The best writing advice I got so far

In this post I want to share the most efficient writing advice I got so far. I started this journey in writing some time ago with the goal to write professionally. I want to write staff that people want to read. Don’t we all?

The more I write, the more I realize that professional writing isn’t about the writer. It is about the reader. It isn’t about self-expression, it’s about getting the message across. And getting the message across isn’t always easy. Often it means that what you wrote is unreadable, or useless. Writing for others needs to have a purpose, to serve their needs in some way.

As my tutor says, what we write needs to either inform or entertain or educate or even provoke. In any case it needs to have something to offer. But even if there is something useful to say, how do we go about saying it? Fragmented writing is my main pitfall. It’s so easy to make too big a leap in your paragraph. To imply things the reader doesn’t know – because I didn’t write them. To skip some parts of the event and throw the reader right to the end without taking it one step at a time. And those are just some of my shortcomings.

So, what do I do to improve? The one piece of advice I was given by all tutors is to read it out loud. That is a lot more difficult than it sounds. I still haven’t been able to do it. Breaking the silence in the room scares me. Although as time goes by, I realize this is going to be a necessary tool. But not my favorite.

You know what my favorite tool is? Copying! Yes, copying as an exercise. Copying great writers using pen and paper. I find this to be such a powerful mental exercise. It is based on the rule of input – output. As a writer you can create great output only if great input goes into your head. And great input can have many forms. One of which is reading great books. And copying parts of those books the old-fashioned hand-written way. The way that allows the brain to process that input.

I know I have a long way to go, and this exercise really helps. It functions both as a technical guide – on sentence and paragraph structure – and as inspiration.  The book I’m using right now for this is Hotel du Lac by Anita Brookner. Such a skilled writer. I am amazed every day by the way she writes long sentences. Her sentences can be five lines long and flow beautifully. I have to say, as I read them, I keep thinking: She must have read them out loud! Maybe even more than once.  

That is the best writing advice I got so far. If you are interested in any type of writing, go ahead and try this. Let me know what you think.

Is there some valuable writing advice you would like to share? Send me a reply and let me know.

BIG DATA IN OUR WORLD. WHAT ABOUT IT?

Do you feel like a stranger in your own world sometimes? Does all this new technology make you feel like an immigrant in a new country? You are not alone. Technology is moving so fast these days, even professionals try to catch up. After discussing the Internet of Things in my previous post, I feel its time to get acquainted with BIG DATA.

What is Big Data?

Lets just start with what data signifies today. Just data, not the Big Data variety. Data refers to information we put in our computer every time we write something or make entries in a spreadsheet. Pretty straight forward so far.

Today though, data is generated in many more ways. Every time we use our tablet or smartphone to connect with others, we create data. Every time we send an email, play a game or purchase something online we generate data. Same goes with liking a photograph, buying movie tickets, or using a smart watch. Tons of data is generated and stored about our health and life choices when exercising with our smart watch.

So Big Data, as you might have guessed already, is massive amounts of data. Today’s technology enables the collection, storage and analysis of mind-blowing amounts of information. According to Oracle, the volume of available data doubles every two years.

Three key concepts define the term Big Data today:

  • Volume, as in high volumes of structured, unstructured or semi structured data.
  • Velocity, as in the fast rate of collection and analysis. Today there is even products that operate on real-time information.
  • Variety, as in the many different types of data. Today they can even derive from audio and video files.

So we have Big Data. What about it? Why is it important?

According to the World Economic Forum, Big Data analysis will reveal patterns and connections that will vastly improve most human activities.

Big Data means more information, more information leads to better and more comprehensive answers. Better answers provide better solutions.

Often, better solutions lead to even better quality of data, so the circle closes and opens again leading to accelerated progress.

The significant question is what organizations are doing with Big Data. Analysis provides information that enables organizations to implement:

  • cost and time reductions
  • maintenance based on accurate predictions
  • augmented customer experience
  • smart decision making and innovation
  • new product development
  • optimized services
  • more comprehensive business strategies

What is really interesting is all the effort, imagination and creativity that is required in order make sense of all this and come up with something useful. I was surprised to read about the importance of asking the right questions. Behind all this technology there is highly skilled people involved in a process of discovery and innovation. All this doesn’t just happen automatically, which often comes as a surprise to non-tech people.

I am looking forward to finding out what you think about BIG DATA. Send me a reply below with your thoughts and questions.

What else would you like to know about Big Data?

What new development would you like me to write about next?

What is the Internet of Things? How you can benefit

What is Internet of Things really?

Simply put, it is things connected on the Internet.

What a surprise!

And by things, I mean devices. Already more devices than people are connected to the Internet. According to research by Cisco 50 billion things will be connected to the web by 2020. When world population is around 7.5 billion.

Just to impress you even further, it is estimated that IoT will add 1,9 trillion dollars to the global economy over the next 10 years (Cisco). Interesting, huh?

IoT is here and it is already affecting the way we live our lives and the way businesses function. It is about time we all understand the term, grasp the challenges it poses and appreciate what the future brings.

I believe it is important that all citizens of our world know about the recent technological developments, understand their basic functionality and make the most of them.

It is through this technology that our world is going to become even more efficient and even more rewarding.

How does it work?

Internet of Things is not about devices and data. The main aim of this technology is the collaboration of elements with a purpose: to find a solution to a problem. An IoT strategy offers a holistic approach to problem solving.

This web of things involves three main elements:

  • devices for collecting data
  • clouds that store data
  • software that analyses data and turns it to meaningful information 

What is Internet of Things used for?

As depicted in the graph below, the top three markets are smart city, industry and buildings. Not far behind we see cars, smart energy, agriculture and health services.


Graph: IOT Analytics 2018

At home IoT applications include:

  • light bulbs
  • smart-fridge
  • security
  • per feeding
  • energy monitoring

In buildings there is applications in:

  • lighting
  • security
  • structural integrity
  • energy consumption
  • occupancy
  • emergency alerts

In transport there is applications in:

  • smart parking
  • public transport
  • shipping and supply chain

In health IoT offers applications for:

  • monitoring the elderly
  • caring for patients more efficiently
  • remote diagnostics
  • bio wearables
  • hospital hygiene

Not to forget the smart cities and the general industry where applications include:

  • waste management
  • maintenance
  • utilities smart grid
  • augmented emergency services

What are the benefits?

IoT is expected to add 1,9 trillion dollars to the global economy over the next 10 years. How is that going to happen?

The potential of this growth is driven by four parameters:

  • Improved performance of existing processes
  • Reduced costs for energy and maintenance
  • Innovative services
  • New revenue streams

To be more precise and give you a better idea of the IoT potential here are some examples:

•         In smart buildings it is expected that huge savings will be generated simply by lowering operating costs and reducing energy consumption.

•         In smart cities, savings are generated through efficient waste management as well as innovative management of parking spaces. Citizens will be able to find and reserve the closest available space and local authorities can implement demand-based pricing.

•         In the health sector there are devices for monitoring patients, people with disabilities and special needs. There are motion detectors and sensors that can immediately notify for help if someone has had an accident.

Challenges posed by Internet of Things

As with every significant development, this technology poses challenges both to organizations and governments. They include:

  • Technological standardisation which is still fragmented
  • Rapid innovation which poses significant challenges to governments
  • Appropriate governance of holistic approaches
  • Security, privacy and compliance

According to Samsung’s Open Economy document, more than 7.3 billion devices need to be made secure by their manufacturers by 2020.

Organisations have valid concerns about security, privacy, transparency and compliance. This is a challenge for businesses that function within IoT but one that is addressed by technology giants such as Microsoft, Cisco, Amazon Web Services and others.

Human creativity

Hopefully I was able to convey the meaning of the term Internet of Things without the use of overpowering terminology. I really do admire the fact that IoT is created with intention and that each application serves a specific purpose. Each time it is tailor-made to provide a solution.

The scale of the benefits is mind-blowing, and I am most impressed by the potential for change in our world. Positive change.

I feel it is our duty to learn as much as possible about those developments, to be prepared and make the most of them at home, at work, in our community.

It is for our collective benefit that we have to make the most of all those technological advancements.

Human creativity has been moving us forward for centuries. This is yet another step!

I would love to know your thoughts on this. Are you also excited about IoT? Send me a reply and let me know.

Can we really find the right balance in life?

Everybody talks about work – life balance. It is a popular discussion with numerous answers and different approaches all over the public domain. It is addressed both practically and spiritually.

“Everything in moderation” or “Pan metron ariston” said Cleobulus, one of the Seven Sages of Greece. He talked about finding balance in the 6th century BC. Today we still struggle to achieve this. Can we ever achieve the perfect balance? What is it all about? Is it about the destination, or about the journey?

I do believe that finding balance is not limited to the dipole between the personal and the professional. Finding balance is relevant to all aspects of our lives, anything that involves decision making and relations with others. No event is ever all black or all white, hardly ever is someone completely right or completely wrong. We constantly need to find balance and peace in our relationships with friends, colleagues, family, even with ourselves. Perhaps most importantly with ourselves.

Balance is about peace and fairness. A state where all elements have been considered; all the different facts and opinions and feelings.

There are so many opposites to consider:

  • Caring for looks VS caring for education.
  • Working towards goals VS watching TV all the time
  • Being a fashion victim VS not caring about image
  • Being hysterical about how things are done VS being without concern, care, interest
  • Being a liar and a hypocrite VS being brutally honest
  • Being superficial VS taking everything close to heart, being super sensitive

Considering all of the above, it is so easy to give the answer: find the golden rule, the happy medium, the middle ground. Who would disagree? But what does this really mean?

It is so important that we are in peace with ourselves. I strongly feel the need to be in peace with myself, in my effort to be a good person.

  • I want to eat the cake, but be thin as well
  • I want to party all the time, but read all the books as well
  • I want to have a killer career, but never get out of bed
  • I also want a super healthy body, but never set foot in the gym

Easy, huh?

It took me years of conflict, to realize that yes, I can have it all. We can have it all; it’s all about balance. Give and take.

  • Eat cake ever so often and not with each meal
  • Stay in bed longer during weekends and not every day
  • Visit the dreaded gym twice a week, not every day
  • Read the self – development book with all the wonderful tips about time management – even if it is for 15 min in the evening. By the way, 15min is still a lot more than nothing!

Wouldn’t it be great if we could be in peace with our inner demons and the unfulfilled dreams and expectations, we all deal with? Let’s just be realistic for a moment, understand and respect the choices that led us to where we are today.

All we want is to be better isn’t it?

I cannot really decide which is more difficult:  peace with ourselves or peace with the others? Peace inside would probably be a good starting point, I think.

We need to explore the middle ground that leaves enough room for both sides.  When others are involved, we need to leave them room to breathe and maintain their self-respect. By all means, set a boundary but be equally prepared to respect the individuality of the other person – no matter what their role in your life.

I believe that the main idea, the underlying principle is to find our own personal position, our own personal happy place, the perfect analogy for our identity, our personality, our choices, our circumstances. To define the person we want to be and treasure it.

I would love to read your thoughts on this. Send me a reply if you would like to share.

In how many ways can you say something?

Have you ever tried this?
Expressing the same idea in many different ways.

Writing down the same idea in many different ways is a first for me. Each time with a different aim in mind. This was part of a learning exercise for an online writing course, and I found it very interesting and very revealing. I never thought I could say the same thing in so many ways. Let’s begin.

The original viewpoint

Self-discipline: the ability to make yourself do things you know you should even when you do not want to. However difficult to achieve, it is an important attribute of successful people.

Moving towards the reader

Making yourself do what is needed, even if you don’t feel like it, is commendable. Self-discipline is definitely aiding you in your road to success.

Moving away from the reader

Self-discipline is a commendable ability. Doing whatever necessary despite not feeling like it is difficult, yet necessary to succeed in any field.

Moving against the reader

Self-discipline is not exactly your strong-suit, is it? Well, no surprise there! It isn’t easy to do something when you don’t really feel like it. Success in life can come without this self inflicting discipline. I get it.

Push: suggest, advise, reason 

Self-discipline is the ability to make yourself do the things you should, even when you don’t want to. It is often difficult but it is widely recognised as one of the main attributes of successful people.

Push: state expectations, evaluate, reward and threaten

Self-discipline is clearly expected of you at this stage. Your performance is clearly depending upon that and high marks will only derive from such an approach. Failure is imminent without this type of commitment.

Pull: listen, disclose, empathise

I know it is difficult. Self-discipline can be such a challenge, I know. I’ve been there. But I also know that it is necessary. It really makes a difference at the end if the day. It’s the only way to become the best and succeed.

Pull: identify common ground and create a scenario

Self-discipline is the way. I know, I’ve been there. Within this predicament it is absolutely necessary I’m afraid. Only by doing what is needed, even if you don’t feel like it at all, you are going to excel and succeed. But it’s worth it. Joining this team is going to be an amazing experience.

What did you think of this exercise? I’d love to read your thoughts on the different types of expression. Do send me a reply below.

I would like to thank my tutor Philippa Davies for this course and for all the feedback she sends me.

Do parents know better? A family story revisited

This is about family moments, about parents and children, about communication and respect. Being a parent is not easy. Sadly it doesn’t come with instructions. Our only hope is love. And laughing together.

This is my family’s Ketchup story which I first published a few days ago. Listening to the suggestions of friends I decided to rewrite it in a more dramatic way that doesn’t give away the outcome so quickly. This is my effort to rewrite the sequence in a more structured way, which is ultimately more enjoyable to read. I hope. Here it goes:

It’s Saturday morning and the family decided to go shopping. No shortage of needs in a house with two teenagers. At lunch time after all the absolutely, definitely, necessary items were bought, we go to their favourite restaurant for a quick lunch. Burgers all around.

And my husband decides it is best he handles the ketchup bottle so that the kids don’t make a mess.

And he shakes the Ketchup bottle while open. Why, I do not know. Why would anyone shake a ketchup bottle? Let’s just assume he thought this would make the sauce come out easier. And it did! All over the place! Not only on the plates but also on the table, the cutlery, the glasses.

The trajectory of the movement was marked in red. Thick red sauce. Only, we soon realised, the traces weren’t stopping at the edge of our table, rather they were visible on the floor leading to a shopping bag by the next table. The family sitting there didn’t realise what happened, but when I saw the red marks inside their bag, I just looked at my husband with eyes wide open. I couldn’t stop laughing despite the embarrassment!

Why on Earth did he think he could do this better that the kids?

Why assume they would make a mess and he wouldn’t? They are teenagers not toddlers.

Whatever possesses us parents and makes us believe we know better than them? About everything, not just ketchup. I will always remember that story for two reasons. First, I laughed a lot! Second, it made me think about our role as parents. We don’t always know better, and even if we do, we still make mistakes. And one more thing: Always ensure ketchup bottle is closed before shaking it! Or rather don’t shake it.

Is is a successful attempt? I’d love to know what you think in your reply.

How to organise your office and take charge of your life

Organising your tasks, whether at home or at the office, is so much easier these days. Paperless is the word! It is about time all those task management applications enter your life and remove clutter.

Desperately looking for your notes a few minutes before an important presentation can be disastrous. So is looking for a file while your boss is on the line. Today there are so many meetings, phone-calls and distractions during the day. Every day. It is imperative we take charge of all tasks, plan and organise them and keep them on track.

Organising makes you more efficient. It improves time management and enables you to free some time and concentrate on what really matters. So, here are some useful applications for you to consider:

TODOIST: https://todoist.com/

Google Keep: https://keep.google.com/u/0/

Evernote: https://evernote.com/

ToodleDO: https://www.toodledo.com/

AnyDO: https://www.any.do/

Wunderlist: https://www.wunderlist.com/

There is lots to choose from according to your individual needs and lifestyle. And they are mostly free. Usually they offer a basic version for free and charge a monthly fee for some more specialized upgrades. You can seriously take charge of your life and control all the information at work and at home.

What to look out for in Online Courses

Continuing Education in the digital age.

Are online learning courses worth the effort? Yes!

I have enrolled in quite a few during the past couple of years; some free, some quite expensive. Here are the main elements to consider irrespective of the topic:

  • Video. Courses without video are boring. No matter how dedicated you might be, they are really difficult to follow. Completing them was a struggle each time. Video is helpful even if the tutor isn’t charismatic on camera. The experience is particularly enjoyable when the tutor has an interesting presence. This was the case once and I would repeat sections just to hear them explain it again!
  • Tests. Yes tests, even automated ones, help a lot. At first, I thought they were pretty basic and boring, but actually they make you re-think the content, process the information in your mind and thus learn it better.
  • Personalised feedback from a tutor. When an online course offers that option, it’s the best! Ever since a joined such a course for the first time, I decided to never pay for another one again that doesn’t provide this service. Personalised feedback from your tutor is really helpful and their comments can be really inspiring.
  • Peer feedback. That is the next best option. Peer feedback is useful and interesting, especially if a lot of participants are involved. It is nice to find out what others think of your work, but clearly not as useful as the opinion of an expert.

I have to admit I am addicted to online courses! It is so easy to learn new things from the comfort of your own home. The cost is minimal, and you can usually make whatever time allowances fit your schedule. Learning new skills is exciting and refreshing and I sincerely recommend it. Most of the courses are self-paced and can be adjusted to the busiest lifestyles. Even 10 minutes a day or an hour per week can make a huge difference.

My favourite courses in terms of presentation and interactivity were with Cambridge Institute of Continuing Education and Udemy. Courses offered by edX are very varied and always useful.

The topics I study about are creative writing and grammar and style. I have also attended courses on blogging and online writing as well as digital marketing.

Browsing through the options I am amazed by the abundance of options that are available today. So many areas of knowledge, such horizons in our fingertips. I am grateful for this wonderful technology that brings learning in my house. Thank you!

I’d love to know about your experience with online learning. Have you started or still thinking about it? Send me a reply and let me know.

My Inspiration for 2019: Judith Kerr

A creative woman at the age of 95

Most of this post is an excerpt from my Diary, from the pages where I tell myself how to plan my future. New Year’s Day post is dedicated to true role models and genuine inspiration.

A few days ago, I read one of the most inspiring articles ever. The interview of a lady at 95 who still writes or draws for two hours every morning so that she feels that the day “isn’t wasted”! I love Judith Kerr. She’s lived a creative life and continues to do so. She walks to the river for inspiration, she enjoys wonderful meals at the Savoy. Clearly, she has a mindset of usefulness and productivity. And she started writing and drawing in her forties. Which is excellent. Which means I can do this too.

That is what I dream of for myself. A full life where I forever create something useful, have a distinct reason for waking up every morning and lead an interesting life. She is active and alert and optimistic and quality driven. That is my role model. A 95 years old lady who still produces work and eats lobster at the Savoy while being interviewed for the Guardian

I love her energy, and the fact that she is happy about her grandchildren living in Rome, because that gives her an excuse to go to Rome. She loves that when they come to London they are excited about visiting places. I love her spirit, her mindset, her point of view. I love that she is alive and finds sincere and deep beauty in everything.

I want to become such a woman. A creative person, in peace with myself, in peace with my creativity and my desire to be useful. So, I too want to create something beautiful, and useful and interesting. I want to be that person that is calm and creative and respected and enjoys life and actively creates beauty! A person that has something to contribute to the world.

I’m so excited about Judith Kerr. That she exists is testament that I can make my dreams come true. That it is possible and feasible and real. I know it isn’t going to be easy. I don’t want it to be easy.

I wish everyone a HAPPY NEW YEAR full of LOVE and INSPIRATION!

I’d love to read about your inspiration. Send me a reply and let me know.

My funny story: The family at the restaurant

As it is Christmas time it feels appropriate to share a funny story. It is a true family story that happened a while ago but stuck with us. It makes us all laugh every time we remember it. I hope you will enjoy reading it!

Well, once upon a time …

On a typical Saturday morning, the whole family decided to go shopping. No shortage of needs in a house with two teenage girls. The morning at the stores went more or less as expected. After all the absolutely definitely necessary items were bought, which was about lunch time, we decided to go to their favourite restaurant for a quick bite. Favourite restaurant for teenagers means noise, excitement, crowds. It means food that arrives late, a table near a birthday gathering, teenagers arguing about silly things and parents trying to survive the experience.

Heinz tomato ketchup bottle on the table
Are you sure you want ketchup?

Despite all this, my husband and I wanted to be part of this liveliness, plus we enjoy the taste of this food. So we are all at the table and plates arrive. Burgers all around. And my husband decides it’s best he handles the ketchup bottle so that the kids don’t make a mess. And he shakes the bottle while it is open. And ketchup sauce ends up not only at our table, but also inside the shopping bag of a lady sitting at the next table. So embarrassing! Just picture our faces looking at the traces of ketchup. Eyes wide open and mouths without words. What was worse I do not know; that he thought he could do this better than the kids, or that he spoiled the white garment inside the bag.

A disaster on all accounts that gave real pleasure to our girls. Yes, parents aren’t perfect. What came next was a frantic effort to clean everything up, finish food and go as soon as possible. Lesson learned: Always ensure ketchup bottle is closed before shaking it!

And another lesson: trust your kids to know a thing or two. I just hope and wish we all enjoy a lot of wonderful moments with them. Moments that we will remember and cherish for many years to come!

I’d live to read your funny story! Send me a reply and let me know.