Some Writing Advice To Myself

One of the most solid pieces of advice that I’ve ever received is that you should write the way that you speak; it’s something I think that I still fall short in, a piece of advice that I’ve wanted to implement but struggled to take, something that I personally want to improve myself in.

Somewhere along the line, I realized that in life, using difficult words and complicated expressions isn’t going to do you any favours – the people whom you’re supposed to serve won’t understand you, which means that if they are going to continue reading what you’re writing, they will have to use a dictionary or otherwise rack their brains trying to understand what you’re trying to say.

The answer probably is a solid no.

Even if you want someone to appreciate the high flown nature of your ideas, and to somehow elevate themselves, if they don’t get what you’re trying to say, then, there is no point – you have just wasted your time, which you could have spent either leveling yourself up so that you would be able to express better ideas, or perhaps, even just watching a television show in the first place:

People will most likely take one look at what you’re saying and immediately go away in favour of greener pastures or messages that they can understand; congratulations, you lose the attention war.

This isn’t to say in any way that people are dumb because they don’t appreciate difficult vocabulary and neither, by the way, is it to say that people should avoid difficult vocabulary altogether. Rather, it’s to say that when we express ourselves, whatever the scenario, we want to do it in such a way that the maximum number of people can understand us.

I feel that the underlying message is solid: whatever you communicate, make sure to phrase it in such a way that you aim to be understood by the person on the other end because if you’re just writing things in such a way that you use things that people won’t get out of hand, your communication will be unsuccessful.

Still, it’s something that I’ve identified and want to get better at, so here’s a note of vulnerability.

This is something that I myself struggle with, because when I think about things, I don’t always think about the most simple, or intuitive way of phrasing things – I tend to think in terms of complete ideas and full sentences, just as I have read them in books; I also tend not to filter them, so they come out the same way that they appear inside my head – unfiltered, often dense, and usually very quickly without any further consideration for the person on the other end.

Often it’s not the case that I think directly about what the person on the other side must be understanding or receiving from my words, hence everything comes out, unfiltered, overly convoluted, reflective of my thought process, and in short lacking usefulness.

I want to have my thoughts more relatable to people so that they can immediately respond rather than face confusion in top of getting what I’m trying to say, and why I’m saying it – that means being able to relate to people a little more and chatting with people in the knowledge that they can understand everything that I’m getting across.

I want to have more people understand the thoughts that I’m conveying, which isn’t just about changing the language that I use so that it can be more easily understood, but also learning how to think about ideas that are worthwhile to share in the first place, and to understand why and under what circumstances to share them.

I’d like to caveat that to some extent, though. I don’t think that learning how to share your ideas with the world necessarily means dumbing them down – in many ways, it means understanding how people will relate to things, how they will engage, and how they can understand things through examples, analogies, and many of the other things that link us together as human beings in the common experience.

Writing in a simple way often isn’t reflective off linguistic simplicity, but rather it’s something pretty darn sophisticated, because in order to write, simply, you often have to really boil down the essence of what makes an idea what it is and then convey those things to the person who is listening while paying attention to what they’re catching onto and constantly listening to their needs – definitely not something that’s possible in the course of writing, an essay, but something that a person needs to be able to imagine and demonstrate effectively when they’re in the process of writing an exam.

This too is something that I’m trying to learn at the moment, and I think I can do it to a southern extent, but perhaps writing it down here will solidify my intent, and make it more clear what I’m trying to achieve. Here’s the hope that in the days ahead, I’ll be able to better implement.

On Altruism and Charity

I often think a lot about charity and altruism. I think that it is noble to give unto others in many different ways. This is something that I cannot deny. Almost every single fibre of my being, schooled by the lessons of morality and the chidings of adults who taught me moral values at an earlier point, only to later turn out not to be such shining exemplars as those that I had imagined when I was younger.

Yet I have seen enough of the reality of the world to understand that gifts are truly things that we should not have any prior expectations about, in terms of how gifts should be used. It has been difficult to come to this way of thinking because I think that in many ways, when we give, we expect to make a positive difference and we want the world to go in the way that we imagine it will go, that our gift will end up making the impact that we believe or think that it will. As time has gone by though, I’ve come to see innumerable situations whereby that hasn’t happened.

During the course of a recent church session, what happened was that the pastor who was in charge of the start of the service basically said that he had an experience in which he wanted to give a thousand ringgit and had it stolen from him.

After this, he said that he decided to give anyway and then during the course of the year he nonetheless received a promotion and various other benefits along the way including a bonus for the very first time in his life.

At this time I thought to myself about whether one should give with any expectation as it seemed that the pastor was encouraging us to believe at that time, and I thought back to all the previous instances in which I had given unto others only.

I thought back to the time when I had donated a thousand ringgit to a starving Myanmar refugee apparently who apparently wanted to become a pastor and wasn’t getting supported by his own congregation but nonetheless wanted to continue getting funds from me and from the people who were in the church.

He didn’t want to work for some reason and apparently used the money that we had given him in order to buy household appliances and things of that nature. I remember at that point after having given unto that particular cause that I felt wrong. I felt that there was no point in having done any good to that particular person who refused to pull himself up by his own bootstraps and assist himself in being able to coordinate the circumstances necessary for him to preach God’s word.

What kind of preacher was he if he was unable to secure the support of his congregation in order to do the things that he wanted to do?

I remember feeling wronged at that point in time – Angered that he, rather than trying to turn his life around by making a living, thought instead to obtain resources from us thinking that it was going to be a continued thing. But he, instead of seeking assistance from those that he purported to serve, thought to rope in strangers who decided to give simply out of goodwill on one particular occasion, not only taking their gift for granted but in turn demanding more, without even so much as a hint of gratitude.

But that was simply a monetary gift, and that was simply one instance. I have given much more in other situations and on other occasions, which I think it would be uncouth to mention to a great extent. But suffice to say, what I can conclude is that it hasn’t always paid off.

As I thought about some of those things and reflected upon them, it made me think first one time, then two times, then for a third, fourth and fifth time as I cycled through all of those experiences inside my mind of the times that I had given.

I realized in that moment that yes, it was true, that in those previous instances I was not rewarded. If I looked to the future, I could anticipate or imagine that I would not be rewarded then either. I looked again into the future and recognised even further that perhaps, even if I should give at some later point, that the reward would not be apparent, nor would it be extensive and that very well I could simply decide on the turn of a moment that giving should be therefore an impossibility for me and something that I should not even abide.

But then thinking about it again, I recognised the true value of being able to give without any prior expectation.

I think that we live in a world where we won’t necessarily be rewarded for the things that we do; a dark and fallen world, where often kindness is replayed with treachery and good deeds with betrayal. It is not to say that there are no good people in the grand scheme of things, merely that while there are good people, it’s a much more rational bet to assume that if one decides to grant a good deed unto someone that is rational on the balance of things to expect, that nothing good will come out of it beyond a smile rather than a friendship of sorts.

Of late though, as I contemplate how far I’ve come from the years before, I recognize that the part of me that is willing to abide all of that and to give nonetheless has grown in measure. And where I am now is a reflection of that accentuated desire and ability to give, often with no reward promised or anything else of that nature. It’s hard to say exactly why things happen in that way, but when I look closer and closer down to the very depths of my soul, I see that it is what has come to pass.

Of what significance is a gift in the grand totality of things?

The other conscious beings to whom our gifts may be due have no obligation to repay them. To expect them to do so would be an act of folly, one based upon a flawed assumption of human beings. So I came to recognise.

Who, after all, can expect their fellow man to simply grant back unto them that which they have given?

I recognised this somehow in the midst of the days and months ensuing after those other unpalatable giving experiences… But over time I came to understand something else: That if I were in the position of a receiver and I knew that somebody had given me something with an intention or a goal in mind, that I would be less likely then to evaluate the gift as coming from somebody with a good heart or with a good soul, but rather something that had simply been extended in service of accomplishing an outcome; it would be entirely natural for me to just accept the gift and to think no further of it.

How strange and paradoxical it seems that my desire at that point to be rewarded for the gift that I had been given in the form of observing some sort of outcome that would take place should itself be the foundation or root of another problem – the problem of not having the right intentions, which if we think about it through the lenses of human understanding, can be filtered through so many different reviewlets and possible streams at the end of the day that it shall soon become incomprehensible what the gift actually was for and whether it could in fact benefit the one who received it.

I didn’t know what to think about this realization when I first had it, but over time, it has borne a fruit that is rather different to what I had imagined during earlier years that simply came out during the course of the sermon.

Frankly, as I heard the pastor’s words, they fell from my ears when I listened to the hints of extrinsic motivation that seemed to come across in his appeal for the church to donate, of a promotion, promises of better jobs, promises of improved financial opportunities after the fact, promises that this investment that one made into the Kingdom of God would somehow yield a tangible return… When such an expectation should not even have been a part of the matter in the first place.

When I regained my presence of mind however I recalled at that point in time that ultimately giving was its own reward – That it was an affirmation not only of my ability to give, but also of my willpower to help my community by being willing to sacrifice something for the sake of another.

I did not know, and I still don’t know, how my gifts of money and time or anything else will eventually impact the people around me. And frankly, as I think about it right now, I realise that it does not matter to me. Because while it’s true that I would like to see people’s lives improve, that cannot be the ultimate determinant of whether or not I choose to give in the first place. It has to be more sophisticated than that, something deeper, something that is It’s based more on something sustainable such as an innate desire which over the course of time has progressively grown inside me to be able to make a difference to the world around me, even if it’s something that I cannot personally see in the course of my time on the planet.

I recognized at that point in time in the sermon and through the unsuited motivation that if I was willing to sacrifice and was able to sacrifice, that was enough for me – Not because a person can meaningfully expect a reward in the same way that the pastor did somehow receive a reward, but rather because I’ve recognized that giving is good for me: It helps us to recognise that I have something in this world that is valuable to others. It helps me recognise that the gift of my resources can in turn support the people of another generation and plant trees in places that I may not have seen. It pays homage to the realization that somehow or another, through the sacrifice of certain gifts that I have in the present moment, I can make a better future for others in areas that we cannot reach, in places that we cannot touch even though I may never decide that future.

It reminds

“I slept and I dreamt that life was joy. I awoke and saw that life was service. I acted and behold, service was joy.”

Somehow or another, the words of that quote from Rabindranath Tagore, quoted by Tharman Shanmugaratnam, ring clear to me. Somehow or another, in the midst of that sermon, I recognised the truth of that final statement that service somehow was joy, and contemplated:

And as I contemplated, I extended my phone, scanned the QR code, and gave. I don’t know how my soul is being refined, but what I do know is this, that as of late, my focus has become more directed towards community, towards changing things, towards changing myself. I don’t know how much impact or difference a single person can make upon this world, and I think that it is presumptuous to over-consider that question.

As part of the process of applying to universities in the United States, no doubt many of you have encountered the dreaded college essays, pieces of writing in which you are meant to address some of these rather abstract prompts that ask you about things as deep as your identity, your dearest beliefs, and the concepts that you hold to most attachedly in this world. 

Each of these prompts, as the student will soon discover, presents a conundrum: 

The conundrum of how to speak meaningfully about the content of one’s soul, one’s life, and moreover, evaluate these things in sum to create something that is ultimately valuable, worthy of consideration, and that showcases the person’s personality, interests, as well as future and anticipated potential within the years to come. 

By no means is this a trivial process, but in this guide, we will go into some of the issues and considerations that come with writing this piece of work, and also some helpful tips for understanding how to do so in a way that will not only impress an admissions officer, but also offer lasting benefits that will endure throughout the entire course of a lifetime that will be filled with many reflections and moments that are worthwhile, not only of consideration, but also of memorializing.

With that in mind, I present 9 convenient steps that you can follow in order to produce a great response to some of these essay questions. Ready? Let’s go!

Step 1.

Consider the prompts.

The first thing that you want to do when you’re writing an essay is to spend some time just looking at the prompts and thinking about what they are asking you about. Dedicate perhaps an hour or two hours to simply sit down and read them as you contemplate the possible ways in which you can respond. During this time, you will think most likely about some of the things that you experience and the ways in which you can possibly write your essay. Write everything down on a piece of paper.

That said, this is not the only thing that you should do, as writing a college essay isn’t just about sitting down on one specific occasion and being able to pen out your entire soul. No, chances are, the moment you first write out your thoughts, you will have a confused mixture of different things, an activities list, a list of achievements. You may not even know what you’ve done or how to take stock of it just yet.

This naturally brings us to the next step. 

Step 2.

Create an activities list. 

Your activities list is a list of the different things that you were involved in on an extracurricular basis throughout your time in school and leading up to the college application. 

Here’s where you will get a chance to think about the specific things that you’ve done and also to accomplish something important for the purpose of applying to college. 

The reason I mention writing the activities list here is that writing an activities list has a dual purpose. 

First of all, if you write it and format the list correctly, ensuring that you stay under 150 characters for every single description that you provide, you will, in turn, have a properly formatted and useful activities list which you can utilize for the purpose of submission alongside your common application. 

That’s the first purpose. 

The second purpose is that you’ll also have something that you can look at so that you can take stock of the things that you have done throughout the course of your high school career and in turn, obtain the raw material that’s necessary for you to reflect upon as you think about the common themes that resonate throughout your application and that can be manifested throughout each piece of your application.

As you write your activities list, you will have a good sight of the different types of things that you are involved in, and can begin to then identify the themes that extend throughout your application as you consider who you are. That’s the very next step.

Step 3.

Reflect on your motivation.

College essays are a chance to showcase yourself, but they are also a marketing exercise to demonstrate why it is that you are a good fit for a selective institution of higher education. 

The good thing, though, is that what colleges respond to in this marketing process corresponds to what you can meaningfully identify about yourself as you think about all the things that you have done, are doing, and will be doing in the future and manage to successfully identify the things that resonate about your college application and also about yourself. 

Ask yourself along the way some of the following questions. 

1. What was my motivation for undertaking some of the activities I did?

2. How are the activities I listed related to specific facets of my personality?

3. Are there discernible patterns or common threads in my activities that reveal something about me?

4. Why did I choose to engage in a particular activity at a specific time, and what does this decision reveal about my character?

5. What do my actions and choices suggest about my future potential or aspirations?

By addressing these questions, you’ll be better positioned to highlight attributes and experiences that resonate with your college application and personal self-awareness.

It’s worthwhile also to note that answering some of these questions will give rise to even more sub-questions, and that somewhere along the way you may find that this will lead into a recursion of numerous why questions. This is both perfectly normal as well as extremely desirable, because it requires you to in turn begin the process of answering deeper and deeper questions about your internal motivation as you proceed along the journey, and in turn become more aware, reflective, and consider different aspects of your personality or psyche that may be underpinning your manifestation of decisions and also actions in this world.

That said, while reflections are wonderful, occasionally you can go down a rabbit hole which is not conducive towards the overall goal that you are trying to accomplish. 

At some points, it’s good to signpost yourself and to look back at the overall direction that things are going as you steer yourself in alignment with a direction that is conducive towards your overall goals. This naturally leads us to the next step. 

Step 4:

Recalibrate and reconsider the prompts.

It’s crucial to ensure that this process does not get out of control though, and also to condition the thought process and the general direction of your thoughts by constantly referring to the prompts that you are considering, proceeding to identify which prompts resonate most with the thought process that you are experiencing, and then procedurally eliminating the ones that do not seem relevant towards the direction that your thoughts are taking. 

Of course, some argue that it’s entirely possible to write an essay without referencing the prompts in the very first place, and then simply at the end of the day fitting a particular line of thought or essay towards the prompts, or choosing a free response prompt though, I personally would aver from this because I do believe that they are valuable for the purpose of conditioning a person’s thinking and directing them along a pathway that will lead towards attainment of meaning in the course of reflections. 

So do think about the questions as a whole, and use them to guide your thoughts. They are a tool for reflection, and not simply just a challenge, as almost everything in this world is as well.

So far we’ve talked a lot about the cognitive process of deciding what to write in the course of an essay. That being said though, although the cognitive process of thinking is tremendously important, it can also occasionally be overwhelming. And therefore I prefer the next step not as necessarily something that you should do as part of a linear process, but also as a separate and modular step that can interface with the previously mentioned steps in any particular order with respect to an understanding that the possibility of each individual step is in simultaneous causality with the others.

Step 5.

Simply begin with any prior preparation. 

In a recent interview with a former student of mine who is now at Harvard University, he provided some insight on how he managed to obtain a 4.0 GPA at the university. 

In mentioning how he had managed to do so, he observed that he took a problem-focused approach by which he simply goes into the process of solving problems without necessarily understanding how to deal with the material, supplementing his understanding and appreciation for the concepts that he is meant to learn by filling them in procedurally along the way. 

While the context is not exactly identical, it does rhyme, because both dealing with problems as they arise and writing college essays requires the ability to embrace uncertainty, and not simply to embrace uncertainty, but to dance with it. 

With that in mind, the very same problem-centric approach can be taken towards college applications and also with respect to writing an essay because the process of beginning a piece itself can catalyze certain thoughts that otherwise may not have existed within a person’s mind in the very first place. Although of course, if it was undertaken blindly, then it would simply lead to the conundrum that so many people face when they begin this process for the very first time, unable to decide what it is to write about in the very first place. 

Still, there are some merits to this process of reflection only to a minimal extent before beginning the process of writing because the very act of tackling the problem in the very first place, ideally via short and spaced sessions that serve as a touchpoint upon which the project itself can begin, can stimulate thoughts as well as a beginning that will not correspond to wasted time but rather contribute both proximally and ultimately towards the attainment of the final goal to which an applicant aspires.

Step 6.

Iterate, Iterate, Iterate.

As you may have noticed from the description of Step 5, each of the steps that I’ve mentioned so far are related to one another in some way and can also be undertaken independently from one another, and are part of a process of daily feedback that in turn leads to self-improving over the course of time, and also will become part of a daily process of improvement that will span over a period of time that will certainly be longer than the five minutes that you may have taken to read this piece. 

The process of developing sufficient self-awareness and depth of thought to be able to consider one’s life on a deeper level than 99% of the human population is not something that can be accomplished in the course of mere minutes, hours, or likely even days. Rather, it is more of a war than a battle, and it will take a significantly longer period of time than you might initially imagine. 

Therefore, dedicate time to this, knowing that how long it may take for you to reach the requisite level of insight to create something that is meaningful or otherwise valuable to an admissions office may differ compared to someone else who may have undertaken this process at greater length relative to you at some earlier point in the past. 

Tweak a paragraph. Change a sentence. Rephrase something. Each individual word that you choose can entirely influence the meaning of the sentences that you write. Inspire a new idea. Change the story that you tell. And lead in turn to further thoughts. Embrace this uncertainty. Embrace the fact that you do not know. And also embrace the possibility that you can confront the things that you will know as they come out, step by step, one after another, in ways that may not seem to have a significance to you at the moment, but ultimately underlie something that is deeper and of greater significance than you can have imagined at an earlier point of your life.

Nothing is ever wasted. Therefore, do not think of time spent in nothingness as wasted. Rather, appreciate the deeper significance of each moment towards accomplishing the goals to which you aspire and also their role in determining the future goals that you will have that you may achieve them as well, and keep trying and standing up, showing up to do what you need to do to reach the goal of unleashing your inner potential while at the same time impressing an admissions officer through a method the nature, means, or parameters of the solution that you will uniquely create be unknown to you at this point in time. 

Step 7.

Do not be afraid to ask for help. 

I mean exactly what I said here. You should immediately ask for help in the event that you do not think you can do something. Literally just abandon your ego. It’s overrated. You think to yourself that you are the master of everything? No, you are not. Throw that away and immediately look for someone who knows you better than you do yourself, knowing that that at best can only remain a temporary thing because eventually, through this process, you will develop greater understanding. But so long as you do not first begin by seeking help either through people such as your parents, your friends, who are close to you, your teachers, or perhaps even me if you choose to engage me as a consultant.

The process of developing sufficient understanding of oneself in order to create a piece that contains the entirety of one’s soul is by no means a trivial process. It is a process for which many people are woefully underprepared, partly in virtue of the fact that the education system does not convey the ability to do these things as a matter of course, and it requires a certain level of self-investment, reflection, and also maturity of thought that can either be brought about by intentional activity or, in turn, by certain accidents that may transpire along the way.

Seeking guidance from the eyes and perspectives of other people in order to understand oneself is crucial during this process, as we can sometimes see aspects of ourselves that we may not have been able to understand simply by using our own vision. 

This is particularly true for people who know us well, although it’s crucial to remember that at the end of the day, he or she who writes about the nature of their soul is the person who knows that soul the very best, even though at the bottom, life was already tremendously complicated at the point at which we became conscious of it and began to comprehend it.

So yes, seek help. Do not be totally reliant upon it, because that will never work at the end of the day. But above all, remember, seek help. Sooner than later. Ensuring that you have enough time to deal with the implications of your reflections, and will be able to go through this process while allowing yourself the space to extend the range and domain of the reflections that you will have about your soul.

Step 8.

Be kind to yourself. 

First off, let us acknowledge that this process is not an easy one, and that not everybody is equally prepared to undertake it. 

Having acknowledged this, realize nonetheless that you should be kind to yourself, understanding that the depth of your reflections, or the ideas that come out from your head, may not be as extended or deep as those of others. 

You may question your ability to write, your extracurricular activities, and the different things that you did or did not do in the course of your high school career as you undertake this process of application. 

During this time, it’s crucial to remember that your greatest enemy is yourself, and that it is the demons that lie within your head that are far more dangerous than those that lie without. For the world is not out to get you, and if somebody wishes to crucify you and succeed, it is far less likely that they should succeed in doing so if they were something external to your mind than if you were the person who was imagining a theatre in your head, in which an unnamed mass were undertaking that process of putting you upon a stake and setting you on fire. That imagination and that image can only be initiated by yourself, and it is by you and by your own hands that you have the strongest possibility of quenching the fire and using the ashes to stimulate the growth of your dream.

The famous theologian Reinhold Niebuhr is credited to have written the words of what is now known as the Serenity Prayer. God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.

As human beings, we are all individuals, and we have undertaken different things and experienced different things along the way. And on the surface, it can seem that some of our achievements are less stellar relative to others, or we may have won fewer medals, or accomplished things that are less of note. But during this time as you reflect upon yourself, it’s worthwhile to consider that at the end of the day, the thing that distinguishes an individual is not the shine of the medals that they have obtained, as the light reflects upon them, but rather the light that emanates from within, as a person reflects upon themselves. In life, it is crucial to remember that in a world of glitz and shine, it is infinitely more important to see not the beauties of the world that lie without, but rather the wonder that lies within the ordinary. Far more impressive is it to be able to see the wonder that lies within mere grains of dust when one looks upon them with greater clarity and with a lens that has been shaped towards greater understanding, rather than simply looking at pictures of the Cinque Terre on Instagram and wishing that one were there.

This naturally leads me to the final step. 

Step 9.

Have confidence in yourself. 

Along the way, as you go through this journey, you may face several forms of doubt, some of which may dominate more relative to others as you consider the way in which you can or will present your achievements. In this time, it is crucial to recall the reasons as to why you decided to undertake this process in the very first place and to use those reasons to give you strength as you consider the nature of the goal that you wish to accomplish.

Beyond those individual reasons which you can see upon the surface, it is likely that there is something deeper that is driving you in ways that you may not even be aware of at this point in time, or you would not have read up until Step 9. 

If you are here, I would applaud you on this, as it is something rare to see that somebody would have the necessary degree of attention and focus to be able to continue up until this point. 

Still, if you are here, perhaps it is for a reason that lies beyond the immediate appreciation of your consciousness at this point in time. 

Do pay respect to that and let it drive you forward, as you remember that there is a certain meaning to what it is that you are doing at this point and will continue to do in the future. 

Yet do not beat yourself up because one at the end of the day should not compare the highlight reels of another person to the blooper reel of one’s own.

This is a marathon and not a race, and it is a worthwhile journey to go on as it will pay dividends to you long after the moment in which you consider the words written upon this page.

Treat it as such, and enjoy your journey along the way.

Now, I did say that there were just nine steps, but here’s one that underpins every single one of them.

Step 0.

Start early. 

This should be evident or otherwise completely obvious to you, but you should start early. 

Time is an objective thing, and it is a limited resource. One can gain nothing by disrespecting this, hoping that somehow or another the parameters of reality should be overturned, and that one can expect that doing something at a later time will lead to a better result. Compare to the result that one could have gotten in an alternate scenario or state of the universe where one had begun earlier and given oneself the time requisite towards attaining the outcome of which a person had sought.


And that’s it. 

I know that it was a long piece, but if you did indeed read this to the end, know that I wish you my very best as you undertake this process and go forward. There is a significance to what you have done, what you are doing, and what you will do. 

There’s not very much left to say beyond this point, but that I wish you the very best in this journey, which I hope will take you to somewhere wonderful that you could not even have imagined before you had even begun reading it or taking part in it.

Receive my wishes for your success as you move forward, knowing that while it is a selective process, and that at the end of the day, only a select few will rise above the circumstances, the fact that you are reading this at the moment means that you have given yourself a chance, and you have believed in yourself enough that you see the seeds of possibility that may sprout or may not, that you too can be one of those few who do rise above!

Suffering and Survival: From Trial to Enlightenment

When I ponder the question as to why anyone in this world would ever consider spending time writing novels, I often think about the world’s greatest works of literature…. And that thought, idle as it is, often leads me to think of the great Russian novelists Tolstoy and Dostoevsky.

What did these men have in common? 

Were they both rich? Aristocratic? History tells us that the answer is no – while Tolstoy surely was an aristocrat of the highest order,  Dostoevsky was compelled to write novels because of his financial difficulties. 

Was it something special on the part of the Russian character? Maybe.

At the same time, the sheer variety of different personalities and inclinations around the world is so varied that any attempt to speak of a systematic difference between human beings purely on the basis of national origin is likely to fail.

Still, it is worthwhile to investigate – what else was common to them? They lived in one of the most torturous environments that the world had ever known, and survived. 

That they did is a miracle, as it is for the survival of all of us to different degrees amid the circumstances of life – and as almost all of us know, either through teachings or simply through life experience, whatever does not kill us shall only make us stronger.

Russia in those years was a place of cold, frost, political absurdity, and deprivation; it was a time of revolution and chaos, as multiple people attempted to usurp the prevailing powers because they could not accept the society that they had been thrust into. As they went through profound searches for spiritual and moral grounding in a world that they could not accept.

It is in that light that I think about the seminal work that they must have accomplished and consider how all those words that came out of them perhaps were responses to their environment. 

I imagine them sitting by their bedside tables writing through the winter as they pen down words as if trying to stave off the onset of the punishing cold that encroaches at every minute just from the outside. I imagine them poring over manuscripts as the toils of deprivation, war, and social theories gone wrong amidst a chaotic civilization play out in a theatre of the absurd that it is easiest not to confront but rather to escape from by departing into a world that is outside the concerns of the ordinary. 

I see them in my mind’s eye creating worlds that do not exist to compensate for one that does exist and is crushing in exterior form.

Suffering conditions the mind in this fashion by forcing it to look inwards, and to reflect upon circumstances, and to consider that at the end of the day, when a person simply is sitting there and reflecting on the inner self, they can realize certain things that they may not have been able to if they were simply consumed with the external world, and things that might otherwise be favorable in an alternate state of reality.

It is neither to say that suffering is desirable, nor to say that we should wish it upon our fellow men, but certainly it can be said that some of the world’s greatest breakthroughs are breakthroughs that were brought about in the same manner that Dostoevsky and Tolstoy brought about the Brothers Karamazov and War and Peace, respectively, through this period of inner contemplation and insight, which I think that suffering facilitates and makes a part of daily experience, but that somehow or another we are able to integrate into our daily lives by simply becoming mindful and dedicating time towards reflection. 

Perhaps though, that may be something altogether too optimistic. 

Perhaps reflections or breakthroughs of that level are only possible when or if someone truly goes through the process of formulating the daily decision to pursue through a journey or quest towards one’s intellectual truth, each and every day, regardless of the circumstances, running towards it as if a madman, deprived of water and overcome with rabies, rushes towards the direction of water that cannot quench his thirst.

Yet, it would be altogether wrong to say that suffering is part of an aetiology of success. Not all suffering leads to excellence, for if it did, then the entirety of Russia perhaps would have solely been a nation of Dostoevskys and Tolstoys, though we do not see that this is the case. Suffering exists everywhere and in every nation, from the richest to the poorest, from those beset by intense drought and heat to those overcome by the onslaught of unyielding cold and ice. 

Whether it is by fire or ice that any world should end, though, there are always some who can thrive in their particular response to their surroundings. And it is within this response and the way that it comes about that the true miracle of any emancipation must surely come about. 

It is perhaps as Mewtwo said in the Pokemon movie…

I believe this to be true in many cases, and across a range of possible environments.

The mind is an incredibly powerful though, and it is interesting to consider the means by which a person might reach the state of enlightenment that the two seminal authors that I had mentioned had arrived at as they arrived in a pantheon of eternal enshrinement within the hallowed halls of commemoration that celebrated our finest literary masters.

As I contemplate their lives, I wonder how and to what extent it is possible to implement some of the lessons from their sufferings and to translate those into the broader question and its answers of how a person may reach progressively deeper levels of enlightenment in the course of this life.

One immediate thing comes to mind though. People are remarkably resilient, although oftentimes it is unclear what it is that they are being resilient for; they often do not suffer from laziness in the way that we would expect, because if given a suitable direction to progress in, most people would in fact go forward without abandon, provided that they have the right process in place.

USApps and More

Over the last week, I had the chance to drop by USApps, the event that Chen Chow began many years ago and that caters to the needs of Malaysian students all around my country who want to, for some reason or another, pursue higher education in the States.

I too benefited from this event many years ago, and it was a joy to come back for the second time in two years, an opportunity that I would not have had if not for Hamdi Hakimi, who randomly called me out of nowhere and asked me to speak at last year’s USApps event.

It was strange then, and it remains strange now, that things happened the way that they did, but suffice to say, I think it was all for the better.

Was very grateful to speak to many interesting people along the way and started a small new project in which I interview different people just in general about education and their reasons for valuing it, which has brought me into contact with people from lots of different universities, and all of uniformly high and boundary-breaking intelligence.

Beyond that though, it’s opened up an interesting new vista of… well, I don’t really think I should call this opportunity, but rather just interest in pursuing a course that I just find interesting and meaningful.

It is my pleasure to welcome you to watch the interviews that I have been doing in the hope that they will be interesting and enlightening to you. Have a look here.

– V


My mind constantly catches itself entangled in various thoughts, leading to frequent distractions. My thoughts whirl around like a tornado, often appearing out of control, beyond my reach. However, in reality, many things are within grasp. Sometimes, I believe I just need to pause, lie down, and allow my brain to enter a catatonic state, much like Nao. 

As I lie on my bed, eyes closed and heart open to the world, I find myself pondering the future. I question why things happen the way they do and often find no answers. I would be misleading if I claimed to understand every step of the journey that unfolds, but somehow, things have always worked out in the past. 

It would be equally inaccurate to predict a smooth journey in the future or even the present, based on past success. Yet, I find myself in a better situation now than I was before. Despite the complexities of life, I see no reason to believe that the issues I face are unfixable. 

Striving forward seems necessary, even when it feels peculiar. As I rest my weary body, I realize that life is like a Newton’s cradle, a constant state of motion and rest. This cycle repeats until one day, everything comes to an end. The inevitable entropy of the universe expresses itself through the cessation of my bodily functions. This mystifying end remains beyond my comprehension, except through literature, art, and history, which paint a tantalizing image in my imagination.

As I gaze at the screen that has been my silent confidant, I am pleasantly surprised. The screen effortlessly transcribes the words I’ve been uttering for the past few minutes, revealing that technology is progressing at a speed I hadn’t anticipated. My vision of a time when we could converse with our devices seems to be materializing. These devices are beginning to power our lives in ways currently beyond our comprehension. 

I have no concept of what the future holds, nor any predictions. How could I possibly foresee what’s to come when things are moving as rapidly as my thoughts? The reality we’re transitioning into is something I could not have fathomed just a year or two ago. There are countless things to look forward to, endless unique possibilities, some of which I hope for, others I find unlikely or impractical. Yet, everything seems inevitable as we move forward, and the intricate pieces of a grand puzzle, too vast for our full appreciation, begin to fall into place

Some thoughts about ASR

What you’re reading this the result of dictation from an M2 Max Macbook Pro, to which I upgraded after some time of pretty much just realizing that I needed a new computer.

I don’t know how good it is going to be, but I have expectations that it will be a little better compared to what we have on the iPhone and other devices that we can use as part of the Apple system. So far, it seems there are some issues with the system because it recognizes some words incorrectly – partly that could be because I am pronouncing those words in a way that is not really concordant with what the algorithm is able to imitate. Hence, it ends up transcribing the wrong things, because what it hears is, in fact, something incomprehensible.

When it comes to automatic speech recognition, the algorithms that process our speech face problems when the expected input is ambiguous and can possibly match several possible outputs. The automatic speech recognition function is, after all, based on making predictions, based on the likely input that would be expected from a user over time. In the event that the prediction made by the algorithm is incorrect, the software may be penalized as a result of the input not matching the prediction. The ultimate goal is to have a scenario where every prediction generated by the model, as the person speaks, matches what the person intended to say with the least possible corrections required.

Let’s start with the voice’s pitch and ambient noise.

For an algorithm to receive the correct input, the sound it receives should match the specific waveforms used in the training dataset that guided the development of the automatic speech recognition system. If there is a deviation in the sound pattern, either due to ambient noise or tone of voice, the generated text can be inaccurate because the system receives problematic inputs in the first place. This is natural, because if you feed garbage in, you will naturally receive garbage out. There is a sort of equivalent exchange at play.

Let’s now talk about something different altogether – the device’s processing power. I’m not sure if this is a factor with the automatic speech recognition system on Apple devices, but I suspect it is. Each device needs to perform complex calculations that allow it to make predictions at a relatively high rate of 100 to 130 words per minute. If you look into the memory usage of the computer as it performs this process, you may see that the memory does not get consumed at a high degree – that is something I plan to test in the coming days.

The last possibility is that there is a problem with the algorithm itself in recognizing certain patterns of waves. There can be some variation depending on the quality of the input, but it’s also possible that the algorithm used to process the data can make mistakes on occasion. I’m confident that Apple is making strides to improve the output quality of its algorithms, and for that reason, I am optimistic about the improvements they can bring about.

I give this much thought because it is one of the most important aspects of any generative artificial intelligence system. These systems rely on good input into the algorithms, and speech recognition systems are extremely important as sources of input. As we interact with natural language on a daily basis, which is often faster than typing or pressing buttons on our devices, I believe that accurate dictation and procedural proofreading of our daily writing will lead us to a new era of AI.

I can’t wait to see what the future holds, particularly as we approach the end of 2023 with developments like iOS 17, AI generators, and all the different forms of technology that are becoming more prevalent. Time passes, and it is somewhat sad to think that we are coming closer to the end of our lives before these things come to fruition – still, the show is not over until it is over, and I can’t wait to see what is going to come!

Oppenheimer: A Review.

So I just watched Oppenheimer in the cinema just about an hour ago and it was probably the first movie that I watched in an entire era right here.

I rarely watch movies nowadays because of my increasingly busy schedule, but when I heard that Christopher Nolan had created a brand new movie starring that guy who was the bad guy from Batman now converted into, well, J. Robert Oppenheimer, I couldn’t resist; after watching it, I decided to do something even rarer and promptly wrote a review.

I read about the story of Oppenheimer for the longest time and had heard legends about how he was the smartest man in the entirety of Harvard, a man who literally changed a generation, changed the course of a war, and everything like that through books and articles too many to list… And I was interested to see the very first dramatization of his life story that I’ve ever seen in my entire life.

Of course Robert Downey Jr.’s performance as Strauss was incredible and so was Cillian Murphy’s portrayal of J. Robert Oppenheimer…

But by the end of the film, as I was leaving the theatre, I could immediately hear the kids who were sitting behind me complaining for the entire time because it was just talking the entire way and they were waiting for the bomb to explode and an hour in they found themselves lost and not really able to understand anything.

For me that’s entirely understandable because the kind of drama that was going on in the movie and the kinds of issues that were raised are things that are not really conventionally viewed as blockbuster style, partly because of the nature of the source material – not exactly action movie material, which is probably what the kids were going for… Still though, I found the movie extremely interesting because it raises all these deep issues about the way that we got to this point, game theory and the perennial security challenge and beyond that, all these fun issues about the fight between good and evil.

The protagonist, chosen to construct a weapon of mass destruction, appeared suspiciously out of place. He was not the typical figure you’d expect for such a grave task, exhibiting intermittent Communist sympathies and a tendency to veer off the expected path through his interests in leftism and his affairs with women; despite his intelligence, his decision-making was unpredictable.

Yet against all odds, he rallied a diverse team to collectively embrace a singular mission – the creation of the atomic bomb, accepting the potential for being vilified or possibly hailed by history for his actions. That’s why it made me wonder, as perhaps it would make anyone wonder… 

Would you want to hold the burden of carrying hundreds of thousands of lives in your hands?

Would you want to be stained with that blood?

It was a profound ethical question that stood out back during the commencement of the atomic age and continues to stand out even now.

The movie was interesting for me also because it reminded me that at the time of this whole crisis, the United States was deep in the midst of a war with Nazi Germany, and they were trying their very best to develop a bomb before Germany could because they were dead set on ending the war, and because they were taking part in uncertain decisions that are perhaps all too familiar to anyone who has ever taken part in real adult life before. 

What I saw that America saw ahead of it was the uncertain prospect of being able to save lives from America that would otherwise be snuffed out by the continuation of the war versus the certainty of killing people in Japan, to in turn make war unthinkable and thereby resolve the security dilemma by the prospect in turn of Mutually Assured Destruction… Certainly not just a couple of people, rather at the end of the day it was about 220,000 as the movie says; certainly a more advanced version of the famous Trolley Problem in which a larger number of people’s lives were at stake, designed to stop an outcome that we don’t know would have happened or not.

That said, while the movie raised the valid point that for all we know, perhaps indeed Japan would have surrendered; the movie itself had raised the point that Japan was a country that was already on the verge of surrendering… But then what happened was that there was this whole Deus Ex Machina moment where a character came in and said, “Hey, I know that they’re not going to surrender”, introduces an element of dramatic tension, but it also highlights the fog of war and the immense uncertainty that leaders face when making decisions that can alter the course of history.

In terms of historical accuracy, it’s well documented that the decision to drop the atomic bombs was indeed based on a complex mix of strategic, political, and ethical considerations. There were voices within the Allied camp arguing that Japan was on the verge of surrender and that the bombing was therefore unnecessary. On the other hand, there was a strong belief that Japan would continue to fight tenaciously, resulting in a high number of casualties on both sides.

From a philosophical perspective, this reasoning isn’t simplistic; it’s a grappling with consequentialist ethics where the ends justify the means. However, it can be deemed simplistic if one assumes that decision-making, especially on such a massive scale, should take into account a wider range of considerations beyond a straightforward calculation of lives saved versus lives lost. Factors such as the ethics of targeting civilian populations, the long-term geopolitical ramifications, the potential for setting a dangerous precedent, and the moral burden placed upon those making the decision should all feature into such a discussion.

In real life, the decision to drop the bombs was, indeed, made in an atmosphere of deep uncertainty. Information was imperfect and the stakes were enormous. The film portrays this ethical conundrum and the challenges of decision-making under uncertainty in a thought-provoking manner.

To sum up, while the ethical reasoning might seem simplistic at first glance, a deeper examination reveals a web of complexities that go beyond a simple calculation of lives saved versus lives lost. It’s a sophisticated exploration of the moral dilemmas of leadership and the harsh realities of wartime decision-making.

‘Oppenheimer’, as a film, brings to the fore the complex and multifaceted question of responsibility, especially when it involves the creation and application of potentially destructive knowledge or technology. Though Oppenheimer stands as the man who led the team of scientists that built the atomic bomb. However, he was not the one who made the decision to use this catastrophic device on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. It raises an interesting question: where does the responsibility lie? Is it with the minds that created the weapon or the hands that dropped it?

The film suggests that the onus does not solely lie with Oppenheimer and his fellow scientists who developed the bomb, but rather with the U.S. government and military that used it. The scientists, after all, were tasked with a job, and they did it. The use of the bomb, however, was a choice made by the government. This situation prompts contemplation of the difference between conceiving of a crime and actually committing one. The mere thought of a crime does not carry guilt; guilt becomes established only upon the realization of that thought into action.

This introduces us to a profound thought experiment. If the atomic bomb had never been used in the destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, would we still view the creators of the atomic bomb as we do now? Are ideas themselves inherently evil, or is it their execution that determines their moral quality?

An idea, in isolation, is morally neutral. It’s the application and the consequences that dictate whether it’s deemed ‘good’ or ‘evil’. In this instance, the idea of nuclear fission led to the atomic bomb, which, when used, resulted in vast devastation. But the same principle also gave us nuclear power, an energy source that, when used responsibly, can bring numerous benefits.

Responsibility, then, isn’t just about the act of creation, but also about the choices made thereafter. It’s a dynamic, shared burden, intertwined with the choices that everyone in the world is making at any given point. The film encourages us to explore this moral landscape, prompting us to consider how individual and collective responsibilities interact and influence each other, and how our ideas, actions, and choices impact the world around us.

In the end, ‘Oppenheimer’ leaves us pondering the complex relationships between ideas, actions, and responsibility, providing a rich tapestry of moral and ethical questions that are as relevant today as they were during the dawn of the atomic age.

Like, if we hadn’t dropped the bomb, what kind of world would we be living in?

We conventionally think about the bomb as a bad thing, but Oppenheimer reminded me that sometimes, the things that we view as most fundamentally evil in this world, like for example becoming, in the words of the Bhagavad Gita as quoted by Oppenheimer, “I am become death destroyer of all worlds”…?

Probably not the most innocent or innocuous thing that you could do. 

But somehow or another, if you think about it in the context of World War II at the time, which was a situation where Germany was, well, killing the Jews and also chasing physicists like Bohr out because they were Jewish and recruiting people like Heisenberg to fight their war and perform research to suit an end that likely both you and I would decide is not amenable to our conscience, it makes you just recognize how good and evil often are contextually interlinked and ultimately inseparable, only veiled from one another by paper-thin walls. 

Like, if you choose to kill a couple million people because you wanted to achieve a good outcome, in this case the prevention of misuse of a similar bomb by a foreign power, then what you can be saying can be viewed as good. But on the other hand, if you happen to do what you’re doing for some other reason that is kind of adverse to one party’s interest, then somehow or another it just becomes evil… Right?

I don’t know.

The reasoning for that is pretty thin I guess. 

Still, what is good or evil?

Is it just something that’s purely contextually defined, or is it something that holds true to certain moral precepts or even creeds throughout the ages and eras?

How would religion define the invention of the atomic bomb? Sociology? Philosophy?

How do any of these things relate to the way we actually process our thoughts and understand what’s in front of us?

The way that the movie kind of framed this entire issue was, you know, if you don’t build it then the Nazis will, and even though we don’t know that we can use it correctly, the Nazis certainly won’t – in a way, it was a pretty simplistic way of characterizing the choice I guess, but when we ourselves look at our own way of understanding ethical issues about morality and choice, I guess that our ethical decision-making processes converge on similar things regardless of level of education or status or position in society. 

Still, Oppenheimer reminded me that sometimes, the things that we view as most fundamentally evil in this world can actually be viewed as exemplification of the ultimate good. In other words, becoming, in the words of the Bhagavad Gita as quoted by Oppenheimer, “I am become death, destroyer of all worlds” could either mean that you’ve become not just the destroyer of all worlds, but also the savior of all worlds – weird to think about how good and evil often are contextually interlinked and ultimately inseparable, only veiled from one another by paper-thin walls that break the moment you examine them.

What is good or evil? Is it just something that’s purely defined on a situational basis? Or is it something that holds true to certain moral precepts or even creeds throughout the ages and eras, therefore requiring us to consult ethics textbooks and an entire council of elders in order to determine the correct answer? 

Ultimately I think that Oppenheimer portrayed the issues that were at hand in a pretty simplistic way, but did a good job of highlighting some of the complexities of a human ethical existence by making us look at our own ways of understanding ethical issues about morality and choice through the larger lens of a societal issue that has captivated the world’s imagination – or maybe it was just me? Haha, I don’t know. Either way, it was a deeply enriching experience as a result.

Now, the last lesson I learned from Oppenheimer was that people can get pissed off for the most random of reasons and you can do nothing about it, thereby providing a wonderful exploration about the importance of emotional intelligence or human pettiness – whichever you prefer. 

Indeed, one of the pivotal themes the movie explores is the ugliness of human pettiness. It’s exemplified potently in the character of Lewis Strauss, the film’s principal antagonist. Strauss, who led the controversial hearings, was hell-bent on painting Oppenheimer as a traitor, a criminal, and even a communist. Consequently, Oppenheimer’s Q clearance, which allowed him access to classified information, was revoked, effectively ending his career in atomic research.

As the plot unfolded, it became evident that the roots of Strauss’s relentless pursuit of Oppenheimer were not founded on concerns of national security or ideological differences. Rather, they stemmed from an instance of personal humiliation at a Senate hearing where Oppenheimer had, inadvertently or not, made Strauss appear ignorant on the topic of isotopes. This seemingly innocuous event stoked a fire of resentment within Strauss, resulting in the cascade of events leading to the hearings.

Strauss’s reaction to this event serves as a stark reminder of how human pettiness can have far-reaching consequences. Instead of handling his emotions responsibly, he chose revenge as his path, leading to the tragic downfall of one of the nation’s most brilliant minds… And voila, here we see how human pettiness, when left unchecked, can warp one’s sense of perspective and result in actions that are out of proportion with the original offense.

The portrayal of Strauss’s vendetta against Oppenheimer serves as a cautionary tale about the damage caused by pettiness and the inability to forgive. It forces us to reflect upon our actions and the possible impact they can have on others, and by extension, on a larger scale. The depiction of these interpersonal conflicts in ‘Oppenheimer’ adds a rich layer of complexity to the film, making it a profound exploration of human nature as much as it is a historical drama.

This aspect of the film underscores how critical it is to handle disagreements and misunderstandings with maturity and grace. A lack of emotional intelligence and an inability to let go of minor slights can lead to destructive consequences – a reminder to myself as I go about my personal interactions in life as well.

While I’m not one to just completely accept the perspective that a particular film gives us because I do see how the lens of history is something that merits insight and thought, I do see the value of this particular interpretation in that it helps us to see a little bit of what came during that time and the life that Oppenheimer lived in a way I think that was valuable, offering some insight into things like for example his struggles maybe with communism, lovers, his engagement with the US government and also the process of navigating the development process of one of the most complicated and expensive projects ever executed in the entirety of human history to create a legacy that until today still makes people wonder, dream, and question themselves. 

It made me wonder to myself about the kind of legacy that human beings are leaving on this planet as we kind of go because no matter what it is that we we do, we’re going to be working, creating, and leaving somehow a legacy or reputation for ourselves upon the surface of the earth as we come and as we go.

In Malay, there is this proverb that goes, “harimau mati meninggalkan belang dan manusia mati meninggalkan nama”.

The meaning of this is that when a tiger dies, it leaves its stripes.

When a human dies, he or she leaves his or her name.

And that idea has always captivated me, no more so than with the example of Oppenheimer, because that name will forever be remembered as the name that heralded in the atomic age; appreciating that complicated legacy and being able to experience and imagine what it was like to be in that era and to participate in the decisions and thought processes that were taken was something that was incredibly valuable for me.

A wonderful performance from Cillian Murphy, Matt Damon, Robert Downey Jr and the rest of the cast; it was a tremendously enjoyable movie, and a wonderful way to remember the legacy of Robert J. Oppenheimer, the father of the Atomic Age.

And that’s it for me, over and out.