How I Learned How to Learn

As my last project was ramping down, my colleague Rajesh hosted one final learning session titled “Invitation to Deeper Learning.” I left with one incredible revelation: throughout my educational and professional career, I never paid any mind toward the process of learning. So it was serendipitous I stumbled upon and subsequently signed up for an online course called Learning How to Learn through Coursera. The following are some of my key takeaways from the course and some thoughts on how we can leverage this information as analysts:

Two Modes of Thinking

Humans have two modes of thinking: diffuse and focused. You probably recognize when you’re in your focused mode of thinking: when you’re concentrating intently on something. However, being in diffuse mode may not be as obvious. The diffuse mode is a passive thinking mode and explains why you might come across a great idea when laying in bed at night or when taking a shower. The diffuse mode is helpful for seeing things from a big picture perspective. It’s useful to switch back-and-forth between these two modes when learning something new or difficult, to solve problems, and when trying to come up with new ideas.

The next time you’re stuck on something, try going for a walk or meditating to disengage and then come back to it later. Additionally, exercise is one of the best ways to activate your diffuse mode. Some find running or a similar cardiovascular exercise a great way to disengage from their regular thoughts and routines. Exercising is a great way to unlock the potential for new ideas or a broader understanding of something to occur.

Chunk, Chunk, Chunking

It can be hard to make sense of something when we are learning it for the first time. Chunking is “the mental leap helping you unite bits of information together through meaning,” as defined by Barbara Oakley. For instance, learning about a single piece of information isn’t as meaningful until we gain the context around that thing. When we understand how any ‘puzzle piece’ fits into the greater whole, we’re able to build a chunk and commit it to our memory in a meaningful way. Spend time not only learning the individual concept but all the related connections as well.

Recall Frequently and Consistently

One of the best ways to learn is to recall information you’ve acquired without the help of notes. When you have a spare moment, just play back aloud what you’ve learned, even if you’re alone. We see recall in practice with many analysts. They’ll hear something, then play it back to the group to get validation. They’ll also be eager to explain and communicate their knowledge to others, not just because it’s part of their job, but because it further imprints it into their minds.

The Importance of Sleep

Adequate sleep plays a critical role in the process of learning. When we’re awake, our brains create harmful waste proteins toxic to our brain cells. But sleep allows the flow of cerebrospinal fluid to increase dramatically helping wash away those waste proteins. It’s not hard to imagine what chronic lack of sleep and the subsequent denial of this cleansing can do to our ability to think, learn, and be productive.

Tackling Procrastination Using the Pomodoro Method

There’s always a dozen things to do, and there are often plenty of distractions preventing us from doing those things. One way to deal with this is to use the Pomodoro technique to work in 25-minute, uninterrupted (no texts, emails, Facebook, etc.) blocks of time. The idea is to not focus on output (the things you need to get done), but focus on the process (getting started and working for 25-minutes). You can download a timer app called “Be Focused” available for MacOS and iOS, but there are plenty of Pomodoro timers to choose from.

Divesting from Fossil Fuels

Climate change isn’t a debate. It’s real, it’s here, it’s happening. The most tragic part of climate change is those that contribute the least to it will be the most impacted by it.

That said, it wasn’t until the past three months I’ve educated myself about the steps I can take today to affect climate change in a positive way. I recently took the large step of divesting my 401K investments, and reallocating to a fossil fuel free fund. A friend texted me and asked why I divested and I told him it was a social statement more than anything. The following passage from CNN Money explains the basic premise of divestment well:

The point of divestment isn’t just to do it, but to fight over it. As Matt Yglesias argued at this week, divestment will be most effective if it changes the conversation. It aims to draw attention to oil, gas, and coal companies and to stigmatize them, chipping away their social and political power. (“Revoking their social license,” McKibben has called it.) New fund options could help the divestment movement mainly by making their demands on schools and institutions more plausible.

I’ve also changed the way I approached helping address climate change. Previously, it was overwhelming to think about how I as one individual could help. Instead of solving the issue overnight, I think we can, and have been taking incremental steps toward reducing our fossil fuel dependence.

The popular red meat (beef) requires 28 times more land to produce than pork or chicken, 11 times more water and results in five times more climate-warming emissions. -The Guardian

I drive a gasoline fueled car, and I still fly all over the country as a technology consultant. I recognize I’m still a major contributor to climate change. But the following are some of the steps I’ve been taking:

  • I’m more diligent planning where I need to go to ensure I’m optimizing my time in a car.
  • I turn off my engine when it makes sense to as opposed staying in idle.
  • I’ve increase my usage of public transit when available.
  • I installed a Nest thermostat to more effectively manage heat/AC usage in my home.
  • My lights are faithfully turned off when they aren’t being used.
  • Chicken is now my main source of protein and beef is treated as a occasional treat.

I also plan on supporting and advocating for elected officials who are about putting effective policies in place to address climate change.


April 30 by Viet Thanh Nguyen

Viet Thanh Nguyen, Pulitzer Prize winning author, wrote an insightful post on Facebook today regarding April 30th. I personally have no issue with recognizing April 30 as Black April, but I understand Viet’s point of view.

April 30

Today is what many Vietnamese in the diaspora call “Black April.” For them it is the anniversary of the Fall of Saigon. I understand their feelings. I grew up in a Vietnamese community in San Jose, and I absorbed their memories and their unspoken trauma. My own family was marked by separation and division, by people and property left behind. And yet, I could never wholeheartedly endorse this sense of loss and grievance, could never bring myself to say “Black April” (not least of all because if we were to to speak of mourning, we should say “White April,” but that would not go over so well in a white America). Like my narrator in The Sympathizer, I see every issue from both sides, and so I see that for some Vietnamese people this is not a day of mourning but one of celebration. The Fall is for some the Liberation.

And yet, it is important to mark this day because it is the symbolic moment when so many Vietnamese people became refugees. Many people have described me as an immigrant, and my novel as an immigrant story. No. I am a refugee, and my novel is a war story. I came to the United States because of a war that the United States fought in Vietnam, a war that the Vietnamese fought with each other, a war that China and the Soviet Union were involved in, a war that the Vietnamese brought to Laos and Cambodia, a war that did not end in 1975, a war that is not over for so many people of so many nationalities and cultures. For Americans to call me an immigrant and my novel an immigrant novel is to deny a basic fact of American history: that many immigrants to this country came because of American wars fought in the Philippines, Korea, Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam. Immigrants are the story of the American Dream, of American exceptionalism. Refugees are the reminder of the American nightmare, which is how so many who are caught under American bombardment experience the United States.

As much as Americans fear refugees and seek to transform refugees into immigrants who fulfill the American Dream, the Vietnamese who stayed in Vietnam have a hard time understanding their refugee brethren. I had breakfast with a former Vietnamese ambassador in Hanoi and she said that the “boat people” were economic refugees, not political refugees. Probably every single Vietnamese refugee would disagree with her, and the ethnic Chinese who were persecuted, robbed, and blackmailed would say that the line between being an economic refugee and a political refugee is a very thin one.
One of my Vietnamese language teachers said that the re-education camps were necessary to prevent postwar rebellion. Perhaps rebellion was in the making, but reaching out a hand in peace and reconciliation would have done so much more to heal the country. The Vietnamese people overseas remember the re-education camps as the ultimate hypocrisy of the Vietnamese revolution, the failure of Vietnamese brotherhood and sisterhood. This, too, is one reason why so many Vietnamese people became refugees and why so many find it hard to reconcile with a Vietnam that will not acknowledge its crimes against its own people, even as it is so ready to talk about the crimes of the South Vietnamese, the Americans, the French, and the Chinese. Nothing is more difficult than to look in the mirror and hold oneself to account. The victorious Vietnamese are guilty of that. So are the defeated Vietnamese.

I’ve heard more than once from Vietnamese foreign students in the United States that the past is over, that the Vietnamese at home understand the pain of the Vietnamese overseas, and that we should reconcile and move on. These students do not understand what the overseas Vietnamese feel–that they lost a country. It is easier to be magnanimous when one has won. But at least these Vietnamese students want to be magnanimous. At least they reach out a hand in friendship, unlike many of an older generation.

The younger Vietnamese Americans need to reach out that hand, too, even as they feel the deep need of filial piety. They wish to acknowledge the suffering and the pain of their parents and grandparents. If they do not, who will? They live in a country where most Americans know nothing about the Vietnamese people, or about Vietnamese Americans, where Americans care little to remember the Southern Vietnamese who they supposedly fought the war for. So the younger Vietnamese Americans feel that burden to carry on their parents’ memories. One day, perhaps, they can let that burden go, but it will be much easier to do so when Vietnam helps to carry that burden by officially acknowledging that every side in that war had its reasons, that every side had its patriots, that we cannot divide the past into heroes and traitors.

As for me, I remain a refugee. My memory begins when I arrived in the United States at age four and was taken away from my parents to live with a white family. That was the condition for being able to leave the refugee camp in Fort Indiantown Gap, Pennsylvania. That experience remains an invisible brand stamped between my shoulder blades. I have spent my life trying to see that brand, to make sense of it, to rework it into words that I can speak to myself, that I can share with others. As painful as that experience was, what I learned from it was not to dwell only on my own pain. I needed to acknowledge that pain, to understand it, but in order to live beyond it, I also needed to acknowledge the pain of others, the worldview of others. This is why I cannot say “Black April,” because it is one story of one side, and I am interested in all stories of all sides.

One Facebook commenter translated the post (not sure how accurate it is):ày-304-người-tị-nạn-và-lịch-sử-chiến-tranh/1015472915226709?hc_location=ufi

2016 NFL Draft Data Set

Update: I’ve added the 2nd and 3rd rounds into the data set.

I’ve been on a mission to learn SQL and decided to create a data set of the 2016 NFL draft. The following are some insights I found by through querying:

  • The average first round draft pick is 6′ 3″ and 243 pounds.
  • 7 players drafted were taller or equal to 6′ 6″.
  • There tallest player drafted was 6′ 7″ and the shortest player drafted was 5′ 10″.
  • Ohio State had the most players (5) drafted in the first round.
  • There were 14 offensive players and 17 defensive players drafted.
  • CB, OT, WR were the most positions drafted with 5 players going in the first round in each position group.

The data set can be found below. I’m still considering adding the 2nd and 3rd rounds to the data set.

NPR Tour

I’ve been listening to NPR since high school and it’s my go to source for fair and balanced news. I actually queue up and listen to 15 minutes of stories on my NPR app before I go to bed each night. I credit NPR for helping me be more knowledgeable about current events and better understand the world in which we live. Ever since I’ve moved to DC, taking the NPR tour has been on my bucket list. I was finally able to go and it didn’t disappoint.

The NPR headquarters in Washington, D.C.

This board is one of the first things you’d see when entering the NPR lobby. I love George Takei and the live long and prosper Vulcan salute.

Our tour guide explaining the video screens show the faces of remote reporters so the team can communicate non-verbally.

Normally there’d be more reporters around, but most are on the campaign trail.

Me hanging out in the NPR music section, sitting behind the Tiny Desk holding an actual Emmy award.