Life @ NCP

not everyone needs to go outside to have fun

Scheduling canned spam

Suppose your friend’s birthday is coming up. You see it in your calendar, and you’d like to congratulate him/her on the day itself, but you know you have a horrible memory. Or perhaps you’ll be travelling and won’t have access to a phone or the internet. So instead you write a nice message in advance and schedule it using something like Mixmax or Boomerang to be sent on the day itself. Joy and appreciation ensues, and you gain brownie points and goodwill in spades.

This is so effective that you decide to do the same thing for every single friend in your address book. In a fit of exuberance you schedule the same email to be sent to every friend on facebook, helped largely thanks to mail merge features.

One day you’re telling a friend about Mixmax and the penny drops. She asks you if the email she got for her birthday was scheduled. Question is, should she be angry?

I’ve been on both the giving and receiving end. I help run a local Toastmasters club and send copious amounts of canned emails to new guests. I also receive my fair share of canned spam, and I really doubt there’s someone writing and sending each of those personalised marketing emails!

Phrased one way, it seems absurd. Does planning for something in advance cheapen its value? More emotively, is the quality or meaningfulness of a message reduced.

I was trying to figure out why the idea of someone sending canned emails annoyed me so much, and I’ve come to the conclusion it’s the relative ease which gets my goat. It takes me ages to write a simple email, so much so that sometimes I just give up and say I’ll make a mental note to catch up next time instead… which I never do. So hearing someone else barely lifting a finger to do it doesn’t sit so well.

But there’s more to it. If Martha sent me a scheduled email on my birthday, I think I’d be pretty uncomfortable, even if I could rationalise why she did it. I’d be doubly pissed if I recognised the contents from other canned emails she’d sent out.

Who it’s from, and how personal the message is makes a big difference. Not to mention how efficient you are at dealing with birthday cards yourself.

But if getting annoyed at something like this really means not being able to stay in touch with as many people, setting up a system doesn’t seem that bad after all. Just maybe not to everyone and a little less canned…

Author image Min'an

Piano Lessons

Growing up in Singapore with typical asian parents meant that my sister and I were forced coerced encouraged to learn how to play the piano. We had a piano teacher who would come over every week, giving us pieces to practice. I remember this one time where she gave us some bars and told us to compose melodies. Ten minutes before she arrived, I was hastily stringing random notes together on the sheets she gave us. Worst part of it was I had to sit through her trying to play each bar of music, wishing the ground would open and swallow me up there and then.

As much as I hated playing the piano, it’s probably the only reason I can read musical notes or string a melody together. It’s not the most useful skill as a developer, but something I am thankful that I have the opportunity to know. I don’t think I could have ever picked that up if I was handed a piano and told go learn this yourself. I had to be forced to.

Years later, I think the tyranny of choice is still just as relevant. My most productive days are the ones where I have to work through so much stuff that I don’t have time to think about what task to pick next. If it’s not ordered in a nice neat stack and I’m instead given the option to choose which task to do next, half the battle is lost for me.

So I want to be a dictator of my time once more. Not an absolute, iron-fisted maniac yet, but certainly with grand aspirations. I can only decree that these are the things I will do this week for now, but soon, these are the only things I will do today.

It’s not to say I want to cut out spontaneity in my life. There’s always time for spontaneous things I want to do. It’s the things that aren’t spontaneous that need to be forced into submission.

And I know some days I know I am going to wake up, smell the coffee and wonder wtf. Maybe I should go out and meet some friends instead, rather than sticking to this. But it’s precisely those days I need to come down hard on choice. There should be no other option available to pick from, just one.

Which is why the post made it out at all this week 🙂

Author image Min'an

IT stand up anyone?

So Martha did a humorous speech yesterday based off one of Michael McIntyre’s gigs. It was about how convoluted the process of buying tickets online had become, involving indecipherable captchas, countless fields to fill in and confirmations and legalese to read through if you really wanted to make sure your ass is covered and you haven’t actually signed / checkbox-ed away your firstborn child.

As she was talking about how strange it was that you have to confirm your email (they just want to make sure you really know your email!), all I could think of was the technical reasons behind it. It sucks when your system captures the wrong email address and keeps sending to a dead lead. Which then got me thinking. Why aren’t there any stand up comedians that work solely in professions. I’d think a stand-up comedian in IT would make a crazy killing in say San Fran, kind of like Dilbert but hardcore tech. Heck, even the word stand up means something different in IT than in comedy ~ta-dunk~.

So obviously the first thing you do when you have an idea like that is Google. And there really arent’t that many hits. For one there’s, which doesn’t seem like it’s been updated for about a decade. A whole tour of geeks doing comedy, who would have thought? It turn out that there’s quite some geek specific comedy like nerdist and even something like, where debates about the obscurest of topics in pop culture happen, like DOROTHY vs ALICE – “who is the best at navigating bizarre new lands?”. Random collection at too which I have to go through at some point to figure out if they’re actually worth my while 🙂

But the bottom line is, I can’t seem to find any comedy specific to the IT industry. Something that will touch the soul of a tech person like does. Anybody who codes or has to maintain systems can identify with that. But why not bring that to life? Why not make it living and breathing?

Apart from the lack of mass appeal, I think a big question is time. More than any other industry, the face of the landscape changes in the blink of an eye. And you can show your age and affect your appeal based solely on the choice of tech stack you choose to make fun of. And desensitisation. I’ve only started working at the new place for 3 months now and I can already tell some people have well and truly drank the koolaid. And when you drink the koolaid and something just ridiculously crazy to an outsider or someone coming in for the first time happens, you just go – yeah, that’s normal, nothing to see here, just move on, even when your hair is on fire, the sprinklers are on and people are running around screaming.

So let’s try and make it happen. I’ll give my next speech from the humorous manual, and make it something about IT. Let’s see how that works out.

Author image Min'an

Turning the page

To put thoughts into words, and to share those words with you, the reader. Such is writing. Some people have no problem talking about ideas, but hand them a paper and pen and they are lost. There is something about writing that forces you to structure your thoughts, to make up for the lack of context provided by a conversation in person.

I want to become a better writer. To better share what I know, and better understand what I do not. So here I am, practising. Practice makes perfect, so they say, but there is a reason why I’ve been playing badminton off and on for a number of years now but still get my ass handed to me every time. I like playing badminton, but I certainly can’t say I’ve been practising.

I want to become a better writer. To think better. There is a reason why people pay for time to practice. Exchanging cash for focus sounds like a quick fix, a shortcut to mastery. I think there is something to it, but only if you are thinking about what you are doing and constantly reevaluating. Only if you are thinking about what you are writing.

Derek Sivers, founder of CDBaby and all round amazing guy has advice for TED speakers. Speak only about insightful things. Only talk about what brings value for the audience, because it’s not about you. On one hand, once you know something, it is hard to imagine how “not knowing” feels like, so what is valuable to your audience does not seem as valuable to you. The other side of the coin is when I’m the only person on the planet who might find how a specific configuration of parts on software causes a bug interesting.

And there is always the fear. The fear that stops me dead in my tracks. The fear that stops me from pushing the publish button. The fear that makes me pause, look at what I’ve written and say I can’t believe I wrote that and toss it in the graveyard of forgotten dreams.

I will write, and I will think about what I write. I will write regularly, and I will write for you, whoever you may be, whereever you are. There will be no room for fear, no time for hesitation. The audience await, the readers clamour for the souls of manuscripts pushing against the door of existence.

All that is left is to turn the page, to put pen to paper and make them real.

Author image Min'an

Tim Ferriss and Derek Sivers

I picked up a book called the 4-hour workweek when I was in the university, and although at the time I didn’t completely buy it, the book introduced me to Tim Ferriss, the author of the book and a fast-learner extraordinaire.

Every two years since then, I checked out where Tim is at. Just like a startup releasing better version of its app, Tim released more books, learned more languages (up to seven now), and best of all, started a podcast channel. His channel is called “The Tim Ferriss Podcast“, and I have been listening to it on a daily basis for a while.

Yesterday I found one wonderful episode in the podcast between Tim and Derek Sivers, a musician turned programmer, and a really nice wise guy (I meant that really in the nicest way possible!).

The episode is two hours long. Yes, it is long, I know. But if you are even remotely interested in some of the topics listed on the title of this podcast: “Developing Confidence, Finding Happiness, and Saying ‘No’ to Millions”, then you should find the time to listen to it.

The link to the podcast:

Author image Martha Winata