Monday, March 28, 2011

Do you believe in 4D?

My mother is a housewife. She has never held a full-time job after she was married as her hands were full with looking after her brood of children. Later when we were reached our teenage years and were old enough to look after ourselves, she would take on house cleaning job occassionally. Not anymore now as age catches up with her alongside with age-related ailments.

I remembered mum like most other Singaporeans, would bet a dollar or two on 4D with dreams of strucking it big. Being a mathematician, I am too logical to believe in 4Ds. Yes, you may win one big prize but the temptation of winning again will make one plough back all the winnings. In the long run, Singapore Pools is the one laughing to the bank.

The Alternate 4D-way to Success

However, I have my own version of 4D which I learnt from a fellow Toastmaster Ramana. Ramana has just completed his project 10 of the Competent Communicator manual and he will be conferred the title "Competent Communicator" for this accomplishment. The 4Ds are:

1. D- Desire
2. D- Decision
3. D- Determination
4. D- Destination

I agree with Ramana that this set of 4Ds is the secret of success to anything that one wants to do. It is especially poignant now when I compare my emotional state of mind in the past and now when dealing with challenges.

In the past which was more than 5 years ago, I would feel so stressed out that I could not think. Even when I was thinking, my mind was filled with negative emotions. In short, I was thinking about why was life so unfair to me. No longer, I come to realise that while I could not change the cards that I am dealt, I could change the way I play the cards. Some may say that the hard fact of life is that sometimes, bad things happen to good people. I beg to differ believe that things happen to me for a reason. These things happened to me because they are there to make me a stronger person that I was yesterday.

This belief helps to cultivate the habit of persistence which is an insurance against failure. No matter how many times one is defeated, one finally arrives up toward the top of the ladder. Failure is never final as long as one keeps trying.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Blink I

After reading Outlier by Malcolm Gladwell, I was sufficiently interested in his other books. Afterall, he has proved himself to be such a compelling writer and presented his arguments in a concise and interesting way. More importantly, I have gained new insights from Outlier.

So the recent 20% discount by Popular Bookshop for the purchase of 3 or more English books sealed the deal and I bought his other book Blink written in 2005. I made that snap judgement after laying my eyes on the back cover of the book for mere minutes. I was intrigued to know why I was drawn to the book.

Now that I am almost halfway reading the book, I have made an attempt to trawl the net for more information about the book. This blogpost is to share what I manage to find.

About Blink

Blink is a book about the power of thinking without thinking. It considers both the strengths of the adaptive unconscious, for example in expert judgment, and its pitfalls such as stereotypes.

Thin-slicing - Making Snap Judgement

The main subject the book is defined as "thin-slicing". It refers to our ability to gauge what is really important from a very narrow period of experience. In many instances, "thin-slicing" will serve us well or even better as ploughing through loads of information.

Analysis Paralysis - When Having More is Detrimental

Gladwell mentions that sometimes having too much information can interfere with the accuracy of a judgment, or a doctor's diagnosis. This is commonly called "Analysis paralysis."

The challenge is to sift through and focus on only the most critical information to make a decision. The other information may be irrelevant and confusing to the decision maker. Collecting more and more information, in most cases, just reinforces our judgment but does not help to make it more accurate. The collection of information is commonly interpreted as confirming a person's initial belief or bias.

When Less is More

Gladwell explains that better judgments can be executed from simplicity and frugality of information, rather than the more common belief that greater information about a patient is proportional to an improved diagnosis. If the big picture is clear enough to decide, then decide from the big picture without using a magnifying glass.

Beware though Thin-slicing is Not Perfect

The book argues that intuitive judgment is developed by experience, training, and knowledge. However, prejudice can operate at an intuitive unconscious level, even in individuals whose conscious attitudes are not prejudiced. An example is in the halo effect, where a person having a salient positive quality is thought to be superior in other, unrelated respects. Gladwell uses the 1999 killing of Amadou Diallo, where four New York policemen shot an innocent man on his doorstep 41 times, as another example of how rapid, intuitive judgment can have disastrous effects.


Thus far, my reading of the book has covered up to the part about our uncanny ability to thin-slice. I have also read about examples of our intuitive judgement failing us. Going forward, I have my eyes open on how to capitalise such judgement and when to avoid the pitfalls. If I am able to identify this trait, the initial investment of 20 bucks on this book will reap me great dividends worth over a few hundred times.

Stay tuned for my next blog posting.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Xiangqi Competition

The March 2011 holiday was kicked off by the 16th "Char Yong Cup" Students Xiangqi Championships. It was the much-awaited event by my elder boy, P who was a Xiangqi enthusiast. This was the second year in the running that we registered P for the competition at his request.

We chanced upon the yearly event when we were at a Community Club. I was taken aback when P who usually shunned such events indicated his interest. Last year, he was pretty discouraged after losing two games though he did win one. However, competition is more than a test of skill, it is also a test of one's mental prowess. Hence, we were not surprised when P went into a losing streak as he became more impatient in his game. We reminded P that victory is never final as long as we learn from our mistakes and keep trying.

This year, he has improved by leaps and bounds. He managed to stay cool for the entire 7 games and won 3. Not too bad a feat for a child as the entire event lasted more than 3 hours.

There has also been much father and son bonding as his daddy will be there giving debrief to P on what he could have do better after each game. In a sense, I suppose the interest to play Chinese Chess runs in the Lim family.

Hmm, I have better also pulled up my socks on the game as there are times when P and R insist to play with mummy to have a winning chance...

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

The Last Lecture II

Having read The Last Lecture, I pondered on the three most important things that I learnt from the book.

It is a challenge as the book shares more than just three things about how we should lead our lives. From the book, I gathered that though Randy did not live to a ripe-old age, he definitely led a meaningful life and he has fulfilled his childhood dreams.

But if I need to pick, these are the three which resonated the most in me:

1. Think Out-of-the-Box, Things will Somehow Fall into Place

Randy shared that he and his wife, Jai were married under a 100-year-old oak tree on the lawn of a famous Victorian masion in Pittsburgh. It struck me that they did not leave the reception in a car with cans rattling from the rear bumper. Instead, they opted for the unconventional - a huge, multicolored hot-air balloon.

The beginning was well and beautiful. The balloon raised and carried the newly-weds and the ballooner up the air and above the city's famous three rivers. Things went awry when they had to land near the train track.

I was struck by how Randy managed to maintain his cool and think straight. That was one important attribute to navigate out in a stressful environment.

Perhaps, part of the reason I was drawn to this little episode was that it reminded my stay in Pittsburgh. Though some people may term this one-year stay as being a carefree stay-at-home mom or "tai tai".

I can assure you that the initial adjustment period was a challenge. There was a time when I would cry silently when my hubby went to school and my boys were having their nap. I remembered a Singaporean friend who called me showing her concern. It was when I calmed down and decided to make the best of the situation. That was my first real-life lesson on the phrase "It is not what that happen to you that matter but what you do." Though I realised the wisdom of it at the grand old age of 35, it was never too late. Today, this phrase still has a familiar ring to it.

And what else did Randy say? Don't complain, just work harder. To paraphrase him, too many people go through life complaining about their problems, if you took one-tenth the energy you put into complaining and applied it to solving the problem, you'd be surprised by how well things can work out.

2. Going Back to Basics

In the car-craze Singapore, what is your reaction when someone pours a can of soda on purpose in his convertible? He must be nuts.

But this was what Randy did. He did so to prove a point, a car was there to serve a utilitarian function - to travel from one place to another.

Many a times, we need to go back to basics. It does not just apply to the tangibles but also the intangibles. Randy knew very well when he shared the story of Coach Graham, his football coach. In whatever things we do, we need to get the fundamentals right. Fundamentals, fundamentals, fundamentals. In the course of my work, the temptation is there to ignore the fundamentals - asking the right questions before plunging head in to solve the problem. You have got to get the fundamentals down, because otherwise the fancy stuff is not going to work.

3. Head Fakes

I especially like the concept of head fakes in the Alice project. The people are learning program and yet they think they are having fun.

If we view our job as play, we will be having fun. I have always tried to make it fun for my boys to study. And it definitely sets me thinking of what head fakes I could use.

The two head fakes that Randy delivered in his last lecture were brillant.

"It's not about how to achieve your dreams. It's about how to lead your life. If you lead your life the right way, the karma will take care of itself. The dreams will come to you."

The second head fake.

"The talk wasn't just for those in the room, it was for my kids."

The last one tugs my heartstring. Whenever I work or I do something, I think about my children. I want to put in the best efforts, because it is not just for others, nor is it for me. It is for my kids. I want to prove to them that it is not difficult to be successful, if we just work harder than others.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

The Last Lecture I

About Randy Pausch
On September 18, 2007, computer science professor Randy Pausch stood in front of an audience of 400 people at Carnegie Mellon University to deliver a last lecture called "Really Achieving Your Childhood Dreams."

He started with slides of his CT scans and as a matter-of-factly told his audience about the cancer which was devouring his pancreas and would claim his life in a few months' time. On stage that day laid the cognitive dissonance - Randy was energetic, youthful and often cheerfully, darkly funny. He seemed invisible. Sadly, Randy lost his battle to pancreatic cancer on July 25th, 2008.

Randy's lecture has become a phenomenon. I remembered googling for the You-Tube on his last lecture. Later, I took mental note of the book he wrote based on the same principles, celebrating the dreams we all strive to make realities.

Pittsburgh and Carnegie Mellon University
In a sense, I felt closed to Randy as I once breathed the same air as he did. I stayed for a one short year period in Pittsburgh where my hubby was doing his post-graduate study in the same Carnegie Mellon University. But no, he was not in the computer science faculty. I could also imagine the seemingly unsurmountable challenges that Jai, Randy's wife would have to overcome in the years ahead. But Randy's last lecture and his book will leave a legacy to inspire many to cross the brick wall. Afterall, brick wall is there to bring out the best of our abilities.

A Sampler of The Last Lecture
In this post, I will just give you a sampler of the book.

Randy Pausch describes his cancer as “an engineering problem.” He talks about the lecture as a means of expression, and a way to reach his kids: “If I were a painter, I would have painted for them. If I were a musician, I would have composed music. But I am a lecturer. So I lectured.”

Chapter 1: An Injured Lion Still Wants to Roar
Randy almost didn’t go to Pittsburgh to deliver his last lecture. His wife Jai had wanted him to stay home with her and the kids.
Chapter 3: The Elephant in the Room
Randy decided to begin his talk in a specific way – showing his CT scans, introducing “the elephant in the room,” assuring everyone he’s not in denial, and doing push-ups.

Chapter 4: The Parent Lottery
Randy said he realized many of his dreams because he had terrific parents.

Chapter 5: The Elevator in the Ranch House
In his talk, Randy encouraged parents to allow their children to paint on their bedroom walls. “As a favor to me,” he said, “let ’em do it. Don’t worry about the home’s resale value.” The real message he says he was trying to give was this: Find ways to help your kids be creative. Nurture those instincts in them.

Chapter 6: Getting to Zero G
The chapter ends with the line: “If you can find an opening, you can probably find a way to float through it.”

Chapter 7: I Never Made It to the NFL
This is a chapter about football, but so many of the lessons in it can apply elsewhere in our lives: Talk about ways fundamentals are important off the playing field, too.

Chapter 11: The Happiest Place on Earth
Throughout the book, Randy says: “Brick walls are there for a reason. They’re not there to keep us out. The brick walls are there to give us a chance to show how badly we want something.”

Chapter12: The Park IsOpen Until 8 p.m.
In this chapter, we see Randy as an advocate for his own medical care. We also get a sense of how he decided to adopt a positive attitude.

Chapter 14: The Dutch Uncle
Randy credits his professor Andy van Dam with telling him the tough-love things he needed to hear.

Chapter 15: Pouring Soda in the Backseat
Throughout the book, Randy makes a distinction between “people” and “things.”

Chapter 17: Not All Fairy Tales End Smoothly
In this chapter and chapter 19 (about the birth of his son) Randy reminds readers that even wonderful life events – such as a wedding or the birth of a child – are fraught with unexpected dangers.

Chapter 18: Lucy, I’m Home
Was Randy right? Was there no need to fix the dents in those two damaged cars?

Chapter 21: Jai
It is clear in the book that Randy and Jai have a deep love for one another. And yet, like other married couples, they’ve had to work hard on their relationship. Randy’s illness created additional challenges.

Chapter 23: I’m on My Honeymoon, But If You Need Me…
What do you think of Randy’s time-management tips? Would you have walked out of that grocery store, knowing you overpaid by $16.55? Do you have to-do lists?

Chapter 24: A Recovering Jerk
Randy believes the number one goal for educators should be helping students learn how to judge themselves. How crucial do you think this is in the learning process?

Chapter 27: The Promised Land
Randy and his colleagues tried to attract girls into the field of computer science. He’s proud of “The Alice Project,” and calls it his greatest legacy.

Chapter 28: Dream Big
Randy missed the 1969 moonwalk because he was sent to bed by camp counselors. Have you ever wished adults in your life were less rigid? What advice would you give to adults about helping kids to dream big?

Chapter 29: Earnest Is Better Than Hip
Do you agree with Randy? Is earnest better than hip? Is fashion truly commerce masquerading as hip? Or can fashion be a way in which people express themselves?

Chapter 32: Don’t Complain, Just Work Harder
Randy admired Sandy Blatt and Jackie Robinson because they didn’t complain. As Randy put it: “Complaining is not a strategy.”

Chapter 35: Start By Sitting Together
Have you ever had trouble working in groups? How might Randy’s tips help you get along better with others in the future?

Chapter 39: Be the First Penguin
Randy writes that “experience is what you get when you didn’t get what you wanted.” How do you think his First Penguin Award was able to inspire his students?

Chapter 41: The Lost Art of Thank-You Notes
Do you agree with Randy that handwritten thank-you notes, even in our computer age, can offer a kind of magic? When was the last time you sent a handwritten thank-you?

Chapter 47: A Bad Apology Is Worse Than No Apology
Randy describes two “classic bad apologies.”

Chapter 55: All You Have to Do Is Ask
What would you like to ask for that you haven’t been able to find the courage to articulate? What do you think will happen if you “just ask”?

Chapter 56: Make a Decision: Tigger or Eeyore
OK. So which one are you? And why? If you’d like to be more of a Tigger, how might you go about that?

Chapter 59: Dreams for My Children
Randy says parents don’t realize the power of their words: “Depending on a child’s age and sense of self, an offhand comment from Mom or Dad can feel like a shove from a bulldozer.”

Chapter 61: The Dreams Will Come to You
Randy realized that he didn’t give the lecture because he wanted to. He gave it because he “had to.”

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Stay True to Your Dreams

Recently, I have not been able to blog as much as I wish, to read as extensively as I used to, to attend Toastmasters meeting, to practise my piano and the list goes on.

Though it is a cliche, I will still say it nothing is constant but change. Change brings uncertainty and is disruptive. Yet, I love change for its challenges. With each mountain of challenge which I conquer, a wider expanse of view presents in front of me. Yet, admittedly, it is a daunting journey.

I wanted to quit my various activities. But the fighting spirit in me to never give up prevails. In the end, I decide to go slower on these activities - taking one step in two months is a giant leap compared to stopping altogether.

Of course, I started these activities with a dream. The propelling force is my wish to prove my children that challenges are meant to be conquered. Reading makes a more knowledge man. Writing forces one to organise his thoughts in a cogent manner. Toastmasters programme hones one's presentation and leadership skills. Piano trains one's left and right brain, and it is also my childhood dream to be able to play the piano.

Dear readers, I hope you too have a dream and set your benchmark high. It's better to die trying and not to try at all. The process of trying will make one stronger and a better man. Stay true to your dreams too!