Spies, Privacy and Social Media

The internet and social media are twin inventions that have and will continue to shape human history. Almost every human has in one way or another utilised them to communicate, educate themselves or accelerate daily tasks. They have become so crucial that we would be in agony to live without them. We use them so much that we no longer question their safety and transparency. Many of us may never realise that our secrets and personal information may be being stored and accessed against our will. In this digital age, we have become so accustomed to entrusting third parties with our sensitive information, believing that they will live up to their promise of consumer privacy. However, it’s not all the time that these companies or third parties will respect our privacy. For example, in 2013, Edward Snowden revealed the existence of numerous surveillance programs headed by different intelligence agencies, including the Central Intelligence Agency and National Security Agency. Leaked reports and documents indicate that these surveillance programs, such as the Five Eyes network and PRISM, have been collecting consumer and personal data on a global scale for years. So, exactly how much freedom and privacy do we possess? How safe is our data?

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Social Media: A Data Collecting Net?

Twitter, Instagram and YouTube are just some social media platforms which may already be collecting your data.

As the internet advanced and mobile technology became widespread, the use of social media began to rise. Social media platforms such as Facebook, which was founded in 2004, offered us a space to share our lifestyles freely with others around the world. On such platforms, users can share and upload pictures, videos and recordings which are available to be viewed by everyone or a selected group of individuals, depending on the user’s privacy preferences. While people perceive social media to be a safe space to express their thoughts and feelings, many governments and their respective security services view the above services as a way to better monitor their citizens and thus enforce national security. The sudden influx of free-flowing data on such platforms offers governments an unprecedented view into the lives of their citizens, and those in other parts of the world. This has led to the creation of mass surveillance programs that record and analyse consumer data, often without the awareness of the consumer. While there are laws designed to protect personal information and privacy, the act of mass surveillance raises several pressing concerns. These include the reliability of such laws and in the event of absolute necessity, such as in the investigation of crimes, the extent to which relevant authorities may access consumer information. These concerns have only continued to worsen as technology and society advanced steadily. Most recently, an operation named “Trojan Shield” led by several federal enforcement agencies of the United States and its counterparts in many other countries, most prominently the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), has sparked controversy regarding consumer privacy. The operation, launched in 2018, was simple yet ingenious. As its name suggests, it entailed launching an app that offered its users an encrypted and secure messaging experience which in reality was a tool to identify and monitor criminals in real-time. Launched under the enigmatic name “ANOM”, the ersatz messaging app gave investigative authorities access to criminal communications and allowed them to learn more about existing criminal networks, which may have previously remained undetected. The operation ran for up to 3 years and concluded with more than 800 arrests, the seizure of 40 tons of drugs, 250 guns, 55 luxury cars and more than US$ 148 million in currencies and cryptocurrencies. Overall, the operation was considered a major success. But at what cost? ANOM’s users were not restricted to criminals alone. They were also used by normal citizens who became unknowingly implicated in the ongoing investigation, as their data was laid bare for authorities to see as well. This operation shows that there is a possibility that similar, supposedly secure messaging apps may already be in use for the mass surveillance of civilians.

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Edward Snowden: Intelligence, Secrets and Spies

Edward Snowden, a former CIA contractor, leaked numerous documents revealing the existence of mass surveillance programs.

In 2014, Edward Snowden, a former CIA contractor, leaked several documents which revealed the existence of numerous, previously unheard surveillance programs. These programs, controlled by several nations, most prominently members of the Five Eyes Intelligence Alliance, ranged in capability from the tapping of fibre-optics to the interception of electronic communication. It is also notable that many of these programs have been undetected for years (PRISM launched in 2007 and remained hidden until 2013) and involved many telecommunications companies such as AT&T and Verizon. For his actions, Edward Snowden was charged with violating the 1917 Espionage Act and theft of government property on 21 June 2013. Two days later, he made his way to Moscow to seek asylum, which was granted to him one month later. When questioned about his motives regarding the leak, Snowden expressed that he slowly became disillusioned with the programs he was involved in and was troubled by their ethical implications. He is currently living in Russia with his spouse Lindsay Mills and his son.


In this 21st Century, who should we entrust our information with? How much of our data is truly private? While we still lack clear answers to these questions, it is important to understand the importance of prudence when utilising the internet. Although the internet is a tool that we use almost daily, it is also littered with dangers. Yes, we can “delete” our social media posts, we can “remove” our comments, but how can we be certain that this information will truly be deleted on the other end? In other words, there is simply no substitute for being careful. Anything you post online can be dug up and used against you. This includes your search history too. 

So, will the world become the world as predicted by George Orwell in his best-selling novel 1984? One can only wonder how the future will be like.

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5 Random Jokes

Life can be tough and boring. That’s what jokes are for!

#1: The Spy

Why did the spy cross the road? That’s because he was never on your side.

#2: The Cell

What can die but cannot live? A battery.

#3: The Dark Joke

Why can’t Americans play chess? That’s because they lost both their towers…

#4: The Paralympian

What do you call a Chinese Paralympian? Lim Ping.

#5: The Physicist

What do physicists say when they don’t know something? Infinite density.

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6-Word Story Attempt 3

Take courage, fortune favours the brave!

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6-Word Story/Sentence Attempt Two

I can’t live, I can’t die

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The Simplest Six Word Story You’ll Ever Hear

After birth, he lived and died.

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Some Updates:

In case you missed me, I am doing well and I hope you are too! As stated earlier, I will officially continue blogging in mid-October. I thought that posting a six-word story would be a fun thing to do, so here you go. Well, it was in my opinion brutally simple and straightforward, but it was worth a shot. What do you think about it? Post your comments down below. If you enjoyed this post, do consider giving it a like! Follow me for more articles and stay tuned for more!

Practice Makes Perfect

As the old saying goes, “Practice makes perfect.” This timeless piece of advice is the heart of mastery and success. It is the path of all masters. Even after mastery is reached, practice still retains its importance as it sharpens and maintains the skills of the practitioner. Practice is harder than it sounds. It requires fortitude, consistency and fortitude on the individual’s part. However, I assure you that you will find the pain well worth it many years later. It’s similar to going to the gym. Most of us don’t like going to the gym, but we’ll be glad later that we went. The hardest part of practice is getting yourself to do it. In this article, we will discuss the importance of practice and how you should go about doing it. Before you continue reading, do follow me and subscribe to my newsletter!

The Importance of Practice

#1: Practice Sharpens Your Existing Skills

If there is one thing that your brain is good at, it’s forgetting. The mind, an efficient machine as it is, gradually deletes memories that have been unused for a certain period of time. On the other hand, the brain strengthens retrieval pathways that have been used repeatedly. When retrieval pathways are triggered repeatedly, they become more efficient and stable. These neural pathways can become so efficient that they can be triggered without thought. In other words, these memories become part of your subconscious mind. This is exactly how famous chess masters like Hikaru Nakamura and Magnus Carlsen are able to execute perfect moves with blinding speed while staying calm. This is the end goal of practice – to develop the ability to execute a series of specified actions perfectly and with minimal effort. This also prevents you from forgetting what you have learned.

#2: Practice Is An Unavoidable Part Of Learning

It is in my humble opinion that not a single human being was and will be able to ride a bike fluently on the very first try. In fact, many of us actually fell down. This is similar to learning other skills. We may not get it on the very first attempt, but with repeated practice we gradually become familiar with the subject matter at hand. We may even be able to spot and learn from our mistakes in the process. Gradually the neural pathways involved are slowly refined and performance increases.

Staying Motivated

Failure is inevitable during the process of practice. There will be times when you feel completely demotivated due to a temporary setback. Here, it is of paramount importance that you push through. There is no other way. When faced with failure, keep going. Of course, if you feel tired, do take a break. Just remember to continue practicing the next day. However, if you feel that the skill you are currently learning is not for you, you have the option to drop it. It’s better to learn something that makes you happy. Below are some tips to keep yourself motivated.

  • Give yourself a break if you feel tired! After all, humans are not machines. Practicing for too long will lead to burnout and fatigue.
  • Practice mindfulness and be aware of your thoughts. When faced with setbacks, try to avoid grumbling or throwing tantrums. Instead, think rationally and find out what went wrong. Then figure out how you can stop making the same mistakes.
  • Rome wasn’t built in a day. Many professionals of different arts and fields had to go through years and years of practice to attain the level of mastery they possess today. You will not see improvement overnight. Instead of focusing on the short term, focus on the big picture. Ask yourself what you want to achieve in the end and draw up a plan to work on it.
  • Stay consistent. Memories will fade if not utilised. Come up with a plan to practice in regular intervals. Always make sure that you make it for each and every practice session, regardless of how you are feeling on that particular day. It may not feel great now, but you will be rewarded handsomely in the future.

Conclusion

While practice is hard, its rewards are plenty and bountiful. I hope that this short article gave you an idea of why you should practice and how you should go about doing so. If you did enjoy this article, do consider giving it a like! Comment your thoughts down below! Thanks for reading and stay tuned for more articles.

Here’s Why You Should Visit Japan

Japan, one of Asia’s hottest tourist destinations, is best known for its beauty, food and culture. The Land of The Rising Sun attracts millions of tourists annually, with 2019 being the best year for Japan’s tourism sector. Home to Pokemon, anime and ramen, Japan has much to offer. Those seeking adventure may want to attempt climbing Mount Fuji. Meanwhile, foodies will absolutely look forward to food hunting. In Japan, there’s something for everyone. Even technological geeks and nerds will be amazed at Japan’s cutting-edge technology. In this post, we will discuss the reasons as to why you should visit Japan. Before you continue reading, do follow me and subscribe to my newsletter!

#1: Absolutely Amazing Food

Feeling hungry? Look no further. Japan has a wide range of delicacies and treats, which include Tonkotsu ramen and Sushi. Such dishes are sold at much lower prices in Japan as compared to other countries. It isn’t difficult to find good food either. There are numerous roadside stalls and shops where you can indulge your taste buds. Some of the best places to get street food in Tokyo include Yanaka Ginza Shotengai, Togoshi Ginza Shotengai and Harajuku. For those who are interested in finding the best ramen in Japan, Ichiran and Tsuta Ramen are two of the best ramen restaurants in town.

#2: Breathtaking Scenery

Japan’s beauty is just as magnificent as its food. For those who desire an atmosphere of peace, stillness and serenity, Japan is the answer. There are many ways to admire the gorgeous scenery in Japan. These include trekking up hills and walking through Japan’s numerous nature reserves. During spring, tourists will also be able to savour the picturesque cherry and sakura blossoms. Meanwhile, during winter, tourists and children alike will be able to play in the snow. For those who absolutely love winter and snow, Hokkaido is a great holiday destination. Lastly, let’s not forget about Mount Fuji. The active volcano, which last erupted in 1707, looks especially alluring in winter. Don’t miss it the next time you go to Japan!

#3: Rich Culture

Home to the Samurai, Japan possesses a rich culture. For example, the most prominent of these traditions is the Bushido, a code which Samurai used to follow strictly. This single tradition shaped wars and other highly important events. In essence, it is the very heart of Japan’s history. For those who are interested in Japan’s history, what better place is there other than Japan itself? The best part is that you will be able to enjoy Japan’s beauty and culture at the same time – essentially killing two birds with one stone. This is because many of Japan’s temples and heritage sites are located atop mountains or deep within forests. Isn’t this awesome? It will indeed be a great experience for those who are interested in history and nature.

Conclusion

All in all, Japan is an absolutely fantastic place to visit. Not only does Japan have delicious food (the most important factor for foodies like me), but it also possesses a rich culture and history. Its beauty is also irresistible during winter! Well, that wraps up this short article. If you did enjoy this post, do consider giving it a like! Do also comment you thoughts down below! Thanks for reading and stay tuned for future articles.

100 Followers! Thank you!

First of all, I would like to thank all my readers for their continued support throughout my blogging journey so far. The fact that many of you enjoy my articles gives me an incomparable sense of joy and accomplishment. While I was not confident that my blog would be successful or appreciated from the outset, you have proven me wrong. Throughout this blogging journey, I was able to learn how I could express my ideas with a higher degree of clarity and in such a way that readers will find my articles enjoyable. Moreover, I was able to learn valuable knowledge while conducting research for my articles. Once again, I would like to thank all those who have followed me from the very beginning. Your appreciation and support means the world to me. Thank you! Do follow me if you haven’t done so!

Are Paper Qualifications Important?

When we were young, many of our parents exhorted us to study hard and find a good job. For most common people, the goal of life is to obtain a respectable income, work hard and then retire. For this plan to work – if it even works, that is – one has to obtain certification of the highest calibre possible. Failure to do so would mean a lower income and consequently a less comfortable life. However, industries are no longer looking for individuals with extraordinary academic qualifications. In fact, unemployment numbers are going up and it is common to be retrenched at middle age – commonly known as mid-life crisis. Clearly, relying solely on a high-paying job is not sustainable in the long run. This brings us back to the question: Is certification that important? Is it a crucial part of success? My answer to this is a resounding NO. In this article, I will the discuss the reasons for this viewpoint and attempt to convince my readers that a person’s learning attitude is of higher importance. Before you continue reading, do follow me and subscribe to my newsletter!

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#1: A Person’s Learning Attitude Matters More

Photo by Jay-r Alvarez on Pexels.com

Knowledge without wisdom is inherently useless. Without the desire to learn, to improve and to explore, your mind will be the prison in which you will rot. The world is advancing rapidly even as we speak. Those who do not embrace change will be swept and blindsided by it. In life, we will inevitably face many crises that threaten to turn our lives upside down, the most recent being the COVID-19 pandemic that threatened job security around the world. It is of paramount importance that we learn to adapt to our surroundings and learn a little of everything. Learning a little of everything refers to exploring all sorts of skills and industries with an open heart, regardless of your current biases. Thus, you will be better prepared to move from industry to industry. Those who master this skill will often fare better than those who have loads and loads of qualifications for a certain skill but know nothing about everything else. Those who are overspecialised face higher risks of becoming obsolete. For instance, a world-class pianist who loses control of his hands due to paralysis will not be able to earn as much as he used to. Furthermore, he has no skills that are valuable in other industries. In other words, placing all your eggs in one basket is not a wise decision.

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#2: Certification Is Nothing If You Lack Financial Intelligence

Photo by Lorenzo on Pexels.com

Why is it that there are highly educated individuals who face money problems or bankruptcy? How is it that individuals such as Warren Buffett and Donald Trump, who may seem less educated and qualified, are able to build their wealth while others struggle? The difference between the upper and middle classes is financial intelligence. In other words, those who do not know how to control their finances will eventually find themselves controlled by money. How is this so? See, the difference is that the rich let money work for them, while the poor work all their lives for money. The poor work incessantly – our parents once told us to “work hard and get a secure, high paying job” – in hopes of a pay raise. Even after these individuals obtain their beloved pay raises, they still have no idea how to use their hard-earned cash. Often, they lose their hard-earned cash due to taxes and high expenses, which threaten to devour them alive. And when they find themselves without a job, they realise they have nothing left – assets – to rely on. Those who believe that the government care for them will also find themselves disappointed – there has been cases, not only in the US, where governments are unable to provide the money for citizens’ retirement. The rich on the other hand, spend their lives buying assets – stocks, bonds and real estate. Moreover, the rich lead frugal lifestyles so as to reduce their expenses and set aside more towards assets. Initially, time and effort is required in managing and growing these assets. However, after a period of time, the assets no longer need the care of their owners – these assets have become so extensive and self-sustaining that they are paying for themselves over and over. This is much like growing a tree – at first, extensive and regular watering is needed. However, after a while, the tree’s roots become so deep and extensive that they no longer need the support of their owners. In other words, the rich no longer have to work for money, as money works for them now. In conclusion, certification will not help you, in any way, to effectively survive the conditions of this world. You need to have the attitude to learn and diligently build up your financial intelligence.

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#3: Social Intelligence Plays A Bigger Part In Success Than Certification

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Every human brain consists of the left hemisphere, which is responsible for technical knowledge such as mathematics, and the right hemisphere, which is responsible for more abstract subjects like emotions and visualisation. Often, we focus on cultivating our left brains so much that we forget about the right. A scientist can make amazing discoveries, but without the skill to present it to others, his work inevitably ends up lost in time. No one is an island. Each and every one of us has to work with others one way or another. As the saying goes, “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” Without the help of others, we will struggle on the path to success – some of us may even die trying. On the other hand, with the support of our friends, associates and loved ones, attaining success becomes easier. That being said, developing one’s social intelligence is easier said than done. Cultivating it requires self-reflection and empathy. Furthermore, the building of trust between 2 or more parties requires time. While it is difficult, mastering the art of social intelligence will pay dividends down the road and make life easier.

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Conclusion

Moral of the story: Certification is not a one-way ticket to success. To achieve success, one must cultivate one’s financial and social intelligence, and possess the passion to learn continuously. The world is changing rapidly. We should embrace change rather than go against it. I hope that you found some enlightenment from my article. If you did find this article helpful, do consider giving it a like! Do follow me and subscribe to my newsletter if you haven’t done so! Thanks for reading!

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Further Reading

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To Sleep Or Not To Sleep Early

Sleeping early. These 2 words somehow elude many students, employees and professionals alike. Sleep deprivation has worsened to the point that some of us might be asking ourselves, “What is sleep?” I’ll do you one better – “Why is sleep?” Seriously, many of us now find the concept of sleeping early foreign. We actively forgo it for work, study and commitments, even though we knew all this while the consequences of doing so. Forgoing sleep has adverse impacts on our health in the long term and would reduce our ability to concentrate in the short term. Without the ability to function at peak performance, we are less able to learn and chase after success. Thus, I can safely say, to sleep or not to sleep early is to sleep early. In this article, we will be detailing why this is the case. Before you continue reading, do follow me and subscribe to my newsletter!

#1: Sleeping Early Keeps Your Mind Healthy

As you slumber, your body parts are working hard to regenerate themselves. New cells are regenerated and dead cells are removed, while your brain and other organs work hard to detox themselves. All in all, your body slowly recharges itself and prepares for a new day. This is especially important for the brain. During sleep, neurones decrease in size by up to 60%, increasing the space between them for waste and toxic materials to be washed away easily. In fact, the brain removes significant amounts of a toxic protein known as amyloid-beta, which is involved in Alzheimer’s disease. Moreover, science has shown that sleep and learning are closely linked. Here, new memories are processed and consolidated in the brain, as neurones in the hippocampus repeat the activation patterns that took place while the individual was conscious. This helps to transfer short-term memories held in the hippocampus to other parts of the brain, so as to facilitate the formation of long-term memories. Thus, missing out on sleep could cause one’s learning ability to decline by as much as 40%. That is something that you clearly want to avoid!

#2: Detoxification Of Body Parts

The brain is not the only that needs to clean itself. Sleep affects almost all tissues and organs in the body, from your heart to your skin. As mentioned above, your brain has something called a Glymphatic system which involves the shrinking of neurones so as to create room for toxins to be flushed out. Meanwhile, the body also secretes hormones, which decreases one’s breathing rate and promotes muscle relaxation. On the other hand, sleep deprivation increases inflammation levels, which restricts the body from effectively cleansing itself. The removal of toxic materials allows the unrestricted movement of essential substances and oxygen, which ultimately aids in the regenerative processes of the body. Missing out on sleep impedes the aforementioned processes, which may even cause the stunting of growth in children.

#3: Sleep Improves Immunity

Since sleep affects nearly every part of the body, it is no surprise that it also has a tremendous impact on our immune systems. Consistent sleep increases one’s immunity, while a lack of sleep increases the risks of diseases. When T cells detect an infected cell, they activate integrins, which allow them to adhere to and destroy the latter cells. The T cells of consistent sleepers have been shown to have higher levels of integrin activation than those of sleep-deprived individuals. Moreover, stress hormones may even restrict the functions of T cells in poor sleepers. High concentrations of these hormones may in turn decrease the ability of T cells to kill pathogens, thus weakening the body’s immune system. Another example is the fact that the body releases cytokines, in the presence of infection and inflammation, which help to fight diseases. Without adequate sleep, the body will not be able to produce as much of these cytokines and antibodies. During periods of sickness, the body utilises more energy so as to battle infections and eradicate diseases. This means that the body will have less energy on hand for other processes. During these times, sleep is of paramount importance as it helps to conserve energy and resources.

Conclusion

After reading this article, were you surprised by how important sleep is? Why or why not? Will you be sleeping earlier now? Jot down your comments in the comment section below! Thanks for reading! Do follow me and subscribe to my newsletter if you haven’t done so! Stay tuned for more.