Zack Apiratitham

Ultralearning by Scott H. Young


Great book with a lot of useful tips and interesting anecdotes about how to learn effectively. A lot of these principles can be applied directly to your own learning goals. I'm quite inspired by it and planning to start my own ultralearning project soon using these techniques I learned from the book. A must-read for any lifelong learners.

Check it out on Goodreads.

Highlights

  • Directness is the practice of learning by directly doing the thing you want to learn. Basically, it’s improvement through active practice rather than through passive learning. The phrases learning something new and practicing something new may seem similar, but these two methods can produce profoundly different results. Passive learning creates knowledge. Active practice creates skill.

  • First, deep learning provides a sense of purpose in life. Developing skills is meaningful. It feels good to get good at something. Ultralearning is a path to prove to yourself that you have the ability to improve and to make the most of your life. It gives you the confidence that you can accomplish ambitious things.

  • The opposite of this is learning optimized for fun or convenience: choosing a language-learning app because it’s entertaining, passively watching trivia show reruns on television so you don’t feel stupid, or dabbling instead of serious practice.

  • Your deepest moments of happiness don’t come from doing easy things; they come from realizing your potential and overcoming your own limiting beliefs about yourself.

  • Professional success, however, was rarely the thing that motivated the ultralearners I met—including those who ended up making the most money from their new skills. Instead it was a compelling vision of what they wanted to do, a deep curiosity, or even the challenge itself that drove them forward.

  • The best ultralearners are those who blend the practical reasons for learning a skill with an inspiration that comes from something that excites them.

  • The first problem that many people have is starting to focus. The most obvious way this manifests itself is when you procrastinate: instead of doing the thing you’re supposed to, you work on something else or slack off.

  • Make a mental habit of every time you procrastinate; try to recognize that you are feeling some desire not to do that task or a stronger desire to do something else. You might even want to ask yourself which feeling is more powerful in that moment—is the problem more that you have a strong urge to do a different activity (e.g., eat something, check your phone, take a nap) or that you have a strong urge to avoid the thing you should be doing because you imagine it will be uncomfortable, painful, or frustrating?

  • If you actually start working or ignore a potent distractor, it usually only takes a couple minutes until the worry starts to dissolve, even for fairly unpleasant tasks. Therefore, a good first crutch is to convince yourself to get over just the few minutes of maximal unpleasantness before you take a break.

  • Flow is the enjoyable state that slides right between boredom and frustration, when a task is neither too hard nor too easy.

  • Researchers generally find that people retain more of what they learn when practice is broken into different studying periods than when it is crammed together.

  • Multitasking may feel like fun, but it’s unsuitable for ultralearning, which requires concentrating your full mind on the task at hand. It’s better to rid yourself of this vice than to strengthen bad habits of ineffective learning.

  • When we learn new things, therefore, we should always strive to tie them directly to the contexts we want to use them in. Building knowledge outward from the kernel of a real situation is much better than the traditional strategy of learning something and hoping that we’ll be able to shift it into a real context at some undetermined future time.

  • Many ultralearners opt for projects rather than classes to learn the skills they need. The rationale is simple: if you organize your learning around producing something, you’re guaranteed to at least learn how to produce that thing.

  • One strategy I’ve seen repeatedly from ultralearners is to start with a skill that they don’t have all the prerequisites for. Then, when they inevitably do poorly, they go back a step, learn one of the foundational topics, and repeat the exercise.

  • [S]omething mentally strenuous provides a greater benefit to learning than something easy.

  • Whether you are ready or not, retrieval practice works better. Especially if you combine retrieval with the ability to look up the answers, retrieval practice is a much better form of studying than the ones most students apply.

  • Fear of feedback often feels more uncomfortable than experiencing the feedback itself. As a result, it is not so much negative feedback on its own that can impede progress but the fear of hearing criticism that causes us to shut down.

  • Ultralearners carefully adjust their environment so that they’re not able to predict whether they’ll succeed or fail. If they fail too often, they simplify the problem so they can start noticing when they’re doing things right. If they fail too little, they’ll make the task harder or their standards stricter so that they can distinguish the success of different approaches. Basically, you should try to avoid situations that always make you feel good (or bad) about your performance.

  • One of the pieces of studying advice that is best supported by research is that if you care about long-term retention, don’t cram. Spreading learning sessions over more intervals over longer periods of time tends to cause somewhat lower performance in the short run (because there is a chance for forgetting between

  • Psychologists theorize that the difference between grand masters and novices is not that grand masters can compute many more moves ahead but that they have built up huge libraries of mental representations that come from playing actual games.

  • Simply spending a lot of time studying something isn’t enough to create a deep intuition.

  • One way you can introduce this into your own efforts is to give yourself a “struggle timer” as you work on problems. When you feel like giving up and that you can’t possibly figure out the solution to a difficult problem, try setting a timer for another ten minutes to push yourself a bit further.

  • Explaining things clearly and asking “dumb” questions can keep you from fooling yourself into thinking you know something you don’t.

  • In a fixed mindset, learners believe that their traits are fixed or innate and thus there’s no point in trying to improve them. In a growth mindset, in contrast, learners see their own capacity for learning as something that can be actively improved.

  • Experimenting is based on the belief that improvements are possible in how you approach your work.

  • Experimentation is the principle that ties all the others together. Not only does it make you try new things and think hard about how to solve specific learning challenges, it also encourages you to be ruthless in discarding methods that don’t work. Careful experimentation not only brings out your best potential, it also eliminates bad habits and superstitions by putting them to the test of real-world results.

  • The biggest obstacle to ultralearning is simply that most people don’t care enough about their own self-education to get started.

  • I recommend setting a consistent schedule that is the same every week, rather than trying to fit in learning when you can. Consistency breeds good habits, reducing the effort required to study.

  • Finally, take all this information and put it into your calendar. Scheduling all the hours of work on the project in advance has important logistical and psychological benefits.

  • [I]n my own experience, I’ve noticed that enjoyment tends to come from being good at things. Once you feel competent in a skill, it starts to get a lot more fun. Therefore, although a tension between the two can exist in the short term, I think pursuing aggressive ultralearning projects is often the surer way to enjoy learning more, as you’re more likely to reach a level where learning automatically becomes fun.

  • A hungry person can eat only so much food. A lonely person can have only so much companionship. Curiosity doesn’t work this way. The more one learns, the greater the craving to learn more. The better one gets, the more one recognizes how much better one could become.




How I Framed My Landscape Photo


I have a confession to make. I never actually printed out any of my landscape photos, framed it, and hung it on my wall before. So I embarked on a little project with a goal to do just that.

Picking the Photo

In the collection of landscape photos I took over the years (you can see some of them at the gallery), I was looking to pick out one that's unique and has that, dare I say, fine art quality, worthy of being hung prominently on a wall.1 There were a couple of candidates, but I landed on this one (still a camera-processed JPEG):

IMG 0631 camera raw

This photo was taken back in summer of 2015 in Thailand. To get this shot, I had to get up early enough to be at the trailhead by 4 in the morning, then hike in the dark on a mostly unmarked trail for about 3 miles up to this relatively unknown viewpoint to catch the sunrise. The effort it took to capture this made it so satisfying, and that's part of the reason why I chose this.

Re-processing the Photo

Back when I first took this photo, I already did the post-processing and uploaded it online. Though looking at that photo now 4 years later, I don't really like how I had done it; it felt a bit too cool for my liking. So I took another shot at it, and this time with proper preparation for prints.

1

Printing

After some research, I settled on ordering the print from Mpix. I wanted the highest quality they had to offer so I went with a 10"x20" Giclée print on their matte "Fine Art Photographic" paper. I considered doing 12"x24" but with a mat board and a frame, I figured it would be too large.

Framing

I had absolutely no idea how to even start with this. My initial plan was to just have it framed by Mpix with the print order, but unfortunately it's not very customizable and they can get quite pricey. Researching for some local frame shops revealed that they can also get expensive quick and the turnaround time could be a few weeks. In the end, a couple of guides online convinced me to go with the semi-DIY route. So I ordered the frame kit from Frame Destination.

frame customization

The kit is a custom-sized 14"x24" Black Wood Frame with a 2 1/8" mat board. For the glazing, I picked the acrylic over glass as I wanted to keep this relatively light. It's also more optically pure than glass and shatter resistant.

At the risk of looking super pompous, I signed the print before framing it. I went back and forth on this for a while because, for starters, I don't really have an actual signature and I thought maybe this print isn't of fine art quality enough that it warrants a signature. Plus this project was for my own enjoyment, it's not like I was planning to sell it at an art show or anything. But in the end, after some reading around and stumbling upon this video, I went ahead and signed it. This acid-free Decocolor gold paint marker worked out nicely.

IMG 7114 Of course, even after pages of practice, not only did I not sign it as nicely as I'd like, I also didn't even space it properly from the corner. Oh well...

When it came time to actually put it all together, I would soon learn that I should have taken that B&H guide more seriously — especially around how acrylic can become statically charged — and gotten myself some anti-static gloves or cloths. Being in a small-ish apartment with two cats, I could not believe how much cat hair and dust particles are floating around in the apartment which, to my dismay, all chose to hang out on the acrylic. After frustratingly fiddling around for an hour, feeling utterly defeated trying to get all the cat hair off of the acrylic, the frame was ready to be assembled.

Using this linen hinging tape, I did the T-hinge to mount the print to the foam board, and the foam board to the mat board. Everything had to be in the right order: first the empty frame, then the acrylic, the mat board, the print, and the foam core. Securing all the frame points, then attaching the wire to the frame, and it was completed. Lastly with a basic picture hanging kit, it is now proudly displayed on the wall.

IMG 5583 2

It finally feels finished that this photograph takes up physical space in the world and is no longer just 1s and 0s on a hard drive or in the cloud somewhere to only be double-tapped on and forgotten about after a couple of seconds of being looked at. If you haven't printed out your favorite photos, I highly recommend it.


  1. Obviously a sunrise shot like this isn't by any means unique but I'd say given the location which is relatively unknown to the wider world, it's unique enough for my purpose. ↩︎




American Wolf by Nate Blakeslee


Truly fascinating read about the wolf reintroduction project to Yellowstone, which I've never heard of until I came across this book. Now my appreciation of these majestic creatures is higher than ever before. And Yellowstone National Park just moved up to the top 3 of US national parks I must visit.

Check it out on Goodreads.

Highlights

  • Every pack in Yellowstone had at least one wolf that had been darted from a helicopter, collared, and assigned a number by the park’s small team of wolf biologists.

  • Territorial conflict was the most common cause of death for the park’s wolves, most of whom didn’t live beyond four or five years. Life for wolves was an adventure, but it was usually not a long one.

  • O-Six’s great-grandmother had been one of the first wolves reintroduced to the park, captured on the plains of western Canada, eight hundred miles to the north, and ferried south by plane and truck in the winter of 1995. By that time, Yellowstone had been essentially devoid of wolves for almost seven decades.

  • Once found in virtually every habitat between the Arctic Circle and present-day Mexico City, gray wolves had been the target of a centuries-long campaign of trapping and poisoning—a war waged both for their valuable pelts and to protect livestock. They were all but eliminated by the 1920s across the vast majority of the Lower 48.

  • Rangers patrolling on horseback finished the job the trappers had started: finding active dens, destroying the pups, and then trapping or tracking the returning adults so they could be killed as well.

  • As a science, wildlife management was still in its infancy, and park officials genuinely believed that predators would eventually decimate the park’s prey population if left to their own devices. They didn’t realize that wolves and elk had coexisted in Yellowstone for thousands of years, that the two species had in fact evolved in tandem with each other—which explained why the elk could run just as fast as the wolf but no faster.

  • Hunting was big business in the Northern Rockies—not just for the professional hunting guides who relied on a steady stream of clients to earn a living, but also for the restaurants and motels that hosted the influx of out-of-town hunters who arrived every fall.

  • Now, just fourteen years after the first pens were opened in the Lamar Valley, the wolf population in the Northern Rockies had grown to over seventeen hundred animals.

  • Ensconced in the sparsely wooded Lamar Valley since the early days of reintroduction, the Druids were the easiest pack to spot for researchers and park visitors alike, making them the face of the reintroduction program for over a decade.

  • As the years went by and Yellowstone wolf-watching became a full-blown phenomenon, Rick became something of a celebrated figure himself, with all the perks—and headaches—that appertained. Visitors interested in seeing wolves learned by word of mouth that their best course of action was to look for Rick’s yellow Nissan Xterra.

  • Rick never quite got used to being followed, but he grew resigned to the routine: if he so much as paused in a pullout or parking lot, it was just a matter of time before one car would stop, then another. Soon a dozen cars would be squeezing in. Like a grizzly or a bald eagle or any of the park’s traffic-jam-inspiring attractions, he had been sighted.

  • Wolves had an evolutionary imperative to become attuned to the emotions of others because they lived in packs, where cooperation—for hunting, for protection from rivals—was paramount. Sociability enhanced the chances for survival.

  • Over years of watching wolves, Rick had become convinced that empathy was the single most important trait that an alpha could have, and 21’s capacity for it continued to amaze him.

  • Alpha wolves with Druid lineage were now spread throughout the Northern Range, including the female who would eventually lead the Agate Creek Pack and give birth to O-Six. To Rick, the Druids were like the Kennedys, American royalty.

  • Rick mourned 21’s death for a long time. In the years he’d watched the wolf, he felt he’d learned everything there was to know about him—his quirks, his moods, his strengths and weaknesses. He could guess what 21 would do before he did it. Rick liked to tell visitors that “21 never lost a fight, and he never killed a vanquished rival.” In fact, Rick sometimes called him “Superman,” because he’d always felt that 21, of all the wolves he’d known, had the perfect blend of valor and nobility. He hung a poster-size print of the enormous silver male on the wall above his writing desk in his cabin. Captured at full sprint, he appeared to be flying.

  • But O-Six, since leaving her natal pack, had become surprisingly adept at single-handedly bringing down prey.

  • Experiencing Yellowstone through a spotting scope was an entirely different experience from seeing the park from a car or even from a hiking trail. Only when you tried scanning the entire length of Specimen Ridge or Druid Peak one two-hundred-yard diameter circle at a time did you get a sense of how big the Lamar Valley really was.

  • The Lamar Valley boasted the highest prey density of anyplace on earth outside the African Serengeti.

  • From a high of 174 wolves just seven years before, the number of wolves had plummeted to roughly 100.

    Project biologists had long suspected that such a drop would occur as a kind of equilibrium was reached between predators and available prey, but it was still hard for veteran watchers to accept. Wolves were now harder to spot than they had been in years, and Rick resigned himself to the inevitability of an occasional day without a sighting.

  • Every year since reintroduction, they’d seen more wolves and fewer elk, as Louie had known they would. In the last count taken before wolves were reintroduced in 1995, over nineteen thousand elk were roaming Yellowstone’s Northern Range. By 2010, that number had plummeted to six thousand, roughly what it had been back in the 1960s, before rangers stopped culling the park’s herds.

  • In the rest of America, hunting was dying. Rates of participation had been declining for decades—only 6 percent of Americans still hunted. But in the Northern Rockies, it remained integral to the culture—Montana had the highest number of hunters per capita, and Wyoming wasn’t far behind.

  • For some, it was less a sport than a means of supplementing the family food budget. Butchering a five-hundred-pound elk yielded upward of 250 pounds of meat for the freezer, enough to last an average family nearly a year, all for the price of a fifty-dollar hunting permit.

  • Wolves were once the most widely distributed land mammal on earth, and every early pastoral civilization in the northern hemisphere outside of Africa competed with them for land on which to run livestock—and for the livestock themselves. Wolves very rarely attacked people, but a single wolf could ruin a shepherd’s livelihood if he developed a taste for cattle, sheep, or goats.

  • Humanity’s most beloved animal and its most despised were essentially the same creature, but the wolf’s threat to the shepherd’s livelihood poisoned relations between men and wolves, and the wolf’s reputation never recovered.

  • One brother would sometimes show up at the den carrying a large piece of elk, such as a leg assembly, but this process was clumsy, involving frequent stops to renew his grip. More commonly the males used their stomachs as grocery bags, swallowing up to twenty pounds of meat and making the long journey back to the den. When they arrived, their sides bulging noticeably, they regurgitated the meat for the pups, like birds feeding chicks in a nest.

  • The most common practice was to ride for several days in an enormous circle, leaving poisoned buffalo meat all along the route. By the time the wolfer came back around to the beginning of his circuit, dead wolves—along with countless other predators and scavengers, including eagles and other raptors—littered the ground. The wolves were skinned on the spot; the rest of the carcasses were left to rot.

  • His commitment to reintroduction was about science, not sentiment. Wolves belonged in the Northern Rockies because they played a vital role in the ecosystem, not because they were beautiful or fun to watch.

  • Wolves had become one of those polarizing issues, like abortion or gun control or war in the Middle East, about which the country could not seem to reach a consensus.

  • The real struggle was over public land—what it should be used for and who should have the right to decide. The federal government owned almost half of all the land in the West, in large part because nineteenth-century homesteaders found much of it too arid or too rugged to settle, unlike the more hospitable Midwest, which settlers had made into the nation’s breadbasket.

  • Rick knew that in the field of wildlife biology, imputing human characteristics to a creature that it doesn’t really have—anthropomorphizing, as the habit is known—is considered a cardinal sin and a hallmark of amateurism.

  • But wolves, Rick felt, were more like humans than they were given credit for, in their tribal ways and territoriality; in their tendency to mate for life; and in the way male wolves provided food and care for their offspring, so unusual in the animal world.

  • More than anything, what wolf advocates fought against was the long-held notion that wolves were nothing more than killing machines.

  • O-Six, as Laurie frequently pointed out to her readers, was rarely “cuddly.” But that wasn’t why she and so many other watchers had come to admire her. It was her stunning blend of confidence and competence that inspired them, her indomitable will, her ability to bend a harsh landscape to her own ends, to do what needed to be done to provide for herself and her family every day, without fail. Seeing her in action was like watching a gifted athlete,

  • More wolves, it seemed, meant more beavers, but that wasn’t all: the return of Yellowstone’s top predator was having repercussions up and down the park’s food chain.

  • In short order, Yellowstone’s newly dominant canines reduced the Northern Range’s coyote population by half.

  • hunters could shoot a hundred wolves on the other side of Alaska without engendering a peep of protest. But shoot one park wolf that people had come to know and love, and suddenly everyone in the state was talking about the evils of wolf-hunting.

  • When an alpha died, especially a female, packs tended to splinter.

  • By the time the hunting and trapping seasons around the park concluded, twelve Yellowstone wolves had been lost, including six collared animals.

  • In the five years since legal hunting began, trophy hunters had taken over 2,500 wolves in the Northern Rockies, 1,500 of them in Idaho alone. Wolf populations are notoriously difficult to estimate, but official counts showed that the total in Montana at the end of 2014 was 554, down about 100 from pre-hunting levels. In Idaho, game officials had managed to reduce the population from a high of 893, in 2009, to 770.

  • Hunting was an intellectual pursuit for him. You had to know your prey, and you had to take them ethically. He spoke often about the principle of fair chase and what it meant to him. He wanted me to know he’d followed the Lamar wolves’ movements for weeks before he found them, driving around Crandall looking for tracks and listening for their howls. “I put in my time to get that wolf,” he said.

  • Humans might not have become humans, in other words, without wolves.

  • Wolves have larger brains, and studies of captive wolves have found them to be demonstrably smarter than dogs; they are better able to distinguish quantities, for example.

  • After the death of O-Six, the mantle of world’s most famous wolf fell to a gray female who had been collared by Wyoming game officials near Cody. In October 2014, she showed up at the north rim of the Grand Canyon, the first wolf sighted in the area since the 1940s.




The Moment of Lift by Melinda Gates


I have been a big fan of what Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has been doing for a while now. In this book, Melinda tells stories about the women she met through her work and how empowering them improves the society as a whole. She touches on a range of topics including birth control, women education, child marriage, unpaid work, and women in workplace. Some of these stories are incredibly sad and shocking but also very eye-opening at the same time. This is a terrific and important book that I think everybody should read.

Check it out on Goodreads.

Highlights

  • How can we summon a moment of lift for human beings—and especially for women? Because when you lift up women, you lift up humanity. And how can we create a moment of lift in human hearts so that we all want to lift up women? Because sometimes all that’s needed to lift women up is to stop pulling them down.

  • Being a feminist means believing that every woman should be able to use her voice and pursue her potential, and that women and men should all work together to take down the barriers and end the biases that still hold women back.

  • The reasons are simple: When the women were able to time and space their pregnancies, they were more likely to advance their education, earn an income, raise healthy children, and have the time and money to give each child the food, care, and education needed to thrive.

  • When children reach their potential, they don’t end up poor. This is how families and countries get out of poverty. In fact, no country in the last fifty years has emerged from poverty without expanding access to contraceptives.

  • Whenever you include a group that’s been excluded, you benefit everyone. And when you’re working globally to include women and girls, who are half of every population, you’re working to benefit all members of every community.

  • Women’s rights and society’s health and wealth rise together. Countries that are dominated by men suffer not only because they don’t use the talent of their women but because they are run by men who have a need to exclude. Until they change their leadership or the views of their leaders, those countries will not flourish.

  • “What do you know now in a deeper way than you knew it before?” I love this question because it honors how we learn and grow. Wisdom isn’t about accumulating more facts; it’s about understanding big truths in a deeper way.

  • Vishwajeet told me, “Their cup is not empty; you can’t just pour your ideas into it. Their cup is already full, so you have to understand what is in their cup.” If you don’t understand the meaning and beliefs behind a community’s practices, you won’t present your idea in the context of their values and concerns, and people won’t hear you.

  • We tend to push out the people who have qualities we’re most afraid we will find in ourselves—and sometimes we falsely ascribe qualities we disown to certain groups, then push those groups out as a way of denying those traits in ourselves.

  • But condoms are often unhelpful for women trying to avoid pregnancy. Women have told me over and over again, “If I ask my husband to wear a condom, he will beat me up. It’s like I’m accusing him of being unfaithful and getting HIV, or I’m saying that I was unfaithful and got HIV.”

  • When women can time and space their births, maternal mortality drops, newborn and child mortality drops, the mother and baby are healthier, the parents have more time and energy to care for each child, and families can put more resources toward the nutrition and education of each one. There was no intervention more powerful—and no intervention that had become more neglected.

  • That judge, who sentenced Sanger to thirty days in a workhouse, was expressing the widespread view that a woman’s sexual activity was immoral if it was separated from her function of bearing children. If a woman acquired contraceptives to avoid bearing children, that was illegal in the United States, thanks to the work of Anthony Comstock.

  • In Comstock’s eyes, and the eyes of his allies, women were entitled to very few roles in life: to marry and serve a man, and bear and take care of his children. Any detour from these duties brought disrepute—because a woman was not a human being entitled to act in the world for her own sake, not for educational advancement or professional accomplishment, and certainly not for her own pleasure.

  • A woman’s pleasure, especially her sexual pleasure, was terrifying to the keepers of the social order. If women were free to pursue their own pleasure, it would strike at the core of the unspoken male code, “You exist for my pleasure!” And men felt they needed to control the source of their pleasure. So Comstock and others did their best to weaponize stigma and use it to keep women stuck where they were, their value derived only from their service to men and children.

  • I’ve come to learn that stigma is always an effort to suppress someone’s voice. It forces people to hide in shame. The best way to fight back is to speak up—to say openly the very thing that others stigmatize. It’s a direct attack on the self-censorship that stigma needs to survive.

  • The United States has also been successful in bringing down teen pregnancy rates. The country is at a historic low for teen pregnancy and a thirty-year low for unintended pregnancy.

  • The people who push these policies often try to use the Church’s teaching on family planning for moral cover, but they have none of the Church’s compassion or commitment to the poor. Instead, many push to block access to contraceptives and cut funds for the poor.

  • It’s the mark of a backward society—or a society moving backward—when decisions are made for women by men. That’s what’s happening right now in the US. These are not policies that would be in place if women were making decisions for themselves. That’s why it’s heartening to see the surge of women activists across the country who are spending their time knocking on doors, supporting family planning, and changing their lives by running for office.

  • Just twenty years after the program began, Mexico has achieved gender parity in education—not only at the primary school level but also in high school and college. And Mexico has the world’s highest percentage of computer science degrees awarded to women.

  • A girl who is given love and support can start to break the self-image that keeps her down. As she gains self-confidence, she sees she can learn. As she learns, she sees her own gifts. As she develops her gifts, she sees her own power; she can defend her own rights. That is what happens when you offer girls love, not hate. You lift their gaze. They gain their voice.

  • In India, women spend 6 hours a day doing unpaid work, while men spend less than 1. In the US, women average more than 4 hours of unpaid work every day; men average just 2.5.

  • That is hugely significant because it is paid work that elevates women toward equality with men and gives them power and independence. That’s why the gender imbalance in unpaid work is so significant: The unpaid work a woman does in the home is a barrier to the activities that can advance her—getting more education, earning outside income, meeting with other women, becoming politically active.

  • If there is any meaning in life greater than connecting with other human beings, I haven’t found it.

  • Bill said, “I had a better exposure to software development at a young age than I think anyone did in that period of time, and all because of an incredibly lucky series of events.”

  • You can’t dedicate your life to the principle that all lives have equal value if you think you’re better than others. Bill, at his core, doesn’t think that way at all, and that is one of the qualities I love most in him.

  • I’ve never held the view that women are better than men, or that the best way to improve the world is for women to gain more power than men. I think male dominance is harmful to society because any dominance is harmful: It means society is governed by a false hierarchy where power and opportunity are awarded according to gender, age, wealth, and privilege—not according to skill, effort, talent, or accomplishments.

  • Child brides are often under intense pressure to prove their fertility, which means that their use of contraceptives is very low. In fact, the percentage of women using contraceptives is lowest where the prevalence of child marriage is highest. And low use of contraceptives by girls is deadly: For girls age 15 to 19 around the world, the leading cause of death is childbirth.

  • Tradition without discussion kills moral progress. If you’re handed a tradition and decide not to talk about it—just do it—then you’re letting people from the past tell you what to do. It kills the chance to see the blind spots in the tradition—and moral blind spots always take the form of excluding others and ignoring their pain.

  • One sign of an abusive culture is the view that members of the excluded group “don’t have what it takes.” In other words, “If we don’t have many women engineers here, it’s because women are not good engineers.” It is unimaginable to me both how flawed the logic is and how widely it’s believed. Opportunities have to be equal before you can know if abilities are equal. And opportunities for women have never been equal.

  • Tech is the most powerful industry in the world. It’s creating the ways we will live our lives. If women are not in tech, women will not have power.

  • The percentage of computing graduates who are women has plunged since I was in college. When I graduated from Duke in 1987, 35 percent of computing graduates in the United States were women. Today, it’s 19 percent.

  • There are likely a lot of reasons for the drop. One is that when personal computers made their way into American households, they were often marketed as gaming devices for boys, so boys spent more time on them and it gave boys exposure to computers that girls didn’t get. When the computer gaming industry emerged, many developers started creating violent war games featuring automatic weapons and explosives that many women didn’t want to play, creating a closed cycle of men creating games for men.

  • The United States is one of only seven countries in the world that do not provide paid maternity leave—joining the company of Papua New Guinea, Suriname, and a handful of other island nations. This is startling evidence that the United States is far behind the rest of the world in honoring the needs of families.

  • The lack of paid leave in the US is symptomatic of a workplace culture that also struggles with sexual harassment, gender bias, and a general indifference to family life. All these issues are aggravated by one reality: fewer women in positions of power.

  • Every society says its outsiders are the problem. But the outsiders are not the problem; the urge to create outsiders is the problem. Overcoming that urge is our greatest challenge and our greatest promise. It will take courage and insight, because the people we push to the margins are the ones who trigger in us the feelings we’re afraid of.

  • Women must leave the margins and take our place—not above men or below them, but beside them—at the center of society, adding our voices and making the decisions we are qualified and entitled to make.




WWDC 2019 Wish List


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We're less than a week away from Apple's most exciting event of the year, WWDC. And these are the things I hope to see announced on Monday, in the order of how much I want them:

Dark Mode for iOS

This one has been in the list the longest for me. And it looks like my wish will finally come true this year.

Mac Pro

Just please, Apple. It's been a long time since we heard anything about this. I was really hoping they would show it off during WWDC 2017, and then still nothing in 2018. Now is the time we see it.

Screen Time for macOS and tvOS

I love Screen Time for iOS and monitor mine often. But I also spend a lot of time on these two other platforms and I would really like to know how I spend them, especially on the Apple TV.

New External Display

They also promised that a new Apple display is in the works. Showing this alongside the new Mac Pro during an event aimed at developers doesn't sound like a bad idea. So far looks like I might be in for a treat.

Apple Card

Apple Card was announced back in March of this year. It was probably the one I was most surprised and impressed by during the event. So I hope to get a date for this so I can apply for one.

Sleep Tracking on Apple Watch

I wear my watch to sleep sometimes, and having a first-party sleep tracker on it would be really nice.

macOS 10.15 "Sequoia"

Okay, it's obvious we're getting macOS 10.15. I'm just putting it here because I think Sequoia is a pretty dang good name for it.




Falcon Heavy Test Flight


On February 6, 2018 at 3:45pm EST, SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy lifted off for the first time from Kennedy Space Center Launch Complex 39A. Atop the three Falcon 9 boosters—two of which were flight proven1—mounted Elon Musk’s personal midnight cherry Tesla Roadster carrying a dummy passenger “Starman” wearing SpaceX’s spacesuit.

Seeing that this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and that I live only a mere hour-and-a-half drive away from Cape Canaveral, I went to see it in person. And all I can say is that it was hands down the most breathtaking thing I’ve ever seen in my entire life.

Here are some of the photos I took from about 4.3 miles north of the launch pad at Playalinda Beach.

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I also mounted my phone on top of the camera to capture the video of the launch. Please excuse the shakes from the shutter clicks and the lack of aim since I was trying to stop taking photos and instead taking it all in as this big beautiful rocket flew into space.

The crowd, myself included, just couldn’t hold it together when it finally took flight. It was impossible not to get excited. Most of us had looked forward to this for years and waited in the Florida sun for over 7 hours that day.

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One thing that almost all of launch videos lack is the sound and rumbles. They were remarkably loud and powerful that I could feel it in my body. This video by Destin from the YouTube channel Smarter Every Day conveys it almost perfectly of what the experience was like.

The launch itself is not the only thing that blew my mind. As I have said above, the two side boosters were, in fact, reused and they managed to land them both simultaneously.

And to top it all off, SpaceX live-streamed the fairing deployment directly from space to David Bowie's Life On Mars with the Earth in the background.

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Just look at how absolutely preposterous and amazing that is. It gives me a giant smile across my face every time.

I am incredibly excited for what this could bring, not only in SpaceX’s future, but in the future of space exploration as a whole. Like Elon said, “We want a new space race. Space races are exciting.” So I still hope that one day I will get to see humans walk on Mars.


  1. SpaceX’s fancy way of saying “reused”. ↩︎




Starting on a New Mac


I have been rocking my 15" MacBook Pro since 2010 and after nearly 7 years of use, it’s finally time for it to retire1. Unfortunately it’s been plagued with near-constant GPU panics for the last year or so, which makes it almost unbearable to use since it would just crash and restart every so often. I have been extending its lifespan for as long as I could. I upgraded its storage twice, first to a 1TB hard drive and later to an SSD. The RAM was also upgraded to 8GB and both of the fans were replaced.

But a laptop upgrade was long overdue and I couldn't be more excited.

In setting up my new MacBook Pro, I made a checklist of all the applications and settings I need to be able to use it normally:


  1. Not really, since I’ll be using it as a dedicated Plex Media Sever. ↩︎




Saturn V LEGO Build


48 years ago today, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin landed at the Tranquility Base on the surface of the moon, marking the first time in history for the human species to set foot on another celestial body. Here is the time-lapse of myself building the majestic Saturn V LEGO set to commemorate this historic day which took me over 5 hours to complete. Consisting of 1969 pieces, the rocket stands at exactly 1 meter in height making it approximately 1:110 scale to the actual Saturn V rocket.

The time-lapse was taken with my DSLR camera at 5-second intervals. The entire video is made up of over 3,400 images totaling over 30GB of data. Check it out below:




WWDC 2017 Wish List


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It's that time of the year again! Among all of Apple annual events, WWDC is probably my favorite. This year is already looking to be quite different since they are moving back to where they began in San Jose, instead of Moscone West in San Francisco which had been there go-to location since 2003.

This week is all about developers, and as a developer myself, I cannot wait to find out what Apple has in store for us in new software capabilities, APIs as well as potential exciting new hardware. So without further ado, here is my wish list for the WWDC 2017 keynote:

iOS 11

Last year, the Photos app was made smarter by machine learning, letting it search for specific objects, detecting faces, and automatically creating photo albums and slideshows with the Memories tab, all without sacrificing user privacy. This year with iOS 11, I expect the app to gain new features to better compete with Google Photos which is getting even better with recent announcements during Google I/O.

There's no doubt that iOS 10's headlining feature was the Messages app, thus I don't think there's going to be much on this for iOS 11. Though, the ability to reply to specific messages and rich text formatting are the top two features I wish Apple would add to iMessage. Telegram has a really good example on the former.

iOS 11 should also bring about more productivity and automation features to allow for more professional tasks on the iPad Pro, as shown in their ads. Since a popular iOS app Workflow was just acquired by Apple in March, I hope this means that they are indeed improving productivity and automation abilities on iOS. If I could only pick one feature in this category, the ability to manage clipboard history would be it. I suggest you check out Federico Viticci's recently published concept video of the direction he thinks Apple should take its iOS platform on the iPad.

Just this past week, there was a report that Apple is working on an AI-specific chip and might unveil it during WWDC. I think it's quite likely given the timeliness of this report. Knowing their philosophy, they would definitely highlight the security and privacy aspects they've achieved that Google or Amazon haven't with their AIs, and hopefully announce an API alongside it. This would also tie in very well with their existing AI efforts for the Photos app and their smart assistant Siri.

SiriKit, in my opinion, is still very limited and missing some really obvious features. An integration with audio library that would enable third-party apps such as Spotify and Overcast to be voice-controlled is on the top of that list. I'm pretty sure that they would add some new domains to allow more developers to integrate their apps with Siri.

Conveniently, this is a perfect segue to the next item on my list…

Siri In A Can

In my WWDC 2016 Predictions, I expected them to announce the Siri Speaker. Let's just call it Apple Home as Mr. Jason Snell cleverly suggested. It has been well over a year since this rumor first surfaced, and so far we still have nothing. I believe they will really do it this year. With Amazon announcing two new Echodevices within two weeks of each other, Google Home gaining some new capabilities, and even Microsoft getting in on this with the Cortana-powered Harman Kardon speaker, Apple really has to be working on something to bring itself into this market. It is definitely not too late.

Though, Siri still needs a lot of improvements if it were to compete with what's currently out there, and I'm sure that Apple certainly has the technical and marketing prowess to blow those out of the water with this Apple Home. Their vision on HomeKit as shown in this video indicates that they are invested in the smart home space, and a device that brings it all together makes a perfect sense. Though knowing Apple, I wouldn't be one bit surprised if this device starts at $299.

Refreshed MacBook Pro

Another recent report says that Apple will refresh the MacBook Pro as well as MacBook Air at WWDC to compete with the recently-announced Microsoft Surface Laptop, and to "win back disappointed loyalists". I doubt that will happen. And even if it does, the reason is definitely not because Apple needs to compete with Microsoft in the laptop market. MacBook Pro's sales number dwarfs that of Microsoft Surface's (or any other company's for that matter). I really don't think Apple cares very much at all about them.

However, this doesn't mean that they should just forget about their MacBook Pro for the next foreseeable future (like the Mac Pro). Quite the contrary, in my opinion. An updated MacBook Pro would certainly make a lot of people very happy, especially myself since I'm writing this very sentence on my mid-2010 15-inch MacBook Pro (that is plagued with occasional GPU panics). I have been holding off on getting a new MacBook Pro due to the current generation having received a mixed response, and I hope that this hypothetical refreshed MacBook Pro would address some of the main criticisms such as the outdated Intel Skylake chip, lack of 32GB RAM option, inconsistent battery life, and the flawed keyboard. All they need to do is to have Phil Schiller say something along the line of "While the new MacBook Pro with the revolutionary Touch Bar was a great hit among our users, we also listen to those of you who say that there are still rooms for improvements. Today we are making our best laptop even better."

New Mac Pro Sneak Peak

In a stunning turn of events, Apple invited a selected group of journalists over to its campus to discuss the future of the Mac Pro back in April. They admitted that their current "trash can" Mac Pro has critical design flaws that have been preventing them from sufficiently updating it, and revealed that they are hard at work on designing the new Mac Pro which will not be ready this year. There is a lot of speculation as to when Apple came to this decision, but all signs seem to point to that this decision was made no longer than 3-6 months prior to the announcement (and quite possibly mere weeks). This means that it's likely that we won't see the new and "completely rethought" Mac Pro until the end of 2018, or even 2019.

This doesn't mean that they have nothing to show during WWDC. I really hope that they have at least the design of this new Mac Pro to show off to developers. It would definitely soften the "Apple doesn't care about professional Mac users anymore" narrative it's been getting lately.

They also revealed that an updated iMac aimed at professionals is coming this year, so I guess this is when they would show off the hardware and announce the release date.

New iPad Pro

This rumor has been around for quite a while, but it seems like they might announce a 10.5-inch iPad Pro at WWDC, which would then ship later in the fall. I'm indifferent to it but like I have said above regarding iPad productivity, and iOS in general, this product would be a perfect device to showcase iOS 11 as well as an indication to what the updated 9.7-inch and 12.9-inch iPad Pro might look like.

macOS 10.13

I honestly cannot think of features that are really needed in the next version of macOS. The current generation of Mac operating system has been around since the turn of the millennium and it is already a feature-complete, fully matured platform. Of course there are small things they can improve here and there such as a system-wide dark mode (please?), but gone are the days of frequent major updates to the OS.

One thing I definitely would count on them to talk about — if not during the keynote then one of the sessions — is the new Apple File System (APFS). It was only last year when they announced that they were developing an entire new file system to replace its now ancient HFS+, and promised to roll this out for all of their platforms in 2017. With the recent iOS 10.3 update, hundreds of millions of iOS users worldwide are already using APFS. macOS Sierra, however, has only gotten a beta version of that. I think the release of macOS 10.13 later this fall is a perfect opportunity for this.

Oh and can we get rid of that antiquated iTunes and come up with something better?

Apple Park

I know this is not an Apple product per se. But, in a way, this is a product by Apple. Its most expensive one in fact. I highly encourage you, dear reader, to check out this excellent article by Steven Levy on Apple Park and what an incredibly ambitious project it is. This will either be at the very beginning or the end of the keynote where Tim Cook tells us more about the campus and how beautiful, innovative, and environmentally-friendly this building is. There's no doubt that this has been distracting a lot of important design talents within the company, including its design chief Jony Ive himself. It makes you wonder if this is what has been causing Apple to release some arguably lackluster products in recent years, doesn't it? Still, this is one hell of a building and I cannot wait to pay a visit one day.

So would all these really fit within the two-hour window? Probably not. I suspect they would spend most of their time going through new features in iOS, watchOS, and macOS and leave little time to announce new products. But all this is just a speculation, we will find out for sure comes June 5th.




An Animal of No Significance


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In Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind, Yuval Noah Harari attempts to tell the entire history of humans in a length of a book. He started off around the time when modern humans first appeared, two million or so years ago when we were not that different from apes. In the first chapter, he writes, "The most important thing to know about prehistoric humans is that they were insignificant animals with no more impact on their environment than gorillas, fireflies or jellyfish."

Of course Homo sapiens, or "The Wise Man", was not the only human species roaming the earth at the time. There were Homo neanderthalensis in Europe and western Asia, Homo erectus in Asia, Homo soloensis in Java, a dwarf species Homo floresiensis on another Indonesian island, Homo deniosova in Siberia, Homo rudolfensis, and Homo ergaster in East Africa. They were all human beings. Imagine if one or a few of those species survived until today, what would religions, human rights, nations, or laws be like?

Interestingly, all other human species vanished and Sapiens is the only one left. Harari proposed several theories as to why that is the case with one being the competition of resources which turned into violence and genocide. "Tolerance is not a Sapiens trademark", Harari writes, "In modern times, a small difference in skin colour, dialect or religion has been enough to prompt one group of Sapiens to set about exterminating another group." So it is safe to assume that our ancient ancestors would not be so friendly towards an entirely different human species. The meeting between Sapiens and Neanderthals and the resulting extinction of the latter could very well be the first and most significant genocide in human history.

Just how then did Sapiens manage to push a stronger species with bigger brains like Neanderthals to extinction? It was just another human species with nothing more special than others. Harari believes that this has to do with its unique language. Around 70,000 years ago, Sapiens experienced a Cognitive Revolution which scientists commonly believe happened due to some accidental genetic mutations that changed certain wirings in the brains. This caused Sapiens to be able to think in an unprecedented level and develop its unique type of language found in no other human species. This did not only enable them to gossip about tribe members or warn them about predators in the area with details beyond a mere ape can, it also allows them to transmit information about things that do not exist at all. Things such as gods, heavens, or nations.

These fictions maybe seem useless for surviving in the wild, but they enabled Sapiens to collaborate and work towards common goals unlike any other species. Sure, wolves, bees or killer whales do cooperate and have their own languages, but they only do so with a small number of closely related members. Believing in the 'common myths' such as the biblical creation story, the divine rights of kings or popular sovereignty gave Sapiens the ability to cooperate with a large number of people which led to our affluent society today.

Modern Sapiens walking the earth now may see certain rituals such as dancing around a campfire during a full moon or praying to a lion god as 'primitive', but our society today functions on the exact same basis. These ideas such as business corporations, financial institutions, nations, democracy, human rights, freedom, gods, and laws only exist in our collective imagination and yet we act as if those things really exist. Lawyers today are just modern sorcerers who tell far more complex and stranger tales.

Without imagined realities or social constructs, the society as we know it would certainly cease to function. If everyone stopped believing in financial institutions, limited liability companies, laws, or governments, the economy would collapse and nations across the globe would fall into chaos. The world we live in today is the result of a successful storytelling effort to convince millions of people across millennia to believe in these common myths. It would be impossible to build great mosques or empires spanning half a continent if we could only talk about things that really exist in the world such as trees, mountains or tigers.

We are all living in dual reality. One is the objective reality of things that we can see, touch, and smell and the other is an imagined one of things that only exist in our minds. As Harari puts it, "As time went by, the imagined reality became ever more powerful, so that today the very survival of rivers, trees and lions depends on the grace of imagined entities such as the United States and Google."