Sunday, April 18, 2010

To Have Discovered More of Myself

          Wow. CS3216 is over, or at least officially. I think Orry’s right, after taking one course as intense and as powerful as this, I don’t think I would be able to adapt to normal NUS Life. I must confess over here that I am taking 7 modules this semester, a proclamation that I dare not make from the start for it was an idea that is so crazy that it is certain to be shot down. Well, here I am alive and well, staring into the dusk of this semester. (Mental note to myself to though, surviving it is one thing, being really spectacular and being in a state of a lot less pain is other.)

            Yet, I feel the sudden nostalgia and the headiness hitting me after going through an awesome semester of which I had met such good friends and did crazy things. I guess I am right about myself on one count , that I am always in to live Life to its fullest, struggle with its struggles and appreciate things along the way. Had I to point out one important lesson that I have gained along the way, I felt it would be a lesson on discovering myself. Here’s me in blatant honesty.

            I am not as great as I tend to think that I am! – There are days and occasions that I would swim around Life with a huge, huge ego and a hedonistic approach. The air smells artificially nice and I am on the top of my game. Unfortunately, self-delusion is never that beautiful as no one really gives a damn unless you care. I tend to suffer from this like of super-ego driven irrationality, which unfortunately, again is very unhealthy. I have hurt a few people along the way, yet I am really blessed to have friends who have stuck with me till the ends. I have to watch out for this and for the fact that I tend to underestimate the difficulty of things, which could be my undoing. As for optimism, I will keep it though, as optimistic tends to succeed! ~ and give my sense of optimism some tender, loving, care of realism. I will always be my greatest fan! This leads me to some “wise words” (ahem, common sense ) that Ben has to offer.

            Focus outwards – That’s is what I should be doing. Deep down, I am still not too certain, what’s holding me back for really caring for others. It’s frustrating to note. I have profiled myself, and I am well-aware that I draw power from both the dark and light side. The former being about personal strength and gratification; and the later synergy and ideals/”greater common” good. Real question which I have yet to resolve is: where do I really want to be?

            Focus – I am spread too thinning and I know that. I tried to make a case of being a really good “multi-disciplinarian” but now, I am pretty convinced that I have to go really deep and be really good at what I would do. There’s no substitute for 10,000 hours of increasing hardwork, but what I can do is to work smart. @Prof: Yep, I am reconsidering my phd option, but regardless of my eventual choice, I will pursue my decision with the best of my ability and without regards.

            3 things that I have to do for the day – thanks to Nash’s wife, I got this piece of advice and it really helped make my day more effective. It works as it is. Simply know what are the 3 things that I absolutely have accomplish for the day and make sure I do it. =D

            Learning Hacks – I never learned so fast in my Life before. In this semester, I am having lots of fun and assimilating knowledge as if my Life depends on it. Well, it did. But I got a good measure of how to leverage education. =D and it comes together for me is so many different ways.

            Love myself – Despite all the sobering takes that I have upon myself, I am willing to absolve myself from all the hate and pain that I have caused myself. It is through stupid decisions, failures that I may learn too. I would like to sincerely thank all who have stayed true and have encouraged me along the way.
I have a quote for everyone. It is indeed painful to discover imperfection (and how many false underlying assumptions I had about the world which made it a beautiful fantasy) and to come to terms so intimately with myself. But it is like Chris Abani so beautifully puts it -: You are most beautiful, when you are most ugly because it is then when you see yourself for who you truly are.
Thank you. With all the love in the world, Tomithy

Ps. Hope my thoughts had echoed yours.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

the Key lesson

Surprisingly, the main lesson I learned last night when 6 entrepreneurs shared their experience

Amazingly the main lesson that I have learned from a night of sharing from 6 different entrepreneurs covering 6 different sectors ( underscoring the point that entrepreneurship is the one of the toughest challenge one can embark in his Life ) is from a lady named Simran who was Ash's wife.

Prior to the talk, I was feeling quite confused and angsty, partially due to the fact that the project is not going as well as planned (bad stuff happens, and I just have to suck it up). Hence I was there, sucking it up along with the lingering effects of a fever that I am recovering from. Fortunately, I am always a person for stories, especially one which people shared with their heart and passion, which enamored me. Hearing about the battle feats, the ups and the down rejuvenated me - in the sense that as I empathizes with the entrepreneur's darkest hours, resolve and aspiration, I began to feel beyond myself and larger than Life. It is sometimes others, which made me feel inadequate in giving, in loving and in doing, but more often that not, in a warped state of mind, it my faithlessness that is playing tricks with me.

I mused at my 10000th realisation as I checked with my inner self of what do I really wanted to do in Life and it was always clear. I realised again that I cherished Life, the people (around me) and the gratification of growth and raising up to challenges. As each entrepreneur took me through their journey, I felt increasingly sure that a Life of spirited play is what I am really after ( which mean I am a sucker for challenges XP)!.

Few of the important lessons that I took away:
- Tong: Having a cap on their salary. Offering employees different portfolio. Serving a need, or remedying a pain that already exist in the market.
- Ash: Sales solves everything. And I really love his focus on building the culture of his company, that i something that I would also put as my priority!

However, my main lesson was very simple. I asked Simran how did she maintain focus and balance with all the work, adrenaline and stress and she told me one thing:

"Be clear on the 3 main things that you want to do each day fulfill them. "

Then, it hit me! Yup, it's that simple and it is something that I have always been looking for. (=

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Prof's Impromptu Lecture on Meritocracy

Last monday, besides being given a really technical lecture on web performance optimization and troubleshoot, which I can only partially appreciate, Prof Ben also gave an impromptu lecture about his view on Grades, Scholarship and Meritocracy.

For grades and scholarship, I dont really have comments to add to it, except to say that my views on grades are exactly the same as prof, they are their importance has been way skewed in our society such that we are raising model students instead of thinkers. Grades are over-rated, it measures only things that are qualifiable and only in a very specific context. I feel that, if you are good at what you do, and very passionate about it, chances are opportunities will find you and vice versa. Hence grades are only useful enough as both a carrot and stick students, but of course it is not the best of motivations when in face of real talents and real curiosity for learning. They are however, a common yardstick in meritocracy


There are 2 flavors of meritocracy which is to have an equality of opportunities or to have an equality of outcome and they are often confused with each other. The latter, is however a very simplistic conceptualisation of meritocracy, which translates to this reality -> "No matter what you do, where you are and how you do it, the outcome will be same for everyone" Now, this reality is very disempowering and distressing because it means that no matter now hard one strives, the society will enforces rules and laws such that everyone will produce the same results, just like communism, which I plainly put "makes everyone equality poor".

It is easy to see how these idea fails, yet is it often confused with the former idea, because what we can plainly see are outcomes and people are lazy to think about the principles and reason it out. Complain as they might, but my stand is not to reduce our society's aspiration and ethos to the lowest common denominator just because they refuse to think or does not really understand what meritocracy really is about.

Hopefully this sets things straight. As a person, I deeply believe in meritocracy (the former idea of course), because it means that we are treating all humans with dignity and that we respect their rights to betterment and gain access to more in Life. (= Truly, the implications are daunting, when we factor in the billions of people and the many more to be born as we consider about providing everyone with opportunities. But when translated to practices, what it means that we should not discriminate people based on social stigmas but rather give them a fair accessment based on their character and capacity. No doubt, Life's still unfair, but at least, we should aim to be fair to people and ourselves.

I love the way prof ben uses the food pyramid explain how an different outcomes can and should happen probabilistically even though meritocracy operates. It's simple and effective and it incorporates social mobility into the picture too, =D, and I shall adopt this explanation next time (Is this considered learning from him?)

Monday, February 22, 2010


Wow. Chewy was an excellent speaker who is very entertaining and insightful. I totally enjoyed his presentation. So Thanks Prof Ben for getting him around.

The premise behind Chewy’s presentation last night was about people – people other than ourselves. What Chewy says is very poignant (and definitely very befitting of me) that we have constructed the “our reality” based on our experiences and because the human experience is so vast and myriad, we have often made wrong implicit assumptions about people – their beliefs, their behavior, their likes and dislikes.

Understandably, a few things ties us together. We have principles like honest, courage and love which are quite universally similar in essence; we have context like examinations, war or competition that we have grown to understand; we have cultures and languages which allows us to identify with each other; and we have physics and the human condition, which are both and almost always an empirical awareness that we develop as a living human. However, even with these basic identities and commonality, we are muchly different from one another because we have different taste and styles. Because we have different pursuits and problems. Because we have different beliefs and experiences.

And to appreciate and empathize takes more than just words or ears. It involves taking off the shoes of our experience and standing in theirs, something remarkably hard to do (at least for myself) because one so attached to our own experiences, ideas and modulus operandi. Indeed, our lives and actions are the embodiment of our beliefs. And that is not to say that understanding people is not possible. It takes genuine willingness to explore the Life of others, and the humility to put principles and people in front of self. (It sucks to hear two egos or two masks speaking to one another; or me trying to figure out you out based on my Life)

Together with chewy, I too believe in stories. They help me understand others. I am pushing myself to love people for who they are and to love freely, not to expect love in return, but because love inspires.

“I want to celebrate Life as I live. This is my story. What’s yours?”

Sunday, February 21, 2010

How can GetHelp! Communicate Value

I think that the one most effective and onerous task that the get help team faced with is to communicate value.
The value of using the application – Why should the user even post something on the application? What can this application do that other means and platform cannot?
Value of helping others – Why should the users care about helping others? What should they be prompted by the application
Value of social capital (which incidentally is the reason which makes facebook ticks!) – How much response can the user generate if he/she shakes her “friend tree”

In essence, the design and the functionality should be answer this questions, which in turns communicates the value of this application.

Keeping this overall concept in mind, I would provide 2 few touch-points which I think would allow the application to communicate value.

Modelling – Form follows functionality. If so, what models out there can essentially allow an application to match-make users? Off the top of my head, I would recommend looking at
1)   Dating sites – as they try to match-make users through their profile and peferences. Difference over here is of course, it is presumably true that the party at both ends have the incentive to begin to want to engage in a date and have taken the proactive step to sign up, whereas GetHelp needs to offer more incentives to the “helpers”
2) – I thought it was quite interesting that this micro financing site has reshaped the way financing is done. Perhaps, each task specific by the user is to huge and they can be broken down into smaller parts just like how Kiva reduces the entry barrier for mircofinancing by allow users to lend with a starting minimum of $50, for more people to come in and provide help. Again, for this side, the lenders have 2 obvious incentives which is 1) to support entrepreneurs doing good work and 2) to earn interest on loans.
3)   Odesk/ – Freelance website might offer the team some insights about how help can be categorized, quantified and outsourced.

User incentives – This is perhaps the hardest question to address. “Why should one be movitated to help others” is perhaps too large a question to be addressed by the application. A nice and realistic assumption would be there are friends and people out there who will offer their help – hence perhaps the real question is now "how to make GetHelp! personable such that both the parties have the incentive to use the platform in getting help"?

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Game on!

I have learned a few lessons this week. I would like to highlight one, mainly because it is a simple yet powerful idea people seem to neglect!

Examining assumptions
I was reminded of this by Prof Wong Poh Kam, director NEC and angel investor. Strangely, I was feeling rather free that one day and I tagged along with Lawrence to a networking cum sharing session. It turns out Prof Wong happens to be the director of BANSEA.

The idea over here is rather simple. After coming up with a business plan, examine closely, at my own assumptions. For example, is it possible that we get 50,000 users a month? Is it possible for some one to clock 100 hrs / week of programming time etc? This simple reflection would reveal the flaws and also forces us to clear of our plan of action. Simplest solutions are the best!

Also, it is not to say that we shouldn't make assumption. They just have to reflect reality. Let's look at some (simplifying) assumptions that I have for final project:
  • Flash can be learned and mastered in a month.
  • The game would be interesting enough for people to want to try
  • The team's effort is synergistic and that everyone is enthusiastic about that we do. 
  • We would be principled in our execution.
  • Everyone in the team can provide the team with as much resources as we need to make project fly at the minimum. 
The next questions (What is there to learn about flash? What do I mean by mastery? What is the usual timeline?...) is of course asked to verify this assumptions, which leads to the next rounds of questions and assumptions. And as computer scientist likes it, this will go on recursively until we are clear on what we want and until we start asking questions that are either too stupid or too general or too specific like "What is the meaning of Life? "

The purpose of this exercise is of course to be clear on what we want. Clarity is the the most important outcome of this theoretical, goggle-aided, ideas bouncing exercise. (= After which we should have a fair idea on what we want and how to achieve it, although the solutions may not be optimise. To optimise is again, other exercise altogether. 

On another note, I was pretty excited by the CS3216 pitching session, which makes me feel like a VC, although I know that this is a mere ego-trip. These are people with real world problems to solve or ideas to implement. Thanks for giving us the flavor at least, prof!

Happy Chinese New Year!

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

BioHack! meets Zynga

I am basically interested in how Zynga operates as an online game company – it is exciting and it grows really fast. As a business person, who wants to start a research design (BioHack!) company in a couple years, it is interesting for me to understand how Zynga has achieved this level of success and notoriety.

I would style this discussion as a case study, which presents some of my thoughts on Zynga and talk about how some of the ways Zynga these ideas can potentially work for my company.

Pirates –

Zynga is famous for copying games that are successful and doing it better than the original creators in blazing speed.

What does it mean to me –

Even a pirate can be pirated. Xp. Nah, I would give my baby – BioHack more brain juice and make sure that it operates from the same set of principles that I do:
·      Do good
·      Have fun
·      Be prepared to failed ( - consequently we can operate from a space of possibility where we have nothing to lose)
·      Innovate to create value

The biggest lesson for me over here is that it pays to learn from others who got it right and translate that lesson into strategies that I can implement. Despite the taint of unoriginality – I feel that taking what works and improving on it is the cheapest and most leveraged method. It is something few people try because of ego, I couldn’t care less because the real value is to do great work with research and invent new things by standing on the shoulders of giants. What I worry about more is giving people who invent the wheel their credit due and how can I continue to open source things. (=

There is simply, simply no point in reinventing the wheel.

Potential usefulness: 10 / 10

Micro-transactions –

Capitalizes on impulse spending and it allows the customers to self-select in terms of the amount that they are willing to pay. The premise for this is of course either there is worth to a rational customer in the purchase or that the user is irrational.

How Zynga capitalizes operates – It creates virtual value for virtual goods by making them premium and only accessible by purchase. The premium over the goods is likely to be much higher in the eyes of games addict because they can give a huge boost to game play or ego. It sucks to have one’s self image build upon and leadership boards.

What does it mean to me – The concept of micropayment itself interesting, because it allows my customers to purchase smaller units of goods or to try out premium services at a very low cost.

It caters to a larger portion of the market that in involved in the biotect/Life Science (which I have no idea if it exist or not. My guesses are that they could be amateur scientist or small biotech companies who are interested to use generic premium services). I am choosing between this and subscription, which itself commits the user to my service.

I definitely want to work on a long-term payment basis, and something which forces my company to continuously innovate and improve on our services and product rather than lump sum payment, because we cannot afford to get comfortable.

Potential usefulness: 4 / 10

Lead generation

How Zynga capitalizes operates – It offers in game rewards to its gamers who pass on their private information to other companies or fills in surveys.

What does it mean to me - I can offer my bio-informatics services online for free, then get users to submit their contact information such that I am able to collate a database of potential clients/partners to whom I can offer business opportunities or services. If the services are convenient and powerful services seems to leverage on Word- Of - Mouth to expand the company’s network along this lines. Furthermore, it would establish my company’s credibility (if the web services does well) and increase my customers proficiency in our software User Interface and our operational method as they have the incentive to familiarize themselves.

Potential usefulness: 7/ 10

What other interesting things Zynga has done –

Socially conscious goods – This is again an excellent twist to capitalize on the donations/charity market. I guess the slant is arguably good, but I remain skeptical about Zynga’s intention given their history and their lion’s share in the donation.

Heavy advertisement – Exciting. It could mean a few things:
·      Zynga growth strategy is super aggressive.
·      Sex sells, but be for it can sell, you need to let people know of the existence of it. Same applies for games I guess, vary the degree of morality.
·      It needs a damn to PR campaign to give its dirty image a good wash before it hits the real pot of gold at IPO.