Walking Diary

By Hsu Shen On

Corona Diary: Hobby

July 2020

One thing being quarantined at home for so long teaches you is being creative about how you spend your time. I look at my dad’s routine, he basically just sleeps, eats, and watches TV/mobile/iPad, and very little of anything else. And that got me thinking that I need something other than just being a couch potato.

I am thinking, everyone needs to have some kind of hobby/interest to keep us busy.

I need to find one for myself. At various times I tried learning guitar, learning mandarin, doing some creative writing. All eventually either I gave up on or lost interest in. The only interest I have which has sustained me all these years is my love for reading but that again is a little too passive.

It has to involve some, even minor physical activity. I will keep looking else I will end up like my dad.

Corona Diary: Steer into the skid

May 2020

I was watching a TWiT podcast and one guest, Amy Webb, explained a new concept(to me) which I found very interesting. She called it ‘Steer into the skid’, which I later found is a saying people use.

She explained that if there is uncertainty we should not do what the initial normal reaction would be, and just try to stop immediately and try to return to normal. But instead to try to lean into the problem and accept the issue, and adjust accordingly and find a new way to deal with it.

Like if you are driving and suddenly hit an icy road and start to skid. A normal reaction would be to put the brake and stop immediately. This may make things worse but instead what you should do is, let it skid and try to slowly steer towards the road.

She said this in the context of the Coronavirus issue the whole world is facing currently. She explains that it is a wrong idea to just want to get everything back to normal. Currently a lot of countries have been in severe lockdown mode for a long period, and because of that economy has suffered badly. So a lot of people are getting restless and want the businesses to open up again.

This time we should not just try to go back to normal, business as usual. The better solution is to try and find a new solution( a new way of living), accept that this will go on for a year or more, and find a new way to cope with this. Once we accept the problem then we can start working towards a creative solution even though it would not meet our demand to get back to normal. We all must accept the new normal.

Writing tools

May 2020

Here is a list of tools that helps me write. It is ranging from simple note-taking to writing for my blog. What is common to them is that they are simple to use and are free tools( Since I am a cheap person 🙂) Most of them also work across devices.

 

OneNote

I love to take notes. I take notes for all sorts of things like the TO-DO list, for some information, for planning, organizing. Taking notes helps me in planning, decision making. Also useful for a quick lookup when the information is needed. This is my go-to application for note-taking. It is simple to use and since it syncs to the cloud, I can access my notes everywhere. I use it mostly as an android application on my smartphone. Since it is always with me, It helps me keep useful information available to me all the time.

 

Notepad++

Being a Windows guy, I used to use notepad a lot for short note-taking. Now I use this application instead. I use it basically for taking rough notes, so no fancy formatting needed, only just plain texts will do. It does provide me with certain extra features that notepad did not like: multiple tabs for taking different notes. It is also helpful when I need to do a small edit of HTML, code files as it supports multiple languages. I just like this because the application is lightweight and simple to use.

 

Google Docs

I used to use Office Word a lot earlier, but ever since I discovered this, I use this mostly. Firstly it is free, secondly, for my purpose, this is more than sufficient. It has all the main features that I require, like simple formatting, spelling, and grammar checking. It lets you download the document as Word file or as PDF.

I use this extensively for all my writings, like for documentation for any projects, notes, information details for various stuff. Study notes on various topics. My usual flow when writing a blog would be to first write it here, it provides me the basic spelling checks, grammatical checks, and suggestions.

This has also become my repository of all notes, documentations. Since I can access it any place across any device that becomes very useful.

 

Grammarly

This is a great tool to help you write better, it provides you with all the basic spell checking and grammatical checking. Additionally, it provides you helpful tips/suggestions to a written sentence. Though Google docs is pretty good, this application is even better in helping you with better writings. This has become my go-to now, whenever I need to write something important. I would put the text here and just verify what needs to be changed, and in general, I find I need to correct many mistakes.

Data analysis

April 2020

In today‘s world data is super important, those who have a lot of it become successful, like Google, Facebook, Amazon. The more data you have the better knowledge you have and so decision making becomes easier. For example, when a lot of people buy a product on Amazon, Amazon will get the information firstly to stock more of that product, secondly, since that kind of product is very popular, so introduce more of the same in the Store.

Individually also we must consume as much information(data) as we can. We live in an era where we have an abundance of it. We are constantly bombarded with it from everywhere. The Internet, the smartphone have made it possible for the free flow of data.

It is good we have a lot of data but equally important part is how you interpret it. A person can look at a set of data and interpret it differently than others. What is real, what is fake, how do you decide. Trump has made popular the term ‘fake news’. It has become far too easy to spread fake as real, and real as fake cause most people are not doing enough critical analysis of the data they are being given. They instead just trust the source. So a Trump supporter will believe whatever he says even if it is ridiculous.

Let me give an example of data interpretation and why it is important. A few months ago I went to church, and the priest gave a sermon. Generally, like many people, it is hard for me to pay close attention to what the priest is saying, my head goes to someplace else after some time :). Every once in a while you will find a preacher saying something interesting. This was that time, the priest was able to get my attention from the very beginning by the way he talked. He was a very good speaker.

In one part of his sermon, he said and I am paraphrasing here, that from one study the growth from the year 2010 to 2015 of ‘common-law marriage’ (a marriage without a civil or ecclesiastical ceremony, generally resulting from an agreement to marry followed by the couple’s living together.) has been 80% while normal marriage has been 40%. If you listen to it without thinking much, it looks like people just living together has become much more than who is getting married. Since the person speaking here is a priest, this is very bad news. Also, he is an important person to his listener, most people take it in and believe it.

The issue with that interpretation is this, the comparison is not correct unless you provide more context to it. Since the number of ‘common-law marriages’ against ‘normal marriage’ is very small, it will grow at a much faster rate than ‘normal marriage’. Here is an example with numbers. Say in 2010 the number of ‘common-law marriages’ was 10, and the number of ‘normal marriages’ was 1000. In 2015 the number of ‘common-law marriages’ was 18, that is 8 more people got added to it, which makes it an 80% growth. And similarly, in 2015 the number of ‘normal marriages’ was 1400, that is 400 more people got added to it, which makes it a 40% growth. So if you just look at the growth rate and compare the two, 80% is so much more than 40%, but in fact, in the 5 years ‘common-law marriages’ increased by 8 and ‘normal marriages’ increased by 400.

So the context here is important, I am not saying the priest is deliberately misleading his congregation. He may have been sincere in his approach, but failed to give more context to those numbers. But this is not always true for most people/organizations, we are constantly being fed some data/news to deliberately mislead us. What is important is to learn to do critical thinking (analysis of the data), don’t just accept whatever is being told to us.

On Education

March 2020

One of the things I was contemplating doing recently was joining Teach For India. It is a wonderful organization dedicated to improving education in India. They teach children and have a 2 years fellowship where you learn to teach and teach.

https://www.teachforindia.org/

To join one step was to write 3 essays on three different topics. Here is one I wrote:

I have always had a desire to get into educating children. Teaching for me is one noble profession. You are just not educating the children to be better at their studies, you are also giving valuable life lessons for them to grow up to become better human beings. Teachers are role models. I still fondly remember many of my teachers, from whom I have learned so much. They are one big reason why I have been successful in life.

I had an excellent education and I believe every child deserves the same. There is extreme poverty all over India and one big reason is education. When children do not have basic education. It is very difficult for them to improve their lives and those of their family when they grow up. Once you do not have an education you also lack ambition sometimes. The reverse is with good education you know you can achieve so much more. Basic education for me is not just when a child can read, write, do the math, learn about science, history, geography, etc, but also when a child can solve problems logically, use their brain creatively. The child has to be able to think out of the box, their thoughts should not be limited to certain textbooks only.

My background is in software engineering. I think my experience in software and current technology would benefit students greatly. I would be able to not only teach the course but also give a fresh perspective to the students. Just like in the software industry where you have to constantly be updated to the new technologies. I believe that the education industry has to constantly try to improve ( which Teach For India is already doing). One way is to embrace more technologies and have a better understanding of it to prepare the students for the future world.

My goal during the 2-year fellowship is to learn how to teach better and then to implement it and try to improve the education of children. After the 2 years, I intend to keep educating in some form and find other ways to contribute like using my software knowledge.

PS: I did not go through with the application eventually, tabling the idea for now.

Luck

January 2020

I would not call myself a lucky person. I have never won any lottery. In Chinese New Year, whenever I had played the card game 21, I had lost most of the time. Any game involving luck, I am just not very good at it. So I avoid it, I do not gamble, even a small amount for fun. Luck does not seem to be on my side.

Saying that in any game which involves luck there is a mathematical probability that you should win at some point, that is if you play long enough. Of course, the gambling rule is the house always wins. If you play long enough, in general, you might win some but you will lose most of the time. The exception is, if you are a really lucky person, then the probability changes.

One of my friends religiously plays a lottery game, called ‘Pick 4’. The idea is simple, you buy a ticket which is valid for the day, you pick 4 numbers. Everyday day, 4 numbers are generated in the lottery system. If all numbers match and in that order you win the big price, if not in the order you win lesser but still a decent amount.

So he has been playing every day the same set of numbers for over a year. Logic(probability) would say, that series of numbers will come up at some point. Now we were spending the afternoon together, a phone call comes up and my friend gets a call from another of his friend who knows his habit with the lottery. He says your number has come up, the friend checks the website and yes those numbers have won.

Instead of joy, he starts cursing. Guess what he did not buy a lottery ticket today! He has spent a year with it, and the day he does not buy, that number shows up. Luck, sometimes you just don’t have it.

Educated fool

October 2019

I have a scooter which needed the pollution to be checked to get the pollution certificate. Since it was not updated for a long time, the person who does the checking told us to go to the Motor Vehicle office to get it fixed as his system said that my scooter details were not updated, so he was not able to check it.

Generally, whenever you have to go to the government office to get things done, it is complicated to do, lots of processes, lots of running around different places, time-consuming. So the easy way out is to pay some agents to do the work for us.

So me and my cousin went to the office, we were told before this work did not cost us any fee. When we arrived at the entrance we were immediately surrounded by a few people who told us that they would do the work for us, we would just need to pay additionally 100Rs for their service. This sounded us to be a good deal( wrong), as we were not familiar with the process to do the task. If these people would do at that cost, it was well worth it. So I provided them with the Scooter Smart card, for them to find out the details of the case and how to fix it.

After some time, they came back with a list of issues with my scooter. They said that there were pending cases with the scooter so fine had to be paid, the scooter details were blocked in the system so they have to unblock it, they also had to update the system with the scooter details. Everything would cost us 6000+, we suspected they were making things up, as if there were cases against the scooter, we would have received a message for it. We argued for some time, then told them to just do the minimum necessary so we could get the pollution check done. They said it would need an update in the system, and it would cost 2000Rs, they would provide a receipt for it. So I thought this was reasonable( wrong again) and gave them the money.

After some more time, they came back and told me I had to go to one office, and provide the xerox of the smart card, and provide other information to the officer. One reason you pay these people is so that you do not have to stand in line for hours to eventually get the thing done. They should have internal contacts and thereby get it done without any hassle. I was told to stand in line, saying only 10 people in front of me, and it would be very quick. At this point, I had a feeling that these people were fooling me, as they did not seem to have done much. Anyway, I stood in line, found out there were more than 30 people in front. All of them came for the same reason but I was guessing they did not go through these people. I had to wait in line for 1 hour plus, already frustrated, then when I reach the end, the officer looked at my papers and said I had to get an additional certificate from the scooter maker(Honda), then come back again!

This got me upset as I wasted all my time in the queue, I would have to get back in it again. One reason you pay agent is, they would know the full process, know all papers required, so you would not need to run around to find out if you did it by yourself. I found these guys and again argued that they wasted my time and I would have to get back in the queue, and since the closing time was arriving the thing would not be done. They told me when I get back they would put me right in front of the queue so I did not have to wait( guess what wrong again).

I went to Honda and got the certificate and came back, these people took me in line and told me to go in front, I went in front but already knew none of the people who were in the line already for hours, would entertain the thought of me getting in front. The agent had already by now left. I did not argue much.

I went to the end of the line and waited for another one hour plus, hoping the office would not close and I would then need to come back another day to this all over again. Thankfully, the officer extended the office time, and I eventually got things done.

Later I found out from my cousin, as he talked to a few people who had done the same thing that there was no requirement of money. Of Course, by now I could not track any of the agents, they had all left for the day. I had been fooled.

My cousin commented “Bhai, what happened to your education”

The difficult thing about teaching is learning

August 2019

I always fancied myself as a teacher, and do like the concept of teaching. I consider it still one of the few noble professions, where people in general still respect. The idea of imparting knowledge, wisdom to another person especially to kids is powerful.

I have over the years taught a few kids as tuitions, with mixed results. Some did well, some did not. Other than those small experience I have had not much. The idea though always interested me. So an opportunity came where an NGO called Blue Turtle, needed a computer teacher and I agreed to do it. I started teaching computers on Saturday.

One issue I face is the interest from the children to learn, many times you see in their eyes/ body language that they are just not interested in learning or learning that topic which is being taught. It becomes difficult to teach if your student does not want to learn. You lose your motivation to teach them also after some time. The challenge is trying to make learning interesting.

Many times the topics are difficult to understand for a kid. So they tend to give up, and unless forced will not want to learn them. Here you try to simplify the complex topics so it becomes easier to digest for them. Once they start getting it, the interest comes more naturally. As a teacher, the way you teach is also a learning experience in itself, something works for some students and sometimes it does not for others. If I am to succeed I have to learn quickly as to how to teach. The good student is easy to teach to get better. The real challenge comes with the weaker students, can I bring them up a few levels. Can I make them want to learn? That is the question I will probably try to find an answer in the next few months or even years.

Pokemon GO

July 2019

My latest addiction is this game. I remember it became a huge rage some 3 years back when it was first launched. One of the reasons it became popular was because a lot of people were going to great lengths just to just catch some Pokemon! Like people would often trespass to some private property. Hugh number of people would travel long distances. There are several funny videos on the net to see this kind of craziness for a game.

The game is simple, and anyone can start playing without knowing much. You just have to travel distances and catch digital creatures called Pokemon, with throwing a ball(Pokeball) at it. Once you exhaust the Pokeballs you have, you can get more by visiting PokeStops. These PokeStops are situated in different parts of the city. For example, a metro station might have a Pokestop. The game is location-based, played in the virtual world of an actual street map. So imagine Google map, you can see the roads and if you walk, you can see your progress in the virtual map. Just add Pokemons, PokeStops to it, and that is the game. You walk to collect Pokeball, you walk, you find Pokemon then try to catch it. Simple and a lot of fun. Of Course, there is more complexity to the game, once you are more familiar with it, you will learn more about making friends, sharing gifts, fighting battles with other Pokemon, etc.

I am no good with video games, it’s something to do with patience and/or my lack of eye finger coordination. Last time I played a virtual game at length was Age of Empires which was more than a decade ago. This game is perfect for me, I play at a leisurely pace. No super skill is required, just willingness to travel which I do a lot anyway. It still does not fully explain why I am becoming addicted to it. Maybe the simple task-reward nature of the game suits my taste. Maybe the pseudo-social nature of it, you do make friends in the game and help each other but everyone uses alias and real identity is never known. It could also be the adventure aspect of it where you keep looking and suddenly find a new Pokemon. Bottomline for a person who does not play any virtual game I play this game a lot. Which is starting to worry me :)

There is a downside to this game, since it is location-based, it needs you to always provide your location. If you are a privacy focus then this might be a no-no for you. For me the fun I have with it, I am OK with that trade. (hoping in future I don’t find news that it has been used inappropriately :) ). I like it so much that I recently spent 29 Rs to buy 100 PokeCoins!!

Chernobyl

June 2019

“What is the cost of lies? It’s not that we will mistake them for the truth. The real danger is that, if we hear enough lies, then we no longer recognize the truth at all. What can we do then? What else is left but to abandon even the hope of truth and content ourselves instead with stories? In these stories, it doesn’t matter who the heroes are. All we want to know is who is to blame.”

Just finished watching the mini-series, it’s a must watch, high-quality stuff. I must say HBO is making some very good shows. What I like about the show is the drama created is very intense, you are instantly intrigued from the start, and the pace keeps up right till the end. The production quality and acting are superb. The other thing I like about it is, it is thought-provoking.

We have all heard read about the Chernobyl disaster, but for most people, like me, we do not realize the magnitude of the disaster, the high cost and the danger which was avoided. This brings the Chernobyl disaster into better perspective for me. I read about it a bit, even though it has some fiction in it. I will say it is an important work, which hopefully more people see it.

It is especially important now, cause if you look at the world now, it is full of lies/fake news/propaganda. It caused the Chernobyl disaster to happen then, and we are going to have another disaster if we do not do something about it. If we just let lies win, it will happen. For example, take something like climate change. It is a fact, it is a disaster waiting to happen if we do not do enough. But here also lots of lies are spread, and if powerful people like Trump who has large followers keep at the lies, keep disbelieving, then we are going to build this up and over time another disaster will happen.

“Every lie we tell incurs a debt to the truth. Sooner or later that debt is paid.”