Monday, January 25, 2016

Nerds set Twitter on Fire: Did Football screw up the X-Files premiere for millions??


Well the new X-files reboot has finally started. You could probably tell that I was excited about it ( see my last post The X-Files Revival: 5 Things About UFO)

Finally,  just before 7pm pacific I, like millions of others, tuned into Fox - a network that I honestly don't watch that much anymore because so many of the best shows are on cable channels these days.  Expecting to see the X-Files,  I saw there was a football game on.   That's right - a football game!

So, in one of the biggest sci fi events in years, a public relations and ratings coup for Fox to bring this show back that so many of us are waiting for, and what do we see? Football.  









I, like many other X-File fans, am not a big football fan,  but it looked like the game was almost over so it wasn't worried.  In fact, the game ended on time just before 7pm, so I started looking on twitter to see what people were saying about the X-Files.    

Then 7pm came about, and guess what, the game was over but rather than start the X-Files premiere on time, they were still showing commentary on the game!   So basically, the millions of people who tuned into Fox to see the X-Files were treated to commentary on a football game.

Twitter lit up, and in the old days, pre social media, the geeks among us would have to just grin and bear it while the "mainstream" chided us for not being good consumer-fans of all-american football who jump up and down when their favorite team wins or loses. How can you not like Football - what are you some kind of wimp?

@aspen_musing shows how fox had the perfect strategy to piss off fandom!



@Gretchel expressed a lot of nerds feelings towards football vs. the X-Files.



 As we waited, and watched the talking heads go on and on about football ... nerds were on a twitter rampage - see what @see_clair_write said:


The best tweet may have come form @stevekemple who saw it as a conspiracy from the X-Files CSG (Cigarette Smoking Man) to get millions more to watch football.


Now some of you might say, what's the big deal ... it's just football!   Why was it enough to start a full jocks vs. nerds smackdown??  Look at what @LadyHawkins and @alie_asstrocyte said about jocks vs. nerds.





But for many of us, it brought us back to high school.  Those of you who went to high school before nerds were cool, mind you.  Back then, we were made to feel "less than" because we weren't into sports - and football in particular.  We liked being on our computer more than watching a bunch of dumbasses grab at each other while hunching over on the football field.  We were arguing about Kirk vs. Picard rather than XXX vs. XXXX (OK - see I can't even namey any football stars from my day - maybe OJ Simpson??).

You see, it wasn't just that Fox had delayed the X-Files premiere, but it was like a slap in the face that they had done it for Football - the one thing most nerds are not into and were made to feel bad because we weren't into it!

But don't take my word for it - Twitter started to reflect these sentiments really well!




Plus at that point, we weren't sure if we were going to *miss* the first 20 or 30 minutes of the premiere!

The real problem for Fox though is that today, many millinoso f people watch shows recorded on their DVR/PVR.  And most of us who didn't watch it live simply set our cable box to record it.  Now imagine the surprise of people when they put their kids to bed and sat down to watch teh X-Files - what did they see? 20 or 30 minutes of talk about Football!

Many of these people are pissed off because the DVR only reocred the 30 minutes of the show! That means they missed half of the premiere episdoe!  And the next episode is on tomorrow night! That means that unless they can see it on demand, or Fox airs it again, Fox just screwd up the whole mini-series for them!







Way to go Fox - as far as fuckups go - this was a big one!

For those of who did manage to tune in, while I'm excited to watch the next episode monday night (I will provide a review once I've seen more episodes), the truth is still out there - thankfully the football season is almost over so there can't be any monday night football, can there???

















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Saturday, January 16, 2016

The Truth Is Out There: 5 Things You Need to Know about UFOs for the Upcoming X-Files Revival


“They’re here, aren’t they?” said Fox Mulder to his secret informant, known to viewers only as Deep Throat. 
“Mr. Mulder,” began the old man, in a reprimanding tone, “They have been here for a long, long time.”
As many of you know, the X-Files revival starts soon (the new six episode mini-season picks up, appropriately, 13 years after the X-Files went off the air). Just recently, they had a premiere in Los Angeles of the first episode for the new mini-season, and Fox recently released a 1 minute clip online.
For those of you who don’t know, the X-Files was one of the most popular US TV series in the 1990s, at its height averaging 20 million viewers per episode. The main protagonist Fox Mulder, is an FBI agent whose sister was taken from their room when he was a kid, in what Mulder believed was an alien abduction. This fueled his lifelong obsession with paranormal phenomena and uncovering the truth about UFOs, Aliens, and a global conspiracy. I watched the show religiously with friends, staying in on Friday nights when it first came on, before it got really popular and moved to Sunday nights.
Years later, when I became an executive producer on the documentary Thrive: What On Earth Will It Take, made by Foster Gamble and Kimberly Carter Gamble, (one of the most watched documentaries of all time), I started to do a little research on this subject on my own. I found out that while many Americans believe in UFOs, there tends to be a lot of misunderstanding about the phenomenon and about the people who’ve had these experiences, particularly in the minds of many of my “scientific” oriented friends.
So, just in time for the X-Files revival here are 5 things you may not know about the UFO phenomenon that inspired the X-Files:

1. The X-Files wasn’t purely science fiction, according to Chris Carter.
Like many others fans, I took the X-Files to be “simply” an original work of science fiction, which sprung from the mind of Chris Carter, the show’s creator. While the series is fiction, Carter himself will tell you that that many of the elements are based on real-life accounts.
When I started to investigate on my own, I started to meet people in the UFO community and hearing their accounts. The stories I heard sounded a lot like what I had seen in the X-files. The implants, the eyewitness accounts of triangular craft and bright lights, the cases of missing time, all of these have been reported by numerous witnesses.
 In fact, I was told by a mutual friend that Chris Carter discouraged his actors from attending science fiction conventions because the X-Files wasn’t purely science fiction. In preparation for the upcoming revival, if you watch the very first X-files episode, Pilot, and watch carefully, you’ll see that it says, “The following story is inspired by actual documented accounts” at the beginning of the episode. I actually met Chris Carter last year, before they started filming the new season, at a UFO-related event in San Mateo, and it was clear that he was continuing to research what people had to say on this subject — perhaps some of his new research will show up in the revivial.

2. Myth: Only people who wear tinfoil hats and tabloid reporters take UFOs seriously.
One of the persistent myths about UFOs and people who believe in them is that it is a fringe group of people who “live off the grid” and wear tinfoil hats. After having been to a dozen UFO events and interviewing hundreds of people, I haven’t seen a single tinfoil hat (OK I saw one but that was fro teh benefit of reporters who wanted to take a photo of “weird UFO people”). In fact, I have met intelligent people from all walks of life — scientists, engineers, people who worked for NASA, to independently wealthy businessmen and women, to retirees. The only commonality I could find was confidence in what they’ve seen and experienced, and strong belief that the “truth is out there” and that it should be investigated more seriously.
There are many well-known people who have had UFO sightings, and many who support finding out the truth. . In Los Angeles, Dan Akroyd is a well known proponent of UFO research. John Podesta, who served as an advisor to President Obama and Chief of Staff to Bill Clinton, has been very vocal about his interest in the subject and his desire to get the truth out, a process known to UFO enthusiasts as “Disclosure”. John Podesta tweeted in 2014 that his biggest regret in working for the Obama white house was that he was unable to secure disclosure of top secret UFO files.
In fact, Hillary Clinton, was recently asked about UFOs by a reporter in Conway, New Hampshire while campaigning there. Mrs. Clinton said she believed we might have been visited by aliens in the past, and that if elected president, she would get to the bottom of it.
And UFOs are not just for tabloids. Leslie Kean, a serious investigative reporter, received a copy of a report from retired French generals that said that they believed the UFO phenomena was real and should be investigated seriously (called the “COMETA” report). Kean’s book, UFOs: General, Pilots ,and Government Officials Go On the Record, is a great book for those who know nothing about the phenomenon or are inclined to dismiss it out of hand. There have been many pilots, many members of the military, and many other government officials who have been willing to speak on and off the record and Ms Kean does a great job of presenting finally about this phenomenon. It’s a shame that this myth is so prevalent that many “serious” scientists and engineers won’t even take the time to read books like Ms Kean’s.

3. Myth: There is no evidence of UFOs.
Many skeptics say there is no evidence that UFOs exist. They’re not quite right. First of all, there are tons of photographic evidence of odd “unidentified” objects flying over both rural and urban landscapes. The next argument is that these pictures are all photoshopped — a charge that doesn’t hold up when the photos are from the 60’s and 70’s — I’ve seen some of these older photos, some taken by the members of the military, and they are very convincing. Moreover, when there are multiple witnesses that corroborate the photographical evidence (like in the Phoenix lights incident — more on this one below), the skeptic’s view that they are all doctored doesn’t really hold-up.
And then there are literally thousands of eyewitness reports –ranging from places like O’Hare airport to Rendlesham Forest in the UK (in a famous military sighting).
If that isn’t enough evidence for you, Emeritus Professor of applied physics at Stanford, Peter Sturrock says, “radar evidence” is physical evidence, and there have been multiple sightings where radar evidence was available that corroborated what pilots say they were seeing.
This includes a well-known incident over Alaska in 1986, where a Japan Air Lines pilot, Kenju Terauchi, was flying near Mt. McKinley when he reported seeing a UFO: “Then there was a kind of reverse thrust, and the lights became dazzlingly bright. Our cockpit lit up. The thing was flying as if there was no such thing as gravity. It sped up, then stopped, then flew at our speed, in our direction, so that to us it looked like it was standing still. The next instant it changed course. There’s no way a jumbo could fly like that. If we tried, it’d break apart in mid-air. In other words, the flying object had overcome gravity,” Terauchi said.
John Callahan, the FAA Division Chief of the Accidents and Investigations branch, had the data, which covered more than a half hour. Callahan has testified many times about what he saw, “As far as I’m concerned, I saw a UFO chase a Japanese 747 across the sky for over half an hour on radar.”
If that’s still not enough to convince you that there is “some” evidence, in the abduction area, there have been physical objects (known as “implants”) that have been pulled out of abductees bodies, and X-rays also count as physical evidence. In the cases where doctors surgically extracted them, the metallic objects somehow evaporated, in other cases they were able to preserve them and find that they a unique “anomalous” structure and were meant to be housed inside the human body.
Whether you believe in aliens or not, these implants had to have been placed there by someone. The question is who? It’s unlikely abductees would have the surgical skill to put them there themselves — so the question remains, who put them into their bodies? This question remains unanswered. In the original X-files, implants were a not insubstantial part of the story, and whenever the government got a hold of one, as at the end of the first episode of the X-Files, in a scene reminiscent of Raiders of the Lost Ark or Warehouse 13, they put it away in the midst of a giant government warehouse, to be lost.

4. Myth: Sightings only happen in the countryside, only in the US, and only since we started flying airplanes.
Again, these are myths. There have been anomalous objects reported in the sky well before the modern era of airplanes, going back to the 1500s and beyond. In their wonderful book, “Wonders in the Sky”, Jacque Vallee ad Chris Aubeck have catalogued these sightings. Jacquee Vallee, a long time French UFO researcher, was in part the inspiration for the French scientist in Close Encounters of the Third Kind, made by another UFO believer, Stephen Spielberg. In one of the most famous pre-airplane incidents, in 1561 a number of spheres and disks, which were red, blue, and back, were seen to come out of two vertical cylinders over Nuremberg, Germany. The residents of the town reported that these objects seem to fight each other — there’s even a well-known drawing of this image. 
In recent times, lest you buy the myth that sightings only happen in remote places, one of the most famous sightings was the Phoenix Lights. In 1997, an estimated 10,000 people saw a set of triangularly arranged lights not just hovering but moving over the Phoenix metro area from North to South. There were numerous photographs of the incident, and a great book (along with a documentary) by Lynne Kitei, M.D., called called The Phoenix Lights. 
At first, Arizona Governor Fife Symington III made fun of the sighting and the military tried to dismiss the lights as “military flares”. But this theory didn’t hold water — the lights stayed equidistance apart, as if they were part of a single, large craft. Later, the Governor admitted that he was lying, and that he too had seen some kind of large anomalous craft in the sky that night. You don’t have to take my word for it — you can go interview people who were living in Phoenix in 1997. One witness told me she looked up, and the stars dimmed and then weren’t visible — it was definitely some type of large craft and not individual flares.
There have been other mass sightings, in Mexico City, in Russia, in South America, and elsewhere. UFO sightings are not a modern phenomenon, they are not a US-only phenomenon. UFOs are a global phenomenon, and as his secret informant told Agent Mulder at the end of the second episode of the X-Files, “They have been here … for a long long time”

5. Are UFOs top secret military craft that defy gravity?
In the second episode of the X-Files, Deep Throat, and in many episodes later in the series, witnesses at the edge of military bases see UFOs at night performing maneuvers that seem to defy the laws of inertia and gravity. These scenes are actually based on many eyewitness reports of objects and lights that hold stationary in the sky, have no apparent sound, then “jump” horizontally or vertically to a new position in the blink of an eye. The fact that these sightings have occurred often near military bases has led many, particularly in the skeptic and scientific community, to assert that UFOs are really top secret military craft that the public does not know about.
This of course, begs the question, do we have top secret military craft that defy the known laws of physics and gravity? If so, why doesn’t the so called “scientific community” know about the science between how these craft work, why are they being hidden, and why aren’t they more curious about them?
A respected NASA scientist, Paul Hill, decided to collect reports from eyewitnesses during his 25 years working for the space agency. He wrote a book (which he wasn’t allow to publish while working for NASA, so his daughter published), called “Unconventional Flying Objects” that was published by his daughter, in which he categorized these maneuvers (“sudden reversal of direction”, “acute angel turn”).
If these are top secret military vehicles, where did they get the basic design and aeronautic principles from? The disc-shaped object and its ability to seemingly defy gravity, which have led the UFO community to call these “anit-gravity technology”. Mark McCandlish, an accomplished aerospace illustrator who has illustrated top secret military aircraft based on descriptions for the covers of magazines like Popular Science, was baffled when friends in the military told him they had stumbled into hangers that had round, bell shaped craft that were hovering over the ground. It seemed like a scene out of Independence Day, not just the X-Files. McCandlish drew out the components of the ARV, or Alien Reproduction Vehicle, as it’s been called, and his drawings are readily available on-line. It resembles many reports of UFOs, including rumors of the Nazi Bell — new type of Bell-shaped flying craft that the Nazis were supposedly working on at the end of World War II.


As in the X-Files, many of these facts are unknown to the general public, or they are ridiculed by so-called “experts” who subscribe to some of the myths. In fact, the premise of the show was that a scientist, medical doctor, Dana Scully was brought in to de-bunk Mulder’s “wild” paranormal and UFO-related theories. As she became more involved in the investigations, she came upon more and more items that could only be classified as “unexplained”.
Professor Sturrock of Stanford, who did research on the attitudes of astronomers and members of the American Institute of Aeronautic and Astronautics found that the more time people spent reading this subject, the more they would come to the conclusion that there needs to be more serious scientific study of UFOs. Because it’s not a “fashionable” area for university research to get funding, it’s usually ignored.
Similarly, too many of my friends in the scientific and engineering circles, tend to dismiss UFO lore and stories as simple “crazy stories by crazy people” without having done any research of their own. The less research they’ve done, the more likely they are to dismiss UFOs out of hand. It’s very easy to ridicule or demean a group of people on the internet — but if you take the time to get to know the people that are making these claims, if you, like Dana Scully in the X-Files, you might just find, that the Truth is Out There!
I’ll leave you with another great quote from the second episode of the X-Files to ponder while we ait for the X-Files revival to begin on January 24:
“Mr. Mulder, why are those like yourself, who believe in the existence of extraterrestrial life on this earth, not dissuaded by all the evidence to the contrary?” asked the secret informant.
“Because, ” began Fox Mulder, pausing for a second, “ … all the evidence the contrary … is not entirely dissuasive.” 
The old man nodded to Mulder in acknowledgement, and walked away quietly.

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Sunday, January 10, 2016

The 7 Things I most disliked about the new Star Wars movie!


OK, I’m done with my political rants and back to writing about sci fi and film.
Of course by now everyone’s seen Star Wars 7: The Force Awakens (at least any serious nerd will have), and most reviews were positive.  Before I continue, let me get this out of the way: I actually really enjoyed the latest installment of George Lucas’ epic from a long time ago and a galaxy far, far away.  In fact, I’ve already seen it twice in the theaters – once with my co workers and once with my nephews (who are all under 10 years old) – and will probably see it again before its theatrical release is over.
There have already been many good reviews and articles listing what to like about the new movie, so I don't think you need to read another one (a few things to like: Daisy Ridley as Rey, Harrison Ford's return as Han Solo, the banter between Po and Finn, the realistic feeling sets, the lack of CGI, the music, etc.). I thought I’d go a different route;   in showing my appreciation for the film, I’m actually going to list 7 things I didn’t like or that they (J.J. Abrams and company), didn't do well in The Force Awakens.
Why? Because I, like millions of fans, have been waiting a long time to see another Star Wars movie, and there were things I was hoping to see that I didn’t.   Don’t worry Star Wars fans; Disney has made over a billion dollars from the film already, so I don’t think my little blog entry will hurt!
SPOILERS AHEAD!  If you haven’t seen the The Force Awakens yet (and that means you're probably on another planet or just plain don’t like science fiction or action films), then I suggest you stop reading here!
  1. BB-8 is “Cousin Oliver” – but I wanted to see more R2D2 and C3PO!   OK, I know, I know, everyone loves BB-8 because he’s the new “cute” droid, so how could I possibly not like the cute little guy?
    Well, I didn’t dislike him, exactly.  It’s just to me he felt a bit like Cousin Oliver in the Brady Bunch – those old enough to remember the Brady Bunch will recall that when the little kids (Bobby and Cindy) started growing up, the producers felt they needed to add a cute new small kid into the show to keep their audience happy, and voila, here was little cousin “Oliver”!
    The same thing happened in Harry Potter, as Harry and Ron and Hermione were growing up, cute little Colin Creevy showed up (same with Ender’s Game, where Bean became the next Ender).
    But C3PO and R2D2 weren’t children who were “growing up”, so there was no reason that they couldn’t be used in the same way as they had been.  George Lucas’s original idea of having not one robot (as an accessory to the heroes), but rather two “droids” who made up an interstellar "odd couple" was brilliant: it played well and added quite a bit of humor to the original trilogy.  In the prequels, this humor was mostly missing and I think it’s because the droids were an after-thought (Jar Jar Binks was the new cousin Oliver in the Phantom Menace, which kind of backfired). 
    If you watch Star Wars (err I mean Episode 4, A New Hope), the first 10 minutes are about R2D2 and C3PO bickering with each other about what to do – from Princess Leia giving the plans to R2, and C3PO’s insistence that R2 had no “secret mission”.
    Lucas once said that he viewed the droids as being the only characters who would be in all three Star Wars trilogies – in fact, he went so far as to say that in some ways, the films were from the two droids’ point of view.   In the prequels, this bickering and humor between the two was sort of missing.  OK so JJ Abrams did it better than in the prequels, but it still doesn’t change that BB-8 is basically cousin Oliver. I missed that interaction between C3PO and R2D2, which was given short shrift. "That little droid is going to cause me a lot of trouble" says Luke. "Oh," answers Threepio, "he excels at that!"


  2. The repetitive plot.  OK so the resistance (weren’t they supposed to be in charge now? If so, why are they called the “resistance”?) hid something in a droid.  And the Empire (err, I mean the Nazi-like First Order) has built a super weapon, and kidnapped the main female character.  The men (and wookie) have to go in to rescue her and to help out the rebels(err, resistance), get this, shut off the power of the shield so that the rebels (err, I mean the resistance), can destroy this new Death Star (err, I mean Starkiller base).   While the Death Star had the ability to destroy an entire planet, the Starkiller base can, get this, destroy several planets at once!  (in my best/worst jar jar binks voice: How rude!).

  3. The Death of Han Solo.  They killed off one of the most beloved characters in all of movie-dom! While I didn’t dislike how it was done (the father-son thing is very much in action here and has mythological themes), the actual death was very quick and there wasn’t much back-story between Han Solo and Kylo.  One review I read, which I agree with, is that there was a moment of shock, and then the filmgoers (and characters) moved on from there, kinda forgetting about it.  I guess I, like many others, felt that it should have packed more emotional wallop – like the death of another beloved figure on a bridge in The Fellowship of the Ring.   When Gandalf fell off that bridge, his (apparent) death had the emotional impact of a ton of bricks right there in the gut. Fly you fools! It was hard to recover from, not just for the audience, but particularly for the Hobbits!   Give them a moment, for pity's sake! Not to mention, the Elves ... "What are they singing?" ... "A lament for Gandalf" ... "What are they saying?" ... "I haven't the heart to tell you".

  4. The aftermath of the Death of Han Solo.   When they return at the end having accomplished their mission, you would think that Princess  (err, I mean, General) Leia would hug Chewie, who was the person that knew Han Solo second best after Leia herself!    But instead, she hugs Rey instead and Chewie just walks by.  Really?? This actually felt like they cut some scene that was supposed to be there, or they deliberately had her hug Rey, as a clue that Rey may indeed be related to Leia after all.  But still, come on, Chewie was Han Solo’s life-long companion, and Leia was his ex, you think they would be the ones to miss him the most? This isn't a case of wookie discrimination (i hope - hug the nearest human!), since Chewie hugged her first in the earlier scene.   I thought this star wars was supposed to be more about the characters and less about special effects?  Fail.

  5. Kylo Ren taking Rey prisoner.  Just as Princess Leia was taken prisoner in Star Wars (err, I mean Episode I, A New Hope, again) by Darth Vader, at some point Kylo Ren decides to take Rey as his prisoner rather than getting the droid BB-8 who had the “plans he was looking for” (or at least the map), because she had seen the starmap once.  Really??  It’s one thing for Kylo to suck out of Po’s head that he put the map to Skywalker (more on this macguffin below) into the droid BB-8, it's entirely another for Kylo to pull out the details of a starmap from Rey’s head when she saw it only for a brief few seconds!  OK, so I realize it was a plot device to get her and Kylo alone so he could, inadvertently, Total Recall the Force out of her, but still … even Recall had a better premise than this!

  6. The map to Luke Skywalker and all that jazz.   OK, I understand that this was the main macguffin in the movie (a "macguffin" is a “plot-enabling device” that pushes a film’s characters forward towards some arbitrary goal), but I’m not sure it made a lot of sense.   Luke was supposed to go searching for the first Jedi temple, but it looks like here he knew exactly where it was, and left a map to it with Artoo, before he  disappeared.  He’s been living on that little island for what, 10 or 20 years? Really? What happened to his spaceship? Did he send it back with Artoo after he found the temple? Anyways, suffice it to say while I appreciate the macguffin to move the plot forward and to bring back Luke Skywalker in the second film (not to mention that the starmap projection looked cool), I wish there had been more of Luke in the first film, and perhaps a better explanation for what he’s really been doing out there?  It was only, you know, the point of the plot of the whole film!

  7. How quickly Rey’s Force skills develop. OK perhaps they will explain this further in the sequels, but even Luke Skywalker (remember him, the guy who took down Darth Vader and the Emperor), needed training from old Ben Kenobi before he could do anything. Anakin, the chosen one, needed training too.   Rey not only is able to look into Ren’s mind (OK I could buy that) but suddenly does a Jedi Mind Trick on Daniel Craig’s Stormtrooper?   Luke Skywalker’s light sabre calls to her like some kind of Force psychometry, and then she is able to best Kylo Ren, out of nowhere?  Again, I liked Daisy Ridley’s performance as Rey quite a bit, but this all seemed a lot to swallow.  Even for a galaxy far, far away!

And there you have it – 7 things I didn’t like about the Force Awakens.    It’s funny that I’m writing this because as I said, I actually like the movie.  Quite a bit, especially comparing it to the Phantom Menace and Return of the Jedi, both of which I saw again recently.

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Sunday, December 20, 2015

Finally, Something American Muslims and Jews can agree on: Stop the Hatred and Bigotry … Stop Trump!

Growing up in the US as a Muslim-American (not a term I had even heard or ever identified with until recently, since I’m not particularly religious – more on this in a later post), I had many Jewish-American friends and colleagues.  We usually got along great, and this translated into my professional career in Silicon Valley as well - at one point, for example, when I was running an outsourcing company with an office in Pakistan, we did work for a company started by a Jewish American, with an office in Israel.  If that sounds like a recipe for disaster, it wasn’t - as everyone was professional and things generally went well. 
But like many American Muslims and Jews, I’ve found that there is one area where we almost always tended to disagree - and that was about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, namely, the policies of the Israeli government, the responses of the various Palestinian factions, settlements, etc.
Over time, the arguments about this intractable conflict, with its long history and everyone on both sides insisting they are “right”, went online and into social media.  Just as in the real world, I found that we rarely agreed on this issue either.
So I was pleasantly surprised to find myself on the same side of an argument with many of my Jewish friends recently, when I wrote about my fears of the cheering white Christian crowds supporting Trump’s ideas of racism and bigotry, and how it echoed Hitler’s rise to power and his party’s de-humanizing of the German Jews.  It is my contention that this de-humanizing was a necessary step before an atrocity like the Holocaust, or atrocities like slavery, genocide, ethnic cleansing can occur.
 Like some of my Jewish friends pointed out, the analogy isn’t exact (i.e. Jews weren’t doing terrorist bombings in Germany, and no-one, not even those of us invoking the Hitler analogy, literally expect anything as terrible as another Holocaust to occur here in the US).  Still, I was surprised to find that many of my Muslim friends and many of my Jewish friends agreed and shared the same concerns about the rise of Trump and more importantly, about the unleashing of racism and bigotry that seemed to be simmering just below the surface, and exploited by Trump, could be extremely dangerous.
I wasn’t the only one who made this analogy - it’s become more and more common over the last month.  
For me, this echo started well before the current rise of Trump campaign.  Not only does it go back to his insistence that Obama isn’t a ‘real’ American and wasn’t qualified to be President because he wasn’t born in the US (even though no one doubts that he had a white American mother and a foreign father, just like Ted Cruz, who also had a white American mother and a foreign father, and who  was also not born in the US).  Though Trump led the birther movement against Obama, you don’t see him or his supporters saying a word about Ted Cruz’s birth certificate. What’s the difference between Obama and Cruz? Take a look.  Pretty clear that racism was playing a big role here.
 The echo got stronger with his sweeping anti-immigrant comments earlier this year (using the crimes of some immigrants as an excuse to generalize the hatred), and it really started to sting when he went against all Muslims after the San Bernardino and Paris terrorist attacks.  Each of these were making de-humanizing of an ethnic minority “respectable” amongst a group of people in this country who always had some racism under the surface.
 As I said, I’m not the only one making this analogy.
Recently, The New York Daily news put  a cartoon of Trump chopping off the head of the statue of liberty (see image here ) while they and invoking a new version of a famous quote from German pastor Martin Niemöller who spent seven years in a concentration camp because of his anti-Nazi veiws:  
First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out --
Because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out --
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out --
Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me -- and there was no one left to speak for me.

In the Trump version, it was about Mexicans first and then Muslims.  Who’s next?
 Once a country goes down this path, things that seemed unthinkable even a few years ago are given serious consideration, such as labeling members of an entire ethnic group or an entire religion as “undesirables” who need to prove themselves as patriots or “real Americans”.
 Dana Milbank, from the Washington Post, wrote a column recently about the kind of racist and bigoted emails that Trump supporters have been sending him ever since he pointed out that Trump was bigoted and a racist.  “Trump brings bigots out of hiding”.   
 Dana Milbank isn’t Muslim.  He’s Jewish.  But when you tell people it’s OK to be hateful towards one religious or ethnic group, you pretty much tell them it’s OK to be hateful towards any other religious group of “foreigners”, even if they're American (because they're not "real" Americans according to the Trump supporter logic).
And once it becomes acceptable de-humanize an entire group (ethnic, religious or otherwise), any law or behavior that an angry majority wants to impose on the minority is acceptable and "lawful".
 It took this country more than a hundred years AFTER the civil war to get out of the hatred towards African Americans, and many of the Jim Crow laws in the south weren’t just directed at blacks – “No Blacks and Jews” was a very common sign.  Why? Because that’s what a vocal majority wanted.  The United States even turned away several ships of Jewish refugees form Germany in the late 1930s and 1940s because of xenophobia against jews and fears of "German Inflitraters", similar to the Syrian refugee fears that Trump and others are fanning.
 A number of mainstream Jewish groups have condemned Trump’s proposals.  According to forward.com: “The American Jewish Committee’s director of policy, Jason Isaacson, noted the timing of Trump’s statement, which called for “a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States,” coincident with the Jewish holiday of Hanukkah.
“As Jews who are now observing Hanukkah, a holiday that celebrates a small religious minority’s right to live unmolested, we are deeply disturbed by the nativist racism inherent in the candidate’s latest remarks,” Isaacson said. “You don’t need to go back to the Hanukkah story to see the horrific results of religious persecution; religious stereotyping of this sort has been tried often, inevitably with disastrous results.”  Read more here . 
 Many in the world said, “Never Again”, after the extent of the German atrocities towards Jews and other “undesirable” groups was revealed.   
I’m not saying that Trump is as bad as Hitler was, but I’m saying that he’s opening the doors to racial hatred in a large group of angry people and making it OK to “de-humanize” minority groups, which his supporters are doing in droves.  
 Social media is serving to fuel the fire amongst this angry but vocal group, and his supporters are putting out ever more demeaning and de-humanizing posts first towards Hispanic immigrants and now towards Muslims and their faith.  I’ve even had to turn off my social media posts from many of my far-right friends because of so many hateful and racist posts they were sharing. When I try to call them out on it – they get angry and say “I’m not a racist – I’m sick of this crap.”  I’ve got an idea – if you want to stop being called a racist, stop putting racist and bigoted posts de-humanizing people that don’t look or worship like you do!
 Since we’re using a Nazi analogy, what do the Neo-Nazi and white supremacist and openly anti-semitic groups think of Trump?
 These groups were already super-excited when Trump was going after Hispanic immigrants, ranting about how  Trump’s critics were, according to Stormfront radio co-host Don Advo,  “are people living on the pieces of silver that they get from their Jewish paymasters so that they can preside over our extermination, our disposition, and our ultimate disappearance from the face of the earth.”.    Andrew Anglin, who edits the neo-Nazi website The Daily Stormer, said that Trump’s opponents were simply  “Jewish groups are entirely obsessed with flooding America with brown people.”  Read more on buzzfeed
Once Trump announced his anti Muslim plan, the neo Nazis went from simply excited to doing orgiastic somersaults. Anglin for example, wrote, “Glorious Leader Calls for Complete Ban on All Moslems.”  Read more here on the Huffington Post  
Really?  Trump is now considered, at least in spirit, the Glorious Leader of the Neo Nazi White Supremicists?  Need I go on?
If ever there was a time for American Muslims and American Jews to put aside their differences it is now:  Let’s band together to stop the hate, and make sure this country, which we all love, doesn’t go down the slippery slope that others have gone before.

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Wednesday, December 09, 2015

The Rise of Donald Trump and his Cheering Crowds — Where Have We Seen This Movie Before?

When I heard the recent comments by Donald Trump about putting a religious ban on all muslims from entering the US, including American citizens, I was more than a little upset. Not least because I’m a Muslim American citizen who’s worried about my constitutional rights be taken away by cheering crowds of white Christians who know nothing about Islam or Muslims. But it was also because this whole pattern of Trump’s campaign seemed familiar, as if I had see this movie before.
And I’m not just talking about the scene in Episode I of Star Wars where the senate elects a “strong leader” and gives him unlimited power to put down terrorist threats with force!
It wasn’t just what Trump said (which is bad enough) that seemed familiar. The really scary thing was the cheers that came from his mostly white supporters in the recent rally in South Carolina. And if that wasn’t enough, I am ashamed to say that a good number of people that are my “friends” with on social media actually have been supporting Trump’s statements, starting with attacks on Obama not being a real American, then towards Hispanic immigrants (as they are known in Trump-land “rapists and murderers”)and now towards Muslims (known in Trump-land as “terrorists”). The recent comments were part of a longer arc, and i’ve watched it not just with Trump but with social media posts recently including pictures of “burning” Korans and otherwise spewing hatred about “sending all Muslims back”. While most of the media condemned his plan, Fox news and certain other outlets were much more gentle towards it.
So, I wondered — where have we seen this kind of thing before?? And what did it lead to?
There are of course many parallels in world history both here and abroad: ranging from Christians being discriminated by the Roman Empire, the most powerful empire of the day, for their faith, to the internment of US citizens of Japanese origin during World War II, or the “No Blacks or Jews allowed” signs across the south before desegregation. The Japanese internment was of course a moment of disgrace for the United States of America, which was echoed by George Takei recently, who was as child at the time his parents were unconstitutionally put into “camps”.
But I think the most worrying example was this one:
Let’s see, demagogic leader promises to make the country “great” again, and get back at those foreign and domestic elements that were “holding them down”.
The leader demonizes an ethnic and religious minority as being the ones who are taking over their jobs and who aren’t “real” citizens. This results in large cheers from his primarily white supporters. Although no party wins a majority of the electorate, his party is in the lead, and he gets put into power.
When a “terrorist” attack happens in the country, he suspends the constitutional rights of all of its citizens. Then he starts to seize and transport the demonized middle eastern minority “away” from their homes a move which “white” citizens generally support.
Now you might ask why would the electorate support this? Because they are sick and tired of this “ethnic minority”, and they have been indoctrinated in how superior their own culture is to the dirty, filthy minority that needs to be “taken care of”.
While I am describing the rise of Adolf Hitler and the Nazi’s in Germany in the 1930’s, this could just as well be a future history of the rise of Donald Trump and his racist and bigoted minority into power.
When you speak about Hitler these days, it is so loaded that people will automatically dismiss you. Trump is nothing like Hitler, they will say. Jews are nothing like Muslims (or Mexican immigrants). And the USA is not a racist country like Germany was.
Really?
Let’s see, Trumps’ recent anti-muslim remarks came after his announcement that the government should track “muslims” and have a database of them, which of course came after earlier remarks that Mexican immigrants should be deported — even if they are children that were born here and are natural born citizens.
Cue images of the a new Gestapo knocking on doors of Mexican famlies and taking children away from their parents because they didn’t have “proper” papers. Cue images. of rounding up families and putting them on boxcars to “ship them back” to where they belong.
Not enough? Let’s cue images of people being forced to wear arm-bands that show their religion, not unlike Jews who had to wear the Star of David identifying them as part of the “minority” that was out to destroy “pure” German society.
When hatred is allowed not just to exist but supported and cheered by enough of the population — you are on a slippery slope. It starts with demonizing a minority, then enacting laws to make them second class citizens and limiting their ability to do things like practice their religion, and finally, leads to ways to “send them back” and “get rid of them”.
Don’t think it could happen here in the United States of America? Think again.
Discrimination and racial hatred is built into American History, and it was supported by some large segment of the population each time. This hearkens back to the killing of millions of Native Americans and holding of millions of Africans as slaves. All a candidate has to do is to touch that vein and ride it.
George Wallace, another person that you could compare Trump to, ran on a racist agenda and in 1968 got 10 million votes. This was a hundred years after the end of slavery and giving citizenship to African Americans. Lincoln had to send in troops to certain parts of America to get them to relinquish slavery, Kennedy had to send in troops just to get an African American to be able to attend university with white kids a 100 years later. How much would you want to bet that in another hundred years, in 2060, there won’t be some ethnic or religious minority here that is being demonized by the crisis or prejudices of the moment?
Remember Hitler wasn’t always a reviled figure. There were crowds of white Germans cheering, just like the white Americans we saw on TV cheering Mr. Trump as he talked about ripping up the constitution, denying rights based on a religious test. Hitler called Jews “filthy”. He promised to build up the military and make Germany great again (at least for the white Germans).
Whenever we say “never again”, somehow, some way, things seem to come back in circles. They say that when one ignores the lessons of history, you are bound to repeat them. Something tells me that if you question most Trump supporters at his rallies, they aren’t particularly good students of World History.
I’m not saying that Trump is as bad as the Hitler we know of in the history books. I’m saying he’s just like the Hitler that built support from the white majority in Germany by demonizing the minority to get power and promising to “make the country great again”, which is really a euphemism for “make our country white again”. It wasn’t until Hitler started to take advantage of “terrorist” attacks that he really started to build his support and implement his crazy policies, turning into the “Hitler” we know from the history books.
When many German Jews like Albert Einstein and Leo Szilard, both of whom played critical role in the development of atomic weapons, emigrated to America, they publicly wondered where they would go if the USA succumbed to the Nazis?
It took a while, but it seems like certain parts of America may be on the verge of succumbing to a Nazi like mentality — leaving first Hispanics and now Muslims wondering, what will happen to us if this guy gets elected?
And for any other group that is not white and Christian — African Americans, Jewish Americans, Asian Americans — don’t worry, once Trump’s cheering throngs are done with Mexicans and Muslims, they’ll turn their eyes somewhere else. After all, Hitler had a long list of “undesirables” in his book that he would get to.
God help us all if that happens.

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Saturday, March 14, 2015

Waking Up In the Middle of the Night - Stress Relief for Entrepreneurs: Watch Star Trek and do Yoga

Recently, I was having lunch with an entrepreneur friend, who was back in Silicon Valley from Russia, and we were discussing the recently released Russian edition of my book, Zen Entrepreneurship, which he had seen with its Russian title,  Biznes v poze lotosa, which  translates roughly to “business in the lotus position”.
At some point in the conversation, he asked me what techniques – meditation, Yoga or otherwise I might recommend for him, because he found himself “waking up in the middle of the night” worrying about his business.  His business issues were even making their way into his dreams, he said.  Was there some way to prevent this?
My first reaction was of recognition. This has happened to me often, and I’ve heard many other entrepreneurs say the same thing over the years. it occurred to me that this must be very common for most business owners — whether you’re self employed, running a small business, or running a startup that has raised millions of dollars.
It is very hard to “disconnect” from the business, particularly during stressful times. In fact, it might be more surprising if you are running a startup and not worrying about the startup in the middle of the night. This article is about some of the causes and ways to deal with entrepreneurial stress, from both western and eastern perspectives.

The really hard thing about startups

I’ve often said that startups are hard, but this doesn’t mean that they are hard work. The thing that makes startups hard is not the amount of hours you have to put in — it’s that you really can’t avoid “taking your work” home with you.
This seems to be true whether your startup is suffering from not having enough money (like many bootstrapped startups) or if you’ve raised millions of dollars in VC or angel funds. In the case of CEOs who have investors, there’s nothing like the sobering realization that they put all that money into you with a certain set of expectations, and those expectations are not being met (since most startups have over optimistic business plans, most startups don’t make their initial numbers).
Even startups that succeed will often flail around for a while before they hit their second (or third) wind. It’s during times like these that stress that’s been building up little by little can suddenly start to feel like an un-liftable weight on your shoulders.
This is compounded by what I call the “self-confidence problem”. Entrepreneurs tend to be people who believe in their own capabilities — and that might have been true in school, where how much they learned was usually a function of how many hours they put in, or even in their previous job, where they were evaluated for a promotion based on their own contributions in relation to other employees.
If something requires hard work, figures the would-be entrepreneur, I can handle that. This usually leads to the belief that working harder can make you more successful. That might be true generally, but when it comes to startups in particular, while putting in long hours is usually necessary, it’s also not sufficient for success. The thing that can be frustrating for so many entrepreneurs is that, sometimes whether a startup succeeds or not is not always under their direct control.
There are plenty of startups where the founders work their tails off, but that don’t make it. There are a million things that can go wrong — you could hit the market too early (or too late), funding which was easy to come by in a boom market suddenly dries up and you find your ship aground prematurely. On the flip side, I’ve seen successful entrepreneurs who had great successful exits because the market was hot, but whose companies would have otherwise failed as stand-alone entities had they come even a year earlier or a year later.

Why Startups are Harder than MIT: What Could Go Wrong

To solidify this point, I’d say that I worked much harder in terms of number of hours spent when I was a student at MIT than I did at most of my startups. Pulling all nighters, usually because a problems set was due the next morning, or cramming for exams, was common-place. The thing is, even though I was working hard, I don’t think I was ever as stressed out at MIT as I have been in my various startups. OK, I might not always have gotten straight A’s, but I knew that as long as I put in the time, I could get a decent grade.
In a startup, rarely is the result a simple matter of how hard you work (or surprisingly, how much money you spend). Things always have a way of going differently than you expect. If you are the founder/CEO this usually means you’re waking up int he middle of the night worried about some thing or another that either has gone wrong, or could go wrong
What could go wrong? Plenty.
Your first major customer cancels an order. The round of funding you were counting on doesn’t come through. Apple (or Facebook or Google) kicks you out of the app store, which was responsible for 100% of your sales. A co-founder has already vested their stock and suddenly quits. A recently hired, much anticipated, star hire isn’t what you expected, or maybe a long-time super-valuable employee decides to leave for a competitor. You miss your projections, not by a little bit, but by more than a million dollars! Or maybe, a recently-fired employee sneaks into your office and steals your laptop, a fact you only know because the police came in and got the surveillance footage from your landlord, and you have to decide whether to press charges.
Yes all of those things have happened. And that’s just in startups that I have personally been involved with. I’m sure there’s a whole world of startups out there with problems that I’ve never encountered.
Whew! No wonder it’s hard not to be stressed out as an entrepreneur.

Brad Feld’s First Rule: You aren’t alone.

I was recently interviewing well known entrepreneur-turned VC Brad Feld for my upcoming book, Startup Myths, and I asked him what advice he’d have for entrepreneurs going through stressful times.  His first piece of advice was to remember that you are not alone.  Many, many people are going through the same thing with their startups, though they are not out talking about it.
Brad was one of the first in the startup/VC community to talk about depression and the role it’s played in his career.  I’ve seen that many entrepreneurs may find themselves sliding into “mini-depressions” when they’re trudging along and come across intractable problems that they just can’t or don’t want to deal with anymore. (if you haven’t read his blog, it’s at www.feld.com and worth a read).
Remembering you are not alone is a great first step.

This reminded me that when I was doing my very first startup in Cambridge, MA, we had a local group of CEOs of local startups that met every so often — I think it was once a month or so. I used to joke that this was “my CEO therapy” group.
The thing was, being able to talk about the things that were going wrong with a group of people who understand and are going through similar things can be therapeutic in and of itself.
I have to admit, sometimes I would come away feeling much better about my current crisis because someone in the group inevitably would be going through something much worse. For example, I remember once I worried about only have runway for a few months of salary left, when I realized that one of the other members of the group didn’t have enough money to make payroll this month!
This wasn’t some startup version of schadenfreude– rather it was the first step to putting things in perspective, which can lead to taking your own problems in stride and realizing that rarely is it “the end of the world”, even if it seems like it right now.
If you don’t have a support group like this, informally or formally, it might be worth looking into joining or creating one. I’m on my fifth startup, and you’d think by now I wouldn’t need other entrepreneurs who are going through similar things to commiserate with. You’d be wrong.
Can’t you just talk to you co founders, investors, or advisors?
Yes and no. I’ve found that even though investors, advisors, and co-founders can be sympathetic, they often don’t understand the stress that a founder/CEO is going through at the moment. Sometimes the thing that you really need to vent or complain about, the thing that’s causing you all this stress, is your investors, your advisor, or even your co-founder!

Western perspectives and Physiological effects of Stress

When I started to think about techniques that could help my Russian friend, I realized that we all have very different ways of getting and dealing with stress. Exercise, everyone will tell you, almost always helps with stress. I agree, but by itself it may not be enough.
There’s a good explanation of the western chemical viewpoint of momentary, flight or fight stress vs. the kind of chronic stress that entrepreneurs live with, in another article I read recently by entrepreneur Hana Abaza (https://medium.com/@HanaAbaza/stress-startups-and-survival-94c48ec921f2).
Since the human body is designed to deal with a stressful situation like a saber-tooth tiger, the chemicals that the body secretes during stressful times are meant to last as long as the “flight or fight” response lasts. Either you get away and survive or you stay and fight the tiger.
Abaza stresses that being in charge of a startup is more like “chronic” stress, and the physiological issues that it can cause. Coincidentally, she also talks about waking up in the middle of the night during her own startup experience 3 or 4 times a week.

A Yogic View of Stress

Being a mystical as well as practical kind of guy, I believe it’s worth looking beyond just the chemicals to see how we get stressed out and what happens in our mind, body and our energy fields.
It’s pretty easy to see that each person is different and holds their stress differently, resulting in different physiological symptoms. Two people going through the same situation have a very different reaction to how “stressed out” they are.
As an example, I mentioned that I wasn’t really that stressed out at MIT as a student, but some other students took it very differently. Suddenly, not being the smartest person in the room hit at the very core of the valedictorian personality they’d built up over their entire lives up to that point — and this caused more than its fair share of angst, depression and worse.
Wilhelm Reich, who along with Carl Jung was one of Freud’s most esteemed disciples, believed that we hold accumulated stress in the fascia — the connective tissues in between our muscles and our bones. He came up with a therapy that involved learning to breathe as a way to “release” this accumulated stress, which had dramatic physiological results in many of his patients, and many consider him the the grandfather of body-oriented psychotherapy.
Surprisingly, this view coincides very well with the Yogic/Eastern view. From a Yogic point of view, this has to do with our individual personalities, our habitual thought-forms, our karmic tendencies. As we build up stress, we create and hold onto little deformations into our energy fields, called samskaras, which accumulate around our body in previously transparent sheaths called khosas.
Finding ways to relieve that psychological/energetic holding not only reduces stress, it lets go of some of the karmic traces we’ve accumulated, clearing up our energy field and our ability to see the situation clearly. I like to use the analogy of a muddy windshield — it blocks your view of what’s really happening. The clearer it gets, the more easily you can see what’s happening around you, and your role in it, and sometimes that’s enough to give us the perspective to get un-stressed.
In the Buddhist point of view, the ability to let go of all that is locked up in our minds (and by extension our bodies) is what eventually leads to enlightenment.
These samskaras are caused by our “grasping” and “aversion” — reactions we have to the situations we find ourselves in. As we hold these thoughts in both our mind and bodies, we have muddied up our system, leading to a lack of sleep and even dreaming about our problems. One reason we use the term “sleep like a baby”, is that babies haven’t accumulated enough “stress” or “samskaras” to disturb their sleep (at least in this lifetime).
In Tibetan Buddhist traditions, there are two kinds of karma: the “big karma” which might involve bad deeds like killing someone or cheating someone, and “little karma”, which are things that have made their way into our minds which we have a had a strong reaction to — exactly what causes the samskaras in Yogic traditions.
To resolve the “big karma” might require lifetimes of work. However, it’s the little “karmic traces” make their way into our dreams, particularly the ones that seem to be regurgitating things we had been worried about all day. So how do you release some of these karmic traces and reduce some of the stress?

Some Tips and Techniques From My Own Experience

My own personal mantra when I am stressed out in a startup is “Watch Star Trek, Walk by the Bay, and Do Yoga”.  These aren’t meant to be actual techniques (you might hate Star Trek, not live near the Bay, and find Yoga to be ridiculous), but rather three different ways that I approach dealing with stress.
  •        Taking walks in Nature.  There’s a little park in Mountain View, just down the road from my office, and only yards away from Google, that always helps me to deal with stressful situations.  It’s called Shoreline and there are paths that are near the San Francisco Bay, and when I’m walking I can see the mountains to the west (green, tree covered), the water of the bay, and the mountains to the east (which look more like the desert).  There is also a nice breeze coming in from the bay (OK it’s not always nice- sometimes it stinks lol).   The thing is, there’s something about gazing at mountains and feeling a breeze going through your body and energy field that has the effect of “loosening up” the things that you are holding – mentally, emotionally, and in your body.  What I’ve noticed is that even if I’m holding a lot of stuff in at the beginning of the walk, by the end my body is more relaxed and I’ve let go of some of the things that are bothering me.  You can find a place like this in your neighborhood.
  •       Watching Star Trek.  This usually gets a laugh when I tell people about it.  The truth is, that  I find we all have certain types of fiction that not only “take us away” from where we are, but somehow feed our soul.  For me it’s usually certain kinds of science fiction or fantasy.  For you it may be Sex and the City or Reality TV!  Well maybe not Reality TV, but you get the general idea.  Find something that you can watch that “feeds your soul”.   For me, watching Star Trek brings back memories of childhood and anticipation of great things in the future, and somehow links to something deep in my soul – maybe because I’m an explorer at heart.  Whatever it is, take an hour every day to watch an episode of a TV show that does it for you or read something that takes you into this kind of feeling. 
  •       Doing Yoga.  I’ve already mentioned Yoga. In fact, the original point of Yoga was to start to dissolve some of the samskaras that we are holding. Too often, in the west, Yoga and exercise are considered the same thing.  I had one Yoga teacher tell me that I'd probably be sore the next day.   She was right. I was not only sore the whole next day, which might work for some people, but didn’t work for me- that's not the kind of Yoga that helps me to release stress.  The key is to find Yoga which an allow you to do stretching and to release, a kind of meditation for the body which allows you to gently release the samskaras building up in your body and mind and energy field.  You’re not training to be a boxer or a weightlifter or a football player!  If your Yoga isn’t doing it for you, I’d be happy to recommend some DVDs or books that have the kind of Yoga.
  •       Meditation.  There are many studies showing that regular meditation has health benefits and leads to stress relief.  There are many different techniques of meditation, but at the heart you are trying to calm the mind and the tumultuous thoughts that we are all caught in the middle of. I think of us as one of those snow-globes that has been shaken up, thoughts are flying every which way and it’s difficult to see. A short meditation can do wonders for letting the snow settle down and get a clear view of what's happening. 
  •       Use Your Work As Meditation.  Being mindful at work can have wonders for not only your concentration but on your level of stress. Rather than worrying about “making payroll next month” (which may be a real problem that you have to deal with), when you are writing some code or doing a spreadsheet or having a meeting, focus your mind and attention on the task at hand.  I call this “using your work as meditation”.   Your mind will inevitably wander.  You bring it back. This is just like meditating but it is more about keeping your mind on what you are doing.  If you do this right, you won’t be thinking about the million things that “could go wrong” if your startup runs out of money next month.  You’ll be thinking about whatever task you are focused on. 
  •        Breathing exercises.  There are many breathing exercises that can help you to release that which we are holding – i.e. that which is causing us stress.  If you are finding yourself unable to sleep, doing a slow breathing exercise is a great way to get back to sleep – almost any rhythmical breathing exercise can work.  Here’s a simple one I learned recently:  breath in fully (even to places that you don’t normally breath into) expanding your lungs as much as you can, then breathe out fully, much longer than you normally would.  Repeat 10 times.  After 10 times, hold your breath for 20 seconds.  Then start the 10 breath cycle again. If you’re like me, somewhere in the 10 breaths, you’ll lose count of which breath you are on and end up asleep.  There are of course many different types of breathing exercises – breath of fire (not recommended for falling asleep), alternate nostril breathing, etc.
  •      Get a Massage.  Since stress is being held in the body, it's amazing how great you can feel after having some body work done.  This doesn't make your stress go away, but it does let you realize that there's something beyond the stress, so that when you start to feel it again, it ends up being a little less "all-encompassing".   

From an eastern point of view, stress isn’t purely a chemical thing, it is the result of our thoughts, emotions, and new “reactions” adding onto the accumulation of samskaras we have in the past (our “karmic traces”).   
Sometimes I like to think of being an entrepreneur as karma+  plan - i.e. we are accelerating our reactions and building up karmic traces with every stressful situation and our reactions to it, which is why we so often end up dreaming about our business problems.  This is why I believe entrepreneurs need techniques like Yoga and meditation even more than most people, because the stress that builds up  can make our lives hell and being off your game can have much more immediate consequences for an entrepreneur who's running a startup.
So, the next time you find yourself stressed out, take a deep breath. Remember you are not alone, and there are other startup CEOs going through what you’re going through. Then, do your own version of my personal mantra: Take a walk by the bay, watch Star Trek, or do Yoga!


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