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. 😀

Sciencey New Year!

We just had our first group meeting of the year. Sponsorship plans and upcoming events. We aim to be a finalist in 25th KBP Golden Dove Awards, of course. I’m going to revamp my broadcaster image and introduce a new segment. Just you wait!

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Happy new year, from the Pinoy Scientist Team and our partners from the Department of Agriculture! (Photo credit: Dexter M.)

Spontaneous travels: Baguio City edition

Author’s note: I’ve been a planner for as far as I can remember. I love going through checklists, I bought my 2017 planner last September, I started working on my biggest Christmas gifts since July, I even got myself a BA II Plus calculator 4 years prior to entering the actuarial industry. XD

It makes sense then that interrupted or postponed plans are quite disappointing, though it can’t be helped ’cause there usually are so many variables to consider (especially the unreliable schedules of busy people). I’ve found that unplanned get-togethers have the biggest success rate, so I had this idea to start a “spontaneous travels” series for when my friends and I would find ourselves having the free time and courage to explore the gastronomical and cultural offerings of places outside the city. 😀


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Photos by Tristan Cervas


How it started

One day, approximately 6 months after I set a cosplay photoshoot that got postponed due to unreliable weather (imagine how sad-looking a beach is during rainy season), my photographer friend and colleague Tristan proposed to convert it to a day-long food trip to Baguio. 😀 It was certainly feasible, since dreary weather is typical of a mountainous region and I was pretty sure that the Christmas vibe will offset the dreary mood, if any. I had no cold weather attire to use, save for my jacket from 4th grade (which still miraculously fits!).

Based on our satisfactions and regrets that day, here are our recommendations on how to survive a spontaneous trip to Baguio:

Bring cold weather clothing!

We got there in the afternoon so it wasn’t as cold as we expected, I was able to survive with only a light jacket and knitted gloves (Tristan says it’s way colder in the office, haha). It did become chilly at night though, and I bet it stays that way until the sun comes up. Good for you if you’re used to a cold environment, but if you’re like me (6 months later and I’m still not used to the office temperature, lol), it’s best to at least put on multiple layers of clothing. Fortunately there are many shops in the city that sell knitted sweaters and scarves, which make nice souvenirs as well.


Travel super early!

Unfortunately, we were only able to meet up as late as 10am ’cause he had some business in a certain bank that opens at 9am to attend to, lol. That greatly limited our exploration time cuz his family wanted him to be back in Dagupan by 9pm or to just come home the following day. This wouldn’t have been a problem if we could go there early morning for an extra 6-9 hours of seizing the day.

Plan your itinerary (even on the spot)!

Upon meeting up, we went straight to an internet cafe, rented two PCs, and took 45 minutes to simultaneously look for the items we wanted to include in our itinerary and take screenshots of maps and (haphazardly) research the walking/jeepney routes to get there. Since we weren’t expecting a fine weather, we decided to make our itinerary mainly food-based. We sorted through travel blogs and got recommendations from some colleagues.

Downloading offline maps (or having one on hand) is important to be able to get around in case of poor cellular reception. This proved to be useful when we went to the Wright Park area, where I found it hard to connect to the internet (it depends on the service provider I guess?)
Since we were both pressed for time (travel from Dagupan to Baguio took longer than expected — roughly 3 hours), we had to constantly adjust our itinerary to fit the limited time we had. There were a couple of places that we wanted to go to but had to disregard cuz we decided to prioritize proximity.
Most parks and scenery can only be appreciated during daylight, so we had to give most of them up past twilight. 😦


Estimate the expenses!

This will depend on your itinerary. It’s useful to have an idea of the bus fares beforehand (as of writing, 109php from Dagupan to Baguio, 245php from Baguio to Tarlac City, 445php from Baguio to Manila). From what I remember, taxi fares around the city usually range from 100-150php due to medium to heavy traffic. Jeepney fares have a minimum of 8.50php. In my case, transportation fee didn’t exceed 1000php. (Random note: I prefer taking the Dagupan-La Union-Baguio route because it allows me to gaze at the blue sea for an hour or so from the western window seat * u *)

For the food trip, there is an advantage to bring more friends along for a lower price per capita. 😀 We stuck to one to two dishes per resto since we’re not really hefty eaters (had to request take out and give the food to our colleague Glenn, who met up with us at the overpopulated Night Market).
We had lunch, dinner, and dessert in 3 different places, and that cost us approximately 500php per head.

Many of Baguio’s attractions don’t require an entrance fee, but for museums and special activities you might want to look them up. Food took precedence on our itinerary, but we managed to squeeze a night horseback riding session so Tristan could try it. 😀 That cost us 400php per head for 30 minutes. (It’s useful to actually monitor time-based activities using a stopwatch so that you won’t get cheated. XD)

The Baguio Night Market (opens around 9pm along Harrison Road) offers everyday items and clothing at ridiculously low prices, where you might be able to snag good buys if you’re willing to brave that stampede-prone area. XD Glenn, having been trapped in the market crowd for a few minutes, gave a few tips: as soon as you find something that catches your eye, take it and leave so you won’t be carried away by the people pushing past you (you can’t spend too much time on a certain item or section). It’s also useful to inspect the stores first from the sides of the road, that way you will more easily be able to go in and out. Tristan and I were already an extremely introverted and tired pair by that time, and we were content with just observing all the hubhub from the landing of an overpass.

And of course, if you have people waiting for pasalubong at home or at the office, you should allocate budget for that too. In case you run out of places to buy pasalubong in the middle of the night, there are several stores near the bus stations that offer Baguio products to last minute passengers (like us XD). As of writing, a pack of fresh strawberries costs 120php, lengua biscuits and choco/milk flakes cost 80php (medium jar) or 120php (large jar), a small jar of strawberry jam costs 100? I forgot D: There are souvenir shirts and keychains as well.

Book a place outside the city! (optional)

Log into any hotel booking site and you will find that Baguio is 100% booked this Christmas season (the major hotels at least). It’s also inconvenient that provincial buses are in high demand and we were unsure about the schedules. To address this problem, we recommend booking accessible places just outside the city. For example, as insurance against the worst case scenario (having to extend our stay but with no place to stay), we reserved a resort room by the beach in La Union, just before the corner to the straight road to Baguio. We didn’t have to check in in the end cuz he suddenly had a work emergency to attend to and had to leave Baguio as soon as we’re done. But he did agree to split the “insurance risk”. 🙂

Have enough cell load and battery!

I did something stupid: left home with my phone only on 68% battery. Also something smart: I brought my phone cable and a 13000mAh powerbank. It turned out to be more than enough to recharge both my phone and Tristan’s several times, but just in case, we also borrowed some from Glenn. 😀 I’ve found that using GPS services and accessing the internet is quite taxing to the battery percentage. Also, it’s best to have enough load for mobile data and communication with friends in case you get lost. (I was low on load but wasn’t worried about getting lost since Tristan is freakishly tall and I was wearing such an attention-grabbing color XD) Sometimes the same stores that offer Baguio products also sell cell load. Alternatively, your gang can agree to head to a landmark (e.g. Jollibee in the middle of the Night Market) in case one gets lost, or to hang out in a cafe until the phone batt is charged well enough.

Talk to the locals!

Ugh, the bane of an introvert’s existence! But if we didn’t manage to pull it off (thanks Tristan!), we probably wouldn’t have gotten our food orders much earlier, and we wouldn’t have received guidance on which directions and alternative jeepney routes to take (apparently “Baguio-Plaza-Liteng” also travels to the Mine’s View Park’s direction, haha). It helped that I can understand some Ilocano, the dialect of most locals we encountered.

Bring some medicine and neck pillows!

Tristan once mentioned that he has a bit of motion sickness so I brought whiteflower for him just in case. I felt sick in the evening, like I was about to catch a fever and throw up, but a little yogurt (comfort food!) fortunately helped. It’s going to be useful to bring medicine and a first aid kit anywhere one travels, especially if one plans to go hiking. The neck pillow is obviously for lengthy travels, if you don’t want your head to sway around so much on the winding roads up/down the mountain (also if you’re too embarrassed to lean your head on your travel partner’s shoulder, but too bad I didn’t bring one >///<)

Next time we’ll drag Chris (the third guy in our trio) along for sure, so our colleagues won’t have to ship us incessantly upon return >_> I look forward to our future trips! Time to earn vacation leaves 😀

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World map food buddies! (or at least that was the plan)

Check out Tristan’s food reviews on his instagram profile, he’s so much better than me at making up photo captions and describing things XD