“Wow” moments from Stuff Matters

I recently read Mark Miodownik’s Stuff Matters. It’s been pretty mindblowing, actually! Miodownik explains the beauty of the materials around us, like steel and paper and concrete. He brings us through the history of the material and also how it’s made, cracking some (pretty funny) jokes along the way. I can’t look at things the same again after he showed me the secret lives of the materials around all of us. Below are the quotes which made me stop and think; I never thought of things that way until I read it in this book.
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(Non-boring) Job Ideas for Students

Don’t settle for the normal part time job where you just sit and do the same thing over and over. Try something better!

  1. Research assistant
  2. Kickstarters (Indiegogo, too)
  3. Patreon
  4. Freelancing, using sites like fiverr.
  5. Serial scholarship applier: apply for many many scholarships. Probably quite lucrative.
  6. Serial competition participator: they usually have prize money. Plus, it’ll help with your academics (if you do related stuff) and CV. I used to do fiction writing competitions to make myself commit to writing.
  7. Side hustle. Tutoring, coaching, reselling stuff. Blogging, photography, you know. Maybe even cooking meals for other students. You can get better at the skill while making money too.

Get creative and see how you can use your skills differently. It’ll be more fun and more rewarding, too.

Vipassana Meditation Camp Review: the Good, Bad, and Ugly

Wow okay. So I went for a meditation camp from 3-14 May. I first heard of it from Celestine Chua’s blog, and she said it was useful to her. Now that I’m still quite free I thought I’d try it out.

The official Singapore site is here.

Vipassana advocates for seeing things and accepting reality for what it is, instead of what you want it to be. In that spirit, I’m going to try to write a realistic review.

Unlike Celes’s review that I linked to above, mine will be pretty full of spoilers. If you prefer to go in without knowing anything, don’t read further.

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On Head vs Heart

I fell in love with Effective Altruism at first sight. Finally! Here was a community who was using cold hard evidence to change the world, instead of basing it on what ‘might’ work.

To me, that represented the best of both head and heart – we have the heart to care, but the head to do it the best we can.

The main thing that I disagree with Effective Altruism on is cause selection. The EA community tends to focus more on poverty and AI because of how neglected they are. I’m an ardent environmentalist, and I don’t think it’ll change anytime soon. I refused to ‘defect’ to these other causes. Is that good? I don’t know. Something tells me that working on environment causes is still going to be more effective for me since I love it so much. Effectiveness depends on how much I will personally commit, too, and I think I can make a good contribution because I’ll commit a lot.

When head and heart work together, we really can change the world.

How to get into Harvard and the Ivy League, Singapore Addendum

Disclaimer: I didn’t, so this is mostly what I would have done better. I don’t know for sure if it works, but I believe that it would have. Take my advice with fistfuls of salt.

I was too late. I only read Allen Cheng’s guide to the Ivies when I was already in the last year of junior college. And along with learning about the superstar effect, where the best get a lot more rewards than the second best, I became more and more convinced that I could have done better. My rejection letters were the final wake-up call for me.

In Singapore, the real problem is our extra curricular activities, and perhaps our essays.

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Excessive Income Inequality: are We Part of the Problem?

I think we might be. Because we want to accumulate wealth for ourselves, we cause other people to not have those resources. Perhaps they need it more, but when we do things to make ourselves better off, do we inevitably make someone else worse off? For example, we got a scholarship, but if someone else who’s poorer needs the scholarship more, doesn’t it mean that we’re depriving them of that scholarship? Aren’t we concentrating even more wealth into our own hands?

An argument I’ve heard against this is that we’re more “socially minded” so we’d spend this wealth better than other people. But that sounds too much like paternalism, and I’m kind of wary of that. And it may be an excuse in the end to spend it on ourselves.

Another case is that it doesn’t have to be a zero sum game – wealth can be created. Everyone can get rich, together, as we create more value. Win-win solution, as they say. In real life, though, the statistics aren’t encouraging.

I guess it boils down to:

1. Work with the system and do it so well that you can use your money to enact change (e.g. buy all the stocks of 1 company and make them change), or

2. Try to “boycott” the system by letting other people take good opportunities. Instead of hogging, have the magnanimity to give it to people who need it more.

Would you rather change the system from the inside out, or from the outside in?