Sunday, December 31, 2006

Our Purpose In Life

For we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. (Ephesians 2:10)

Our purpose in life is to do good.

Our purpose is to be a force for good.

As Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi noted, everything not just energy, but relationships, structure and society all increase in entropy.

Unless we nurture our relationships with our wife, children, family, friends, colleagues, it will decay.

To create increase in entropy, will energy must be utilized, a conscious effort must be made.

Jesus calls us to be the "salt of the world", "the light of the world". Salt prevents decay, salt must be gathered and applied. Light needs a fuel source to burn brightly.

We are called to do good works, which have been prepared in advance for us to do. We should think each day, "What good is there that I have a joyful duty to fulfil today?"

Doing good takes effort. Everything from doing the laundry, to work and play takes effort. We must be aware of the good in each situation and context in which it takes place in. A certain action in one instance may be good but in another may be bad.

Our doing good is part of the big picture of life. We are part of a grander plan, far beyond what our minds can conceive. We may never fully see the big picture, but we can concentrate on the task before us, that is at hand.

We must always choose to do good in each situation, and not just good, but the best option of goodness available. They say the enemy of the best is not the bad but the second best.

If we are not choosing the best, then what are we then choosing?

"Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers." (Galatians 6:10)

Friday, December 29, 2006

One Dimensional Thinking

One of the problems that I realize in life is that there are a lot of seemingly conflicting extremes in life.

How do you remain flexible without being indisciplined? Or being strict without being rigid?

The answer is that we are limiting ourselves to one dimensional thinking.

This is the way we think.


However, life is complex. It isn't as simple as we think. By adding another dimension, we can solve this puzzle.


This solves our problem, we have to be both optimistic and realistic in life to succeed. A person who has optimism has the faith to move mountains, yet he must be realistic enough to realize problems when he sees them and solve them.

Conversely, there are people who are in the extremes of both ends. They are pessimistic, and cannot accomplish much, yet they harbour delusions of grandeur and nurture overbearing egos of themselves and selfish ambitions.

What about other problems?

How about being strict versus being flexible?

Again, the problem is that we are limited by our one-dimensional thinking and our vocabulary.


As the illustration shows, and we've all seen this in Malaysia, government service can be both slipshod AND extremely inflexible and rigid. The best service is disciplined, efficient and flexible and adaptable to situations.

In Physics, the conundrum of wave/particle duality can be resolved if we think of them as different dimensions or aspects.


Finally, in the spiritual realm, we have trouble thinking of Christ as both 100% God and 100% Man and also the dilemma between Predestination and Freewill.

God and Man Duality

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Flow and the Family

To provide flow, a family has to have a goal for its existence. Extrinsic reasons are not sufficient: it is not enough to feel that, well, "Everybody else is married," "It is natural to have children," or "Two can live cheaply as one." These attitudes may encourage one to start a family, but they cannot make it enjoyable. Positive goals are necessary to focus the psychic energies of parents and children common tasks.

Some might be general and long-term, such as planning a particular life-style—to build an ideal home, to provide the best possible education for the children, or to implement a religious way of living in a modern secularized society.

The family must be both differentiated and integrated. Meaning each person must develop his/her uniqueness and if one is successful, the rest of the family is happy and proud and when one is down, the family rallies around him/her. Integration means each person's goals matter to all others.

(My own notes: This reminds me of the Biblical notion to develop our own giftings and yet be united as one body).

How parents interact with a child will have a lasting effect on the kind of person that child grows up to be:

An optimal experience has 5 characteristics:

  1. Clarity. The children feel that they know what their parents expect from them. Goals and feedback.

  2. Centering. The children's perception that their parents are interested in what they are doing in the present, feelings and experiences and not whether they will be going to university or get a good job.

  3. Choice. Children feel that they have a variety of possibilities in which to choose, including that of breaking parental rules—as long as they are prepared to face the consequences.

  4. Commitment. The trust that allows the child to feel comfortable enough to set aside the shield of his defences and become unselfconsciously involved in whatever he is interested in.

  5. Challenge. Parents dedication to provide increasingly complex opportunities for action to their children.

Merry Christmas

Office Fireplace

Office Fireplace

Originally uploaded by nicodemus_chan.

Merry Christmas to all my friends and readers!

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Complexity and the Growth of the Self

Following a flow experience, the organization of the self is more complex than it had been before.

Complexity is the result of two broad psychological processes: differentiation and integration.

Differentiation implies a movement toward uniqueness, toward separating oneself from others.

Integration refers to its opposite: a union with other people, with ideas and entities beyond the self.

A complex self is one that succeeds in combining these opposite tendencies.

The self becomes more differentiated as a result of flow because overcoming a challenge inevitably leaves a person feeling more capable, more skilled. After each episode of flow a person becomes more of a unique individual, less predictable, possessed of rarer skills.

Flow helps to integrate the self because in the state of deep concentration consciousness is unusually well ordered. Thoughts, intentions, feelings, and all the senses are focused on the same goal. Experience is in harmony. After the flow episode, one feels more "together" than before, not only internally but also with respect to other people and to the world in general.

A self that is only differentiated—not integrated—may attain great individual accomplishments, but risks being mired in self-centered egotism. By the same token, a person whose self is based exclusively on integration will be connected and secure, but lack autonomous individuality. Only when a person invests equal amounts of psychic energy in these two processes and avoids both selfishness and conformity is the self likely to reflect complexity.

Paradoxically, it is when we act freely, for the sake of the action itself rather than for ulterior motives, that we learn to become more than what we were.

Flow is important both because it makes the present instant more enjoyable, and because it builds the self-confidence that allows us to develop skills and make significant contributions to humankind

Saturday, December 23, 2006

The Paradox of Control

If a person loses a chess game or botches his hobby he need not worry; in "real" life, however, a person who mishandles a business deal may get fired, lose the mortgage on the house, and end up on public assistance.

Thus the flow experience is typically described as involving a sense of control—or, more precisely, as lacking the sense of worry about losing control that is typical in many situations of normal life.

"A strong relaxation and calmness comes over me, I have no worries of failure..."

What the response is describing is the possibility rather than the actuality, of control. The ballet dancer may fall, break her leg, and never make the perfect turn. But at least in principle, in the world of flow perfection is attainable.

This feeling is also reported in people who take high risk activities. Their enjoyment derives not from the danger itself, but from their ability to minimize it. So rather than a pathological thrill that comes from courting disaster, the positive emotion they enjoy is the perfectly healthy feeling of being able to control potentially dangerous forces.

There are two dangers involved "objective" and "subjective". Objective dangers are unpredictable events that may happen, a sudden storm, an avalanche, etc. Subjective dangers arise from the lack of skill—including the inability to estimate correctly the situation in relation to one's ability.

The whole point is to avoid objective dangers as much as possible and eliminate subjective dangers entirely by rigorous discipline and sound preparation.

What people enjoy is not the sense of being in control, but the sense of exercising control in difficult situations.

It is not possible to experience a feeling of control unless one is willing to give up the safety of protective routines. Only when a doubtful outcome is at stake, and one is able to influence that outcome, can a person really know whether she is in control.

Almost any enjoyable activity can become addictive, in the sense that instead of being a conscious choice, it becomes a necessity that interferes with other activities.

When a person becomes so dependent on the ability to control an enjoyable activity that he cannot pay attention to anything else, then he loses the ultimate control: the freedom to determine the content of consciousness.

Thus enjoyable activities that produce flow have a potentially negative aspect: while they are capable of improving the quality of existence by creating order in the mind, they can become addictive, at which point the self becomes a captive of a certain kind of order, and is then unwilling to cope with the ambiguities of life.

Friday, December 22, 2006

Components of Enjoyment


The phenomenology of enjoyment has 8 components.

  1. The experience usually occurs when we confront tasks we have a chance of completing, is challenging and requires skills.

  2. We must be able to concentrate on what we are doing.

  3. Concentration is possible because it has clear goals.

  4. Concentration is possible because there is immediate feedback.

  5. One acts with a deep but effortless involvement that removes from awareness the worries and frustrations of everyday life.

  6. Enjoyable experiences allow people to exercise a sense of control over their actions.

  7. Concern for the self disappears, yet paradoxically the sense of self emerges stronger after the flow experience is over.

  8. The sense of duration of time is altered; hours pass by in minutes, and minutes can stretch out to seem like hours.

The combination of all these elements causes a sense of deep enjoyment that is so rewarding people feel that expending a great deal of energy is worthwhile simply to be able to feel it.

Singapore Marathon: Lessons Learnt


Originally uploaded by nicodemus_chan.

Final results, I came in position 5497th out of a field of 6588.

Chip Time: 6 hours, 24 minutes, 19 seconds. (Gun Time: 6 hours, 33 minutes, 12 seconds.)

Lessons Learnt:

1. Comfortable clothing is a must. Spend money and buy those expensive singlets from Adidas, Nike, Reebok, etc. Going 42km with repetitive rubbing can cause abrasions. Buy short pants. My mid-thigh shorts, even though they were from New Balance caused some abrasions. But not as bad as when I didn't use such shorts for the 12km New Paper Big Walk.

2. Good shoes are a must. I didn't even get a single blister over my whole run. One of my friends got blisters on both feet midway through. I bought the Adidas Adizero LT shoes. About S$145 (after 20% discount).

3. You need preparation. Start at least 9 months before the marathon. A marathon teaches you the lesson that for some tasks, you can't just do it the next day. You can't just say I want to run a marathon tomorrow and hope to complete it. It applies for jobs and even business. Sometimes you need to prepare for business by learning it on the job elsewhere before doing it on your own.

4. Get a book to help you prepare. Borrow one from the library. I used "Marathon Manual" and followed the beginners program which is based on just increasing your endurance by time and not by miles. Take it easy and hit your target running times.

5. You can do it. Write down your goals. I wrote this goal down at the beginning of the year. The key to any goal is to make it achievable, yet be one that stretches yourself. You also have to sacrifice some time for it. I had to sacrifice some dinners with colleagues and friends to make time for 2 solid hours in the gym to hit my training targets.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

The Autotelic Self

The difference between someone who enjoys life and someone who is overwhelmed by it is a product of a combination of such external factors and the way a person has come to interpret them--that is, whether he sees challenges as threats or as opportunities for action.

The "autotelic self" is one that easily translates potential threats into enjoyable challenges, and therefore maintains its inner harmony.

The term literally means "a self that has self-contained goals," and it reflects the idea that such an individual has relatively few goals that do not originate from within the self. For most people, goals are shaped directly by biological needs and social conventions, and therefore their origin is outside the self. For an autotelic person, the primary goals emerge from experience evaluated in consciousness, and therefore from the self proper.

The rules for developing such a self are simple, and they derive directly from the flow model.

1. Setting Goals. To be able to experience flow, one must have clear goals to strive for. A person with an autotelic self learns to make choices—ranging from lifelong commitments, such as getting married and settling on a vocation, to trivial decisions like what to do on the weekend—without much fuss and the minimum of panic.

Once you choose a goal, you must learn skills. And in order to learn skills, you must pay constant attention to feedback. Without that, you will become less effective.

One of the basic differences between a person with an autotelic self and one without it is that the former knows that it is she who has chosen whatever goal she is pursuing. What she does is not random, nor is it the result of outside determining forces. This fact results in two seemingly opposite outcomes. One the one hand, having a feeling of ownership of her decisions, the person is more strongly dedicated to her goals. Her actions are reliable and internally controlled. One the other hand, knowing them to be her own, she can be more easily modify her goals whenever the reasons for preserving them no longer make sense. In that respect, an autotelic person's behaviour is both more consistent and more flexible.

2. Becoming immersed in the activity. An autotelic personality invests attention to the task at hand.

To do so successfully one must learn to balance the opportunities for action with the skills one possesses. With unrealistic expectations, hopes will be dashed, despondency sets in, and the self withers from the loss of psychic energy expanded in fruitless attempts.

At the other extreme many people stagnate because they do not trust their own potential. They choose the safety of trivial goals, and arrest the growth of complexity at the lowest level available. To achieve involvement with an action system, one must find a relatively close mesh between the demands of the environment and one's capacity to act.

Involvement is greatly facilitated by the ability to concentrate. People who suffer from attentional disorders, who cannot keep their minds from wandering, always feel left out of the flow of life. They are at the mercy of whatever stray stimulus happens to flash by. To be distracted against one's will is the surest sign that one is not in control.

Yet it is amazing how little effort most people make to improve control of their attention. If reading a book seems too difficult, instead of sharpening concentration we tend to set it aside and instead turn on the television, which not only requires minimal attention, but in fact tends to diffuse what little it commands with choppy editing, commercial interruptions, and generally inane content.

3. Paying attention to what is happening. Concentration leads to involvement, which can only be maintained by constant inputs of attention. Athletes are aware that in a race even a momentary lapse can spell complete defeat.

Having an autotelic self implies the ability to sustain involvement. Self-consciousness, which is the most common source of distraction, is not a problem for such a person. Instead of worrying about how he is doing, how he looks from the outside, he is wholeheartedly committed to his goals. In some cases it is the depth of involvement that pushes self-consciousness out of awareness, while sometimes it is the other way around: it is the very lack of self-consciousness that makes deep involvement possible. The elements of the autotelic personaility are related to one another by links of mutual causation. It does not matter where one starts—whether one chooses goals first, develops skills, cultivates the ability to concentrate, or gets rid of self-consciousness. Once can start anywhere, because once the flow experience is in motion the other elements will be much easier to attain.

A person who pays attention to an interaction instead of worrying about the self obtains a paradoxical result. She no longer feels like a separate individual, yet her self becomes stronger.

4. Learning to enjoy immediate experience. The outcome of having an autotelic self—of learning to set goals, to develop skills, to be sensitive to feedback, to know how to concentrate and get involved—is that one can enjoy life even when objective circumstances are brutish and nasty. Being in control of the mind means that literally anything that happens can be a source of joy.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Cheating Chaos

Why are some people weakened by stress, while others gain strength from it? Basically the answer is simple: those who know how to transform a hopeless situation into a new flow activity that can be controlled will be able to enjoy themselves, and emerge stronger from the ordeal. There are 3 main steps that seem to be involved in such transformations:

1. Unconscious Self-Assurance. One common attitude shared by such people was the implicit belief that their destiny was in their own hands. They did not doubt their own resources would be sufficient to allow them to determine their fate. In that sense one would call them self-assured, yet at the same time, their egos seem curiously absent; they are not self-centred; their energy is typically not bent on dominating their environment as much as on finding a way to function within it harmoniously.

This attitude occurs when a person no longer sees himself in opposition to the environment, as an individual who insists that his goals, his intentions take precedence over everything else. Instead, he feels a part of whatever goes on around him, and tries to do his best within the system in which he must operate. Paradoxically, this sense of humility—the recognition that one's goals may have to be subordinated to a greater entity, and that to succeed one may have to play by a different set of rules from what one would prefer—is a hallmark of strong people.

A good pilot knows her skills, has confidence in the machine she is flying, and is aware of what actions are required in case of a hurricane, or in case the wings ice over. Therefore she is confident in her ability to cope with whatever weather conditions may arise—not because she will force the plane to obey her will, but because she will be the instrument for matching the properties of the plane to the conditions of the air.

2. Focusing Attention On The World. It is difficult to notice the environment as long as attention is mainly focused inward, as long as most of one's psychic energy is absorbed by the concerns and desires of the ego. People who know how to transform stress into enjoyable challenge spend very little time thinking about themselves. Their attention is alert, constantly processing information from their surroundings. The focus is still set by the person's goal, but it is open enough to notice and adapt to external events even if they are not directly relevant to what he wants to accomplish.
An open stance makes it possible for a person to be objective, to be aware of alternative possibilities, to feel a part of the surrounding world.
In a threatening situation it is natural to mobilize psychic energy, draw it inward, and use it as a defense against the threat. but this innate reaction more often than not compromises the ability to cope. It exarcebates the experience of inner turmoil, redues the flexibility of response, and, perhaps worse than anything else, it isolates a person from the rest of the world, leaving him alone with his frustrations. On the other hand, if one continues to stay in touch with what is going on, new possibilites are likely to emerge, which in turn suggest new responses, and one is less likely to be entirely cut off from the stream of life.
3. The Discovery of New Solutions. There are basically two ways to cope with a situation that creates psychic entropy. One is to focus attention on the obstacles to achieving one's goals and then to move them out of the way, thereby restoring harmony in consciousness. This is the direct approach. The other is to focus on the entire situation, including oneself, to discover what alternative goals may not be more appropriate, and thus different solutions possible.
Most of us become so rigidly fixed in the ruts carved out by genetic programming and social conditioning that we ignore the options of choosing any other course of action. The moment biological/social goals are frustrated a person must formulate new goals and create a new flow activity for himself, or else he will waste his energies in inner turmoil.
How does one go about discovering alternative strategies? The answer is basically simple: if one operates with unselfconscious assurance, and remains open to the environment and involved in it, a solution is likely to emerge.
The process of discovering new goals in life is in many respects similar to that by which an artist goes about creating an original work of art. Whereas a conventional artists starts painting a canvas knowing what she wants to paint, and holds to her original intention until the work is finished, an original artist with equal technical training commences with a deeply felt but undefined goal in mind, keeps modifying the picture in response to the unexpected colors and shapes emerging on the canvas, and ends up with a finished wor that probably will not resemble anything she started out with.
We will never become aware of other possibilities unless, like the painter who watches with care what is happening around us, and evaluate events on the basis of their direct impact on how we feel, rather than evaluating them exclusively in terms of preconceived notion. If we do not discover that, contrary to what we were led to believe, it is more satisfying to help another person than to beat him down, or that it is more enjoyable to talk with one's two-year old than to play golf with the company president.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Following Your Bliss

CAMPBELL: ... Have you ever read Sinclair Lewis' Babbitt?

MOYERS: Not in a long time.

CAMPBELL: Remember the last line? "I have never done the thing that I wanted to in all my life." That is a man who never followed his bliss. Well, I actually heard that line when I was teaching at Sarah Lawrence. Before I was married, I used to eat out in the restaurants of town for my lunch and dinners. Thursday night was the maid's night off in Bronxville, so that many of the families were out in restaurants. One fine evening I was in my favourite restaurant there, and at the next table there was a father, a mother, and a scrawny boy about twelve years old. The father said to the boy, "Drink your tomato juice."

And the boy said, "I don't want to."

Then the father, with a louder voice, said, "Drink your tomato juice."

And the mother said, "Don't make him do what he doesn't want to do."

The father looked at her and siad, "He can't go through life doing what he wants to do. If he does only what he wants to do, he'll be dead. Look at me. I've never done a thing I wanted to in all my life."

And I thought, "My God, there's Babbitt incarnate!"

That's the man who never followed his bliss. You may have a success in life, but then just think of it—what kind of life was it? What good was it—you've never done the thing you wanted to do in all your life. I always tell my students, go where your body and soul want to go. When you have the feeling, then stay with it, and don't let anyone throw you off.


MOYERS: Do you ever have this sense when you are following your bliss, as I have at moments, of being helped by hidden hands?

CAMPBELL: All the time. It is miraculous. I even have a superstition that has grown on me as the result of invisible hands coming all the time—namely, that if you do follow your bliss you put yourself on a kind of track that has been there all the while, waiting for you, and the life that you ought to be living is the one you are living. When you can see that, you begin to meet people who are in the field of bliss, and they open the doors to you. I say, follow your bliss and don't be afraid, and doors will oepn where you didn't know they were going to be.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Crunch Time

In software development, there can be a lot of crunch time, i.e. late nights spent working on code and getting the software working.

Having crunch time at times is necessary in work at times, but in most cases 80%, it is unnecessary. It can be a sign of dedication and passion but I think in most times it is a sign of bad time management.

To take an analogy of from school. Most of the students that are working furiously the night before a deadline are not motivated because they are passionate and dedicated. It's because they left it till the last minute to do their assignments! 80% of these students are doing it because they didn't pay attention during tutorials or lectures, didn't do their homework, didn't set sub goals and smaller milestones.

A lot of last minute crunch time is because people took their time in preproduction and planning, working out their "perfect plan", "gathering requirements". A lot of this planning is sometimes indecision or vacillation or delayed because of foot-dragging on other people's part. Why? Because there's "plenty of time".

This is not to say that you shouldn't do crunch time. To continue with the student analogy. A good student always does his homework and stays on the ball. However during exam time, there is also a time to brush up on and stay fresh on topics and to forgo some TV.

Crunch time could be maybe 1-2 days before launch to polish things up. In the end, it's about leadership. Troops morale fall. As Sun Tzu said in "Art of War", a long prolonged battle is a sign of bad leadership.

To relate to another fact, 300,000 surgical deaths happen yearly in the United States are actually preventable! A lot of crunch time is actually preventable.

The thing about life is that it must be lived.
Game design is about living life. A good game designer needs to spend time learning all about life to soak in life all around him. Games are an extension to the experience of living life, it distils certain aspects of excitement, intrigue, puzzle solving, reward experience into tight feedback loops. Like movies, it is "life with the boring bits edited out."
A good game designer learns about life, he watches movies, he wonders in awe of the sky and God's beautiful creation, the design of plants, animals, the patterns of nature. He learns about human nature and the beauty and also the fragility of the human heart and soul. Like an artist, or writer, he is a student of life and life must be lived to be experienced.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Meeting Again 20 Years Later

This is me with Ian Livingstone (now creative director of Eidos) at the chill-out networking session after AGDS.

I met him first on 10 May 1987, almost 20 years ago in Kuala Lumpur during a book signing session for his "Fighting Fantasy" series of books.

I was even featured in the local newspaper meeting him and I still have the news clipping!

Fighting Fantasy allowed me to play Fantasy games when there were no kids around me who had the language skills or imagination or understanding to play with me.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Asian Game Developer Summit


Originally uploaded by nicodemus_chan.

At the Asian Game Developer Summit. This year held in Singapore. Venue: Orchard Hotel.

This is a picture of the keynote speaker, Ian Livingstone, creative director of Eidos. (The company that made Lara Croft).

Friday, December 08, 2006

Free drinks at Starbucks!

The queue at Starbucks in Suntec City mall for free drinks. All you have to do is give a donation to the Salvation Army in return. 495 free cups were served at this branch.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Quote of the Day

Wherever you are, there you are.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Marathon Finished!


Originally uploaded by nicodemus_chan.

Finished my marathon in 6 1/2 hours.

Here's a pic with Wei Kurk and Victor (who had to finish with blisters on his feet.)

The marathon this year had really good weather, overcast sky providing shade, slight drizzling (which cooled us down) but no heavy rainfall. So I didn't get sunburnt or get drenched. (I was worried about my mobile phone getting wet.)

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Today Is The Big Day!

The Singapore Marathon is on today... just over 5 hours from now it will start.

I will be bringing you live blogging before, during and after the marathon with photos taken during the race on my Nokia N73.

Stay tuned.

My "Reason To Run" tag is: Hebrews 12:1 "Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us."

I chickened out of my original tongue in cheek reason: "It helps me stay abstinent." I felt Hebrews 12:1 was more inspiring.

Friday, December 01, 2006

I Hate "Opportunity"

If I had a dollar for every time a person came to me and told me he had a great "opportunity"... well you know what I mean.

I'm too tired of hearing people with some great business idea or opportunity to palm off on me. Whether it's some MLM idea or unthought out startup idea.

If some bloody idea is really that great a money maker, why the heck are you sharing it with me? Shouldn't you just hire some people and run with it?

Ridiculous claims like "unlimited income". Dude, even light has speed limits. MLM recruitment talks basically make you into a salesman not an entrepreneur.

And I hate the way the word entrepreneur is abused. Sure there are entrepreneurs like Bill Gates, but the mom and pop grocery store, the barber round the corner, the ice-cream vendor on the street are also entrepreneurs.

Philosophical Question: Is it the pattern of the world to use each other? Perhaps that is too negative a view. Instead of seeing businessman as parasites, perhaps business is a form of symbiosis.

A more integrated view is to see it as a dynamic ecosystem of human life and economy. Yes there are parasites, there are piranhas, but there are also lions and tigers.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Ant Intelligence

Go to the ant, you sluggard; consider its ways and be wise! (Proverbs 6:6)

Most scientists consider brain size one of the most important things in a the development of a creature, yet ants have brains smaller than a grain of sand and create some of the most complex structures in the animal kingdom.

How do they do it? Did the queen call out for tender for proposals from other ants? Did they use the best competitive bid? Did they use PERT charts, GANTT charts or other project management techniques? Do they have daily meetings or strategic think weeks to chart their progress?

I watched a program on TV with fascination as the it discussed various aspects of ant behaviour and how they interact.

If humans were to create one of the ant colonies found in the Argentine pampas with the intricacy and manpower needed it would be a wonder of the world.

Yet ants achieve this constantly.

What is the secret to this?

In a nutshell communication and simple rules. Everything is about communication in an ant colony. Ant pheromones signal danger, where the good food is, etc.

Ever notice that when ants meet each other they greet each other with their antennas? That's communication.

Decisions are made democratically. Ants always find the shortest path to a food source based on the density of their pheromone trails.

So the next time you meet a colleague or friend, take time to network with them. That's the secret of the ant.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Krav Maga

A colleague introduced me to Krav Maga, which is a modern martial-art.

It seems that I may pick this as the martial art to learn as it is a real-world martial art. It isn't a sport. There are no competitions and performances. It is a practical self-defense art.

It's been tested on the streets of Tel Aviv and in combat since World War 2.

It teaches you how to handle real-life situations like muggers, armed opponents, being outnumbered, hand grenades, etc and not some theoretical Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon duel situation.

It doesn't involve religious or spiritual elements. In fact, if there is anything spiritually linked to it, was the fact that it was created by an Israeli.

Nasty stuff, reading the articles. It is a no holds barred martial art with an anything goes move. Groin, eyes are not excluded. Weapons, including modern weapons are involved like guns, shotguns, etc. The training also involves it when you are incapacitated or disadvantaged like smoke, dazed, etc.

However, the civilian form taught only involves the self-defense part and not the offensive part (including killing) which commandos and special forces learn. In fact, some countries have legal restrictions on what can be taught.

Scary stuff, indeed.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Best Manual Assignment Speaker 21-Nov-2006

Speech #2: "Argue Well... With Yourself"

Spoke on how to dispute the negative thoughts you speak to yourself.

It was a good speech.

I learned that even though my speech was on being optimistic, the content contained too many negative examples and negative emotions.

Could have been more humourous and used more pauses.

I must try to get more speeches done, perhaps at other clubs.

Optimism vs Reality: The Stockdale Paradox

A very excellent excerpt from Stephen Shields blog during my research on Learned Optimism:

This concept is named after Admiral Jim Stockdale, the celebrated former Vietnam POW. When Jim Collins asked Stockdale who died in POW camp, Stockdale replied (as Collins reports),

"Oh, that’s easy,'" he said. "The optimists.”

“The optimists? I don’t understand,” I said, now completely confused, given what he’d said a hundred meters earlier.

“The optimists. Oh, they were the ones who said, ‘We’re going to be out by Christmas.’ And Christmas would come, and Christmas would go. Then they’d say,‘We’re going to be out by Easter.’ And Easter would come, and Easter would go. And then Thanksgiving, and then it would be Christmas again. And they died of a broken heart.”

Another long pause, and more walking. Then he turned to me and said, “This is a very important lesson. You must never confuse faith that you will prevail in the end—which you can never afford to lose—with the discipline to confront the most brutal facts of your current reality, whatever they might be.” (from Good to Great, pp 83ff).

Jim Collins sets forth the principle that I believe fills out a more balanced view of optimism:

Retain faith that you will prevail in the end, regardless of the difficulties

AND at the same time

Confront the most brutal facts of your current reality, whatever they might be.

What is variable, then, is not the optimism, but merely whether it's short-term or long-term.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Plan This! (Lessons from The Game of Pool)

They say that if you want to make God laugh, show him your plans. A wise general said that your plans go out of the door once the first bullet is fired.

In a previous post, I wrote that planning triumphs over plain perseverence.

However, how do you plan a game of pool?

If we were to plan a game of pool using traditional project plannng techniques, more time would be spent drawing gantt charts, pert charts, detailing force angle calculations etc. And even then it would come to naught with just a stray shot. In theory if you planned a game of pool properly it would only take 9 shots to complete the game.

Only if the person playing the shots were a world class expert would he be able to do so, and even then only 30% of the time.

I observed this phenomenon while playing pool. I realized that there is a high amount of chaos in pool, and the skill varies amongst players. But sooner or later we all manage to pot all the balls.

The secret I believe is to pot one ball at a time and at most think 1-2 shots away but nothing more.

In a highly chaotic situation like life, we must prepare for chaos by living one day at a time. If we were to plan to pot all the balls perfectly in life, i.e. try to plan each day of our lives 5 years away, we would be under tremendous pressure. But the pressure is lifted when we just play one ball at a time.

Jesus said that we shouldn't worry about tomorrow. Yes planning is important, but if we were to worry, it should only be to accomplish what we have to today.

The next lesson I think is to keep on learning from each shot, learn how the balls move with each shot, how different potting situations come up to, the point of impact of the cue, how hard or fast we pot, the angle of impact and predicting where the ball will hit the sides and come up. We will never learn pool just by watching it. We must play it.

In the same way, we must learn to live life not just by watching (though observing other people's success and failures helps us) but also by doing.

The more we practice living life, the more skillful we are in handling the chaotic situations of life.

Life is not just planning but also of adaptation. Maxwell called his law the law of navigation not the law of planning.
Navigation involves both looking at maps and planning your route, logistics, etc. But it also involves adapting to the circumstances of the sea, the wind, the waves and the weather.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Santa Claus's Address

If you want to write to Santa Claus, he lives in Finland!

His address is:

96930 Rovaniemi, Napapiiri,


Santa Claus
Arctic Circle
96930 Rovaniemi

Joulupukki is Santa Claus in Finnish.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

It's Your Life!

I think the one thing that we must realize in life is that we are in charge of our own lives.

No one can tell us what to do.

A lot of people tell us what they want us to do. No matter how moral (teachers, parents) or amoral (bosses, advertisers, marketers, salesmen) or immoral (tricksters, conmen, drug pushers).

But ultimately, we are the only ones who decide what we should do.

The next step of maturity is to realize that we are the ultimate deciders of our actions. As Friedrich Nietzsche noted, "Man is condemned to be free."

We cannot abdicate the throne of our lives.

One interesting thing I finally understand from my experience teaching is that the students in the "naughty class" of schools have realized this. They realize this amazing secret: "No one can tell me what to do."

We can choose to receive advice, we can choose to consult manuals, guidebooks, consult ouija boards, pray to God or gods, but in the end, the decision is ours to make and we are to taste the fruit of it.

But instead of being negative like Nietszche, the gift of freewill is wonderful. Because we are then free to become what God intended us to be. We are not to be molded into what others want us to be, but what God intended us to be, into a unique one-of-a-kind person.

The only one who can be you in the whole history of the universe is you.

That is why I like Bon Jovi's "It's My Life." The song isn't a song of rebellion, but a celebration of uniqueness of our lives.

Lyrics in extended entry.

It's My Life - Jon Bon Jovi
This ain't a song for the broken-hearted
A silent prayer for the faith-departed
I ain't gonna be just a face in the crowd
You're gonna hear my voice
When I shout it out loud
This is for the ones who stood their ground
For Tommy and Gina who never backed down
Tomorrow's getting harder make no mistake
Luck ain't even lucky
Got to make your own breaks
Better stand tall when they're calling you out
Don't bend, don't break, baby, don't back down
It's my life
And it's now or never
['Cause] I ain't gonna live forever
I just want to live while I'm alive
(It's my life)
My heart is like an open highway
Like Frankie said
I did it my way
I just want to live while I'm alive
Last time: 'Cause it's my life!

Sunday, November 12, 2006

I Have Finished The Race!

I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. (2 Timothy 4:7)

Finished the 2nd Link Bridge Run in 67 minutes. Could have done it faster if I didn't take breaks along the way to take photos and do live blogging.

Welcome Back to Singapore!

Welcome back to Singapore and friendly reminder of the death penalty for drug traffickers. :)



Originally uploaded by nicodemus_chan.

Halfway turning point, and ready for a refreshing top-up of Newater.

Toilet Queue

Toilet Queue

Originally uploaded by nicodemus_chan.

Horrendously long toilet queue. Cannot tahan... had to use the bushes in the end.

Waiting For Shuttle Bus

Make sure you go early for the shuttle bus. The queue gets longer and longer as flag-off time approaches. You won't get there on time if you only schedule for journey time and get try to get there just-in-time.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Karma: Who's Keeping Score?

Is there a great scorekeeper out there keeping track of all the good and bad that we do?

If we kick a dog today, will a dog one day bite us 20 years later?

How many karma points does it take to go to heaven? And is there special dispensation for those on the borderline?

Is there someone out there really "keeping a list, checking it twice, (and) gonna find out who's naughty and nice?"

The concept of karma may be summed up in the everyday phrase, "What goes around, comes around."

There are many similarities to karma in the Bible, Galatians 6:7 "Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows." Ecclesiastes 11:1 "Cast your bread upon the waters, for after many days you will find it again." Luke 6:38 "Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you."

Practisioners of karma I would say are invoking one of God's laws. The law of the harvest. They are mindful of not mocking God, even though they may not know who He is fully.

I should say even that we should be mindful not just of not doing evil, but of sowing goodness around us. I think humans (including this author) aren't sowing enough goodness in our words and deeds.

Step number 8 of the 12 Step program of Alcoholics Anonymous is "Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all." (Which Zacchaeus in the Bible did by repaying back all those he cheated 4 times. Luke 19:8. Which leads me think: If we are truly transformed by an encounter with Jesus we will sow good deeds and make amends.)

However, karma breaks down in the face of grace and mercy. What happens when we have really committed a grievous sin, like murder? Being nice to everyone around you cannot bring back the dead. Blood is on the muderer's hands. How much time do you have left on death row to accumulate enough good karma to balance the bad karma you have accumulated?

This is where grace and mercy come in. The "good" thief besides Jesus' cross knew the many sins he had committed, and knew the earthly punishment he was receiving was his just desserts. The only thing he realized in his dying moments was that Jesus was the King of kings and the Lord of Lords. And he made only one request, that Jesus remember him.

And this is where the story gets juicy. With that one request he is "rewarded" with paradise. No good deeds needed. No penance to pay. Just one simple humble request to Jesus to remember him. Sins and bad karma all wiped out.

Karma is like Newtonian Laws versus Einstein's Theory of Relativity. In everyday life the law of harvest works. But when it comes to reaching the ends of the universe, it breaks down miserably. Noone can totally wipe out his list of bad things, though some people like Earl (from the TV show "My Name is Earl" tries to do so). And that's where the source of grace, love and peace comes in.

"through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death." (Romans 8:2)

Thursday, November 09, 2006


Ever had those moments when time just seems to melt away and you are engrossed in your activity? Before you know it, it's 8pm at night. How often do we get those moments when we're in the groove?

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi calls this state of optimal performance "flow".

How do we achieve flow?

  1. Skills are needed.

  2. There are achievable goals.

  3. Rules provide focus of energy and boundaries of control.

  4. Quick feedback is evident to the person.

  5. We are able to control actions.

Almost any activity can achieve flow, knitting, praying, gardening, walking, even sex!

Flow is the optimal state where the task is neither too simple that it becomes boring, nor too difficult that we become discouraged.

I believe that we must manage our tasks and activities in all areas to be optimal. And managers of other people should attempt to create flow conditions for subordinates. Often workers don't have adequate skills, get none or negative feedback, the goals are unrealistic or rules and guidelines are not clearly communicated or implemented or they are not given authority and power to do their job.

To achieve flow, attention is needed, we should not be distracted by other things in our mind and just concentrate on what is essential. Remember our mind has limited capacity.

Salsa Practice

Salsa Havana

Originally uploaded by nicodemus_chan.

Salsa practice on Wednesdays at Salsa Havana, Federal Hotel.

Cuban style practised here.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Art vs. Profiteering

Perhaps one of the antogonistic values in entrepreneurship is creating art versus making a profit.

The artist is more concerned about creating art but may starve because no one buys his/her work. While the profiteer tries to palm off as much as he can to unsuspecting customers.

The answer in solving this dillemma is to create value and to educate people on value.

Value is subjective. Much like the adage, if a tree falls down in the forest does it make a noise?

A piece of art may double or triple in value the next day just because the artist died of a pulmonary heart attack. The molecules in the piece of art didn't change, the world's climate didn't change. It is merely the perception of value.

Value only exists in the mind of the beholder. It is abstract, unreal in the sense of not being physical. And people pay for value. People pay for an abstraction.

Even a car would be valueless in a nation of blind and deaf men. It is only if the buyer believes that anything he pays for has value would he pay for it.

Therefore, in order to be entrepreneurial we create value. We find or create some product of service that in the mind of the buyer is of value, that is the seller moves towards the buyer. Secondly, we can market and advertise or sell the product, i.e. bring the buyer towards the seller by creating more value in his mind about our product.

In the first, we know of Google and Microsoft. In the second, we know of Pet Rocks, and Insurance.

The artist creates art for himself and his own satisfaction, and that is fine if all he wants is to do it for himself. But to sell it involves a second party which is the buyer, and it is in the buyer's mind whether he believes that that piece of art is of value.

As a buyer we must beware of profiteering. That is when there are so many alternatives of the same value available. Caveat emptor is the key word as a seller can label anything with a price, but we as the buyer are the ones who chooses to place value and who ultimately forks over our hard earned dollar. Does Nike profiteer versus an alternative unbranded shoe, or is it selling value? We pay more for better quality. But a bad buy is when the are cheaper alternatives of better quality and of lower price or in reality does not really satisfy our needs.

The profiteer is one who preys on weak and unsuspecting customers and hides information, uses pressure and psychological tactics to sell rather than to create value in the mind of the customer.

I believe it all comes down to serving the customer. Choosing exorbitant prices may work in the short term but it will hit the seller back in the long run unless he/she serves the customer. Walmart is an example of serving the customer by finding ways to source for the cheapest products for the customer.

The entrepreneur serves by creating value for the customer.

Toastmasters 7th November 2006


Originally uploaded by nicodemus_chan.

Grammarian for the evening and won the best table topic speaker for the 2nd time!

Monday, November 06, 2006

Speaking Persuasively

There are 3 components that Aristotle understood about influence:

  1. Ethos: which is your credibility. You words are more influential if your credibility and credentials are apparent to the audience.

  2. Pathos: which is the emotional appeal. Some examples are loyalty, patriotism, and heroism.

  3. Logos: which is logic and argument. It uses facts, statistics and other forms of evidence to convince the audience.

A good speaker uses all 3 in various combinations depending on the audience. Obviously speaking to a technical person would use facts, figures, "his language". But speaking to women or decision makers may involve appeals to prestige, ego, pride.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

USJ 10km Run Finish Line

Ran the Subang Jaya 10km run in about 63 minutes.

My best time ever for 10km.

I actually managed to sprint to the finish line. Perhaps partly due to the fact that I set the Mortal Kombat soundtrack to the last km, this increased my speed by a couple of km. Music does help!

An interesting observation is that I when I drank the Ribena and Milo offered at the finish line, it was horrendously sweet! It seems your tongue is telling you it needs water and not sugar.

Drinking the very same Ribena later that night and it didn't seem as sweet.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Workout on 4 Nov 2006

Workout on 4 Nov 2006

Originally uploaded by nicodemus_chan.

Total Time: 73 minutes 22 seconds

Total Mileage: 10km

Friday, November 03, 2006

Time to buy another game?

Time to buy a new game for my Xbox 360? I haven't have had much time to play. (which is good... I don't want to get too distracted...)

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Workout on 2 Nov 2006

Workout on 2 Nov 2006

Originally uploaded by nicodemus_chan.

Total Time: 35 minutes

Total Mileage: 5.58km

Calories: 396

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Workout Training

Workout Training

Originally uploaded by nicodemus_chan.

Total Mileage: 6.68km

Time Trained: 45minutes (including 5 minutes cooldown)

Calories Utilized: 491

31 days till the Singapore Marathon!

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Workout on 30 Oct 2006

Workout on 30 Oct 2006

Originally uploaded by nicodemus_chan.

Training for marathon...

Felt a bit nauseus in the beginning. Stopped after first 13 minutes to gain breath and do more warmups and stretching. Realized that that's important as well as going at your own pace that your body feels at that time.

Total time: 98 minutes 37 seconds

Total distance: 13.1km

32 days till the Singapore marathon!

After training for about a few months, I really do feel great! What have I been doing for the last 3 decades of my life? I should have been doing this a long time ago. I can wake up fresh and not groggy and I have higher energy levels.