Walking Diary

By Hsu Shen On

Science of Learning

June 2024

This happened a year ago, we had an interesting meeting with the founder of an NGO. So we were brainstorming how we could help the children to learn better. He went on to say, one issue which we all had was to get good teachers. So he said one new theory they were trying out was where the logic is where teachers are not that important(or not the main component), the focus is on the students. Can we do so that learning is not dependent on teachers? If they are there then it is good, but can the student learn on their own? He termed it as ‘Science of learning’.

One project he and his NGO started in rural China, which he gave us as an example. So they go to areas and set up libraries for children to come and start loving reading. The unique thing is the library is run by children only with very little to no help from adults. So day 1 they get the kids to bring all the books to the library, then on day 2 get them to categorise them in a particular order, here the kids decide how they want to do it. One example is to do it under the subject matter, other is by the color. The next day each book is labelled with an RFID tag, and the book is put into the system via a computer. Then each kid is given a library card which they can design on their own. Then a set of instructions is given to the kids on how they can use the library card and how to scan the book they are lending. The kids then hold an election to nominate the library lead. So the starting few days are under supervision and guidance of adults, but with very little being done by them, thereafter the kids take full control. This starts the library, where the kids take the book they like, scan it, read it, and then put it back. The onus is totally on the kids, they are told from the very beginning that there will be very little supervision from adults. They are free to do what they want and how to manage the library.

The founder says after that the kids take ownership, as they feel they have set up the library and are involved in it. They have peer pressure to maintain discipline and keep books well. In this example, there is a very minimal role for an elder/teacher. The kids learn on their own and take ownership.

I am always curious how we can do a better job teaching. I taught off and on for some time, with varied success. Something like a computer, how I can simplify, make it interesting, and teach so that the students understand it. I think it’s a constant challenge, so this new concept where we have less of a teacher role is interesting. One famous app is Khan Academy, which has a set of videos, and tasks with progress. The child is not dependent on anybody, it goes to the tutorial video, and then tries to solve the task on its own. Similarly Duolingo, it helps you step by step to learn a language. The steps are simple and gamification makes it interesting to learn, and a person will be interested to keep learning.

Blue Pill Red Pill

May 2024

In Matrix Neo is given a choice whether to take a blue pill or red pill. The red pill will let you know the real truth which can be unsettling and not something you want to know. The blue pill lets you be in the same situation as you are, with the truth that you currently know, though it may not be the real truth. In an interview I saw recently, Keanu Reeves says he was talking to a few kids, and he was explaining about the movie Matrix to them. He was explaining the central theme of the movie, where the Neo character is in search of what is real. One girl’s response got his attention, she said, “Who cares if it’s real?”. It does not matter to her whether the world she lives in is real or not. https://www.youtube.com/shorts/UhmFE-C7vsw

If given a choice we all think we will do what Neo did, and take the red pill, we all want to know the truth. But if we are really honest I think a lot of us would just like to be the same. What is real is what we know, it does not matter what others say. Our reality is all that matters to us. If our current reality is that we are happy, then why would we want to change it, just to know the truth?

This is what is happening with a lot of things in the world. A lot of people are in a bubble, whether it is a political bubble, corporate bubble, religious bubble, or any other. Once you are deep into it, there is no interest in believing anything outside it. So outside opinion even though it may be real, you have no interest in it. The best is not to get inside it, cause once you are in it, it is very difficult to get out of it. Just ask Neo. So whatever your opinions and beliefs are, always have the capacity to accept alternate opinions.

Ikigai

April 2024

This is the latest book I finished reading. This book feels more like a blog, an educational article. I need to keep notes while reading it, as there are lots of points, and you want to remember them. I definitely would recommend this, for one it’s a small book only 194 pages, so you can go through it quickly. Secondly, there is lots of good advice here in my opinion. Here are some notes.

Ikigai

The term means to find something to do to make life worthwhile. It’s the purpose of life, the reason for being, there has to be a reason to get out of bed. (This reminds me during my MCA degree course, when we were practicing for job interviews, one great answer which I still remember was given by a girl, she said I would like to work in a place so that I am ready to jump out of bed to start work.) To find one’s Ikigai is to find something that you love to do that you feel positive about.

Whatever you do, do not retire

In the book, they took examples from people in Japan who have lived a long fruitful life. One thing in common is they remain active even in their old age. They still do some form of work every day. The idea is while you are physically active, you are better physically and mentally. When we say don’t retire it does not mean never stop earning money, at some point you can always leave your main earning jobs. But the idea is to keep working on something, if not for money but for some other goals. It could be just working on your hobby, like planting trees, painting, or singing. You just have to remain active.

Don’t multitask, concentrate on a single task

It may be counterintuitive as in today’s world everybody is multitasking and proud of doing so. But it suggests if you do multiple things you end up being less productive, it is better to concentrate on doing one thing and doing it well.

“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act but a habit.” - Aristotle

The idea of excellence comes up, and it can be only achieved if you do it repeatedly, and with dedication. The book gives the example of a chef who takes years to just perfect the way to do simple tasks like making an omelet.

80 percent rule

This is a technique where you fill your belly up to 80 percent then stop eating. Do not eat till you are full. This is a good habit to follow, we should practice eating in moderation. Eating is a major reason behind how healthy you are. One quote “Eating the rainbow” is a good one, that means eating lots of variety of food. There are lots of good details on the topic of food in the book, so I leave you to read those.

Exercise

“In modern life, we spend days without raising our arms above our ears. Think about it, our arms are down when using computers, when using smartphones, and when reading books. While our ancestors were raising their hands over their heads all the time when gathering things from the tree”. We are not doing enough physical activities, to be healthy physically and mentally one has to get in a routine to do some form of exercise every day. “Metabolism slows down 90 percent after 30 minutes of sitting. Just getting up for 5 minutes is going to get things going”. The idea is to not sit for too long when doing work, it is recommended to take small breaks and stand up, this gets your system going.

Flow

“The flow state is an optimum state of mind when we’re fully engaged in an activity. Things like sports, when we’re playing music, when we’re playing games, and even religious activities. So ikigai, sense of coherence, and flow are relational. When we’re in a flow state, we feel ikigai. The state in which people are so involved in an activity that nothing else seems to matter; the experience itself is so enjoyable that people will do it even at great cost, for the sheer sake of doing it.” Flow is a term we use when people are fully engaged in the activity they are involved in, coders get into a “flow” state(another similar term we can use is getting into a zone) where they can work for many hours, days without needing or wanting to take a break. In this state, your mind is supercharged to do that exact work. This is the most productive state. One way to find your Ikigai is to find which work gets you into this flow state, what you do when you start doing it, you are fully engaged in that activity, and are not bothered by any external environment.

In the end, this book gives guidance on how to find your Ikigai and encourages you to search for it if you have not found it already. There is a wonderful prayer mentioned in the book.

Serenity Prayer

God grant me the Serenity

to accept the things I cannot change;

Courage to

change the things I can;

and Wisdom to

know the difference.

Artificial General Intelligence

March 2024

Ever since ChatGpt and other AI have become popular. There has been talk about how far this technology can go. There are even some true believers in AI who believe that this tech can reach the Artificial General Intelligence stage. In that the machine itself has reached an intelligence matching humans, it can make decisions on its own. This is the ultimate goal of the people working on AI. On the other side, this is what scares a lot of people about AI. If AI becomes intelligent they wonder about all sorts of scenarios which are written in books and shown in movies, where robots take over the world!

The debate that interests me is how do we test so we know AGI has been achieved? If passed we can say that AI has reached that stage. In one podcast a person suggested that, if a new movie is released the AI ‘sees’ the movie, but does not get to see any review or read up about it(so no beforehand knowledge). If it gives out a good analysis/review of the movie then it can be said AGI has been reached. It’s a good test, so we just need to think of ways to test the AI in a way we test humans, humans have a way of figuring things out, if AI can figure things out on its own without help(like pulling existing data, producing answer from some other source) that we could say it has reached AGI.

I do not believe true AGI can be achieved. It could probably reach a point that is close to it, that though is still a long way off, but to be like human intelligence I don’t think is possible. The complexity of the way we think, and how our mind works, even with so much science behind it, is still not fully understood well. Humans are just special, for machines to reach that is nearly impossible. Saying that it looks like the advancement of AI will become super useful to humans, and will be a major advantage for people who use it well, against people who have less knowledge about it. AI is likely going to be very disruptive in every field it reaches.

Quality

February 2024

When I was in school one of my favourite subjects was Literature because I loved to read stories. I got into reading books, and I still love reading. One of my favorite story I read in school was Quality by John Galsworthy. I remember when I was reading it, I got engrossed in it deeply. It affected me deeply even at a young age. I still remember about it from time to time.

The story is about two old-style master shoemakers called the Gessler brothers. They make great shoes by hand and are religious about their art. They do not compromise on the quality. Because they do not change with time, their business is now not doing well, as their customers now prefer other shoe shops. It is a sad story about people who stick to their ideals, and do not/cannot change with the times. These people are left behind in the modern world.

It resonated with me also as my dad owns a shoe shop, and like the book, used to make leather shoes not too different from the ones described. The story is so great as it is very universal and still resonates now. Even now after a century from when this was written, we can still relate to it. More and more I see people preferring to buy from online stores or go to malls. So the small retail stores are going through tough times now. The other issue is many of these are older generation owners, they have tough times changing, so they do not follow the new models to give options like creating websites, advertising in new media, and selling online. Many still only accept cash.

Like the Gessler brothers sadly I don’t see a great outcome for many of these stores, they will just have to close down eventually. While the world is moving forward at such a fast pace, technologies are improving lives. It is also a tragedy that many are left behind because they just can’t keep up with the times.

2024

January 2024

On the last day of 2023, I went to bed early. I don’t celebrate New Year like most people, don’t get the point, it’s just another day. My sister called up and we were chatting in general. In the end of the call, she pushed me to do one thing new the new year day, to get my lazy bum outside the house. As it turns out, I had a holiday on New Year’s Day. So I went out, I visited an H&M store, which I had never been to before, and bought a couple of shirts. So my new thing for the new year was done. Afterward, my sister started putting in my head that for the New Year I need to do more new things!!

The other day I came across a blog by Om Malik, someone I like to read regularly. He talked about a new project he is going to work on, basically, it is to take one photo a day for the full year. That interested me, but I know it is impossible for me to take a photo a day. So I plan instead to do project 52, a photo a week for the full year. If you like you can follow the progress at https://www.flickr.com/photos/131797874@N06/albums/72177720314045211/with/53463799240/

On further thought I am going to push myself to do more in 2024, the plan is

A photo a week

A blog a month

A book a quarter

An international travel a year

Let’s see how it works out by the end of the year.

Lent Notes

March 2022

Every year I have got into the habit of giving up stuff during Lent. For a very long time, it was just no non-veg on Fridays for the family. Some years ago I came to know that my elder brother had a family tradition. He had a family meeting before Lent and decided amongst themselves what each would give up for Lent. The kids usually gave up candies and Ko would give up Youtube. Learning from that I got into giving up Youtube as well, as with everyone I found that a lot of time has been spent watching Youtube. It has and still is very addictive for me. One of the years my niece, knowing I love Pokemon, told me to give it up!

This year since I have no interest in Pokemon anymore. I thought of doing something else. One idea was instead of giving up something. I got myself to do something every day. Which otherwise I would be lazy to do. So the idea came up to start writing at least one paragraph every day, on any topic.

I have started doing this every day, and so far so good. I have written quite a bit by now. Most of these are personal experiences and opinions. I will probably not share them, maybe a few on the blog, and a few more to the close ones.

I think writing in general is a good habit to cultivate. I am into maintaining notes both for work and personal. This helps as a reference and planning. Writing crystallises the thoughts into something more concrete which you can look at. It is one reason I started blogging a few years ago, it was supposed to be at least once per month. Doing it less frequently now but will try to revive it. The thing about writing is, it stays. Just like a photo it is a snapshot of the time. It might be interesting many years from now to look back at these Lent notes.

Free Week

January 2022

I had some pending leave, and so took the last week of the year off. Generally, when I take a long vacation it is usually for going on some trip. This time made no such plan, instead planned to stay mostly home and do some R & R(rest and recreation). Advice: It is a good idea to always take a break sometime from whatever you have been doing for a long time.

One of the things to do was to walk around and click some photos with my Fuji camera. It has been a long time since I clicked some photos with it. I love looking at photos, from time to time I like to take photos also. I would not rate myself, some photos come out nice from time to time. Am sure that if I put more effort(like learning to set the settings in camera) I could be semi-decent in it but too lazy to do that. I got my brother to set it once, but now I just do not play with it :). My philosophy about photography can be summed up with the movie dialogue “The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen”. In a scene Sean Connery tells this to another character after seeing his shooting technique, “Very American. Fire enough bullets and hope to hit the target”. This is what I do, take multiple shots and maybe one will come out well :)

I thought it would be a good experiment to walk each day starting from one particular spot in one direction. So one day go West, next North, next East, and last South. Three days done, below is the link to the pics.

North: https://flic.kr/s/aHBqjzwE4z West: https://flic.kr/s/aHBqjzwyTm East: https://flic.kr/s/aHBqjzwUEn

The Office

July 2021

One of the things during the Pandemic is you consume even more streaming content. I have found myself spending long hours daily moving from Youtube, Netflix, Amazon Prime, Hotstar, Sony Liv. Binge-watching long series has become a regular practice. One of the best ones, which I enjoyed from start till finish, is The Office. The 9 seasons have all been super funny and highly enjoyable to watch. I would say it’s probably ranked second in comedy series after my favorite Seinfeld.

Premise

“This mockumentary follows the everyday lives of the manager and the employees he ‘manages.’ The crew follows the employees around 24/7 and captures their quite humorous and bizarre encounters as they will do what it takes to keep the company thriving.” -IMDB

The way they show how the show plays out and in parallel, the characters get to interview the shooting crew explaining their opinions of the current situation. Then, in the end, it goes meta, where the show is showing the show which was shot during all the years. It is very creative and interesting.

Characters

All the characters and people who acted are great and interesting. The character itself is very different and interesting, plus the people who acted did their job very well. I love all of them. The mark of a great movie/series is that people remember the characters even after many years. I am sure Micheal, Jim, Dwight, Pam will remain with me for a very long time.

Writings

After going through more into the behind-the-scenes of the show, one of the main reasons for the success of the show is the writers. Many actors in the shows also double as writers and producers for the show. The storyline, the characters are all very good because they were written very well. There are only a few times when you feel that these episodes are not fun, that this storyline is no good. Almost all the episodes had a good story, that is saying a lot for a series that had 9 seasons.

Moments

There are many scenes that I loved.

Forever song for the wedding The whole scene was shot, choreographed beautifully with so much fun in it. Also if you go through the Youtube rabbit hole with this, you will find many people recreated this which are also fun to watch. Forever song

The roast of Michael Scott The episode when all the employees get their chance to roast their boss was funny. It is like everyone got their ultimate chance to take a dig. Roast

Goodbye Michael The episode when Micheal Scott leaves the show was done beautifully. It did feel like genuinely they all loved Micheal and gave him a grand farewell. Goodbye

First Aid Fail There are many crazy memorable scenes of Dwight. This is one such where he goes over the top. First Aid

Dundies Another interesting original idea that was introduced, to give ridiculous awards to employees for ridiculous reasons. Super funny. Dundies

Overall I loved the show, and enjoyed it thoroughly and it is totally worth bingeing and rewatching it.

Following sports by not watching it

April 2021

Don’t remember when I exactly stopped watching sports live but realized as much as love sport I actually watch very few matches live now. I still try to watch Arsenal matches whenever possible, but I do miss a lot of matches for various reasons. The main reason mostly is the timing of the matches. Most of the sports I would like to watch are played in different time zones. I used to watch Cricket a lot being a big Sourav fan after he left, my interest waned in that.

Nowadays, I follow a few sports by actually not watching any of the games, but by listening to the commentary, analysis on it, and watching the highlights. Most recently I started following the NFL due to the Tom Brady phenomenon, and what a season to follow him, he just won the Super Bowl! What a story that is, an old guy going to a new team that has not won in a long time, most people writing him and Tampa Bay off, and he and his teammates bringing the trophy home. That is the magic of sport I love, anything can happen. It was fun following it mostly on Youtube. I never watched a single match, not even the final!

I listen to the ESPN analysis team on Youtube discuss it. And the way they do it is actually both informative and fun. Like Stephen A Smith, that guy is special, the way he talks. Even though it’s BS sometimes you still love it. He is super entertaining. The other sport I follow religiously now is NBA, I have become a Luka Doncic fan, that youngster is something special. There are also so many other teams with their own special players making things competitive.

My favorite sport is Football, which is probably the only sport I still try to catch the odd match live. Don’t get me wrong, I do enjoy the excitement of watching it live, the super tackle, the special save, the beautiful pass, the wonder goal, all these if you do not watch live you do not fully appreciate it, even though later you can watch a highlight of it. It’s strange and I am sure I am not the only one who has started following sport this way.