I, Bricklayer

I’m currently in the middle of several ongoing life projects at once, and it’s physically/mentally/emotionally draining. Many times it feels like I’m in a discouraging slump of facing a half-tidy half-chaotic room… way messier than before I even started cleaning.

I recently read Cal Newport’s Deep Work and came across the Medieval Quarry Worker’s Creed (possibly an allusion to the story of the three bricklayers):

“We who cut mere stones must always be envisioning cathedrals.”

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Right now it might be best to take a step back and wonder: Why are you laying bricks? What architectural masterpiece are you building?
  • I am studying for my Math 220.1 exam because… I want to get a high grade in this subject… so that I will get a high GPA in the end and remain up to my mentor’s standards.
  • I am spending for ADAPT and studying MFE because… I want to increase my salary… so that I can earn my first million, and eventually never have to worry about money for the rest of my life.
  • I am staring at my data for hours because… I want to understand it. I want to pick up skills to become a fully-armed data scientist in the future.
  • I am devoting so much time and attention to M-sensei because… he gives the kind of love that my heart needs. I want us to overcome our dark sides together, to water our relationship so much that it blooms and bears high quality fruit in the future, regardless of the weeds that surround it.
  • I am going to do research work because… I want to immerse myself in the research process. I want to be able to spearhead my own projects in the future, and write my own papers, and get them published. I want to have high-impact works in the future that will help revolutionize something that will help improve the lives of people.
  • I am squeezing reading time out of my busy days because… I don’t want to just collect books — I want to read them all. I want to enrich myself one book at a time. I want to broaden and deepen my perspective of life.
  • I am staying away from social gatherings because… I wish to save on mental energy and time and money. I only pay attention to those who grow me or condition my spirit.
  • I am being more strict with my time because… my time deserves to be worth 5000/hr or more. I haven’t found that things yet that will make my time worth at least that much, but I will, someday. I need to arrange my schedule so that every minute is spoken for, and the wastage is minimal. That way, I will find that very thing much faster.

 

Goodbye GISHWHES

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I’ve always liked executing weird, uncharacteristic, crazy, creative acts with friends or other high-spirited people. I’ve been meaning to join GISHWHES (the Greatest International Scavenger Hunt the World Has Ever Seen) for years… but unfortunately this year is the last chance to participate and I have to blow it off for a number of reasons (busy with 9-6 work and masters, have to study for exams, no willing friends either). I know I can join if I tried, but it just isn’t practical (and maybe not meant to be…)

Nothing to see here… just a bucketlist item I won’t ever get to tick off… *sniff*

Work-Life Dream

A few months ago, I was recommended by my manager and the actuarial division head to join the Advanced Analytics team. Up from the very first meeting with the program director of the said team, I strove to set myself apart — by doing research on data science online curricula and producing a self-paced training program (which came off to be a strong first impression, I later found out from him ^_^ ). I wanted to show them that I’m genuinely passionate and not just blindly trying to rotate out — I actually know where to go and have a (semi-solid) plan to get there.

From then on, I would say that I had the best work-life experience (within a corporate setting) that I could possibly dream of! 8D Aside from monthly touchpoints with my new manager, I was free to do as I please so I took charge of my own data science training.

How I disrupted my current working conditions

The first thing I did was load my desktop with apps like RStudio and Python, which are pretty rare in the production floor. I set up an interactive R training program through the Swirl library, which taught basic and advanced R functions and concepts right within the console for free.

Then without informing anyone, I moved to a nice remote location in the upper floor — away from the 90-ish actuarial people that I used to share an office with. This time, I could work alone and undistracted, able to enter the state of flow more easily. * u *

Once I was done with R training, I subscribed to a data visualization course by Nathan Yau of FlowingData, which was very interesting for me as it emphasizes data storytelling and the artistic side of Data Science. It really came in handy when I joined the Data Visualization Challenge with my mentor Glenn. I thought it would increase my credibility to win an award this way, and so we toiled on the project up until the hour of deadline. And very very fortunately, we became champions! :D. (Turns out that the program director was one of the judges, and the heatmap I learned from FlowingData provided the most business value)

After that, I decided to start consuming up the Python Programming and Machine Learning courses that I bought from Udemy. For some reason, I’m not afraid at all to invest in myself, especially when it comes to self-enrichment. :D. Carrying it on up until now.

Because of this, I sort of became more disconnected from the workplace I was used to, like a rare pokemon, not that I mind. I save more time focusing on my work by checking the work mail only 3 times a day (tip from Brad), and setting the office chat to busy mode by default. My introverted side beams with joy! Here is my new routine:

1. Read a nonfiction book on the way to office
2. Study for SOA Exam for 2 hrs
3. Work on a data science topic for 3 hrs
4. Work on a different data science topic for 3 hrs
5. Jog along the UPD academic oval for 1.5 hrs
6. Learn a poker concept on the way home
7. Join a poker table until you get kicked out or become sleepy

And I must say, I am more than satisfied! I guess I thrive best in working autonomously and designing my own path (the captain of my soul, literally!). It’s great to be able to move the needle everyday with all of my top ventures.

I know this arrangement will end someday, maybe sooner than later once I have to collaborate with the team and move into their area (still partially remote, so it’s okay). I have my anxieties too of not being at par with their standards (since I’ve only been training by myself and have not applied my knowledge to real-world stuff except for the datavis). But once it ends, that will be the official start of my data science career. And the director has a lot of projects waiting on the wings for me, as a safe environment for learning the ropes of advanced analytics — which I think is an awesome deal. :D.

So stoked for the rest!

Actuarial Attitude

Three sittings later, I finally passed Exam FM (Financial Mathematics). I didn’t breeze through it like I did with Exam P, but six months’ worth of training taught me several things. I guess it’s true that failure can teach a lot more than success. I write this to remind myself that I know the path to success, I just need to START and be CONSISTENT.

First is that conventional study methods (which I tried twice) may not necessarily work. I took detailed notes before, registered for ADAPT subscriptions and solved lots of problems, which I think kinda gave me false confidence. I didn’t realize that I was at first content with having solved them that I didn’t take the time to analyze the solutions.

You need the discipline to stick to a study schedule. My goal was to do at least 2 hrs a day during weekdays, at least 4 hours on Saturday (and even watch Kdrama in the office as a reward XD)

I found Yufeng Guo’s guide to be the most helpful of all. ASM exams are very hard, so I didn’t expect a good result. The online CBT mock exam was very helpful for that exam feel. I didn’t subscribe to ADAPT this time and decided to practice on my own steam.

For the first time, I studied with another person. I have a colleague who like me was also struggling to pass. I found that teaching him the solutions makes it easier to realize the parts where I still lack understanding, and forces me to actually defend what I know so far. I also actively collaborated with a colleague whom I made my office mentor. In a more personal context, he taught me the value of “bringing problems into the light”, and that’s exactly what I did… Whenever I had solutions that were not so easy to understand, he explained everything in person or through email.

You need to GET CREATIVE especially with a mechanical exam such as FM. Two formulae (one about price sensitivity and one about the relationship between duration and convexity) were such a pain to memorize, so I wrote them on the whiteboard and displayed it in my room so I could passively look at them every day for a month. Sure enough, I can now picture them in my mind effortlessly.

I solved every problem in the sample exam in the way that Guo described it. Think simple. Prepare scripts.

It’s not enough to know the concepts. You need to solve fast! On the last week of the exam, I practiced speed-solving. … You need to know which items to give up. I got the CBT experience from SOA online.

I formulated a time-management strategy for my exam. …. Goal is to solve 18-20 problems in the first hour.

I also prepared a reward system… i read 10 chapters of manhwa in between sessions, bought a dress I really liked and asked my friend to hold on to it til I pass my exam… Funny how I tend to seek enjoyable distractions come exam season… But more than the material rewards, I convinced myself that I need to pass it this time to finally be able to start learning bass guitar and study korean and poker seriously. (learning objectives that I have always wanted to do but never gotten around to starting…)

This time I paid attention to my health and diet. I looked up food for optimal brain performance (thanks Glenn for the nutritious night-before-exam dinner!), and took a relaxing walk before my exam, and hydrated well.

Good luck meal

Or maybe too well… Halfway into my exam, I already felt the need to use the comfort room and it got me solving even faster :((( I usually answer the survey after the exam just to psych myself up for the results, but this time I didn’t care, I just skipped it to be done with it. I think I got more relief from the after-exam bathroom break than the onscreen congratulations. :)))

But that day I proved that it was possible that even if you have several ventures to focus on, even if you’re busy with work, AS LONG AS YOU DEVELOP CONSISTENCY, it’s possible to do well in this exam and be confident about the results even before seeing it for yourself.

My main takeaway is this: In this steep ladder to an ASA designation, there will surely be a lot of sacrifices. But I don’t have to give up the things you enjoy just to be able to pass. (Fun fact: I drank soju the weekend before the exam because why not…)

Insecurity

A valuable piece of advice from one of my indirect mentors:

insecurity

It came to mind this morning, when I finally decided to face my long-standing problem at work: uncharted GGY AXIS territory. I was so intimidated at first by using processes that I’ve never used before but have to figure out on my own, but I finally made huge progress today. I realized that sometimes my main time-waster is that I’m scared to do something just because I don’t know how it works yet. Same goes for studying for a major actuarial exam. You just have to take the plunge, dammit! Should’ve done so sooner.

A data science career?

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I’m happy to announce that I feel legitimately excited about my work life, having been recommended by my manager and the actuarial department head to join the newly-formed Data Science team (I swear, no compliment feels as good as that which refers to my skill or potential ヽ(*・ω・)ノ).

I’ve been acquainting myself with SQL and R programming, and some research about data science as well. Since the field is getting increasingly popular, our company must’ve been eager to jump in the bandwagon as well, haha!

As for me, I want to acquire the necessary skills to better myself as a programmer for scientific research (cleaning the astrochemistry dataset using VBA was a pain, to be honest… hoping for a better experience with R or Python!). I’ve already been branded a “big data analytics expert” by Dr. Custer, and my mentor keeps exposing me to opportunities related to that in research and business. Now that I think about it, looking back to a year ago, when I consulted with him about the master’s degree courses I should take, he suggested some related to data mining and business intelligence. @___@ Maybe he’s been nudging me to this direction all this time?

Ahhh the limitless potential for research and application! So much to learn! My brain has so much kilig rn. I feel like I’m living the dream! 😀 For the time being I will just enjoy designing and following my own training plan, and the joy of finally getting to dedicate 40 hours a week (excluding weekends) to something I am truly passionate about. ヽ(;▽;)ノ

Impromptu Yujacha (유자차) recipe!

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Right now I have two good reasons for making Yujacha: I caught a terrible cold and could really use a dose of anything citrus-y, and my best friend Ian’s birthday is coming up! (more specifically, I had only a few hours left to make a birthday gift!)

I remember that he really liked the yujacha of Frutly so I made an order inquiry but learned that they stopped operations a few months back. 😦 I have tasted their Yujacha once in a summer fair and have an idea of what the ingredients are. So here I am, keeping the Yujacha fire alive with this made-up recipe! XD

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Ingredients:
2 large citrons
3 lemons
1/4 kg muscovado
honey
glass jar/bottle

Instructions:
1. Put on face mask, sanitize hands (or use gloves)
2. Scoop out all the citron and lemon pulp, put them all in a large bowl (not including the seeds)
3. Slice the citron rinds very very thinly, then add them to the bowl (disregard the lemon rind, the aftertaste is too bitter)
4. Mix in muscovado almost equal to the fruit volume
5. Mix all the fruit stuff with your hand, add in honey until the mixture feels like a marmalade / really thick fruit jam
6. Put inside a sealed glass jar and store in fridge

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How to drink:
1. Get a glass of cold water or a cup of hot water
2. Mix in a few spoonfuls to taste
3. You can eat the rinds as you drink the tea 😀

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Just one serving of yujacha. The relaxing aroma, unique taste, and whatever vitamin C reaction was occuring (or just a placebo effect) made me feel better. And I got positive feedback from Ian! Shot two birds with one stone. 😀