Dec 17, 2008

Gift Giving

I thought that the primary reason for gift giving is to show affection, affinity... good feelings toward the recipient. Sadly, even though we are suppose to appreciate gifts regardless of their value because "It's the thought that counts" but in practice, we assign value to gifts based on how much they cost!

In some cultures, giving gifts is a way to demonstrate the giver's prestige -- the bigger the gift, the more wealthy the giver and perhaps by inference, the less wealthy the recipient in comparison. So, a disproportionately large gift is an insult.

Apparently, some cultures accept the practice of going into debt in order to give a big gift, one that signifies, or even bolsters one's station in society. If one is the leader of the group, one is expected to give bigger gifts than people who hold a lesser role. In some cultures, the size of the gift for each role is codified.

In olden days' etiquette, you were not supposed to reveal to the recipient the monetary costs of a gift. The recipient is supposed to appreciate the thought and guess the value for themselves. In that same apparently passe etiquette, carefully wrapped and decorated gifts demonstrate the thought and care that went into creating or selecting the gift. I hear that in the old Japanese culture, the way a gift is wrapped and presented contain specific meaning about the relationship between the giver and the recipient.

It seems many people feel that the monetary cost of a gift, and whether it's 'new' or used, designates the giver as generous or a cheapskate. Well, what about say, a gift of the Cullinan Diamond (one of the stones in the British Imperial State Crown), but it's old and was previously owned? It is clearly a 're-gift' but is it a cheapskate's gift?

What about giving money as a gift? The aforementioned passe etiquette definitely states that giving money is crass but nowadays, it seems to be OK. If someone gave money that their employer gave them, to another person, is that re-gift also a cheapskate gift? What about gifts that didn't cost the giver any money: Donald Trump shares his knowledge on real estate deals; an artist gives a performance, a friend gives emotional support... are gifts also considered 'cheap' because they didn't cost the giver money?

O. Henry's short story, "Gift of the Magi" (podcast) is heart-warming, about gifts that don't cost much but are very meaningful.

Nov 26, 2008

Mashup Camp: loved it

My friend Nancy Tubbs (founder of Full Calendar) let me know about the November 2008 Mashup Camp in at the Computer History Museum. It was a highly intellectually satisfying 3-day event. The chief cat herder, Information Week's David Berlind, did a great job -- kudos to him.

I'm a semantic web enthusiast so was delighted to learn that the huge company, Thomson Reuters, has a tool, OpenCalais, that conducts semantic searches of unstructured text to extract names, addresses (many other terms) and provides more information about them... using Thomson-Reuters' proprietary database, then marks up the text using RDF. The results are exportable as XML. Great way to find patterns and enhance market research, for relationship mapping and other ways to mine unstructured content.

Here's OpenCalais's page for what it can do for bloggers using WordPress or Drupal (not Google's blog tool, Blogger with a capital B)

I am so proud to have voted for the top winning mashup named "Empowerment." It was written by Dean Mao over a 12-hour period. His mashup is a Firefox extention that does three things:
  1. searches for key words on any web page, email message, blog...
  2. runs them through OpenCalais for resources which can be text, images... and displays those resources in a 'pop-up' when you hover over a highlighted term
  3. you can add your notes to the resources, and others can see your comments.
You can download Dean's Firefox extension, Empowerment, at and also access Dean's contact information.

The second highlight of the Mashup Camp is the talk by Tim O'Reilly. I believe he's the guy who coined the term "Web 2.o." Below are a the 'take-aways' that I noted:
  • Read the O'Reilly book, "Web 2.0, A Strategy Guide"
  • "Data is the value unit" and Tim cited several very creative forms of data such as the sequence of gene bases (amino acids) are unique name spaces as are Twitter hash tags. The value-add is to derive meaning from data sets.
Several mashups scared me. One did the following: instead of updating one's resume from one's memory or experience, why not do continuous updates using one's web citations? Another mashup will search the web and create a tag cloud for a given term. So you can search the web for yourself, and present your tag cloud as your resume.

All those callow people who've trustingly laid out in numerous social networking or other web presences (e.g., Facebook, MySpace, YouTube, Twitter, Plaxo, SecondLife, blogposts, comments to blogs...) all their half-baked political rants, not carefully thought-through venting, intimate and casual activities... all that information can be aggregated to form their online social graph (a Facebook term). Even the pattern of one's cell phone and credit card usage can reveal one's movements and choices.

The other wonderful thing about Mashup Camp is its web site. There were real-time tweets, blogs, pictures and lots and lots more information. If you missed the camp, you can still get so much information from the web site. Make sure to check out the "Mashup Backchannel."

This blogpost is getting too long. I'll write a second post about people I met, other mashups that I loved...


Nov 15, 2008

How a depressed person can self-help; how friends can help

Clinical depression has a physiological component but also a behavioral one. The way someone thinks and acts can affect mood and alleviate symptoms of depression. A very destructive symptom is inertia, the inability to 'get going,' to keep swimming through the cold oatmeal. Friends and family can help by overcoming the inertia, for example, by suggesting "Let's go for a walk" or "let's chat to put things in better perspective."

Two "erroneous thinking" processes to recognize and change:
  • Exaggeration: a bad external situation such as a serious illness or loss is exaggerated into "I am a bad person, everyone is bad, the world is doomed and nothing will ever get better."
  • Magical thinking: "My life is terrible because I was born during a thunderstorm," or "If I got that job, my life will be perfect."
Buy or borrow the paperback "Feeling Good" by David Burns. Its companion workbook will help the depressed person analyze his/her thinking and behavior and build a plan to change it.

Some behavioral changes that the depressed person, friends and family can help to make:
  • Get medical, dental and vision checkups to discover and treat any problems. Physical illness can trigger or worsen depression.
  • Deliberately structure a varied daily schedule, a different schedule every day. Plan at least one activity for the day. Be realistic. Can be something pleasant like 'send a note to a friend' or a pragmatic task like 'change the bedding.' Cross activities off the list when done.
  • Exercise three times a week for 30 minutes in each session. It doesn't matter what exercise you do or how vigorously, do something continuously for 30 minutes.
  • Prepare regular, diverse meals with some each of protein, carbohydrates, fat. Many depressed people feel it's not 'worth it' to cook for themselves. I say "who is more worth the effort than yourself? Who would appreciate your effort, properly?"
  • Maintain personal grooming: shower, shampoo, brush teeth, comb hair, trim nails.
  • Improve the immediate environment: adjust temperature to slightly cool (68-70 degrees), pick up clutter, clean house and do laundry, add more light (use timers to make sure lights come on and stay on), add good stimuli such as music, pleasant scents, visual cues such as flowers, photos of loved ones and good memories, a pet
  • Meet people, even if passively: sit in a coffee shop and people watch, stroll through a shopping mall, attend church, go to the library or a park. Joining a volunteer group will give a regular occasion to meet people. The goal is to distract depressive thoughts.
  • Sleep. Make it a habit: go to bed at the same time, get up at the same time. Timers that automatically turn off lights will give the cue "go to bed." When going to bed, go to sleep, don't read, watch TV... Keep the room dark and quiet (wear eye mask and ear plugs if you have to). Get up at the same time even if you haven't slept enough.
Most important: get a treat every day. Write a list of treats and choose one everyday, even if it was not a good day:
  • Build ego by giving a compliment or citing an achievement: "I helped somebody," "I cooked a good meal," "I cleaned the kitchen," "I improved my mood."
  • Increase interests by doing a favorite activity: toss a few hoops, hit a few balls, talk to a friend, read a novel, watch a movie, do a hobby. Browse a new shop (fancy or ethnic supermarkets can be interesting).
  • Increase relaxation: get a massage (you can give yourself one), take a long hot shower, use a back brush or defoliating glove to stimulate your skin, play music and dance, sing in the shower, do stretching (borrow from the library books or DVDs on Yoga or pilates)
  • Bost mood: Eat a favorite food, an exotic fruit, new flavor of sorbet. Find a happy story; ask friends, read blogs or from TV -- find a nice story.
  • Pamper yourself: try on your own nice clothes, jewelry, perfume... or ones in a shop. Take yourself out for breakfast. Try a temporary hair color. Play music and/or read during a bath. Get a nice soap, body wash, hand lotion. Use the hot tub (someone you know might have one, or get a one-time pass at a health club)...