Skanky Nerd Land

Sex, Science and Concept Art

Life, Death, Infinities and Material Things

I’ve been going around asking for everyone’s Personal Destiny. It sounds cheesy, but that’s part of the fun. Surprisingly, most people do know the answer. Its surprising because, the way people go about their lives, you’d think they didn’t. If they did know, why weren’t they taking the steps to fulfill it?

We fret at the threshold of peace (at death’s door) as we have been stripped of all our goods. Our cargo of life has been jettisoned, and we are in distress; for no part of it has been packed in the hold. It has been heaved over board and drifted away. Men do not care how nobly they live, but only how long, although it is within the reach of every man to live nobly, but within no man’s power to live long. – From the Letters of Seneca

I also came across this great video which proves why some infinities are bigger than other infinities. This is one small example of why everyone who says science strips the magic out of the world is wrong. Paired with the Seneca quote, my point is that a long life isn’t necessarily worth more than a short one.

…What we do know is that if life has infinite moments or infinite love or infinite being, then a life twice as long still has exactly the same amount. Some infinities only look bigger than other infinities and some infinities that seem very small are worth just as much as infinities 10 times their size – Vi Hart, Proof Some Infinities are Bigger than Other Infinities

We’re here for so short a time in the large scheme of things; instead of allowing our fears to direct us, we might as well live according to our destiny.

turning 30 years old

Turning 30!

Reaching arbitrary milestones like birthdays is always a good excuse to reflect on our lives and show gratitude for the people we’ve met along the way who’ve changed us for the better.

I often feel I’ve not done enough in my life. I suppose if we compare ourselves to our peers as portrayed in the media, we will always feel like that. I’ve never asked myself the question, “Why haven’t I done better?”; I think I’ve done decently given the haphazard, confused, sometimes down right risky route my 20s took. I’ve traveled the world, exploited the nature of reality and made friends who, for some reason, are still sticking around a decade later. I’ve grown into my pansexual self and fallen in love and built a life with someone special who taught my cold, capitalist heart love, compassion and socialism.

My 20s was the decade I came into awareness of myself. For the most part, my childhood and adolescence passed in a haze of confusion and distraction. At nineteen, I moved in with my first partner who was much older. That relationship was in many ways an extension of the security and comfort that had been provided by my parents. I broke his heart and he left me with a psychosis, but overall I definitely did more damage in the unknowing, cruel way young girls are capable of.

I have the sort of job now my parents can secretly brag about at Chinese New Year, and a boss and colleagues who couldn’t give a shit about my scandalous past. All the hate mail proved wrong, as I knew they always would. I’ve also made my first long term financial investment. All in all, I’d say I’ve gotten to a point in my life I’m very pleased with, although a lot of it must be attributed to luck. I had not a clue what I was going to do after I left university, and I had no real skills. Somehow, it all worked out.

I’m excited to start my next decade now that I have greater awareness of who I am, what I want, and where I’m going. Even the best laid plans are of dubious utility in the battlefield, but what they do is get you ready. Funnily enough, I feel as if my vision for my life has never been clearer than it is now. Almost as if entering 2016 had removed a great fog and induced clarity which had not been apparent before. I guess, subconsciously, there must have been all these things going on inside that are now manifest with the power of a fresh start. Who knows.

The Duolingo Approach

According to this report, it takes 34 hours of Duolingo to learn the equivalent of one semester of college. This makes the Duolingo Approach a highly effective method, and I’ve managed to pass three semesters of French with it. This is not to discount the utility of the classes I’ve taken – they are helpful in giving more context to the learning – but most of the learning took place in the app.

Duolingo is fast becoming more than just an program for learning languages, it’s becoming a method of doing something. People are looking for a Duolingo approach for all sorts of things (e.g. is there a Duolingo for programming languages). In fact, Duolingo is a great place to begin an initiative in forming good habits because it does gamification so well, and introduces you to the idea that you can climb the metaphorical mountain in under 20 minutes a day.

If you can learn a language well enough to get by, you can learn a hell lot of other things this way too. This of course applies not only to learning, but to many other things too. Getting fit, writing a novel, meditating. The Duolingo Approach is a good guide for how you can get to where you want to go. Don’t stop at breaking down your big goals into smaller goals. Break them down into daily habits.

As an experiment, I’ve decided to apply this method to writing my novel. I started it last year, and wrote half of it in a week sitting on my couch. Unfortunately, I don’t usually have the luxury of uninterrupted time where I can do nothing but write, that was a very special instance. Since, I have been waiting for the next such period to materialize, which hasn’t happened yet. I needed another approach.

I tried putting “work on novel” into my daily to-do list daily (I use Teux Deux, it’s the best to-do list ever). This didn’t work, because there was never the time to write. That’s when I realized I had to make the time. So now I get up at between 6:30 and 7:00 a.m. to do something for myself before I get ready for work. I think trying to write my novel in this time is still a bit too soon and scary, but getting up early and writing anything, literally anything, isn’t too hard. In fact, it’s quite fun.

All this is still very new for me and I’m not the best person to ask to for this methods efficacy. However, Fast Company has a great article by someone who has been doing it for longer than I have, and is pleased with the results. Give it a read.

making mistakes lead to effective thinking

Making Mistakes Lead to Effective Thinking

I’ve started a new course, Effective Thinking through Mathematics.  One of its core ideas is how making mistakes lead to effective thinking. The course starts out with a few brain teasers for you to solve. I haven’t done any brain-teasers since I left college, and I don’t expect many people do them regularly. This is unfortunate, because the process of solving them is an abstraction of how to solve problems in life.

One thing which became quickly apparent was how a problem seemed easier the moment I wrote it down. That’s amazing. Doing nothing but writing the problem down made it easier to understand. The second step after writing it down was to try the obvious solution. The obvious solution never works, of course. What’s awesome is that you do eventually arrive at the answer after a pile of mistakes. Even if you’re super smart and can do them in your head, you can only arrive at the correct result after a few failures. I know it seems obvious; But in our lives, we rarely have a sense of how we got to where we’ve gotten.

I’m pretty satisfied with my life, it’s full of love, positive challenges, plenty of mental and and physical stimulation and spiritual awareness (of a certain kind…). Thinking consciously about it, I know I’ve gotten to this point because I’ve taken some crazy risks and survived the mistakes. Part of it is luck, no doubt, but part of it  was also my ability to bounce back from failure. That said, until now, I didn’t have a conscious awareness that my successes are built up on my failures. I still avoid doing things I know will lead to immediate failure, but will prove rewarding in the long run.

In a strange way, resolving puzzles which seem completely impossible at first glance has helped me internalise that the road to success is littered with failed attempts.

Goal Setting for ADHD adults, guy on mountain

Goal Setting for ADHD Adults

There are all sorts of goal setting and productivity guides out there. I’ve tried Francisco Crillo’s Pomodoro Technique and Leo Babauta’s Zen Habits. Zen Habits I really like, the Pomodoro technique, I’m less behind, although I still use some aspects of it. The essence of both techniques work for all sorts of people, and are especially helpful for towards goal setting for ADHD adults.

I used to get very stressed at the end of each year, writing down all my goals and staring at the vast amount ahead of me in panic. This year, I devised a new technique which has helped me understand how the goals fit into my life. Without understanding how your goals fit into your life and your lifestyle choices for the future, you can’t evaluate how successful you’ve been at them.

This year, I started out by dividing the goals into three segments, 1.Personal Passions, 2.Personal Development and 3.Professional Development. They were ordered according to how excited I felt about beginning work on each of them. Prioritisation is important. Tim Ferriss uses the Pareto Principle for this, suggesting  you eliminate all but the 20% of tasks that help you accomplish 80% of your work. Leo Baubata suggests that you should only have one or two big goals for the year.

Telling someone with ADHD they should only have two big goals for the year is pointless. We’re interested in so many things, and we’d like to do them all! Once again, I wanted to accomplish too much in too little a time. This is where the reflection of how these goals fit into my life came in.

First, I simplified them. For example, I looked at the tasks set out under ‘professional development’, the column I was least excited about, and wondered how to combine them. Usually, there is a core at the heart of all of the tasks. In my case, my rusty math was holding me back – learning tricks and hacks along the way to fill in the gaps would cost more time than going back to basics. Also, the idea of learning math again excited me. This made things a lot clearer, and I felt striking everything off that list and replacing it with this new goal was the right thing to do.

After, I allocated time within the day to accomplish these goals. These times aren’t huge blocks, they’re mostly between 20 to 45 minutes, sometimes going up to 90, but most of them are short. The next step I took was to create rituals that would help me accomplish these goals. I analysed when the best time for different tasks were, and made time for these on a day to day basis. I also considered that my energy is highest in the mornings, and therefore the things that matter most should be done then.

By breaking goals down in this way, simplifying them and ritualising the effort, I leave enough time and mental space for other things. We mustn’t forget that we all need time to dream.


Cultural Time Management

I’ve finished this fascinating book “When Cultures Collide” by business author and polyglot, Richard D. Lewis. It’s a fascinating and insightful book which has given me some important insights into myself.  One key idea is on time management between cultures with different value systems.

I’ve always seen myself as atypical of my ethnic background, and did not think it shaped much of how I was in the world. After reading this book, I didn’t think so anymore. It’s a sort of Myers-Briggs for culture. What’s even more awesome is that it has a chapter for Singapore, and it’s pretty accurate.

In most, if not all, guides to goal setting, good time management is one of the first things you have to tackle. Most of these guides are written by Americans, who have a strongly linear active view of time.

Linear Active Flow of Time, cultural time management, linear-active flow,

How Americans view time

So this is how most guides are written. I find this linear-active way of getting things done helpful, but unhealthy (at least for me). According to the book, Singaporeans (and also the Hong Kongese) straddle east and west firmly, and our approach to time is a cross between the two ways of understanding and managing time.

The East-Asian way of handing time is thus:

Asians, who, instead of tackling problems immediately in sequential fashion, circle around them for a few days or weeks before committing themselves. After a suitable period of reflection, tasks A, D and F may indeed seem worthy of pursuing (refer to Figure 4.6). Tasks B, C and E may be quietly dropped. Contemplation of the whole scene has indicated, however, that task G, perhaps not even envisaged at all earlier on, might be the most significant of all.

Cyclic Time, East Asians, cultural time management

Strangely, this simple idea, in a book unrelated to personal time management, has changed the way I handle my to-do list in a deep and profound way, for the better. I don’t know if it’s because this cyclic way of viewing time is closer to my cultural roots and the way my parents managed their time, and therefore feels more natural to me, or whether it is actually better overall. I’m going to say I think it’s actually qualitatively better. Perhaps it’s because it’s a Buddhist way of viewing time; and there’s a lot to be said for a stress free way to time management.

Sometime after I turned 25, my attitude on life switched from ‘can-do’ to ‘must-do’. Dani accuses me of being very binary in my emotions and the way I handle things. It’s true. Even for something like partying, I normally don’t party, but when I do, I do it really hard. Full blown sex orgy tripping balls hard; but let’s get back on topic… When I get started on something, a combination of passion, curiosity and a fear of failure drive me to pursue it to the neglect of all else. This causes me a lot of stress although I’ve become more relaxed about it last year. Despite this, the guilt of not finishing something on time, or giving up on something I said I’d do still drove me nuts.

But I’ve learned the power and clarity of cyclic time. Not everything that seems worth doing, is worth doing, and not everything that seems so important when we start out on it, will continue to be important. Other things may come up which we think more worthy of our energy, and I’ve learned to grasp the enthusiasm and passion of the moment to pursue these new tasks.

Instead of putting off new interests until all the tasks on the list are done, everything that remains important is kept in the pool of things to be done, and are completed in their own time. In the meanwhile, I get better doing things I feel that form the core of my personality (like painting) while picking up new skills with that initial passion that comes from being interested in  a new thing. With the passage of time, some things I had said I would do might suddenly be irrelevant to the person I want to be in the future, and the time would most certainly have been better spent on the newfound interest.

better thinking through daydreaming, learning how to learn, review week one

Better Thinking through Daydreaming

This is a review of week 1 of the Coursera course, Learning how to Learn. The concepts introduced here focus on how to think and learn better, which requires two different approaches.

These two modes are the focused mode and the diffused mode. The fact that both have equal importance in the thinking process is often overlooked. The importance of daydreaming is something that is often eschewed in favour of the protestant work ethic. Greg (my Irish friend) often complains that most of what is classified as ‘English Literature’ is in fact from Ireland and the other Gaelic countries, his theory is that it’s because the Protestant work ethic never caught on in Ireland.

CNN has a great article “For a more productive life, Daydream“, which sums up this concept extremely well. We need to leave time in the day to dream. For me, this means making sure to know when enough is enough on a task; realising when additional time spent on it will only lead to frustration.

This leads to the other point, that learning is best done through spaced repetition. Walking away from a task, relaxing, doing something else, and returning back to it the next day will help us approach the problem with fresh insights. A little bit everyday is better than a lot all at once. It’s funny how all these ideas already out there are clichéd idioms which we don’t pay attention to because we’ve heard them so many times we think we know what they mean, but actually don’t.

Spaced repetition is also a good way to tackle procrastination. Instead of thinking of the mountain of a task you have ahead of you, you could think of the first few steps you need to take. Choose those steps. Take some time to figure out the route that is right for you. Once that’s done, put it on your to do list. I personally don’t have a procrastination problem, because my to-do list handles that.

Another important way of handling procrastination is understanding the cues, routines and rewards associated with handling tasks. Facebook has come up as the number 1 tool for procrastination because it has hijacked our internal cue-routine- reward system. The moment you enter Facebook, you are presented with a cue (red notification button) to keep scrolling down your news feed. You enter the routine (scrolling down the news feed) and the system continuously rewards you (giving you the impression you’re learning something new all the time). It’s dangerous.

But you can use Pavlovian processes for good. Figure out what gets you to start doing what you want to do, and instead of procrastinating, do that. For me, it is enough to say “The time is now”, or if the time is not now, then the time is the soonest time you can affect the change. Tonight, tomorrow morning. But you’d better start doing it tomorrow. Next week is too late.

Finally, there are two other things that are absolutely key to making sure you are at the top of your mental game, and stay the top. The first is sleep, the second exercise.

This important finding is highlighted in an NPR article “Brains Sweep Themselves Clean of Toxins During Sleep“. Sleep is important, because if you don’t get enough, you are looking towards Alzheimer’s and an early grave. We all know we can’t think clearly without enough sleep, yet so many of us give ourselves so little time for this key activity.

Exercise is important for so many things, and indeed, a healthy body makes for a healthy mind. For a long time, it was believed that neuron growth stopped once we reached adulthood. That neurons could be rewired to learn new things, but our brain’s capacity stayed the same. Now, we know that exercise can subvert this depressing fact. This enlightening discover is outlined in an article in the Guardian: Start Running and Watch your Brain Grow.

ADHD, Creativity, and Learning

I started a fascinating course on learning how to learn. The advice is based on the latest research in neuroscience, and is excellent if you’re interested in improving how you think and learn, and in how the brain works.

This week, the lectures are about Renaissance learning. We now know how our minds process memory, and how it coordinates working memory and long term memory. The amount of slots in a person’s working memory is also known. This varies, of course, but according to the course, it’s about four slots. Some people have more, some have less. How we access our working memory also varies.

Einstellung Tight Working Memory, ADHD, Creativity, and Learning

A. Tight and focused working memory

Creative Working Memory, ADHD, Creativity, and Learning

B. Diffused working memory

People with Type A working memory have better focus and memory, allowing them to quickly and efficiently solve difficult problems. People with Type B working memory have a more diffused approached towards processing new information and may take longer than Type As to learn new things. The upside though is that a person with a more diffused approach towards assimilating new information will be more creative during their learning.

A wonderful article in Scientific American, “The Creative Gifts of ADHD” illuminate the differences:

Despite their reduced working memory, 53% of the academically advanced students with ADHD characteristics scored above the 70th percentile on the creativity index. In fact, for both the ADHD and the non-ADHD group of students, the poorer the working memory, the higher the creativity!

Another great finding:

People with ADHD often are able to focus better than others when they are deeply engaged in an activity that is personally meaningful to them.

This research has been particularly meaningful to me as I’ve often felt I was trying gain understanding and apply new knowledge in a way that was not suitable to my personality. I have a tendency to pack in my days too tight with all the things I want to do, even things I’m not particularly interested in but had decided is ‘good for me’ and get extremely upset when my mind simply can’t cope. There have been many times I wish I had Type A focus. But, as is evidence from the findings – when one door closes, another opens!

Starting a Drawing Habit – Gesture Drawings

I started another Schoolism Class, “Gesture Drawing” with Pixar artist, Alex Woo. Gesture drawing is one of my strongest skills in the artist toolbox, but I’ve always done it intuitively. I took the class to gain some new perspectives and ideas. Knowledge always makes execution much easier. Also, I’ve been wanting to get into the habit of drawing everyday. I’ve tried in the past, but it’s pretty hard when I’m both trying to tackle a routine change and an artistic challenge at the some time. So I’m going to start with changing the routine first.

Gesture Drawing, Alex Woo, Schoolism, Line of Action, Starting a Drawing Habit

This week’s assignment was making lots of quick sketches based on the “Line of Action”, which is often the curvature of the spine, but not always!

Being a Financially Viable as an Artist

Daniel Cook at Lost Garden has a blog on the Minimum Sustainable Success for a video games company. It’s a fascinating read that pulls no punches. Admittedly, indie video game development is possibly the most costly of independent creative endeavours, but the lessons in the post can be applied elsewhere.

Many creatives do not make a cost benefit analysis to their lives when they begin their career in art, music or writing. I know I didn’t. Despite the good advice of my parents, I persisted in choosing to go to art school. It’s a decision which I harbour some regret over, as the quality of education I obtained was dismal. Luckily, I left school with no debt and some technical skill, and was able to find employment outside the creative industry.

Since I planned to take a year off to make concept art at FZD school, I’ve been wondering whether I’ll be able to turn it into a career. Creating art is an expensive profession and can come at great costs, both financially and personally. Whether my art can support me, or whether I will have to support it, is a long term implication I can’t ignore.

Being able to weather set backs, I think, is key to success. J.K. Rowling credits the British welfare state as a safety net that helped her when she hit rock bottom. Many of us won’t have this privilege, and will need a plan to ensure that when we hit that moment, we can bounce back. Daniel Cook suggests some ways to “Survive the odds” in the video games industry, which are also applicable elsewhere.

I am indebted to the British welfare state; the very one that Mr. Cameron would like to replace with charity handouts. When my life hit rock bottom, that safety net, threadbare though it had become under John Major’s Government, was there to break the fall. I cannot help feeling, therefore, that it would have been contemptible to scarper for the West Indies at the first sniff of a seven-figure royalty cheque. -JK Rowling on taxes

Every artist thinks their work deserves recognition, and of course there is an audience for every artist (even if its just yourself). But I ask myself this question all the time; What are the chances someone else will a. want to spend a portion of their day being my audience and b. pay me money to make the thing I want to make?

The cost of a thing is the amount of what I will call life which is required to be exchanged for it, immediately or in the long run. – Thoreau’s Guide to Living More by Spending Less

That said, the cost of perfecting a craft cannot be compared alongside the cost of everyday material things. Lots of times, even if nobody wants it, you still have to make it. The act of creation itself helps me to live life fuller, whereas the cost of most other things takes away from the experience of living.

Ikigai Venn Diagram, find your passion, financially viable artistSometimes I wonder if I could increase my chances of success by giving up everything else to focus on making art. But I’ve come to realise that that is but one aspect of my life; albeit a very important one. “Follow your passion” has slowly been going out of fashion. Possibly since the teenagers raised with that mantra (my generation) grew up and realised we didn’t know what our passions were in the first place. A better goal would be to find Ikigai – and that can only be found through trying lots of different things, and pursuing them in depth. Who knows where it’ll take you?

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