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[Scroll down for English translation.]

私は研究者です。大学卒業以来研究関係の仕事しかやってこなかったので、去年はしばらく研究者の仕事を休んで、一年間コーディネーター関係の仕事をしました。やっぱり、私には研究のほうが向いていると気づきました。現在は研究に関する仕事を得るために就職活動をしています。

研究者にはいくつかの特性が有ると思います。まずは、好奇心です。何を見ても質問が出てくるーー例えば、その状況はどうして発生したのか?そのデザインはなんのためなのか?この過程はどうすれば一番良いのか?子供たちはたくさんの疑問を抱き、質問をします。それと同じで、私たちは誰もが研究者としての素質を持っていると思います。でもその問題が面白いか、分析価値があるのか、他の研究者はもう結論を出したのか…問うべき価値があるかどうかなど、いろいろなことについて考える必要があります。

次に大切なことは、答えを導き出す根気があること。長く結果が出ない時もあるので、忍耐力が必要だと思います。答えを見つけるまで、考え続けるタイプのひとに向いています。でも頑固な性格は周りのメンバーに嫌われる時もあるので、気を付けなければなりません。

最後は、方法です。別々の分野の人々は、世界を理解するために 、それぞれのフィルターで物事を見ています。理系と文系は同じ世界に暮らしてますが、別の世界を見ています。だから、同じ問題を研究していて、別の答えになったとしてもおかしくないです。その 方法や手順 が科学的である限り、問題はありません。研究者は適切な手順を使って、一つ一つ問題を解決します。

研究とは、科学的な方法で地道に答えを見つけ出していくことだと思います。 したがって、 研究者はそのような仕事を楽しんでできる人に向いていると思います。

I am a researcher. Upon graduating from university, I had only done research-related work – so, last year I took a break from research and tried out coordination work instead. Through that, I realised that I am still more suitable for research. Therefore, right now I am looking for research-related work.

In my opinion, I think that there are a few characteristics that the researcher should have. First is curiosity. Questions emerge from everything you see – for example,  why did that situation happen? What is this design for? What is the best way to do this? Connected to the observation that children usually have many questions, I think that everyone has the potential for being a researcher. However, there is still a consideration of whether the questions are interesting, if they are worth investigating, or if some other researchers have already come to a conclusion to the question [note: I have more thoughts on this but I didn’t want to elaborate in Japanese – basically even if other researchers have come to a conclusion, if you get a good angle of the research question it may still be worthwhile to investigate it, maybe even debunk the original conclusion. But if you are studying a question that already has a pretty well-established answer, and come to the same answer… well, that might not be the most interesting study.]. There is a difference between a good research question and a lesser one.

Secondly, is the ability to work for a long time until you get the answer. As there is a possibility of not arriving to a conclusion for a long time,  one needs to persevere. Research work is suitable for those who cannot stop thinking about the problem until they solve it. However, a stubborn character might annoy the colleagues working around them, this is something that we need to be mindful about.

Lastly, the important thing is the methodology. People from different fields see the world differently, with different filters. Scholars of the arts and the sciences live in the same world, but see different ones. Therefore, it is not strange for the same research question to have different answers. As long as the methodology and procedures are scientific, there is no problem [comment: well, here there may be some dispute on what is considered scientific methods in different fields, but that’s a can of worms that I don’t want to open.]. The researcher needs to use appropriate procedures, and answer the question step by step.

Research is about using scientific methods to systematically and gradually find the answer to a research question. A researcher is therefore someone who finds this kind of work interesting, I believe.

—-

Note: I wrote the above in Japanese first, and did the translation later on. It is interesting to observe that something that I feel runs quite smoothly in Japanese doesn’t have the same ring to it in English – and the resulting translation sometimes either sounds clunky, or has to lose some nuance that it had before when it was in Japanese. Which is to say, when I write in Japanese I think differently from when I write in English. This is nothing new in the psychology of linguistics, but I thought that it was quite interesting, experientially.

Note 2: Featured image is what I made when I was doing my PhD, with the angst and self-doubt of a researcher, no technique, and possibly lots of wine.

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I’m now writing a blog post in Japanese every week from now on. It’s part of my (self-imposed) homework for a tutor that I got through italki. Every week I meet Kimie-san on Skype and she corrects my essays and we talk for about an hour. So far I’ve done one proper lesson (and a trial lesson before that), and she has exceeded my expectations in being a responsive and caring tutor who takes down my questions during class and sends me extensive answers through Skype afterwards even when it’s not on paid time.

When the teacher is good I get super motivated to work harder, and that seems to motivate them to teach better as well – so it’s a virtuous cycle right there. Anyways here is my first (corrected) Japanese blog post and a translation of it beneath.

絵を描くことについての感想

最近絵を描くことにハマっている。多分いい美術の先生を見つけたから、頑張れる気がする。子供の時は絵を描くのが大好きだったが、大人になってからほとんど描いていません。なぜでしょう?自信がなくなったとか、時間がなくなったとか、いろいろな理由があるかもしれません。

久しぶりに鉛筆を手に取って紙で線を描くのは、気持ちいいです。先生は美術は言語だと言っていました。線は言葉です。もし言葉の使い方がうまくなかったら、伝えたいことも通じない。だから、線の描き方をマスターすることはとても重要です。次に、色の観察です。光はどこから?影はどこまで?色は冷たいか、温かいか?それらを表現できれば、画家の気持ちを観る人の心まで届けられる。

名作を観る時、絵の構成や色の使い方や筆の動かし方を、丁寧に観察するべきです。その後、学んだことは紙で試して、よく練習します。こうすることによって、テクニックとセンスがよくなります。

Translated:

My thoughts about drawing

Recently, I have been into drawing. It is probably because I found a good art teacher, which has encouraged me to work harder. I used to love drawing when I was a child, but after I grew up I didn’t do it much anymore. Why is that? Maybe I lost my confidence, maybe I didn’t have time anymore… I suppose there are many reasons.

After a long hiatus, it feels good to be holding a pencil, and drawing a line on paper. Art is a language, said my teacher. Lines are the words. If you do not use words well, you will not be able to communicate what you want to say. Therefore, it is very important to master the use of lines. After that, it is the observation of colours. Where does the light come from? Where do the shadows end? Are the colours cool or warm? Through expressing these well, the artist’s feelings can be transmitted to the hearts of the viewers.

When we look at a masterpiece, we should carefully observe the painting’s composition, its use of colours, and the master’s brush strokes. After that, we try out on paper what we have learnt, and practise it over and over again. If you do this, your techniques and artistic sense will get better over time.

—-

I drew the featured image based on a photo from NatGeo. See more at @juneysketches.

“Smell it, smell it!” He urged, while thrusting the stick of crayon in my face. “Doesn’t it smell like childhood?”

I’ve been attending art classes for a month now. I highly appreciate my teacher, K, even if he has crayon-smelling quirks. And I have to admit, they do smell like childhood.

Before K I actually tested out the neighbourhood art class, which seemed to be more daycare than art centre. I was almost ready to sign up to something, anything, that would make me start drawing again, but decided to try K’s class out before I executed the decision. K’s class is literally on the other side of KL, and it takes me a little more than an hour with public transport to get there. I was dubious that I would actually make that sort of commitment weekly – I’m not such a huge fan of commuting and my idea of accessible is ten minutes’ walk. (Daycare Art Class was a five minutes’ walk from my home. I was ready to sign on the dotted line.)

It was a sunny Sunday afternoon that I reluctantly dragged my ass out to Ampang. I arrived with very low expectations as Daycare Art Class with its shrill kids and tiny chairs did not have me aiming high. K was alone – his other students arrived late – and I had him to myself for twenty minutes.

“Everything starts with drawing. Even if you paint, if you don’t know the basics of drawing, you cannot paint properly. Learning art is like learning a language. Lines are the alphabet. You need to first master the lines, so that others will be able to understand what you are seeing.” He began, in the way of an introduction. I love languages. I was sold.

Here’s my first drawing – K had asked me to draw something, anything that I wanted. Because I have no imagination I chose to draw the table that was next to ours. He said that it was courageous to take on the first thing that I saw. I said nothing about my imagination. This was a good start.

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First drawing at art class, March 4, 2018. Previously all photos of my sketches had a blue tint to them, but then Andrew waved a magic wand and restored them so they now look tons better 😀 Thanks Andrew!

And so I started by practising lines. Then circles and ellipses. Then proportions. I realised that I am not half bad at proportions. It took a while to make bolder lines, but I realised that I more often than not found them visually (“hunt the lines down!” said K), even if my hands weren’t skilful enough at translating them to confident lines on the paper. But everything is about practice. K was always spot on in pointing out exactly where the problems were, so I could quickly improve it on the next piece of paper.

I sketched these two teapots in class. The first one is the first attempt, much more careful than the second one. But K liked the second one better because of the lines that are quicker and more confident. It takes all of my resolve to swallow my control freakiness and trust every stroke that goes down, even if they end up to be misplaced and I have to correct them later. The result may be less accurate, but with more character. A life lesson right there.

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Teapot, pointing to the left.

 

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Teapot, pointing to the right. Some strokes that don’t belong to the sketch were added when K was explaining how the line strokes should look and feel like. He also did the spout which kind of stands out if you look at it.

 

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Chair with bag hung on it, March 18 2018.

The two-hour lessons fly by like nothing. I started practising at home.

Here’s my cat series. I think sleeping Suki and Spot look fine but Uno looks like a devil-cat. This was before we learnt values and shadows so there’s not much going on in shading and contrasts except for the minimum.

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Sleeping Suki

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Sleeping Spot

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Uno, wide awake, probably on drugs with those eyes (Sorry little one!)

And here are some colour pieces that I did last week, in anticipation of this week’s foray into colour.

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Attempt at “Fulfilment by Gustav Klimt”. With colour markers.

I chose this because it is basically a colouring project, once the lines are down. Here’s the original. Google Arts and Culture is a treasure trove of masterpieces of the ages, if you want to dive in and imitate any master. You get to zoom in and see all the details up to the brush strokes.

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Tribute to Naomi Watanabe, also named Fuck You to Those Who Have Wronged Me. With colour markers.

Naomi has got such good energy, I couldn’t resist drawing this one. Besides the energy bit, I chose it because it was so colourful and is basically, again, a colouring project, since I don’t know how to mix colours yet.

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Original picture of Naomi Watanabe

This is a sketch that I did to try out the one point perspective technique.

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Inside the ambulance

There is a vanishing point, and a horizon, and all those architectural lines. I had no idea what I was doing at all – check out the dwarfy little paramedic on the bottom. K said that it is because of the values (shading) that he looks so weird. And the story of how I chose this one is that I was constantly thinking about perspective after reading a book on sketching, and when I was watching this Japanese drama with this ambulance scene, it struck me immediately that here’s a perspective! So I made a screenshot and sketched it. Here’s the screenshot.

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Ambulance scene in Japanese Drama “Final Cut”

And this is what I did today.

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Still Life – That’s a Cricket Ball, Not An Apple. With wax crayons.

This is the first time that I’ve done still life with colour, I think. I must say that it was rather enjoyable, even though I’ve never been confident in using colour. But, as with many things in life, a good teacher is essential in pointing out the right way. I’ve realised that once I understand the concepts and ideas, it becomes much easier. Never use black or grey (they kill the painting) but instead mix different colours to end up with a black with life. Use a limited palette – mix the colours chosen to arrive at secondary colours so that the piece doesn’t look chaotic, but harmonious instead. I’m still trying to “feel” the colours – so that I can interpret what’s in front of me, into what will go onto the paper.

And what I like about K is that he gives memorable quotes from artists that he admires – he’s so in love with art and the masters that it is infectious. Said Vincent van Gogh, brush strokes should be executed like how an experienced lion strikes, placed at the exact position so that the prey is killed with one stroke. And said someone else important, art does not have to imitate reality, but the intensity should be the same. (I looked it up, this seems to be the actual quote, by Alberto Giacometti: “The object of art is not to reproduce reality, but to create a reality of the same intensity.”)

Suddenly, with K’s guidance, I have started to see. See, like never before. First it was the lines – I’m constantly molesting things with the imaginary pen that is my eyes, trying to measure one line against another. Then came the values – where is the light? Where are the shadows? Do they come from many sides? After that, perspectives. Where’s the vanishing point? Where are the invisible lines? (I cannot tell yet.) Then now, the colours. The blues in the greens, the contrasting colours in the shadows, the tones, the blends.

What’s the purpose of art? I haven’t quite found the answer – but – looking around – isn’t the world we live in truly wonderful?

So, as I was saying. There was a sudden windfall of time and a suffocating obligation to use it wisely. There was an urge to be creative yet coherent, but the deluge of ideas and possibilities were paralysing. At the same time I was digging myself deeper and deeper into a hole of existential doubt, which shook the foundations of my free-spirited learning approach, which if you remember, was never about productivity or efficiency. In fact, now that I think about it, it is really mostly about self-indulgence.

The question is, if something is done purely for fun, is there meaning in it? If it doesn’t lead anywhere?

I had a skarty (Skype Party) with dear Robert yesterday and we discussed it. As usual, he knocked some sense into me in the gentlest, Robertest way ever. He gave me a Dutch proverb. “It doesn’t go forward, it doesn’t go backwards, it just goes.” And then he backed it up by saying, “I’ve picked up tennis lately. Do you think that there’s any meaning in hitting a ball to and fro repeatedly except that it’s fun?”

The conversation really was pretty full of Roberty wisdom but, as how skarties go, an hour and a half in I had had enough of wine to not remember very much of what we discussed. Except that I was nodding my head, thinking, “This makes so much sense, I have to remember it!” I should start taking notes of drunken conversations discussing the purpose of life. Who knows how many revelations I’ve had and forgotten.

Anyway, going back to before Robert’s intervention, I was in the midst of going through the ten thousand things that I was doing and reading to see if I could derive any inspiration for writing. As it turns out, Elizabeth Gilbert with her book Big Magic may have given me the breakthrough that I needed.

So Gilbert’s book addresses many points and is one of the best pep talks in book form you’ll ever get as a creative person – so hurry out and get yourself hooked up with it. But it is her central idea about “Big Magic” that gave me a way (or two) to think about my problem of having a finger in every pie. First, is the pretext, on ideas as “disembodied, energetic life-forms”.

I believe that our planet is inhabited not only by animals and plants and bacteria and viruses, but also by ideas. Ideas are a disembodied, energetic life-form. They are completely separate from us, but capable of interacting with us – albeit strangely. Ideas have no material body, but they do have consciousness, and they most certainly have will. Ideas are driven by a single impulse: to be made manifest. And the only way an idea can be made manifest in our world is through collaboration with a human partner. It is only through a human’s efforts that an idea can be escorted out of the ether and into the realm of the actual.

Therefore, ideas spend eternity swirling around us, searching for available and willing human partners. (I’m talking about all ideas here – artistic, scientific, industrial, commercial, ethical, religious, political.) When an idea thinks it has found somebody – say, you – who might be able to bring it into the world, the idea will pay you a visit. It will try to get your attention. Mostly, you will not notice. This is likely because you’re so consumed by your own dramas, anxieties, distractions, insecurities, and duties that you aren’t receptive to inspiration. You might miss the signal because you’re watching TV, or shopping, or brooding over how angry you are at somebody, or pondering your failures and mistakes, or generally really busy. The idea will try to wave you down (perhaps for a few moments; perhaps for a few months; perhaps even for a few years), but when it finally realises that you’re oblivious to its message, it will move on to someone else.

But sometimes – rarely, but magnificently – there comes a day when you’re open and relaxed enough to actually receive something. Your defenses may slacken and your anxieties may ease, and then magic can slip through. The idea, sensing your openness, will start to do its work on you. It will send the universal physical and emotional signals of inspiration (the chills up the arms, the hair standing up on the back of the neck, the nervous stomach, the buzzy thoughts, that feeling of falling into love or obsession). The idea will organise coincidences and portents to tumble across your path, to keep your interest keen. You will start to notice all sorts of signs pointing you toward the idea. Everything you see and touch and do will remind you of the idea. The idea will wake you up in the middle of the night and distract you from your everyday routine. The idea will not leave you alone until it has your fullest attention.

And then, in a quiet moment, it will ask, “Do you want to work with me?”

Outlandish, but I love the thought of it. Ideas flitting around like elves, prodding people with their fairy-dusty little fingers, “Do you want to work with me? Do you? Do you?”

So, there are two ways to think about this. One is that my confusion is created by too many idea fairies buzzing around me,  jostling each other trying to get my attention, and it all becomes a big confusing mess of prodding fingers and squealing voices. I can’t separate the signal from the noise. I should be thankful that they looked me up and knocked on my door, but I also have to figure out how to find enough of chairs so that every fairy gets a seat. Or, given that my figurative house has only a finite number of seats (like 8), I have to figure out which ideas I should collaborate with and which I should let go respectfully, so that they can go find another better human collaborator.

Now the other possibility, based on the same assumption that ideas are fairies, is that there is one particular idea fairy that I’m waiting for, who hasn’t arrived yet. While all my interests and projects do not seem coherent or lead anywhere in particular, it is possible that I’m just creating the conditions for the Fairy to come, so that one day there will be something that only an academic mutt and hobby philanderer such as myself, with the exact mix of interests and knowledge that I’ve accumulated, can create. In the meantime I just have to be patient and trust that the little fella will find his way – and when he finally arrives, we will co-create something that the world has never seen before.

Which one is it? Does it matter, if both are based on imaginary fairies that happen to be idea-bearing little worker bees?

It’s raining outside, and I sense that I’ve come to an end to this two-part series. I’m again staring at my empty coffee cup (wistfully – it was a really good one), but this time I feel lighter. Sign of better times to come?

***

I’ll leave you with this piece of music which tune and lyrics gave me goosebumps. I had it in the background a lot when I was writing. Ignore the exaggerated closeups of the audience, focus on the music.

鳳凰於飛
舊夢依稀,往事迷離,春花秋月裡。
如霧裡看花,水中望月,飄來又浮去。
君來有聲,君去無語,翻雲覆雨裡。
雖兩情相惜,兩心相儀,得來復失去。

有詩待和,有歌待應,有心待相繫。
望長相思,望長相守,卻空留琴與笛。
以情相約,以心相許,以身相偎依。
願勿相忘,願勿相負,又奈何恨與欺。

得非所願,願非所得,看命運嘲弄, 造化遊戲。
真情諾諾,終於隨亂紅飛花去。

有詩待和,有歌待應,有心待相繫。
望長相思,望長相守,卻空留琴與笛。
以情相約,以心相許,以身相偎依。
願勿相忘,願勿相負,又奈何恨與欺。

期盼明月,期盼朝陽,期盼春風雨。
可逆風不解,挾雨伴雪,摧梅折枝去。
鳳凰于飛,翽翽其羽,遠去無痕跡。
聽梧桐細雨,瑟瑟其葉,隨風搖記憶。

得非所願,願非所得,看命運嘲弄, 造化遊戲。
真情諾諾,終於隨亂紅飛花去。

期盼明月,期盼朝陽,期盼春風雨。
可逆風不解,挾雨伴雪,摧梅折枝去。
鳳凰于飛,翽翽其羽,遠去無痕跡。
聽梧桐細雨,瑟瑟其葉,隨風搖記憶。

梧桐細雨,瑟瑟其葉,隨風搖記憶。

Another day. Another day of looking at an empty blog post screen. It has been many days, and there have been many half-written and half-baked paragraphs, all followed by a sigh, a shake of the head, and the inevitable [x] button. The urge to create is there, almost maddeningly so. But nothing worthwhile comes out.

“Why don’t you write about all the things you are doing and how they may seem random but are great parts of a puzzle?”

My muse, the lovely Eva, sent me this reply when I poured out my wretchedness to her on Whatsapp. I thought about it. I reread parts of Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert, on creating despite fear. I thought again. I opened my laptop, got ready to type, and realised that I had left my charger at home and there was insufficient battery to do much. I closed my laptop, stared at my empty coffee cup, and thought some more.

***

I’m now at home, flanked by cats (always helpful), the laptop is charging. Maybe whatever that’s in my head is ready to come out now. Here we go.

About ten years ago, I read this book What to do when you want to do everything by Barbara Sher, which shed light on generalist types that she called “Scanners”, people who have wide arrays of interests and can’t seem to hold on to one interest for long, as they flit from a professional field to another, a hobby to another, or an unfinished project to another. In the world that reveres specialists, or Divers as she called them, Scanners appear fickle-minded and unable to focus. Oftentimes, the Scanners even delve deep enough into their interest to produce a book, or a thriving business. But then they lose interest, and move on to the next big project, “throwing away” what they had accumulated so far.

Sher saw no problem with the Scanner model, to her it was simply a different wiring of the human brain that the Scanners have compared to Divers. Without a predisposed judgment against Scanner types, it then becomes a problem of time management, to fit everything that Scanners want to do into a realistic schedule with realistic resources.

This book remains to be one of my favourite books of all time. I remember thinking with wonder – so there’s nothing wrong with me after all. I am allowed to do things and walk away when they no longer interest me. And even if it does not interest me anymore at this point of time, it is possible that the same interest may cycle back, and I would just pick it up from where I left off.

That was ten years ago, and since then I had approached life and learning with a kind of laissez faire which basically amounted to going with the flow, wherever the flow brought me. 既來之,則安之. Academically and professionally, I hopped around in several fields, from information systems engineering, to public policy, to trust-building in social media, to sustainable development, to human rights. It has not been easy, but it has always been interesting.

In my spare time, I’ve dabbled with dozens of different things, so many that I’ve lost count – in sports (taichi, dragonboating, capoeira, yoga, etc.), DIY (knitting, electric circuits – for the purpose of building an AM radio, solar cooker, skincare products, cooking, etc.), art (crayoning, carving soap, sketching, zine-making, etc.), languages (Japanese and Spanish being my main target languages; and others that I have worked on sporadically or at some point picked up and let go: French, German, Thai, Turkish, Estonian, American Sign Language, etc.) and other uncategorised stuff (Rubik’s Cube, Go, ukulele, gardening, etc.).

Most of the time they never amount to anything. I attack the fad of the moment with the enthusiasm of a puppy playing fetch, sometimes naively believing that this is the one – which it rarely actually is. But with the heat of the moment, how could I believe otherwise? For a year I woke up at 5:30am a few times a week to practise taichi, that was the commitment that I gave to it – and I have not done any taichi for the last five years. But it’s okay. I accept that I don’t have the time and energy for everything in the world, and I made the decision to enjoy learning and detach when I don’t enjoy it/have time for it anymore.

So, as I was saying, laissez faire and mostly unconcern when it comes to learning and doing things, that’s how I’ve lived mostly for the past ten years. If I’m inspired to learn it, I’ll learn it. If I’m paid to learn it, I’ll learn it. Nothing is too far out. But this year, I found myself hit by a sense of unease which did not dissipate for weeks.

Let’s examine the situation a bit.

I had just left a job, one that took up a lot of my time and energy, and that for various reasons left me feeling drained constantly for most of last year. That I was suddenly in possession of my time again, unadulterated time for me, until my next job, felt liberating and downright scary at the same time. On one hand I could do anything I wanted. On the other hand, I could do anything I wanted. The responsibility felt like a million tonnes of lead on my shoulders (side note: it also felt like a million tonnes of cotton candy on my shoulders). I felt like I should do everything. Immediately. Right this second. Yet I could not choose from ten equally interesting possibilities of how to spend my time, and I was experiencing what Barbara Sher had described as a kid starving in a candy shop because she couldn’t choose one to eat. Sudden shock and analysis paralysis.

At the same time, I had decided that I spent too much time consuming content and not creating content. In other words, I was demanding output from myself. I recognised that I had not written non-work stuff for years now, and I missed writing just for the sake of writing. All those books that I had read – and I had devoured seven books in the space of the first two months of 2018 (plus a few others that I’m halfway through) – those had to amount to some original thoughts right? Or, if I couldn’t write, I should still produce something. A drawing? A zine? A diagram? Something that I could employ my new markers for?

I took ten days off from this state of frenzy to work on a research proposal, which I finished and submitted. Then I threw myself back at it with renewed fervour. Enrolled myself into a ukulele class. Bought some bars of soap to carve. Contemplated taking up programming again. Went to the neighbourhood art school (catered mostly for kids) to check out their syllabus for adults. Dreamt up mini research projects. Read. Read some more.

While all of this was happening, there was always an open blog post ready to capture any ideas that may pop up. Nothing popped up. And while all of my endeavours to fulfil myself creatively were exciting and welcome, they also served to propel myself further and further into a state of existential doubt – what is the purpose of all of this, if not just syok sendiri (self indulgence)? If there were no outputs to my inputs, then what were the inputs for? What is the red thread that runs through everything that I am trying to do? Indeed, what is the red thread that runs through everything that I’ve done so far? What is the purpose of life? Why are we here anyway? (It seems that many questions boil down to these last two eventually.)

To be continued.

 

Every Wednesday, I permit myself to have a day/half a day off to do anything that I want, as long as it’s creative. This policy came from more than a year ago when I was my own boss, and I realised that I hated my boss. The exploitative bitch would not let me rest during weekends, yelled at me all the time, and didn’t even pay me well.

The bitch and I had a conversation, and I told her that I would quit if she kept at it. I would find another boss, and she could get another minion. She gave me a long, steely stare. I stared back. Then, with a sigh, she asked me how she could improve my working conditions.

Wildcard Wednesday was then born. I could work my ass off every other day of the week, even weekends if I really had no choice, but Wednesdays were dedicated to gleeful creation and play. No work was allowed on Wednesdays, even though sometimes I sneaked an hour or two in (but never more than that). In the place of work, I made new dishes from scratch, played with my Snap Circuit renewable energy circuit board, and tinkered with random projects. I read books for leisure, doodled, and daydreamed.

It was really quite pleasant. My productivity went up during other days of the week. I gained some self-respect and balance. The inner bitch and I were friends again.

(As an aside, Wildcard Wednesdays drew inspiration from Awesome Mondays, devised by Eva and I when I was doing my PhD in Singapore. I always worked weekends, but on Mondays we would get a bottle of wine, some cheese and crackers, and whisk ourselves to a beach on Sentosa Island. We would set up our picnic on our matching sarongs, swim and laze around, get progressively tipsy, and then beat up coconut trees with beach towels. With all the vengeance directed at disappointing lovers, rejected publications, and a persisting fear of never amounting to anything important in life. Ah, Awesome Mondays.)

Wildcard Wednesday was shelved when I moved back into employment last year. Fast forward to this January, I left my job and am now my own boss again (at least until someone else pays for my time). I’m looking for research work, writing proposals for possible funding, and reading as much as I can. This time around, I’m not as crabby as before, since a year’s detour into coordination and communication work served to confirm that I am really, ultimately, a researcher at heart, and that’s where I want to work and play. The inner bitch is much less bitchy, and the reluctant employee, much less reluctant.

And, Wildcard Wednesday is back. The last few Wednesdays I had spent drawing mind maps of chapters in Sun Tzu’s Art of War. Today I spent some of it reading up literature on resilience and systems thinking (ok this is kinda work), but I am also taking some time to write and to think. I’m looking forward to trying out a new recipe tonight, I haven’t decided on what. When I close this post, I’ll start browsing recipes.

It’s a day like any other, but I have a glint in my eye, a smirk on my face. I’m inviting inspiration fairies to come plant ideas of mischief. The evening is still young. What shall we do, if we can do anything?

Screenshot at 2018-01-20 23-53-19

I’m adopting Leo’s 8 year old Macbook Air from circa 2010, and its sluggishness provided the perfect excuse to tinker with Linux again. The hardware is still solid, and the specs are acceptable. The old boy has a few years more to go yet.

So from a few days ago I had been reading up on different distributions and then getting my hands dirty on the actual installation and customisations. After a few days of cracking my head on various seemingly trivial problems, I am finally at the stage where I am comfortable with my “new” computer, so I thought that I would jot down some notes for posterior’s sake.

Choice of distribution

There are many. There is Ubuntu, which I tried several years ago and had a good experience with (but don’t remember too much of), but I was afraid that it may be too bloated for the old machine. And then there are LXLE, Elementary OS, and Linux Mint that I had heard about that seemed to be viable alternatives.Ubuntu required 2 GB of RAM, Elementary OS 1GB, and LXLE only 500MB.

Eventually I decided to try out Elementary OS first. Elementary OS looked sleek and elegant at first glance, but soon started to get on my nerves. The language keyboard did not work, and keyboard hot keys did not make sense (I couldn’t figure out how to switch between windows when an Alt-Tab or CMD-Tab should do the job). The localisation was very messy – when I tried to use the Chinese version to see if the language input worked, some items on the country menu were translated, some were not. Also, on top of that, there was something annoying about the interface being so simplistic, I felt that it was bordering on patronising. And that it called itself elementary in lower case just felt pretentious.

So I decided to try LXLE on Virtual Box. Somehow I took to it quite immediately – the desktop gave you everything that you needed on dropdown menus, neatly organised into applications and files. There was even a button that when you pressed it, it gave you a random wallpaper, which tickled me to no end. As if it was so efficient in its interface that it even found the space to give you that trivial functionality. The OS also came pre-installed with numerous applications, such as Libre Office, Mozilla SeaMonkey (first time I’d ever used it), and other nifty stuff.

I never made it to Mint. I decided to ditch Elementary, and go with LXLE.

LXLE: Installation problems

This was where my problems started with LXLE. I created a live USB, and LXLE worked fine when I booted from it. However when I tried to install it it would always break down at the very last bit, saying that “the ‘grub-efi-amd64-signed’ package failed into install into /target/”, and that without the “GRUB boot loader” the installed system would not boot. The gibberish level of this one is just too high. I tried reinstalling it, same error message. I created the installer medium again, it didn’t work. I tried installing an earlier, beta version of the .iso file, nope. I suspected that something was amiss with UEFI (now I know what it is, it’s like BIOS but superior) but nope my system does support it, and the partitioning was done correctly.

Eventually through some hours of research I found an application called Boot Repair and I ran it on the system – it said something about lacking a 64-bit something (bear with my non-techie specificity), and so I tried to make another installer which was 64bit (previously I had used the 32-bit version), and this time it worked. That took about five hours of banging my head against the wall, and I finally made it at 2am.

Leo agreed that my stubbornness is useful sometimes.

Chinese/Japanese Input

So I went to bed, and this morning upon waking up I went straight to the computer and started working again. I must say that I quite like the LXLE interface, things are placed where they should be, and that gives me pleasure. The language input methods did seem to work at first glance, but I quickly realised that Pinyin was not available and I  don’t know how to use the other ones. I tried ibus, I tried Fcitx. Neither gave me Pinyin. The organisation of LXLE on its language settings is also a little strange, as it was a little fragmented, spread over “Languages”, “Ibus Preferences”, “Fcitx Configuration”, “Input methods”… and sometimes you have to restart after making some changes so that the input method options would show up. Patient trial and error was my friend.

Eventually I installed ibus-pinyin through Terminal (sudo does make me feel powerful) but for some reason it gave me Sun-Pinyin instead, which only had Simplified Chinese, while I prefer using Traditional Chinese. I poked around some more, and finally after restarting the computer I found Pinyin. I installed Japanese-Anthy through Terminal as well. I am now using Mozc as the Japanese input method. For the time being I am sorted, language-wise.

Installing applications

I realised that I don’t actually use that many applications. What is indispensable to me is just Dropbox, and KeepassX. Seamonkey was pre-installed so I just started using it as the default browser. In the beginning I thought that I would have to do everything through Terminal, which made me nervous, but eventually I found the pre-installed Lubuntu Software Centre (a little like App Store) which made things much easier – and even for other command-line installations it was usually just short lines of code that I could copy and paste. I don’t remember how it was in Ubuntu.

The Power Button

Having gone through the previous hurdles I was starting to feel confident, and decided to tackle one more important problem. The power button on the Macbook Air triggered an immediate shut down, no questions asked, and this is very dangerous since you could lose your work if you accidentally press it when you were pressing the Delete button, or your cat could trigger it easily when it is walking on your keyboard (which is not an infrequent happening in my household).

This little endeavour proved to be much more difficult than I thought it would be. I was instructed to download and install dconf Editor, which I did, with just a faintest idea of what it was – and I started to tinker with it, but I couldn’t find this thing called gnome setting daemon. What’s gnome? What’s a daemon? Later on I found that there’s this other thing called “Mate” which seems to be a similar something as Gnome, even though nothing happened after I changed the values in the dconf Editor. I was getting a little too far out of my depth.

In the midst of all this despair I sent a distress call to Pellaeon. While waiting for his reply, Leo helped me with a hack that I found online (this one) which instructed us to modify a certain logind.conf file, which stopped the immediate shutdowns, even if I felt a little insecure about changing some code that I had no idea about, since it might cause problems later on. We left the cafe, somewhat triumphant, and I collapsed into a deep sleep when we arrived home.

When I woke up, I saw that Pellaeon had replied my messages in a superbly comprehensive manner. I copy his explanations here for future reference:

  • GNOME is the name of the “desktop environment”, it includes supporting programs for the desktop (such as drawing the windows outlines and toolbars), many basic functionalities (such as the system settings tool and text editor)
  • in the linux world, GNOME and KDE are the two major desktop environments
    they have the most development resources
  • They are also modular, so parts of them may be re-used by other projects
  • the LXDE reuses many parts of the GNOME desktop environment
  • LXDE and MATE are also desktop environments, they reuse parts from GNOME but combine them in different ways, so the interface looks different
  • “daemon” is basically a program constantly running in the background, for some service, imagine it as a shop that waits for customer 24h
  • in contrast to daemons, the applications are only opened by users while they need it and closed while they don’t, such as your browser, documents editor, etc
  • daemons and applications are both programs
  • to build a desktop environment, many daemons are needed, for example, there is a daemon handling power button, lid open/close, power plug/unplug events
  • the daemon is called “dbus”, it is the de facto desktop event handling daemon, used by both GNOME and KDE, and of course most of all the desktop environments
  • dconf stands for “dbus configuration” if i’m not mistaken, so dconf-editor is a editor to change dbus configurations
  • beside power change events, dbus also handles most of the desktop-related events , such as wifi scans, enable, disable, headphones/mic plug/unplug, device plug/unplug, keyboard layout management, printing, etc
  • it is basically a “message hub”, it receives notifications of some event (such as power button press” and rewrite/block/re-broadcast the notifications to programs that “subscribes” themselves to the event
    org.gnome.settings-daemon is the name of the configuration value that decides the behavior when you press the power button
  • the configuration values are grouped in a hierarchical fashion
  • under “org.gnome” are all settings related to GNOME, and under settings-daemon are the configurations related to the GNOME settings daemon
  • so for example, the KDE settings are likely under “org.kde”
  • the problem with these configuration knobs is that, the paths/names may change from version to version
    LXDE might simply follow the settings of “org.gnome.settings-daemon.plugins.power” , or they might decide to use their own settings under “org.lxde.xxx.yyy.zzz”
  • so for your error message, it cannot find the path org.gnome.settings-daemon.plugins.power, there might be 2 possibilities:
    1. the org.gnome.settings-daemon.plugins.power knob have moved to some other path in your version of GNOME (that your version of LXDE is using)
    2. LXDE simply has its own knob somewhere
    or:
    3. LXDE doesn’t allow you to customize the power settings behavior at all
    Can you try this? https://askubuntu.com/questions/568957/how-to-shut-down-lubuntu-immediately-with-the-power-button-instead-of-a-logout-m

So we undid the hack, and installed the XFCE Power Manager (as per the link sent by Pellaeon) which provides a GUI for all the tweaking to happen. I am very satisfied with the outcome.

Current Status

I’m still having to get used to Hotkeys that are a little different from what I had in Mac OS, but all in all everything works like a breeze. I like the task bar, which Mac OS didn’t have, which I didn’t know that I missed. I like the different work spaces as they’re laid out more intuitively than in Mac. There are small things that I still need to tweak, such as the volume buttons on the keyboard not working anymore, but those are not high priority.

Using LXLE now somehow brings me back to perhaps 15 years ago when I was tinkering with my first computer, when things crashed, and working with the PC had some element of learning and risk when you didn’t know what you were doing, but 硬着头皮 did it anyway. Nowadays everything works and you don’t even think about it anymore.

I think I’m going to enjoy my new old computer :)