How can I do well in school even if I don’t like it?

If there is no real relationship between academic achievement and attitude, then what motivates bright students to achieve academic success? It certainly isn’t from an abundant passion for school.

–Jihyun Lee, Why the most successful students have no passion for school

Over the weekend I met up with some pretty interesting people:

A statistician who works in HR analytics by day, and on his masters degree in statistics by night.

A computer science professor who’s one paper away from getting his PhD.

And the HR head of my university alma mater, who excused herself early to attend a class for her second master’s degree.

While we met to discuss a project we’re all part of, small talk couldn’t be avoided.

And given everyone’s backgrounds, it should be no surprise much of this small talk was on coursework, interesting class projects, and the research for whatever paper they were working on at the moment.

For someone who did not find value in what she learned in school, I felt very much out of place.


What we had in common: Went to the same top schools, got decent (if not good) grades, and got degrees known for being difficult.

What I did not have in common: I didn’t like it.


Turns out, doing well in school and having to like it don’t have to be mutually exclusive. At least according to this research by Jihyun Lee:


My research has found that there is in fact no relationship between how well students do academically and what their attitude toward schooling actually is. A student doesn’t need to be passionate about school to be academically successful.


So what does impact academic performance? Self-belief.

Collectively, research shows that students’ self-belief in their own problem-solving abilities is far more important than their perception of school itself.


To conclude, Jihyun makes similar recommendations as I did when I talked about why I disliked school: The education system needs to be revamped.

Adults responsible for making decisions about schooling need to be more cognisant about the long-term influences that the school experience can exert on students’ attitudes and beliefs. A stronger emphasis must also be given to the inclusion of hands-on group activities that emulate what they may do in life once they graduate.


The research was based on the results of a survey asked of 15-year-olds globally. Below is a sample of this survey, along with my answers:

(a) school has done little to prepare me for adult life when I leave school

True. Very much so.

(b) school has been a waste of time

Waste is too harsh a word. I made a lot of connections through school which I still utilize today. And I have to admit, coming from a top university has its own perks in today’s competitive job market.

Rather than waste, I’d say the time wasn’t optimized.

If the answer has to be strictly True or False though, then my answer leans closer to true.

(c) school helped give me confidence to make decisions


(d) school has taught me things that could be useful in a job

Given I have a degree in Chemical Engineering but work in IT, then False.

Granted, I am loooooonnnnggg past the age group the study was based on, but its pretty striking how my own experience-based opinion seems to match that of the students’.


My key takeaway from this research: Confidence in your own skills matters. Even more than “passion”.


GameSpace: Visualizing videogame likeness.

When I first started getting into data science, one of the projects I had set out to do was to build a visual and interactive database/recommendation engine for games.

The idea was the system would build you a car based on your preferences (games you already love), and then drop you at some random point in a data landscape visualization of thousands of games. You drive around and explore this landscape: mountains indicate games closer to your preference, while valleys are games you’re likely to hate.

Well, researchers from UC Santa Cruz beat me to it. GameSpace now exists:

GameSpace is a visualization of the videogame medium as an explorable 3D space. Each of the nearly 16,000 stars in its galaxy represents an actual game that exists in the real world, and stars are placed in the space such that more similar games are nearer to one another.

–What is this? GameSpace FAQ.

They used outer space where I had imagined roads, but the basic idea is the same.

Still, its a lovely thing to look at. Reminds me lot of the loading screen for No Man’s Sky, in itself a randomly-generated space exploration game.

How to find books that are actually worth reading

I’m a self-confessed bookworm. But I also confess to struggling to make time for reading. I may get a few free minutes or so a day, but rarely enough to actually settle down to read a book. So when I do manage to make time, I want to make sure what I read is worth it.

I like to read at night. On the bed, the book propped up on my tummy. I like to read until my eyes are so weary they start to close on their own. I like to be invested in what I’m reading, so intensely focused that I forget everything else.

This means:

  1. I need a conducive reading environment.
  2. What I read has to engage me wholly.

I’ve got the first one covered. Its why I read at night; for the peace. I lock my doors and don’t look at my phone until the next morning.

I still struggle with finding an engaging book though.

That’s why when I started to track what I read, I  also started to track what I should read.

Note I said should.

I no longer have a TBR (To Be Read) pile. It’s been replaced by the  “Potential” list.

I pre-assess any book that catches my interest. Read thorough reviews especially the critical ones. I regularly weed out the books I no longer have interest in, and re-prioritize the list according to what I should read next.

But most importantly, even before I start on all that…

The books are already pre-curated by someone else even before they make it to my list. 

And its those someone else-s that I will talk about today, those someone else-s that give me great books to read.


Continue reading “How to find books that are actually worth reading”

How to track what you’re reading (and what you’ve read, and what you’d like to read)

I love books.

In my family, good grades meant book money. For every subject you score a 90 or above, you get a pocketbook. As a kid this was how I fed my Sweet Valley High addiction.

At the time I was an only child and we lived in a bad neighborhood. My parents wouldn’t let me out of the house aside from school, so I never got into sports. My only pastime, pre- computers, was books.

My friends were mostly fiction; characters from whatever fantasy series I was into at the time.

One day, I made actual living human friends. And some of them loved books as well.

So we talked about books. Recommended books. Traded books with one another.

And then I learned to save money so I can buy my own books.

Over the years, this meant a lot of books. Books I read. Books I lent. Books I borrowed. Books I meant to read. And so on.

It was getting out of hand.

Then in 2009, Typhoon Ondoy (international name Ketsana) rolled into the Philippines. A flood rushed into our single-storey home. Our books were some of the first to go.

It was the universe’s way of telling us we needed a booktervention.

So of the books we managed to salvage, we sold. Of the books we couldn’t sell, we donated.

These days we still read a lot. But we’ve become a lot pickier about which books end up in our home.

As part of the pickiness effort, in 2012 I got the idea to track what I read. I wrote everything on a single list, making notes along the way if something was worth recommending.

In 2015, I decided to go visual and moved everything to Trello.

What is Trello?

Trello is one of those things that are easier to show than to explain, but I’ll try anyway.

Imagine a cork board. Those boards where you tack a piece of paper to make an announcement, or a photo to remember a special event in your life.

Next, imagine a Kanban board. Those boards that have three columns: “To-Do”, “In Progress”, and “Done”. They’re used for task management where everything starts in the To-Do queue and make their way to Done.

Trello is the two’s lovechild.

What is Trello for?

Trello is a tool meant to organize projects visually.

Trello is a collaboration tool that organizes your projects into boards. In one glance, Trello tells you what’s being worked on, who’s working on what, and where something is in a process.

“What is Trello?” by Trello Help

It’s popularly used as a project/task management tool similar to JIRA (on that note: Atlassian acquires Trello).

What does this have to do with books?


I track what I read, what I’m reading, and what I want to read all via Trello.

My virtual library over at Trello.

Similar to a Kanban board, I have three primary columns:

  • Next (To-Do)
  • Now Reading (In Progress)
  • Done!

But I don’t track tasks. I track books instead. I track what status I am in reading them.

Over time I’ve added other columns as well.

  • Potential – Books I’m interested in but don’t have a copy of. These books are either recommendations or stuff I see in bookstores that caught my eye.
  • On Hold – Books I’ve lent, or dropped temporarily for one reason or another.
  • Dropped – Books I’ve dropped not-so-temporarily.

So, it just tracks what you’re reading? That’s it?

Yes… and no.

Trello has a lot of nifty features, and its those features that allow me to do so much more than just track. For example:


I can comment my thoughts on a book, post somebody else’s review (like Amazon’s or Goodread’s), or put a note to self if I borrowed it from/lent it to someone else.

Since I set the board to public, others can comment on the cards as well so if you want to feedback on any of the books go ahead.


I’ve labeled the books by genre and which ones I recommend.

Since Trello can filter by label, its easy for me to look for say, “books about fantasy” or even “books about fantasy that I highly recommend”.

It also gives me an idea of what kind of books I gravitate to. Trend says I read mostly nonfiction nowadays.

What does this have to do with the Ondoy story?

My family lost our library that day. We don’t intend to rebuild.

Instead, we’ve become more conscientious book-buyers. We try to borrow a copy or grab an e-book as much as possible. If we really have no choice but to go buy a physical book, its with the accepted risk that someday we’ll re-sell or donate it.

So the Trello board is the closest thing I have to a personal library. A virtual library. One that, at a glance, shows me everything I read. Whether its something borrowed, downloaded, or bought.

Trello has been really effective in tracking and organizing my books, so I would recommend this tool and method to anyone.

In the next post I’ll write about how I find what books I want to read next. That “Potential” list doesn’t populate itself after all.

Project 2017 [Working Title]

At around this time each year, I take some time to reflect. What were the year’s highlights? Lowlights? What were the mundane but should not be forgotten?

And then I’d think of a theme. A catchy word or phrase that sums up the year.

Except 2014.

In 2014 I didn’t even need to reflect. I KNEW what the theme was.

The Year of Firsts.

I tried a lot of things for the first time that year. From big things like formally learning 日本語 (Japanese language), to small things like watching a movie alone. I explored side streets as often as I could and tried their hole-in-the-wall restaurants. The gastronomic adventures weren’t always successful–curse you weak stomach!–but they were adventures nonetheless.

All because I made one tiny resolution at the start of 2014: To scare the shit out of myself, as often as possible.

And I realize now, as I’m struggling to come up with a theme for 2016, as I can’t even remember what 2015’s theme was, that this theme thing isn’t working. That whatever I did in 2014 worked better.

So I’m changing strategies. I’m going to do what I’m paid to do.

I am going to manage Project 2-0-1-7.

These past couple of years, most of my growth were the direct results of desperation, of firefighting, or from grabbing an opportunity. All good reasons, but all reactive.

That’s what I want to change. Next year, I want to be more proactive. I want to push myself to grow, not be “forced” to grow. Because that’s the only thing different in 2014, but that one change made a resounding impact.

Over the remaining days of 2016, I’ll be project planning.

What is Project 2017?

Project 2017 Objectives.

Project 2017 Minimum Success Criteria and Methodology.


What is Project 2017?

Project 2017 is Danna’s strategy to make 2017 count. To push herself to grow in the year 2017. To make something good happen within the year’s timeframe.


Project 2017 Objectives:

  • Get into data more seriously. I plan to get more involved with data science. Or data analysis, or data visualization, or data whatever (options are open). Not only as a growing interest but as a possible career shift.
  • Shake things up in my career. It’s been uncomfortably comfortable.
  • Ingrain this self-learning discipline (again, because of data science) into something permanent.
  • Improve my writing. A perpetual resolution but this time I’m serious!
  • Network more often (i.e., actively work on a personal crux).


Project 2017 Minimum Success Criteria:

Project 2017 will have no minimum success criteria. I want it to be FUN. I don’t want future self to feel pressured to follow what-would-become-past self’s standards. I don’t want to be constantly checking with myself,

Are you on-track with your my life?

NO. I intend to run Project 2017 the way I run most of my projects lately: in Agile.

For the uninitiated, Agile is… Well, it’s a project management framework, but with radically different values from traditional project management.

Individuals and interactions over processes and tools
Working software over comprehensive documentation
Customer collaboration over contract negotiation
Responding to change over following a plan”

–The Agile Manifesto

Traditional project management will always have it’s place, but there’s a reason why Agile is hot right now. It’s easy. It’s sensible. And what I love about it the most: It adapts to change.

The only thing constant is change. Cliché but true. I’m a different person from who I was in 2014. And I might will change again by the end of 2017. I want to set Project 2017 up for success then, not the standards of success I have now.

Instead of having success criteria against the whole of 2017, I’ll start small. Target something every 1-4 weeks. That’s the size of the sprint in scrum terms (Scrum = an Agile methodology. This post is quickly turning into project management bootcamp.) At the end of the sprint, decide on a new target to work towards.

It’s similar to the Kaizen method, or the method of continuous incremental improvements. I just need to align those improvements toward the objectives.

So objectives, values, and process? Check.

What I don’t have is a project mission. The “scare the shit out of myself” version of 2017.

That’s why Project 2017 is still a working title. I’m not happy with it. I want it to be more descriptive of what I’m trying to achieve.

As of writing, I have 15 days `til go-live. Crunch time.