Sep 2021

In the early days of the COVID, I joined a private chat group to share our findings about the pandemic. How's everyone protecting themselves? What's the latest finding? What do we know about the disease? I was so concerned about it that I distinctly recall having a dream that my apartment was broken into and my primary concern was that I needed to wipe the door handles.

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Jun 2021

Mar 2021

Feb 2021

People Ponderings

2021-02-15

Over the last several years, I had two individuals in my life whose association significantly degraded my quality of life and caused much suffering. In both cases, these individuals were very personable. In both cases there were red flags early on that I ignored. Probably, these people were quite far on the narcisism spectrum, if not clinically so.

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Nov 2020

In 2016, I was happy when Donald Trump won the election. It wasn't so much that I liked him, it was more that everyone else was so repugnant. Sure, Trump lied, but he was transparent in his lying, whereas regular politicians lie and sanctimoniously pretend otherwise. Moreover, by 2016 I had paid attention to politics long enough to know that on certain key issues, the two parties in the US were in total agreement and thus the population would never get an opportunity to vote for a true alternative.

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Oct 2020

There's an interesting debate raging on Twitter, triggered by Nassim Taleb, about the racism in Borat. It seems pretty undeniable that Borat is deeply racist, and some of the techniques used in the movie to fool people into playing the butt of the joke is downright bullying. (See Zeynep Tufekci's thread here)

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Aug 2020

I remember the first time I set foot inside a large bookstore. I was about 13 years old, and something had broken with my computer, which I needed to play games. My teacher at the time suggested I read a book on how to fix computers myself. When I entered the computer books section of Chapters, my mind was blown by the sheer number of books. Something clicked in my head and I thought: "I need to read all of these!"

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May 2020

Why can some businesses generate vast amounts of profits while others can't, even with comparable products and services? How can a manager ensure that his business can maintain healthy profit margins for extended periods of time without having those profits eroded by competition? How can an investor identify companies likely to generate healthy returns on capital?

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In the previous post, I talked about when we might go back to normal. Today, let's think about what possible long-term ramifications the COVID19 pandemic might have. It would be an interesting thought exercise to do this for a variety of economic sectors. For this post, I'll start with the most obvious long term impact: the impact on commercial real estate. This first became obvious to me about a week or two into North America being hit, and it has been pointed out by a number of writers.

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Apr 2020

Like everyone else, I've had a number of conversation in the last few weeks around the question of "when will we go back to normal?". So here's how I think we need to approach the answer, based on my readings so far. The TL;DR is "not soon".

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Nov 2018

When the great Tao is forgotten, goodness and piety appear. When the body's intelligence declines, cleverness and knowledge step forth. When there is no peace in the family, filial piety begins. When the country falls into chaos, patriotism is born.

- Lao Tzu

They say judging people is bad. I’m not sure I agree. Regardless, we all do it anyway. I want to continuously improve my heuristics to make good judgements of people. Good heuristics are rare, but I have one that’s fairly reliable that I’m going to share with you here.

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Oct 2018

Almost everything here is my takeaway from ideas put forth by Ben Thompson from Stratechery and the Exponent podcast, being rehashed to cement my own understanding.

The world has changed a lot since 90s. Even though I'm only 30, I'm old enough to remember a time when the world looked very different. I remember fax machines and answering machines that recorded messages on tape. I remember the first computers that grade-school-me would see as nothing more than glorified game consoles. I remember when you had be very mindful of your time on the internet because your ISP was charging you by the kilobyte.

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Feb 2018

“Why are you squeezing my arms!? It’s way too much force! It needs to be much more subtle.”

I had been taking dance lessons for several months and I was now getting into the difficult stuff. In this lesson, I had to learn to guide my partner’s head while softly holding the hands. It was not easy. As a beginner, I had watched experienced dancers do this many times before and it made perfect sense - like a mechanical inevitability. Reproducing it was a different story. I was doing my best to copy the shape I had observed the teacher make, but the technique required a much more intricate movement than what I could observe. Before I could do this movement, I had to feel how it worked rather than observe.

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Jan 2018

A month ago, I took an early morning Greyhound bus from Vancouver to Merritt to attend a 10-day meditation programme. I think when I look back, I will see this as one of the most profound experiences of my life. It was hard and gruelling, and I was apprehensive leading up to it, but I’m so glad that I went for it. Here, I will try to provide an overview/summary of the experience.

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Nov 2017

Cheap Chopsticks

2017-11-17

The Poke Guy is an excellent little hole-in-the-wall in Vancouver's Gastown district. It sells customizable dishes with rice, fish, veggies, and some delicious sauces. It's high quality food – the kind of eating out that you don't have to feel guilty about. I ordered a big dish with a little bit of everything, complete with a sprinkle of wasabi mayo.

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Aug 2017

Last week, Google fired an engineer, James Damore, who had written an internal memo, pointing out that Google's ideological echo chamber prevented it from effectively tackling its problem with gender diversity.

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Jun 2017

The May of My Life

2017-06-11

You Spent Your Vacation Doing What!?

I'm back in Vancouver after a month-long trip with my friend, Michael, and I've been answering a lot of questions about what I did during a whole month in Spain and Portugal. I know that my answers will sound underwhelming to some people when they realize that I went to very few tourist attractions and spent much of my time working in the apartment, and having long walks and discussions with Michael.

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Jan 2017

The Other Ban

2017-01-29

Well. I picked a bad time for my politics ban.


I did say in that post that I was more interested in the underlying mechanics of politics (meta-politics?) than in individual events themselves. Since making the abstract concrete is a great way of communicating it, I feel like a great opportunity just landed in my lap.

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Politics Ban

2017-01-24

Well, we have President Trump now. This season of Who Wants to Be The American President is over. Tune in again in four years.

I've thoroughly enjoyed watching this season. We had a candidate, who will be remembered as the Dick Frosbury of politics. He played the game in an all new way, and nobody could compete.

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Oct 2016

The capacity to imagine the future is a powerful feature of the human mind. But, like many matters of the mind, it can also deceive us.

One pattern that I've noticed in myself and friends repeatedly is that the idea of success in anything is much more pleasure-inducing than the success itself. When you are thinking about a new undertaking, it's easy to imagine yourself at the end of the journey, having achieved everything you set out to achieve, and bask in the glories of this imaginary world.

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Aug 2016

Man and Cuckoo

2016-08-21

I recently finished reading The Happiness Hypothesis, the 2006 book by Jonathan Haidt that tries to build a "scientific formula" for happiness based on all the most recent psychological findings and experiments (as of time of publication). I loved the book not so much for the formula (I actually don't think happiness is all that important) but for the deep insights into our common nature that Haidt's coverage of psychology experiments and their results confers. These are some of my most interesting takeaways:

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Hardship & Loss

2016-08-15

The word "Islam" means "to surrender". The idea is that everything that happens is an act of God. When things start going bad, the devout Muslim can take solace in the fact that all is according to God's will and since God has perfect knowledge and is infinitely good, all that happens according to his will is good, whether or not we, in our limited understanding, may think so at the time.

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What are you worried about these days?

Our minds are perpetually getting themselves trapped in different worries or anxieties:

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Mar 2016

Recently, I read Galileo's Middle Finger - an excellent page-turner on what happens when scientists publish findings that run counter to politically correct narratives. The author, Alice Dreger, is a historian and a staunch supporter of (and activist for) social justice. Unlike most social justice activists, however, she has an incovenient belief that scientific evidence matters.

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Feb 2016

White Spaces

2016-02-28

I wrote this post several months ago and never published it. My ideas on this topic have become more refined since then. I plan to write more about this in the future, so this will serve as a good starting point.

I was recently introduced to the term "white spaces". It's a term that refers to spaces that are... too white - either dominated by white people or their culture. It is not a term of endearment.

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Jul 2015

My Friend Hans

2015-07-12

I have a friend, let's call him Hans. When one of us is stumped on making a tough decision or needs to think something through, we're kinda each other's second brains. We tend to think about problems the same way and have similar values and priorities.

Hans is also a software developer, and his European employer is something between a software development shop and Y Combinator. They fund various startups and get their software developers to build their products. As an avid traveller, he loves his work because it lets him do something rewarding from abroad.

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May 2015

Microaggression

2015-05-17

Read this article on a new report from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign about "microagressions".

Since before starting a blog, I've toyed with the idea of writing about what I see as problems with Canada's immigration system, based on my personal experience, and this article highlights a lot of those problems.

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It's impossible to keep up with popular movements today without being bombarded with messages about the immorality of capitalism. It also doesn't help that the worst elements of capitalism brought about the worst financial crisis that today's 20- and 30-somethings can remember.

At the same time, there are two elements of capitalism, at least in its ideal form, that are quite worthy of admiration:

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Mar 2015

I'm certain that years from now, I will look back on January of 2014 as the beginning of when I really became productive - and responsible for my time. I have been knee-deep in various self-improvement communities since at least 2010. I knew that my time was precious, and I knew that I should live every day as if it was my last. But sometimes, hard ideas just take time to sink in.

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I've always been obsessed with studying successful people and trying to find tidbits of habits or "best practices" that I could copy. My definition of "success" has changed dramatically over the years. I have read biographies or memoirs of real estate moguls, finance tycoons, and tech visionaries.

What I learned early on in my hunger to "become successful" is that the traditional ideas of "success" that we grow up with are either wrong or deeply flawed. I started on this research because of uncertainty about my future, about what I'm supposed to do with my life and how I'm supposed to go about doing it. But on reading about these seemingly successful people, two lessons seemed to keep coming up.

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Jan 2015

Recently, I have uncharacteristically found myself thinking about going back to school and taking some courses. I'm no more a fan of higher education than I ever was before and I'm certainly not considering getting another degree. But there are certain advantages to taking formal courses instead of teaching yourself.

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Dec 2014

Form vs Flash

2014-12-15

About a month ago, I started taking lessons in West Coast Swing after some encouragement from a few friends. When I showed up for my first lesson, I instantly knew I'd love this dance. It's all about the two people maintaining a strong connection, with the leader manipulating the follower's momentum to move her around. In other words, it's just like Aikido, which is to be expected: human body mechanics are the same.

But to me, the most interesting observation was that a dance class suffers more or less from the same problems I've observed in the dojo for years:

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Nov 2014

If you want a happy ending, that depends, of course, on where you stop your story.

-- Orson Welles

Aside from a short-lived stint in a sales position, I have never held a real job since graduating from university. I was reflecting on this after a recent meetup with some programmers who work at large, well-established companies. Hearing them discuss their workplace was an interesting experience - most of the problems they face in their day-to-day activities are a world removed from the kinds of things I worry about. I'm a programmer, but I'm also a founder. I have no managers. I don't deal with office politics. I don't get the luxury of more experienced mentors holding my hands.

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A while ago I had a debate (for the millionth time) with a friend of mine about the merits of using Apple products. This iPhone-vs-Android debate is about as meaningful as any debate where people take sides and stick with them like their lives depend on it. But sometimes, with the right people, you can discuss even these subjects intelligently and with reason, and when that happens, it's a perfect time for some introspection and thought about why you think what you think.

While talking to him, I was trying to get to the core of why I like Apple's products more than anyone else's instead of focusing on a particular aspect of a particular product. At some point, I said: "The reason why a lot of people buy Apple often can have less to do with the products and more to do with the company's philosophy."

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Oct 2014

Unbundling Goals

2014-10-18

As an engineer, I have a propensity to spend a long time on a problem until I find the most elegant solution to it. "Elegant" solutions are about efficiency. Can I solve this problem in a way that helps solve a bunch of other problems too? Can I come up with a solution that requires much less effort on my part? Can I hack the situation in my favour? This is often an advantage. It makes me think about whether there's a more efficient way to do something - whether I'm getting the best bang for the buck. But while this is useful in the domain of engineering, when it comes to life decisions it can be a great impediment to achieving things.

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Sep 2014

Over the summer, I've been really busy trying to ship products for my startup. At the same time, I've been teaching (part-time) a two-month-long iOS bootcamp at Lighthouse Labs, which involves preparing lecture material, homework exercises, etc. It's been a busy summer, and I haven't had a chance to play with Swift as much as I wanted to.

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Aug 2014

Things have never been better, and everybody's miserable. -Louis CK

The modern world has brought us more choices in almost every facet of our lives. From our choice of which cereal to eat in the morning to what sport to do in our spare time to which career to pick. We make more decisions in our lives than our ancestors ever did. While this is, for the most part, beneficial, there are downsides to it. One of those downsides is the fact fewer and fewer of us seem to take the time to learn anything well.

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Jun 2014

The book I'm reading at the moment is How to Read a Book. It is 426 pages of instructions on how to get the most out of books: how to pinpoint the core concepts, how to make sense of the terminology, etc. It is valuable for more than just books. What you really learn from it is How to Pay Attention Analytically ("be mindful", in other words). For example, think of the last book you read. Can you tell me, in one sentence, what the purpose of the book was? Can you describe what techniques the author uses to communicate that message? Do you know why the contents were broken up the way they were? Perhaps most importantly, did reading the book feel exciting - like you were solving a puzzle - or did it feel passive, like watching TV?

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When I was in high school, I was absolutely obsessed with computers. I'd walk into the computer books section of Chapters and think to myself "Gosh... it's gonna take me a long time to finish all these". I was always in a rush to read more. Back then I was not so concerned with how I spent my time, but I guess I didn't do so bad.

There was a problem tho... I learned a LOT but did very LITTLE. After years of learning and reading many, many books, I had nothing to show for it. I never made a single usable program or app. I started a lot of them, but I never finished. The problem wasn't that I was wasting my time - I was doing better than could be expected of my age - the problem was that I didn't know what it was to be a maker of things, a producer. It was all about taking in other people's works. I found it interesting, but I never had the volition to make useful stuff out of the knowledge. I was just obsessed with accumulating knowledge.

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We live in amazing times.

Today, I had one of the worst days I've had in a long time. I like to think that I have learned a lot about controlling my own emotional state over the years, but every once in a while, I lose control, and a series of unfortunate events can really get to me. In the worst cases, it literally feels like getting punched in the stomach.

But with experience, I've learned that even when this does happen, it is within my control to just remain calm and let the negative wave pass through me.

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May 2014

Smash Your Idols

2014-05-12

Tim Ferriss had a great piece in the Huffington Post today on his productivity routine. I've read a lot about different people's productivity hacks, but there was something I particularly liked about this piece: Tim's list of failures.

Tim has three best-selling books and has been extremely successful. There are a lot of people who hang on to his every word and religiously follow his activities and advice, and he's earned it. So for him to write a post that makes him feel like he's "walking down the street naked, exposing too much of your heart and your mind" is quite remarkable.

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Yesterday, I read this article on how a new anonymous, local messaging app had brought a Connecticut "high school to a halt." And just now, I saw this tweet by Aral Balkan:

We’re obsessed with fast tech (think fast food)… maybe what we need is slow tech.

- Aral Balkan on Twitter

Long-term thinking. No exit strategies. Independence.

along with another tweet where he said maybe what we need, instead of more startup accelerators, is startup 'decelerators.'

I think that's a brilliant idea. I think startup culture is a runaway train, and it's consuming precious little resources of our society (from engineering talent to limited funds) in magnifying the worst aspects of humanity.

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Apr 2014

When I tell people that I'm a programmer and I work in my own business, many times the response is something like "Oh! That's really cool! I've always wanted to do my own business, but I'm trying to come up with good ideas." This is something every entrepreneur has heard from friends or family. It demonstrates a flawed understanding of what it takes to be successful.

One of my favourite Persian sayings is "people think with their eyes". Be it an accomplished athlete, businessperson, or artist, we see successful people, our primitive brains build an association between that success and the person. We watch Tiger Woods win golf tournaments effortlessly and we watch Apple put out hit product after hit product... but there's something we never see:

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Mar 2014

One subject that you're going to read a lot about on this blog is effective methods of learning skills. The most successful people are those who can reinvent themselves many times and adapt to change effectively. That means being able to learn new things quickly and efficiently.

At least as far back as when I was a teenager (and maybe earlier), I remember being warned by older people that my capacity for learning would dwindle as I got older. I'm only 26 now, so I haven't fully verified this for myself, but I suspect the reason why learning new skills gets harder with age has little to do with age itself and more to do with other factors correlated with it.

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One of the (many) benefits of practicing one skill repeatedly and over a really long time is that in the process you get to observe a lot of people who fail and succeed. You start noticing patterns on what works and what doesn't.

For me, the skill I've been practicing for a long time is Aikido but the same principles apply whether you're talking about playing the piano or working on your social skills.

In Aikido, as in almost all other martial arts, there are a handful of students who are serious practitioners and thousands of students who are dabblers - people who think practicing the martial art is a good way to fill idle time, move their body around, and maybe socialize a bit.

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