Category: People

The mists of the mind

Those inner voices inside our heads!

The photograph below is the yacht that I lived on for 5 years, from 1987 though to 1992. My base was Larnaca Marina in the Greek ‘sector’ of the Island of Cyprus although I cruised over much of the Mediterranean during the warm summer months. (Long-term readers, you poor souls, will realise that this isn’t the first time I have spoken of sailing and Tradewinds…)

Songbird of Kent
Tradewind 33 – Songbird of Kent

As I explain over on my ‘author’s’ blog:

During this period Paul became much more aware of the importance of marketing strategy, becoming a Chartered Member of the British Institute of Marketing, and the raft of competencies that deliver entrepreneurial success. In 1986, Paul accepted an offer to sell the Dataview group of companies. (Regrettably, this period also saw the failure of Paul’s marriage to Britta and their subsequent divorce.)

Again, chance intervened in that an Autumn vacation in 1986 to Larnaca in Cyprus resulted in Paul meeting a couple who wanted to sell their yacht, a Tradewind 33, and return to England. Thus very early in 1987, Paul left Essex and became a full-time ‘yachtie’ living on that Tradewind Songbird of Kent in Larnaca marina. Paul was then exposed to the life of an ocean-going sailor returning to Plymouth, Devon via The Azores onboard Songbird of Kent in 1992.

I purchased this Tradewind 33, designed by Englishman John Rock by the way, because somewhere in my soul was a dream to do some solo ocean sailing. Probably inspired by reading too many books written by famous British solo yacht-persons. Such as Robin Knox-Johnston, Chay Blyth, Naomi James, Ellen MacArthur, Pete Goss and the king of them all: Sir Francis Chichester who was the first person ever to sail around the world single-handed.

But it remained a dream for almost all those 5 years. Reason? Because at the start of the summer cruising period each year I slipped out of Larnaca and sailed along the southern coast of Cyprus, up the Western coast and then the open sea crossing to a nearby Turkish harbour, such as Anamur or Alanya. At the end of the summer I would repeat the solo trip in reverse. But I still haven’t said what the core reason was for not being braver and planning a solo ocean voyage.

Because that sailing voyage twice a year, that took me about four days to accomplish, and was undertaken alone, really scared me. I mean scared with a capital ‘S’! For it was impossible to accomplish without many hours of solo sailing at night!

Fast forward a number of years and one day, when I was living on Songbird at Larnaca Marina into the vacant berth next to me came a new visitor to Cyprus. His name was Les Powells and he very quickly explained that he was on his way back to England on his third solo circumnavigation of the world!

imagesInevitably Les and I got chatting over a couple of beers during our evenings together and Les asked me about my sailing ambitions noting that I lived on a yacht that most people purchased for ocean sailing purposes.

I explained my miserable experiences each year going to and fro between Cyprus and Turkey.

Les heard me out and then threw his head back and roared with laughter.

“Paul, what you are experiencing is the adjustment from a land-based life, as in living here in Larnaca, to a water-based life.

I suffer just the same adjustment stress as you have detailed.”

My face conveyed both my amazement and my yearning to learn more.

“Yes, Paul, every time I go to sea solo the first three or four days are hell! I hate them! I only stick with it because there is always a point, (Les really emphasised the word always) usually under a glorious night sky, when I truly become attuned to the life of a solo yachtsman far out from the nearest land and wouldn’t swap it for anything”

“You have to trust this and set out on a solo voyage of more than, preferably much more than, four days sailing.”

Thus in time that’s what happened.

In the Autumn of 1972 I returned to Plymouth in England, via the Azores, sailing solo on Songbird of Kent. Indeed, I was going to republish an article about lighthouses in Oregon but I’m changing tack in mid-stream; so to speak!

I am going to close today’s post by republishing an experience of being alone on the Atlantic Ocean that first graced these blog pages in October 2015. Lighthouses will have to wait.

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There is a place in my mind to which I can so easily travel; a memory of a dark night out in the Atlantic. But first let me set the scene from almost fifty years ago.

The call of the open ocean

Those first few hours were utterly absorbing as I went through the whole business of clearing the yacht harbour at Gibraltar and heading out to the South-West hugging this unfamiliar coastline of Southern Spain. It was tempting to move out to deeper waters but the almost constant flow of large ships through the Straights of Gibraltar soon quashed that idea. Thankfully, the coastal winds were favourable for me and my single-masted sailing yacht.

After such a long time sailing in the relatively confined waters of the Mediterranean, it was difficult for me to imagine that in a few hours time the southern-most point of Spain would pass me by and the vastness of the Atlantic ocean would be my home for the next few weeks.

Soon the city of Tarifa was past my starboard beam and the Spanish coastline was rapidly disappearing away to the North-West. The horizon ahead of me was already approaching 180 degrees of raw, open ocean.  There was just a flicker of a thought that whispered across my mind: “Oh Paul, what have you gone and done” as slowly but persistently the coastlines of Spain to the North and of Africa to the South became more and more distant and fuzzy.  It was at 15:30 that I made an entry in my yacht’s log: “No land in sight in any direction!

Now was the time to make sure that my bunk was made up, flashlights to hand, and my alarm clock ready and set. Alarm clock? Set to go off every twenty minutes during the night! For this was the only way to protect me and my yacht from being hit by one of those gigantic container ships that seemed to be everywhere. It took at least twenty minutes from the moment a ship’s steaming lights appeared above the horizon to crossing one’s path!

It was in the early hours of my first morning alone at sea, when once again the alarm clock had woken me and I was looking around an ocean without a single ship’s light to be seen that more of Les’ words came to me. I remembered asking Les: “What’s the ­appeal of sailing?” Les replied without a moment’s hesitation: “It’s the solitude. When you’re out at sea on your own, there’s no government or bankers to worry about. You’re not ­responsible to anyone but yourself.

Yes, I could sense the solitude that was all around me but it was an intellectual sense not an emotional one. That would come later. Inside, I was still afraid of what I had let myself in for.

Remarkably quickly however, the pattern of solo life aboard a thirty-three-foot yacht became my world. Frankly, it staggered me as to how busy were my days. Feeding myself, navigating, trying to forecast the winds, staying in touch with other yachties via the short-wave radio, keeping the boat tidy and a zillion other tasks meant the first few days and nights just slipped by.

But it was a sight on my fourth night at sea that created the memory that would turn out to remain with me for all my life. The memory that I can go to anytime in my mind.

That fourth night I was already well into the routine of waking to the alarm clock, clipping on my harness as I climbed up the three steps that took me from my cabin into the cockpit, scanning the horizon with my eyes, checking that the self-steering had the boat at the correct angle to the wind and then, if no ships’ lights had been seen, slipping back down into my bunk and sleeping for another twenty minutes. Remarkably, I was not suffering from any long-term tiredness during the day.

It was a little after 3am that fourth night when the alarm clock had me back up in the cockpit once again. Then it struck me.

Songbird was sailing beautifully. There was a steady wind of around ten knots from the south-east, almost a swell-free ocean, and everything set perfectly.  Not a sign of any ship in any direction.

Then I lifted my eyes upwards. There was not a cloud in the night sky, not a single wisp of mist to dim a single one of the million or more stars that were above my head. For on this dark, moonless night, so far removed from any shore-based light pollution, the vastness, yet closeness of the heavens above was simply breath-taking. I was transfixed. Utterly unable to make any rational sense of this night splendour that glittered in every direction in which I gazed. This dome that represented a vastness beyond any meaning other than a reminder of the magic of the universe.

This magic of the heavens above me that came down to touch the horizon in all directions. Such a rare sight to see the twinkling of stars almost touching the starkness of the ocean’s horizon at night. A total marriage of this one planet with the vastness of outer space.

I heard the alarm clock go off again and again next to my bunk down below. But I remained transfixed until there was a very soft lightening of the skyline to the east that announced that another dawn was on its way.

I would never again look up at the stars in a night sky without being transported back to that wonderful night and the memory of a lonely sea and sky.

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Dear, dear Les is still alive and still living on his yacht Solitaire in an English marina. A very close mutual friend, Bob Derham, arranges to visit Les on a very regular basis and take him out for shopping trips and a leisurely pub lunch.

Bob follows this blog and I hope will have the chance to read out today’s post to Les. For my closing sentence is directed to Les, and Les alone: “Dear Les, thank you from the bottom of my heart for the gift you gave me. For it is a rare night when here in rural Oregon when I go outside at the end of the evening and above my head is a clear, black night sky, full of stars, that I am not transported back to that night alone in the Atlantic ocean. I am still rendered speechless in awe of such night skies.”

The deep, dark, wonderful mists of the mind!

Lateral thinking

In debt to Edward de Bono.

One of the great differences between us humans and our beloved dogs is that frequently we think too much! But it’s worse than that. We think too much and get caught up in some spiral from which we can’t think ourselves back out. Perhaps that can be likened to a dog worrying away at something that the dog thinks is being overlooked by it’s human friend, or over-licking a wound or such.

A very quick web search will bring up the background information on Dr. de Bono who was responsible for overturning the way we think. It was de Bono who attended an IBM Office Products management course that I was attending, far too many moons ago, when I was promoted from being a salesman to the first rung of the management ladder; the position of Marketing Manager. It was during de Bono’s talk that I first learned of lateral thinking and what de Bono called the “PO” moment.

Just watch the first minute of this talk to get an appreciation of what the PO moment is. Seriously, the video starts with Simon Middleton defining a PO moment. It’s relevant to the rest of this post.

As you all know Jean has Parkinson’s Disease (PD). We have come to understand that PD affects different people in different ways, albeit there are some aspects that many PD sufferers share.

Take this symptom as described on the APDA website:

Many individuals report difficulties in multitasking and organizing daily activities.

In recent weeks I noticed I was becoming frustrated because although I was suggesting to Jeannie a number of what I thought were pleasant things to do in and around our property they weren’t being done.

As much as I tried to say to myself to chill out, this is all down to Jean’s PD, I couldn’t push out of sight the growing frustration that my help was being rejected, and I know I have a problem dealing with rejection! I really didn’t want my frustration to build up to anger.

Eventually, one morning last week after I came back to the bedroom from having fed the horses and the deer I blurted out, rather clumsily I admit, this frustration that was close to becoming a real annoyance.

At first Jean was upset by what I said, understandably so, but then we settled down to examining each suggestion of mine and where I was coming from. Then the conversation became very productive and in a moment of creative thinking I suggested what turned out to be a ‘PO’ moment. In other words, we had both agreed that while we acknowledged the fact that Jean was not motivated to do the things I was suggesting nonetheless it was important that we choose another day and time to discuss how I should remind Jean of these ‘overlooked’ suggestions and, more importantly, how it could be done in a loving and constructive manner.

It was a fascinating outcome and I immediately jumped out of bed, went to my office room next to the bedroom, grabbed a new, unused notebook and came back to the bedroom.

“Jean, let’s write this down in the book as a reminder of something we need to return to and resolve in a creative way! Let’s call these reminders Pharaoh moments!”

Jean very happily agreed!

I then explained to Jean that this felt very much like one of de Bono’s PO moments and calling it a Pharaoh moment was a beautiful way of remembering our wonderful dog.

It was beyond doubt an example of Jean and me thinking laterally.

So thank you, dear Edward, your legacy still endures.

I will close today’s post by inviting you to watch either or both of these talks by de Bono.

The first is a little over 4 minutes long.

Or a longer video that is still highly recommended:

Published on 22 Oct 2015

Edward de Bono is the originator of the concept of Lateral Thinking, which is now a firm entry in the Oxford English Dictionary. Dr de Bono was born in Malta. As a well-established academic, de Bono was a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford and holds an MA in psychology and physiology from Oxford. He is a Professor at many leading institutions around the world. He is an author of many best-selling books, and is known as the world’s leading authority on thinking.
I write this post as a very happy man who has lived the value and benefits of not bottling up one’s feelings!

Inward thoughts.

Reflections on being gentle to yourself.

There are three reasons why I wrote this post. A post that runs across today and tomorrow.

Firstly, this post is inspired by love! The supreme love that I receive from my darling Jeannie and the love that I sense practically twenty-four hours a day that flows from the beautiful dogs that we have here. But also from the wonders of the rural world in which I live. From sights like the one below to being visited by wild deer every single morning when I go out to feed the horses.

The view from our bedroom window any cloudless morning. (This photo taken October 18th, 2015.)

The second reason for writing this post is a direct result of the love that flows in from so, so many of you precious readers. You are like one big online family that I live in. And, as one hopes to do within a family, from time to time you want to open up your inner feelings.

The third and final reason for this post is wanting to explore how one might find some peace from the chaos that seems to be spread so far and wide across this planet that we all call home.

It’s a very personal journey and I suggest that if this is not your ‘cup of tea’ that you call back another day!

OK! Now that’s off my chest, here we go!

Life’s beauty is inseparable from it’s fragility.

Pause awhile and just let those words float around your mind.

It is a quotation taken from a TED Talk that Jean and I watched a few days ago.

The speaker is Susan David and is described on that TED Talk page as follows:

Psychologist Susan David shares how the way we deal with our emotions shapes everything that matters: our actions, careers, relationships, health and happiness. In this deeply moving, humorous and potentially life-changing talk, she challenges a culture that prizes positivity over emotional truth and discusses the powerful strategies of emotional agility. A talk to share.
This talk was presented at an official TED conference, and was featured by our editors on the home page.

If you want to watch the talk it is a little over 16 minutes long and may be viewed on the TED Talk site here.

Let me return to that quotation. For there is no question that life, at whatever scale, from the personal to the global, is fragile. Fragile with a capital “F“!

Whether it’s the madness of our politics and governments, or nature presenting us with extreme hurricanes, volcanoes, earthquakes and floods, or the frustrations of life itself, especially when one is the wrong side of 65, or numerous other aspects of being human it’s terribly easy to become frustrated, or worse, with oneself.  I speak from a very personal perspective as my short-term recall is now pathetic!

STOP! (You see, I wrote the word “pathetic” without thinking. Demonstrating how  quickly I come down on myself. Without automatically and unconsciously being gentle on myself and being very grateful that this old Brit, born in 1944, is still able to string a few words together!)

One of the great, possibly the greatest, things that we can learn from our dogs is to be gentle on ourselves. So very often our dogs take time out to relax, to be happy and to spread their joy around the home. Look at the following photograph!

Oliver demonstrating the art of being very gentle on himself and on Pedi. (Picture taken November, 2015.)

Being gentle on yourself!

But for us humans that seems a great deal more easier to say than to practice!

Yet the argument for being gentle to yourself is compelling. And the first step in that personal journey towards being kinder to yourself is to be better aware of oneself when it comes to our emotions.

I shall be continuing this inward journey tomorrow but today, holding on to that idea of how we manage our emotions, I want to close with another TED Talk. Just 18 minutes long but invaluable to watch.

The talk is given by Professor Lisa Feldman Barrett, PhD who is Distinguished Professor of Psychology at Northeastern University,and has positions in psychiatry and radiology at Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School.

As I was reading the draft of this post it did cross my mind that you do know I write from a purely personal perspective. I hold no qualifications whatsoever in the fields of psychiatry, psychology or any related disciplines. If you have found yourself to be affected to the point where you think you need proper counselling then, please, do seek help.

Part Two coming along tomorrow!

The Great Backyard Bird Count

Wherever you are in the world, are you able to participate in this?

As first seen on the EarthSky site.

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Great Backyard Bird Count February 16–19

By Deanna Conners in EARTH | HUMAN WORLD February 9, 2018

Scientists need your help counting birds for the 21st annual Great Backyard Bird Count. It is free and easy to participate. Find out how here.

Bird watching in the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area. Image via National Park Service.

The annual Great Backyard Bird Count, now in its 21st year, is set to take place February 16 to 19, 2018. During this popular citizen science event, people from all over the world head outdoors to count birds and the data are used by scientists to track the health of bird populations.

Gary Langham, Chief Scientist at the National Audubon Society, commented on the Great Backyard Bird Count on Audubon’s website. He said:

This count is so fun because anyone can take part—we all learn and watch birds together—whether you are an expert, novice, or feeder watcher. I like to invite new birders to join me and share the experience. Get involved, invite your friends, and see how your favorite spot stacks up.

The 2017 count was a huge success. Over 200,000 people participated from around the world, and they submitted a record number of checklists. A total of 6,259 bird species were spotted during the event, which was the highest number ever recorded over the 20-year history of the count. This number represents more than half of all known bird species on Earth!

Siberian stonechat photographed in Zhemgang, Bhutan, during the 2017 Great Backyard Bird Count. Image via Sancha Rai.

Participating in the 2018 Great Backyard Bird Count involves three easy steps.

First, register with your name on the event’s website at the link here. Registration is free. This website has a ton of useful information about birds and the upcoming bird count.

Second, spend some time counting birds on the weekend of the event at the location of your choice, such as your backyard or a local park. The minimum amount of time required is 15 minutes, but you can count for longer if you wish. During your count, simply record the start and end time, location, and number and types of birds that you see. You can perform counts in multiple locations too. Just be sure to submit separate checklists for each location.

Not to worry if you can’t identify the birds you see at first. Just take good notes about their prominent features, for example, size, shape, color, and unusual markings, or you can try to snap a close-up picture. Then, you can use a bird guide to look them up later. All About Birds and What Bird are two good online bird identification guides that are free and easy to use. Additionally, the free Merlin Bird ID App can be downloaded to your smartphone and used offline. Merlin will ask you five simple questions about the bird you are trying to identify and suggest matches for you—you can even upload a picture to Merlin and let the app try to identify it.

The third and last step involves uploading your data to the event’s website. This step usually only takes a few minutes to complete. While you’re visiting the website, check out the live map that displays dots in the various locations where people have uploaded a checklist. It’s fun to watch the data pour in from all over the world.

As an added bonus, there is a photo contest for those who want to submit pictures of the birds that they see during the event. You can even submit photos of yourself watching the birds. Hence, don’t forget your binoculars. If you do shoot some good photos, please share them with EarthSky too. We love birding photos!

Bluejay photographed in Sioux Lookout, Ontario, Canada, during the 2017 Great Backyard Bird Count. Image via Rose Pogoda.

Use the hashtag #GBBC to follow Great Backyard Bird Count conversations on Twitter and Facebook.
The first annual Great Backyard Bird Count was held in 1998, and the event has continued to grow year after year. Hopefully, 2018 will be another record breaker.
The Great Backyard Bird Count is a collaborative project of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, National Audubon Society, and Bird Studies Canada.
Bottom line: The annual Great Backyard Bird Count runs from February 16 to 19, 2018. This popular citizen science project helps scientists keep track of the health of bird populations. Participating is free and easy, so why not give it a try?

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So, once again, the Bird Count starts on this coming Friday, the 16th, and runs through to the end of next Monday, the 19th.

Do please join Jean and me and many thousands of others in this very important survey.

Our internet safety!

Completely overwhelmed by all you wonderful followers.

Yesterday, around mid-morning time, the number of good persons who are following this blog reached 3,000!

That is both wonderful and hugely generous of each and every one of you that ‘subscribes’ to this place.

I was going to publish another guest post but will delay that for twenty-four hours.

For as a mark of respect for all of you online people who have signed up to follow Learning from Dogs I want to republish a recent item that appeared on The Conversation site.

Here it is. Republished within the terms of The Conversation.

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Improve your internet safety: 4 essential reads

by    Science + Technology Editor, The Conversation US

On Feb. 6, technology companies, educators and others mark Safer Internet Day and urge people to improve their online safety. Many scholars and academic researchers around the U.S. are studying aspects of cybersecurity and have identified ways people can help themselves stay safe online. Here are a few highlights from their work.

1. Passwords are a weakness

With all the advice to make passwords long, complex and unique – and not reused from site to site – remembering passwords becomes a problem, but there’s help, writes Elon University computer scientist Megan Squire:

“The average internet user has 19 different passwords. … Software can help! The job of password management software is to take care of generating and remembering unique, hard-to-crack passwords for each website and application.”

That’s a good start.

2. Use a physical key

To add another layer of protection, keep your most important accounts locked with an actual physical key, writes Penn State-Altoona information sciences and technology professor Jungwoo Ryoo:

“A new, even more secure method is gaining popularity, and it’s a lot like an old-fashioned metal key. It’s a computer chip in a small portable physical form that makes it easy to carry around. The chip itself contains a method of authenticating itself.”

Just don’t leave your keys on the table at home.

3. Protect your data in the cloud

Many people store documents, photos and even sensitive private information in cloud services like Google Drive, Dropbox and iCloud. That’s not always the safest practice because of where the data’s encryption keys are stored, explains computer scientist Haibin Zhang at University of Maryland, Baltimore County:

“Just like regular keys, if someone else has them, they might be stolen or misused without the data owner knowing. And some services might have flaws in their security practices that leave users’ data vulnerable.”

So check with your provider, and consider where to best store your most important data.

4. Don’t forget about the rest of the world

Sadly, in the digital age, nowhere is truly safe. Jeremy Straub from North Dakota State University explains how physical objects can be used to hijack your smartphone:

“Attackers may find it very attractive to embed malicious software in the physical world, just waiting for unsuspecting people to scan it with a smartphone or a more specialized device. Hidden in plain sight, the malicious software becomes a sort of ‘sleeper agent’ that can avoid detection until it reaches its target.”

It’s a reminder that using the internet more safely isn’t just a one-day effort.

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So be safe all of you! It’s a very different world to that of twenty or more years ago!

Picture Parade Two Hundred and Twenty-Nine

Yet more incredible photographs.

Will simply repeat what I wrote last Sunday:

But these are not from Tanja but from Graham; an online friend back in England. When I queried about republishing them here Graham simply said that they came to him when he was just “doing the rounds”.  So, hopefully, publishing them in this place is not trampling on the photographer’s copyrights. If this does represent a copyright infringement then the particular photograph will be removed immediately – just let me know!

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You all have a very good week!

Once again, thank you Graham for sending these to me.

Who would have guessed it!

A little snippet to share with you today.

Last Thursday, together with Jeannie, I returned to the hospital in Eugene, OR, that I was taken to on December 24th after my bike accident on the 22nd November; all of which has been shared with you good people.

Dr. Kokkino of the Oregon Neurosurgery department, he who undertook the operation to evacuate two sub-dural bleedings, wanted to check me out.

He pronounced me fit to return to normal life including bike riding. But when I queried that I was still feeling a little “second-hand” in the head from time to time Dr. K. said this:

Your brain took a major knock back in November.

It would be reasonable to assume that full healing will take at least three months and quite possibly as long as six months!

Of course, that was very comforting to hear but nonetheless very surprising. That’s what I wanted to share.

Yesterday morning, dear friend and neighbour Dordie came riding with me and we did the ‘Tunnel Loop’ circuit; about six miles.

It felt very good.

So from this:

to this (me on the bike when I first purchased it!):

Will close by saying again how amazed I was to hear that prediction from Dr. K. as to how long the brain takes to heal!

I’m sure many of you will be equally amazed!

Have a good weekend everyone!

More on that clean air!

A republication of a post from August 25th, 2012.
(It seemed a natural follow-on to Kelli’s guest post of yesterday.)
Just about the most fundamental requirement in life!

I subscribe to the Mother Nature Network website and recently in their ’round robin’ was this item, A Breath of Fresh Air.  It’s all about the role of plants inside the home for improving the quality of the air we breathe.  Thought, dear reader, that you would enjoy this.

15 houseplants for improving indoor air quality

Photo: ivama/Flickr

A breath of fresh air

In the late ’80s, NASA and the Associated Landscape Contractors of America studied houseplants as a way to purify the air in space facilities. They found several plants that filter out common volatile organic compounds (VOCs). Lucky for us the plants can also help clean indoor air on Earth, which is typically far more polluted than outdoor air. Other studies have since been published in the Journal of American Society of Horticultural Science furtherproving the science.  Want to see the best flowers? Just click through the buttons above to see all 15 plants. (Text: Julie Knapp)<

The image above is just one of 17, each with details of how they contribute to cleaner, less toxic, air. So don’t delay, click here and read all about them yourself.  Here’s an example of the presentation from picture number 16.

Peace lily (Spathiphyllum)

Shade and weekly watering are all the peace lily needs to survive and produce blooms. It topped NASA’s list for removing all three of most common VOCs — formaldehyde, benzeneand trichloroethylene. It can also combat toluene and xylene.

Have a great day!