Jack of All Trades, Master of None

In the past, when I looked at stories I write or artworks I make, I sometimes feel so inadequate, and I have to remind myself that most of my experience is in the applied sciences. Lately, I experience those times more and more frequently. And as I grow older and I watch those my age become even better specialized at writing or at drawing or at programming, it’s getting harder not to feel even less adequate.

Since I went back to school for my Masters, I have found myself questioning whether I’m in the right field. I look around me at the people who have so much passion for computer science, who live and breathe computer science, who have hobbies related to computer science, and I wonder if my place is really among them. But I wonder about the writers and the artists who live and breathe stories and art, and likewise have hobbies related to their respective fields. If I had pursued a career in writing or art, would computer science then be my hobby and would I still feel out of place among these different set of peers? It’s easy to imagine that that would be the case.

I don’t think there was ever a time in my life where I thought about a certain activity as something that I could do 24/7. Even writing, which I had been doing since I was 8, is something I cannot do all day every day. I’ve always been interested in many things, and some of those interests I have less aptitude for than others. For example, even though I liked writing a lot, growing up, I did much better in math at school than English. Of course, it doesn’t mean that I have “natural talent” in math or anything — I’ve stopped believing in talent for some time now. I did well just because my parents pressured me into studying very hard at math.

I guess I’m just one of those people who can’t do one thing all the time. Saying that out loud makes it sound so common. I mean, of course! Nobody can do one thing all the time. But as someone whose time is divided into pursuing very different things, I can’t help but feel like I’m lagging behind those who seems to just concentrate on one activity.

The Reader by Traci Chee


Alright, I just finished this book about two hours ago, so it’s still fresh on my mind. So let’s get on to it.

Sefia’s aunt, Nin, was kidnapped by people who want a mysterious object that Sefia’s been carrying all her life but know virtually nothing about. It turns out, this object is a book, a magical thing that tells stories. But not just any stories. It contains everything that has ever happened in history and that will happen in the future. And those who are after it will stop at nothing to get it back.

This book is quite meta-fictional. It’s a book about books, about the power of books and the stories they tell. What if books are actually magical objects? And not just in the metaphorical sense? I really appreciated it’s meta aspects, even the ones that are concrete, like the text fading to indicate someone disappearing, or the text being scratched out. I think that was really creative.

So many things about it were so, so good! The world-building, the characters, the writing, and the friendship-to-romance relationship between the main characters. I also like Chee’s writing. I liked that at times it was whimsical. I love the diverse cast, how nobody was pegged to certain roles because of their gender or their race. Nobody batted an eyelash about women being assassins or pirates or lieutenants. I love that!

Data Science and Social Impact

Data scientist Cathy O’Neil comments on how algorithms — “under the guise of math, fairness, and objectivity — reinforce and magnify the old biases and power dynamics that we hoped they would eliminate.”

via Cathy O’Neil on the Cold Destructiveness of Big Data — Discover

As a computer scientist, this is the kind of thing I’m concerned about. And very few people are sadly aware of it. It’s difficult for computers to solve problems that we, humans, don’t already know how to solve either.

Rubber Duck Writing

Okay, so in programming, we have this concept of a “rubber duck.” The premise is that when you are stuck while programming — for example, if you can’t figure out a certain kink in an algorithm, or cannot see how a bug is being produced — you should talk it out with someone. Usually, the process of just trying to put the problem into words is enough to give you an insight that would solve the problem. For this reason, many programmers are rumoured to own a rubber duck. Instead of having to bother someone with their problem, they just articulate that problem to the rubber duck, and get instant insight!

I feel like I need a rubber duck right now. But not for programming. For writing my story.

Plot holes have always been my nemesis. Ever since I began writing fanfiction, almost every single thing I’ve written had been riddled with plot holes. I’ve taken to outlining my novels in detail to avoid this, but even in the outline stage, I’m struggling to put pieces together.Read More »

Leng’s 2016 Book Awards

Alrighty, it’s that time of year again! It’s time to give Imaginary Awards to books I have read in the previous year, as my tradition. I’ve been doing this since 2011 over at my LiveJournal. But I shall continue on the tradition here.

Beware: this post has spoilers in it!

Now for this year’s candidates, here’s a neat image provided by Goodreads of all the books I’ve read this year. Since I only give out awards to fiction books, I’ve faded out the non-fiction ones.

books2016-1books2016-2books2016-3Read More »