The Creativity in the Limitations

Two observations of human nature:

  • We overestimate what we can do in a single day, but,
  • We underestimate what we can do over a long period of time

Ever planned a rather ambitious, lengthy check-list of To-Dos only to see it get crushed under the steamroller called Procrastination and Laziness? Or, more often, see it pathetically fizzle out by exhaustion and daily routines? Well, you ain’t alone there. But I posit a rather counterintuitive solution to this: give yourself only a small chunk of your day to do all these tasks.

Yep, you read that right: instead of blocking half a day to do your chores, make an artificial limit of, say, only 30 minutes. It’ll accomplish two things, primarily:

  1. You’ll actually make some damn progress.
  2. It won’t feel like a freaking set of chores when you know it’ll end shortly, and you can get back to playing Unreal Tournament XXXI….

But there’s a bonus point: you may actually become more creative in your tasks/chores/challenge when you’re forced to complete something in 30 minutes rather than 3 hours. Seriously! The creative mind often (but not always) works under a demand system. When demand is low (you’ve got tons of time), it’s also low — the Creative Mini-mind part of your brain’s got better things to do (like daydreaming) than actually helping you solve your problem. But when demand is high (you’re holding a metaphorical gun to its head), well, you know…

It’s a forcing function, almost. So the next time Procrastination and Laziness start eyeing your task list with baseball bats in their hands, just remember: short-burst and consistent execution is better than long grind and burning out.

Nutritional Engineering


For myself at least, I’ve cracked the biocode to running longer and faster, through some very specific nutritional engineering process:

  1. Oatmeal - for steady glucose release and no-crashing.
  2. Kale - for increased oxygen circulation*.
  3. Coffee - for decreased adenosine (longer and better neuromuscular power output).
  4. Fish - proteins, obviously.

Process + volume: At least 2 hours before running, and with 2 cups oatmeal, 2 cups kale, at least 2 medium-size Starbucks coffees, and a small portion fish.

*Conjecture only, not verified with any sort of scientific process.

The elegance of jQuery

The snippet above is all that’s required to build a sticky button that allows users to auto-scroll to the top of a long mobile page.

Order in the Entropy


Been reading The Chaos Imperative by Ori Brafman. For a long while now, I’ve believed in the power of random functions/nonlinear actions to bring really amazing things to our lives. The question really, is how to sustain these continued injections of such randomness in our lives, when the modern world structured by Outlook calendars and Asana checklists and other ordering functions keep us on a path of linear momentum. Don’t get me wrong; we need order and structure to execute our plans and meet our goals. But ordering functions and linear momentum are the “10 - 20%” functions. You’ll make 10% or 20% next year. Or you’ll be 10% or 20% more efficient next year. Or you’ll get a 10% or 20% head start on your competitors. What I’m talking about here, the random functions and nonlinearity, these are the 200% - 1000% or even 10,000% functions

Now that really excites me. (Don’t tell me you’re not!)

So back to my original point: how does one sustain such injections of chaotic nuggets in our lives when one is constrained by ordering functions, and limited by the physical and/or mental energy capacities? We all know those moments at 9:48 pm on a Wednesday night when we don’t feel like booting up our brain system for yet another marathon.

[To be continued…]

Power in the Pixel


If you know me, you probably also know that I’m quite a fan of Pixelmator, a $29.99 package that packs way more than Adobe’s Photoshop (or Illustrator) dollar for dollar. But Pixelmator is only part of the story; I’m quite a fan of visual assets in general, and data visualization in particular. A picture doesn’t just encapsulate a thousand words; it triggers a unique neurological synapse that words can’t possibly do, at least not efficiently. It embeds the idea deeper in our minds (both semantically and recall-wise) due to the primal nature of our visual senses. If you want an analogy, I could say that the power of pixels is in their seeming ability to bypass the bottleneck of your linguistic processing centers and go directly to the “eureka” center of your brain*.

*I’m making this up for purposes of providing an argument - don’t take my statement for actual scientific fact.

Thoughtstream, designstream, makestream, evolvestream

I love creating and evolving my digital creations, be they codelets of logic, entire iOS apps, Pixelmator-powered imaginations, or even Raspberry Pi widgets. In a sense, my digital creations behave much like natural selection, the selecting pressure being me (what I need them to do), and the random mutations are the tweaks that I give to these things all the time.

Take firewalls (the electronic kind). At the dawn of my digital career, when I was just 12, I used Windows 95 and an AOL connection. At that time, let’s just say the concept of “firewall” is pretty much non-existent in my head, let alone on that most ancient Compaq Presario desktop. Needless to say, a “friend” of mine with rather…flexible…ethics told me one day he looked at my folder’s contents because we were collaborating on a project. The very next day, my Windows 95 had an early version of Zonealarm running on it, and with stealth mode to boot.

But I didn’t stop there; I started adding antiviral software, using alternative browsers, and followed by an upgrade to Windows 2000. My very first Redhat Linux installation came in 2001, and that was fairly secure out of the box (well, Windows 95 set quite a low standard). My digital security ecosystem kept evolving: better OSes (Ubuntu), IPtables, ssh security, router-level stateful packet inspection, RSA disk encryption, Wifi networks that don’t broadcast SSIDs, and VPNs, to name a few. These days my security works in concentric layers, and the “firewall” isn’t limited to the mechanics but also to how I work online. In short, it evolved from a 3mb Zonealarm executable to a mini-network that the NSA would have a hard time cracking. (Not really, but you know. ;))

The greatest thing about evolving (or subjecting your creations to a constant stream of tweaks big and small) process is that the tweaks add up to an exponential net improvement. It also lets you create things you’ve never thought you could, because the random mutations takes you out of your usual comfort zone and shows you a pathway from “good” to “great”.

So, with that said, 2014 is going to be a really productive year of thoughtstreams, designstreams, makestreams, and ultimately, evolvestreams.



Background for bionicly version 2014.

Portland, as processed by Pixelmator

On the seaside, between uncharacteristically high volumes of seafood consumption and #UnplannedExplorations.

Aliens in New York

Continuing the theme of my sub-minds coming up with mini stories of their own, here’s another one about an extraterrestrial family visiting New York on one balmy weekend in year 2452:

“Moooom, why can’t I try these cupcakes?” Bhaggs managed to save up a heavy glass collection of HSU coins for the express purpose of getting his sharp canines and molars on these delicious, frosted strawberry cupcakes that only these ingenious humans made. On this gloriously balmy day in late spring (local), Bhaggs’ extended family decided to sojourn to this Earth-city of New York for a family gathering and, as Bhaggs Senior stated, “long overdue cross-cultural educational experience”. He and his mother were currently by themselves in the centuries-old (and quite famous) Magnolia Bakery.

“But you’ll get the poops, honey.” His mother squatted down and fussed over his NewYankees t-shirt. Bhaggs’ quadruple arms didn’t fit too well even through the oversized sleeves. But Bhaggs had insisted on donning the t-shirt right after his mother bought it for him. He had a thing for human consumer goods. “Remember last year? Uncle Yayap brought us those brown sweet samples from the humans and I had to wash your bedsheets. Twice.” She crossed her eyes slightly and looked troubled by the memory.

“But mooom, that was so last year! I’m big eight now. And I saved up, see?” He shook the glass container full of HSU coins that he gripped in his green mottled tail. “I bet that’s at least nine dollars in there.” Bhaggs was quite proud of his precocious financial acumen.

His mother sighed and looked at him with big magenta-colored irises the size of golf balls. She sighed again after a moment. “Very well.” She stood up and looked at the quite amused proprietor behind the glass showcase unit. “Mister, we would like to buy four of these,” she pointed at the cupcake Bhaggs singled out earlier, and spoke in English with a twinge of that Skorj nasal accent.

“Coming right up, my friends!” The delighted proprietor quickly added conspiratorially, “And I must say, for non-natives, you folks sure know the best ones to pick!” After a quick banter between Bhagg’s mother and the proprietor over what brought them to this human city, they left the bakery with Bhaggs clutching a much diminished collection of coins and paper bag filled with a steaming mound of newfound culinary treasures. On the way out, they bumped into Bhaggs’ elder sister, who in his opinion should not have belonged to the same family unit as he, such was her level of annoyance to him.

“HA! HA! Is Bhaggs pretending to be a hoomin again, mother?” She turned to Bhaggs, lowered her face to his eye level. “Getting puppy food for lunch?” His sister Djerling mocked in a sing-song tone.

“Shut up you smelly swamp rat excrement! Your rot-infested brain can’t possibly—”

“Bhaggs! Watch it!” His mother looked at both of them in exasperation. “And Djerling, that’s not very nice. I want you both to stop this.” His mother made a tutting sound and looked from Djerling to Bhaggs and back to Djerling. “Now, did you buy anything over there, Djerling?”

Bhaggs smoldered. As the youngest of the five children in the family unit, he seemed always to be on the butt end of hoomin jokes and mockery. True, he was quite obsessed with collecting the latest human action movies from the Skorj Virtual Collective. Lately, the humans’ Stenchpuke Hunters series were especially exciting, he thought. Bhaggs also could not help but hanker after those delicious human sweets, in all their multifarious favors, colours, shapes, and odors. It was so much more rich than those from his own civilization. But damned if his siblings are going to mock him for what were his favorite pastimes when not doing tedious schoolwork or helping with the family botanical business. In a bit of defiance, he reached in and grabbed the biggest strawberry cupcake in his bag and started stuffing his mouth with it.

“Ooh…” it was heavenly, that cupcake was. With one hand clutched in his mother’s and walking along, he closed his eyes and savoured the burst of alien flavor. How could anyone say a bad thing about those sweets? Bhaggs swore when he grew up he is going to leave his homeworld in the Oort Cloud and live here, in this City of New York. Then he could do whatever he wanted, perhaps feasting only on human sweets to the exclusion of all else. And maybe also finish watching Stenchpuke Hunters in peace.

Upon reaching the edge of this green area that the humans have helpfully posted “Central Park” in Skorj hieroglyphs, he felt much better — his sister’s vexing remarks quite forgotten. Bhaggs was about to reach into his bag for another one of those sublime culinary creations when suddenly his second stomach gave a massive grumble and he started to feel quite dizzy. He stopped walking and let go of his mother’s hand.

“Bhaggs?” His vision blurred, and for some reason he felt he could not really think straight, or think anything at all. Bhaggs stood completely still, his eyes squeezed shut in discomfort. Somewhere deep in his subconscious, he registered his mother and sister calling his name from what appeared to be a faraway place, an echoing sound, and quite alarmed yelling too…and then everything turned to black and nothingness.

Skorjs and Stenchpukes

The interesting thing about my brain is that there seems to be many sub-minds that act like mini-AIs with some level of autonomy, and are more or less cajoled and threatened to cooperate with the rest of the brain by the big sub-mind that seems to be the conscious thread. One of these sub-minds decided to write a random chapter of a sci-fi-ish story. The following text is an excerpt.

Yes, the Skorj has some differences compared to Baseline humans. For instance, they seem to have engineered some evolutionary advantages into their collective DNAs, in which most Skorjs are now immune to their versions of “colds” and “flus”. As another instance, they have four arms instead of the usual two. Quite handy for those long sessions of multi-sensorium game playing. They also seem not to be able to perceive the same color spectrum as humans can, so a rainbow is merely an ugly tri-color band to them, a bane to all Skorj amateur photographers after a rainstorm on their homeworld. But regardless of what one may say about the Skorj, they are for the most part almost humanity’s galactic cousins down the interstellar street. Obsessed with latest fashion accessories? Check. Endless debates about the how the new Politician is just like the old Politician? Check. Perpetually mired in deficit and tax issues? Check. Changing diets every 3 weeks on the latest hot thing? Check, of course.

So you see, one should never utter “Skorj” and “Stenchpuke” in the same sentence. The Stenchpukes, as their name implies, exist in a violent, predatory, and smelly orbit of their own. 231 years after humans and Skorjs started their joint exploration of the Outer Realms, the intergalactic cousins stumbled upon a charred, ruined world near Charybdis IV. What they discovered when the scouting party landed in what appeared to be the civilizational core shocked both humans and Skorjs, and ignited a historic media firestorm in their respective civilizations. Over the course of 72 hours, they quickly amended their mutual species agreements to eliminate any remaining points of dispute over economic and military cooperation. The Stenchpukes, in short, managed to do what two odd centuries of legal and economic negotiations between stuffy, self-important human and Skorj diplomats failed to do: a Human-Skorj Union (or a Skorj-Human Union, depending on which side you asked on a given day).

[To be continued…]