Peet Brits

Hmm, but that doesn't make any sense…

Before Living Our Talents We Need Love

Posted by Peet Brits on April 26, 2011

In my previous post I introduced the concept of focusing on your talents to live a strength-based life. There is, however, a much deeper psychological need in every human being, and that is the need to feel loved. When the need is met you can move out and meet your potential. If unmet, we simply struggle to survive. [1]

When I say “love” I’m not simply talking about the love from a dating relationship. In our culture love has sadly become a synonym for sex or relationships. Limiting love to such formal parameters really robs us of great experiences. We fall in the trap where we keep searching and wishing for such relationship, and when we blindly jump to fulfil it it quickly turns sour because we entered with the wrong intentions.

That, however, is not the point I am trying to make. The point is to get closer to the true meaning of love, and prevent the paralysed effect of feeling unloved.

Love Languages

Let’s look at love from a different angle. The author Gary Chapman introduced the world to the five love languages, and according to him, these languages are the way in which we prefer to express and receive love. The five categories are Words of Affirmation, Quality Time, Receiving Gifts, Acts of Service, and Physical Touch. You can discover yours from this quiz: http://www.5lovelanguages.com/assessments/love/

A single person might quickly point out that this will not help you much until you are in a dating relationship. Well, actually we are already in many relationships where we can begin to practice the concepts. Relationships include, among other, parents, family, friends, and even people at work. For example, take Words of Affirmation. Tell your parents you love them. Tell your colleagues that you appreciate it when they do a good job or help you out. Don’t just assume they know you appreciate it. Give them feedback and let them know how their effort helped.

Reference

[1] Five Love Languages for Singles, Gary Chapman

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Fulfilment from Living your Strenghts

Posted by Peet Brits on March 5, 2011

As of the end of last year I got qualified as a talent coach with the Strength Finder, and it is about time I write something about it. Below is the post that I originally posted on the “Sharing Insights” blog.

Probably the single most important reason why people struggle to reach their full potential is the traditional fallacy that in order to be successful you need to improve your weaknesses. As a result people waste years and decades trying to become better at what they struggle with and do not enjoy, often completely neglecting their natural strengths and the talents that makes them unique and potentially highly effective.

Strength-Based Living

The difference between strengths and weaknesses is not about how easy the task is, or even how good or bad you are at it, but realizing that strengths fulfil you and weaknesses drain you. For example, if you are a type of person that loves new ideas, then you will quickly become bored and unfocused if you do not have an outlet for new ideas. Many people hate their jobs because they spend all day on draining activities, so work has become the “necessary evil” to gain the money required for other things.

This is where the Strength Finder comes to the rescue. They say that it is not so much your job, but your role within the job that matters. If things like your passion and career choices determine your job, then your talents determine the nature of the tasks within the job.

Once you know your talents, you can start with just your top five talents and begin to integrate it into your daily program. Talent integration is not limited to individuals and teams at work, but due to its fresh out-of-the-box approach, one can easily apply it to things like couples coaching and other aspects of life.

“Once you do something you love, you never have to work again.” ~Willie Hill

The quote sounds simple enough, but HOW do you do it? Well, by living your talents, which the Strength Finder will help you identify. The Strength Finder changed the perspectives of many lives over the last thirty years, and the Gallup organization prides itself on having the topic well researched.

Conclusion

I am convinced that behind almost every frustration and argument lies an unrealized or misunderstood talent. These talents will fulfil and motivate you when employed. Let me help you find your talents and turn your life into a success story.

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Gender Equality vs. What Women Want

Posted by Peet Brits on January 11, 2011

I recently read an article questioning why there are so few women in tech-related jobs. My current opinion is that tech jobs usually do not attract many women. For example, the logical/abstract way of reasoning required for programming typically make it a white male job in South Africa. This has nothing to with smart/stupid, but the way people are wired.

As I so often do, I also questioned the intention or consequence of the statement. Different people have different talents, so why do we want to force people to be the same in all areas? I say celebrate the achievements without trying to balance everything and thereby forcing people into situations where they do not fit, as this will only lead to frustration and dissatisfaction. For example, I know a woman in the software industry that is brilliant at design specifications, but she hates programming, even though she studied it for many years.

The Problem Runs Deeper

I thought that was it, but then I read a news article (in Afrikaans) expressing that women still want to marry men that are financially independent and more successful than themselves, but the pressure from gender equality makes them unwilling to admit it. It has become politically incorrect to be just a homemaker. The original study was by Dr Catherine Hakim.

In Hakim’s book “Feminist Myths and Magic Medicine” she expressed that although equal opportunity policies regarding women’s access to the labour market (in the UK) were successful, there are still many frustrations and myths that need to be dealt with. Some feminists feel that the change is too slow. I would suggest that anyone interested in this topic consider looking at her well researched e-book on her website.

Just to comment on a few myths, she mentioned that men and women do differ in careerist attitudes, values and goals. Men routinely bargain and negotiate over promotion, responsibilities and pay. When women ask for benefits the nature of the request is much different. Men are also more likely to be careerist in their attitudes and goals. The second interesting fact, which I already mentioned earlier, is that women do not always prefer to earn their own living, and they do not hate financial dependence on men. Women aspire to marry up.

The one myth that caught me completely off guard was that women in fact do not have a different, cooperative managerial style. During my studies on leadership (Masters degree), I found that this is something that is so often assumed to be true, but Hakim found this not to be the case:

Female managers differ from male managers in their personal characteristics and family lives, but not in the way that they do the job. … It is easy to forget that many men employ a ‘soft’ consensual and cooperative style of management that is popular in service sector and knowledge industries. … Very often people self-select themselves into industries and occupations that have a congenial and compatible culture. But most occupations tolerate a huge variety of social styles.

Conclusion

I personally have no problem with women in tech-related jobs. In fact, I sometimes wish there were more women especially in my line of work, but we should never force them into an area where they do not fit. This will only make matters worse. There is a difference between equal opportunity and equal outcome, and it is in this gap where assumptions on equality fall apart. Individual talent and interest must always be the most important factor. There is much unnecessary pressure on women to be, well, to be men, which is really the last thing any of us want.

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A more scientific reason why robots will not rule the earth

Posted by Peet Brits on December 20, 2010

My previous post had very little to do with robots, so I will dedicate this post to some views on what intelligent computers might, or might not, become.

From an evolutionary point of view, the neocortex is the last addition to the brain. It is our cortex that makes us think and act consciously. Mammals have a smaller and less developed cortex, so they also have memories and some creativity, but it is our highly developed conscious thought that distinguishes us humans from animals. As far as computer intelligence is concerned, the neocortex is what we care about.

Taken from the book On Intelligence by Jeff Hawkins, here is a reason why the robots we see in Sci-fi movies will not rule the earth. Firstly, even if we copy the cortex, we still lack emotions from the “old brain” and the complex inputs from the human body and nervous system. No emotions mean no greed, no ambition and no desire for wealth, social recognition or sensual gratification. That is, unless we painstakingly design these, which will be extremely difficult and quite pointless.

Secondly, the high cost and effort required to make such a machine makes it completely impractical. For example, an intelligent robot butler would be more expensive and less helpful than a human assistant would be. Despite being intelligent, it will not have the understanding that a fellow human would share.

That said, assuming we do not run out of natural resources or kill each other in another world war, I believe that there is much room for intelligent machines in our future. Machines will be considered intelligent because they can learn and make useful predictions. Machines will be the strongest where we are the weakest, be that due to intellectual difficulty, inadequateness of our senses or with activities that we find boring.

I recently saw a video (but lost the link) where computers are intelligently applied to predict a medical diagnosis for a patient. They claimed that computer predictions would be faster and more accurate than that of a human doctor, since it has all the available data about the patient. Humans can only keep a limited amount of data in memory, which potentially limits the time and accuracy of the diagnosis. Since medical conditions are well documented and researched, the computer can combine the rules with the symptoms and a long medical history of the patient to make an accurate prediction.

The above example is still far from the intelligence found in the cortex, but who knows where the future will take us. Intelligent machines will aid us to invent extremely useful tools, but nothing more.

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The real reason why robots will not rule the earth

Posted by Peet Brits on December 12, 2010

This post has nothing to do with robots and Sci-fi. If that is all you care about, then wait for the next post.

Here is the real reason why robots will not rule the earth: Machines require electricity, which requires oil, and in our lifetime we will see the end (or steady decline) of oil consumption.

You don’t believe me? Here’s the proof. This presentation by Dr. Albert A. Bartlett explains the simple yet not so well known implications of the exponential function, and below I will highlight some of the points he made. For example, a mere 7% growth will result in a doubling every ten years.

“But we will discover new resources.” Really? Do you understand how much we will need to discover to maintain exponential growth? It will just make a little bump on the downward curve.

The classical example to explain this concept is from the wheat and chessboard problem. A king wanted to reward a mathematician for an invention, and the wise man asked for a very simple reward: on the first square of a chessboard he would receive one grain of wheat, two on the second, four on the third, and so forth, doubling the amount each time. That doesn’t sound like much, right? Well, the result would be about 400-times the 1990 worldwide harvest of wheat! That is more wheat than from the entire history of earth!

Even more shocking than the total amount is the idea that every square contains more wheat than the total of all the cells that came before it. The implication of this is that, if it takes one hour to fill a bottle with the steady growth of a doubling function, then the bottle would be no more than halfway full at ONE minute before the end. THIS is the real impact of the exponential function: It bursts out so unexpectedly that we never see it coming.

Apply this idea to oil consumption (or any of the earth’s finite resources) in combination with a steady population growth, then it is not hard to imagine how unsustainable it really is. The video suggests that even if we discover a second earth it would not be enough to sustain continual exponential growth. We have bred a culture that expects growth, yet all growth destroys the environment, smart growth just does it in good taste.

This and many other problems boil down to the earth’s over-population. A great example of the over-population problem is that of Asimov’s bathroom metaphor, but I suggest you stop listening to me and watch the video to get the full impact.

This is just a small taste of what the YouTube video has to offer. Listen and be amazed!

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This Feeble Technology Garbage

Posted by Peet Brits on November 26, 2010

I would like to dedicate this post to a man who, since 1993, spend his time fighting the good fight of defending IT technology standards, and then took the year of 2009 off to play World of Warcraft.

That’s right.

World of Warcraft.

For a year.

He said he had no regrets putting that much time into fun, but he regretted how much time he wasted studying technology that will be obsolete in the next blink of an eye. I must say that I am right there with him on investing lots of time learning technologies that you end up never using again. Even if it does not go obsolete, you either get a new job or your job giver wants you to work on something else.

Do not misunderstand me here. I love learning, but learning without doing just gets me down. “Doing is greater than learning, yet knowledge must precede action.”

I already abandoned the idea of my ideal programming job a long time ago. It often feels that software development is in the hunter-gatherer stage, and those developers who impresses the most are those who swing their clubs and spears as wildly as possible. In the process things do happen, not because they are good, but because they strike so many times. And who cares about the mess they leave behind, as long as the deadline is met. In the first link above, David referred to this as “good self-marketing and political back rubbing.”

Maybe I am just bored. No, drained. And fed up. Is it not about time that I take a sabbatical?

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The Singularity – What?

Posted by Peet Brits on September 12, 2010

The Singularity is the notion that computers will eventually take over the role of humans, or at least create a new entity with smarter-than-human intelligence. This is not exactly like sci-fi movies, such as The Terminator. For a more descriptive overview, see SIAI and Wikipidea. The current estimate for the coming singularity is the year 2045 (Kurzweil, 2005).

Why It Feels Silly

My ex-colleague Marius thought it completely silly, especially when they talk about human extinction by AI, and the more I think about it the more I agree with him. Let me explain why I belief these ideas are nothing but pies in the sky.

I am halfway through the book “On Intelligence” by Jeff Hawkins, a man with firm roots in computing and possessing great knowledge about neuroscience. His main argument against the coming singularity is that we do not understand the nature of intelligence. Bigger and faster does not equal intelligent. Hawkins expressed that, although computers are already five million times faster than the human brain, it cannot do tasks like recognizing a cat in a photograph. I still have to read about his new suggested framework, but it does not change the concept.

Computers and brains are fundamentally different, and they achieve fundamentally different tasks. Computers are brilliant at mathematical calculations, but terrible and inferred ideas. For example, chess is a big challenge for a computer, but it can reach professional level. With the Chinese game Go, computers can just about reach strong amateur level. Many AI researchers believe that Go mimics elements of human thought much more than chess. (Anybody wants to learn Go?)

Hawkins claimed that Turing’s definition for intelligence is incomplete. He explained, through the thought experiment of the Chinese room, that one cannot measure understanding by external behaviour, and therefore “programs are neither constitutive of nor sufficient for minds.” Some criticism on Wikipedia agrees that it is impossible for machines to be truly intelligent.

I have yet to compare the ideas with that of the brilliant futurist Ray Kurzweil’s book “The Singularity is near.” His predictions are probably more related to sudden technological growth, not just intelligence.

For the Paranoid

I wanted to label this section “For the Religious and the Paranoid,” but that would only get me in trouble. The older generation often gets paranoid, and it just so happens that many of them are religious. The late Douglas Adams explained the concept of people’s paranoia about the future very nicely:

1) Everything that’s already in the world when you’re born is just normal;

2) Anything that gets invented between then and before you turn thirty is incredibly exciting and creative and with any luck you can make a career out of it;

3) Anything that gets invented after you’re thirty is against the natural order of things and the beginning of the end of civilisation as we know it until it’s been around for about ten years when it gradually turns out to be alright really.

Apply this list to movies, rock music, word processors and mobile phones to work out how old you are.

Whoever you are, I have good news for you. If the idea of a coming singularity makes you feel uneasy and angry, then do not worry, because it will probably not happen in your lifetime. On the other hand, if you are getting butterflies of excitement, then hold your thumbs and keep your eyes open.

Conclusion

I am a big fan of Douglas Adams. He has a brilliant way of mocking the overall silliness of humanity in his books, especially in The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy. Humans are constantly on the search for some sort of a greater meaning, yet none exists. Yes, you heard me. There is no greater meaning or ultimate answer to our existence other than that which we give it.

Referring back to Jeff Hawkins, it is in our nature to create patterns, and so we find them even where none exists. Whatever the nature of the coming singularity will be, it will probably be no more harmful than the internet and computers were for the previous generation, and rock-and-roll music for the generation before that, and probably even the wheel back when the cave dwellers invented it.

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Me and Microsoft – A love-hate relationship

Posted by Peet Brits on September 6, 2010

EDIT: This post should be tagged as span 😉

Lately I am doing a lot of Silverlight development (with C#.NET), and although I love the capabilities of this platform, there are times when I get frustrated – no, angry – with Microsoft. I do not like the way they work and the type of decisions they make. They first have to make a complete mess out of something before they can get it right, and so often it is because they copied the idea (legal or not) from someone else. I know I am running with the stereotype, and I understand that a business has to grow, but I cannot shake the feeling that they are bullying the smaller competition out of the way.

Microsoft has become like Thor the thunder god: carrying around a giant hammer wherever it goes. When it hits, whether on the nail or completely off, you can be sure that it will leave a big mark.

The public had to suffer through Windows Vista before they got Windows 7. If it were not for projects like Mozilla Firefox, we would still probably be stuck with crappy earlier versions of Internet Explorer, which was not their own product to begin with. (Mosaic is the web browser credited with popularizing the World Wide Web. Microsoft bought Mosaic’s source, modified it, and renamed it to Internet Explorer. Most of Mosaic’s team moved on to develop the then much better Netscape Navigator, which intentionally shared no code with Mosaic. ) The list goes on.

To give one technical example, the Microsoft RIA team added the DomainDataSource to work with Visual Studio 2010, but the Expression Blend designer does not recognize it as a data source. Just so you know, Blend has always been the primary method of creating and binding data sources. What were those idiots they thinking? Is this a conspiracy to make people stop using Blend for the sake of Visual Studio, which already feels like it is struggling to carry its own weight? I am not the only one that feels this way.

Now take a deep breath.

All right, I feel better now. I still love Silverlight and C#. Silverlight is embracing the open-source community. Different teams are doing hard work to make Silverlight cross-browser and cross-platform compatible, which makes me feel much better.

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The Law of the Garbage Truck

Posted by Peet Brits on August 6, 2010

This is my repost of The Law of the Garbage Truck™ by David J. Pollay. I found the message in my e-mail, and it was so good that I had to share. The message is a practical picture to help us avoid toxic human behaviour.

Here is David’s story…

Garbage Truck

Garbage Truck

How often do you let other people’s nonsense change your mood?  Do you let a bad driver, rude waiter, curt boss, or an insensitive employee ruin your day?  Unless you’re the Terminator, you’re probably set back on your heels.  However, the mark of your success is how quickly you can refocus on what’s important in your life. Sixteen years ago I learned this lesson.  And I learned it in the back of a New York City taxi cab. Here’s what happened.

I hopped in a taxi, and we took off for Grand Central Station.  We were driving in the right lane when all of a sudden, a black car jumped out of a parking space right in front of us.  My taxi driver slammed on his brakes, the car skidded, the tires squealed, and at the very last moment our car stopped just one inch from the other car’s back-end.

I couldn’t believe it.  But then I couldn’t believe what happened next.  The driver of the other car, the guy who almost caused a big accident, whipped his head around and he started yelling bad words at us.  How do I know?  Ask any New Yorker, some words in New York come with a special face.  And for emphasis, he threw in a one finger salute, as if his words were not enough.

But then here’s what really blew me away.  My taxi driver just smiled and waved at the guy.  And I mean, he was friendly.  So, I said, “Why did you just do that!?  This guy could have killed us!”  And this is when my taxi driver told me what I now call, “The Law of the Garbage Truck™.”  He said:

Many people are like garbage trucks.  They run around full of garbage, full of frustration, full of anger, and full of disappointment.  As their garbage piles up, they look for a place to dump it.  And if you let them, they’ll dump it on you.

So when someone wants to dump on you, don’t take it personally.  Just smile, wave, wish them well, and move on.  Believe me.  You’ll be happier.

So I started thinking, how often do I let Garbage Trucks run right over me?  And how often do I take their garbage and spread it to other people at work, at home, or on the street?  It was then that I said, “I don’t want their garbage and I’m not going to spread it anymore.”

Download the picture version. (Great for forwarding in e-mails.)

Read more about the book, which will be released in October this year.

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Introduction to C# Delegates and Events

Posted by Peet Brits on August 3, 2010

Delegate: A person appointed or elected to represent others.

In programming a delegate, or a method definition or a function pointer, represents a reference or pointer to a method. In C++ it had many confusing stars and brackets, but in C# the definition is rather simple:

// Delegate / method definition
public delegate void NodeEvent(object sender, bool reloadOnly);

The second concept related to delegates is Events. Events conform to the definition of the delegate. Any code can use a delegate, but only the containing class can throw events. This provides an easy construct for external code to subscribe to and unsubscribe from events.

// Event definition, conforming the the delegate "NodeEvent"
public event NodeEvent BeforeExpandNode;

// SUBSCRIBE SAMPLE (this happens in the client code)

listBrowser.BeforeExpandNode += new NodeEvent(listBrowser_BeforeExpandNode);

// TIP: in VS, when you type '+=' and press tab, the designer
// will automatically generate the method definition

// The definition of this method is the same as the delegate "NodeEvent"
void listBrowser_BeforeExpandNode(object sender, bool reloadOnly)
{
    // ...
}

// Optionally, you can add/remove methods in a much simpler way:
listBrowser.BeforeExpandNode += listBrowser_BeforeExpandNode;   // Add (subscribe)
listBrowser.BeforeExpandNode -= listBrowser_BeforeExpandNode;   // Remove (unsubscribe)

The above same shows how events allow you to call a list of methods at once by calling the single method “listBrowser.BeforeExpandNode.” The attached methods will trigger in the order that they were attached. It is the client’s responsibility to ensure that the called methods are exception safe. If the attached method throws an exception then the entire list will be abandoned.

// THROW EVENT SAMPLE (this happens in the class where the event is defined)

protected void OnBeforeExpandNode(object sender, bool reloadOnly)
{
    // I am lazy to type this out every time, so I put it in a method.
    // In programming, lazy usually means efficient.

    // Private variable to ensure thread safety
    var handler = BeforeExpandNode;
    if (handler != null)
    {
        // This will call everything subscribed to it.
        // In our example this is "listBrowser_BeforeExpandNode()"
        handler(sender, reloadOnly);
    }
}

// Usage sample:
private void ExpandNode()
{
    // Add custom checks here
    // ...

    // Now raise the "BeforeExpandNode" event
    OnBeforeExpandNode(this, false);

    // Now continue to expand the node
    // ...
}

Comparing the two, you can only invoke events from with the declared class, but any class can use delegates. Interfaces can specify events, but not delegates. Events can override Add/Remove method accessors. For more differences, see this comparison between delegates and events.

That is it! Now you know how to use basic delegates and events. As a bonus, here is an additional sample:

// When registering an event it is possible to use a delegate instead of the actual method.
// I prefer to avoid this, because it makes debugging much harder.
btn.Click += delegate(object sender, RoutedEventArgs e) { ... };

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