Zara’s Space on the Web – Musings

August 21, 2013

Today’s 6 point plan for personal growth

Filed under: Geekery,Hippiery,Personal — zarazilla @ 11:02 am

Hello blog!  I have been absent, yes.  I’ve also been busy.  But I’ve now been ‘on holiday’ for coming up to 2 months so I better get started on being productive again.  I’m not sure how long/regularly I’ll be blogging for but I just wanted to write a public post on what I’m going to be concentrating on for the next few weeks for personal growth, seeing as I finally have the time to do things to update myself that I’ve been anxious about not having the time to do before.

So, I aim to do the following (presented in no particular order):

  1. Finish reading ‘Bad Science’ by Ben Goldacre, which should give me a quick review on critical thinking and introduce me to some interesting tricks that at least those in the medical industry play to manipulate research as well as how people see research results.
  2. Read the main sequences on LessWrong (available here in compiled, printable, easy to read formats). This should also help me update/upgrade my critical thinking/logical reasoning skills as well as introduce some new concepts I might be able to use in my professional life*.
  3. (speaking of professional life) update myself on the latest international going-ons in environmental economics/policy I might have missed in the past few months while I was attempting to learn Mandarin.
  4. Update myself on current environmental policy and use of environmental economics in Malaysia, Indonesia and China, areas I’m particularly interested in working in.
  5. As part of 3 and 4, start writing blog posts again, possibly for Mesym (if they deign to publish me). Possibly even think about giving one or two talks.
  6. Yes, in point 3 I mentioned learning Mandarin – I may no longer be in China on a full-time course but I hope to not only remember but continue to learn Mandarin. This will involve reviewing and learning even more Hanzi, probably with the use of Memrise, which had been very effective for me in learning my first 800 Hanzi before arriving in Beijing.

There. That seems like a lot to do, but I do have a mighty amount of free time on my hands. I should probably mention I’m also searching for work, but hopefully  points 3-5 should help with this.

* If you are interested in Rationalism but not quite ready to jump head first into it and are open to Harry Potter fanfiction, you might find Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality (HPMOR) a fun and interesting read. Even if you’re not interested in rationalism but are just open to Harry Potter fanfiction I think you may find HPMOR a fun and well-written read, although it is not quite finished.  There are currently 97 chapters up and the author mentions there’s only one more main story arc to go though, so if you read particularly slow you might only have to wait a short time before it is finished?

April 30, 2012


Filed under: Personal — zarazilla @ 11:21 pm

My inbox has been a bit of a mess lately.  In fact, it’s been a lot of a mess.  I get so much e-mail everyday that I hardly glance at most of them – I simply scan through to see if there’s any e-mail from someone I actually know in real life and leave everything else to collect.

And once it started collecting… well it was easy to let it keep collecting and not attempt to sort it out.

I got up to 1,300 e-mails which is easy to ignore when you’re using Gmail’s Priority Inbox – and even there I had about 45 unread “priority” e-mails.

I decided to tackle my inbox today as a ‘productive’ action – I’ve had to stay in sick today and I’d been feeling listless from not being able to do anything productive – when I try to concentrate earlier today I tired myself out in about half an hour and had to take a nap! But cleaning out the inbox doesn’t take too much concentration…

…one thing I did decide to do to cut down on the mess however was to start unsubscribing from lists. This was pretty easy for the corporate ones – Amazon, EBuyer, Sainsbury’s, PopCap and Opodo all went (well, as soon as I could find their ‘unsubscribe’ link – some of which were much harder than the others to find). It was a bit harder to get rid of Groupon – but to be honest I never read those either. But then I got to the Charity/Good Causes ones: Oxfam, AllOut, Avaaz, Compassion in World Farming, Care International, Libel Reform, Hope not Hate… to be honest I hardly read any of them but at the same time I would feel guilty unsubscribing from any of them. Then intention is always to read every single one but the reality is my eyes look at the sheer amount of unread e-mails and glaze over.

So I came to the conclusion that I will have to prioritise – I’ve decided to toss the ones I probably joined for a single campaign and then never read again and keep the ones that I actually care about on a day-to-day basis. But even that was difficult. Is it worth keeping BOTH Oxfam and Care International? I don’t really care about Libel Reform on a day to day basis but if I stop to think about it, it’s a really important issue that could set precedents internationally and will help the democratic process… and etc etc etc with all the other good causes!

Then I realised this is actually the problem with how I live my life. I realised recently that I’m very good at filling up my free time – with online courses, a resolution to be fluent in a new language in 18 months, a new programming project. I want all of these things, of course – to be able to access new opportunities with a new language, to understand more aspects of this world by learning game theory and model thinking, to be a multi-millionaire with the next viral mobile phone app. And I want more, some very specific mores, but I haven’t yet found the free-time to plug up yet.

But all of this destruction of my free time is stressing me out. I hate feeling unproductive but I also hate the feeling of things hanging over my head. I also hate feeling that I’m not getting as much as I would like to out of the online courses because I’m rushing through them and feeling like I “don’t have time” for things. It’s a sad revelation for me, but maybe it’s time to start prioritising. I may be able to get to do all of these things I want to do in the time that I want to do them, but I don’t want to just do them for the sake of doing them. It’ll be wonderful to have that sense of accomplishment at the end, but I don’t want to be stressed out for the next couple of years in order to achieve that.

Luckily, both my online courses end this week. I’m of course behind on both of them, but once I’m done with them I should probably avoid the compulsion to put something else in that free time gap and start examining my priorities.

If you’ve read down to here, I’m sorry if this blog post didn’t really tie together so nicely – did I mention I’m sick? But it would be nice if you could give some general thoughts or answer some questions. Like, how do you prioritise your charities in terms of time/mone/e-mail subscriptions? How do you prioritise the things you want to achieve in your life?

December 9, 2011

New Years Resolution list

Filed under: Personal — zarazilla @ 12:15 am

I’ve been very conservative with my new years resolution lists in the past.  I always say I will give up smoking and drinking (hint, I have never done either!) and in some years I’ve actually put down a couple of sensible ones like correcting my posture and getting organised.

But this year, maybe because of the long, crawling struggle I’ve had with studying whilst working and losing all free time to do anything else, I was thinking it’d be nice to go a little crazy on the new years resolutions and have maybe less a resolution list and more a wish list. There are a few things I’d like to do that would take up a lot of time, and I recognise that it will take a long time to complete all of these things – probably more than a year. But it’d be cool if it didn’t, and if I did complete everything I want to do by 2013 (but then where would be the fun in that?)

So without further ado, here is my wish list for 2012:

1) Write a novel

2) Complete both computer game ideas I have in my head

3) Learn a new language. Possibly mandarin.

4) Move forward in my work and make significant headway towards my long-term goals (okay this one I absolutely have to do in 2012 – resolution!)

5) Party more! Or at least meet new people or hang out with people I don’t spend much time with, experience new things, be more aware and more exposed to the fun that is waiting for me! (Yes I am having a late 20s crisis – I have just realised I will run out of 20s soon!)

So I’m going to be working on 4 and 5 absolutely, with 1, 2, and 3 as options. I would like to do all 5 at the same time, but something tells me this is probably not possible!

November 8, 2010

I’m from earth

Filed under: Hippiery,Personal — zarazilla @ 12:01 am
Tags: , ,

Today I got asked an interesting question. It is a question I get asked enough times and hate answering, but it is interesting this time because it is from my mother.

In the middle of trying to convince me I should speak Cantonese (I should, but it’s difficult!) she said “Where are you from?” Well actually she asked something more along the lines of “Which place person are you?” which is usually translated to “Where are you from?” but is an interesting phrase for the purposes of this post.

It is difficult for me to place myself to be from anywhere, and generally when someone I have just met asks me that question I try to answer in the best way possible from the context of their question (although it usually ends up with me, somehow or other, listing the places I’ve lived in and pointing out that my accent is from an international school).

But since it was my mother asking, and she has in a way created my history, I merely answered, “The world”. Well, my mother was a bit taken back by my answer, despite the fact that when I tell people I’m Malaysian she says “But you’re not” and goes on to say that I’m more British as I’ve spent more of my time here. Following my answer, she said that it was not good for people to feel like they don’t belong anywhere, and went on to recount how a woman she knows was given away whe she was a baby by her mother and has spent the rest of her life trying to make up for it and to belong somewhere.

But I do feel like I belong. It may sound a bit cheesy but I’m a citizen of the earth and a proud member of the human race. I call multiple countries home and I have happily embraced the term ‘Third Culture Kid’ when attempting to put a name to my culture. This is something I worked out when I was a teenager (who stuck out like a sore thumb at school) and have been comfortable with since.

Most of the people I feel an immediate affinity with turn out to be third culture kids and I sometimes think we represent a placeless ‘race’ of TCKs – by which I mean a collection of people who have the same culture which enables us to connect and understand each other on a very basic level in a way that people from the same culture do.

And while I sometimes think and feel this way of claiming other TCKs as part of my culture and to whom I ‘belong’ with, at the very most basic level I do feel I am a citizen of this earth, the same way that a scottish man will claim that he is Scottish and a chinese girl will claim she is Chinese.

So at the end of this short conversation with my mother and slightly longer deliberation on my part I had a revelation – perhaps my chosen career in the environmental sector stems in part from my feeling of belonging to the world. I have never been a patriot of any nation, but my concern (and pride) is for all.

January 3, 2010

Thank you 2009

Filed under: Personal — zarazilla @ 11:32 pm

2009 has been a really good year for me, and it is nice to think of all the good things that have happened to be in the past year.

I finally got my first foot onto the career ladder with a job interview in late February leading to me joining a well-respected environmental economics consultancy in March.  I’ve learnt a lot in my current role and even managed to simultaneously fulfill a childhood dream as well as get my name on some semi-popular published material.  I even got to be interviewed on the EUSci podcast! I’ve completed 10 months at work, which is seven months longer than my last longest job (temping as a secretary at Morgan Stanley Quilter), have business cards to hand out (not that I’ve ever had occasion to do so), met Tim Harford, and implemented and posted multiple times on the work blog. Next steps are to complete my personal project at work (I’m setting myself a deadline for the end of January!), get a new title, and be even more awesome.

Financially, my job has led to me being able to pay off my bank overdraft and starting to pay off my not inconsiderable student loan.  My salary has also allowed me to help out other hard-working people in developing countries through microlending with Kiva.  It is not much, but I have managed to lend $25 a month for every month that I have been working.  Although loans have already been disbursed by the time they make it to Kiva, I attempt to ‘lend’ to profiles which I believe will increase economic activity in the developing countries.  These include agriculture, transportation, and construction.  Next step is to explore other microfinance sites and see what other models are available.

Socially, I have done amazingly.  One of my good friends from university moved down to London and I have been spending a lot of missed time with her.  Earning a steady salary enabled me to restart swing dancing classes which, in the first place, set a time to meet up with a friend from uni weekly, and later, set the scene for me to meet a lot of amazing people.  I also enjoy the company of my colleagues, including out-of-the-office time with a colleague who joined the company in August. Next steps are to keep things going and to regularly keep in touch with old friends.

Self-developmentally, I have done a bit although I feel I could do better.  This is something to work on this year.  I managed to attend a few lectures to do with the environment and economics as well as a workshop on using arduinos. Using a range finder and an mp3 player I developed a small media project to demonstrate ‘environmental sin’, playing on the workshop’s theme of ‘sinful machines’. I didn’t manage to get through any textbooks however, and this is a goal for next year.  Self-organisation will help this. :)

Travelling-wise, after the glut of long-distance plane journeys I undertook in 2008, 2009 was thankfully a relatively peaceful year for journeys. I managed a short hop to Iceland and back before starting work, and several trips up to Scotland, including a biking trip around Aviemore and the Cairngorms. Unfortunately 2010 will start off with another long-distance plane trip to Malaysia for Chinese New Year, but hopefully those will be the only plane trips I take.  I’m also hoping to do a bit of train journeying around Europe. :)

So, in sum, it’s been a very good year and though some of it has been due to luck, to be fair to myself some of it has been the fruition of a lot of hard work I have put in.  I hope 2010 brings me similar joy. :)

December 24, 2009

Prologue – Training

Filed under: Fiction — zarazilla @ 9:30 pm

The following is the prologue I wrote for the novel I was attempting to write in November for Nanowrimo (I really only got as far as finishing the prologue).  The novel is meant to be a biblical allegory and while the part where my character based on Jesus is born is several chapters and thousands of words from the prologue, I thought it’d be nice to post what I have written so far.  The prologue is also a homage to Robert Jordan; in his Wheel of Time series he enjoyed having Rand train sword fighting by fighting several men at once.


Iron ringing against iron.  Flaming Sword meets Angel’s Descent.  Another one down, six more to go.  Whirling, weaving, parry, block, dodge, strike.  Father’s Sacrifice.  Two more down, over halfway now.  His sword arm is aching, his breaths short, but there are still four more to go and he has no intention of stopping and besides, this is not the worse he has experienced by far.

Out of the corner of his eye Godwin catches sight of his cousin Alucio, in a similar exercise across the courtyard, shining in full armour, whirling, dancing; he seems barely even human, and not even out of breath. Clang.  Godwin’s momentary distraction has cost him; he stumbles to his knees, lights dancing in his eyes. Get up you useless fool! Godwin rages against himself silently and he is up with Phoenix Rises, felling his attacker, half-blinded but much more wary and with the fire reignited in his stomach.  Godwin grips his practice sword tighter and steps aside from another blow, following it up with another strike, taking another two out at the same time.  Only one left but it his cousin Gavin, the fastest and the most cunning of his practice circle, and then they are joined by a third.  A third in shining armour with a rising sun and a star worked into the metalwork.  Godwin takes a deep breath and Gavin is taken out by a swift feint and a strike to the head, and then it is just Godwin and Alucio.  Time slows down and Godwin knows he is on his own.  All the fancy swordwork he has just applied has been taught to him by the elder boy standing across from him.  It is now all about stamina and speed and his innate knowledge of his opponent.

Alucio lowers his sword, signalling for rest before their duel, giving Godwin time to recover, but Godwin shakes his head.  He is on a roll, and the fire in his stomach still burns.  He has never beat Alucio in a fair fight before, but there is always a first time for everything.  Alucio nods and raises his sword again.  They begin.

The two swords ring against each other repeatedly and Godwin soon loses sense of the world outside of him and Alucio.  He is desperately tired but the fire in his stomach urges him on.  It wakes in him the old grudge he bears against the older boy, always faster, always stronger, always smarter and more charismatic.  A grudge he keeps buried on all other occasions, but uncaps and lets out when the fire in his stomach wakes it.  Soon, however, despite his best efforts, he finds himself lying flat with the cobblestones pressing against his back, breathing heavily with Alucio’s sword at his throat.  Alucio is glowering down at him, displeased.

“Reckless” he says shortly.  Alucio glowers at Godwin a bit more. “Whatever it is”, he continues, lifting the tip of his sword away from Godwin’s throat and releasing him, “you have 5 minutes to let it go, and then we start again”. He turns around and walks away, adjusting the buckles on his shield.

Closing his eyes, Godwin takes a deep breath and opens them again, looking around.  Gavin is by his side with water, himself barely recovered from the rather too sharp blow that Godwin had delivered on him in his haste to get to Lucio, but Gavin in his loyal faithful way does not begrudge Godwin the blow. Rising, Godwin thanks Gavin for the water and gulps it down, handing the cup back to Gavin.  Gavin nods and retreats, leaving him to his peace.

“Let it go” he mutters, starting to walk, pacing and breathing in steady deep practiced breaths.  Godwin knows what Alucio wants.  It is something he has never quite managed to do, and something he can never imagine being able to do when dueling Alucio.  It is a frightening thought, to lose all emotion and come out of himself.  Godwin shudders.  He imagines it feels like losing control.

Godwin reaches the end of the courtyard and turns, just in time to see Alucio catch Godwin’s twin sister Gaea by the arm as she stumbles.  Gaea blushes and looks down at the ground, briefly, mildly bemused.  Regaining herself, she smiles and thanks Lucio, stepping away from his bracing arm.  Lucio smiles back, unguarded.  Watching this exchange, Godwin smiles, everything else forgotten.  In years past Gaea would have shoved Luce backwards and stuck out her tongue before running away.  But it looked like things were changing between the two, and the rough friendship of childhood was paring away to becoming something much more beautiful.

Godwin walks back towards Luce, the warmth in his stomach no longer a fire.  He is calmer and more contemplative when he reaches his old friend.  Maybe he can, afterall, let it all go.  Afterall, if he can quite willingly trust his old friend with his beloved Gaea, should he not trust him enough to at least attempt once to try what he is forever telling him?

Soon Godwin and Lucio are facing each other, swords at the ready, the courtyard quiet and anticipating.  They have all seen it so many times before, but it is always a show for everyone when Godwin and Lucio duel, although most of the time, for the men, it is the simple potential rising from the two, and for the women it is the motherly concern they feel towards the two boys and in particular their young prince Godwin.

Godwin is feeling entirely calm now, and when the dueling starts he can concentrate less on trying to win and more on the strokes it would take to get him there.  Soon he feels the unfamiliar sensation of starting to flow out of himself, to feel as if he is watching from slightly apart from his body, concentrating entirely on the technicality.  Probing for weaknesses, the inevitable sidestep, the miscalculation of footing on the cobblestones. Godwin presses his advantages, driving Alucio backwards, and suddenly Alucio’s sword clatters onto the cobblestones. A very slight overextension from Alucio and a fraction of a second was all Godwin had needed to strike Alucio’s less protected wrist. The fight is not over however, and as Alucio dives for his sword Godwin’s foot comes out and catches him in the stomach, turning him over mid-air (and in the process, also bruising Godwin’s foot). Alucio lies flat on the cobblestones, Alucio the victor over him, sword tip against his throat.

There is a brief second as Godwin and Alucio stare at each other, both caught off guard by the novelty of the situation. Alucio is the first to break into a smile, his pride at his younger cousin shining through. Godwin smiles tentatively back, and around them the courtyard breaks into applause and cheering. It has been several years since anyone had won against Alucio in a fair duel, and the fact that their young heir to the throne is the first to do so since Alucio had turned 14 years old is cause enough for celebration. The potential that Godwin is showing brings happiness and pride to the onlookers. The future of the kingdom shines bright.

December 23, 2009

RSS feeds – Shared Items

Filed under: Economics,Personal — zarazilla @ 11:47 am

After talking too much about my RSS Feeds last night, I realised a good complement to the post would be to introduce my Shared Items. I use Google Reader to manage my RSS feeds and it allows me to share posts. As I read through my feeds I typically share posts I think are interesting, relevant, or fun. I also attempt to write little notes on why I think particular articles are interesting.

As I mostly use my feeds to keep me current in my profession, it is heavily slanted towards the environment and economics.

I don’t know whether it will be of much interest to anyone, but you can access it via this link and I have also put it on the side as (very creatively) ‘Interesting articles from RSS feeds’ under ‘Other’.

December 22, 2009

Getting organised

Filed under: Personal — zarazilla @ 9:57 pm

I have 2 New Years Resolutions for 2010. I’m really already working on both of them, but I’d like to hit the ground running with them in January and for them to be fully implemented by the time 2011 rolls around.

The first one is to work on my posture. My mother has been nagging me about it for the past 22 years or so and while I’ve accepted that I have bad posture, it’s only over the past year I’ve come to agree with her that I should probably put some effort into fixing it, both to stave off potential long-term health issues and also for the puposes of how people see me, as someone who now has her foot on the first rung of the career ladder.

My second New years resolution is to get organised. Recently I’ve been finding myself rushing from one thing to the next and finding little satisfaction in doing things because I’m always thinking several steps ahead about other things I need to do, and just about making it through in a general disorganised mess. Oh, and my RSS feed? At the moment I’m standing at 423 unread articles.

Part of the problem I think is that I’m spending far too much time at work. Just last week, even though I got Friday off, I had already worked 40 hours from Monday to Thursday. But, as my friend Cate (who is also attempting to manage her time better) likes to say, I’m probably not working effectively. Which I agree with. Lately, it feels like for 95% of the time I spend at work all the internal mechanisms of my brain are submerged in molasses. I very much hope this is merely due to burn-out and that after 2 weeks of holiday I’ll return to work much refreshed and ready to work. Otherwise, there’s not really much to work around it. For me, work, at least at the moment, is the number one priority. If I have to stay until late o’clock to get things finished, so be it. But I’d rather have a life outside of work as well.

Which brings me to the next point. Lately I’ve been having a much better social life. I won’t lie to you, it is great. I enjoy hanging out with people, but I probably also need to learn to say no. I was very good at this at university, completely shutting down my social life in order to churn out masses of coursework, train 8 hours a week (which comes out to about 12 hours a week once you factor in travelling and changing time) and serve as secretary and captain/president of the karate club. While it was not completely healthy, it was okay, because I still got to see my friends while I was doing these activities, and catching up during meals at whatever odd hours we managed to remember to eat.

Work life/social life balance is slightly different. While the people I work with are fantastic people and I really like them, I’d still like to see other people. But I need to somehow ensure that I don’t go overboard so that my sleeping hours are cut short and I become highly ineffective at work, therefore having to work longer hours. This, I guess, will merely take some practice, but is something I will keep in mind.

My new social life has completely cut into my ‘self improvement’ time – the time I spend working on something. Even before the social life exploded though, I was spending this time very ineffectively. You remember that RSS feed I mentioned before? I spent about 2 hours a day catching up on the posts from Freakonomics, Environmental Economics, Core Economics, EcoGeek, RealClimate, ClimateIntel, etc. My most frightening feed is Climate ChangeS, which posts about 10 full-length reports every week. I used to force myself to read every single article in full and digest and understand each thing, but since my social life took off I really have just been ignoring my RSS feed. This is a Bad Thing, and I have set myself priorities. This is how it looks like now.

You can see the three folders near the bottom. They are read in the following order:
1) Friends
2) Must reads
3) Economics

Everything else are things I would still like to read, but are kind of ‘luxury’ items. If I have time, or I feel like I should be reading some feeds but don’t feel up to a full page of highly scary intellectualness, I’ll hit “All items” and go through them (CuteOverload posts are always fun defusers of intellecutalness).

It’s interesting that I would never have thought of prioritising my feeds the way I have until I had to; I would have stubbornly continued wasting my life away attempting to read through them all. Thanks, social life. ;)

There are a few things I would like to do which are kind of one-off things, such as learning a scripting language (this will cut down on the time I spend programming at work) and re-reading some economics texts; hopefully the next two things I will talk about will help me do them.

At heart, I’m still a computer scientist and a big gadget freak. While these are not physical gadgets, they are gadgets in that I veiw them as toys even though they are immensely helpful.

At Cate’s urging, I’ve also signed up for RememberTheMilk. I’ve only had it for a couple of weeks but in those weeks I’ve found it incredibly useful in planning and executing a turducken party (difficult to shop for when you’ve not got a car and exotic ingredients are needed) whilst things at work have gone a little crazy. Not only do I find it immensely satisfying to tick things off and hit the ‘completed’ button when they’re done, I find it also helps to have things written down. It takes some stress away to see things that you have to do written down with a time estimate rather than have them floating around in your mind and knowing you have ‘a lot’ to do. It does take some practice to realise that you can write certain things down, for instance I haven’t yet written down ‘Learn scripting language’ and ‘Read xxx’, but it’s definitely nice to know it’s written down somewhere and will not be lost to the ether.

The second gadget I like is Google Calendar. With it can write down my social and work engagements, and, with it’s ‘sharing’ feature I can see what other people are up to and more effectively plan my social life better.

Better still, Rememberthemilk has a widget that displays my todo list whenever I load Google Calendar. Excellent.

So, to summarise, here are the steps I’m going to take to get myself organised in 2010:
1) Work more effectively at work. In order to do this, I must (probably eat better and)
2) Not go overboard on the socialising. 8 hours of sleep should become a norm for me, not a freakish luxury.
3) Prioritise my RSS feed. I have already done this. :)
4) Make copious use of Rememberthemilk and Google Calendar

I’m not going to pretend that getting organised is going to be easy. I have, ever since I was a child, been a complete mess of an organiser, and only started taking on organising social activities (rather than just attending them) halfway through university. But 2010 will be the year of organisation and my life definitely needs it. Bring it on!

(If anybody has any tips on how to work on the posture, they will be very much appreciated. I have no idea how to get started there apart from straightening up everytime I remember to)

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