Life @ NCP

not everyone needs to go outside to have fun

Craving a Keyboard

I want a keyboard, a Kinesis keyboard.

High Ground Gaming

High Ground Gaming

I’ve wanted this since I turned 30. I’m now 34, I still haven’t bought it.

The upshot of wanting something and not getting it is causing me some distress. Just thinking about it makes my chest heavy, my spine contorts forward, my lungs work harder than ever to pump air to fight back gravity. It’s not a great feeling to have, so why don’t I just buy it?

What’s so great about a keyboard?

My foray into buying an expensive mechanical keyboard started with a little twitch. It was a twitch on my right index finger that I use to type the letter “b”. After mistyping countless words like “beautiful”, “borrow” and “be”, the twitch developed into a nagging pain around my wrist. Before I knew it, I had full-blown RSI (Repetitive Strain Injury), and it forced me to type using hunt and peck.

Trying hard to email

Trying hard to email

A short meeting with an ergonomics specialist gave me a reason why. “Your right hand is weird. It’s way too tilted to the left when typing,” she said, ” A split keyboard might help.” Just like a doctor, she prescribed me my first split keyboard.

The split keyboard definitely helped reduce the RSI, but I noticed it’s not fully gone. To fully remove it, I had to learn to type “b” with my left hand instead of my right. So I did that and it surprised me how easy it was for my brain to remap the keys. Within a week I started typing “beautiful” with my left hand.

I didn’t stop there. Within a year, I remapped my entire keyboard layout from the standard QWERTY to DVORAK, a layout that’s been optimised for writing in English for right-handed peeps. The main difference is that letters that are highly used like the vowels are put on the middle “home” row where the fingers rest, allowing the typer to hit the row 70% of the time compared to just 32% with the QWERTY layout.

Changing this layout was arduous. It took me four months of re-learning how to type to get back to 80 WPM and the first three weeks was real hell. Each email I had to write at work became an essay, the amount of thinking I had to do to type every single word was so immense, I cut down my email length by half. I was so tired I slept well every night.

I learned about key travel and the joy associated with pressing a single key. Key travel is how far you can press the key until it clicks the bottom. Some keyboards are too shallow, like the controversial butterfly keyboard from Apple, but some keyboards have just the right amount of key travel, where it creates music in my mind when I’m typing. Imagine a piano, you can make interesting sounds with just one note by varying the pressure when playing.

Which brings me back to the Kinesis keyboard. It has everything I wanted now that my old keyboard starts playing up. It has the right key travel feel, it is a split keyboard and it’s wireless! Wow, everything in one, I am speechless this thing exists.

Craving leads to aversion and aversion leads to craving

I’ve meditated on to buy or not to buy for years. I don’t mean figuratively, I mean literally. When I went to a Vipassana meditation course, I learned to recognise this basic human emotion as a craving. It’s obvious when a baby wants something. They point at the thing they want. When they can get it, they become joyful. When they don’t, they show distressing signs like crying.

Showing distress

Showing distress

As we get older we’ve developed more complex emotions and therefore detach ourselves from associating our wants from the finger-pointing and the weeping. Despite this, human basic emotions are basic because they are universal. We have them as adults, we are just less aware of them.

During meditation, they trained me to recognise distress as an aversion. It’s that feeling when you want to get away from something. Like when you have a loud construction site outside your home, it is hard to concentrate since your aversion to the noise builds up over time.

Buddha became enlightened when he made the link between craving and aversion. Craving leads to aversion and aversion leads to craving. When you crave something like freedom, you start hating your job, and since you hate your job you crave quitting much more. It’s a never-ending cycle. 

The answer, according to Buddha is not to give in to craving or aversion, instead, to not react to them.

What’s next?

Now I’m no Buddha, so I don’t follow what he said completely. Reacting sometimes feels inevitable, but I see benefits in reducing the rumination. 

Overthinking about the keyboard is the reaction to avoid. Everything else is fine. I haven’t decided on the keyboard, but I’ve decided to stop thinking about it.

It reminds me of a Seth Godin story: imagine a donkey in between a pile of hay and a bucket of water. It is both hungry and thirsty, but it can’t decide which one it wants more. It is paralysed by indecision.

I want to reach Buddha’s enlightenment, but what I want more is not to be a donkey.

Author image Martha Winata on #habit

Why We Left Sweden

Two months ago Min’an and I left Sweden for good. It’s been a difficult decision, but we knew we had to do it to move on with our lives. If you haven’t seen us in Stockholm for a while, this post will explain why.

Sweden has been so sweet to us

When we first came here, we thought it would just be a stepping stone to move to London. After all, what’s so charming about Stockholm? Little did we know that after six years, Stockholm changed us in ways we wouldn’t have expected. We are grateful that we’ve had the chance to learn a completely new system of being. We got to experience what real winters feel like and get a good glimpse of why Scandinavians are as content as they are.

If I have to pinpoint what Swedes do differently than others, is that they do things for the long term. The system works based on the assumption that everyone will do the right thing. And why would anyone do the right thing? It’s because … winter is coming. Every year. If they want to survive (the winter), everyone has to work together towards it.

Snow plowing to keep the city functioning

Our dreams can’t happen in Sweden

We caught the startup bug in Sweden, and we can’t let go of it. The country has several famous unicorns, such as Spotify, Minecraft, and Klarna. And while I was looking for an office, I came across SUP46, a wonderful coworking space in the middle of Stockholm.

After spending a year there, it was pretty clear that startups fail, a lot. If Min’an and I want to make something decent, we should dedicate a larger part of our lives to the business. Except that we couldn’t possibly do it in Sweden, because our visa was tied to corporate employment, and it would’ve taken four more years, on top of the six we already had to get a residency permit where we don’t have to work for other people to stay in the country.

Knowing that this was the path we might take, we did an experiment by working in Budapest for several weeks. In the beginning, it was really awkward for us to work together full-time while also having breakfast, lunch, dinner and going to baths to relax in the evenings (that’s what you do in Budapest!). Sometimes, the togetherness felt too much. We also had a few arguments while developing features; we were a lot less patient with each other. It took some adjustment to shape a good professional relationship where colleagues can gently explain things to each other without the baggage of intimate relationship that marriage brings.

We didn’t end up in divorce after two weeks, so we thought it was a success.

We live to eat, not vice versa

Do you eat to live or do you live to eat? For us, the answer is pretty clear. Every time we go overseas, we look for good food, especially South East Asian food. It’s typically spicy and wonderfully delicious. Not that we don’t enjoy a good steak, but nothing can beat the hot warm glow you feel on both cheeks when you eat good chillies.

Singapore, the place we now live in, is a food mecca. Also, Singaporeans worship food like no other. Queueing behind 10 people is normal, and they would rather get stuck in a long queue than eat horrible food. I’ve never lived here and Min’an hasn’t either for 15 years. Once we accepted how oversized the role of food was in our lives, it was an easy decision to make to move to this country.

One of the best things to eat

Summer is coming

We’ve survived six winters in Sweden with temperature as low as -20 degrees. It’s arctic enough for now. We’d like a change of weather. At the end of our stay in Sweden, I became fixated on little things that annoy me. Like how you have to put on a large heavy jacket just to throw rubbish outside the building, or how cautious you have to be when walking on the roads because the ice made them terribly slippery.

It’s time for a change. Singapore is consistently 33 degrees, it’s damn hot. It’s the eternal summer.

Let’s catch-up, Skype works well you know

We don’t want to lose what Sweden has given us. It has changed us forever, and it has changed us for good. I have no doubt that it will continue to shape the rest of our lives. I’ve already missed the fresh air, and I’m desperately wishing I can jump on a plane and see everybody again.

So thanks for reading until this point. Despite 24 hours flight between Stockholm and Singapore, I’m convinced that the globe has become smaller and smaller. Let’s do a video skype call if you have some time.


Thanks to Sathishkumar Jagadeesan for reading earlier drafts of this.

Author image Martha Winata on #habit

It’s Her 71st Birthday

So my mother looked at a one-week-old me, then decided to take me as one of hers. I might have smiled at her or so I’d like to think, but most probably I would’ve been crying restlessly. Just like any newborns would within the first few days of their lives.

That was a while ago, and I spent the next 17 years under her wing, with 15 of those years sleeping in the same bed as her (It was just a single mattress, but I was even smaller than now, so it was a snuggly fit). We were tight, figuratively and literally. My education was her number one priority so she would take me to every single after-school class she could find including the piano lessons (My hands owe most of their dexterity from her). She sewed uncountable pieces of my clothing, especially pants. They were all too long for my rather short … hmm cute legs, shall we say? She was methodical in all of the things she did, almost rigid even. I can still picture how she would peel a mango from the beginning until the end, when she would chew on the seed, making sure nothing was wasted.

Today is her 71st birthday. Rather than celebrating it with a party though, my brothers and sisters visited her ashes instead. And where am I now? I’m in another country, as always. I was in another country when she passed last year, just 3 months after her 70th. It was a sudden, brutal heart attack. I’ve been in another country since I was 17. I’ve been away for a while, and so we grew apart real fast. I blamed my angry teenage-self for that, or my youthful ignorance for not knowing what it took to maintain a relationship — what a shame.

I’ve always known that I was adopted. I grew up thinking that when it’s my time to have a kid, I’d have no problem adopting, exactly *because* I was adopted.

The time to have a kid has come, and yet I can’t see myself adopting one. My left brain can come up with 100 reasons why I should be comfortable with adoption. Your mileage may vary, but I’m just telling you what I’m feeling now. Every day I am more and more grateful that my mother chose to raise me under the same roof as her other children. When my biological mother died, no one else took me, and I can’t imagine how I would’ve turned out if she had not.

I used to be jealous of people who can remember their childhood. Then I went to therapy, and now I can pick up on things I do daily that I can attribute to my mother’s influence. Because of her, I leave my plates super clean after I eat. Because of her, I know how to be independent (she was a single mother who raised 3 kids). Because of her, I never hesitate to buy books (she said books belong to a different budget than other items you shop). I am who I am because of her.

Happy birthday mum, we miss you.

Author image Martha Winata on #habit

3 Cs A Day Keep The Doctor Away

Most days I struggle. This year is the first year I’ve started working from home and the result has been harsh on my sanity. I experience mood swings sometimes just from a good call with a new customer or not being able to sit in front of the computer for the entire morning. Sometimes a string of bad days turns into a week, fortunately not more than that.

Procrastination is my biggest enemy. And I get exhausted on days where I have to fight so hard just to get out of bed. As a startup CEO, the kind of work that needs to be done is so different day-to-day that procrastination arises because the switching cost is so high. If on Monday I need to do some video editing, and on Tuesday I need to write some requirements, typically I will spend Tuesday morning procrastinating just to get into the right mindset.

Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t.

After a while though, I’ve found a little keystone habit that I can rely on. I will still procrastinate, but somehow I have more willpower the next day to delay less and to sleep better at night.

It’s my 3 “C”s: Create, Contact and Clean. I should create something, a post, a speech, a video, anything, no matter how small. Then I need to contact someone, preferably someone new or I’ve hardly spoken to. (I have my mum as a backup.) And to prepare for tomorrow, I should clean. Cleaning and organising things, be it IRL or digitally keeps me sane.

This post is a “Create” for today. I’ve contacted 4 new people and I’ve cleaned the shit out of my desk.

What has kept you sane?

Author image Martha Winata on #habit

What I should do instead of writing

I have a dark secret. I incessantly watch Youtube every day now for years. 3-4 hours per day is normal. When I’m working from home, there are days that I’ve spent watching videos continuously, sleeping and waking up with videos still running. It sometimes feels like waking up from a hangover. Dizzy and delusional, I realise then that I’m a youtube addict.

Image via Flickr

Controlling my addiction is difficult and I’ve given up on trying different things. The worst possible combination that usually gets me into the vicious cycle is sitting on my sofa and start watching on TV. Then I thought, maybe instead of working from home, I’ve started working at a co-working space for startups. The people there are nice and friendly, they have good coffee and plenty of empty toilets so I don’t need to queue long (Thanks overactive bladder). Sold.

Yet deep down I don’t really think my youtube addiction is that bad. I’m a voracious reader, averaging around two books a week. My Youtube shows have similarities to the books I’m reading. Why does one pushes me to an addiction and the others don’t?

Kevin Kelly, in his book The Inevitable, included screening as one of the trends. He said,

“We’re no longer people of the book, we’ve become people of the screen.”

He pointed out that screens are everywhere and we’re getting sucked into them. Just look at how a toddler attention gets magically fixated with an iPad, and compare it to other items (with the exception of TV). If this is a trend, then my fight will be futile.

My reading patterns typically are a lot narrower than my watching patterns. I read mostly non-fiction books, with a high percentage of the books being productivity, business and writing-related books. I didn’t learn swimming through reading books, but I probably would if I need to do it again. Facing any unknown areas of knowledge, I would feel much more confident if I can sink in several books before I have to talk to anyone about it.

My watching patterns are much more random. I watch late night American TV show Seth Meyers, video essayist Nerdwriter, and You Suck at Cooking, the last one being something that I can only describe as the peak of human creativity. Youtube usually presents the next video to watch even before the current video ends, and that feature alone allows me to subscribe to various distinct channels.

Comparing both consumption patterns strike me as depth versus breadth. Book reading gets me to the core of the issue fast, but it’s just on one issue. The current book I’m reading is Man’s Search for Meaning, and the author tells me what the meaning is by the middle of the book (Where is the climax?! Damn non-fiction). Youtube watching doesn’t get me anywhere in finding what’s the meaning of life, but it opens my mind to broad opinions of people, wide-ranging topics, and insight on how other people are dealing with their own existential frustration (no matter how shallow it is, like lighting a firework on a friend’s arse). After watching videos, I decided, that I needed both in my life.

I also like what books and videos represent. Books are written, and videos are spoken. Maybe someday I’ll have a youtube channel on top of this blog. I’ve never done video editing before, but it doesn’t seem to be as hard as swimming (I started swimming only at the age of 17). Maybe I’ll gain a distinct benefit to writing in the same way that videos giving me a different advantage to books.

What do you think?