Programming in Python

Did I mention that I am learning (and have learned) to program in Python at Codeacademy and am loving it? (Unbiased plug: if you want to learn to program, doesn’t have to be Python, try Codeacademy!)

Sometimes I think that I’m such a nerd: reading programming books in the train; programming for fun at night; cracking a “have you heard of Excel Slicers” joke when asked to cut a cake.

I suppose I always have been sort of a nerd, but now I actually feel alright coming out as one.

Feeling Sorry for Yourself in this Complicated World

I was feeling sick. I mean really sick. Walking five steps would leave me gasping for air. My throat felt like murder (:bad). My head throbbed like a discotheque.

But I had work to do. Work I didn’t feel like doing, but which my professional self wouldn’t let me off not doing.

Let me share with you a little bit of my work ethos using one of my favourite quotes from Will Smith:

I will not be out-worked, period. You might have more talent than me, you might be smarter than me, you might be sexier than me, you might be all of those things you got it on me in nine categories.

But if we get on the treadmill together, there’s two things: You’re getting off first, or I’m going to die. It’s really that simple.

So I got to work. While working away through my illness though (whatever it was; or actually still is, because I’m still feeling its effects two weeks after), I couldn’t help but think if it was all worth it. This wasn’t change the world stuff; and I wasn’t being compensated enough to make up for that fact.

In fact, I started feeling quite sorry for myself. So sorry that I started googling for help: quotes on self-pity

And came across this little gem from D H Lawrence:

I never saw a wild thing sorry for itself. A small bird will drop frozen dead from a bough without ever having felt sorry for itself.

Which reminded me of the Will Smith quote and helped me carry on till most of the stuff I needed to do were done.

On my walk to school yesterday though (I’m back to school for a Masters in Tech, by the way), I passed by a bird. That bird was chasing down a worm, pecking at it. I couldn’t help but feel sorry for the worm, though I knew very well it was just the natural order of things.

And I realised that the reason why wild things never felt sorry for themselves could well be the reason why we do: because we are not wild; because we feel pity not just for ourselves, but for our fellow living beings.

How complicated our world is!

2015: Dare Greatly

Happy New Year! It is now 2015.

2014 has come and passed. It’s had its ups and downs — as had every other year preceding; and as will every other year succeeding, though in many ways this year has had a little more of the latter than the former.

As with the start of every year, it’s a great time to think about theme(s) that will shape the next 365 days. One theme that I think will shape my life in 2015 is that of daring greatly, going forth in the face of self-doubt, and pursuing success in the face of unintuitive probabilities.

Do nothing; say nothing; be nothing, and you will never be critised.What will your theme be?

Whatever it is, here’s wishing you your best year yet.

Wanderlust

The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page.

Attributed to  Augustine of Hippo, the quote above reignited latent wanderlust. If I had to be honest though, as much as I like the idea of Travel, the execution of the act of Travelling is very different.

Alain de Botton, in his beautiful book The Art of Travel, put it best, when writing about his much anticipated trip to Barbados during his home country’s winter:

In my anticipation, there had simply been a vacuum between the airport and my hotel. Nothing had existed in my mind between the last line on the itinerary (the beautifully rhythmic ‘Arrival BA 2155 at 15.35’) and the hotel room. I had not envisioned, and now protested inwardly the appearance of, a luggage carousel with a frayed rubber mat; two flies dancing above an overflowing ashtray; a giant fan turning inside the arrivals hall; a white taxi with a dashboard covered in fake leopard skin; a stray dog in a stretch of waste ground beyond the airport; an advertisement for ‘luxury condos’ at a roundabout; a factory called Bardak Electronics; a row of buildings with red and green tin roofs; a rubber strap on the central pillar of the car, upon which was written in very small print ‘Volkswagen, Wolfsburg’; a brightly coloured bush whose name I didn’t know; a hotel reception area that showed the time in six different locations and a card pinned on the wall nearby that read, with two months’ delay, ‘Merry Christmas’. Only several hours after my arrival did I find myself united with my imagined room, though I had had no prior mental image of its vast air-conditioning unit or, welcome though it might be in the event, its bathroom, which was made of Formica panels and had a notice sternly advising residents not to waste water.

I was just thinking back to the best holidays I’ve had. And though I was tempted to put down “the best holidays I’ve had were those I’ve felt most like a local” (because my need for control is so strong), it’s not true. The holidays that I’ve most enjoyed have had just one thing in common: beautiful weather.

Give me 5-20 degrees Celsius temperature, relatively low humidity, and you’ve got yourself one happy camper. It would be one page of the world I’d gladly read and re-read many times over.

On Blogging and Slogging

Ah, it’s been a while since I last published anything here. Feel a little guilty, but thankfully not too much. Crazy work commitments in the months prior (man, I’ve been busy) followed by a two week holiday (to America!) meant I couldn’t devote as much time as I’d have liked to writing here.

Taken on the way to Hollywood!
Taken on the way to Hollywood!

Which reminds me of this article I read just earlier today, When Blogging Becomes a Slog (unfortunately I can’t recall how I got to know of that article), which I think many writers would be able to relate to. It’s about how a couple started writing/blogging on home renovations as a hobby, became uber successful at it, and made it into a job/career, only to realise the jobification of writing pretty much made them lose their writing mojo.

I sometimes get that feeling here at edonn.com too. The only thing is that my demarketing of edonn.com, deliberately keeping readership low (ha! if you believe that), has ensured that even if I skipped a week or two or twenty, I don’t really feel pressured to feel pressured.

Back to writing

It’s been such a long time since I last wrote anything here (blame the whole ____load of work that’s been coming in; hint: sounds like “ship”) that I’m suddenly all self-conscious about it.

It reminds me of a period of my life where I used to wear running shorts all the time. I wore them in camp (i.e. army camp — I was serving national service at that time); at home; occasionally when I sent out for short food trips; and, of course, for runs.

Then for some reason I stopped. For four months.

Then I tried them again.

“Wow, your pants are sexy,” exclaimed my dad, unused to how I looked in them having not been in them for so long.

It’s been almost ten years since.

Since that statement.

Since I last wore my sexy short running shorts.

I suppose though, that there is one difference between my writing after a long absence and my wearing running shorts.

If someone said my words were sexy, it’d probably be 10 seconds before I wrote my next.

Why you will fail to have a great career

This is a beautiful talk, one that addresses something I’d felt strongly about since I started thinking seriously about my professional life back when I was studying at Temasek Polytechnic.

I remember sitting in the lecture hall, listening to an entrepreneur who had been invited to speak to us business students. During the Q&A, I couldn’t help but ask if his business success had come at the price of family.

I can’t quite recall what he said, but I suspect it had something to do with it not being quite the answer I had hoped: “no”.

It’s been more than a decade on. Having been through two years of National Service, another two overseas at UWA (University of Western Australia), marriage, and five years of relatively productive work, my question remains. Still unanswered.

But this time, the perspective’s a little different. I’m asking it from the inside. I’m living the answer, writing it as I go along. So far so good, but I think I’ve got a little bit more capacity for that weirdness; that abnormification; that passion to burst onto the scene.

So when my child questions why I haven’t lived my dream, I won’t have to say, “because of you.”

I’m an analyst. I analyse.

Tired and socially exhausted after a very nice company dinner (a common predicament for introverts), I was looking forward to some me-time on the taxi home. But it was not to be — the taxi driver was a little chattier than I’d hoped.

Having seen me catch his taxi amongst a group of foreigners whom presumably were my colleagues (yes, they were), he was curious as to what I did — “what do you work as?” I told him I worked in the education industry, and briefed him a little on what my company did.

I then went into a little bit more of the specifics — what my role entailed (“I’m a sales/business analyst. You know… business, IT, data, analysis…).

But I saw he wasn’t really getting it (“you analyse?…”)

In the end, I went on to the fall-back option of saying, “I work in sales and marketing.” (I’ve faced this issue many times before. See my post “What do you do? I’m an analyst.“)

And he got it. It seems he got it real good.

A most unexpected look of shock followed by abject pity came over his face. “Boss,” he told me, “I used to work in marketing. But look where I am now.”

I noticed we were in a taxi.

“Boss,” he continued (“I’m a boss!” I thought to myself), “before I started driving a taxi, I used to work in marketing. Earning big bucks. Then my company restructured and I got retrenched. I earned too much.”

He paused, as if reminiscing of the good ol’ days rolling in dough, then said, “You know, in marketing, as long as you earn money by only talking, anyone can take over your place and do your job. Let me give you some advice: don’t just stick to marketing. Go out and learn more.”

I realised that no, he didn’t really get what I did (yes, I work in sales and marketing; but no, I don’t do “marketing” per se).

And I couldn’t help but debate in my head if he meant “sales” and not “marketing”.

My head pounded. Was it the wine? Probably not.

I half-opened my mouth wanting to say something. But you know what? He looked so happy (1) reminiscing about his glorious past; and (2) revelling in the present dispensing career advice to a chap who desperately needed it; that I couldn’t bear to break the spell by saying “you got it all wrong, sir.”

So I nodded in silent agreement, and promised to look beyond marketing. A promise made good as soon as it was made.

I’m an analyst. And I’m bloody glad I am.

People Watching

People watching used to be a favourite hobby of mine. Sitting at a café, observing without judging.

Then technology came along. And I don’t observe people so much anymore.

I mean, you can’t observe both the screen and the people around you, can you?

A real pity, really.

Technology has filled all those little spaces that “just being” used to fill. The spaces between the things that needed to be done and the places that needed to be visited.

And unfortunately the spaces where ideas used to roam free and germinate.

In the name of safety

I read a post by Alex Tabarrok today, regarding  school safety in his son’s school (via the Marginal Revolution blog) today. The post is really a letter that he’d written to his son’s school principal, regarding the introduction of security guards and cameras.

From the post (emphasis mine):

When going to school requires police, security guards and cameras how can I encourage my child to travel to foreign countries, to seek new experiences, to meet people of different faiths, beliefs and backgrounds?

I live in Singapore, arguably one of the world’s safest countries.

In Singapore, each of us is assigned an identification number at birth. This number is used extensively to record our activities in both private and public services. I never thought much about it until I studied in Australia and realised they didn’t have such a thing there, and that it’d have been to them a serious invasion of privacy.

I thought it weird and inconvenient — how did they manage to live without one for so long?

We have cameras everywhere here.  Cameras mounted on street lamps (presumably to monitor traffic); in trains (one in each carriage) and train stations (five, six, or more, clustered together, each facing in different directions); and other public spaces — parks, elevators, shopping centers. And with citizentry brandishing phone cameras and car cameras and posting videos on errant behaviour, his monitoring goes on just about everywhere really.

But I don’t really notice them. Maybe I used to, but not any more. They make me feel safe. Like a drug.

We have gates. Lots of them. Almost all houses have them — those that don’t are the exception. Similarly, all apartments by default come with grill doors in addition to the main, heavy-duty, fire-resistant door. Apartments without grill doors, if any, tend to be situated in gated communities. And they have security guards.

It’s normal to have such security measures in place, isn’t it? At least I think so. It’s not like we have a decent police force and a generally low crime rate here.

Wait a minute. I think we do.

What Alex Tabarrok says is true. Though I feel perfectly safe in Singapore, it’s pretty much at the expense of feeling unsafe in just about everywhere else. How can I encourage myself to venture out into the unsafe when it goes against everything I’ve been brought up to believe? That even without these security measures in place, I will be safe?

In the name of safety I cannot say how many places I’ve been unwilling to travel to. Places people considerably more vulnerable than myself, but brought up in a different environment with a different perspective on safety, would go to at a whim.

Places I wish I could bring myself to go; things I wish I could do.

But it’s not safe.