A new day has come

A new day has come

Alright, first post in a new year! For the benefit of old and new readers alike, I’ve decided to write a short introduction on what this blog is about and what you can get out of it.

Who are you?

I’m Vincent Tan, a Singaporean Chinese (and told on many occasions that I don’t look like a Singaporean). You can read more about me here, because you have a more burning question…

Who is a polymath programmer?

A polymath is someone knowledgeable in a wide variety of topics. A polymath programmer is someone who knows a lot about a lot of topics, usually centred around programming.

I don’t proclaim I’m the best programmer. I’ve made mistakes before. I’ve coded monstrosities before.

Yet the polymath programmer is an ideal I strive towards. Because in the few recent years I’ve done professional programming work, I’ve learnt that being the best is no longer enough. Being 2nd best at everything, is.

So what’s this blog about again?

Curiosity. It’s about learning and experiencing as much as you can, because you never know if something is useful, particularly in programming.

You will find articles about programming, software management and coding theories (not the math kind, though it can be…). There are also articles on graphics, 3D and image editing. There are math articles (such as Bezier curves), web articles and even singularities like chalcography or demos or AI in game development. I also write stuff about working in a corporate office environment, like handling user queries and shared thoughts on not talking while in toilets.

I strive to be a better programmer. There was commotion about programming jobs going overseas, so I went ahead to see what it’s like to outsource a blog design job, to my utter horror and was a complete disaster. There was talk of integrating media into blogs, so I went ahead to do my first podcast, learning how to edit audio with Audacity and sprucing audio with purchased tracks from Soundrangers. I learnt to go beyond the boundaries of my own blog, and wrote a guest article on coaxing creativity with music.

If you want to know more, subscribe to my blog feed to get my latest articles as they’re published. RSS feeds were new to me when I started writing, and you can read up on what I learnt and wrote on RSS subscriptions.

I learn something, experience it, and then discuss it here.

What do I get out of this?

Interesting ideas and experiences. Some readily put to practical use. Some, not so. You might find something uproaringly hilarious. You might read something groundshakingly insightful. You might come across something that’s deeply resonant with your core belief.

I can’t tell you exactly what you’ll get, because ultimately you decide what you learn out of something. Besides, polymaths don’t restrict themselves to any one topic. And if you don’t get anything out of this post, then get this:

Programmers nowadays, don’t just do programming anymore.

In my professional work, on any one day, I’m expected to

  • work with and administer Sybase, SQL Server and Oracle databases
  • write SQL commands for the 3 aforementioned databases
  • write C# and VB.NET for web applications
  • work with C, C++ and Unix shell scripts for backend applications
  • design look and feel of web applications
  • work with graphic files (I’m the designer remember?)
  • do HTML, CSS, Javascript

And that’s just programming related tasks. I’ve installed applications for users, done paperwork for SSL certificate renewals (and installing them), and clarifying business logic for users (who should know the business logic anyway, but hey…). I’ve created programming specs for my offshore colleagues, and I’ll review their code.

I want to highlight one point to you. The majority of my time is used on activities that have nothing to do with coding. Not one line of code. If it was about code, then it’s usually about maintaining code, like checking up on messages, bug fixes and explaining programming logic.

I want to be a polymath programmer too!

Let’s help each other then. I am only one person, so the breadth and depth of any topic discussed can be limited. So I’m asking for your help, your input. You can

  • ask about anything you don’t know
  • tell me about anything you do know
  • offer your comments on articles
  • submit your own articles

You can contact me on my contact page, or email me using vincent [the at sign] polymathprogrammer [the period character] com, or leave comments on articles. Topics preferably programming-related, but anything goes.

Like “Why are there 24 hours in a day?“. The Egyptians came up with the idea. They decided there should be 10 hours for daytime, corresponding to our 10 fingers and thumbs. Then they added one hour for dawn, and one hour for dusk. That’s 12 hours. Then they multiplied by 2 for night. And that’s how you have 24 hours.

Rounding this introduction, I’ll tell you 3 rarely known facts about me.

  • I brush my teeth with my right hand in the morning and with my left hand at night, to train ambidexterity
  • I juggle 3 tennis balls for fun sometimes
  • I used to play a Chinese orchestral instrument called the zhong ruan

It’s a new year, with new challenges to face and new things to learn. So get ready, because a new day has come.


  1. Interesting site. I also aspire(d) to be a polymath programmer, although now I’m more of a theoretical computer scientist (still an aspiring polymath, though). While you transitioned from applied mathematics to computer programming, I sort of went the other way, though I also studied a good deal of mathematics and even did a bit of research in it.

    SQL stands for “structured query language” rather than “standard query language” – not a big deal, but I thought I’d point it out.

    Anyway, I’m drawing up plans for a new type of university with a multidisciplinary curriculum that takes advantage of the fusion of principles from different disciplines. I found your site while checking how far down it appeared on search results, actually šŸ™‚

    The site’s at http://www.projectpolymath.org. I’d be interested in hearing your thoughts.

    Best Regards,
    Michael Barnathan

  2. Interesting about the time… I always thought that there were 24 hours in a day because 24 was superabundant, just as I always thought there were 60 seconds in a minute and 60 minutes in an hour because 60 is colossally abundant. It makes dividing things up easy.

    Even if not deliberate, it’s a fortunate coincidence.

  3. Vincent Tan says:

    Hi Michael! I transitioned to programming due to interest. I’m ashamed to say, due to long term absence, my math ability probably atrophied. On the up side, my other skills (general, social, financial etc) have improved.

    And thanks for pointing out the SQL acronym. Corrected already. Slipped my mind while posting… Never much a fan of using acronyms without knowing what they stand for.

    About the 24 hour thing, I remembered the explanation given in my childhood encyclopedia. I didn’t even verify it, because it wasn’t important and it was interesting to know it to be so. Just Googled the question, and realised I have a unique answer (even if it may not be true).

    And your university? Great idea! I’ve always felt confined by the seemingly arbitrary conditions set by my university for degree requirements. They led to a degree, and not necessarily an improvement of the individual’s mind.

    I think your biggest hurdle might be convincing other people that the university’s degree offering is recognised.


  1. […] Barnathan asked, on my 2008 introductory article, for my thoughts on Iā€™m [Michael] drawing up plans for a new type of university with a […]