Carbonara (non-traditional)

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Ingredients:

  • 1 tablespoon of olive oil
  • 1 packet of pancetta or bacon
  • 1 clove of garlic
  • 1/3 bottle of chardonnay
  • 500g of pappardelle pasta
  • 5 egg yolks
  • 1 tablespoon of cream
  • 1/2 teaspoon of butter
  • 100g of parmesan
  • Seasoning – salt, pepper, parsley

Recipe:

  1. In a frying pan, add olive oil to a pan and fry pancetta until crisp
  2. Add the chopped garlic and fry until slightly brown
  3. Add chardonnay and cook on a medium-high heat for 10 minutes
  4. Boil pasta
  5. In a bowl add egg yolks, cream, parmesan, seasoning and butter, mix well
  6. Once pasta is aldente and the wine has reduced, add it to the bowl and combine all ingredients

Materialism vs. Minimalism

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Many people today, particularly those living in OECD countries, live in what you could call a ‘consumerist society’. Cultures driven by self-indulgence and materialism – the more material items you own, the higher your perceived status. But does the possession of material items really increase happiness? Research suggests otherwise. In fact, studies have found that it is experience that leads to greater happiness rather than the amount of “stuff” one owns.

When I was in my late teens and early twenties, I worked a part-time job and spent every single dime I earned on material items – new clothes, jewellery, shoes and so forth. I would buy a new party dress every other week, sometimes only to wear the dress once and never again. The idea of materialism was a social ideal that had been projected onto me and engrained within my mentality from a very young age – the bigger the house, the bigger the garden, the more ‘things’ someone owned, the better. It wasn’t until I began working overseas, had to pack up my life into one suitcase and keep only the necessary and essential items, that I began to ponder over the topic of minimalism.

While I may not be the utmost dedicated minimalist, the past three years, I have definitely adopted a more minimalistic lifestyle. Being a student, I don’t really have any other choice. What I have learned, is that I actually prefer this lifestyle. I like knowing exactly what items I own and that I could easily pack up my life into one suitcase if I needed to, I like not having clutter. This lifestyle has also changed the way I consume – when I go shopping I no longer feel the urge to splurge on material items. For instance, if I see a jumper I like, instead of impulsively going ahead and purchasing it, I stop and ask myself “I already own four jumpers, they all serve the purpose of keeping me warm, so do I really need another one?”. The same applies to jewellery, I have two pairs of earrings, one necklace, and two rings, all of which come to under $30NZD. I don’t feel as though I need any more than this. I was actually watching a video a few days ago on a vloggers ‘room tour’ and was quite astounded at what I saw – fifteen draws stacked full of jewellery, twenty handbags, eight pairs of jeans, twenty different nail varnishes. I just didn’t understand it, all these items serve the same function, so why would someone need so many versions of it?

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Embracing minimalism has also allowed me to analyse and apply this concept to other areas of life. One thing I have learned over the past few years, is that human beings tend to passively go through life without questioning what it is they are doing and why. Here, I will provide three examples of this – engagement, weddings and homes. Unfortunately there is the social ideal that the more money one spends on an engagement ring, the more moral value it possesses. Personally, I find this to be an absolutely absurd concept. A man that can only afford to spend $200 on a ring, could love their partner just as much as someone who were to spend $20,000 on a ring. At the end of the day, the amount of money a person spends on a tiny circular object that sits on your finger does not represent how much you love that person or how committed you are to them. The same applies to weddings. To break it down, the average human lives 788,400 hours, and the average wedding lasts four hours and costs $35,000 NZD. Therefore, the average person spends $35,000 on an event that lasts 0.0005% of their life. When you really think about it, this is utterly disgusting. While this might sound cliché, there are millions of people in the world that struggle to afford food and shelter, every single day of their lives. To spend $35,000 on an event that lasts 0.0005% of a life would surely seem unfathomable to these people. Furthermore, another interesting finding is that in many OECD countries home sizes have dramatically increased over the past decade, despite family sizes becoming smaller. One study found that on average, a family that owns a large home (approx 2000 square feet) will make use of only 68% of the space, with some rooms going almost completely unused. It seems like many of us need a complete re-evaluation of our lifestyles.

I suppose the main point of this post, is to encourage you to think beyond the social ideals and to question everything you do. Could your money be spent on something of more personal and moral value rather than purely material value? Ask yourself – when you come to the end of your life, would you feel more fulfilled reminiscing over all the material items you owned, or how you used your finances on something more meaningful/on someway to give back to the community and contribute to the world? Research has found that splurging on material items leads to only temporary satisfaction, so instead, why not splurge on purposeful and meaningful experiences that will leave you with lifelong fulfillment.

Shakshuka

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Ingredients:

  • Half an onion
  • 1 clove of garlic
  • 1 can of tomato sauce (I used Jamie Oliver’s)
  • Seasoning – cumin, paprika, chili flakes, salt, pepper, parsley, basil
  • 1 teaspoon of sugar
  • Feta
  • Ciabatta

Recipe:

  1. Fry the onion and garlic until soft
  2. Add tomato sauce, seasoning and sugar to the pan, also crumble in a handful of feta and cook for 5 minutes on a medium heat until slightly reduced
  3. Move sauce aside to create a space to add the eggs
  4. Cover sauce with a lid, for around five minutes, until eggs are cooked/runny in the middle
  5. Once cooked, take off heat and crumble feta over
  6. Toast slices of ciabatta to dip into sauce

The future of Artificial Intelligence

It’s very rare that you get a set guest speakers including the likes of Elon Musk, Nick Bostrom and Sam Harris all on the same panel. The entirety of the video is quite interesting, yet there are two points I find particularly insightful, which I will discuss below. I will also mention a few of my own views on the developments of AI.

The host asked the panel about their thoughts and predictions on the potential positive outcomes and benefits of AI. One of the speakers responded in saying that this is actually a very tricky question. If you were to go back to ancestral times and ask a Neanderthal what advancements they would like to see in future – they would only be able to think so far ahead. For instance, they might say that they would like their spears to be more stable, or for the wood of their homes to be more waterproof. They would not be able to suggest using a 3D printer to create better tools or to install internet access to communicate with other members of their group. Therefore, it is difficult to predict what benefits AI could have to humanity in future, simply because many concepts are currently incompressible to human beings.

Another guest speaker also made an interesting point which I had not considered before. One of the major questions regarding the developments of AI is whether or not AI will achieve consciousness. To human beings, consciousness is what makes us aware, it is what makes us an intelligent species. However, what if there is a level of awareness higher than consciousness. A level which humans cannot comprehend or obtain. What if AI develop an algorithm to access something higher than consciousness and what would this mean for humanity. This point made me think back to a quote in the 2013 movie “Her”. In this movie, an operating system with AI is designed to adapt and evolve. Eventually, this system is able to break through the realms of human comprehension and access an undiscovered state – “It’s like I’m reading a book… and it’s a book I deeply love. But I’m reading it slowly now. So the words are really far apart and the spaces between the words are almost infinite. I can still feel you… and the words of our story… but it’s in this endless space between the words that I’m finding myself now. It’s a place that’s not of the physical world. It’s where everything else is that I didn’t even know existed”.

My personal views on AI are that it is inevitably the next step in evolution, the important question to ask, is what will this mean for humanity? Right now AI and humans have a mutually beneficial relationship. AI benefits us in terms of making advancements and solving problems, and in turn, we benefit AI because we are creating and teaching them. I believe that for a period of time, the advancements of AI will be exciting and highly progressive – AI may find a cure for cancer and come up with solutions to managing major environmental issues such as climate change or plastic pollution. But what happens when AI surpass human capabilities, and can eventually do everything that humans can and more. And what happens if and when AI develop some level of consciousness. This reciprocal beneficial relationship between humans and AI will then be shifted. Eventually there will come a point where humans can no longer serve as any benefit to AI. Yet, what humans will still be capable of, is harming AI. Individuals or nations may come to realise the momentous risks of AI to humanity and decide to pull the plug. If and when AI recognise this threat by humans, what will they do? Logically speaking, it would seem most likely that they would eliminate us.

While I am all for the developments and evolution of AI, I believe that a lot of people underestimate and fail to understand the threats of this. One of the major issues is – how do we create AI in a safe environment. Personally, I do not believe this is a permanent possibility. When AI surpass human level intelligence, they will be able to detect any fault and any bug in systems that humans have created. Even if AI have a specific goal, there is the possibility that they will be able to reprogramme themselves and their goals. When you really think about it, in future, AI could create world panic and chaos in an instant. For example, on a universal scale, all AI would need to do is break through all bank account protection systems, set everyone’s bank account value to zero – and you have achieved worldwide pandemonium.

To be completely honest, in many senses I view humans as being parasites of the earth. I believe we are at a point in evolution in which we are destructive, a species driven my consumerism, self-indulgence and greed. We tend to think more as individuals rather than as a species. If we are to continue to survive and evolve then I believe we need to either merge or be taken over by AI. To some, this may not sound optimistic, but personally, I find this incredibly exciting and I would feel proud if a greater artificial being were to replace our species (although this all depends on whether AI are inherently “good”). I also just want to add, that I am no expert on this subject – I do not have a degree in physics or computer science, so if some of you reading this have further or alternative views please let me know in the comments. If you disagree with any points I have made, also, please let me know in the comments. I have created this blog to learn and I am very open to new ideas and perspectives, so would love to hear your views on this.

Bacon and Courgette pasta bake in a creamy Parmesan and white wine sauce

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Ingredients:

  • 500g pasta
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 8 rations of bacon
  • 2 large courgettes
  • 4 large cloves of garlic
  • 3/4 bottle of white wine
  • 2 cups of cream
  • 1 1/2 packets of parmesan
  • Seasoning – salt, pepper, nutmeg, dried basil and parsley
  • 1 teaspoon of butter

Recipe:

  1. Preheat oven to 200 bake
  2. Heat the olive oil in a frying pan and add the bacon, fry until crisp
  3. Add the garlic and chopped courgettes
  4. Add the white wine to the pan, bring to boil and reduce for 10 minutes
  5. At the same time cook the pasta until aldente and place on a cooking tray
  6. Turn the heat to low and add the cream, butter, seasoning and parmesan to sauce
  7. Pour sauce on top of pasta in the tray
  8. Sprinkle extra Parmesan over the top
  9. Place tray in oven and cook for 10 minutes until the tops are golden brown

Chocolate Banoffee Pie

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Recipe from https://www.carnation.co.uk/Recipes/7/Cheats-Chocolate-Banoffee-Pie

Ingredients:

  • 85g butter, melted
  • 250g dark chocolate digestive biscuits, finely crushed
  • 200g dark chocolate, melted
  • 397g can Carnation Caramel
  • 4 bananas
  • 300ml carton whipping cream, lightly whipped

Recipe:

  1. Tip the biscuit crumbs into a bowl. Add the butter and mix in. Spoon the crumbs into the base and about halfway up the sides of the tin to make a pie shell. Chill for 10 minutes.
  2. Melt the chocolate gently in the microwave then mix in the Carnation Caramel. Beat until smooth. Spread the filling over the biscuit base and chill for about 1 hour, until firm or until ready to serve.
  3. Slice the banana and fold half of them into the whipped cream and spoon over the base. Decorate with the remaining bananas and dust liberally with cocoa powder (or shaved chocolate).

The Method of Loci and Pi

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Most of us go through life unaware of what the mind is truly capable of. I’ve recently become interested in the photographic memory – how it works and whether it is something that can be developed. I did some research and came across an informative Ted Talk on this subject (https://youtu.be/LQMnMKREriM). What I discovered is that the brains of people who possess photographic memories are structurally and anatomically, no different from the average person. However, one difference is higher activity in the hippocampus, an area of the brain responsible for spatial awareness and navigation. Ultimately, what I learned is that photographic memories are not necessarily innate, they can be learned, and I wanted to try this out for myself.

One of the most effective techniques for remembering content using visual imagery is ‘the method of loci’, or the ‘memory palace’. The method of loci/memory palace involves creating a visual narrative/journey in your mind in order to retain certain content. Personally, I think memory palaces are a lot like dreams – weird events connected by a narrative. I thought this sounded intriguing and decided to try it using the digits of pi. I was going to attempt to create a visual narrative and attach numbers to different events, objects, people and places. I initially predicted that it would take me an hour to memorise 50 digits and I had planned to learn around 10-20 per day. What I did not expect, was that I ended up being able to memorise 100 digits within 20 minutes. So far, I have been able to memorise 340 digits in around 75minutes. Just to prove that I actually can do this and I’m not just talking a load of rubbish, I decided to post (a highly embarrassing) video reciting these digits. It usually takes me around 3.30min to recite them, so I would advise you to look away now if you get bored easily.

3.1415926535897932384626433832795028841971693993751058209749445923078164062862089986280348253421170679821480865132823066470938446095505822317253594081284811174502841027019385211055596446229489549303819644288109756659334461284756482337867831652712019091456485669234603486104543266482133936072602491412737245870066063155881748815209209628292540

Some of you might be wondering, how on earth did I do this? Basically, I caught onto the memory palace technique very quickly and discovered several factors that really made the technique a whole lot easier, which I will discuss below.

Break up the numbers

First of all, I broke the numbers up into chunks based on visual appeal. I then focused on one number chunk at a time and inserted it into my narrative. For example, let’s take the first 11 decimals “1415926535”, I broke this up into 1415, 9, 265, 35. I then sat in bed, closed my eyes and tried to attach each number chunk to people, objects and places in my mind. The less distraction there is around you, the easier it will be to focus and retain the information.

The weirder your narrative, the easier it will be to remember.

The more obscure your story line or journey is, the easier it will be to memorise. For instance, let’s take the digits “2317253594081284811745”. I broke this up into 231, 72, 535, 94, 081, 28, 48, 111, 745. I imagined looking up at this gigantic spaceship with the numbers 231 on it, I then entered the code 72 on a panel to access the spaceship lift, I put my key card in and the numbers 535 popped up on the monitor, I went up the lift and when the elevator doors opened I saw the number 94. There were so many rooms on this floor that I needed help, the number 081 came bouncing along and brought me to room number 28. When I opened the door, everything was pitch black apart from two hands. In one hand there was a blue pill with the number 48, and in the other hand was a red pill with the number 111. I ask who was there holding the pills, it was Morpheus (from the Matrix) with the number 745 written on his forehead. A rather bizarre storyline as you can see…

What I also found interesting was that most people who use the memory palace technique tend to use only one location to implant their information, i.e. in a familiar place like their old family home. However, I used many different locations. For instance, I used an underwater world, outer space, a tunnel, a big Indian palace, and a cave are just to name a few. This technique worked best for me because it kept the storyline interesting.

Using your senses

Using the five senses can also help to retain information. Obviously, the sense of sight is the one I used the most. However, I also used the sense of touch on several occasions. For instance, there is one event in my visual narrative where the number “628” is gravitating in the air and it is made out of water. I can remember splashing my hand through each digit, and this helped me to remember how the digit felt and what it looked like. Another example, is the number “62” which I represented as a number on a gold coin. I can remember running my fingers over this number, the texture of it helped me to store these digits in my mind. So far, I have not really used the sense of taste, smell and sound, but I will try to incorporate these more in my next lot of digits to see if they are as effective as the sense of sight and touch.

Eliciting an emotional response

Attaching emotion to your narrative can make it more memorable. The emotion of fear is one I have implanted in my narrative quite a few times. For instance, the number “8034” is this huge number in the ocean swimming after me, with chomping teeth inside the circles of 8 and 0, and I am trying to swim away from this. Or take the number “12”, these are ninja’s that are trying to catch me because I shot the number 446. It all sounds incredibly strange, but it works.

Using objects, places or people that you like should also help to create a memorable narrative. For instance, I like Elon Musk so I imagined the number 9 and 265 tattooed on him. Furthermore, I am fascinated with outer space and therefore used this location as one of my memory palaces. I found that the numbers in this memory palace were particularly memorable compared to my other memory palaces.

Using the same digits and representations

This can help to speed up recall. For instance, the number “82” is always represented as a door in my narrative; a door that opens up into a new world each time. At first, I found this problematic. The number 82 occurred several times in the first 200 digits and I initially had difficulty remembering which world I was stepping into. However, recurrent practice resolved this issue and it actually helped to speed up my recall. Although, I would suggest not using the same representations and numbers too often. Personally, I found that using them once or twice per 100 digits was effective.

Now, some of you are probably thinking, WHY? Why on earth would someone spend time trying to remember the digits of pi? What is the point? Without trying to sound offensive, I find this to be an incredibly stupid question. Mastering the method of loci could completely transform the way that I learn and perceive the world. Instead of planting myself in front of the TV for an hour watching some mindless, counter-productive TV show, I would much rather spend a small amount of time each day, learning a technique that could benefit many different realms of my life. If I can apply this technique to a real-life context, like my University studies, this could help tremendously with my exams and recall ability. I believe this is actually a major problem with the education system today. School and University students are overloaded with content and information, yet aren’t taught the effective techniques to retain and recall this information. People spend hours upon hours re-writing content to try and get it to stick in their mind, yet don’t realise there are techniques out there that could significantly speed up the learning process. Overall, this method has made me realise that there must be so many other mind techniques out there that I am completely unaware of. Simply taking the time to actively learn these techniques could completely change the way we think and learn.

If you think 340 digits is impressive. It’s really not, Lu Chao from China currently holds first place and can recite 67,890 digits! I find it incredible just how much storage our minds can hold. If you have found this interesting and want to give it a go yourself, I challenge you to remember the first 10 digits of pi in five minutes. First break it up into chunks, i.e. “14, 15, 92, 65, 35”. Attach these number to a narrative and try to memorise it in under five minutes. If you manage to do this, that’s a great start! And with practice, this process will become faster and faster.