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Ignobel

Stuart White
THE WORLD IN BLACK-N-WHITE

When wealthy Swedish munitions manufacturer and inventor of dynamite Alfred Nobel read his own obituary, which had been printed in error, he suddenly realised that he would forever be remembered for being that person who “had made it possible to kill more people more quickly than anyone else who had ever lived”.  

In actual fact it was Nobel’s brother who had died but the mistake did give Nobel the opportunity very few of us ever have and that was to read his obituary while alive.  Utterly horrified, right at that moment Nobel knew that this was not how he wanted to be remembered. In fact ironically it had been the death of his brother which had made him determined to invent a safer blasting chemical than gunpowder or the recently-invented nitro-glycerine and had led him to turning the volatile material into a paste which was much safer to handle. His intention had been to save lives and here he was being held potentially responsible for the loss of untold numbers.  The rest as they say, is history. 

This chance glimpse into his legacy resulted in Nobel dedicating his fortune to honouring and rewarding those who benefited humanity through what we know today as the Nobel Peace Prize.

In this spirit there is an exercise regularly conducted in training programmes and appearing in many self-help books called ‘the obituary exercise’ which encourages one to consider what they would most like to be known for. The exercise takes the form of writing an obituary to cover and reflect such things as your values, personality points, characteristics, strengths or relationships.  If I asked you, as I was recently asked, to reflect on your life, would you say it has felt like treading water – metaphorically being in a rut; or thriving and prospering; full of emotional vitality and personal and professional success – in Positive Psychology (PP); ‘flourishing’.  

Perhaps there is one dominant theme or perhaps it is a bit of both?  If you are wondering what the heck positive psychology (PP) is, it’s the study of happiness and by inference when we flourish we are happy! In one of the most famous positive psychology books called ‘Authentic Happiness’ by the father of PP, Martin Seligman. He says it takes the bright hope that if you find yourself stuck in the parking lot of life with few and only ephemeral pleasures, with minimal gratifications and without meaning, there is a scenic road out.  The road that he talks of is one along which you can find such things such as small pleasures and gratification; strength; virtue; fulfilment; meaning and purpose.

I have been conscious of wanting all of such things and try as often as I can to engage in activities to improve my happiness. I want to open my mind to learning and exploring new ways of improving wellbeing. This is one of the reasons for studying PP and why I experiment in treatment methods and activities that result in positive mindsets, feelings and behaviours.

Some of the stuff I have done include questionnaires to identify my strengths, Mood Watch (which is a mood tracking app to monitor depression, anxiety and mood), yoga, coaching and counselling, self-discipline with exercise and diet and setting and tackling challenging physical and mental goals. All of these have helped to maintain and improve my wellbeing in some way. Although upon reflection, many of these were reactively motivated to relieve states that made my life miserable, instead of being proactive in building states that would make life more worth living.

There are loads of things that we can do to improve our happiness and they are well researched with empirical evidence so I thought I would share one such activity. William Penn said, “The secret to happiness is to count your blessings while others are adding up their troubles.” The expression of gratitude which is a sense of wonder, thankfulness and appreciation is considered to be one of the most researched and robust positive psychology interventions. Gratitude promotes the savouring of positive events and increases a sense of wellbeing.

The aim is to redirect attention away from negative thoughts and towards positive ones. Whilst, as human beings, our innate negative thinking has produced evolutionary advantages of self-preservation, it is noted that such thinking is no longer as necessary in our modern lifestyle and is at the root of much of our anxiety, depression and general lack of wellbeing. By purposely redirecting our thoughts towards positive incidents, we can correct our negative bias. People who have an attention bias towards positive information report higher levels of positive emotions, and practicing gratitude is likely to be incompatible with negative emotions, even directly counteracting the effects of hedonic adaptation.

It is easy to introduce into your life and routine. “Three Good Things” is a popular positive psychology technique where people recall three positive things that have happened to them that day or for which they are grateful, and this has been shown to have beneficial effects.  There is no agreement on how often the exercise should be carried out for optimal effect; some studies suggest that doing this once weekly increases wellbeing. Others suggest that more than three times per week starts to feel like a chore as the activity loses meaning and effectiveness, like too much of good thing. In fact some people may also succumb to “gratitude fatigue” due to counting identical blessings repeatedly.  I suppose it is comparable to saying your prayers before you go to bed every night, or attending church once a week.  There’s no hard and fast rule – it’s what works for you or to put it another way, what makes you happy.  And right there is one thing to be grateful for today – that you bought a copy of this paper, read this article and decided, ‘What have I got to lose?’.

STUART WHITE is the Managing Director of HRMC

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Export Processing Zones: How to Get SEZA to Sizzle

23rd September 2020
Export Processing Zone (EPZ) factory in Kenya

In 2005, the Business & Economic Advisory Council (BEAC) pitched the idea of the establishment of Special Economic Zones (SEZs) to the Mogae Administration.

It took five years before the SEZ policy was formulated, another five years before the relevant law was enacted, and a full three years before the Special Economic Zones Authority (SEZA) became operational.

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Egypt Bagged Again

23rd September 2020
Samson

… courtesy of infiltration stratagem by Jehovah-Enlil’s clan

With the passing of Joshua’s generation, General Atiku, the promised peace and prosperity of a land flowing with milk and honey disappeared, giving way to chaos and confusion.

Maybe Joshua himself was to blame for this shambolic state of affairs. He had failed to mentor a successor in the manner Moses had mentored him. He had left the nation without a central government or a human head of state but as a confederacy of twelve independent tribes without any unifying force except their Anunnaki gods.

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‘RO, ‘RO ‘RO YOUR ‘BOT

23rd September 2020

If I say the word ‘robot’ to you,  I can guess what would immediately spring to mind –  a cute little Android or animal-like creature with human or pet animal characteristics and a ‘heart’, that is to say to say a battery, of gold, the sort we’ve all seen in various movies and  tv shows.  Think R2D2 or 3CPO in Star Wars, Wall-E in the movie of the same name,  Sonny in I Robot, loveable rogue Bender in Futurama,  Johnny 5 in Short Circuit…

Of course there are the evil ones too, the sort that want to rise up and eliminate us  inferior humans – Roy Batty in Blade Runner, Schwarzenegger’s T-800 in The Terminator,  Box in Logan’s Run,  Police robots in Elysium and  Otomo in Robocop.

And that’s to name but a few.  As a general rule of thumb, the closer the robot is to human form, the more dangerous it is and of course the ultimate threat in any Sci-Fi movie is that the robots will turn the tables and become the masters, not the mechanical slaves.  And whilst we are in reality a long way from robotic domination, there are an increasing number of examples of  robotics in the workplace.

ROBOT BLOODHOUNDS Sometimes by the time that one of us smells something the damage has already begun – the smell of burning rubber or even worse, the smell of deadly gas. Thank goodness for a robot capable of quickly detecting and analyzing a smell from our very own footprint.

A*Library Bot The A*Star (Singapore) developed library bot which when books are equipped with RFID location chips, can scan shelves quickly seeking out-of-place titles.  It manoeuvres with ease around corners, enhances the sorting and searching of books, and can self-navigate the library facility during non-open hours.

DRUG-COMPOUNDING ROBOT Automated medicine distribution system, connected to the hospital prescription system. It’s goal? To manipulate a large variety of objects (i.e.: drug vials, syringes, and IV bags) normally used in the manual process of drugs compounding to facilitate stronger standardisation, create higher levels of patient safety, and lower the risk of hospital staff exposed to toxic substances.

AUTOMOTIVE INDUSTRY ROBOTS Applications include screw-driving, assembling, painting, trimming/cutting, pouring hazardous substances, labelling, welding, handling, quality control applications as well as tasks that require extreme precision,

AGRICULTURAL ROBOTS Ecrobotix, a Swiss technology firm has a solar-controlled ‘bot that not only can identify weeds but thereafter can treat them. Naio Technologies based in southwestern France has developed a robot with the ability to weed, hoe, and assist during harvesting. Energid Technologies has developed a citrus picking system that retrieves one piece of fruit every 2-3 seconds and Spain-based Agrobot has taken the treachery out of strawberry picking. Meanwhile, Blue River Technology has developed the LettuceBot2 that attaches itself to a tractor to thin out lettuce fields as well as prevent herbicide-resistant weeds. And that’s only scratching the finely-tilled soil.

INDUSTRIAL FLOOR SCRUBBERS The Global Automatic Floor Scrubber Machine boasts a 1.6HP motor that offers 113″ water lift, 180 RPM and a coverage rate of 17,000 sq. ft. per hour

These examples all come from the aptly-named site www.willrobotstakemyjob.com    because while these functions are labour-saving and ripe for automation, the increasing use of artificial intelligence in the workplace will undoubtedly lead to increasing reliance on machines and a resulting swathe of human redundancies in a broad spectrum of industries and services.

This process has been greatly boosted by the global pandemic due to a combination of a workforce on furlough, whether by decree or by choice, and the obvious advantages of using virus-free machines – I don’t think computer viruses count!  For example, it was suggested recently that their use might have a beneficial effect in care homes for the elderly, solving short staffing issues and cheering up the old folks with the novelty of having their tea, coffee and medicines delivered by glorified model cars.  It’s a theory, at any rate.

Already, customers at the South-Korean  fast-food chain No Brand Burger can avoid any interaction with a human server during the pandemic.  The chain is using robots to take orders, prepare food and bring meals out to diners.  Customers order and pay via touchscreen, then their request is sent to the kitchen where a cooking machine heats up the buns and patties. When it’s ready, a robot ‘waiter’ brings out their takeout bag.   

‘This is the first time I’ve actually seen such robots, so they are really amazing and fun,’ Shin Hyun Soo, an office worker at No Brand in Seoul for the first time, told the AP. 

Human workers add toppings to the burgers and wrap them up in takeout bags before passing them over to yellow-and-black serving robots, which have been compared to Minions. 

Also in Korea, the Italian restaurant chain Mad for Garlic is using serving robots even for sit-down customers. Using 3D space mapping and other technology, the electronic ‘waiter,’ known as Aglio Kim, navigates between tables with up to five orders.  Mad for Garlic manager Lee Young-ho said kids especially like the robots, which can carry up to 66lbs in their trays.

These catering robots look nothing like their human counterparts – in fact they are nothing more than glorified food trolleys so using our thumb rule from the movies, mankind is safe from imminent takeover but clearly  Korean hospitality sector workers’ jobs are not.

And right there is the dichotomy – replacement by stealth.  Remote-controlled robotic waiters and waitresses don’t need to be paid, they don’t go on strike and they don’t spread disease so it’s a sure bet their army is already on the march.

But there may be more redundancies on the way as well.  Have you noticed how AI designers have an inability to use words of more than one syllable?  So ‘robot’ has become ‘bot’ and ‘android’ simply ‘droid?  Well, guys, if you continue to build machines ultimately smarter than yourselves you ‘rons  may find yourself surplus to requirements too – that’s ‘moron’ to us polysyllabic humans”!

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