Gustavo Dudamel, conductor · Berliner Philharmoniker / Recorded at the Berlin Philharmonie, 28 April 2012.

There’s a very interesting article from the Houston Symphony on Richard Strauss’ musical interpretations of Nietzche’s book and philosophy, Thus Spake Zarathustra, which has the same name as his famous orchestra piece.

In describing the music, the Houston Symphony writes, “Kubrick was not too far off the mark in using the piece’s opening to score a sunrise from outer space; Strauss indeed intended it to depict the mountaintop sunrise that opens Nietzsche’s book. The opening motif in the trumpets has been called the ‘nature’ or ‘world riddle’ motif; it recurs throughout the piece as a symbol of nature’s indifference and mystery.”


skuawk.com

What Kind of Cook Are You?

One of the important lessons is that while it’s important to seek knowledge, it’s also important to have guidance in that pursuit. To seek knowledge with purpose.

There’s an analogy used in the course, to help compare the pursuit of knowledge with cooking. We really can’t all expect to become master chefs before we ever start cooking. But we also can’t expect to have any efficiency or safety in a kitchen with no training whatsoever. The same is true for the pursuit of knowledge. An unintentional pursuit can lead down dark and dangerous paths; meanwhile, we can’t spend all our time studying for the next exam.

The question, What Kind of Cook Are You, is an existential philosophical question about the pursuit of information that is meant to focus on the importance of intention and balance. Learn enough so that you can seek out recipes and follow them, but also learn enough that you can deviate from the recipe without ruining the food or burning down the kitchen.

Image of flowers in golden light, showing sense of calmness
pexels.com

Golden Rules

I’ve often heard about The Golden Rule: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you — either at church or Girl Scouts. And while it’s a great concept in theory, in practice, it’s kind of self-less and you end up getting mistreated a bit.

The course brought up a new version, which I think is a bit better.

The Reverse Golden Rule: Do not do to yourself, what you would not do to others.


skuawk.com

Being Purposeful

As I mentioned above, the course often refers to the Ventro-Medial Prefrontal Cortext, VmPFC, to understand, explain, and change our how a life purpose can improve life outcomes in positive ways, from a biological, psychological, and behavioral perspectives. The course focuses on how our own thoughts and behaviors can be reinforced. However, we often we don’t achieve our goals to “do better” for 2 reasons: they haven’t been tied back to our purpose and they don’t represent what he calls “crispy” behaviors. That is specific actions to be put into practice. We often make goals that are just a little too vague.

skuawk.com

Finding Your Purpose

These goals are called Do, Be, and Action goals. And the course helps the student think about and create them by, again, focusing on existentialism. Existentialism acknowledges human mortality, which many people don’t like to think about. However, by considering that life isn’t forever, we can use this inevitable fact to not freak out but to channel our life towards having a purpose – a central, self-organizing life aim.

There’s an app the instructor has called Purposeful by Kumanu™, to help create those Do, Be, and Action goals. I didn’t use it, I created the diagrams using a drawing program. But to get there, you start asking introspective questions about yourself, such as:

  • What are causes you care about?
  • What gets you out of bed in the morning?
  • How do you want to be remembered?

Literally, there’s an earlier part of the course where you think about what you want your headstone to say!

Pencils on a yellow background

Create Do, Be, and Action Goals

Ultimately the answer to the introspective questions above help to generate your Be goals. The type of person you’d like to be. Your atman, your daimon. These will form the central, self-organizing aim for your life – each one is a life purpose.

Do Goals: Next, you take these Be goals and ask what you have to do to enact those Be goals. Those are your Do goals.

Actually, the course makes a point to mention that many people start here and stop here. Rather than tying their goals to a life purpose, it becomes about achieving this goal. Like wanting to lose weight to fit into a dress, vs wanting to lose weight to fit into a dress, because ultimately the person is lonely and doesn’t want to be.

Action Goals: Finally the question becomes what action to take to enact to achieve those Do goals. These are the Action goals. And these should be specific and achievable goals.


To clarify, creating these goals is not a one-day activity. The course has the student ask themselves these questions frequently. By the time these concepts shows up, you already have a bit of a list and you’re primed to accept the ideas. I even spent time after the course completing this work.

Also a person can have more than one facet of their life in which to create their life purpose, including work, retirement, school, family, and even military service.

I highly recommend the course. As one reviewer said, “Vic is an excellent professor who just connects so well with the students even from the computer screen.” It’s not an in-depth neuropsychology course, nor is it a philosophy course. It provides enough information to support the course content, and enough to continue researching independently if that’s a goal.


As mentioned in the intro, I’ve split this post into two. In the next post, I’ll go into 2 of my Be Goals and how I turned them into crispy behaviors focused on cleaning.

Until then, here’s a video of the sun.

Astronomy Picture of the Day, 2020 August 19
The Sun Rotating
Video Credit: SDONASA; Digital Composition: Kevin M. Gill

Featured Image: Astronomy Picture of the Day, 2020 November 17. A Glowing STEVE and the Milky Way. Image Credit: NASAKrista Trinder

Psychology, Education, Women’s History, Medieval Literature, and Wine & Beer: A Shortlist of Future EdX Courses

This year I’ve taken some fantastic courses and I’m really excited to take something else. I’m not exactly sure I know what to sign up for — but I do want to be as excited for the new course as I have been for my previous courses.

I scribbled down this little short list of courses and it’s been sitting on my desk for weeks. I’m going to share them here so I can throw away this paper.

Even though I make these lists, I still end up taking courses that aren’t listed. I see something interesting and watch one video, and then end up in the whole course! For instance, I came across multiple courses on Islam, a business “MicroMasters” series from Bangalore, India, and two courses from Harvard. One on rhetoric and another on money and ethics. So, who know what I’ll get into. Actually, I’m already taking 2 other courses right now.

Most of the courses below have a preview video, so I’m including it.


Psychology of Activism: Women Changing the World

Smith College – SmithX

Learn what motivates prominent women such as Gloria Steinem, Loretta Ross, and others to become involved in activism in this political psychology course.

https://www.edx.org/course/psychology-of-political-activism-women-changing-th

For obvious reasons this year, I thought this might be a good course to consider.


Intercultural Competency in Education

University of Iceland – UIcelandX

Do you want to learn practical skills to become interculturally competent and aware as an educator? Take this course and learn to develop strategies to deal with identities in a fairer and more coherent way.

https://www.edx.org/course/intercultural-competency-in-education

After I took that Gender and Intersectionality course, I thought this might be another course to become more informed about intercultural issues. It’s actually more of a course for educators, but you never know when you’ll have the opportunity to teach something new.

I’m not surprised the University of Iceland has a course like this. The more I learn about Iceland, the more impressed I become!


Women Have Always Worked, XSeries Program

Columbia University – COLUMBIAX

Explore the history of women in America.

https://www.edx.org/xseries/columbiax-women-have-always-worked

This is a 4-course series. These XSeries of courses are meant to provide a deep exploration of a topic. They’re really a semester or a full year’s worth of education. Each individual course is broken up into like 8-10 weeks sections, so it’s pretty substantial. EdX estimated 10 months to complete all four courses, but if it’s your only course and you’re not doing anything else, you could get through it much faster.


The Medieval Iceland Sagas

University of Iceland – UIcelandX

Learn about the Icelandic Sagas, the characteristic literary genre of Medieval Iceland comprising roughly 40 texts.

The Medieval Icelandic Sagas

https://www.edx.org/course/the-medieval-icelandic-sagas-2

I’ve put this one on a short list because Icelandic sagas came up during the Gender and Intersectionality course I took. And, I’ve decided to take as many courses from the University of Iceland as possible. (There are only 6.)


World History of Wine

Trinity College – TrinityX

Explore wine through the eyes of a historian, as you learn about the “old” and “new” worlds of wine, including how its taste and quality has changed over time.

https://www.edx.org/course/the-world-history-of-modern-wine

I read a book earlier this year about world history through 6 drinks: wine, coffee, tea, spirits, beer, and cola. This seems like kind of the same thing, but specifically using wine.


World of Wine: From Grape to Glass

University of adelaide – adelaidex

Learn about the principles and practices of how grapes are grown and wine is made. Whether you’re a wine novice or a seasoned oenophile, you’ll learn to confidently describe wine appearance, aroma, flavour and taste.

https://www.edx.org/course/world-of-wine-from-grape-to-glass

A few years ago, I started learning more about wine. I thought this might be a great course to learn more.


Science of Beer

Wageningen University and Research – WageningenX

Are you interested in more than just the taste of beer? Discover what’s in your beer, how it’s made and marketed and the effect it has on your body and health.

https://www.edx.org/course/the-science-of-beer

Beer is so common, yet hardly discussed seriously. This course seemed like a good opportunity for that.

2019 Audit of UX Portfolios

In 2019, I began a project to audit over 85 portfolio websites. The result is the 122-page presentation below. The surprising results helped me in the design of my own portfolio.

Last year, I wrote a few blog posts about my portfolio updates and research process. Yet I’ve never shared my full findings. I hoped I’d be able to present my findings at UX Camp 2020, after giving a talk in 2019. But it’s 2020 and everything is cancelled.

In lieu of that, I’ve decided to share snippets of my research here on my blog. I’ve also included links to my previous, portfolio-related posts.

Enjoy and please share feedback in the comments.

Update: I’ve made changes to this post. A few weeks ago, I had included the whole presentation, but I’d prefer to keep that to myself for now.


I. Portfolio Resources

Contents

  • Part 1 – Overview: Introduction, methodology, and general caveats. Or, why I conducted this research, how I analyzed my findings, and what to keep in mind when reviewing the findings.
  • Part 2 – Review: Analysis and quantitative findings. Includes examples of tools, labels, images, layouts, and more.
  • Part 3 – Summary & Final Thoughts: Summary of findings in Part 2 and final thoughts for designers and hiring managers.

II. Previous Portfolio Blog Posts

A few of my previous posts about my process and portfolio updates.

Sept 17 2019: Portfolio Resources. A collection of sites, tools, and people I learned about during my research. Organized into the following lists:

  • Sites – Guides, essays, and portfolio collections
  • Tools – What people use to create their portfolio
  • People – A small handful of portfolios

Nov 4, 2019: Portfolio: Pólya Principles Applied. This post is about how I used ideas by the mathematician, George Pólya, to break down my portfolio issues into manageable subtasks. I’d written about Póyla‘s method, a few weeks earlier.


Nov 11, 2019: My Tachyons Portfolio. A review into the [then] state of my portfolio and thoughts for the future. This post occurred after my research, so I go into design questions. It also gets into some of the questions I hoped to uncover with my research.

  • How many portfolios are from students and do they seem different?
  • What types of profile images to designers use of themselves?
  • What is the most common greeting on portfolios?
  • How many designers use their own domain?
  • What do most people use to create their portfolio?

Thoughts? Questions? Feedback?

I found the results really surprising! How about you? I’m very interested in your feedback. Did you find this information helpful? Was it surprising? Do you have questions? Comments are open below.

If you’d prefer to leave an email, please visit alliwalk.com for my email address.