Writer's Block

Writer's Block is so annoying. Usually, I have a general idea of what message I want to convey in a post, but it's so hard for me to add in supporting details, especially if the details require explanations.

On my site, I have absolutely no constraints on my writing. Back in school, my writing had to fit within the scope of a page limit, a set of books that we read, or a prompt that we were given. Now that I have absolute freedom in the topic, sources, and post length, I'm having a really hard time writing.

I currently have 4 unfinished posts.


A Little Appreciation Goes a Long Way

I just recently read the book Tuesdays with Morrie by Mitch Albom. It's a short memoir about the interactions between Mitch and his former professor, who is suffering from ALS.

While reading books, I attempt to empathize with the characters, imagining how the character felt during a certain instance in the book. In this book, I imagined how Morrie felt during these interactions, and I think he must have been filled with great purpose and warmth from Mitch's spending Tuesdays with him. Morrie's a great teacher and a great person, and I imagine that he's taught hundreds, if not thousands, of students. However, I imagine that Mitch is one of the only few who have stayed in touch and expressed appreciation by helping Morrie.

This is pretty evident when Mitch provides background information on his relationship with Morrie. Although Mitch has taken all of Morrie's classes, visited many office hours, and promised to stay in touch, he did not follow through with his promise. Mitch and Morrie shared a meaningful connection, but this connection fell apart when Mitch graduated. You can only imagine how Morrie's interactions with other students were after graduation; they were probably nonexistent.

This realization made me sad slightly. Teachers probably chose to become teachers because they enjoy helping students succeed. Great teachers contribute to a student's success in areas not measurable by grades, in areas such as being a better citizen, developing morals, and figuring out how to approach problems. Yet, most teachers probably don't get to see the impact of their work.

Towards the end of my high school days and throughout college, I devoted some of my free time to teaching and helping people, from dispensing career advice, holding outreach events, and teaching workshops. I enjoyed all of it, and my favorite moments were seeing the happiness in people after succeeding at something and having someone come up to me and give me feedback (or even better, appreciation).

There are many times when I wonder how the people who I've tried to help are doing. I can only imagine how teachers feel. When you're accustomed to people coming and going, having one person show his or her appreciation or provide his or her feedback must feel so awesome.

So, for those who read this, try to show some appreciation to people who've helped you a lot. It really does go a long way.


Some Goals for 2015

2014-2015 has been a period of transition for me. In the coming weeks/months, I'm going to move to Northern California to start working. Many of my friends are also going to be graduating and moving away to pursue their careers.

I'm not quite sure what to expect, but I know that I want to enjoy myself and make the most of the year. So, I'm going to set some goals for myself to ensure that I have a good memory of 2015 and if not, an improved me by the end of the year.

First, I'd like to document each day of this year. I'll be doing this through a journal app called Rove, which is available for Android and iOS. At the end of the year, hopefully I'll be able to create a nice montage of my year. I fear that many of my days will be routine and too boring to document, so this will motivate me to find something memorable out of everyday. If I go out more often, that'd be cool. If I start to be more aware and appreciative of the small, seemingly insignificant things in life, that'd be cool too.

I hope to spend at least 30 minutes a day reading, so if I read one page a minute[1], I hope to finish a book every 2 weeks. That means at least 26 books a year. Mark Zuckerberg is getting into reading too. I don't intend to follow his book club, as I've already created a list of books to read.

I'd also like to get better at guitar and singing. This is so hard for me... I always miss my goals, but for a goal's sake, I hope to record at least 4 covers (with my singing and playing guitar) this year. That is going to be a challenge, considering I told my friend in November that I'm going to have one finished by Mid-January. Uh oh....

Lastly, I'd like to start working on something means a lot not only to me, but to other people too. I'm not sure what this is exactly, but this could be mentoring, volunteering, or creating something. I'll know when I do it.

I think these are all doable goals and represent a healthy balance of activities. I'm maximizing the experience of each day, expanding my knowledge and worldview, squeezing those creative juices, and making others or my community happier.

I'm excited.

Let's see how I do...

[1] I'm a slow reader. I just took a reading test, and it said I have the pace of an 8th grader. LOL. WTF.


Goodbye 2014, Hello 2015.

It just hit me a couple hours ago that it's 2015. It doesn't really feel like it though. While it seems as if everyone is excited and hopeful 2015, I feel indifferent. Maybe I'm still taking in 2014... Maybe I don't want a new year to start... I don't really know.

I do know that 2014's been quite a roller coaster year. A bunch of highs and a few lows have contributed to a year of great personal growth and discovery.

I'm not going to go into detail about everything, but here are some of the biggest events of 2014 for me.

Notable events for me in 2014:

1. I finished college.

It was a great 3 years. It wasn't pretty, and now that I've had some time to reflect on my experience, there are some things that I would have done differently or wish I've done. This doesn't mean that I wish I had stayed a full 4 years; I think if I went back and did things over, I still would have tried to graduate in 3. I think I would have tried harder in some important classes. Cramming for finals, passing my classes, then forgetting everything later on pisses me off cause it's such a waste of time, and I did a lot of that. I think I would have tried to develop my relationships/network better. I kind of put all that on the backburner with all the school work and extracurricular stuff I did. Oh well. Nevertheless, I had a great 3 years.

2. I travelled.

I lived in the Bay Area for 3 months. I spent a month in Asia (Taiwan, China, Hong Kong, Korea, Japan), a week on the East Coast (NYC, Philadelphia, Washington D.C.), and quite a bit of time in the wild (Death Valley National Park, Joshua Tree National Park, San Jacinto State Park, Saguaro National Park, Petrified Forest National Park). I ate a lot, walked a lot, saw how many different people lived their lives, and got to think to myself a lot. I learned a lot about me and the world I live in.

3. I signed my first full-time job offer.

I'm very fortunate to be in a field where my skills are in demand, so I was never really worried about getting a job. I did an internship in the summer and got a job offer immediately after. This really stressed me out because by signing, I would be committing to something for the next couple of years (Of course, that doesn't have to be the case, but I don't wanna waste anyone's time). I had many sleepless nights thinking about what I really wanted to do. In the end, I accepted the offer. To be honest, I still don't really know what I want to do, but I'm really content working here, so I'll continue thinking about what I want to do while earning a decent income and learning on the job.

4. I paid off my loans.

Back in the day, I took out some loans for college. I didn't realize how high these interest rates were, so I immediately paid them off when I saw the amount of interest I accumulated. The loans were used in my first year of college, my parents paid my second year, and I paid half my last year of college. I'm grateful that my parents were able to support a good portion of my college tuition and that I had good paying summer jobs.

5. I feel freeeeeeeeeee....

Once I graduated and signed my offer, I felt free. I had no more deadlines, no obligations, nothing I had to do, and I was free to do whatever I wanted. I still have at least a month of this time left. I used this time to travel, work on my own project, think, play guitar, and read. Someone said that my hair grew darker. hahaha

I didn't really mention the bad, primarily because there weren't that many extremely bad things that happened. And even the extremely bad things aren't really that bad in retrospect. If my life were some continuous function, the bad experiences were just local maxima. 20 years from now, they won't really matter.

2014 was a year of great personal growth and transition. I pretty much transitioned into adulthood (legal age, graduation, job). With all the free time I had, I was able to self-reflect. As a result, I think I'm more grateful for everything I have and have a better understanding of me and the world around me.

There's still so much to learn and quite a few things I want to do. If 2014 was about identifying, understanding, and learning, I hope 2015 will be the year of doing.

Hmmmm... I'm excited now.

Happy New Year.


Supply and Demand is Quite Sad.

I've come to realize that something I really love to do is enable other people to pursue their own passions. I've spent quite a lot of time tutoring people and organizing programs to teach people new skills because all of these activities either clear a roadblock to pursuing one's passion or help one discover a passion. It's just so exciting to see happiness, focus, and motivation through one's body language, actions, and words when he or she is pursuing what he or she loves to do. This passion is contagious and inspires other people to pursue their own passions too.

I've been taking some time off recently, trying to work on my own projects. Naturally, as a software developer, I've been thinking of some sort of technological solution to help people discover their passion or pursue it further because I do believe that a better technological solution has yet to be made. The internet provides a great platform to share and access information. You can pretty much get a world class education for free, thanks to Khan Academy, Coursera, or edX. You can share what you love to do with the world, thanks to YouTube and social media. However, all of these sites require "intent". You need to know what you're looking for, so if you don't know what your passion is or if you've hit a roadblock or lost motivation, you're pretty much on your own.

I don't have a great solution to this yet, so I'm thinking more about it. But the more I think about it, the more I question if it's even possible for everyone to sustain themselves while doing the things they love. What's the problem?

Supply and Demand.

Supply and Demand

It doesn't take an economist (Disclaimer: I'm not an economist) to understand the basics of supply and demand. There's essentially a push-pull relationship between supply and demand, and this relationship is reflected in the price of a good or service. If there is huge demand for something, the price of it will increase because people will compete for it. If there is a huge supply of something, the price of it will decrease because people don't seem to value it as much [1].

As things get more and more accessible, the value of them decreases, thanks to the "supply" of Supply and Demand. We're already pretty experienced with this phenomenon. Most people subscribe or listen to musicians in a heartbeat but rarely buy their music. Information, at no cost, is so easy to find nowadays that paying for it sounds absurd. Much of the software you use is probably free because who pays for software nowadays right?

It seems to me that the more easily accessible something is (the supply of something is enormous), the more devalued something gets. Therefore, as a producer of that easily-accessible item, you're going to have a more difficult time sustaining yourself.

I wish everyone in the near future will be able to sustain themselves doing the things they love, but it doesn't really seem plausible... yet.

Maybe it'll take an innovative, technological solution. Maybe it'll take a shift in mindset. I'm not sure, but I'm hopeful, and I'll continue thinking of a solution.

Any ideas?


Footnotes

[1] This is a crude explanation of Supply and Demand, but it's enough to explain myself.


Embrace the Learning Curve

This week is Computer Science Education Week, when millions of students will participate in Hour of Code. This movement launched last year with great publicity from Mark Zuckerberg, will.i.am, Bill Gates, Chris Bosh, and many more. Just last year, over 53 million people from all over the globe have tried at least an hour of coding.

This year, the President kicks off the Hour of Code and even does it himself.

As a proponent of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) education, I think the Hour of Code is awesome because it exposes many students to computer science (CS), something they normally don't get exposed to before college. And by that time, many will have disregarded CS because they feel they're behind, they have some misconception that it's too difficult, or they're focused on another major (not a bad thing at all if they're passionate about that major, but if they aren't, there's a possibility that they might like CS).

Anyway, this post isn't really meant to be about STEM education, so I shall save that for another post. This post is going to generalize the learning curve and hopefully give you a clearer view of the learning process for many people [1].

About the Learning Curve

I think the typical learning curve for most people for most skills looks something similar to a sigmoid function, an s-curve. Something like this...

Graph of the learning curve

It's typically composed of 3 parts:

Phase 1: "WTF"

Everyone who attempts to learn something goes through this phase. This phase is filled with a lot of questions: why am I doing this, why is this so hard, and why can't I get this. You spend quite a bit of time trying to learn something, but the amount of progress you see is small. Your self-esteem takes a pretty good beating here, which is why, unfortunately, many people stop their attempts to learn something at this phase [2].

Phase 2: "I got this!"

If you're fortunate to get through Phase 1, you're in really good shape. In this phase, you're pretty much smooth-sailing. You're making good progress; the time you spend learning/doing results in progress that you're satisifed with. All is good in the world [3].

Phase 3: "This is not as easy as I thought"

Once you've been learning/doing something for quite a while, it's going to feel like Phase 1 again. At this point, the amount of time you spend learning/doing something results in minimal growth. This is frustrating because just a while ago, you seemed to be cruising and having an awesome time. But I guess that's the price to pay to be great at something.

Observations on the Learning Curve

The learning curve is unique to the person AND skill.

Let's say Alice and Bob are learning how to play the guitar. They're also trying to learn how to make websites. There should be four different learning curves here: one each for Alice and Bob's learning how to play the guitar and one each for Alice and Bob's learning how to make websites. These will all look different. Alice, in learning how to make websites, may get through the WTF Phase faster than Bob will. Bob may learn how to play the guitar faster.

This is natural, and it's important for everyone to understand that everyone learns different skills at different rates.

For the learner, this concept is important because learning a skill more slowly than others does not say anything about one's overall abilities. Although slow learning may be frustrating, one should not extend those frustrations to other learning processes. A difficult time learning multivariable calculus doesn't mean you're terrible at linear algebra, nor does it mean you're terrible at math. Bob's picking up multivariable calculus faster than you do does not mean he is smarter.

Similarly, for the teacher [4], this concept is important to avoid imposing any sort of premature optimism or premature pessimism in a student, which has effects similar to that of the stereotype threat. The stereotype threat is essentially the idea that a person associated with negative stereotypes will tend to conform to them. If a teacher implies that a student is terrible at coding because he or she learns control flow more slowly, the student has the additional pressure of either conforming to the idea that he or she is terrible at coding or disproving that. That's unnecessary pressure. The inverse situation, in which a teacher implies that a student is great at coding because he or she learns control flow really quickly, may give the student false confidence and subsequent setbacks will likely take a heavier toll to his or her self-esteem.

The reasons for unique learning curves are highly variable.

Why does Person A spend more time in the WTF Phase than Person B? The answer is going to be different for almost all combinations of Person A and Person B. Everyone's brains are wired differently, so everyone learns differently [5]. In addition, there are a huge number of skills involved in learning every activity, so everyone will have different problems and different optimal ways to learn. The stereotype threat, self-doubt, a weak foundation in another skill necessary to learn another, amount of time dedicated to learning, and dislike for the subject may all be factors.

A learner should embrace this concept because having trouble with a concept may just be a sign to alter one's method of learning. If you're having trouble understanding your textbook's way of explaining arrays, try looking for a graphical explanation. But don't think that you're not meant for coding.

This concept is even more important for teachers, implying that there is no best lesson plan. What's best for one student may not be the best for another. Basically, the effectiveness of a method of teaching or lesson plan is primarily a reflection of how well-adapted that method of teaching is to the student's optimal method of learning.

Takeaways

The key takeaway for the teacher here is that everyone has different learning curves, and there isn't one correct way to do things. It's all about looking for and adapting to your students' needs. It's okay if your method of teaching isn't effective for a student. Just use another. You should also be aware of where a student sits on the learning curve. If the student is in the WTF Phase, understand that the student is likely frustrated and that there may be a wide variety of factors, besides the difficulty of the subject, that is affecting the student. Patience and compassion go a long way here. Teaching's not easy, so much respect to you!

The key takeaway for the learner here is that your learning curve does not paint a full picture of you and your abilities. Your learning curve is unique to you and what you're trying to learn. And the awesome thing is that you're in control.

You can:
1. Put in more time to get more skill.
This is a passive approach of following the curve. With enough time, you'll get to where you want to be.
2. Redefine your curve
This is the active approach. Find a community of motivated people, surround yourself with great mentors or teachers, etc. Just put yourself in a better position to learn, and your curve will change.

Ultimately though, the learning curve will always be there. There will always be the fragile beginning where quitting sounds like a great option. There will always be the point when you're reasonably self-sufficient and are doing well. And there will always be that point when even the slightest improvement seems hard to come by.

Embrace the learning curve, and hopefully you'll be able to focus on the whatever's currently impeding your progress.

When you're frustrated, just remember that everyone (the best of the best, your friends, your classmates) goes through the three phases of the learning curve. Just keep on trucking, and with time will come progress.

Best of luck learning!

Oh, and by the way, if you have not tried coding and would like to learn, go ahead and try out the Hour of Code or reach out to me. I'd love to help you out.


Footnotes

[1] I should probably mention that I'm not writing a scientific paper, so I haven't really sought out scientific research. These are primarily observations from my experience helping people learn things.

[2] This phase is usually the point when people decided they want to pursue something further or not, so for those in other phases, please be respectful of that. Be encouraging and try to offer help. If you have something critical to say, be constructive with your criticism. There's nothing more demoralizing than someone critizing you while you're trying your best and still struggling. Instead of "Bro, your jump shot sucks," be like "Bro, you're jump shot's almost good, but I think you need to square up and follow through. Check this out. **Shows Jumpshot**. Keep it up though. It takes getting used to."

[3] Okay, if you're a perfectionist or have really high standards for yourself, all may not be good in the world. But you've made decent progress, and you're in a position to make significant progress without much guidance.

[4] When I say teacher, I'm not talking specifically about everyone whose occupation is "teacher" or "professor". I'm talking about anyone who instructs or guides someone, anyone who "teaches".

[5] I'm assuming here that learning is, in the most basic form, the rewiring of neural pathways.


Five Things I'm Thankful For - 2014

It's Thanksgiving, one of my favorite holidays of the year. It's a day when many people spend time with their families and reflect on the current state of their lives. As this is an American holiday, just about everyone celebrating this holiday should have many things he or she is grateful for. So in the spirit of Thanksgiving, I'll share five things I'm grateful for.

1. Freedom

When I say freedom, I'm not just talking about the multitude of rights given to each and every American citizen. We should all be thankful for those, since we have what many people in other countries do not. I'm also talking about some specific freedoms available to me given my socioeconomic status. The freedom to pursue whatever activities I'd like, the freedom to spend a good amount of my time pursuing my passions because I don't have to worry about how I'm going to pay my bills, the freedom to essentially take a gap year before I start working (well, I graduated early partly for this reason), the freedom to travel, and much much more. These freedoms let me live very comfortably. I'm able to do the things I want, stress-free.

2. A strong belief in myself

I love learning. Usually, before one starts to learn something new, there are many internal obstacles that he or she encounters that ultimately affect whether or not he or she starts learning or saves it for another day (aka procrastinating). One of these obstacles usually is "am I capable of doing this?". For me, this question is pretty much always yes because I have a strong belief in myself. I think I can do a lot of things given enough time and effort, and this lowers the barrier to entry for many activites for me. I'm thankful for this because it has allowed me to try a lot of different activites and find things that I love doing.

3. Great role models

Throughout my life, I've had the good fortune of being surrounded by amazing people, many of whom have characteristics that I admire and that I try to emulate. I wouldn't be the person I am without having met all the amazing people I have had the fortune to interact with.

4. Family and friends

Having people who support you and care about you is extremely liberating. You know that when you need some help, you have people who will help you. I think people don't appreciate how important family and friends are because they're almost always present. I'm certainly guilty of this. But I list this here because this isn't something that everyone has. All of the homeless people out there are homeless pretty much because they don't have this set of family and friends who cares about them. You likely couldn't ever be homeless because your parents or friends would house you. Having a place to go to when you've hit rock bottom eliminates a lot of stress when shit hits the fan.

5. The millions of people who do things to make their communities better without expectation of anything in return.

Throughout your day, you'll likely hear about deaths, traffic accidents, the state of the US economy, etc. Overall, pretty negative stuff. Once in a while, you'll hear about people winning the Nobel Peace Price, large monetary donations to certain organizations, etc. That's great. But you usually don't hear about people going out of their ways, sacrificing some aspect of their lives (time, earning potential, safety, health, etc.) doing things to make other people's lives safer or more enjoyable. I'm talking about people who devote a part of their weekend to do community service, teachers who not only teach their students educational material but also life lessons, healthcare workers who've stayed up for the past 30 hours trying to save someone, park rangers, firefighters, policemen, librarians, volunteers, etc. These people go out of their ways to make people's lives better, but their efforts largely go unnoticed. And there may be times when their efforts to help others are not matched when they themselves need help. That's a shame. I hope that doesn't happen, but anyway, I appreciate these people and am thankful for them.

I have many things to be thankful for, but these are just five of them. I'm extremely fortunate to live so comfortably, and this motivates me to not get frustrated at some of my own difficulties and encourages me to do whatever I can to help others out.

Lastly, thanks for reading this, and if you haven't already, I encourage y'alls to take a little time and reflect on the things you're thankful for.

Have an awesome Thanksgiving break!


Hello World!

Hi. So I finished school in June, and I'm purposely not starting work until sometime in 2015. I'm pretty much taking a gap year (or gap half-a-year) to pursue my own projects, travel a little bit, and focus on things that I have been wanting to do but haven't dedicated so much time to doing.

Writing is one of those things. I'm not great at it, but I'd like to become better at it because I love sharing my knowledge, and writing just so happens to be a great tool for that.

So hopefully, I can write somewhat often (let's say at least once a week, 4 posts a month) and make this a habit.

I'll be writing about a wide variety of topics, primarily things that I read and learn about or things I observe and think about. The former is primarily tech and science related, while the latter is primarily human nature and probably topics that stem from fundamental, philosophical questions.

I'll also be using my site to showcase some projects I work on or some things I create (food, art, etc). Hopefully, someone will find something useful here, as I document my thoughts and learnings and try to improve my writing.