I’ve moved to another domain


I’ve moved my blog to my own domain – http://www.nickang.com

From now on I’ll be posting regularly there instead of here, and I’ll be focusing on writing about the thing I’m most frequently engaged in thinking about – startups.

Starting a company isn’t easy and the journey is full of nuances that may go by unnoticed if a founder is too busy to think. I’m committed to thinking–in fact I can’t stop it–and I write posts around those thoughts and on-the-ground experiences starting a startup.

Thanks for reading my posts here! I’ll see you on the other side. 🙂



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A Guess at Why Singaporeans Fuss about Small Non-Problems

Maybe we’ve got it all wrong.

I come back later, five o’clock. Go for coffee break first,” said the middle aged Indian man.

Okay, thanks. Do you want water? I can give you some,” I replied.

No, no. We have downstairs. Thank you.

The Indian man walks out of my apartment with one of his colleagues and closed the door behind them. Curious about the progress of the renovation of my balconies, I walk over to inspect the job. Tiles have been stripped over the past week, a job that forced me to take a sabbatical from post-graduation life outside of the house to stay home, sort of like a homesitter. And the men before this one have put on a fresh layer of cement, laid down new tiles and sealant for the joints, and generally cleaned up the mess.

Now I’m supposed to inspect the overall job, since the major work is over, and my first impression was of the flatness of the ground. Or should I say, the un-flatness. Some of the tiles were clearly misaligned horizontally. If a spirit level were to placed on it, I’m sure the bubble would be out of range. In the overcast sunlight I can tell the jut of the floor surface from the slight but elongated shadows cast by a nearby tile installed with a bit too much cement underneath. At this point, if I were to be true to my roots, I should be unhappy on the verge of being infuriated. What a terrible job!

Instead, I stand behind the stretch of sliding balcony doors that were closed shut wondering why this—a stretch of floor outside of my home, albeit a part of it, that is slightly uneven but so much as to affect my daily use of the space in any way—should spark contempt at all. This is not normal – I was raised in an environment to expect jobs to be properly done, starting from a detailed plan to an efficient execution. Singapore can be unrelenting towards any outward shoddiness in quality, although there seems to be considerable leniency when it came to inward lack of quality, particularly when it comes to the mind, or office politics.

But back to the point. What harm does uneven flooring do to anyone? I could ask the same question about small scratches on the exterior of a car. Or a wall that had its paint peeled off in a small, obscure patch. Without irony, these are things that busy Singaporeans take an issue with. I, too, am (was?) like that in some ways, although a recent 6-month-long quest to sell my first car put me out of the spell that minor scratches (they very often were hardly visible without a bent back) were of any significance.

In a city where a billion things are happening at any time, why do so many of us choose to obsess with the little details that literally don’t matter that much? I imagine that in some other country, or most, perhaps, people have no regard for tiny blemishes on the outside of a fully-functioning vehicle, so little regard as to make that problem a non-problem… a car that is 99.97% red and 0.03% silver is as good as a car that is 100% red. Now wouldn’t that make life easier?

I suppose that it is precisely in a city where a billion things happen at the same time that feeling relevant and in control becomes a scarce and thus much more important experience. Think about it: in a place where most of the things happening around us either don’t affect us directly or immediately or are things that we have no bearings on, a need bubbles to the surface. A sort of craving. Craving for significance, through little details that are relevant to us and that we actually have control over. Sometimes I imagine in my mind some locals to be wearing T-shirts like these…

15 self important

So can non-problems be non-problems here? I think a good place to start is with our self, to find meaning in what we do in every facet of our life – as a worker, soldier, professional at the organisations we spend most of our adult life in, as a mother or father, daughter or son at home, as a friend at the cafe and as a stranger on the streets. If we understand that every moment of our life is deeply meaningful to someone or something else, then maybe we will be able to dissolve the illusion of false self-importance and worry about non-problems and redirect our selves toward making our life and the lives of others around us better and more enjoyable.

A Note on Sam Harris’ Seminar “Waking Up”

So, I’ve just gone a little crazy and ordered 3 books from the author Sam Harris. And it feels great, I’m not feeling particularly guilty for buying three instead of one for a start. This person, an incredibly intelligent and convincing neuroscientist/philosopher, has won me over with his hour-long seminar called Waking Up (he has a book of the same title, which is similarly about secular spirituality).

I placed an order on bookdepository.com for three books: Waking Up (2014), The End of Faith (2004), and Letter to a Christian Nation (2006).

The reason I decided to bet on these books to be enlightening if not transformative is mainly because Sam Harris managed to smoothly and utterly convincingly deliver a presentation on something as complex as (non-)religion and the need for secular practices of meditation to achieve self-transcendence without triggering my bullshit alarm. He also did this without appearing egotistical or exuding any sense of “know it all”-ness. That’s a great mix.

But more fundamentally, I’m betting on him being right about many of the important things he discusses.

History has shown that religion is the source of too many conflicts and it is time to seriously ponder over the validity of these religions, especially but not restricted to scientific and reasonable scrutiny.

We don’t know our self as much as we think we do. Don’t believe him? Try attempting to see yourself without a mirror using whatever means you can think of. Were you able to see you? What are you? If you can see you, I mean the essence of you that is contained in your biological body, does that mean your consciousness is actually living a mini-me sort of you? Sam Harris demystified the illusion of the ‘self’ and revealed the centre of the centre of it – consciousness. If this at all intrigues you, perhaps you too should check out his seminar Waking Up (available on Vimeo for $4.99 for streaming and downloading).

Some other intelligent things he said:

  • Religion strengthens in-group solidarity and out-group hostility, which is a big problem.
  • Spirituality, or the achievement of self-transcendance, is too powerful and useful to be incarcerated with religion. It needs to be separated from religion, to be seen as belonging also in the realm of secularism.
  • Attempting to judge consciousness from the outside is the wrong approach to trying to understand it. Instead, it is only possible to judge consciousness from the inside, meaning we can only judge our own consciousness and learn what it means to be conscious from our self.
  • Anaesthetic awareness, which is the state of being aware with diminished or totally disabled senses, disproves the idea that consciousness cannot exist without speech, sight, touch, etc.
  • “If you are thinking without knowing that you’re thinking, you are confused about who you are.”
  • A rather big liability of teaching meditation and spirituality in general is summed up by the two words, “so what?” Because transcendance and self-lessness is always momentary, in a matter of seconds, a beginner is likely to end up in a state of not knowing what is the big deal.
  • But a handful of beginners may feel a sense of wonderment being awestruck with the liminal experience of being conscious, transcending the self, and may rightly, in his opinion, spend more time reading and practicing meditation. These are the people who are likely to have realised that if the source of many of our problems, such as self-doubt, self-hate and other self-induced problems, is… well, the self, then meditating to attain self-transcendance is like creating punctuations on the problem, which could well end up dimishing its momentum.
  • To be considered an atheist one only needs to discredit the holy books of a religion. If you find reasonable doubt that the bible is manufactured, for example, then you are pretty much an atheist when it comes to Christianity.
  • Whatever one cannot conclusively deem as false using reason and logic should become something that one is agnostic to.

I’m excited to be receiving these books in the mail over the next few days. Too few people whose work I’ve come across so far elicits this kind of excitement…

By the way, Sam Harris has a blog that he actively runs. I’ve yet to read through his archives and have only skimmed the most recent two or three articles. But if his consistency in his work is any measure, this blog is probably worth a visit. Besides, he states that he prefers publishing insights on his blog more than any other medium because of the lack of hoops to jump. Check it out!

(Memo) 4 Things I got from hearing Joe Biden’s Yale Commencement Speech

A good friend of mine shared this with me a few days ago and it couldn’t be timelier. A fresh batch of undergraduates are about to be christened as graduates of thousands of universities around the world in the coming months – I’m one of them. I need perspective as much as the next clueless graduate about life beyond school.

It must be quite something, isn’t it? Why else would we spend a quarter of our lives being educated?

4 things I got from this:

(1) Joe Biden is funny, smart, and really courageous.

(2) He believes, I think rightly so, that family is most important (since it’s the epitome of being Personal). Very unlike the American social culture… maybe this will usher some change in the country.

(3) Rationalising every moment, every decision is tempting not just to me but to everybody and we should strive to resist it. Every event, every decision, every indecision counts.

(4) We ought to understand how profoundly flawed most of our mentalities are, because so many of us want to:

“Take no real risks, and have no real impact – while getting paid for the FALSE SENSE of both”

Why I’m travelling out this year

We’re back in Singapore from a 17-day field course in the Philippines. This morning I woke with some reluctance, knowing that I’d find myself surrounded by tall, well-maintained concrete structures. Our hotel in Bohol was two-storeys high and the only things taller than it were the trees in the vicinity. Something about being closer to the ground and having space feels good.

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