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Before yesterdayEx nihilo writing

An outsider

12 April 2018 at 03:59
By: Byron

For the first time in my life, I feel like an outsider.

If you’re aware of my background growing up, this may seem a little strange. I’m a Filipino that lived for a year in the UAE, about three years in Singapore and then the rest of my life until graduating from high-school (13 years) in Shanghai, China. I’ve technically been a foreigner my entire life, but I never felt like that growing up.

My earliest memories begin in Singapore. Perhaps it was because of my age, but I was never of the impression that I didn’t belong due to my nationality. I don’t think I was old enough to be thinking about cultural contexts and identities. It may also be because I’m brown. Brown people are pretty common in Southeast Asia, so it’s not like I stood out very much.

In Shanghai, it was much the same. Because my family moved to China when I was around five years old, I basically grew up there. I also have some Chinese blood, so I didn’t even look like a foreigner! It took awhile, but I eventually picked up the language at a reasonable level of fluency with a reasonable non-foreign sounding accent by the age of 13, so I could get around as if I wasn’t a foreigner. Of course, I’d slip up a lot and use the wrong intonation for certain words, and get occasional comments from locals like “Your Chinese is good for a foreigner!”. For the most part, however, it didn’t feel like I was an outsider.

Moving to Holland for university was the first time I’d lived outside of Asia and lived without my family in my life. I was recently reminded of this phenomenon known as “culture shock”, in which a disequilibrium caused by different cultural realities leads to feelings of anxiety, stress and frustration.

I didn’t have that. While I am of the opinions that cultures can differ dramatically, I think my (relatively) unique upbringing in an international school environment gave me a natural capability for interacting with different cultures. In fact, I never consciously viewed this multicultural competence as a skill I’d developed, because it’s always just been a part of me. That’s not bragging in any sense; this is merely me saying that it was a part of my upbringing. Almost everyone I knew from my high-school and other international schools were capable of the same.

Thus, while I wasn’t quite discomfited with the change in cultural contexts, it was still extremely strange to walk through the streets and not see other Asian people. In fact, it was strange just not seeing a lot of people to begin with. Shanghai is, obviously, filled with Chinese people, but it’s also saturated to a much higher extent than many European cities. Hearing Dutch spoken everywhere was also peculiar. For most of my life, Chinese had filled my ears when roaming the streets, so hearing foreign languages like Dutch, Spanish and French was what turned my head. Now, just a couple words in Chinese causes my head to snap around in search of the source.

The prevailing culture at school also felt a little different. I felt very much like the mentality of a lot of students, both in my course and others, was that achieving just a passing grade would be satisfactory. Having high expectations and goals like mine where only barely scraping by was akin to actually failing was viewed as an overachieving attitude, when in my previous reality at high-school that was viewed as a norm.

I don’t think this feeling of being an outsider is necessarily bad. I actually think spending time outside my comfort zone is inherently more valuable than all the time spent inside. It’s not necessarily easy, but I enjoy the challenges that come with it. As someone with a slight fear of the unknown, especially when it comes to meeting new people and trying new things, I’ve done my best to do just that: meet new people and try new things. While I find that I often have to force myself to do so, I can think of no better place than this home away from home.





10 April 2018 at 11:00
By: Byron

My most successful semesters in university thus far have been when I’ve had a clear reason to and reward for studying.

In my first semester, my GPA was about 8.33 (out of 10), which I attribute to an initial excitement towards getting out of “boring high-school humdrum” and moving to “practical university learning”. Despite achieving relatively high-grades, my enthusiasm faded rapidly after the term ended, as classes felt like an extensive exercise in memorization and regurgitation.

This negative attitude lead me to the first (and hopefully last) failure of my university study. I simple could not find any reason to study, nor did I have any external rewards for performing well, so I waited far too long to start preparing for a final exam and ended up failing. After I received that failing grade, I remember thinking to myself something like “gee Byron, how could you be so stupid that you didn’t even get a 4.5 on the exam.” Perhaps self-directed hate isn’t the best form of motivation, but thinking that every morning I woke up the next semester was powerful source of intrinsic motivation to hit the library and focus for hours every single day.

I got an 8.9 at the end of that semester.

Intrinsic motivation, as I think I’ve made evident, can be very inconsistent. Another compelling source of motivation are instant rewards. For this round of exams, I found myself studying with a friend. We’d work in blocks of 2–3 hours, and at the end of every block was some form of reward. Sometimes it would be food, other times it would be food, and other times we even got food! Basketball was another great way to both push through an intense study session, and recharge the brain by sweating out all the bad energy/confusion/tension from sitting at a desk all day.

My friend and I have another idea for external motivation: every day, we’ll commit to studying for a minimum of 3 hours. If one of us doesn’t complete this minimum study requirement, he’ll have to pay the other person 10 euros. Given that we’re both broke university students, and the type of people who won’t back down (or as he eloquently put it: “bitch out of”) a pact like this, we think it’ll work great.



Bridging noise gaps

4 April 2018 at 12:10
By: Byron

In this age of internet accessibility and dependence, where anyone with any kind of opinion can post it online and reach millions of others, it’s dangerous to let people incapable of rational thought make important decisions like government official elections and vaccinations.

This is almost word for word what I said yesterday at an interview for a teaching assistant position. I said that if I could help even one kid improve their capacity to think critically and evaluate evidence for its validity, that would be reward enough for the job.

To an extent, that was probably only a half-truth. To get “reward enough” I would also like to get paid.

A friend of mine recently said “Yeah, you’re mean.”. It’s accurate to an extent; I don’t like spending any more time than necessary with people who I don’t think have fully functioning brains. These people include those who are in university and ask “Why can’t we cite Wikipedia for our academic article?”, those who tell you they don’t rinse the soap off dishes when washing, and those who are radical “I’m going to convert you or else you’ll feel my wrath” vegans. With these kinds of people, I try very quickly to remove myself from the situation as quickly as possible. I typically don’t bother trying to make my case and explain it with them, because I’ve found that time and time again people are not willing to change their beliefs.

But that’s a bad attitude to have! Not speaking with and trying to change (for the better) people like this only serves to make the differences between us even more distinct.

I realize that I’m probably part of the problem. You can’t just ignore half the population of the human race simply because you don’t like them, don’t agree with how they live their lives or think their viewpoints are dumb. In fact, it’s arrogant to an extent to believe that the way you conduct yourself is better than how others do, because you’re putting yourself on a level above other human beings. Is that right?

I don’t know. Perhaps.

It’s been awhile since I’ve written a blog post, and it’s kind of ironic that I’m writing a post about noise that has turned into a noise-filled rambling session. My apologies, you 17 people that follow me. Thanks for making it this far.

What I’d like to end with is this: everyone (who doesn’t violate basic human rights) should have an opportunity to better themselves, if they’re willing. I think we have a (slight) moral obligation to help other people, to try and peacefully bridge gaps between different points of views and find the “objectively” correct ideas amidst the endless chatter of information available online.

Lend a helping hand; you might learn something in the process.

This is one of a great video series from Jubilee on taking people who believe in fundamentally opposite things, and seeing if they can see eye to eye on different issues. I thought it was worth the 10-15 minute watch that every video takes.




Nothing to prove

15 March 2018 at 12:00
By: Byron

There’s a fantastic clip of Kobe Bryant you all need to see.





To be inscrutable is to give off the impression that you thoughts and motives are impossible to discern. Oftentimes, the loudest, most transparent and eager to show off kind of people are all bark and no bite. It’s the quiet, self-assured, inscrutable individual that you should pay attention to.

People who are capable of great feats have nothing to prove. People who lack ability have everything to prove. It’s the insecurity in the latter group that leads to a constant need for validation, because they’re inherently incapable of any kind of intrinsic validation. Kobe Bryant doesn’t have to answer to any and every troll on the internet questioning his skills; he’s got five NBA championships that speak for him.

Actions truly do speak louder than words.




The start of a journey

24 February 2018 at 11:00
By: Byron

You’ll often see silhouettes of beautiful people or grandiose feats of architecture off in the distance. Silhouettes, by definition, are hard to make out, darkly shapen and outlined, and yet despite that, you can still tell how aesthetically beautiful they are. I saw recently  a picture of a bird about to take flight, captured as merely a dark outline against the rising sun. And yet despite the lack of detail, somehow the elegance of the bird and the strength contained in its wings bled through the image and into me.

I think about my future potential like this. A silhouette in far off horizon, cast against the rising sun.

Recently, I’ve made it my goal to dunk a basketball. I’m about 5 feet and 9 inches, or 177 centimeters, so not particularly tall when it comes to volleyball and basketball, the two sports I play regularly. For years I’d quietly bemoaned my lack of height, blaming genetics for my inability to truly excel at either sport. I could not even conceive of a future version of myself that could do something so impossible as dunking. Somehow, I thought that even if I trained, I would never be able to improve and reach that level. Thankfully, I became fed up with myself and that negative attitude, and vowed to make a change.

I started watching YouTube videos of average sized people like me jumping to extraordinary heights through extensive training, diet and discipline. I did research of my own, scouring the internet for accomplished athletes and trainers and their words of advice. I wrote up a workout schedule based on this, committing to go to the gym first thing in the morning at least four times a week.

The most difficult part of this process was not the hours spent researching, nor waking up early on the very first day and lifting weights for the first time in years. The most difficult part was changing my attitude from “there’s no way I can do this” to “I’m going to work my butt off so I can do this”. It’s not something that happened overnight; the shift in attitude came from a gradual desire to want to jump higher. The night this desire culminated ended with me standing up abruptly from my desk, slamming my hands down and saying to myself “let’s do this”.

I could barely sleep that night, for the next day would be my first at the gym.

Now that I’ve begun training, I’ve moved from not even being able to see my future potential to seeing that silhouette of myself in six months, a year or maybe even two years jumping higher, high enough to dunk. It’s a very dark view, and I am unable to make out any details of that future self besides him being able to achieve my goal. I have yet to experience enough puddles of sweat and setbacks to be able to reach above that far away basketball rim. But I will someday.

In time, the sun will continue to rise and the features of the still darkened silhouette will sharpen as I come closer to meeting my goal. Someday, I will no longer see the silhouette.

On that day, I will have reached my future.




Keep it true, keep it real

23 February 2018 at 11:00
By: Byron

Trill |tril|
Urban dictionaryused in hip-hop culture to describe someone who is considered to be well respected, coming from a combination of the words true and real”. 

I think there’s value to these characteristics, “trueness” and “realness”, and that they’re under appreciated in today’s social media based and extrovert driven society.

Being true and real refers to acting consistently with who you are on the inside. That is, your morals, core principles, guiding beliefs and attitudes about the world do not change depending on who you’re talking to. Obviously, we adopt certain mannerisms depending on the social context, but if you believe that binge drinking is bad, being true is going out to the club and not downing seven shots of vodka in a row because your friends are doing it too.

I find often that people are lightyears away from being trill. One of the things that vexes me is when people act differently around different people. I feel like everyone’s got an identity, a set of characteristics and viewpoints that define who everyone really is. Everyone also has feelings, penchants, preferences for how they want to be treated. As I’ve said many times before, I’m someone who’s always in favor of the most direct solution. (Even if sometimes I don’t take my own simple piece of advice.) I believe that if you don’t like a certain person, or are uncomfortable with how someone is treating you, you should just say so. Yet many people are afraid to do so, because they fear how they’ll be perceived by others. They continue speaking and hanging out with people they don’t like because they’re afraid of “social repercussions” that might follow if they don’t.

I think this is PRESposterous. (Heh.) To begin with, most people that you think are judging you have probably never given you a second thought. Next, and more importantly, the opinions of others should not dictate how you act and how you feel about yourself. (Unless we’re talking about like people saying “no don’t murder him because you don’t like him”, because y’know. Murder is bad.) That annoying kid you force yourself to hang out with simply because he happens to be in your general vicinity a lot or with the same group of friends you hang out with- you’re not obligated to like him, hang out with him or even speak to him! I believe that everyone should be treated respectfully. But nowhere in this belief do I think that everyone should be treated as a friend. There’s a difference between the two.

I’m going to leave you with a quote from Bruce Lee that stuck in my head: “Always be yourself, express yourself, have faith in yourself.”

You’re worth it.






Strategic renewal

22 February 2018 at 11:00
By: Byron

What kind of companies dominate today’s markets? We’ve seen companies like Kodak, Nokia and Blackberry go from the top of the food (business) chain to scraps for the fishes because of fierce competition and changing consumer preferences. Their ends, however, weren’t inevitable.

Today I decided to go to class, and I was struck by an epiphany. What if I just take notes in class, do extra research about what we’re learning, stop listening to the lecturer because they move through content slower than a fly trapped in honey and transform those notes into a blog post! (Just a side note, there’ll be some direct quotes- I’m not going to put down exactly where I found them from in-text, because I forgot. Everything that’s 100% from another source will be in quotes, of course. All of the citation links will be at the bottom of the page for your further reading.) Today we learned about strategic renewal, the process by which companies can ensure that they don’t meet their ends.

Strategic renewal is the opportunity to act. Strategy is “that which relates to the long-term prospects of the company and has a critical influence on its success or failure.” Renewal is one type of change, by which something is made new. Putting these two together gives the following definition:

Strategic renewal
(Strategic management terminology)

“The process, content, and outcome of refreshment or replacement of attributes of an organization that have the potential to substantially affect its long-term prospects.”

In this sense, the process that follows is more than addition and subtraction; it is multiplication and transformation… In business, where bigger is so often mixed up with better, it bears stating that stripping away detritus does not diminish the company… If there is one trend that has demonstrated staying power over the past decade, it is the movement of strategy formulation out of corporate headquarters and into business units.”

The basic problem facing companies is condensed thusly: how will a company engage in sufficient exploitation activities to maintain its current position, while at the same time devote sufficient effort towards exploration activities to secure its position in the future?

Exploitation activities refer to maintaining control and certainty, working on existing process efficiencies and reducing uncertainty. It’s kind of like the Japanese concept “kaizen”, referring to making what’s currently practiced better. Contrast this with exploration activities, which you might put under the umbrella term “innovation”. Exploration is moving beyond whatever it is the company currently practices.

Now, realizing the right mix of exploration and exploitation activities creates what is known as an “ambidextrous organization”. That is, a company that is “efficient in its management of today’s business and also adaptable for coping with tomorrow’s changing demand.” (Wikipedia)

Further definition of ambidexterity in organizations refers to pursuing different kinds of innovation. There is discontinuous, incremental and architectural innovation; all of which have their place in making sure a company does not become obsolete. To make these concepts understandable, let’s use an example. Discontinuous, or disruptive, transformations refers to the fundamental altering of one or more aspects of a company’s strategy or organization, like with exploration activities. If we consider a company X making electric ceiling fans, this kind of innovation would be reflected in X transitioning to air-conditioning products. Incremental transformations basically refer back to the exploitation activities, with improvement of existing processes. For X, this might be improving the blade design and motor power of their electric ceiling fans. Finally, there’s architectural innovations, which involves reinforcing core concepts of the business but changing the link between core concepts and existing components of products and services. It’s kind of like a mix between incremental and discontinuous. With X, this could be moving from an electric ceiling fan to a portable fan. Both technically use the same primary components, but there are changes in dimensions, component sizes and product design. It’s a big change, but not like a swap from electric fans to air conditioning.

These different kind of changes and product improvements may be undertaken in different ways. Firms could do it sequentially, alternating exploration and exploitation in set time periods. It could also be simultaneous, with some business units responsible for exploitation and others for exploration. Another approach is for the firm to allow different parts of the company to use contextual clues and judgment to decide whether to improve incrementally improve or radically improve.

An ambidextrous organization doesn’t come without some changes in the organization outside of just deciding how to go about strategic renewal. It also involves making sure the strategy is aligned across all business units, ensuring that communication between departments is clear and and coordination is a priority. It’s like making dinner at home, but deciding to change the regular fare when you have a bunch of guests over. First, you need more people to help you cook, so you get friends and family to help. This means everyone needs to know what ingredients are being used and for what dishes they go into. Also, you as the head of the cooking team need to know if you’re going to make your traditional roast chicken a little bit better by adding new herbs and seasoning (incremental improvement), or if you’re going to swap over to fried chicken (architectural transformation), or if you’re going to do something wild like make turkey for any meal that’s not Thanksgiving (disruptive innovation).

Every company and every situation present different internal and external factors that need to be considered for strategic renewal. Thus, the golden rule for this section, as with many other business related decisions, is that every decision about strategic renewal needs to be tailored to its specific context.











To be (late) or not to be

21 February 2018 at 08:08
By: Byron

tardy |ˈtärdē|
delaying or delayed beyond the right or expected time; late: please forgive this tardy reply.
from Latin tardus “slow, sluggish; late; dull, stupid,”

This post, by definition, is tardy. The prompt came out on January 23, and it’s now February 19, so I have a lot of catching up to do. To my now staggering count of 16 followers, you have my most sincere apologies.

Whenever I hear “tardy”, I associate it with being late to class. Now, one might think that being tardy is not such a big deal, because based on its denotation, being tardy is just being delayed. But this definition lacks subtext.

Being late implies that you believe your time is more important than whoever else you’re making wait. Maybe you don’t think this way explicitly, but that’s essentially what your actions convey. Of course, there are plenty of excuses you can make like traffic, bathroom stops and missing alarms, but these are all paltry at best. The reason being that if you really cared, if you really valued the time of that person you’re going to be meeting with, you’d take all of these variables into account and arrive on time regardless. In fact, I’d even say that you should plan to arrive early all the time, so that if there’s really an emergency delay in your travel plans, you’ll still arrive on time.

I kind of like the Latin “tardus” meaning because of this. Tardus doesn’t only refer to being delayed, it’s literal definition of sluggish, dull and stupid fit the feelings and characteristics that I think “tardy” invokes.

This is not to say that I’m never tardy. Far from it, I’m late to stuff a lot. I’ll admit to my faults, however, which is more than can be said for some. I genuinely feel bad when I arrive late to meeting with real friends, because I know I’ve prioritized my time over theirs, which is selfish, sluggish and stupid. But I’m trying to get better.

I think it’s important to add the feelings a word invokes, the connotation of a word to make it more clear that there’s a problem to begin with. If everyone immediately associated being tardy with being sluggish and uncaring, I think we’d more quickly move to make a change.

Next time you’re late, ask yourself this: is there any reason other than your own laziness that made you tardy?

If there are none, are you happy knowing that your friends think you don’t care enough about them to be on time?





To be honest

12 February 2018 at 12:54
By: Byron

It’s a very strange saying, the “tbh” that has become so popularized in texting and colloquial lingo. People will use this to convey seriousness, to get people to put away their phones for a second and really listen to what they’re about to say. But it doesn’t make sense!

Saying “to be honest” implies that everything you were saying before this point was a lie, a farce, a half-baked statement at best. And really, it’s not even that the phrase is just ironic, but it’s a pretty good way of pointing out how many people conduct their conversations. Think about it-

When was the last time you went a day without lying?

From fabricating excuses to get out of a meeting to telling your friend they definitely pull off bangs, most people tell small lies on a regular basis. You might think they do it to spare other people’s feelings, but really, lying usually boils down to keeping yourself out of conflict. I’m genuinely hard-pressed to imagine a world where nobody ever lied. (And then right away, I’m reminded of a movie where this is exactly the case.)

I think there’s value in those people who are consistently candid. I appreciate simplicity, in a world where lying usually brings about the opposite. I believe that relationships of all kinds, from friendships to romantic endeavors, would benefit from more honesty.

It may seem weird, but try removing the phrase “to be honest” from your vocabulary, and instead, simply be honest all the time. Or at the very least, stop and think about how much you’ve hidden or spoken untruthfully every time you go to use the phrase. Speaking candidly, in my eyes, doesn’t stop at being completely honest in everything you say. Speaking candidly extends to the very atmosphere of your conversations. I’m candid with my friends, and conversations we have are relaxed, thought-provoking at times and filled with laughs most of the time.

Maybe being candid with everyone would lead to the same thing.




Strategy, tactics and Elon Musk

25 January 2018 at 14:45
By: Byron

Elon Musk said something interesting once about why he does what he does: “I’m just trying to think about the future and not be sad.” This is his strategy. But what are his tactics?

There’s a difference between the two words, despite many using them interchangeably. Strategy refers to the big picture plan, the overarching method for how to proceed. Tactics involve the specific actions that need to be taken to implement the strategy. Besides clearing up the semantics, I think there’s value in knowing how the two apply to everyday life.

Let’s say you’re attempting to write a news article, and you want to give opposing sides of the issue fair say. (Something we could probably use more of in this world.) Your strategy is to give a relatively unbiased picture of what’s going on, and so your tactics may involve in-depth background research on both sides, interviews with different people, cross editing with other authors and more.

Life in general is a little more complex. Musk’s overarching strategy is to make sure the future isn’t a desolate wasteland of depleted resources and a dying human race. An admirable, if not formidable endeavor. Of course, everyone would be happier in a world that’s not filled with pollution and traffic, and the idea that we become an interplanetary species would secure much of the (really far ahead) foreseeable future of the human race. Still, not many devote their lives to resolving any one of these issues, let alone all three. How will he do it?

Musks strategy and tactics are summed up nicely again in another of his quotes:

When you are starting out in college, in your freshman and sophomore year, you have these sort of sophomoric philosophical wanderings. And I tried to think of OK, what are the things that seem to me that would most affect the future of humanity?

There were really five things, three of which that I thought would be interesting to be involved in. And the three that I thought would definitely be positive: the internetsustainable energy — both production and consumption, and space exploration, more specifically the extension of life beyond Earth.

The first bolded question restates the strategy I explained that he had. The next three bolded phrases, the internet, sustainable energy and space exploration sum up his tactics for helping to create a better future. These are specific, and yet still gargantuan actions that he planned on involving himself with. But they represent huge commitments that he made and followed through with. With the internet, Musk had Paypal. With sustainable energy, look at Solar City and Tesla. With space exploration, there’s SpaceX.

Something anyone can take away from this is the necessity of having a plan. Perhaps you’re not one to revolutionize three different industries that will shape the future. That’s fine. Many aren’t. But when you live life knowing what you want to do, and making sure that every day you have identified specific things so that you’re doing what you want to do, life will never be boring.

It may be stressful, time-consuming, yes, but it will also be a life with purpose. Musk did it early in college, identifying what he wanted to do with his life and then following through with it. Whether you’re in college, high-school, interning, taking a gap year, working at a multinational or whatever, it’s always the right time to start thinking about your life strategy. And don’t stop there, because a strategy is incomplete when you don’t have the tactics to go with it.

Whatever it is you choose to do, may it also be one that, in some way, makes the future “not sad”.


This is Musk’s Ted interview where I got the initial quote from. It’s a fascinating watch if you’re interested in seeing what the world will look as the next century progresses, and it gives a little insight on how the man behind it all thinks.




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