May 2019

J-Squared

twins

Joan and Jane were born at 7:59 and 8:15 on a Tuesday morning. Two hours later their mother died. Two hours after that their father left the hospital and never returned.

Joan and Jane were identical twins. Due to the circumstances surrounding their births, they would both live two entirely different lives. That said, both girls quickly got adopted without complication.

Joan was adopted by the Smith’s. They lived in Alberta, which was far away from the location of her birth in Toronto. The Smith’s lived an honest life. Mr. Smith worked as a bus driver and maintained the family farm with the rest of his time. Mrs. Smith was a 5th-grade teacher at the nearby elementary school.

As Joan got a little older, she learned a lot about how to take care of the farm. Her parents appreciated her hardworking nature and dedication to their livelihood. As a result of this diligence, Joan got good at taking care of the family animals and the more labour intensive work like bailing hay. Every summer she would spend most of her days with her father doing farm-related work.

Although Joan’s family lived a simple life, they always encouraged her to take her school work seriously. She got straight A’s and read books when she had time to herself. She was a huge fan of science fiction and was always asking questions about how the world worked. Her parents tried their best to satisfy her curiosity but knew as she got older they would run out of answers.

Jane’s life was very different. She was adopted by the Carter’s who lived in Forest Hill, an affluent neighbourhood in Toronto. Her father was a lawyer, and her mother was a doctor. They were both very successful, but always busy with work. Because of this, once Jane was old enough to be left to her own devices, she was.

Jane’s parents instilled in her the idea that hard work was necessary and an essential part of a successful life. Even if she didn’t want to believe them, she saw it every day in the lives of her parents. Jane went to private schools throughout her childhood and did very well.

Jane also loved reading, and with her parent’s library, there was always something for her to pick up. Most of the books were non-fiction, but the variety was vast enough that she never got bored. Due to this, Jane never thought to ask for any books as there were always tones on the shelves. That said, she loved watching science fiction and wasn’t too interested in the things that girls her age typically like.

Both girls were excellent students in high school. They stayed out of trouble and always got excellent grades. Of course, there were times when their respective parents lost their patients, but that was often a short-lived affair. If asked, their parents only complaint would have been the occasional experimentation with drugs. Both girls figured they had kept it a secret, but their fathers always knew.

In addition to their experimentation, they were both interested in science and did well in math. The drugs may have had some influence, but they were both drawn to cognitive neuroscience. The science of the biology behind thoughts and how the brain works.

Joan’s grades were excellent, and she got into every university she applied. But even with the scholarships, she was offered, money was still a concern. So she decided to stay local and went to the University of Calgary.

Jane was in the same boat, and she got into every university she applied. But with money not being a concern, she decided to take a chance and went to UC Berkeley in California.

Both girls continued to do well at university. They were always at the top of their classes and known amongst their peers. Although they had a fair amount of friends, they usually chose to stay in and study or read. Over the years, they both had a couple of boyfriends and at one time or another a girlfriend. Regardless of who they dated, it was important for both of them to have someone special in their lives.

Their universities careers were similar. They learned a lot about their subject matter and finished at the top of their classes. They both also became interested in the mind-body problem. Which is a philosophical question that asks if the mind and body are different things? Are thoughts physical or are bodies mental? Or maybe there is something different that connects both of them?

When it came to practical things, they were both fascinated by machine-mind interfaces. It likely had something to do with all the sci-fi they watched. Regardless, mind-controlled limbs were going to be all the rage going forward.

As they both neared the end of undergrad, they were approached by their respective professors and asking if they wanted to take on a Ph.D. 

Jane liked where she was, so she took up one of her professors offers and stayed at Berkeley. Her focus would be on brain-body interactions. She was particularly curious about how she could use live brain activity to control devices.

Joan, on the other hand, wanted to make a more significant change in her life. She was growing bored of living at home, and due to her grades and area of interest could practically go anywhere she wanted. She ended up settling on moving to the University of Toronto.

Joan’s focus would be a mix of engineering and neuroscience. She was more curious about the neurological response to the movement of limbs. She decided to investigate how changes in positions, resulted in changes to states of mind. To do this, she would need to build artificial limbs and figure out how to get them to respond to user feedback.

Over the years, the girls work progressed with the typical ups and downs of academic life. The direction of their work, for the most part, stayed the same. However, they adjusted their research as needed and became more specific in their goals.

As Jane approached the end of her program, she had developed a non-invasive headset that was able to detect changes in brain activity. This activity was matched with body actions. In a sense, by recording activity and calculating patterns, she was able to make accurate predictions about expected arm and leg positions.

Joan ended up developing an artificial limb that could respond to cognitive signals. But, she had to use already existing technology to capture those signals. The technology was bulky and unmovable. However, it made great sense of what users were thinking and translated that feedback into movement. Her limb was also able to give feedback and keep balance despite the noise in cognitive signals coming from the headset.

Both ladies successfully presented their findings and were awarded their degrees. At the same time, they were both equally unsure of what to do next. Seeking some community feedback, they both submitted their research and headed to the ‘Brain Body Machine Conference.’ Due to their expertise, they would present in different streams and rooms, but would still be at the same conference.

Joan presented her findings to a half-full auditorium. It wasn’t that her work wasn’t significant, it just wasn’t as exciting as some of the other work presented at that time. Practicality makes the world go round but isn’t what grabs people’s attention.

Jane’s presentation was later that day, but unlike Joan’s, the auditorium was full of people. Her technology, though simple was groundbreaking for the community. The future applications seemed enormous and would fuel the bleeding edge of the growing industry.

After Jane’s presentation, someone approached her and said “You are impressive. I saw your other presentation earlier this morning. You’ve got your hands in lots of different baskets.” Jane paused for a moment and replied: “You must have me confused with someone else, this was my only presentation.”

The person looked confused but went on “I’m sure it was you. Well, I thought it was you. She had the same voice, hairstyle and look. I guess her clothes were a little different, but the style was the same.”

Jane stood there in confusion, and wondered how such a person could exist? She hadn’t met anyone like her before, nor had she heard of someone who looked like her either. Jane thanked the person for the compliment and took a walk to clear her mind. After stepping outside for a few minutes, she headed to the cafeteria to grab something to eat.

Jane got in line and picked up a sandwich and a drink. She walked along to the cashier and paid, then looked around for a place to sit. Jane scanned the room from left to right, when someone caught her eye. She looked again and noticed the back of someone’s head who was wearing a similar outfit and had her hairstyle.

Primed by the previous conversation, Jane headed in that direction. When she got closer, she could see the side of the other woman’s face. Jane couldn’t help but notice she was looking at a mirror reflection. She even had the same arch in her nose, and her eyes were the same shape and colour.

As Jane approached, Joan looked up and stared into Jane’s eyes and mumbled ‘WTF.’ Jane took a seat across from Joan and said: “I never knew that I had a twin?”

Jane and Joan knew they had both been adopted, but they had no idea they were twins. After that first meeting, they realized how much they had in common. They discovered that they liked the same types of books and movies. They also realized very similar things inspired their works.

When they got home from the conference and brought up what had happened with their parents, things were cleared up. The circumstances of their adoptions had been chaotic, so everyone thought it would be best to keep it a secret.

When it came to business, they realized that their works would go hand in hand. They also realized, that with a little bit of collaboration, they could turn their research into a fantastic business.

After some organization, they approached Jane’s parents and asked for an investment. They used the investment to create a company called J-Squared. In a short time, their company became the leading producer of mind-controlled prosthetics.

Korean Spicy Ramen Noodles Challenge

Korean Spicy Ramen Challenge

I took the Korean Spicy Ramen Noodles Challenge and I want to tell you about it. Over the weekend my family and I went to a Korean grocery store. This isn’t a new experience, as we often go to these sorts of stores. With our mostly Japanese diet, there are many ingredients that we can’t find at a regular grocery store, so a Korean one is our best bet.

One of the stores that we often visit tends to have free samples, when something looks good I always give it a try. For some reason, it must have been the time of day; there were more samples than usual. Often, they fry oyster mushrooms, but this time that wasn’t the case. Instead, in the same place, there was something different.

At the time, I was with my daughter and figured she couldn’t eat it, so I avoided the sample and walked around the store instead. As we finished up our grocery list, I told my wife we needed some Kimchi. She said “You’d be better at picking it,” so she distracted our daughter. Usually, my wife has the shopping list, and I’m the designated distractor.

As I walked through the store, I took the long way and grabbed as many samples as I could. When I got to the kimchi, I looked at the different options and opted for a smaller one. I love kimchi, but it tends to smell up the fridge before we can get through it. At the same time, my desire for it comes and goes, so I may eat it every day for a week, then not touch it again for months.

Here Comes the Korean Spicy Ramen Noodles Challenge

As I walked away from the kimchi, I realized that I was beside the free sample I had wanted but avoided earlier. The girl at the stand looked at me and said, “Korean Spicy Ramen Noodles?” I took a look at the noodles and picked up one of the cups. The girl handed me a small spoon. Without thought or consideration, I scooped up the noodles in one bite. As I chewed them, they didn’t seem all that spicy.

The girl watched me and said, “Aren’t they hot?” with a serious look on my face, I said, “Not much.” She smiled and nodded with a look of surprised, then said “Wow!” At this point, I’m not sure what happened, but I acted without thinking and said, “You know what? I’ll take one.”

I reached over and grabbed one of the packages of noodles, turned around and started to walk away. The girl called to me, “Wait. You get this drink for free when you buy the noodles.” I turned back, and she handed me some clear flavoured drink. Not knowing what it was or wanting it, I took it anyways.

Afterwards, I wondered why? Was it because she didn’t think I could handle the heat, or was it because I wanted to prove how strong I was? Maybe my ego or sense of self was being challenged, and I had to buy the noodles to prove something.

As I walked away and headed back to the cash registers, I felt a little bit of spice on my lips. After a few seconds of this, I sort of thought the flavour had gone away. Maybe my mind was somewhere else, and I wasn’t thinking about it.

When I found my wife she pointed at the noodles and asked: “What’s that?” Trying to justify my purchase, I said: “Oh these are the Korean Spicy Ramen noodles Micheal (my old co-worker) told me to try?” She looked at me questioningly, in the way she usually does when she doesn’t approve of the snacks I’m buying.

As we piled our stuff onto the cashier’s conveyor belt, I started to second guess the noodle purchase. And thought to myself, “why am I buying these?” When I lived in Korea, I could handle the heat, but that was a long time ago. More recently, we rarely have anything spicy. I also thought back to the last time I tried Korean Shin noodles. They are a less spicy variation, but even then I didn’t enjoy them as much as I used to.

While I reconsidered my experiences from the past, I realized my lips were getting hotter and starting to burn. I can’t be sure if they were getting hotter or I was paying more attention to them. Regardless, it wasn’t enjoyable, and it wasn’t only my lips; my whole mouth was now on fire. “What the hell did I eat?” I whispered to myself. “Why am I such a wuss when it comes to spicy food?” I thought.

The longer we waited in line, the more I noticed the burn. As the cashier started to scan the groceries, I realized I had no other choice but to give up. I picked up the noodles and drink and in shame said, “Please take these back. I can’t handle the heat.” As I said this, a sense of relief flowed through my body. The cashier took the food products without comment and placed them on the counter beside her.

As we walked through the parking lot, my mouth was still burning. But I felt better about not buying the noodles or having to eat them again. Inside the car, my wife pulled out Korean rice cakes and handed me one. Eating the slightly sweet chewy treat cleared my mouth of the spice and put me back in a normal state. I thought out loud, “This is the kind of Korean food I like.”

As we drove home, I came to realize that I failed the Korean Spicy Ramen Noodles Challenge.

Why Are My Horoscopes Always Right?

horoscope was right

You may be asking ‘why are my horoscopes always right?’ If so, then I’ve got a story for you. Most weeks I check out my horoscope, but this week my horoscope was right. It isn’t so much that I believe in them, or think they are real. But they are usually positive and motivated in some way. I know the argument, horoscopes are written so generally that they apply to everyone. I also realize that they come from random people on the internet, who get paid to make up positive statements. But these facts don’t concern me. No doubt they are valid criticisms, but they don’t have anything to do with why I read my horoscope.

Horoscopes Aren’t That Crazy

In a philosophical sense, there is no denying that the day you were born has some effect on the life you live and the person you become. For a quick affirmation of this, consider the book Outliners by Malcolm Gladwell. He talks about how when looking at successful Canadian hockey players, a majority of them are born in the first few months of the year. From personal experience, I can verify that being born at the end of the year makes a lot of things more difficult. I played hockey as a child but was always smaller and weaker than my teammates. By the time I caught up in size, it was the next season and a new league. Once again I was one of the youngest kids on the team.

The thing is, much of life is influenced by coincidences of time. Sure they are often human conceptions, like age ranges for school or hockey teams. But, there is also something deeper to all this, that is not a human creation. Take, for example, the seasons. Being born in the summer versus the winter must play some role in the people we become. For one thing, consider the different foods our mothers may have eating because of the seasons.

All in all, it would be difficult to make an argument that could stand the strict regiment of science, but it doesn’t seem all that crazy a claim to make. When we are born during the year, has some effect on who we become. How much it matters in comparison to genes and other factors would be harder to quantify. Regardless, when we are born is a part of the equation. I’m not claiming that the things a horoscope says are right, only that there is some foundation behind the idea. After all, the idea of a horoscope must have come from somewhere, right?

Why Are My Horoscopes Always Right?

Now that we have our investigation of horoscopes out of the way, we can get to the story. A few Fridays ago, I was talking to my manager about work and asking him questions about our company. He seems pretty open-minded, so I can be honest with him. He knows that I like to write and am working on some books. While we were talking, I mentioned my dream was to write books as my job. We also talked about how I’ve been afraid to take chances and do things out of the norm.

In particular, we talked about houses, I said I’d like to buy a home, but they are too expensive in this area. He said I could get out of the GTA or move to another province where prices are more affordable. I said that was an interesting idea, but I couldn’t do it because my family wouldn’t be happy about it. With that idea, we got into talking about doing things because we want to live a life for other people rather than ourselves.

That point resonated with me, because after I had graduated from college, I considered moving back to Korea and teaching English. It wasn’t so much that I liked the job, but rather the different lifestyle and adventure. At the time, that was what I was seeking, yet, that was also the kind of change I was afraid to make. I didn’t pull the trigger because I was worried about what other people, my family and peers, in particular, would think of my life trajectory.

Back To Work

After the conversation and over the weekend, I was working on my book and editing a section related to being yourself. In that section, I talked about jobs and career paths. I point out that we sometimes do things because they are valued by others, rather than being what we want. The advice I was suggesting in the book, is the same advice I should be following myself, but am sometimes afraid too.

After those events, I returned to work on Monday and checked my horoscope, like I usually do whenever I remember it. For context, I work at a media company that publishes horoscopes every week, so those are the ones I read. To be consistent, it seems necessary to point this out.

Based on all the things that happened the week before reading the horoscope, it seems to make sense and be on the same wavelength as me myself. Again, I acknowledge that this is a coincidence, but it still seems too accurate.

Here is what my horoscope said:

You’re the first one to admit that you often end up living your life according to the expectations that others place on you, rather than following your own needs. The New Moon in Aries will stir up the independent spirit within you. No longer will you feel invisible. It’s time to stand tall and make yourself known as a mover and a shaker. Work out your own requirements and make them a priority. If your head starts to spin and your emotions swirl, you’ll know that you’re doing the right thing. You’ll soon be celebrating. My horoscope’s source.

Of course, this isn’t perfect, and I do look at them every week, so I have fifty or so chances a year to find a match. But still, this seems too accurate to be random.

What exactly it means was yet to be determined. But the coincidence of coming across this horoscope after having that conversation is far too significant to ignore. I had something big on my plate at that time, and that was undoubtedly influencing my perspective. But would that awareness make a difference, at the time it was still to be determined. Regardless, it would be a good idea for me to try to be more conscious and aware of what I want. It would be better for my sanity if I were to ‘live my life instead.’

The Horoscope Relates To My Life

It has been a few weeks since I originally wrote this story, but a couple of things have come to light. The first is that my manager announced that he would be leaving his job and moving to another province. An interesting turn of events considering the advice he gave me during our conversation. As for myself, I was oftered a great job, which if I were to do what other people expected of me, I would have taken. But knowing I need to do what is best for me, I decided to stay at my current job. Reason being, it gives me more time and less stress so that I can focus on my goals as a writer.

In some ways, this may seem like a leap. But at the same time, that horoscope helped put the job opportunity in perspective. I considered taking the job, and the reason was that in the rational perspective of having a successful IT career, it would have been the best choice. But that isn’t what I want, and that would be living up to other peoples expectations over my own. On top of this, the week that I was considering the job offer was one of the most stressful weeks in the last year or so. My head was spinning and my emotions were swirling. With that in mind, writing this story is more in line with my wants and desires. By writing more stuff, I am getting closer to the life I want.

Now that you’ve read my story, you might have a better answer to your question ‘why are my horoscopes always right.’ Surely things like this don’t only happened to me. Have you had a similar experience with your horoscope? If so, let me know in the comments below.