Apperceptive Mess 16: Unintuitive Truths and Alternative Forms of Wealth

Hello friends 👋🏻

Today is officially the last day of my summer break. I took the time this weekend to spend as little time as possible in front of the computer but under the Sun, with the company of charming sounds and beautiful words.

I cannot be more excited about the semester ahead. Here are the five classes I will be taking: Knowledge and Reality, Ethics, History of the Middle East, Literary Criticism, and Physical Geology.

Evidently, writing will become a dominant activity over the next 4 months, and I cannot wait. Furthermore, I will be converting some of my papers into essays for the blog, so look out for that!

Last week, I started my writing mentorship with Cedric Chin, a friend and excellent writer at CommonCog. We meet every Thursday and I watch as he takes me through his thinking process when editing essays. We worked on a piece explaining why software engineers should consider joining the QA team earlier in their careers.

Thought of The Week: Unintuitive Truths

I have been thinking a lot about how some of life’s most important facts happen to also be unintuitive.

Sharp Knives are Much Safer Than Dull Ones

A dull knife can lead to all sorts of problems. Without a sharp edge, one is more likely to hold a knife from the spine to assert more force. What’s suppose to be “slicing” will end up looking more like “poking”

The Best Knife Sharpener for 2020 | Reviews by Wirecutter

Needless to say, asserting more force and engaging in a poking motion instead of slicing puts you at greater risk of injuring yourself. Sharpen your knives, y’all.

Best Chef's Knife 2020 | Reviews by Wirecutter

Failure as a Default Mode for Progress

As the famous Edison quote goes, “I have not failed. I've just found 10,000 ways that won't work.”

Succeeding your first time at anything is a curse because you will never know how you got there. On the other hand, failure forces you to recover from your mistakes methodically. The gratuitous toil itself is the teacher.

When Swimming Against a Wave, Dive Under, Not Over or Through

I’m going to have to remember this when I start my triathlon training.

Find of The Week: Alternative Forms of Wealth

Morgan Housel does it again. In this short post, Housel makes a list of important things (other than money) that we should value in these uncertain times.

Here are some of my favorites:

  1. Covid has forced many of us to spend unprecedented amounts of time with a few people (spouses, kids, roommates). You’re wealthy if you still enjoy their company after six months of unbroken socialization.

  2. You have a level of independence that goes beyond money. You can cook for yourself, do your own laundry, change a flat tire, and be alone without getting bored.

  3. You don’t have to pretend to look busy to justify your salary.

  4. You can speak non-offensive truths about your industry or company without fear of repercussions.

What are yours?

That is all we have for the week! I hope you enjoyed reading this as much as I did writing it. If you have any questions, suggestions, complaints, or feedback, please feel free to reach out by replying directly to this email!

Liked this newsletter? Be sure to share it with your friends and subscribe now if you haven’t done so!

It is the best way to keep in touch as I share the comings and goings of what I am working on and thinking about.

See you next week 👋

Apperceptive Mess #15: The Nude General and What Military History Can Teach Us About Power

Hello friends, happy Monday! 👋🏻

This week I published a new landing site for the haiku game I am building. Meet Wuku!

I have always wanted to find an excuse to build an app on Ethereum, and think this will be a wonderful tiny little project to learn more about smart contract development. 

Here are some quick takeaways so far from building a “dApp” (decentralized application):

  1. Solidity might only occupy a handful of files in your codebase, but it will take up >50% of development time.

  2. Test-driven development (TDD) pays enormous dividends when you are writing smart contracts. 

  3. UX is so crucial for dApps to handle the possibility of having a subset of users who may not have an Ethereum wallet like MetaMask installed. 

  4. Because requests take longer to process, the dApp needs to be more considerate in communicating loading/failure states.

Taken together, I completely underestimated the endeavor required to bring the game to life at the outset. Therefore, I enlisted my friend Chester to help me with all things UI/UX.

We cannot wait to show you all what we have in store!

Thought of The Week: Why Learning Military History Can Be Useful

As you can tell by the section header and last week’s newsletter, I have fallen somewhat into a military history rabbit hole. While you are unlikely to unseat an incumbent by waiting behind thick vegetation to ambush them, metaphorical employment of said strategy may be useful. 

The exercise of it, however, requires a deep understanding of the power relations between a large incumbent and a small-yet-spry upstart. There is no better genealogy to trace than the oldest medium of power of transfer: war and conflict.

The Iraq war and Sino-Japanese war were great lessons for how a less-sophisticated incumbent force could push back against a better-organized and technologically superior invading force. History is also not short of examples of the reverse. The French Revolution, for example, was started by less-organized upstarts that unseated better-organized incumbent powers. 

So what can military history teach us about the power relationships between incumbents and startups? A lot. Military history is fascinating not because of the violence, but what it can teach us about people’s basal emotions. After all, The Odyssey was more about the story of hate, pride, vanity, and love than spears and arrows.

Find of The Week: The Nude General

Winston Churchill called the man a “genius,” and his subordinates loved him. However, Orde Wingate probably irritates a greater number of his peers and superiors on an average day. He shows up to meetings naked, eats raw onions, and thinks bathing is a farce, so he only scrubs himself with a rubber brush.

Orde Wingate was famous for his successful use of local forces to fight long-range and unconventional means of battle. He was most famous for his work in Palestine, Abyssinia, and Burma during World War 2.

The key to his success was not the size of the units but the use of auxiliary or foreign forces as a force multiplier against his conventional adversaries. Leading native troops, they fought away from supply lines, reinforcements, and without organic coverage of artillery or air support. Dispersed into small columns against the Japanese in Burma, the Chindits launched deep-penetrating guerrilla raids against the Japanese in the jungle. Harassing the enemy by frequently carrying out ambushes and destroying bridges, Wingate’s small strike force dealt a significant blow to the morale of the Japanese troops. The Japanese, feeling threatened, had to scramble and disperse their forces to protect their supply lines and rear areas.

Chindits: The British guerrilla warriors who crippled Japan ...

Wingate, the garlic-and-onion necklace wearing general, was so revered that he has roads in Ethiopia and military training institutes in Israel named after him. Today, many of his “maverick” ideas have made its way into training doctrines of special forces across the world. 

Seen as mavericks during their time and geniuses in hindsight, iconoclasts like Orde Wingate and John Boyd makes you think about the efficacy of peacetime military leadership appointments. Morgan Housel calls these types of people “natural maniacs,” and correctly puts that “you can’t ask for the maniac parts you like without realizing there are maniac parts that might backfire.” Will today’s ultra-connected and scrutinized world affect the natural maniacs from doing their thing? Does genius only get its chance to shine only in times of crisis where people’s risk-aversion is low? I don’t know. Those are a series of questions to be answered another day. 

That is all we have for the week! I hope you enjoyed reading this as much as I did writing it. If you have any questions, suggestions, complaints, or feedback, please feel free to reach out by replying directly to this email!

Liked this newsletter? Be sure to share it with your friends and subscribe now if you haven’t done so!

It is the best way to keep in touch as I share the comings and goings of what I am working on and thinking about.

See you next week 👋

Apperceptive Mess 14: German Tribes and a Volcano-Triggered Pandemic

Hello friends!

I'm writing to you from Coronado, California, where I have been for the last two weeks. Arizona was starting heat up uncomfortably with daily temperatures hovering between the 40C - 43C (104F - 109F), so it is nice to be at a place where runs and walks are now possible at sane times of day again.

As you probably have noticed, I have not kept up with this newsletter over the last seven weeks as I had intended to. Between the ICE mandate scare and a hectic summer class schedule, it has been stressful. However, I remain committed to finding a way to make a weekly newsletter work again with my schedule. Perhaps that means publishing publicly the papers I write for school?

With a month left to spare in the summer break, I'm firing on all cylinders to build a tiny Ethereum game called Wuku. On top of that, I am making a little speed dial app for my grandparents, who prefer to pictorially interact with their phones as opposed to relying on reading.

Thought of the Week: German Tribes as Startups

In 9AD Rome, when Augustus was still emperor, a general by the name of Publius Quinctilius Varus was put in charge of Germani. The territory was pacified, but not conquered, and the general was sent to curry favors and enlarge the presence of the Roman military in Germany.

The Romans were strong practitioners of the virtues of honor. An example of this is that they always preferred to fight out in the open. Insidias, the Roman word for treason, was also often used synonymously with "ambush."

To the Romans, an ambush is an abnormal form of warfare, just as treason is an irregular form of politics. The virtue became something the Germans will someday exploit. Conspiring, laying traps, and catching Varus by surprise in unknown territory became their strategy. The series of events eventually led to the famous Battle of the Teutoburg Forest, where the German tribes were able to exploit traditional Roman methods of warfare.

In the forest, Varus underestimated the density of the vegetation and depth of his enemy. He made predictable Roman moves like building a fortified encampment during the battle and failed to mobilize his troops in time to push back against incoming German reinforcements. The alliance of six German tribes became successful in taking out three Roman legions (12000 - 18000 men) and drove the Romans far and away from taking any future attempt at the German territories ever again.

It changed the course of Roman history, and also has a lot to teach us. There was nothing inherently wrong with the Roman virtue of honor. However, in the face of a more flexible enemy in unfamiliar territory, our most prominent traits produce our weakest links.

Learning about this story was fascinating because it was another example of the oscillating relationship between incumbents and upstarts. An incumbent leaves space for a new entrant when it fails to perceive changing environments due to their entrenched beliefs. To defeat an incumbent, said new entrant does not even need to be as organized. A bar of synchronicity is required, but as long as they know the lay of the land, study the incumbent's playbook, a great deal of damage can be inflicted.

Find of The Week: Supervolcanoes and Pandemics

When I was in secondary school, my favorite part of Geography was reading about Supervolcanoes. Volcanoes have mystified humans for ages, and in many places of the world, the geographical feature is a theistic symbol. The names Krakatoa and Vesuvius may be familiar to most, but there was a little known volcanic eruption in 539AD that led to more than just earthquakes and tsunamis.

Now a crater lake, Ilopango erupted and sent volcanic ash 50 kilometers into the atmosphere. Because of its geographical placement on the equator, atmospheric circulation took the ashes to the north and south poles, enveloping the Earth from all sunlight. The volcanic winter lasted a total of eighteen months. Like most violent volcanic eruptions, it led to global cooling and is theorized to be one of two successive volcanic eruptions that drove the world into the Dark Ages. Not only did it trigger crop failure and widespread famine, but it also created the onset of one of the most significant pandemics in history: the Plague of Justinian.

It is honestly fascinating how much of this could not have been predicted the same way we probably can now. I called the COVID-19 pandemic a "black swan" in the past, but have since revised my view after my dear friend Cedric kindly corrected me.

My friend Artur also tweeted a list of possible names for this type of "probable by uncomfortable to avoid" events:

I like Cassandreic, what about you?

That is all we have for the week! I hope you enjoyed reading this as much as I did writing it. If you have any questions, suggestions, complaints, or feedback, please feel free to reach out by replying directly to this email!

Liked this newsletter? Be sure to share it with your friends and subscribe now if you haven’t done so!

It is the best way to keep in touch as I share the comings and goings of what I am working on and thinking about.

See you next week 👋

Apperceptive Mess 13: Black Political Identity, Western vs Eastern Tactics

Since we last spoke, I published a new post on my blog, What French Dining Taught Me About Authenticity. It is all about my experience dining at a fancy French restaurant, and how our increasingly performative daily lives have erected obstacles between us and the beauty of awkward, inconvenient, and real everyday experiences.

Do check it out, give it a read, and let me know what you think!

Thought of The Week: It’s Time to Learn about Black Political Identity

It is tough to put out a newsletter without acknowledging the recent developments in the world. The death of George Floyd was deeply troubling and has sparked much-needed examination into what needs to change about police departments and the criminal justice system. Combined with the pandemic, this is proving to be a watershed moment for the history of the United States.

Confession: I know close to nothing about black political identity in the United States. 

I did not grow up with any black friends or interact with a single black person until I moved to the United States in 2016. Up until that point, I only knew as much about black political identity as one could learn from watching late-night shows and perhaps 1 or 2 documentaries on Netflix. I had no exposure to black culture beyond what Hollywood showed me, which is problematic for obvious reasons. Recognizing it as something not immediately applicable in my daily life, I ignored engaging with the topic.

Well, until recently.

Right around the time of Ahmaud Arbery’s death, it became apparent I needed to understand what was going on. Some of my Singaporean peers who are international students in other countries are quick to relate the experience of black people to their own experiences as a minority abroad. There was, however, something deeply flawed about that logic. I do not doubt their claim of having experienced racial discrimination in their communities, but I knew this was something different. Fortunately, I had the privilege of my black friends and their patience with me, who helped me understand that their struggle exists in a different, more pressing dimension. As a democracy, the United States relies on its ability to elect officials to represent its people. These leaders become the face of their constituents, pass laws, and demand attention at various levels of government to help them resolve systematic social and political issues.

The black people of America struggle in a fundamentally different dimension. They struggle to be able even to represent themselves, much less within the political system. Voter suppression in black neighborhoods and police brutality are just two things in a long list of deeply-entrenched political forces that actively seek to undermine African Americans from being represented equally. The 13th amendment was supposed to free the African Americans from slavery and grant them civil rights; however, they just traded one version of slavery for another.

I am embarrassed that it has taken me that long, and even more ashamed to have at some point in my life saw the issue as fundamentally inconsequential to my life. With that, I will be committing time this summer to understand more about the history and evolution of black political identity, and I invite you to join me.

I have identified three books to start with:

1. The Ethics of Identity by Kwame Anthony Appiah

2. Black Skin, White Masks by Franz Fanon

3. Cane by Jean Toomer

A list of research worth looking into to understand what has worked/not worked so far in trying to reform policing in the United States:

I never speak publicly about anything I do not understand, so I do beg for everyone’s forgiveness and patience if my commentary on this is limited and not of any substance. There is nothing I can ever say right now that will be better than the voices of our black friends today on the streets and social media. Even as a nonimmigrant with no real ability to politically change things, I am listening. 

Find of The Week: The Art of Fighting without Fighting

Please enjoy this excellent clip from Bruce Lee’s Enter The Dragon:

This scene reminds me of Judo’s “Alto no saki,” a fighting principle that means exploiting your opponents’ technique without blocking, and instead absorb their momentum and redirect it back into their bodies.

I’ve also recently grown interested in the contrast of the “Western” versus “Eastern” tactics. Simply put, the Western way of warfare is often associated with strategies inherited from the Greeks and Romans to become the dominant style Westerners use to this day. The other is the Eastern Way, which is said to originate from China and spread to other parts of the Asian continent and beyond, forming the basis of what we know today as guerilla warfare.

You see a similar contrast in board games: winning in chess favors a position-oriented strategy, while Go prefers a mobility-oriented one. I find this contrast genuinely fascinating as it shows more than just the difference in battle tactics but culture. 

You can expect more writing on this topic coming up on the blog.

That is all we have for the week! I hope you enjoyed reading this as much as I did writing it. If you have any questions, suggestions, complaints, or feedback, please feel free to reach out by replying directly to this email!

Liked this newsletter? Be sure to share it with your friends and subscribe now if you haven’t done so!

It is the best way to keep in touch as I share the comings and goings of what I am working on and thinking about.

See you next week 👋

Apperceptive Mess #12: Materialism and The European Renaissance, Commodified Relationships, and Philosophical Meditation

Hello friends!

I am into week 8 of my quarantine here in Arizona, and I am happy to report that I am finally finding some cadence around this life!

This week I published an essay titled How The European Renaissance Shifted Humanity’s Relationship with Art. While it started as just another innocent writing assignment from school, the themes John Berger explores around our image-centric diet struck out to me.

7 reasons why you should watch of John Berger's Ways of Seeing ...

From the essay:

My favourite chapter of the book was when Berger articulated how the object-centricity of the European Renaissance found a way to its art and humanity’s relationship with images. Illuminating how materialism came to bear on art through a rising middle class, the chapter featured their perspective of owning a painting of a thing being the same as owning the item itself. This shift in the way of seeing art, Berger suggests, enveloped art’s traditions with cynicism and, by extension, our social fabrics. Exhibiting the way paintings evolved through this new perspective, Berger is hopeful that keen observers will be able to distinguish outstanding art from the average.

I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I did putting it together. Approaching art will never be the same for me ever again. I have since even enrolled myself in an Art History class for the second half of the semester!

Meditation of The Week: Social Scripts (Narratives) and Authenticity

In the past week, I've spent a substantial amount of time thinking about the relationship between our well-defined social scripts and authenticity.

Now that most of our interactions take place over video conferences, I cannot help but wonder if the feelings of isolation fatigue may be attributed to the fact that our social interactions are now dominated by performance, rather than just being.

The option to sit behind a screen and carefully curate and organize your social interaction during the day does feel robotic. Now that serendipitous social interactions are fewer and farther between, combined with the Internet becoming the de-facto "brokerage" of our human relationships, signaling now encompasses a majority if not all our activity.

That scares me.

Read of The Week: How to Get Out of a Rut in About 20 Minutes

If you're anything like me, work can sometimes feel like waves over waves of anxiety washing over you until a tsunami comes at you without warning. You feel like driftwood struggling to keep your head above the water.

This article introduces a potential solution to alleviate those feelings of anxiety: philosophical meditation. By clearing our mental desktops, it all starts with three simple questions:

  1. What am I anxious about?

  2. What am I upset about, and with whom?

  3. What am I currently feeling excited or ambitious about?

The exercise follows-up with more in-depth inquiries, and actively engages the individual to dig deeper within their consciousness and reveal what's really bothering them beyond initial associations and impressions.

I have started incorporating this exercise into my Morning Pages routine, and have already seen it pay great dividends in helping me regulate my anxieties, provoke a deeper creative relationship with myself, and help me prioritize the things I want to achieve daily.

For those of you suffering the same waves of work anxiety as I do, I highly encourage you to try that out with any tool of your choice and let me know how that goes!

That is all we have for the week! I hope you enjoyed reading this as much as I did writing it. If you have any questions, suggestions, complaints, or feedback, please feel free to reach out by replying directly to this email!

Liked this newsletter? Be sure to share it with your friends and subscribe now if you haven’t done so!

It is the best way to keep in touch as I share the comings and goings of what I am working on and thinking about.

See you next week 👋

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