Saturday, May 31, 2008

Vim: Editing Command History

One of the few oft-forgotten commands that are rather handy:


Opens the command line buffer for editing


Open the previous regular expression search buffer for editing.
Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Ubuntu 8.04 Crashes Upon Shutdown

My laptop used to hang intermittently during shutdown when using Ubuntu Linux 7.10. Now the problem has become worse after the upgrade to 8.04 - it's almost always reproducible on my Dell 700m - my screen just turns black at shutdown. Everything freezes, even on the hardware level: when the low-level 'Caps Lock' and 'Number Lock' LEDs don't even respond to keypresses, it's almost guaranteed that the hardware is locked up.

It is a critical problem, and something that has caught me by surprise. Initially, I assumed that the problem is some minor buggy code in Xserver that's causing a race condition resulting in the hangups, something I assumed will be fixed with the upgrade. It turns out that I was wrong - the upgrade has actually made it worse!

It's unacceptable that I have to hard reset my laptop every single time I shutdown. Often when it goes back up again, the ext3 journaling system indicates that I had orphaned inodes to be cleaned up, or in other words, uncompleted data writes to harddisk suggesting possible data corruption.

While looking for a solution, I was surprised that the problem seems to be quite widespread; there are plenty of bug submissions (like this, this or this) that has been lingering around for Intel's 8xx/9xx series of graphics cards already.

It seems that the current 'xserver-xorg-video-intel' package is relatively new and for some reason does not initialize the graphics card properly. The current fix that works for me is to make some modifications to Xorg.conf, presumably to either force it to initialize itself properly or avoid using the garbaged area:

Section "Device"
Identifier "Intel Corporation 82852/855GM Integrated Graphics Device"
Driver "intel"
BusID "PCI:0:2:0"
Option "ForceEnablePipeA" "true"

If you're having the same problems with your Intel-based graphics card on Ubuntu, adding the line in red might help you.

I'm still annoyed by the fact that Ubuntu has decided to ship and use 'xserver-xorg-video-intel' instead of 'xserver-xorg-video-i810' (which was directly contributed by Intel, methinks) that is more stable, and may have avoided the problem in the first place.

Maybe the 'intel' driver has more features and improvements than the 'i810', and more actively maintained, but it is not right that end-users have to bear the brunt of critical bugs that freezes the computer - end users are not guinea pigs for faulty drivers that are not ready for prime time yet, irregardless of whatever new features that is touted to have. If it's not ready, it's not ready, geddit?

I don't think the Open Source guys want to tarred together with a the same brush as a buggy incomplete operating system like Windows Vista, right? :P
Saturday, May 24, 2008

Multiple return values and assignments in Ruby

One of the things that I really liked about Ruby which extends to those non old-school computing languages as well, is the capability to return multiple values. For example:
def foo(x)
return x, x+1

a, b = foo (10)
#=> [10, 11]

and b automatically gets assigned to the values returned by the function. Besides this, Ruby has the ability to define how variables are being assigned as well. For example:

a, b, c = [1, 2, 3, 4]
p a, b, c

a, b, *c = [1, 2, 3, 4]
p a, b, c

Notice the asterisk(*) before the c variable, where the remaining values of 3 and 4 got assigned into the variable c as an array. Neat!
Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Values Investing: Nicolas Berggruen

I don't normally copy and paste news articles verbatim, but here's an article worthy of note about another reclusive, wealthy philanthropic person. Like Chuck Feeney, he's putting his money into good causes. Certainly a person worthy of emulation, I hope I'll be able to be in his shoes someday, and have his kind of wealth to spend my life working for the benefit of society too. From WSJ:

Putting His Money Where His Values Are --- Restless Billionaire Now Prefers to Invest 'In the Real World'

Nicolas Berggruen became a billionaire through classic value investing. Now, he is switching to a new strategy. Call it "values investing."

With rice farms in Cambodia, windmill farms in Turkey, an ethanol plant in Oregon and glittering new skyscrapers in poor inner cities around the world, Mr. Berggruen is pumping millions of dollars into projects that he hopes will both expand his fortune and alleviate social ills.

"Historically, I've made my money in financials," says Mr. Berggruen, 46 years old, whose net worth is estimated at more than $3 billion. "Now, I'm investing in the real world. I'm investing in the ground, in things that will last for generations and improve people's lives."

Mr. Berggruen's big bet on social investing isn't unique. Richard Branson, the Google founders, Ted Turner and a vast new generation of eco-investors have all espoused world-friendly investing.

The quest is more personal for Mr. Berggruen (pronounced: BerGREWin). After amassing billions and buying all the usual trophies of success -- a Florida mansion on a private island, a luxury condo in New York -- Mr. Berggruen is paring down his material life. He has sold his properties and now lives in hotels. He is about to sell his only car. Because he doesn't have children and is unmarried, he is planning to leave his fortune to a personal foundation and an art museum.

"Living in a grand environment to show myself and others that I have wealth has zero appeal," he says in an interview, standing in a hotel room in New York's Upper East Side. "Whatever I own is temporary, since we're only here for a short period of time. It's what we do and produce, it's our actions, that will last forever. That's real value."

The obsession with legacy is increasingly common among today's super-rich -- even for relatively young billionaires like Mr. Berggruen. "For some of these people, they're growing concerned about how they're going to be remembered," says Russ Alan Prince, president of Prince & Associates, a wealth-research firm that conducted a recent study on legacy. "For others, they've always wanted to do something and they realize that if they don't do it now, they're never going to do it."

For Mr. Berggruen, the transformation follows a life full of eccentricities and unconventional success. The son of Heinz Berggruen, the famed Germany-born art collector who befriended Pablo Picasso, Nicolas Berggruen grew up in France and Switzerland hoping to become a writer. He studied Albert Camus, Jean-Paul Sartre and other existentialists and rebelled against his privileged upbringing.

When he was 17 years old, he moved to New York City to attend New York University. He also started investing with a few thousand dollars of his own money. After graduating -- in two years -- he started investing in stocks, bonds and early forms of private equity.

Soon, he was buying entire businesses. Berggruen Holdings, his wholly owned investing vehicle, has net assets of more than $3 billion, according to Mr. Berggruen, business associates and corporate documents.

One of his biggest victories was FGX, the eyewear company formerly known as Foster Grant, which he acquired when it was declining in value. After making acquisitions, expanding the product lines and shoring up management, he took it public for a big profit.

He also created Media Capital, one of Portugal's largest media companies, after acquiring newspapers, television, radio, magazine and Internet assets. He has since sold the company.

"He's a disciplined buyer," says Martin Franklin, the chief executive of Jarden Corp., the consumer-products giant, and a partner with Mr. Berggruen in several businesses. "Nicolas is one of those guys who turns lemons into lemonade."

Mr. Berggruen was also behind two of the world's largest special-purpose acquisition companies, or SPACs. These so-called blank-check companies raise money through initial public offerings to make acquisitions. A U.S. SPAC he helped launch in December, called Liberty Acquisition Holdings Corp. raised more than $1 billion. A European SPAC he launched in February, called Liberty International Acquisition Co. raised $878 million. Mr. Berggruen is still shopping for companies to buy with both funds.

He has experienced his share of setbacks. One of his earlier SPACs, Freedom Acquisition Holdings, merged with the British hedge-fund GLG Partners Inc. in 2007 to take the fund public. The stock surged initially, but plunged more than 30% in recent weeks after one of GLG's top traders abruptly resigned. Mr. Berggruen, who owns about 6% of the company, says he is disappointed in the loss but confident the stock will bounce back. In 4 p.m. New York Stock Exchange composite trading Friday GLG's stock was down 11 cents to $7.78.

Despite his wealth, the boyish-looking Mr. Berggruen remains a mystery. He has avoided the press and has never appeared on the Forbes list of wealthiest individuals, although he would likely qualify. When a Dutch magazine tried to publish a profile of him several years ago, Mr. Berggruen bought up all the copies and destroyed them.

His personal habits are legendary among friends and colleagues. He works 12-to-14-hour days. He rarely visits his offices around the world, preferring to work in hotel rooms and restaurants. When he is in New York, he does most of his work on his BlackBerry while speed-walking around Central Park.

For Mr. Berggruen, chocolate is a primary food group. He eats two meals a day, one of which usually consists of chocolate cake. When David Bonderman, founder of TPG, the private-equity firm, went trekking with Mr. Berggruen in the Himalayas, Mr. Bonderman rode a horse. Mr. Berggruen bounded up the mountain fueled on chocolate bars.

He is restless to an extreme, logging 250 hours on his Gulfstream IV last year (his biggest indulgence) and visiting more than 80 cities around the world.

Mr. Berggruen's shift to socially responsible investing was gradual. When oil prices started soaring a few years ago, he looked into alternative energy sources. He acquired the Cascade Grain ethanol plan in Port Westward, Ore., the largest ethanol plant on the West Coast.

In researching ethanol, Mr. Berggruen realized that the world's food production -- which was increasingly being used for fuel -- wasn't keeping pace with demand. He formed a team of top agricultural experts and started researching ways of boosting farming productivity.

He bought up hundreds of thousands of acres in Australia, where he plans to grow grains. He is in talks to buy land in various other areas of the world, and he is negotiating with several governments to lease land for farming cassava, corn, rice, olives and other crops.

After his food ventures, Mr. Berggruen realized how many similar social problems could be solved -- or at least targeted -- through investing.

"Government wasn't solving these problems," he said. "So the market has to step in."

One area was real estate. An avowed urbanist, Mr. Berggruen started investing in projects aimed at reviving decaying inner cities. He is working with partners to buy up large parcels in downtown Newark, N.J., to build a mixed-use development with offices, homes and retail. He is launching similar developments in India, Turkey and Israel, working with top architects such as Richard Meier, David Chipperfield and Kazuyo Sejima.

Mr. Berggruen is also making plans for his foundation, which will target a wide array of social problems. One of the few things he is still acquiring for his personal life is art, which he says will withstand the test of time and eventually be given back to the public through a museum.

"The art I buy now goes to storage," he says. "I don't have a home to hang it in."

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

The Devout Atheist

Just for kicks, I decided to label myself as a 'devout atheist', which is an oxymoron - being 'devout' is meant for people of faith, and an atheist symbolizes the lack of it. Surely they cannot co-exist?

It might, since there are varying semantic interpretations of 'atheist' itself. Some defines an atheist as 'an active disbeliever in god'[1] - which sounds ridiculous, because it exactly describes what the religions do: actively promoting a faith, in this case the faith that 'god doesn't exist'. How is this any different to having 'an active belief in god (or the Flying Spaghetti Monster)' itself?

The background to the atheist's mindset is based upon the fact that god's existence is unprovable - nobody has yet been able to scientifically witness and/or peer-review the presence of god. Yet we have to give it a benefit of a doubt, because we cannot disprove that the possibility exists: the rule 'you cannot prove a negative' applies.

But even so, what sets the atheist apart, is while he is certain about the unprovability of god, he does not see the need to hold onto a belief that god is, or will be provable (or not). Given there are an infinitely limitless number of things that are unprovable, the atheist, unlike the theist, does not arbitrarily chooses or selectively accepts the presence of one god, while discriminating the others. The atheist accepts all gods as equally unprovable, and unlike the agnostic, has no need for beliefs in any or all them. Yet, that does not preclude him from changing his mind, when there is evidence that proves otherwise.

'An atheist is always willing to change his mind should convincing evidence of God actually come to light'

- Stephen Hawkings

So by definition, I am an atheist, but what is with the 'devout' part? The lack of beliefs does not indicate I reject the values espoused by most religions, and certainly doesn't mean that I am opposed to it. In most cases, I am happy with many tenets that most religions share; they are generally good codes of conduct to live by for a harmonious society to function anyway.

"The word god is for me nothing more than the expression and product of human weaknesses, the Bible a collection of honourable, but still primitive legends which are nevertheless pretty childish."

- Albert Einstein

As childish a religion may be, childishness is also attributed with to the connotation of fun. That quality of fun, while considered as trivial for someone as great as Einstein, is something that general mortals relish in, and in some ways a representation of our society today. There is too much history that is related to religion that's pervasive in our way of life; without it, we would have lost a fair amount of art, literature, music and culture that we know of. If atheists do rule the world, what is it will they be replacing that void with?

The only thing I'm dead set against religions on, is of the absolutism and fanaticism of some individuals toward their beliefs - their assertions that 'I'm right and you're wrong', when it comes to their god - only theirs is the sole representation of truth. They choose to live and die by their faiths, consuming them where their existences are solely defined and dictated by religion alone. This is when the irrationals and the insane arise.

Even though I am weary of religion, I consider myself 'devout' as an atheist, for even with my lack of need for faith, there shouldn't be a need to pass judgement on others' need to believe. To promote atheism and denying the need for faith in individuals where they rely upon as an emotional crutch, or as a means of keeping themselves from straying into their bad side, is no better than proselytising religion itself.

Practitioners of faith may appear Machiavellian, but the trade off is to be able to keep society functioning in a relatively good order. A world full of atheists without good moral sense is no better than having no religion at all: there is nothing that stops them from being guided by only their own selfish needs. Religions should be viewed as a bootstrap for getting to the atheist's state of self-realisation - sure, only some will get out of that dreamy, 'religious state of mind', but ultimately one will come to appreciate atheism to be a 'beautiful thing' only when he arrives to that conclusion himself.

[1] The usage of 'god' should be gods. In this case, I mean any god, rather than the singular God from the monotheist's perspective.
Monday, May 12, 2008

I Just Don't Like Children!

I have said it before and I will say it again, I do not like children. I don't hate them, but I sure don't have much affinity for them. I remembered a candid moment when I remarked to a friend on how 'cute' a kid we saw on the street was, to which she immediately gave me a rather curt retort - haven't I said before that 'I didn't like kids?'

Sure I did, but it doesn't mean they can't be cute right? Puppies are cute too, and I don't see the need to have them either. But if I had to choose, puppies might just as well be a more desirable alternative to babies - at least you can always rely on them for unconditional, non-judgemental love!

A lecturer of mine remarked on his website that 'the only good baby... is a working baby', which drew quite a vitriol from a classmate of mine, but funnily it was his strong reaction that was more appalling to me than my lecturer's view.

Him, like most people, perceives that having a child as a 'god given right' [1], for otherwise, nature wouldn't have given us the ability to procreate in the first place.

Yet, nature had also given us 'consciousness' of free will - humans are given the ability to make conscious choices that enables us to override our primitive desires, which if not the case, we will still have mating seasons, bright red bosoms, and and irresistible desire to copulate when it happens. Can't say I don't miss those good ol' days, since it is never less than difficult to read the right signals from women anymore! But since we have evolved to make procreation a function of conscious choice rather than an involuntary reflex action, I don't see why an individual should not make his choice based on his own personal convictions.

Yet, the more interesting reason I have, is the fact that all life, will ultimately come to an end, where our destruction is a foregone conclusion. The only thing that's variable in our destruction, is just on which timescale of that it will happen to us. And given that we are living in a world that resource scarcity is increasingly become a more tangible reality, true irresponsibility comes from the fact that we are bringing more life into this world than we can sustainably maintain, rather than not having children.

To frame it in context, it took humans millennias to reach the population of 1 billion people in the 18th century, and only a century later grow this figure by an additional 5 billion. There are plenty of detractors who refutes the Malthusian theory that such permanent exponential growth can be possible, and many citing that throughout the timeline when man has dwelled this Earth, it hasn't happened. But it is misleading, and misguided to reach the conclusion by measuring it on a timescale - the mistake is that we've gotten the timings wrong, not that the eventuality will not happen. Perhaps the recent increases in the prices in oil, gas, wheat, rice, corn, poultry and other food staples is just a testament where this eventuality may be much closer than we'll like to think.

But finally, from a more 'selfish' perspective, why shouldn't we not have children?

This, improbable as it may seem, somehow links us back to the reason why nature had given us the ability to have children in the first place. Perhaps the more interesting question we haven't been asking ourselves is 'why are we able to procreate in the first place?'

'It just is', is not good enough, even though many might think it's an adequate answer. If you are familiar with the works of Richard Dawkins, his book, 'The Selfish Gene' suggests that our need for progeny is simply the gene's mechanism to ensure the continuation of its existence. That double helix structure is the sole reason why we have the ability to bear offsprings, and why the need to make us need, feel and want it.

And to come back to notion of 'cuteness' that I've alluded to earlier, surprisingly, it is just another example of the 'Selfish Gene' in action - a peculiar trait that serves no function other than eliciting a strong emotional response that is steeped deeply within our psyche - the 'cuteness' that we perceive, be it in a baby tiger or human, is intentional by design so that we will develop a sense of affection to the baby to take care of it. Yet it is irrational, for the case of a tiger, to grow affectionate to it presents a life threatening risk to oneself should it grow to full maturity - and yet the inherent cuteness is what inhibits our minds from perceiving the actual threat. Cuteness acts in same way in human babies, that when parenting have reached past its point of usefulness, the 'cuteness' trait subsides in a child as he grows into an adult, when he has reached self-sufficiency. It is not hard to infer then, that 'cuteness' is a form of emotional parasitism that confers the host no benefit in return in its raw, biological state.

But the good news is, since we humans are unlike the rest of the animal kingdom, we are able to choose between succumbing to our 'Selfish Gene', or my own 'Selfish Utilitarian Individualism'(TM), which is why I have chosen the latter. That all shouldn't be too surprising, given that I am supposed follower of Schopenhauer's school of thought, which seems just like the perfect, natural thing for me to do! But the next time someone asks me on my view about children again, well, I'll tell them 'it's a looooong story'.

And maybe, they should just read my blog. ;-)

[1] 'god' as an abstract construct, given the idea to the right of childbirth is inherently present in all cultures and not just limited to people who believed in the Christian God!
Thursday, May 08, 2008

My Investment Journey So Far

I haven't traded in the stock market in the last couple of years - the last time I checked, my trade history was probably about 3 years ago, which only amounted to just about 4-5 transactions.

To tell you the truth, I started investing without knowing much about anything at all, and had a lot of apprehension to the idea of putting money into the stock market, given that I had neither any prior experience, nor knowing anybody who could help me with learning how to invest in the stock market.

And what complicates matters, it is an area that I wasn't going to get much familial support from - mom had taught me the virtue of being sensible and frugal with money, but she has regarded the stock market as nothing more than just a big glorified casino, and would had probably balked at the idea of me throwing money into buying stocks.

Anyhow, since I was quite intent on taking control of my own financial matters, I was rather tight-lipped on what I was doing, and saving off a portion of my salary even though it would have been more tempting to spend it, and learning about whatever I can about stock investing from books and off the Internet.

The investment world to me then, was still an enigma. Names like Benjamin Graham, Buffett, and Munger were relatively new to me, but for all that they had been saying, I had distilled it down to a single rule to follow - 'buy good companies, at a good price'. But I didn't know what 'a good price' was, and certainly did not understand much to know what to look for.

At that time, P/E, Beta, Black-Scholes or various esoteric methodologies were just funny sounding words that were totally alien to me. Even though I have better conceptual understanding of certain financial indicators now, things like the Black-Scholes model still remains just a financial buzzword - till today, I still am clueless to what its significance is.

The only homework I did, was to understand what business the company was in, looked at their financial reports to find out if they were or going to be profitable, did a bit of comparison among their peers to see how they fared, and decided if the sector would do well on the whole based on the social-economic factors that would influence the business the company was in. The last point was probably my strongest and my only saving grace, given that I have an avid interest in keeping up with current affairs. There wasn't really any fixed form or methodology in the way I picked my stock. I guess the only thing I was really looking for was that I was comfortable that the company was having a productive business that I understood.

So far, my hazy, hodgepodge methodology hasn't been too bad - one stock has grown into a two-bagger, and another, from relative obscurity into a mid-cap company that's now in the ASX200. Given that my investment capital was from my hard earned savings from my initial few years of employment, it has been a bit of a personal vindication.

But I should still thank my lucky stars, given that 'Mr. Market' had been rather merciful in the last few years, without going into too many schizophrenic bouts volatility we've been seeing since the tail end of 2007. I am probably quite risk-adverse by nature, and if the market had been as tumultuous as it currently is, the volatility itself might have just made my stomach turn enough to put me off from investing altogether.

Well, at least now I can somewhat justify myself as being an investor, rather than a speculator after 3 years years of holding onto my stocks, and watching them grow. And I'll likely to continue holding them unless I really needed the money, or when the sentiment of the company's prospect changes.

These days, the financial markets have caught my interest once again, mostly for the second reason of the rule - 'good price'. The markets have been battered quite badly, especially the financial sector, from credit crunch that the US sub-prime crisis has caused.

Admittedly, even with the downward-spiralling market sentiment, 'good price' may still not be 'good enough' yet, as I'm mindful of the words of Buffett, Soros, and the various problems caused by rising oil prices, its ripple down effects on inflation, interest rates and the economy in general, the effects from the largest reset of sub-prime loans in the US and the ramping down of China's economic activity from the Olympics that are set to occur simultaneously post-August. To it all, we may have yet to encounter the next 'perfect storm' that's brewing ahead.

I can only hope that my foresight is 'right enough', given it is tempting to start accumulating 'bargains' during this period of negative market sentiment. I can't be certain if I am able to avoid stomach churning volatility that may be ahead, and that the good run I had for the last few years will continue, given that it is not the typical of the maniac-depressive behaviour that I've often read about stock markets. Hope I'll have the conviction to hold it on if things do get rough and not lose my pants in the process!
Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Satisfaction, Happiness and Suffering

These days I have nothing much that worries me, and there's really isn't any much that I'm really wanting in life - satisfaction, to put it in a word. But it seems like satisfaction isn't true happiness, or at least in a rather interesting philosophical conversation with a friend of mine.

It came about when I was explaining my ease of not having to be in a relationship, which comes as a disbelief that is shared by many of my other friends. They usually misconstrue what I meant by 'at ease', which they take it that I want to remain single, which is far from it - I don't discount the possibly of having a partner if I do meet someone nice, but I'm not going to sweat it even if I never meet 'the right one'[1] in my lifetime.

Surprisingly, my satisfaction with status quo seems to trouble a lot of people more than me (usually singles I observed, but there is an odd couple here and there who will raise hackles), that they see something is 'wrong' with me if I am not actively looking for that 'someone' in my life. And that slights me, given that it whiffs a hint that my 'happiness' is just a state of self-denial.

It's not that my friend is being pushy or obnoxious, and I do understand what he's getting at - most people want to get hitched and 'live happily ever after'[2]. Well, most people anyway. But in order to do that, one cannot do avoid the 'trials and tribulations' of courtship, or the proverbial slaying of the dragon to get the princess. Apparently, it's nothing more than a hollow victory if princesses come stocked at your nearest Wal-Mart store, or available through phone delivery!

While I don't disagree that there are some sacrifices to be made in order to get there, like doing things that you don't particularly take interest in, or even things that you detest but you're doing just because she does; it is precisely my refusal to partake in such 'silly' activities, or in his view, my 'avoidance of suffering' through this rite of passage that formed the basis of this lively philosophical debate.

He starts by quoting Nietzsche philosophical leanings, towards the idea that suffering is necessary, and quotes:

"To those human beings who are of any concern to me I wish suffering, desolation, sickness, ill-treatment, indignities - I wish that they should not remain unfamiliar with profound self-contempt, the torture of self-mistrust, the wretchedness of the vanquished."

And went on to say that suffering is good, for without it, we do not know the true meaning of happiness. Now the idea wasn't hard to accept, and got me pondering for a couple of days, literally. After all, it does have kernels of truth in it - given that best things in life are usually hard won, without suffering in its way, we will not attain a sense of fulfillment. Satisfaction of status quo is, as he puts it, a synonym for mediocrity.

But is mediocrity also a synonym for unhappiness? I'll get onto that later. Let's continue with the discussion.

He then quotes Schopenhauer's explanation of Aristotle's remark:

"The prudent man strives for freedom from pain, not pleasure."

Schopenhauer's philosophy is summarised into the point that it is impossible to fulfill all our desires and so we should avoid the troubles and anxiety that we go through in it's pursuit. Which is the stance that I supposedly adopted.

While I do not disagree with Schopenhauer's school of thought, but I didn't realise that it wasn't exactly what I believed only until later. Furthermore, I mistook what my friend had said as to have meant that he believed in the duality of happiness and suffering, ie. that you are happy only in the absence of suffering, and vice-versa, suffering in the absence of happiness. In fact, only at afterthought did I realise that he meant something more subtle, that in the absence of suffering, you will not know what happiness is.

But I still find Nietzsche's viewpoint too extreme to have any sensibility - instead of just facing adversity as it comes, Nietzsche encouraged the seeking out of suffering. The thought, while plausible, was an idea that was unpalatable subconsciously, even while my conscious thought wasn't settled enough to gather full clarity. Maybe it was just my friend's rather enthusiastic (or forceful) sell of his views that had formed a mental gag reflex, after being having it shoved down my throat.

We moved on and formulated a hypothetical example by comparing a starving child with one who has always had 3 square meals on the table. He asserts, and it is plausible to believe, that the starving child, when offered the same meal, will be more grateful to having the food when compared to the child who never had to starve. It is then, he argued, that because the starving child had suffered, and hence he is able to understand the joy of having food in the way that other child will never fathom, which I agreed, only to come to reject and refute the argument a day later.

There are two things that we have to factor into account here, which characterises our 'human nature', and incidentally, refuting Nietzsche's argument as absolute truth. One, the 'law of diminishing returns' inherent in human nature. Given that if the starving child was to given the same treatment as the child who never went hungry before, he will too, grow content of his 3 square meals, and over time, not derive the same level of happiness he had when he was first starving. Two, our nature of empathy - if you are the satisfied boy, and after seeing the suffering of the starving boy, will you not understand how lucky you are and to enjoy your meal better than before?

Hence it is not of the need to suffer in order to attain happiness, but rather the mere knowledge of suffering that will be sufficient. If that's the case, why is there a need to assiduously seek pain in order to gain pleasure?

In fact, I realised that neither the viewpoints of Nietzsche and Schopenhauer are absolute truths in itself, but rather they are two extreme points of view of the same issue: as much as it is insane to seek pain intentionally (you like cooking your hand in boiling water?), it is equally futile to avoid it (show me an exception, and I'll punch him in the face, effectively negating your exception), that in life we will be sitting within a spectrum in between both ends of it.

Suffering is sometimes, even good for you, like exercise is - while unenjoyable, and sometimes painful, you still do it anyway, and so the assiduous avoidance of pain is not the answer too. If you think about the risk to reward ratio, or couching it in the terms of happiness versus suffering, if you're well rewarded by the happiness for the amount of suffering you'll be getting, by all means, you should attempt it.

Applying that in the context of my philosophy towards relationship, if you do find the 'right one', you'll have much in common, therefore automatically have a better payout between happiness and suffering. Conversely, if you happen to find a bitch in your life who makes your life a living hell, you're probably better off without her.

Choice is, ultimately a test of your own judgement - but anxiety about not having a choice, or seeking to make the best one, is exactly what Nietzsche alludes to, that you're seeking suffering, albeit unconsciously, yet without any promise of happiness in return. Which is why I ascribe it is as 'silly'. There is nothing wrong with being content, and just because I don't show the anxieties that others have, doesn't mean I have to.

Only a day after did my friend pass me Alain De Botton's book - "The Consolations of Philosophy", the source where the majority of his philosophical arguments came from. While flipping through the book and reading about Montaigne, only did I realise that it is he that strikes the balance between the two extreme schools of thought, which resonated with me the most:

"We must learn to suffer whatever we cannot avoid. Our life is composed, like the harmony of the world, of discords as well as of different tones, sweet and harsh, sharp and flat, soft and loud. If a musician liked only some of them, what could he sing? He has got to know how to use all of them and blend them together. So too must we with good and ill, which are of one substance with our life."

Sneaky bastard[3]!

[1]: I only use the phrase 'the right one' as a well understood idea, but I am a not a believer of the idea of the 'right one', but rather that of a 'right compromise' :)
[2]: Sorry, but it's just another myth!
[3]: For trying to lull me into feeling insecure about myself!
Friday, May 02, 2008

Hello World

Or more rightly, 'Hello World' _again_.

I have stopped writing for a while. That is intentional. There has just been a feeling of a general lack of focus on the things that I write about, and to no big surprise, given that's exactly the same way how I feel about life, a core reason among others that I've taken a break.

After some introspection, I've come to terms that I have always had a 'jack of all trades' kind of personality, especially when it comes to interests: spanning from science and technology, to software development, sociopolitics in Singapore [which is inherently due to the poor treatment to the poor, and various forms of social unfairness/un-niceties I've endured/witnessed during my 20-odd years living there], philosophy, finance, and random musings that come up now and then. That all, is generally a tangled ball of mess that is hard to tidy it up, to pigeon-hole it into a blog nicely.

I've been thinking about my raison d'ĂȘtre for writing in the first place: to share the bits and pieces of what I know, for expressing my views, which in turn, to receive feedback and critique in sharpening my own thoughts. That all, besides my exhibitionist tendencies to share any interesting happenings around me! To put it more generally, it is what I do to entertain myself, but even more importantly, to be myself.

And that, is exactly what I'm resuming to do. :)