Interview with Karol Gajda (and other stuff)

Karol Gajda

So a few weeks ago, I managed to interview Karol Gajda, a Polish traveller, minimalist, online entrepreneur, guitarist and vegan. We talked about freedom, diet, challenges and fear.

They are all fighting for you to be normal. – Karol Gajda

Read the entire interview in the February issue of Singularity magazine.

The other stuff part

So while I was doing research on Karol for the interview, I read about his views on vegetarianism. In particular, on what he means when he says he’s a vegan. Now there are actually “levels” of vegetarianism. My friend called it the Vegetarian Continuum, which I wrote about in the August 2010 issue.

There’s the normal meat eaters. Then the Pescetarians, whose meat only comes from seafood, mainly fish. Then there are the “ovo” and “lacto” combinations, where you consume eggs and/or milk. Then comes the vegans, where you don’t consume meat at all (eggs and milk count as “meat”), or even have animal products in your lifestyle. Then we have the Buddhist vegetarians, where certain plant types are also excluded (the allium family, such as onions and garlic). And then we have the fruitarians, where your diet consists only of fruits, nuts and seeds.

Do you know about Buddhist monks seeking alms? Did you know they are not supposed to refuse any food placed in their alms bowls? Did you also know they cannot throw away food placed in their alms bowls? And finally, did you also know that if meat is placed in their bowls, they have to eat it?

Karol follows the spirit of vegetarianism, that of not killing another animal (or life). As do Buddhist monks. Here’s the thing. As a vegan, Karol doesn’t eat meat. BUT, if despite instructions or precautions or whatever, he ends up having animal products in his food, he will still eat it. For example, if he explicitly said to remove all cheese, but when the food arrived, it still contained cheese, he would still eat it.

Because if he didn’t eat it, it would be a disservice to the animal which died so it could be on his plate. If he refused to eat the incorrectly prepared food, most likely it would be thrown away. The animal was already dead. Throwing the food away meant that the animal died for nothing. Think about that the next time you waste food.

Obesity, overeating and possibly its cure

So here’s just a small idea I have about obesity (or at least the preventable behavioural type). In these modern times, when we no longer have to hunt for food, where food have become plentiful, we start to waste it. We continue to eat because there’s still more food, and not stop when we’re done and full. Economics then take over. More demand meant more supply needed. Which fed (no pun intended) back to growing demand. Which is why we now have Trenta sized Starbucks coffee.

The message seemed to be, it’s ok to have supersized food portions. The worse message is that, it’s ok if we can’t finish it. There’s still more food!

I don’t think it works the same way when Chris Anderson said it’s ok when we start wasting bits.

This is the power of waste. When scarce resources become abundant, smart people treat them differently, exploiting them rather than conserving them. It feels wrong, but done right it can change the world.

Here’s something else to think about. I can’t remember where I read it, but according to scientific studies, the more you eat, the shorter your lifespan. This is because your body is breaking down faster at the cellular level. When you eat, your body breaks down the food into useful materials and turns it into energy. That process wears down your cells. The more it does that, the more wear and tear your cells take.

Eat moderately. Don’t waste food. Don’t overeat, but don’t starve either.

Eat enough to live, then go do something awesome with your life. Then come back here and tell me about it.

Singularity Magazine February 2011

Singularity February 2011

Chinese New Year is on the 3rd February 2011. So in this issue of Singularity, I will tell you how red packets came about, and why they contain money (it involves the story of Nian). You didn’t know red packets contain money? Well, now you know.

I also have an interview with Karol Gajda, entrepreneur, traveller, vegan, minimalist and Freedom Fighter. Learn his definition of “freedom”. I also covered the blinkBL-NK January event.

Download the February 2011 issue (about 3 MB).

There’s also a special alternate cover. Turn to page 4 of the magazine to see it.

Epic Cuteness Contest!

Because this coming Chinese New Year is also the Year of the Rabbit (according to the Chinese Zodiac system), I have a contest! Turn to page 18 to see the cutest rabbits of epicosity in existence! Then vote for your favourite rabbit. You can also use the Twitter hashtag #epiccuterabbits like so

I vote contestant 1 #epiccuterabbits

We have 4 contestants. Results will be tabulated and the winner of epic cuteness will be revealed in the March 2011 issue of Singularity. Vote now!

Editor’s story

This was another month cramped with activity. I launched my own product, a programming guide on spreadsheets and Open XML. I had to learn to write sales copy, do marketing, make sure the sales process go smoothly for the customer.

So I asked the magic elves who helped me out with the December issue last year. They said they’re swamped with work preparing for the end of this year. Their primary employer, a jolly good fella in a red and white suit, wants to get a jump on this year’s tasks.

But they referred me to some fairy friends of theirs. So yeah, I hired 5 fairies to help me. You know what’s the price? One jar of Chinese New Year goodies:

Pineapple pastry

Wait, what? Oh, I’m not supposed to tell them the details of the contract? Oh darn.

Uh, forget what I just told you, ok? Let me tell you about my other assistant. She helps me with simple admin stuff.

Cat assistant

Don’t let her relaxed demeanor fool you. She’s busy destroying junk email using her tele-mechano-kinesis power to reach into my computer and shred the offending emails to pieces. Sometimes, she lets a few of those slip through. Then she would wait by my side, looking at me. I would grab those junk email, crumple them into a ball and let them drop to the floor. My assistant would then pounce on the hapless piece of paper with playful ferocity. Does your paper shredder have fun shredding? Mine does.

Interview with Matt Pearce

Interview with Matt Pearce

I had the opportunity to speak with Matt Pearce last month. He’s an artist and illustrator in United Kingdom. I came across his work when I spoke with Iain Broome (whom I interviewed before). It’s always interesting to find out what the motivations of an artist are for his work, so I asked Matt. I must admit, I was expecting maybe some childhood memory, some prominent figure, some inspiring event. Matt gave me a short yet expressive answer:

The main reaction or feeling I try to evoke is a smile. Pure and simple.

Everyone can use an extra smile. 🙂

Read the entire interview in the December 2010 issue of Singularity.

Interview with Iain Broome

Iain Broome

In the latest issue of Singularity, I did an interview with Iain Broome, an eminently practical fiction writer and copywriter. Iain’s novel A is for Angelica is represented by Tibor Jones & Associates, and he also talked about the Post-it system he used while writing the novel. Here’s a question I asked: If you can only give one piece of advice to first time authors, what will it be?

Gosh, just one? That’s tough. I know that many writers when asked this question say… write. But I’ve always thought that to be a bit of a kop out, so I’ll go for something else.

I think it’s important that writers know why they’re writing and manage their expectations. Us scribblers can occasionally struggle with a lack of self-awareness, I’m afraid. Sometimes we think our work is brilliant, and it’s really not. And sometimes we think that what we’ve written is useless, when actually it’s worth pursuing further. Either way, it’s always important to get good quality, trusted advice from peers.

It’s also important to find that difficult balance between having confidence in your work and not expecting instant success. I’ve written before in various places that I try and think about my writing on the following terms: Reach for the stars. Expect nothing. It’s important to believe that you can, for instance, get a novel published if you work hard and are willing to listen and improve. But it’s also vital that you don’t get ahead of yourself and expect it to happen. Like I say, it’s about managing expectations.

Read the rest of the interview here.

What do you think? Who else do you want me to interview?

Singularity Magazine November 2010

Singularity November 2010

The November issue of Singularity is available. Get it now. It’s free.

In this issue, we have:

  • An interview with Iain Broome, fiction writer and copywriter. You’ll find out his Post-it system while writing his novel, A is for Angelica.
  • A book review of Chris Guillebeau‘s new book, The Art of Non-Conformity
    (Amazon link).
  • My visit to Hay Dairies, a goat farm in Singapore.
  • Coverage of the 30th anniversary of Gundam in Singapore.

You can also read it on Scribd. (click through to site to see embedded document if you can’t see it from your RSS feed reader)

Singularity November 2010

Feel free to share the magazine through email, blog or other means. You’re given the right to print and distribute the magazine electronically provided you don’t change any of the content or charge for it.

And have a happy Halloween.

Communication is key

I did an interview with Alex Hall, a web developer. The interview is featured in the October issue of Singularity. Here’s a question I asked: What is the one skill that has been invaluable to you as a web developer?

Communication. You get nowhere without communication. That goes for all aspects of web development. You first need to get a grasp of the next project you are going to be doing, and you need to make sure you understand it as fully as possible before even starting. That is communicating with the client, which can also prove to be the hardest part of a project. I heard a story the other day where a client wanted their web site ‘re-vamped’ and all they gave the designer was a 1997 template they liked and 1 line of text! You can’t do anything with that!

Read the rest of his answer, and the other interview questions in the October issue. Download it for free. Alex writes at DeVSeO and you can also follow him on Twitter @devseo.

I’ve also recently signed up for Scribd. Hopefully, that increases the reach of the magazine, which gives me more leverage, which means you get better articles to read. Ad infinitum.
Singularity October 2010

And I actually had a different magazine cover originally. Here’s what it looks like:

Singularity October 2010 alternate cover

Are they recruiting secret agents?

So I told you about the time when the security guard stopped me because I was too hot. I went for an interview, and it ended with stepping into the company building. This is where the story continues…

[What follows had been highly exaggerated for entertainment purposes. About 72.59% of it was created out of thin air.]

Bright lobby
[image by Freezingtime]

The gigantic lobby was brightly lit. The company representative had said nothing other than “Follow me” since I passed the security heat scan. He moved purposefully to the lifts and pressed a button.

I noticed the receptionist was staring at me. Not with adoration, sadly, but with an ever so slight frown on her face. The lift doors opened, and she went back to looking at her computer screen. The representative had already went into the lift, and I moved in quickly.

He pressed the button “B3”. We’re going below ground? He faced the button panel in a stiff manner, and I didn’t dare to engage him in conversation.

The doors opened, and I saw a long hallway stretching away from me. He exited the lift and I followed suit.

*Glung glong glung glong* The sound of our footsteps echoed emptily in the hallway. The tiled floor was clinically white. The walls were a uniform washed out grey, devoid of decorations.

I was half-expecting a door on the side to break the monotony when the representative stopped. A glass door was in front of us! There was a security panel on the right.

“Please move to behind me.” It wasn’t a request.

I practically leapt behind him, for fear of lasers sweeping the hallway. But the curiosity in me won. I took a quick peek at what he’s doing at the security panel. I mean, it’s not everyday you see retinal and fingerprint scans in action. But he’s just entering a few digits on the security panel. Oh, he just didn’t want me seeing him entering his passcode.

The glass doors opened with an almost imperceptible swoosh. I waited for him to take the lead, but he stayed where he was.

“This is as far as I can take you.”

I stared at him incredulously. “Uh, how do I get to where I’m supposed to go then?”

“Go down the hallway. When you reach the fork, turn right. There’ll be a room at the end. Wait there. Your interviewer will be a bit late.”

I almost wanted to ask him how was I supposed to return to civilisation when he turned abruptly and walked swiftly back to the lift. I went past the glass doors and they swooshed shut. My throat constricted a bit.

Following his instructions, I found the door leading to the room he mentioned. My hands shook while I turned the door knob. I entered the room.

It was a fairly large room. There was another door on the other side of the room. The lighting was uneven, where the brightest part was on a corner. Coincidentally, that’s where a table and two chairs reside (the only pieces of furniture in the room). A ceiling light flickered at the darker regions, momentarily allowing me to see… nothing there. The walls were the same pale grey, and even the light switches blended into the walls. The only thing missing in the room was a polygraph near the table. I swallowed.

There was a sign on the wall, near the table. I moved closer to read it, happy to see any form of decoration. It was a “No camera phones allowed” sign. My heart jumped, and I instinctively touched my pockets where my camera phone rested.

“I am so dead.”

After waiting for ten minutes, I decided they wouldn’t kill me if I sat down first. I placed my briefcase against the leg of the table, and mentally rehearsed what I was going to say. I had to tell the interviewer about my camera phone, of course. Checking that I had extra copies of my resume and academic accomplishments did nothing to calm me.

I jumped when a door opened. The interviewer came in from the other side of the room. “Sit down,” he said, a smile on his face. “I’m sorry I was late. Held up by a meeting.”

“I have to tell you this. I have a camera phone, but I’ve already switch it off.”
“Oh. It’s ok.”

He proceeded with what I felt were standard interview protocol. I was still in shock, when he threw an unexpected “I have a grandfather’s clock and it’s faster than my watch. Should I shorten or lengthen the pendulum?” I stared at him for a few seconds before answering. He must have sensed my confusion, because he said, “Oh it’s not part of the interview. I’m just curious.”

Then he showed me a piece of code on string concatenation and asked me how to make it faster. Then he showed me another piece of code, and asked about the rounding errors of the monetary calculations (oh I know that one!).

Finally, it ended. He told me he had to attend to something, and he couldn’t take me back (to the surface). But it should be easy that I retrace my steps back to the glass doors. Someone would pick me up from there. He exited via the same door he came in. I packed my stuff and left the room too.

Retracing my steps, I found the glass doors. And the representative waiting for me. How did he know when my interview would finish? As I walked towards the glass doors, he entered his passcode, and the doors slid open.

He took me wordlessly through the (endless) hallway, back to the lift, back to ground floor, past the (cute) receptionist, and out into the afternoon sun. “Thank you for your time, and we’ll be in touch.” was all he said.

I’m just glad I’m still alive.

So hot, I was stopped by security

The recent heat wave in Singapore, and the unfortunate H1N1 epidemic reminded me of a story. I’ve only told this to a few people, but here is where you’ll read about the full story.

It was slightly later than the SARS period. People were frightened of getting infected. The basic detection method was the temperature check, so thermometers and heat scans were employed.

I was also looking for a potential job position, and I got an afternoon interview with a company. I arrived early because the location was a bit remote.

Now, it’s a habit of mine. Whenever I know something important is happening later, I stop drinking. Just so I won’t have to go to the bathroom at the most inopportune moments. I don’t know why, it’s just a personal quirk.

So I was walking from the bus stop to the company’s location, under the hot sun, in long sleeves and pants (thankfully no suit and tie needed), and heated, slightly sweaty and parched. It was a wonder I reached the security guardroom of the company not dripping wet from my own sweat.

Now this company had a very high security level. They had a full temperature head scanner. They had this device that scans people, and a heat map shows up on their screens.

Well, it was after the SARS period, so I could understand their security concerns. Someone from the company was waiting for me. He waited by the side while the security guard asked me to stand at a designated spot. Then the guard activated the scanner.

Apparently, my temperature scan looked like a sunset with lavish swathes of reds and oranges, because the guard told me to stand still again while he scanned again. Sensing something wrong, the adrenaline in me surged a little, which didn’t help cool down my body temperature. I held still. I even held my breath. I still failed the temperature scan.

The company liaison, surprised by this unexpected unfolding of events, took me to the inner parts of the guardroom, where the air conditioning was stronger. He also offered me a cup of water from the dispenser. Then he told me to sit and wait for a while first. I got myself a cup of water, drank and accepted his suggestion.

“I’m gonna fail the interview before I even step into the company office, aren’t I?” silently and matter-of-factly entered my thoughts.

After 15 minutes (or half an hour, I didn’t keep track), I stood up, and took the temperature scan again. I placed my feet at the exact position of the designated spot, shifting my shoes to fit the exact outline of the pre-drawn shoe print. My hands were held in a limbo of alternating tenseness and forced relaxation. I looked up as confidently as I could, keeping my breathing steady, taking deep breaths… And the guard scanned.

What took seconds felt like the time passed while running around a 400 metre track 2 times, then jumping into a pool to swim 100 metres and then work out a 6 digit long division. By hand. I was getting ready to dive into that imaginary pool in my mind when the guard said it’s ok. I passed.

The company liaison, obvious relief on his face, took me into the company proper. And the interview itself? Well, it’s not as interesting as the guardroom episode… alright fine, I’ll tell you about it some other time.

Guest on podcast about Windows 7

Recently, the Tech65 team invited me to talk about Windows 7 on their podcast. I thank them for letting me join in. It was a fun experience.

I’m saying it right now; I’m not an expert on Windows 7. I follow the developers’ blog. I read Raymond Chen’s blog. That’s about the extent of my knowledge on Windows development (7 or not).

The reason I’m invited to the podcast recording was I saw a Windows 7 demo, presented at a PHP Meetup (thanks Michael for inviting me!) at Microsoft Singapore. And that I follow the Windows 7 developers’ blog. And that I watched a video of a Windows 7 demo at the PDC.

If you haven’t already clicked on that link to the podcast, here it is again:
Tech65 podcast – Windows 7

I was just listening to myself in the podcast and I found that I spoke too softly, compared to the rest of the team. 1 minute in and I couldn’t bear to listen anymore… I was terrible! I was nervous! I need more practice… In the meantime, I’ll stick to writing stuff here…

There were 3 Tech65 members at the podcast. We were recording at Geek Terminal, a cafe geared for uh, geeks. There were power sockets practically everywhere, to make it easy to power up laptops, notebooks, netbooks, Mac books and what-not. I was the only one without any fancy gadgets. Does a mobile phone count?

Anyway, it was a short discussion on Windows 7 (about 10 minutes or so. I didn’t count. Too embarrassed to find out where my part ended. Luckily, show notes are provided). Then the team moved on to other technological and gadget news. There were 2 other pieces of information I wanted to share, but the opportunity didn’t present itself. I even had accompanying funny lines to go along with the tidbits.

The first one is that in Windows 7, you can drag a document to the extreme left and the document automatically resizes to fill the left half of the screen. Then you hold onto another document and move it to the right and that document fills the right half of the screen. It’s to make it easy to do comparison of document content. Plus dragging windows around is fun, because I like to move it, move it!

The second was about quick focusing of windows. Suppose you have 5 windows open on the desktop. There’s one particular window you want to work on, and you want the other 4 windows to be minimised. All you have to do is grab hold of the title bar of that window, and Shake shake, shake shake, shake it! and the other 4 windows shimmy to the taskbar. Want them back? Shake shake, shake shake, shake it! again.

*Cue tumbling ball of dried roots in barren wasteland. Cue squawking crows.*

You know, it’s a good thing I didn’t try to crack jokes at the podcast. I would have failed miserably… If you have anything to say regarding the Windows 7 information I gave (perhaps I was blatantly wrong and I don’t know about it), please send in comments here, or do so at the Tech65 post.

Response to Stack Overflow podcast 15

The recent Stack Overflow podcast is fantastic! Check it out here. Their fantasticness might have to do with Jeff and Joel answering listener questions more than directionless rambling. Some of the questions were interesting, and I want to add to their answers.

The one on time management

Like Jeff, I don’t really have a system. Like Joel, I got halfway through Getting Things Done and I decided the whole system is still too complex and I could have actually done something already. The concept of transferring tasks from your brain onto something, like paper (have a look at Todoodlist) or a PDA or a computer, is great though. I use my mobile phone to keep track of personal tasks, and the Outlook calendars and tasks to keep track of office work.

That said, my “system” if you want to call it that, is to keep people from annoying me.

Given similar levels of urgency, first do that task which has the most number of people irritating you.

It’s served me well so far.

The one on code review

I’ve never had a code review of my code. It’s not that I’m that good (it helped though), or I’m a pompous buffoon (I’m not). It’s that the people I’ve worked with, don’t care about code quality but more about whether the software worked. When the software failed, or was slow, then the code was checked.

The other reason is the small team I’m currently working in. There’s no one else available to check my code. My team leader trusts that I do my job and I’m grateful for that. The downside is, I don’t have anyone to talk to in my team. I’m the .NET guy! Or the front-end guy.

This is getting depressing. Moving on…

The one on interviews

I don’t know what it’s like in America, where the geographical context of Jeff and Joel’s conversation is. What I do know is, there was only one interview where I had to read and explain some code. It was something to do with string concatenation optimisation in Java. I believe it was an actual production issue, and the interviewers wanted to get a free answer from the interviewees.

Just go prepared. Read up on the company, prepare some questions of your own and revise some of the basic programming stuff. It might look bad if you asked for access to Google so you can find out the parameter signature of a basic function.

[Update] Joel also mentioned something about suits. If you’re not used to wearing office wear, and the company you’re interviewing for requires you to wear suits, well guess what? Practise wearing suits. My current job only required me to wear a long sleeved shirt, pants and (leather) shoes. And belts help too. Don’t you read fashion magazines? *smile* I remember squirming in that alien outfit for my first few interviews because I’m not used to wearing them… Don’t be like me.

I’ve heard of the puzzle questions in Microsoft and Google interviews. I’ve actually had one too. The puzzle had something to do with a cube.

The ones on managerial role and outsourcing

I’m linking them together because my answer is related to both: Offshoring. Occasionally, I’m in charge of a developer stationed in China. I had to write out instructions, program specifications, design layout and database table structures.

The only code reviews ever done was on the code of our Chinese colleagues. We’re (as in the Singapore team) supposed to be training them.

As I understand it, outsourcing means you delegate tasks to another company, usually in another country. Offshoring means you delegate tasks to another part of the mother company in another country.

Oh, you might want to read about my first outsourcing episode.

And that’s all from me. If you hadn’t done so, go listen to the podcast.