Munchkin kittens

Wen showed me these really cute kittens:)

“The Munchkin is a relatively new breed created by a naturally occuring genetic mutation that results in cats with abnormally short legs.”

Compare his legs with those of his brother at 0:53!

The Commuter’s Paradox

It is difficult to blog when there’s so much to do. That’s why I haven’t been writing, only posting interesting articles from other blogs. Here’s a recent article from Jonah Lehrer’s The Frontal Cortex I can identify with:

Why is traffic so unpleasant? One reason is that it’s a painful ritual we never get used to – the flow of traffic is inherently unpredictable. As a result, we don’t habituate to the suffering of rush hour. (Ironically, if traffic was always bad, and not just usually bad, it would be easier to deal with. So the commutes that really kill us are those rare days when the highways are clear.) As the Harvard psychologist Daniel Gilbert notes, “Driving in traffic is a different kind of hell every day.”

But if commuting is so awful, then why are our commutes getting so much longer? (More than 3.5 million Americans spend more than three hours each day traveling to and from work.) In my book, I cite the speculative hypothesis of Ap Dijksterhuis, a psychologist at Radboud University in the Netherlands, who argues that long-distance commuters are victims of a “weighting mistake,” a classic decision-making error in which we lose sight of the important variables:

Consider two housing options: a three bedroom apartment that is located in the middle of a city, with a ten minute commute time, or a five bedroom McMansion on the urban outskirts, with a forty-five minute commute. “People will think about this trade-off for a long time,” Dijksterhuis says. “And most them will eventually choose the large house. After all, a third bathroom or extra bedroom is very important for when grandma and grandpa come over for Christmas, whereas driving two hours each day is really not that bad.” What’s interesting, Dijksterhuis says, is that the more time people spend deliberating, the more important that extra space becomes. They’ll imagine all sorts of scenarios (a big birthday party, Thanksgiving dinner, another child) that will turn the suburban house into an absolute necessity. The pain of a lengthy commute, meanwhile, will seem less and less significant, at least when compared to the allure of an extra bathroom. But, as Dijksterhuis points out, that reasoning process is exactly backwards: “The additional bathroom is a completely superfluous asset for at least 362 or 363 days each year, whereas a long commute does become a burden after a while.”

Just 2 days ago, I was given this flyer at Buona Vista MRT. Note: I’m not paid to advertise this, but as you will find out, I have every incentive to do so.

Our solution is the answer to your commuting needs!

iCOM is a commuting service-provider. We plan and provide customised routes to groups of iCOMmuters with similar origin-destination requirements.

Once a route is identified, a pool of private coach operators would bid for the route. In this way, we bring up competitiveness and we bring down costs. These cost-savings would go to the iCOMmuters! All these air-conditioned coaches (with high back rests) have been audited to ensure cleanliness and comfort are not compromised.

I doubt I will sign up for it, but you can check it out here if you’re interested.

delayed gratification: overrated?

Walter Mischel, professor at Columbia University (then Stanford University), conducted a now famous experiment observing the relationship between impulse control and success in life. From Wikipedia:

In the 1960s, a group of four year olds were given a marshmallow and promised another if they could wait 20 minutes before eating the first one. Some children could wait and others could not. The researchers then followed the progress of each child into adolescence, and demonstrated that those with the ability to wait were better adjusted and more dependable (determined via surveys of their parents and teachers), and scored an average of 210 points higher on the Scholastic Aptitude Test.

The study suggests that there is a strong correlation between our ability to defer gratification and our success. It requires no stretch of the imagination to see why: a greater ability to exert self-restraint translates to more hard work (studying instead of watching the TV), as well as greater willpower. Jonah Lehrer elaborates in an article in the New Yorker:

At the time, psychologists assumed that children’s ability to wait depended on how badly they wanted the marshmallow. But it soon became obvious that every child craved the extra treat. What, then, determined self-control? Mischel’s conclusion, based on hundreds of hours of observation, was that the crucial skill was the “strategic allocation of attention.” Instead of getting obsessed with the marshmallow—the “hot stimulus”—the patient children distracted themselves by covering their eyes, pretending to play hide-and-seek underneath the desk, or singing songs from “Sesame Street.” Their desire wasn’t defeated—it was merely forgotten. “If you’re thinking about the marshmallow and how delicious it is, then you’re going to eat it,” Mischel says. “The key is to avoid thinking about it in the first place. In adults, this skill is often referred to as metacognition, or thinking about thinking, and it’s what allows people to outsmart their shortcomings. (When Odysseus had himself tied to the ship’s mast, he was using some of the skills of metacognition: knowing he wouldn’t be able to resist the Sirens’ song, he made it impossible to give in.)

But I wonder: Is delayed gratification overrated? Too much of what we’re doing now appears to be in preparation for the future – studying for a degree to secure a good job, joining activities to build up a more substantial CV, networking etc. When we go out to work, we typically go for the jobs that pay well (even if they do not exactly offer a healthy work-life balance), hoping to retire peacefully and enjoy the fruits of our labor then. It is almost akin to factory production: as kids, we’re put into machines with a predetermined mold; some settings are tweaked as we enter adulthood, before we finally exit as old people: the finished products. It’s the Industrial Revolution all over again.

At sixty, if we’ve managed to plough through successfully, we get to enjoy the fruits of our labor. But is that too late? By then, a good deal of opportunities would already have passed us. And by then, it’d be too late to turn back the clock.

That saying, I’m not advocating an “eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we may die” mindset. I’m not even saying that our system of living is too practical and results-oriented. In fact, I do think it’s a privilege to receive education here and – truth be told – lots of us prefer staying in our comfort zone. It’s nice (and convenient) to have a third of your life mapped out for you.

All I’m saying is: it pays to delay gratification, but at times, living for the moment isn’t such a bad idea.

Yours myopically,

Tim

Those who float

She felt as if she had spent most of her life treading water because she was fighting something inside herself. But as she was thrashing against the water, deep down she knew she would lose the fight.


A famous psychological experiment challenges its subjects to think of anything except a polar bear for five minutes. Every time they think of a polar bear, they have to ring a bell. Close your eyes and try it. Chances are that, nothing but polar bears appears in your head.

This experiment illustrates that suppression isn’t effective – it might work for awhile, but soon we become so fixated on avoiding the thought that it wears us out. We become acutely sensitive to its next occurrence, and before we know it, the thought itself is no longer our fear. Instead, it is now the thought of the thought occurring. This is akin to treading water – it might work in the short-term, but it’s certainly not going to be sustainable.

I think this is where the hard part really comes in: what’s the alternative? Dan Gottlieb says, “the very moment you give up struggling with the water, if you’re going to float, you have to put your faith in the water – just lie back and let it hold you up.”

I personally agree, but I find this incredibly difficult. When a thought appears in my head, I realize it’s wrong to fight it, so I avoid the conscious attempt to not think about it. But in consciously avoiding this conscious attempt to not think about it, I know I’m going to fall back into the polar bear trap, so I usually wind up thinking about how not to consciously think about how to avoid this conscious attempt. As you can see, I could go on ad infinitum, and I’d still be stuck in the polar bear trap.

Psychoanalyst Carl Jung believed that we all have demons inside of us. He called them “shadows”, to mean that we have parts of ourselves that we can’t deal with; yet, we cannot run away or separate ourselves from them. Fortunately or unfortunately, I keep faith still.

Yours in hope,

Tim