Friday, December 23, 2016

Ghamidi - Islamic view on the Family System

Javed Ghamidi stands out as one of the very few practicing islamic scholars/theologians who does not identify himself to any sect, rather simply as a muslim. Through his expert knowledge on the Quran and Sunnah, he gives clear concise and logical responses to all kinds of questions about Islam, including a 10 point counter-narrative to extremism.

One of the key aspects of his talks, speeches is he provides a conceptual understanding of the reasons behind Islamic teachings. Although, there may be a few views of his that i dont fully agree with, but with regard to his conclusions, there can be no doubt since his logic is not flawed.

An interesting aspect of his views is, he barely ever criticises modernity or the developed world. The only critique he has given is the shifting balance from the family way of life to the individual way of living. He explains the Islamic concept on family living on the following basis.

Unlike animals, newborn humans are extremely weak and dependant on caregiver support. Most animals can walk, forage and live on their own, anywhere between a few minutes to a few months after birth. The human newborn would not survive on its own for several years after its birth and even thereafter requires emotional, psychological and other forms of support till the age of 12-13 and even then they are not mature enough to act fully independently.

Given this limitation of humans, Islam proscribes a support mechanism in the form of the family system which creates an enabling environment for babies/kids/teenagers to thrive. The support of such a system forms the foundation for various aspects of Islamic guidance through the Quran and Sunnah, which people seem to have questions about. 

When seen through this prism of valuing the family system, multiple issues which seem controversial to some in this day and age, not only make sense but evidently seem like better ways of living and solutions to various problems we face todays like Depression, Anxiety, Loneliness and Stress to name a few.

On a side-note, one of my favourite learning from Ghamidi Sb is his clarification that with regards to the male and female genders, Islam declares them 'Equal but Different', however there is differentiation among genders when expressed through relationships. This may well be based on the level of responsibility drafted onto that individual for eg the status of a mother is several times higher than the father.

Monday, September 21, 2015

Happiness - A life of Happiness and fulfillment by Rajagopal Raganathan

Took a course on Coursera by Dr Rajagopal Raghunathan from Indian School of Business on 'happiness' and really liked it. Here are my notes from the course, may help you becoming happier.
  • Happiness definition types
    • Sensory - Physical like food, vacation etc
    • Hubristic - success, wife etc
    • Authentic - mastery at a skill
    • Love/Connection - with a person, place, animal or activity
    • Abundance/joy - Have everything you need, challenges in life make it interesting not threatening
    • Serenity
    • Interest
    • Amusement/Laughter
My happiness : Being content with what you have like abundance/joy regardless of how much (or little) you have. Achieved due to 'fatalistic attitude through religion - Not everything in control, better to accept and appreciate what you have.'

There are certain things that are really harmful in your search for happiness. These must be avoided.
  1. Devaluing happiness - Fundamental Happiness Paradox - routinely sacrifice happiness for other goals eg money, fame etc ironically these are assumed mediums towards happiness itself. Having your own definition of happiness helps in dodging this sin. Some misconceptions about happiness, it makes us lazy, makes us selfish, and happiness is fleeting.
  2. Chasing superiority - to get others approval, boost self esteem, progress towards mastery, to seek autonomy. Problem is you get separated from others, creates envy (takes away happiness) and never fully achieve superiority anyway. It difficult to measure oneself against others on dimensions that matter (skill,talent) so we use materialistic yardsticks to measure and become materialistic which takes away happiness (causes loneliness, adaptation to materials and desire for more), chasing superiority makes us self-centred and disliked by other leading to less happiness. It also leads to extra stress to gain superiority which results in lower performances (non-physical tasks)
  3. Need to be loved (belong), need to be alone - we mimic others to be liked by others (due to our social nature). We care more about what others think than what we ourselves think. Social rejection is as painful as physical pain. Neediness and avoidance of social links both lead to unhappiness. Neediness is based on the scarcity principle, 'we like things we are denied', neediness is not good for happiness because its not an attractive trait, you seem less respected by other n yourself, neediness attracts emotionally cold people leading to wrong kind of relationships. Avoidance lowers happiness because its against our nature, gets us less cooperation, make us less satisfied by others support, avoidance leads to loneliness. 'Secure attachment' - middle ground. 
  4. Being overly control seeking - because we do better emotionally and physically when we are in control. Control allows to aim and achieve higher but obviously too much control can be very difficult and harmful. Psychological reactance - your attempt to control others leads to them doing the opposite. You can either have control or love. If you try to control others, others wont like you, leading to lowering your happiness. Wanting the control, leads you to depend on having control too much, which is mostly unachievable. Diversity of opinions is limited among controlling people, hence best choices will not be made. If you try to control outcomes, youll fail frequently cause many things cant be controlled, hence youre frustrated and less happy. Good way is to pursue passion in a harmonious way rather than an obsessive way. When obsessive, passion controls you rather than you controlling the pursuit. میانہ روی  (middle ground)
  5. Distrusting Others - Trust in others correlates with happiness, however we are hard-wired to not trust others. Its important to 'pro-actively trust' others. Perceived trust is usually much lower than actual trust. (Lost wallet example). Others are more trustworthy than we think. Also, when we trust them they trust us back.  
  6. Distrusting life - We shouldn't rely on outcomes for our happiness. Positive outcomes could have negative consequences and vice versa. Only 10% of happiness are due to external circumstances. When things happen to you, its not obvious if its a good thing or a bad thing. Studies show people are happier being busy (even for a silly flimsy reason). We can derive all our happiness in the process of working towards outcomes. So we can be happy regardless of linkages with outcomes. De-linking happiness to outcomes should occur 'after' the outcome has occurred i.e. you'll always have preferences but once they've occurred, it shouldn't matter, this is called pre-occurrence preference.
  7. Ignoring the source within - See mindfulness in happiness habit # 7 below for details. 
These are the habits you need to adopt to be happier in your life.
  1. Prioritise but do not pursue happiness - This means that we analyse decisions keeping in mind our happiness but do not constantly trying to go after happiness or obsessing over it, latter gets us into stress in trying to achieve it and/or results in over expectation of level of happiness that were trying to achieve
  2. Pursue flow (superiority problem solver) - Get into the flow. Happens in the absence of anxiety and boredom when you are stretched just the right amount. Flow experiences are meaningful. flow gives you charisma. To find flow, find what you like doing, nurture your talent and identify world needs your talent fulfils. When things are not going well, practice self compassion, which is to treat yourself like how you would treat a close friend. Recommend for yourself what you would for the friend.
  3. To love and give - To strengthen relationships and feel secure, practice self-compassion and gratitude, the need to love (give). Donating to charity creates as much happiness as doubling of our salary. Direction of causality not clear. We have an innate desire to be helpful. Generosity makes us happy (conditions apply). We are hard wired to it, makes u feel competent, reciprocity thoughts, Giving helps us earn more, but you cant be a selfless giver but an otherish giver. These people are the happiest. Givers are more likely to be most successful and also least successful. difference is they care about themselves also. they are otherish as opposed to selfless or selfish. They contain cost of giving, 'am i the right person?', help multiple people. Exercise value extending stuff, allow themselves to feel gratitude, pride, say No at times. See impact of giving, and make generosity fun.
  4. Taking personal responsibility - Don't blame others, regulate yourself. Imaginations bigger influence on emotions than reality. Humans have an ability to regulate your emotions. Control yourself rather than the external environment (others and outcomes) and your feelings will change. It takes time to develop the ability to regulate your feelings.
When you have control over your feeling, your pre-frontal cortex is more available to you and you make better decisions.When you lose control over your feelings, your limbic system takes over the functioning of your brain and you arent able to think clearly.

Regulating emotions helps overcome overly controlling behaviour because you no longer are dependant on outcomes or others for your happiness. When we aren't feeling good internally, we seek external control, and when we don't have external control, we seek ways to gain internal control through religion, that's why religious people tend to be happier. (Gods presence as controller).

Personal responsibility -> Internal control -> lesser need for external control -> less control seeking -> people will like you more, cooperate with you, you make better decisions.

Emotion regulation can be done by several way. Suppressing your emotions is a bad way to do it; or 1) avoiding situations with negative feelings 2) labelling (not discussing/ analyzing) your emotions to yourself (amazing one) 3) Attention diversion from negative towards positive ones (without self serving bias) and 4) Cognitive re-appraisal, be happy about your low level problem. Some uncertainty and lack of control is good, very high control means boredom, very low means anxiety. 

A healthy lifestyle also helps control emotion, its done by eating rightmoving more and sleeping better

Eating healthy - Avoid sugar (causes cancer) and trans-fats (aggressive behaviour and depression), more fruits and vegetables (better skin). Healthy snacks in reach, smaller non-white plates, carry fruits with you, eat regularly, eat healthy stuff first and a healthy breakfast.
Moving more - Sit for less than 6 hours/day even if you're exercising a lot. Use fit-bits, move regularly, exercise at home in the morning, walk a mile/day, 6 days/week. 
Sleeping better - Sleep 7+ hours/day. Allows the brain to cleanse itself of toxins. No TV or electronic gadgets (reduce melatonin levels) in bedroom, use thick curtains, white noise in bedroom, keep room cool and maintain a routine.
  1. Actually 5. Exercising smart trust - Maximize your benefit chances, minimizing risk of losses. Strategy to do so (1) Understand that people are more trustworthy than we think and by (2) pro-actively trusting others we reap hidden benefits. (Enhances happiness and contributed societal happiness levels). (3) We should mitigate psychological pain of being cheated by holding people accountable and forgive those who violate our trust.
  2. Actually 6. Dispassionate pursuit of happinessIt involves having a preference for certain outcomes over other outcomes before they've occurred, but being non-judgemental about the goodness and badness of outcomes after they've occurred ie a move from 'Pre-occurrence preference' to 'post occurrence non-judgmentalism'. Strategies to do so are, (1) reflect on past negative outcomes - after some time negatives don't remain negative. (Past events we later come to cherish are often the most negative ones when they occurred). (2) Looking for ways how negative event has a positive outcomes (take negatives as challenges/opportunities) (3) Keep a journal on how bad things turned out good. The goal is that it becomes second nature to be non-judgmental of negative outcomes. Beliefs can change our beliefs. To enhance happiness levels it is better to believe that life is benign and worthy of trust. (Spiritual people, those who see beyond superficial reality, tend to be happier than non-spiritual ones).
  3. Actually 7. Mindfulness - Focus on what you're doing. One feels happier when mindful, even during negative events. 47% of the time, we're mind wandering (its ubiquitous)
Moment to moment experiences have stronger linkage to happiness than do income, job etc.

It is easiest to be mindful when you're in flow, easy during positive events. Mindfulness is not about controlling your thoughts and emotions, just a mere observation of things around you. Mindfulness is observing what is going on (within you or around you) intensely in a non-judgemental way. As a result, you feel tranquillity (less stress) and response flexibility (ability to discern what triggers what and when, allowing you to make conscious decisions i.e lowering attentional blink) thereby improving emotional intelligence and also improves happiness levels by changing brain-structure. 

Research has shown that although changing exterior circumstances does not change our 'set' levels of happiness, changing our interior landscape, through training the mind, can

People who practice mindfulness experience 'cortical thickening' i.e. bigger areas in the brain for attention, concentration, emotional intelligence and compassion, brain ages slower. Mindfulness also has various other medical benefits such as lesser risk of heart disease, cancer etc.

Mindfulness also reduces 'adaptation' (a sin of happiness) as it makes you realize 'that nothing is intrinsically boring, boredom is simply a lack of attention. Mindfulness also makes you more compassion. (Insular cortex in brain triggered which helps us empathise). It also helps us being more creative. 

Mindfulness is to change your relationship with your thoughts and not get caught up in them.

Happiness Activity
Gratitude - Think of a person who has had a positive influence on your life. This person can be someone from any time in your life - your teacher, parent, mentor, friend, etc. It's ideal if you can think of someone who is still alive. If the person to whom you choose to address your gratitude letter is someone who's passed on, that's fine too. Now, think of all the reasons why this person had a positive influence in your life, and then write down your thoughts in the space below: List your thoughts one after the other as shown in the example below:
1) He/she was always happy and cheerful no matter what
2) He/she always believed in me, even if I failed in the eyes of others

Based on these thoughts, write a letter to the person. About a page or so. Now meet the person and read the letter out to them, alternatively call/skype to them and read it, or least preferred email it to them
* This exercise of gratitude helps you feel more connected, feel you have their support, makes you feel uplifted and want to give back, view things in positive light,

Creative Altruism
Plan a positive prank on other people, which makes them happy. Make sure to involve but not over involve yourself, see the impact and note your own feelings also.

Controllability scale - 25
Maximizer scale - 92 
Satisfied and limited control seeking

Schedule partner
Make a plan to do 3+ activities to eat healthy, move more and sleep better. Schedule daily achievement markers and engage with a partner to followup on your plan

Forgiveness letter

Think of a time when your were wronged/cheated. Write down the incident in sufficient detail. Now write a forgiveness letter, by thinking from the wrong-doers perspective, indicating factors which may have effected his/her decisions and actions. Letter should be framed in such a way that it ends with you forgiving that person.

Positive negatives

Write 3 moderately negative events that happened to you today and then write down positives that came out of it. Repeat the exercise for 7 days.

5 phases/signals of 'PRESENCE' -  With a relaxed body, 1) even breath 2) calm mind 3) 
open heart 4) sensitive sonar - strong senses 5) energetic induction - aura around you.

Maintaining Happiness

A major reason why people are not happy is that we postpone prioritizing happiness to a later date. You must commit yourself to doing things that will help you avoid happiness sins and achieve happiness habits by doing certain activities on a DAILY level. These strategies/activities are: 

1) Respond to daily questions by peer coach - List of questions to be asked on a daily level.
2) Frame goals positively - To change your bad habits/sins, you need to identify healthy alternatives to those and try to adhere to them, rather than i wont gain weight, have a goal such as i will exercise so i lose weight etc
3) Healthy environment - the environment around you should be conducive to those habits. Far away parking, bad foods hidden, healthier ones nearby etc.
4) People engagement - Engage with people more and allow them to help you to be more effective. 
5) Be a mentor - Help others by being a mentor for them. Will help you realize your gains also.
6) Open-mindedness - Be open to trying out new experiences that may help you be happier. Be flexible to new ideas/behaviours/people
7) Do mindfulness exercises


As a high level overview, once the basic needs are met, one needs 3 things to be happy, they are Mastery, Belongingness and Autonomy. These 3 include all main aspects of happiness discussed in this course. 

As we go into more detail, we see there are 2 approaches to get to them, Scarcity - Happiness sins (Chasing superiority for Mastery, Need to be loved for Belongingness, and Need for external control for Autonomy) and Abundance - Happiness Habits (pursuing flow for Mastery, Need to love for Belongingness and Need for internal control for autonomy).

'It is no measure of health to be well adjusted to a profoundly sick society' - Jiddu Krishnamurthi

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Energy 101 by Dr Sam Sheldon at GeorgiaTech

US energy supplies
  • Natural Gas 36%
  • Oil 26%
  • Coal 20%
  • Nuclear 9%
  • Biomass 5%
  • Hydro 3%
  • Wind 1.2%
  • Geothermal 0.25%
  • Solar 0.17%
US Energy Production History (Quadrillion BTUs)

Coal obtained from open and underground mines, a problem with coal energy production is the CO2 production which is causing global warming and also the ash produced as a by-product is dumped into ponds etc but for how long. Transportation of coal can be just as coal as mining it. 

Natural Gas combustion also produces CO2 (also water), transportation is low cost.

Oil exports are dominated by Saudi Arabia 22% of total oil, Russia 18%, Iran, UAE, Kuwait, Nigeria at 6% each. Oil combustion also produces a lot of CO2. 

Natural gas liquids are by-products of natural gas production, Ethane, Propane, Butane, Pentane.

Ethanol produced primarily from corn due to ease of production, 10-85% ethanol in all gasoline production. 1 unit of Ethanol production requires 0.8 units of  fossil fuels (coal and natural gas mainly)

Cost of fossil fuel/Million BTUs
1 BTU heats 1 point of water up 1 degree Fahrenheit

Oil demand is 75 million barrels per day (17% passes through Strait of Hormuz - choke point) - OPEC produces 30 mbpd. Saudi Arabia primarily controls the price.

OPEC production and Oil price relations

Solar energy can be obtained @ 300 BTU/hour/square foot. 1Kw/Square metre. Best position for it is to have it tilted south, the optimum tilt = latitude directly south. Best option is two axis tracking flat plate.

Solar Panel angle


Energy Conversion - 55% energy resources are lost due to inefficiency of conversion process

Coal power plant

Wind Turbine

Alternative solar technologies

A look at the efficiency levels of various power producing technologies shows that these technologies have a lot of room for improvement, despite some of them being several decades old. Efficiency improvements could in itself do so much in reducing our carbon footprint and damage to the environment. Add to that, the plant capacity utilization on an annual basis being about 40-50% means there is a mismatch between supply and demand.

Electric Technology Efficiencies
Renewable Energy Technology Efficiencies

84% of the global warming 'effect' is because of CO2. 10% from methane.  A molecule of methane causes 25 times more damage than a molecule of CO2.

70% of oil is used for transportation, so how good environmentally are electric cars. Electric cars are not zero emission since electricity production emits CO2. An electric car needs 0.34 kw-hr / mile. 1 kw-hr produces about 1.2 lbm (545 grams) of CO2. Hence for each mile driven, amount of CO2 emitted is 0.4 lbm. Gasoline driven cars emit about 19.6 pounds/gallon. So depending on cars mileage, you can calculate CO2 emission/mile. For a prius hybrid which does 50 mpg, CO2 emission is equivalent to an electric car. // The prof is super anti-electric cars, so numbers used might be a little biased ;)

Toyota Prius is a hybrid car which uses braking energy to energize the car, high MPG. No electricity required, same range as gasoline car. Chevy Volt is a plug-in hybrid car which runs 40 miles just on battery and then switched to a gasoline/electric hybrid. Has a good range. Nissan Leaf is an electric car which doesn't need any oil, but range is limited to 100 miles or so. Upto 300 miles on a Tesla but the prof doesn't say so. 

Ocean Energy - Wave energy requires large areas to be adopted, Tidal energy would get in the way of navigation and infrastructure requirements are too high. Lightning energy is too sporadic in time and location. Electric power transmission/distribution - 'Smart grid' is being implemented, DC (long distance) versus AC (usable, less line loss), wireless has limited use. Solar/Wind Electric energy storage is economically not very viable as yet.

Sunday, September 6, 2015

Drive from Karachi to Istanbul - Preparations

Who doesn't love long scenic drives. But what if you can drive your own car through beautiful terrains, twisting roads, mountains, meadows & lakes. Seems like a dream? The dream is about to come true. For the first time ever, Motor Club of Pakistan in collaboration with Karachi Gliding Club brings you the opportunity to take one hell of a road trip from Karachi to Istanbul stopping by the historical cities of Bam, Yazd, Mashad, Tehran, Tabriz, Cappadocia, Ankara & Istanbul!

An Epic Adventure Starting Mid-September, Spanning Across 24 days, 10,000+ km, 30 Vehicles, 9 Cities & Unlimited Fun!

The route is from Karachi to Quetta on Day 1 and Quetta to Taftan and onto Zahedan, Iran on Day 2

A team of about 20 odd cars with about 60 or so people on board looks all set to go from South Asia all the way to South-Western borders of Europe in an epic 10,000 km journey.

The prep-ups include working with embassies and government departments of all 3 countries to ensure suitable pre-requisites being fulfilled as well as appropriate route, security and accommodations being arranged.

Monday, August 31, 2015

Multan - City of Saints

Multan is fifth largest city of Pakistan. Located in south central Punjab province, at the bank of River Chenab, Multan is known as the city of Sufis or city of saints. A circular road around the rampart gives access to the city through thirteen gates. Multan is an ancient city and has preserved its structures. It is a prosperous city crowded with bazaars, shrines and tombs.
The city is full of colors. There are a lot of distinguishing features about Multan, such as the unique white and blue ceramics, medicated Multan sand, variety of cultivable Mangoes , the hospitable accommodation in Multan and so on. The city is well-planned and is very valuable to trade and heritage.

Jovago’s top 3:
Multan Museum: Multan Museum is a historical place. It has a wide collection of coins, medals, postage stamps of the former State of Bahawalpur. It also contains manuscripts, documented inscriptions, wood carvings, camel-skin paintings, historical models and stone carvings of the Islamic and Pre-Islamic periods. Punjab Government is working to make a new room for Multan museum by converting the famous Ghanta Ghar building into new Museum building.

Mausoleums: The city of Sufis is famous because of residence of various mausoleums. The best known mausoleums are of Hazrat Baha-ud-Din Zakaria, Tomb of Shah Rukn-e-Alam, Hazrat Shamsuddin Sabzwari Multani, Mausoleum of Shah Gardez, Mausoleum of Musa Pak Shaheed, and Mausoleum of Hazrat Hafiz Muhammad Jamal Multani. Their architecture is very artistic and makes them a must visit.

Multan Fort: Multan Fort is also called Kohna Fort or Qila Kohna Qasim Bagh. Located at the city center, it was built on the mound separated from the city by River Ravi but was destroyed by British forces during their occupation. The fort is famous for Dam Dama (a massive block of building constructed on mound), Tomb of Shah Rukne Alam, Nigar khana (collection of art work) and four doorways of the fort (Qasim gate, Sikhi gate, Khizri gate and Hareri gate).
Restaurants: Many five stars to affordable middle sized restaurants can be found in the city. They offer the perfect Punjabi taste of food. Aromatic cuisine comprises of Saag, Lassi, Mutton Karahi and many more that are delicious and flavorsome.
Shopping: Multan is famous for its handicraft stuff. The old city has narrow colorful, bazaars full of local handicrafts. Multan is connected to the textile industry which makes it rich in product variety. Shopping at Multan is fun because Multan has a cultural touch.
Hotels: Jovago Pakistan has many hotels and guest houses in Multan with different price ranges. Book now on No 1 online hotel booking site of Pakistan and get the best prices.
Airport: Multan International Airport is situated 4 km west from city center.
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