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Thursday, September 4, 2014

Learning German

Inspired by folks like Derek Sivers and my roommate who picked up Chinese on their own, I decided to teach myself a new language just to see how hard it would be. I found this app called duolingo that is pretty cool. It has a mixture of dictation, translation, pronunciation and slowly mixes in grammar, spelling and vocabulary. I've been using it for a few days now and I can already say it is much more effective that reading or listening to a book. It's interactive, there's funny/fun bonuses that you can earn like pickup lines and idioms, it reminds me to study, it's really making learning fun and easy! I wish it had mandarin but it doesn't yet. Maybe I'll try to blog in German next time :) 


Sunday, July 27, 2014

Leadership

Who are your favourite leaders? What makes them so appealing to you?

In organizational behaviour, there are two types of leaders defined.
Transactional leaders coordinate people and operations, and make sure things go smoothly.
Transformational leaders sell an idea and get people to believe in it, work for it and spread it.
Both types are important but I'm really fascinated by transformational leaders.

Transformational leaders sell a vision that is ambitious, but achievable. A project challenging enough to be exciting, but not so improbable that people are discouraged. It's a goal that people can identify with and want to be a part of. Transformational leaders empower and inspire their people. We all know of CEOs and politicians who are such leaders. But is it always the guy at the top who's the transformational leader? How can transformational leadership bring innovation from the bottom up?
Can there be too much transformational leadership? What happens if everyone in an org is a transformational leader? Chaos?

Such are the questions that pop into my head at 2am.

Some papers related to the topic.


The influence of transformational leadership and organizational identification on intrapreneurship

The results show that transformational leadership has a positive impact on employee intrapreneurial behavior, whereas transactional leadership negatively influences it. Furthermore, these effects are found to be partially mediated by organizational identification.

http://www.researchgate.net/publication/225109816_The_influence_of_transformational_leadership_and_organizational_identification_on_intrapreneurship

Transformational Leadership and the Falling Dominoes Effect

This investigation examined the practice of tranformational leadership at two levels of management in a New Zealand government agency. Transformational leadership was defined as the extent to which a manager is seen as charismatic, as treating each subordinate as an individual, and as intellectually stimulating. Like falling dominoes, transformational leadership at a higher level of management was expected to appear concomitantly at the next lower level. Analyses of leadership behavior questionnaire data collected independently at the two levels of management generally provided support for this falling dominoes effect. However, one exception was that more charismatic first-level supervisors said they required less charisma in the second- level managers to whom they directly reported. implications were drawn con cerning the importance of developing transformational leadership abilities at upper levels of management to enhance the likelihood of such leadership at lower levels.
http://gom.sagepub.com/content/12/1/73.short

A Double-edged Sword: Transformational Leadership and Individual Creativity

As expected, results from a study with 416 R&D employees showed that transformational leadership promotes followers' creativity but at the same time increases followers' dependency which in turn reduces their creativity. This negative indirect effect attenuates the positive influence of transformational leadership on followers' creativity.

http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1467-8551.2011.00786.x/abstract

Sherry Why So Nerdy

Apart from the fact that it's just how I naturally am, here are a few reasons why.

Nerd is freeing. 

You might think a nerdy reputation makes people think you wear thick glasses and dress sloppy but being nerdy is actually very liberating. "Nerds" such a non-coveted club that you're unlikely to be under scrutiny like the "popular" kids. Being under the radar means you can do whatever the hell you want, make mistakes, learn from it and it's nobody's business.

Not feeling social today? Acceptable for a nerd.
A bit awkward sometimes? Acceptable for a nerd.
Don't feel like looking good today? Acceptable for a nerd.
Over-excited about something nobody else cares about? Acceptable for a nerd.
Not one of the popular kids? Acceptable for a nerds.
Despised by popular kids? Acceptable, expected for a nerd.
Love studying and doing homework? Acceptable for a nerd.
Not interested in all the drama? Acceptable for a nerd.

But the best part is you can still do everything the non-nerdy kids do.

Love arts? Also acceptable for a nerd.
Love music? Also acceptable for a nerd.
Love sports? Also acceptable for a nerd.
Love sports but suck at it? Acceptable for a nerd.
Love dressing up sometimes? Also acceptable for a nerd although it might surprise some.
Love partying like there's no tomorrow when you're free? Also acceptable for a nerd.

See? No more boxes to fit in. Makes life much better.

Nerds are simply people who follow their passion regardless of its status in popular culture. 

Passion --> Great work --> Success/Fulfillment --> Much better life --> nerdy=good.

While others are busy being cool, you're doing your thing and getting good at it. That will be more valuable than popularity, good looks or "network". The latter will get you nowhere if you're no good. Besides, many of the greats are real nerdy. Contrary to popular belief, you can be nerdy about anything, not just science/math.

James Taylor once said something along these lines: "I started playing guitar because of girls but instead I found myself sitting with bunch of guys talking about nail routines on Sunday afternoons". Doesn't get much nerdier than that...

So if you're one of those who thought that nerds are awkward, antisocial, look sloppy, are uncool, you're right. We claim the rights to be whatever we want. Uncool is one of them. Cool is so overrated anyways.

And finally, if you're a nerd, POWER TO YOU 8-)

Special note to the guys: Nerdy is the new sexy.


Thursday, July 24, 2014

Why You Look Good

Why do you look good? I mean, if & when you make an effort to look good, why do you do it?

Is it for your significant other?
Is it to get the attention of cute guys/girls?
Is it to get any attention?
Does it make you more confident?
Does it give you a business edge?
Does it flatter your ego when you see someone checking you out?
Is it simply a matter of looking "presentable"?
Or is it just to please yourself?

I think there have been occasions where each of those have been true but lately, I realized that I do it for me. I enjoy the process of doing makeup and dressing up sometimes, but I don't depend on the end result. One day I'll be in jeans and nerdy tshirt, the next I could be in dress, heels and makeup. No reason needed. Doesn't matter whether I will be meeting 200 or 0 people that day. I don't know if people are checking me out because I'm not watching out for it. 

Why? Partly because I'm in my own world probably, but also it's just easier not to care. My days go by so quickly, I'm barely conscious of what I look like once I'm out of the house. Once I'm at work I'm in a different world, thinking about solving problems and doing cool stuff. As long as I don't have a wardrobe malfunction, I don't have time to worry about it. It's not like my physical appearance defines me anyway. It's a facet of me but it's not me. I'm defined more by my values, talents, heart, work and attitude than my ephemeral physique or even my gender.

What about you? What defines you? Who do you dress up for?

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Three Random Wisdoms

Some calls are not yours to make but no questions are above your "grade".
Don't be afraid to ask the bigger, bolder questions if you want to solve those bigger, bolder problems. Don't be afraid to ask even if the people being asked can't answer the question yet. After all, curiosity is only known to kills cats. You're not a cat.

Be the sole judge who to be and who to befriend.
Not all friends are worth emulating, but more importantly, not all who are shunned deserve to be so. Don't act stupid because it's "normal".
Don't avoid/discard someone because someone else deemed them unsuitable.

Just because we're different, doesn't mean we can't co-exist without becoming each other. Treating stigmatized people as my equals doesn't make me (or them) worth stigmatizing, just as hanging out with a stud doesn't make me a stud. While behaviours and habits are easily picked up, people don't always do so. Years ago, all my friends used to drink and smoke, I never did. People probably assumed I did but I didn't. People are not the stereotypes we label them with. They are not the boxes we'd like them to fit in for our own convenience.


Monday, April 21, 2014

Biographies

When I was in high school, my english teacher Jerry once said rather frantically:
"I can't stand biographies, I don't see the point. What you can learn from them? They're a waste of time!"

Recently, I've gone through quite a few biographies. Amy Winehouse, Coco Chanel, Henrietta Lacks, Barbara Walters, Mark Twain. There are many more that I want to read (or rather, listen to - I almost exclusively rent audiobooks now). Each one depicted unique struggles, illustrated the moral landscape at different times and places, and gave me perspective on the biases, laws, customs, fears, powers that influenced the way each of them lived. Wouldn't a better understanding of each other's environment promote compassion and tolerance? Wasn't that valuable enough to be worth publishing?

Additionally, I'm not sure how biographies differ from fiction. Many of the biographies are as sensational, if not more so, than made-up stories. The fact that they actually happened in real life should not take away from the fact that they recount fascinating stories of characters who have overcome great difficulties or achieved tremendous success or both. Real or not real, the story is inspiring, provokes thought, and is entertaining. How are they a waste of time?

This comment stuck with me for many years. I still don't understand it. Did he mean that identifying with the autobiographer and comparing our lives with theirs was futile and useless? Or that writing about oneself was a narcissistic activity in which only the entitled indulged? If I meet him when I go home next month, I will have to ask him.

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

This biography was fascinating. This woman's cells were the first to be successfully cultured. They were taken without her knowledge while she was undergoing a test at the hospital. After her death, they have contributed to countless scientific advances including the cure for polio. Hela cells would become a staple of all labs and yet, no one knew who Hela was. Meanwhile, her family received no compensation or recognition for her contribution to science, and was not properly informed until much later. Her daughter, tormented by the story her entire life, passed away in her fifties, shortly before the book was released. It's definitely worth reading, if only to honour this lady whose cells accelerated the advancement of medicine without even trying.

Also interesting were the legal intricacies. It was not legal to take tissues from a dead body without the family's consent, but it was legal to do so from a living human being. Lawsuits against the hospital failed because the jury deemed it more important to protect the advancement of science.

You can purchase this book on iBooksAmazonkobo.
If your library is a member of Overdrive, you can rent it for free on the Overdrive app. I rented the audiobook for free. Ask your library!

Jojo Tsai and overexposed teens

Someone posted a link to Jojo Tsai's suicide on facebook. It was all in Mandarin, but it wasn't hard to guess the story. In the post, I see a picture taken from a neighbouring building. A slim body in a red dress seems to be lying face down on the roof of a building next to a tall condominium complex. My heart breaks. I don't know this girl, but I can't help wondering how things could go so wrong so quickly. Her final instagram posts are worse than Amanda Byne's disturbing posts a while back. A bed lit on fire, a night time picture staring down a window. When I click on the photo, I realize it shows her thighs dangling off a ledge, probably a window sill. Could anyone change her mind at this point? Could her ex-bf have stopped her with just a message, if he had known? Could one of her thousands of followers have given her hope at the last minute, or was it game over by the time she was posting?

She was a very pretty girl with perfect skin, silky hair, dramatic, with several pictures of her adored ex-boyfriend and some half-naked selfies. Over 30 000 followers (now >50k), she was clearly popular. I wonder if her over-exposure aggravated her sense of loneliness since her boyfriend let her down? I remember being heartbroken before, and most of my friends could not find the right words to make me feel better. Every word made me feel more misunderstood, more hurt, craving to be left alone or otherwise relieved. Now imagine this support, magnified by a factor of 10 000. Could her followers' heartfelt but clumsy support have been overwhelming? I don't know. But I worry that if it is the case, we're helpless.

I have a few younger friends on Facebook. Most of them I don't know very well but I care about them nonetheless. One in particular has often posted similarly dramatic photo captions about love and loss. Some about being lonely, being deceived, or simply misunderstood. Some rebellious pictures. Many posts that I would consider a cry for attention. I've even reached out a few times just to say "hey if you ever need to talk, I'm all ears." You never know, it might save a life. The provoking pictures and lamenting posts get a lot of likes and comments. Many comments are encouraging and sincere, but do they really help? Are those interactions helping him/her move on, improve his/her self-esteem, feel better about life? Or are those comments and likes, no matter how well-intended, widening the perceived gap between them and the rest of the world where acceptance seems to reside?


Making friends

Children make friends much more effortlessly. Students make friends quite easily. Working adults overthink it.

Children:
You're a kid, i'm a kid, we're both here, let's be friends. The gain is clear: fun

Students:
You're in this class/program, so am I, we're both stuck on this assignment, let's be friends. The point of this connection is clear: getting through university/college.

Adults:
Not so clear. When I first moved to Canada, my cousin told me that making friends is much harder once you're out of school. He was right. He said it becomes weird to approach or be approached by random strangers once you're outside the context of education. Everyone you meet wants something from you and the same goes for you. So you wonder each time, why are you talking to me? At the time I didn't understand and thought maybe he was just being pessimistic. Now I get it.

School is almost synonymous to making friends. The workplace on the other hand, isn't. Sure, some colleagues become friends, but that is not an expectation. The expectation is that everyone has a life outside of work! And when you spend most of your time at work, there's not much time to be anywhere else long enough to make friends. So how do you make friends?

Moving to California has forced me to make new friends. I knew nobody here so I did what I did 6 years ago when I moved to Canada. I resisted the temptation to spend my time chatting with those back home all the time and forced myself to go out and meet people. I can be surprisingly shy as a person although not at all as a performer. The latter has led me to conversations with complete strangers who have almost nothing in common with me, but that's for another post on busking :)

It's easier to make friends with people who have something in common, so I made friends with people who were also new to the area, colleagues who also play music, Mauritians in the area, alumni of my alma mater, other techies living in the same complex. It's too early to tell how much these friendships will grow, but I'm thankful for them and glad that I met all those wonderful people. I've learned a lot from each person I've met here. So if you're the new kid on the block, go out there and make friends!




Friday, March 28, 2014

New Record In The Works.

After listening to Seth Godin's "The Icarus Deception", I realize that I've left the industrialists dampen my passion a little lately. Recently, listening to "Change Me As We Go" sparked criticism. It wasn't good enough, mediocre at best, bla bla bla. Criticizing is easier than taking action, even if it is criticizing oneself.

I listened to my recordings again, re-read the lyrics to Perfect World, and realized I was wrong. There was room for improvement, but it was not a vain effort. There is a message, a connection. I can still feel it myself. It wasn't a bunch of words made to rhyme. A real situation, real emotions pushed me to write these words.

I decided I will record again this year. Watch out! Never mind the "it's not worth it". It is worth it. It is worth the satisfaction of hearing your art performed in the best way, and captured forever.



Perfect World lyrics:
I would like you to know how happy I am
But then I know you wouldn’t understand, oh

Everybody tries to make a perfect world
Everybody wants to give a perfect world to you
But every perfect world is different
And yours and mine just won’t coincide

And so we are, defending our utopia
Not going far against each other’s idea
I look at you, I love you
But I’m misunderstood and so alone

You’re still the same, should I feel ashamed?
Thought I had your word that said you would change?
You’ll never change for anyone,
Why do I keep holding on?

Nothing lasts forever
Though we were great together
There’s no point in crying over what could have been
Life was never “fair as it is”

Icarus and The Reinventors

Blurbs/Notes from listening to Icarus (Seth Godin) and The Reinventors (Jason Jennings).
These are not particularly organized. Will edit after I finish the books, due tomorrow.

In Icarus, Seth Godin suggests that all entrepreneurship should be viewed as art. 
- We grew up with beliefs of an industrial economy, but the new economy is about making a connection, making a difference, inspiring change. 
- Physical labour doesn't scale, but emotional labour does. 
- Applause is shortlived. A connection made with an audience will long outlast a standing ovation. Art that is not shared is not art. If you can't fail because you never put it out, because you never meant it to make a connection, it's not art and means nothing. 

In The Reinventors
- Every company has a culture. If the leaders don't work assiduously to create one, one will emerge by default. And it will be one where everyone's self-interest is put first. 
- Most company leaders admit losing 6-16% revenue due to their ego. Some estimate even up to 20%. This % is higher than the profit margin for the fortune 100.
- Staying relevant requires staying ahead of your customers' needs. If management is constantly putting out fires, there is no time/energy left for reinvention. Soon, you will be obsolete.
- An inventor is someone who doesn't take his/her education too seriously. Toyota invited Ford's top engineers to visit its new manufacturing plant. Too good to be true? The engineers thought the warehouse was too small, didn't see many spare parts lying around and thought it was all staged, not the real deal. It was in fact a lean manufacturing facility that propelled Toyota to #1 automaker, while Ford's market share fell from >90% to <40 div="" nbsp="">
- Letting go of invention killers must be a vital part of your culture. (same old

Guiding principles
- businesses exist to grow revenues and profits
- committed to keeping growing and rewarding talent
- grow by finding keeping and growing more.. .. .. customers
- this occurs as a result of staying ahead of customer's changing needs
- requires constant and radical reinvention

To embrace change, companies need to let go of:
- yesterday's breadwinners
- ego -> arrogance --> blindness, inability to recognize opportunity
- using conventional wisdom to predict likely future result
- entitlement/greed - when leaders treat the company like there own pocket, no place for - - reinvention, get defensive, claiming the others are naive.
- short-timers (someone planning on leaving but still on the job). leaders who are thinking about leaving the company have already left. they're stalling innovation. scant attention to detail.
- risk aversion. Coca-cola had the chance to buy Pepsi for $1000. Yahoo had the opportunity to buy Google for $5bn (10% of Yahoo's value) a decade ago.

Mauritian Independence Day

I've been asked to sing the National anthem a few times. Each time, I browsed YouTube to see what renditions are out there and couldn't find much. Told myself I should upload something but never got around to it. But this year I did! Published it right on time for March 12.

As a bonus, I also recorded quick acoustic renditions of Kaya's "Chante L'amour" and Cassiya's "Le Morne".






Sunday, March 9, 2014

Christina Grimmie

I've been following zeldaxlove64 since I saw her cover Rascal Flatts years ago. Some of my favourite covers by her are David Guetta's "Titanium" and Katy Perry's "The One That Got Away". But that was before her audition with the voice. She completely blew everyone away, even old fans like me. I do hope she wins. She's been working hard, is incredibly talented and is just so damn cool. Go team grimmie!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zGuVKMUwgE8

Digraph

Last Saturday, I had the pleasure of meeting a colleague's two kids aged about 3 and 8. It's the first time in a long time I've been around young kids. So much energy!

When we got in, they asked "Do you know what's a digraph?"

To be honest, I had no idea. I like learning from smart kids. It's inspiring. They explained what digraphs are and gave us some examples. I hope they continue to learn so eagerly.

They spent the next hour or so showing me their drawings, baked art and books. We played a few games of miniature (baked) bowling before their daddy and I headed off to the studio for a super fun jam session.

Friday, March 7, 2014

Accents

Are some accents closer to the "correct" pronunciation/accent than others? Is a German accent in English easier to understand than a French one? Or an Indian one? Or Singlish?

I think the accents we are most used to are likely the ones we find easier to understand, but I'm not sure there is an overall "easier" accent to understand. I could be wrong. Thoughts?


Monday, January 20, 2014

Iterating on the Product of Me

Just as we develop products iteratively, I'd like to think I'm iterating on myself as well. I'm my own product, and I want this product to be as good as possible. I have a vision of what the Product of Me should be. Every year, I make a plan of how to get the Product to where I want it to be. But just as entrepreneurs have to learn how to set goals for their products, so do we as people trying to improve ourselves. Knowing how to set the right goals is not always obvious and sometimes we do it wrong. So I decided to analyze my previous New Years Resolutions. Was I setting the correct plan to build the Product of Me?
                                                 

In the first iteration (NYR for 2011), I had a long trailing list of "to-do"s. 
They were things I wanted to achieve, sometimes very ill-defined (eg. read more books), sometimes specific (get my license). They were really more in a bucket-list format than in a resolution format. I fulfilled 18/30 of them. Many were "postponed" or "lowered priority". Priorities change during the year. So does adherence to resolutions. Many of those I fulfilled were quite vague (make a difference in someone's life, for eg.). Some were concrete goals with no deadlines (learn a classical piano piece).

The next year (NYR for 2012) I had a list of 32 items, classified into different sections. It seemed that at the beginning of the year I had very high musical ambitions for 2012, but with time my interests shifted. I only managed to fulfill 14 of the resolutions. Many were still concrete goals with ill-defined objectives. There were also redundant resolutions like graduating. I mean... Obviously I would graduate. That was almost a freebie resolution to cross out the next year.

By iteration 3 (NYR for 2013), I realized that long lists are unrealistic. In 2012, I came to the conclusion that multi-tasking is, in fact, impossible, and that focus is key to excellence. Therefore, I learned that you have to pick your battles. So I thought maybe a shorter resolution list might be a good idea. I kept it to 10 resolutions. Some were very specific (go to 5 open mics) and some still a bit vague (improve xyz skills). I fullfilled 7 of them. There were also less redundant resolutions like "graduate from CS".

Now in my 4th year of NYRs, I realized that I rarely thought about my resolutions throughout the year. The ones I accomplished over the years were mainly a result of me being a functional human being and doing what I like. I didn't consciously put a lot of effort into it. Some things just worked out and others didn't. So I'm going to try a more specific approach to resolutions this year. Instead of just listing the goals, I will list the specific prescribed steps [that would lead me to the goal hopefully].
  1. 5-10 min exercise every evening (pushups) [get fit]
  2. 1h workout twice a week [get fit]
  3. 5-10 min writing every Thursday, Sunday [improve writing skills]
  4. 10-30 min reading the many books I bought 5 days a week [read those books on my shelf]
  5. 2h learning new stuff on Saturday or Wednesday [find time to learn new skills]
  6. 1h learning a new language on Tuesday [learn a new language]
  7. Spend < $10/day on average on weekdays [save money]
  8. Spend < $100 on average on weekends including groceries [save money]
  9. 1 song or song idea per month quota [write 12 songs]
  10. 1h relaxation every Sunday [reduce stress on body]
  11. Wake up at 7h30 am on weekdays and 9am on weekends [improve sleeping pattern]
  12. Sleep before 1am on weekdays and before 2 on weekends [improve sleeping pattern]
  13. Do my taxes early. Ugh. [misc]
  14. Get away from Rogers. FINALLY. [misc]
  15. Go rock-climbing again until I get over acrophobia [overcome a fear]
My hope is that, by being this specific, I can actually fit these into my schedule and have a more realistic expectation for the year to start with. Also, I hope that these will give me a mental benchmark to frequently assess whether I'm deviating from the plan. We'll see how that went in a year!