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Archive for October, 2008

I like this anime. It touches on talent, motivation, and friendship: good vs. great, hard-work vs. effortlessness, discipline vs. enjoyment, admiration vs. envy, friendship vs. competition. It reminds me ofThe Fountainhead by Ayn Rand (one of my favorite novels), although it doesn’t focus on or emphasize the dark side of human nature.
People who know me would know which type of person I find myself closer to. One advice from the director for this type of people: work hard (which is a given), but also learn to appreciate your works and like what you do.  

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Why I’m not nationalistic

I don’t identify myself with any country. The concept of nation is a recent construct in human history (here). Loving one’s country might give us a sense of belonging and satisfy certain human’s nature (e.g. in group vs. out group bias such as the romantic feeling of fighting for one’s homeland). But nation is an arbitrary concept. Today’s national boundaries are results from histories, and the definition of nation-states changes over time. Moreover we don’t decide where we are born. That’s why I prefer to identify people by who they are or the group they choose (voluntarily) to belong, but not something as arbitrary as where a person’s born or grow up. Same for country, there are countries I like because I like the order emerged from the interactions of the people in it, or the places, natures, or histories, but not because it is China, the USA, or France.

I like to think of the world as one place. And anywhere can be home for an arcane wanderer as long as he likes the place and the people in it.

PS: This is a follow up on my earlier post.

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Lost & found. We fear that as we grow up, we might lose our innocent, romantic self and turn into a calculating, cynical person. We live like a shadow, forget the little things in life that we used to treasure, and bury our feelings under a mask. And we know it, but we cannot do anything about it. We are waiting: waiting that someday, someone, or some events would save us and turn us back into our lost self.

Dreams & uncertainty. We want to pursue our dreams but uncertainty holds us back. We doubt if the dream is reachable. Even if we can reach it, we fear it might not be what we want, and all meaning will be lost. So we choose to idealize it and keep it as a dream while occupying ourselves with other things.

Distance & loneliness. Distance is not what’s separating people. We can be as close to each other as possible, or communicate thousand times a day, but still don’t get any closer to each other. Or the other way round, we don’t have to be together to feel connected to the another person. Loneliness is when we are disconnected from others, despite talking the same language and sharing the same space.

PS: The thoughts came after a brief discussion of the anime with Huibin,. Here is an earlier entry on the anime.

Update: This post is my interpretation of the themes the director want to touch upon. I might not agree with his view on the world, and tend to find myself torn between some incompatible worldview/ideals.  Nevertheless I think Shinkai Makoto does a nice job conveying certain emotions and aspects of inner struggle people have in a simple and idealistic way.  I also think the anime has a good ending. The protagonist smiles at the end. And through quitting his job, breaking up with a girlfriend he doesn’t connect with, and going back to feel the things he once care, I think he has found his original self.

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Bleak outlook

Monday is a public holiday in Singapore, and I suppose to be relaxing in a cafe reading a nice book on economics or psychology. I also plan to catch up on movies, series, and podcast that are piling up, go for some sports, draw, and catch up with friends over this long weekend.

But all is out of the window now. My boss just told me he’d need me to work 3 days over the weekend (up from 2 days I was told earlier). I blame this on the financial crisis. But I guess it’s not as bad as it sounds. Working on weekend tends to be more flexible with less distractions (no traders shorting at each other, and I can ignore all emails and phone calls).  And at least I’m doing something I’ve interest in, although I would prefer a better balance and do/learn something different on weekend.

Since weekend work’s supposed to be voluntary (I don’t get bill in hours or OT pay), I’m determined not to miss this featuring in this year’s animation festival.

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Another Identity

My fourth ID card.

A question I often get asked is ‘who do you consider yourself to be (translation: what nationality)’ or ‘where do you consider to be your home country.’ My blog title probably gives some hints to the answer. I will write more on this later as I’m exhausted and haven’t had enough sleep for a while.

Given the numbers of ID and passport I held, perhaps I’d consider becoming a secret agent if I lose my current job.

Update: Photo of my IDs was removed to become more like a secret agent.

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My Sister

Yesterday was my sister’s birthday and we’d a nice two hours chat. Although we don’t keep in touch often (maybe once a few months), we can easily strive up all sorts of conversations without any reserve. My sister is one of the few people who understand me well, maybe not my views or thinking at a point in time, but definitely my personality. She is also the only person who can easily get on my nerve and trigger arguments/ fights that are intense enough to scare everyone around us.

Po Ye told me recently that in our 10-plus years of friendship, she never recall a moment when I’m angry and wonder if I ever get mad, crazy, unreasonable, or silly. The answer’s yes, but I only get emotion with very few people and even then, not that often. My sister is clearly an exception: We fought intensively during our Japan and also our UK trip, which is amazing given we haven’t met each other for more a few years and are on vacation. We can get so angry with each other probably because we know each other’s bias well enough and exactly what to say to hurt the other person, and can do it without reserve as we know our relationship won’t be affected. Not sure if I could handle this kind of intense arguments with other friends, and I find it much easier to detach myself and turn off my emotions with other people.

PS: My sister’s personality is exactly opposite from mine: gregarious, socialable, cheerful and energentic.

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Why I like social science

From this week’s Economist:

Serotonin is another neurotransmitter that is usually deficient in an addicted brain. This probably accounts for the depressive side of withdrawal symptoms (serotonin receptors in the brain are the target of antidepressant drugs such as Prozac). Serotonin is made from an amino acid called tryptophan, which is found in foods such as meat, brown rice, nuts, fish and milk. Philip Cowen, a psychiatrist at Oxford University, has found that reducing the amount of tryptophan in someone’s diet increases depressive symptoms and also that increasing it can induce a more optimistic outlook.

Brown rice, nuts, fish….Perhaps that’s why I don’t usually feel depress.

For those who would like to be able to wake up earlier, here’s Tim’s advice on how to solve this time inconsistency problem (basic principle applies to diet and other addictions as well).

Isn’t social science wonderful, helping us understand the world and making our lives better at the same time.

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Marry for love?

Should I marry someone I love, or someone who loves me and can give me what I need? I think the answer depends on what type of person you are. The degree of love needed to keep a person happy and satisfied vary from person to person. There are those who wouldn’t mind marrying someone they don’t love but are decent enough and can give them what they want (stability, family, security, etc.) These people can find satisfaction or happiness in pursuits outside the relationship. The other type can’t tolerate marrying someone if they don’t feel there’s love involved (love’s hard to define but those people’d say they know it when it’s there).

Those who value love a lot will tend to fall into the first group, while those who don’t generally fall into the second. I don’t think either type of these people worries much about the ‘marry for love’ question as they know who they are and what they want. The people who are troubled by the question are probably those who can live either way: 1) their personality allows them to live rather happily either way even though they prefer love to no love, or 2) they don’t know themselves well enough to know what they want, or more likely 3) they fall into self-deception as they don’t really want to know and follow what they really want.

I’m probably the type who can live either way (that’s probably why I’m thinking about this question). But the more I think about it, the more I prefer the first type. Since being single is not that a big negative for me, I think I’ d rather stay alone than marry someone I’m just content with. But ideally I’d find someone whom I want to marry.

Po Ye suggested that I might idealize things too much or not open up enough (I’m probably also too conservative, rational, and not taken enough chances). I guess I still don’t know myself well enough and suffer some sorts of self-deception. How tolerate am I for a partner with different interests (I might not be as open to experience as I’d like myself to be)? How much do I want my partner to think of me as her top priority in life? How much disagreements and differences can I truly handle (it’d be easy to deal with friends but perhaps not with a partner)? What if preferences and personality clash (like career choice, what you want to do might not match your personality)?

It seems to me shared values, common interests and activities, similar level of intelligence, and compatible personality (doesn’t have to be similar but have to fit somehow) are some elements of a successful relationship. Besides that I think all love involves some forms of self-deception and irrationality. The challenge is to find a person who makes you think self-deception and irrationality are not such a bad thing after all.

Here’s my earlier post on marriage, Stevenson and Wolfers’ explanation of modern marriage still makes lots of sense to me.

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Alex pointed us to this research:
The Environmental Security Hypothesis says that in tough times men will prefer women who are good at production, generally older, taller, heavier, less curvaceous women with less body fat.  In good times, they will prefer women who are good at reproduction, generally younger, shorter, lighter, more curvaceous women.  Pettijohn and and Jungeberg look at the characteristics of playboy playmates from 1960 to 2000 and find:
Consistent with Environmental Security Hypothesis predictions, when social and economic conditions were difficult, older, heavier, taller Playboy Playmates of the Year with larger waists, smaller eyes, larger waist-to-hip ratios, smaller bust-to-waist ratios, and smaller body mass index values were selected. These results suggest that environmental security may influence perceptions and preferences for women with certain body and facial features.
Things look pretty grim nowadays. Let’s see how people’s preferences and demand change.
Meanwhile, Tyler asked what do we do to stay sane:
Here’s a project asking people to list five things they do to stay sane.  I’m going to arbitrage and ask only for one thing you do to stay sane.  Please leave your answer in the comments.
I try to listen to beautiful music at least once a day, I don’t check my portfolio even in the best of times, I hug a loved one at least one more time than was expected (with adaptive expectations this is hard to sustain over time but I have my tricks), and also I avoid television advertisements as much as possible.  That’s four, you need only offer one.
For me: Eat out in a good, quiet Japanese restaurants; discuss ideas with people I admire/respect; take a walk along the river with my MP3; watch a good movie; and reflect on my life/memories/goals.
I guess just a good night sleep is enough to keep me sane. What’s wrong with being insane anyway.

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Cato Unbound recently has a debate on education (a good break for me from the financial market news). In a nutshell, Murray argued that our university system is highly inefficient and inadequate, and most people would benefit from a different kind of education system and mindset. Carneiro thought the situation is not that bad. Bryan used signaling as a model to explain why we are stuck in this inefficient system, while Carey gave reasons why he likes the university system.

Murray’s argument goes back to the nature vs. nurture debate. Is IQ fixed, or can we improve it with deliberation as Flynn suggested. To what extent can we changed our inherent traits? And is early intervention the best way to do it as Heckman advocated. All fascinating topics for me to explore further.Here’s an excerpt from Flynn on how to become smarter, the whole essay is well worth reading.

These comments about interventions may seem to imply that no one can really hope to improve on his or her genetic endowment. This pessimism is no more in order than pessimism about whether people can improve on their physical endowment for running. To do so, you must either have good luck or make your own luck. Either a happy chain of circumstances will force you to train throughout your life or you can develop a love for running and train without compulsion. Training will not override genes entirely, of course. There are runners I cannot beat even when I train more than they do. But I can run rings around every couch potato within 20 years of my age.

There is one way in which individuals can make their own luck. Internalize the goal of seeking challenging cognitive environments — seek intellectual challenges all the way from choosing the right leisure activities to wanting to marry someone who is intellectually stimulating. The best chance of enjoying enhanced cognitive skills is to fall in love with ideas, or intelligent conversation, or intelligent books, or some intellectual pursuit. If I do that, I create within my own mind a stimulating mental environment that accompanies me wherever I go. Then I am relatively free of needing good luck to enjoy a rich cognitive environment. I have constant and instant access to a portable gymnasium that exercises the mind. Books and ideas and analyzing things are possessions easier to access than even the local gym.

PS for those interested in Economics: Bloomberg’s Tom Keene interviewed some of the best economists recently, among them Blanchard, Dixit, Levitt, Schelling, Sachs and DeLong (oops, back to the economy again).

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