I’m 25 – and I’m angry

Every year, around my birthday, I write a post about myself. When I wrote regularly about self-improvement, it would usually be a reflection on how I’m achieving my goals.

Yet, when I reflect on being 25, within the context of our current world, the only emotion that comes to mind is anger.

I am angry. I am hurting.

I am hurting for my brothers and sisters who have to live through racism. I am hurting for those who have lost their lives for demanding a simple thing – respect.

I am angry for my brothers and sisters who have to live through racism. I am angry for those who have lost their lives for demanding a simple thing – equality.

Anger, in these times, is arguably the most appropriate reaction to the death of George Floyd and all our brothers and sisters before him. We cannot always control how that anger is expressed and we certainly cannot tell people to not be angry for that only works to silence their pain.

Demanding “cool pragmatism” simply says “take a number, we’ll get to you” then closing the shop indefinitely.

Must we come to sit at your table for justice? It is not as though we do not have space at ours. Our invitations are simply not accepted or acknowledged.

As I’m writing these words, Kendrick Lamar’s I Hate You has popped up…

Let me start off this letter saying I don’t like you, scared of you but I will fight you

I stare at the ceiling and think about you

Curiosity killing me, thinking of when Ima meet you

You introduced yourself to so many others, mothers, sisters and brothers, children

Kendrick Lamar – I Hate You (Letter to Death)

There are no black people who have not experienced racism, whether it is explicit or implicit or even been harmed by unconscious biases and systems that work to disadvantage them on a daily basis. Whether they are in the UK (as I am) or anywhere else.

I am simply lucky that I haven’t been pinned to the floor with a knee behind my neck.

Even though I’m 25, Tamir Rice will never be 25. Nor will Mike Brown. Nor will Trayvon Martin. Nor will… who is next?

We all have a responsibility to make the world better, to rid it from injustice and to not only look for the helpers – be a helper.

Even if it isn’t our fault. It will forever be our responsibility.

#JusticeForGeorgeFloyd

The Myth of a Productive Pandemic

On 23 March, the UK went into lockdown to limit the spread of the Coronavirus. As a result, a large majority of people are forced to spend much more time at home either by themselves or with the immediate people they live with.

People have unfortunately lost their jobs, others have to work from home and some simply have much less work to do.

Unfortunately, this has lead to far too many articles on “how to be productive while you’re at home” or “How to start a business from home” articles.

Generally, it’s fine to want to be productive (whatever that even means…) but there is an unnecessary environment growing which pressures people to be productive simply because we’re now at home.

While time has been gained because we’ve lost our commute times (on average, we’ve gained back one hour), it doesn’t mean we can, or even need to, utilise that time “productively”.

There is a lot we do not know

Many of us have never had to live through a viral outbreak that shut down the world’s economy. We are learning more about ourselves and interactions with one another as lockdown’s around the world continue. It raises a number of questions:

Will the structure of the economy look the same after the pandemic?

What will the end of the pandemic look like?

Will remote working become more commonplace?

Will we learn anything?

Big questions that everyone will end up considering. It isn’t something we can ignore and “leave for the politicians and academics” because it directly impacts all of us.

Because of this, we will also figure out how we best adapt to long-term working from home. We are not simply “at home“. We are “forced to stay home during a pandemic“.

It’s an important distinction even though, right now, it often doesn’t feel like it exists in practice.

We are in unknown territory at the moment. Emotionally, socially, and physically.

If you feel pressured to be productive, remember, most of us won’t be. Especially at the beginning

And those who claim to be productive, will be far less productive than portrayed.

Prioritise family and self-care. Allow yourself to experiment with healthy coping mechanisms.

But do not get lulled into the idea that we need to boost our productivity by 1000% to be valuable.

Most importantly, wash your hands and stay indoors. Boring, but effective. 

Books I read in January

Last year I did a reading challenge. I wanted to hit 40 books read for the year and was recording my progress on Goodreads.

I promptly forgot to log anything on Goodreads for the entire year, tried to remember what I read throughout the year and hoped that I remembered everything.

I didn’t. I got mixed up with books that I read in 2016 so I have no idea how many books I read last year.

In 2020, I’ve realised that doesn’t matter at all. WHO CARES if someone has read a book a week for the entire year…

Instead, I’d like to increase the amount of time spent reading rather than the number of books read.

Using the number of books and a measuring metric encourages skimming, and picking shorter books to stay on track.

Trying to maximise the amount of time spent reading accomplishes the whole point of these reading challenges. To read more – without making you feel bad for being “slow” or “reading short books” or “lying about the number of books read”.

I’ve said my piece… onto the good stuff.

Books I read in January

January books

The Long Shadow of Small Ghosts – Laura Tillman

An insightful read that has evidently been treated with the appropriate sensitivity required of a case like this. She managed to bring in the impact the case had on a small community through valuable interviews and research.

Unfortunately, overall, it wasn’t all that interesting.

When I finished the book, I genuinely felt that her talents were wasted on this case. She has the ability to navigate sensitive areas well but my goodness, the case, while gruesome, just failed to interest me. Pity.

The Girl Who Stole An Elephant – Nizrana Farook

A very enjoyable and easy read (and I was disappointed it was over!) The characters were a pleasure to know as their friendship grew during their journey.

Apparently, stealing an elephant will force you to become well acquainted.

I picked this up because I loved the cover and I’ve been enjoying children’s books a lot. This didn’t disappoint – though the ending was slightly rushed.

Ayoade On Top – Richard Ayoade

This was a short, enjoyable read about, yes, a film no one has seen. Including me. However, this has convinced me to fill the aeroplanecentric-comedy-hole in my heart.

Ayoade’s personality shines through every page and it’s wonderful that it isn’t just another biography.

I still haven’t watched the film yet though, so my opinions may change after the viewing…

The Talented Mr Ripley – Patricia Highsmith

This book is a wonderful thriller and I haven’t read one of this sort in a while.

The main shortcoming is that it’s only in the second half of the book do we understand just how talented Mr Ripley is… And how much luck he has on his side.

But the ending was a masterclass in tension building. Brilliant!

Really enjoyed this read – mainly surprised I hadn’t read it sooner!

A Bear Called Paddington – Michael Bond

Everyone has heard of Paddington but I realised I had never read the books. Without a doubt, one of the most fun books I have ever read.

Paddington, a bear from the darkest Peru always gets himself into some kind of commotion but despite his best intentions. … But let’s not forget, he is a literal bear.

We can’t blame him for too much, can we?

Ladies and gentlemen, 2020 may have only just started but this may be my book of the year. I decided that, during lunch and my afternoon walk, I’d go to Waterstones, sit down and read a chapter.

The perfect cure to a bad day. I recently watched the film too – wonderful adaptation. I love Paddington, I love the Brown family, I love Mr Gruber, I love everything about Paddington Bear.


And that brings me to the end.

The number of books may be unsustainable for the year but I will do my best to maintain or increase the amount of time I spend reading.

It’s been incredible amounts of fun.

Socials:

Facebook – Improving Slowly

Twitter – Improving Slowly

Data Science Some Days: Let’s write an email

Ladies and gentlemen, this has been a long time coming.

So, I’ve finally started programming. Technically, I started months ago but I’ve made such a piss-poor effort at being consistent, that I’ve done next to nothing.

I was growing frustrated – often having nightmares asking the question – will I ever be able to say “Hello World”?

Evidently, simply thinking about it would never work. I can buy as many Udemy courses as I want – that won’t turn me into a data scientist. My wonderful solution to this is to go straight into a project and learn as I go. I’m learning python 3.6. But first…

print("Hello World")

I have joined the elites.


Ok, the project goes as follows:

I need to send emails to specific groups of people a week before the event starts. The email should also include attachments specific to the person I’m sending the email to and it will have HTML elements to it.

To break it down…

  • I need to send an email
  • I need to send a HTML email
  • I need to send a HTML email with attachments
  • I need to send a HTML email with attachments to certain people

There’s more but I’ve only managed the first two so far. This programming stuff is difficult and the only reason why I’m not computer illiterate is because I was born in the 90s.

I started off by opening these tutorials:

They’re both great and use slightly different methods to achieve the same result. Maybe you’ll notice that my final solution ends up being a desperate cry for help combination of them both.

LET US BEGIN.


Here is the first iteration of the code:

import smtplib
#sets up simple mail transer protocol

smtpObj = smtplib.SMTP('smtp-mail.outlook.com', 587)
type(smtpObj)
#Connects to the outlok SMTP server

smtpObj.ehlo()
#Says "hello" to the server

smtpObj.starttls()
#Puts SMTP connection in TLS mode.
#I didn't get any confirmation when I ran the program though...

smtpObj.login('email1@email.com', input("Please enter password: ")
#Calls an argument to log into the server and input password.

smtpObj.sendmail('email1@email', 'email2@gmail.com', 'Subject: Hello mate \nLet\'s hope you get this mail')
#Email it's coming from, email it's going to, the message

smtpObj.quit()
#ends the session

print('Session ended')
#Tells me in the terminal it's now complete


Boom, pretty simple right? I mainly took everything from Automate the Boring stuff and just swapped in my details. Well, of course not. I kept on getting an error – nothing was happening.

Well – I was somehow using the WRONG EMAIL. FUCK. It took me an hour to realise that.


Next step… let’s send an email with bold and italics.

This was frustrating because nothing worked. All it really requires is for you to put in the message in HTML format. Because I’m not learning HTML, I decided to just use this nifty HTML converter to make this part less painful.

Here are my errors…

#regularly get "Syntax error" with smtpObj.sendmail - I was missing a fucking bracket

This literally made me to go bed angry.


'''everything in the HTML goes into the subject line -
smtpObj.sendmail('email@email', 'email2@gmail.com', "Subject: " f"Hello mate \n {html}")'''

This was a surprise but I figured out to stop it…

'''Now nothing shows up in the body of the message:
smtpObj.sendmail('zctylak@ucl.ac.uk', 'oj.akhigbe@gmail.com', f"Subject: \n Hello mate {html}")
Solved by putting {html} next to \n'''

…then it somehow got worse…

'''Now... the email doesn't actually show up in html format
smtpObj.sendmail('zctylak@ucl.ac.uk', 'oj.akhigbe@gmail.com', f"Subject: Hello mate\n{html}")'''

…and even worse.


At this point, I changed tactic and, in the process, the entirety of my code. I won’t show you everything here otherwise this post will look too technical to those who have no experience with coding but I’ve uploaded my progress so far onto Github.

To summarise, rather than trying to send HTML with the technique I used earlier, I used a module that was essentially created to make sending emails with python much easier (email.mime). This essentially means, it contains prewritten code that you can then use to create other programs.

But… I was successful in sending myself a HTML email. Now the next step is to add a bloody attachment without putting my head through my computer.


Dear reader, you may be wondering, “why is he putting himself through so much suffering? He sounds incredibly angry.

I’m not, I promise. This has actually been the most fun I’ve had in my free time in a while. It was a good challenge and I could sense myself improving after every mistake.

Granted, I probably should have just completed an online course or something before trying to jump into this project but that would have been less fun.

Onto the next one…

Thanks for reading!

5 ways to incorporate mindfulness into your everyday life

Mindfulness is really easy to not practice it because at first it can be boring, intimidating and seem pointless.

But – it is a practice, not a solution. It takes time but it pays off. I want to help make it easier for you.

Here are 5 methods you can use to incorporate mindfulness into your everyday life.

Pockets of peace

Meditation for most people can be pretty daunting. It’s tough to just sit in a room for 10 minutes and observe your thoughts if you’ve never done it before.

Instead, try 30s to 2 minutes of paying attention to your breathing or your surroundings. I recommend having nothing in your hands (especially your phone).

You can do this as many times as you want throughout the day. This way it doesn’t feel like an overwhelming obligation you’re tempted to skip.

Treat yourself to “pockets of peace” throughout the day.

 

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Photo by Luigi Liccardo on Unsplash

 

 

Slow eating

Mindful eating is an important technique to keep in your toolbox.

When you’re eating, for the first few spoonfuls (forkfuls… whatever, you get the point), try to appreciate the flavours and textures of the food. If you do this, you can actually appreciate food much more, especially if you made it yourself.

Another technique is… I pretend I’m a chef who’s figuring out what spices are in my food. Even if I know all of them in advance.

It’s silly but it’s fun, and I like to pretend.

Mindful cleaning

Similar to the pockets of peace earlier, when you’re cleaning the house, instead of treating it as something you hate or want to run away from, try this:

Your house, your body, whatever you choose to clean, is important because you spend a lot of time with it.

When you clean it, you’re helping it get back to its best.

You’re making your environment better. Whether it’s one dish, a fluffy afro or folding away one shirt.

Morning stretching

The morning can be extremely hectic because

1) Who wants to be awake in the morning

2) It’s time to prepare for work

But, stay with me now, you can do some stretching for 30 seconds, and do them without any distractions.

Not only do you get to treat your body well but you get to practice mindfulness at the same time.

You can follow the sequence in this article.

 

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Photo by Timothy Meinberg on Unsplash

 

Your next walk

Whether it’s a 5 minute trip to the store or a 30-minute stroll through a park, put your phone away and take in your surroundings as best you can.

What colour do you see most often?

Are there any clouds in the sky?

Are there many people around you?

Is the floor bumpy or smooth?


These small techniques will help you get started with a mindfulness practice. They are non-invasive and don’t take up a lot of time.

With practice, you’ll be intentionally be more mindful and with time, you’ll be better equipped with skills to help you handle stressful situations.

One step at a time.

Let me know what has helped you below!


As always, thank you for reading!

Follow me on twitter @improvingslowly and Facebook for more work on mindfulness, technology and disability.

And a few bad jokes.

 

You Are Stronger Than Your Pain (Pt.2)

Chronic pain, whether the intensity is high or low, can feel like the only defining feature of your personality.

It chips away at your energy and your willingness to do things you enjoy.

When you’re in pain, you may feel as though everything is meaningless.


Our aim, when we tackle chronic pain, often isn’t to get rid of it completely.

When we live with the pain rather than live against it, it means that we grow to understand how to manoeuver the world despite the pain and in many cases, this can make us stronger.

This takes some acceptance, some courage and a sprinkle of determination.

Manoeuvring the world with pain is a skill. It takes time to learn your body and how it changes when everything hurts.

It’s a skill to keep smiling, to laugh and to stave off cynicism. If you ever have the fortune of no longer being in pain, these are skills that you will carry with you forever.

It’s a skill to make time to complete some self-care. It’s forever tempting to try keeping up with the people around you and ignore the consistent distraction and disadvantage that is chronic pain!

It’s a skill to focus more – even if it’s just because you can’t sit in the same spot forever!

It’s a skill to slow down, be mindful and be kind to ourselves.

It takes effort to get to work or keep the house clean or simply take care of ourselves. Even if you are being cared for by someone else – we express gratitude with a “thank you”.

Do you see it now? Pain feels like it is all consuming but we’re actually strong people. No matter how weak we feel. The simple fact that you’re able to do more than just be in pain, shows that there is more to your life than pain.


 

I’ve been in pain for 10 years now and I’m still very much a rookie. However, I’ve learned skills that help me with negative thoughts. I’ve learned to be more empathetic with people. I’ve learned to move through my days slower but with greater focus.

At the foundation, chronic pain is a difficult mountain to climb. Especially when we’re at the bottom.

But, we can give ourselves credit – we get around the world despite being in pain. There’s more to our personalities than being “people who hurt all the time”.

It’s something to acknowledge and appreciate.

I want you to acknowledge that you’re stronger than your pain. There is more to you than being a vessel for pain.

And whatever that extra stuff is – appreciate it. Love it and value it.

We’re all trying to get better. One day at a time.

#WorldMentalHealthDay

Visit pt.1 here.

Is Monzo a force for good for the banking industry?

Within a year of its launch in 2015, Monzo was valued at £50m. Now, in 2019, it is a certified “unicorn” – a start-up valued at over £1 billion.

Staggering numbers for one of the earliest banks who challenged the traditional banking model by utilising technology. There are no branches, and everything is done via their smartphone app. With this, it has seen a primary customer base of under-40s.

As you can imagine, it has been popular with the younger generation.

Another monopoly to come?

In 2017, Tim Lewis of the Guardian rightfully asked, Is Monzo the Facebook of Banking? A powerful question for a young start-up. Even more so because this question is taken seriously.
Monzo has been growing rapidly with the younger generation because it takes advantage of the item we use the most – our smartphones – and couples with it a light and hospitable tone. This can give users the impression that Monzo is a helpful banking tool or friend that allows people to become more engaged with how their money travels.

Rather than an imposing vault we take money from and refuse to check because we’re scared of how much was spent on a night out. Shown by its strapline:

“We’re building the kind of bank that you’d be proud to call your own.”

Yet, a bank, no matter how wonderful its communications strategy is, cannot be your friend. In the same way that Facebook, no matter how much they apologise, still control vast amounts of personal data and use it to make money.

While it will be quite difficult for Monzo to grow to the same heights Facebook has (despite its aims to have 1 billion customers), it forces us to ask important questions about how we bank and the types of problems we face as users.

A Bank for the Devil’s Advocate

Before the Switch Guarantee was introduced in 2013, on average, we would stay with our banks for seventeen years.

With such impressive loyalty comes inevitable stagnation as innovation is not a requirement to stay ahead of the curve. Why spend money trying to do new things and failing?

With the introduction of banks like Monzo, we can almost see it as the bank for the devil’s advocate.

What if we wanted all our money to be safe? Monzo keeps all its money in the Bank of England and does without speculative trading.

What if we wanted to spend money abroad without fees? Monzo only charges 3% on withdrawals above £200.

What if I wanted to talk to someone through my phone without long waiting lines? Monzo’s helpline is a messaging service and you’re simply notified when there’s a representative ready.

What if my data was imitated because someone got access to my digital banking? Monzo… we’re not sure yet.
What if there was a concentrated cybersecurity attack on digital banking services? Monzo… hmm. Tough question.

What if Monzo reaches 1 billion users but instead of personal data, it controls money? Are these Facebook-sized problems? Yes. Yes, they are.

Speak of the devil and she will appear

Monzo does a lot of good for its customers by making it easier for them to access their money, find help and structure their savings in a way that benefits them.

Beyond that, we see a large long-term impact it has on the banking industry. It forces the industry to move into the digital age and answer important questions regarding cybersecurity, loyalty, and banking monopolies on a scale we have not yet experienced.

As frustrating as they can be to answer, it is better to attempt an answer, rather than hide from them until we have the Cambridge Analytica of finance breaches on our doorstep.

Tom Bloomfield says that Google’s “Don’t be evil” vow is limited. He asks instead:

“Why not try to leave the world a little better than you found it?”

Monzo, by itself, won’t be the complete answer to our banking problems. Let us not overestimate the impact of technology.

In the long-term, we may find ourselves thanking Bloomfield and Monzo for asking us questions about the banking industry we may not have seriously considered.

Perhaps that is how Monzo will leave the world a little better than before.