23. Bumping into ppl on weekends.
Sometimes the work would spill over onto the weekends, for various reasons. Too much procrastination during working hours. Or running a simulation on a Friday and checking if it did finish running on a Saturday. The attire would invariably be sloppy. Maybe the same home clothes I went to sleep in. Maybe slippers. Unshaven. Then I would bump into ppl. Sometimes honest face. Sometimes Mr Medan. We would say “what the fuck are you doing here?” and then get on with work.
24. Part time studies
It was a crazy time, the last few months. Juggling my studies and my work. At first I thought that with a little more effort I would be able to pull it off. But for some reason having to both manage my work and a appallingly heavy course load proved rather too much for my poor overtaxed brain. For 2 days in a week, I would drive off to night classes. Then, while they didn’t have programming assignments or what not, I would have to read papers and figure out what was going on. I didn’t exactly take to it like a fish to water, but it’s true that artificial intelligence is not for the feint of heart.
Like I said, I didn’t like driving because I don’t like pumping carbon into the atmosphere. So I used to drive from my work place to NUS in order to make it to lectures on time, then drive back to my work place after that. Then I would take public transport home, while reading on the bus, leaving my car at the work place, so that I could go for evening lectures on Wednesday the same way.
So there were 1 or 2 occasions when I came back late on Tuesday, came into the office and surprised my boss who was staying back to do his ECAs in the office.
25. Spying on couples
I was notorious for bumping into couples from my workplace. Or maybe I just travelled alone so much. Or maybe everybody else knew how to shut their mouth instead of me. I saw a couple before it was open knowledge that they were dating. I saw ppl with their families (Mr Engineer). I saw Nat and someone he denies dating. I bumped into the CEO and his family at the columbarium.
26. Drinking sessions
The new boss came in, and he was an ex-Army guy. He probably found out quickly that he’s a jock in a department of geeks in an organisation of jocks. (cf Singapore is a Chinese island in a Malay sea in a continent that is dominated by Chinese.) But he was, at least in the beginning, interested enough in his ppl to bring them for drinking sessions at Temasek Club.
27. Interns / card games
There was a time when the guy in charge of looking after the poly interns decided to spice things up a little by getting people to play card games in the office. Thereafter, for a period of 6 months to 1 year, we were playing a lot of card games in the office during lunch time.
28. Studying for GREs
There was a year when I was studying for the computer science GRE subject test. It was my ticket out of my current job (although to what was never very clear). It started out being fun for 2 weeks, and then after that it was a drag, it reminded me why I wanted to study science and arts but not engineering.
I had assumed that hitting the books would be a breeze, just because I liked reading popular science / econs / psychology books so much. I was wrong. It was confusing, it was overly technical, it was very straining on my powers of imagination to keep on having to draw parallels between many new concepts that I had just learnt 1 or 2 hours ago.
For that year, instead of idling and having fun and reading plenty of general knowledge books to feed my head, I had to plough through plenty of dry material. Well I suppose there was a reason why it’s called work.
29. Text books
I have to admit that I was thinking about further studies from the moment I received my Snowy Hill diploma. At first, I thought that I was going to read more books on mathematics. I had read a lot of books where you did very funky things with mathematics. How to use stochastic differential equations. How to compute probabilities for time since last event, time to next event. Functional analysis. Topology. Complex analysis.
Gradually I had to move away from mathematics and go into computer science. Mathematics was too embedded in what Edward De Bono variously called rock logic or black hat thinking. It was too easy to be seduced by Snowy Hill, and believe that anything they taught you would be useful.
I tried to read about economics, but I think I found it too heavy going after a while. I did learn a lot, but I’m just wondering if … well in my early 20s, I thought that I was going to learn everything. Well if I had a hundred good years when my brain was learning things at the rate it was learning, it might have been a sensible task. But academic learning is something that doesn’t scale up. The more you know, the harder it is to learn, because then every new thing must be connected to everything else you know, and your brain has to do the equivalent of running around with a haversack.
30. Cum sessions
OK, they are usually called comm sessions, because they are for the COO to address the people, rally them and boost their morale. For a few years in a row, he was there just to harangue people on 1.) productivity or 2.) safety. It was boring, and not particularly useful. I admit it got better when they revamped it so that it could showcase some initiatives that were being done on the corporate level.
In fact, on my last working day, I took a half day of leave just to avoid that session.
We broke up but we remained as friends. And we managed to remain as penpals for a few years, during which time I learnt as much about her as I did while we were LDR-ing. But through a combination of unresolved issues, having divergent interests and personality clashes, we drifted apart. That is why it’s so difficult to think back on the LDR part of the relationship – we’re basically strangers now.
There was this time when I was compulsively buying books from warehouse sales. I think the compulsive collection of books went on until a few years ago. Later on it did occur to me: most current affairs non-fiction books are just extremely lengthy magazine articles. I would be much better off surfing the net for good stuff.
A few years ago I decided to sell away a good portion of my books. At first it was just listing a lot of stuff on yahoo auctions. When that died, it was ebay.com.sg, which was free and had a turbo lister. When I left snowy hill, I think my feedback rating was around 350 or something. Now it’s 650. Which is great.
Recently I had taken to buying a lot of CDs from cash converters. It is actually possible to find a lot of great CDs there at a low price. But now I have a backlog of more than 200 CDs to sell, and the process of buying and selling CDs has taken up so much of my time that I’ve just decided to stop buying.
33. Being late
I’m always late for work. I was punctual for my first 2 months, and then after that, almost never. I don’t know if I could have pulled off being on time for a month in a row. But I know that if my work ethic was good enough to do that, it would also be good enough that I would have had a great career here.
34. New transport infrastructure
The Northeast Line opened 1 year into my work life. It’s a pretty old system by now, and I got to get used to it. Later on, there was the circle line, and then I’ve found an alternate route to get back. In fact, one of my favourite hobbies was to find novel ways of getting back home from my office.
Getting to office in the morning was something that required a compromise of a few factors: walking distance, travelling comfort and time taken. The one that I always use is the fastest, but it also requires a lot of walking.
And considering that I worked in the same place for 9 years, it’s funny that I found good way of going to work 1 year before I would leave. It allowed me to sleep on a bus for at least 20 minutes, and didn’t take much more than 1 hour. Of course I never woke up early enough to use it.
35. Taking leave
There would be great days when I would take leave. I don’t know why my bosses always insisted that I gave them a lot of notice. If there were days when I didn’t have anything to do or I didn’t feel like working, it was just as well I took leave. I don’t know why they insisted – probably some archaic idea that equated the ability to take leave way in advance to executive competency.
I liked taking leave. I had the freedom to wander around. I often treated it like a weekend. I could be watching a movie. I could be reading a book, going around in a bus. When you stepped out of the office after lunchtime, the feeling could be magical. There were only 2 or 3 occasions when I did not work, and did not go to the office for more than 4 days in a row, and the sensation of returning to that building after not being there for a long time will be exceedingly strange.
36. Fancy eateries at Bukit Timah
I suppose the soaring land prices made a lot of people very rich. I am old enough to remember a time when $600K could buy you a semi-detached house in a prime location in Bukit Timah. These days, anything less than a few million is wishful thinking.
There was the Island Creamery at Serene Centre. I think I should go there more often since I don’t know when it’s going to close. There were a few places at Cluny Close. A few bars with overpriced beer. (Amusingly enough, one of them is near the Mormon church.)
37. American consultants / wrestling with the program.
I was asked to collaborate with some American consultants on a project. They were going to build what we’ll call an optimiser. I was put in charge of preparing the simulator for them to use.
There was some fairly quixotic behaviour on our part. We were supposed to send them the simulator to use. I was supposed to only give them a compiled version of the simulator. I had to encode certain parts of the simulator so that it didn’t show up when you passed the simulator through a text editor. I had to do other weird stuff to make sure that the black box I was passing them was really really black. And my department was not 100% interested in seeing them succeed with the optimiser, so they asked me to liaise with them, knowing that I’m a little tardy.
I think this was also an exciting time for me. There is a time in your career when you finally feel that you are getting the hang of things, that you’re finally being trusted to do some things. I found all kinds of weird stuff in the simulator when I was asked to run it. It was my nature to go out and keep on squashing bugs. But at the same time, I had to make sure that I wasn’t going to admit to those guys that the simulator was wonky.
Funnily enough, after all the effort that we spent in trying to make the simulator work, it’s now in danger of not being able to continue, now that most of the principals involved are out of the department. I’m passing the simulator to a youngster, but I’m not 100% sure that she can make it work. If she can do it, it will be a heroic thing.
38. Inflatable friends
One of the fruits of the friendships that were forged in this department was an inflatable toy, a “bop buddy” that was purchased when one of our guys went over to the US for a simulation conference, and he bought an inflatable punching bag, something that probably paralleled the lowly status of our department within the organisation.
That friendship didn’t last for long for reasons I won’t elaborate upon here. But after both of them left this department, the inflatable friend was passed to ghost. After a few years, ghost left and it was passed to shingot. Then after a few months, shingot left and it got handed over to me. I didn’t know if I was up to being the curator, so I passed it to honest face. Instead it ended up at Nat’s cubicle, which probably sounded like a good decision. It was, for a while the bride’s bouquet, and whoever caught it would be the next one to find a job outside of our department.
There was this one year when I found out how to work a pirated software that I bought somewhere, and finally I could flush out from my memory some songs I had been holding in my head until then. Then later that year, quite a few songs came pouring out, and a lot of it was pleasantly surprising. I felt that I did have a viable career option as a songwriter, even though learning many other aspects of the music business would require fair amounts of hard work.
40. Up all Saturday night
During my 30th year, I just decided to go and take things easy for a while. I would just stay up late and bring a lot of books to a 24 hour joint, and order a coke, and drink and drink and read and read. It was a strange time in my life. I felt that I was in a shuttle that was moving very fast over great distances, but at the same time I wasn’t really doing anything in particular. It could be the story of my life, that I was constantly being disconnected from reality.
I also had the habit of going to a gourmet coffee joint, curled up with a book, and hanging out there for upwards of 2-3 hours, just reading. It felt great at first, and I almost came to think of Starbucks as the modern version of the opium den. Eventually I got bored of all that, but it took me a long time to get bored.
41. In camp training
It’s actually a novel experience for me to be going through in camp training. When I finished my full time service, I had only finished the courses. I hadn’t had any operational experience. For me now, I would have thought of it as a great experience. I would have gotten some insight into what operational matters were all about. I didn’t get that in the uni because I studiously avoided engineering courses. I got found out in the first few years at work and it almost destroyed my career.
Funnily enough, I was in a position of some authority at my unit, since I was the second last in the pecking order. I actually had to be a commander of an armoured vehicle. It was a bit nerve wrecking at first, and all my men enjoyed laughing at me. Till now, I don’t really know if I have what it takes to command them. But it doesn’t really matter. ICT was one big party, compared to active service. I did learn a lot, I did work at being better, but I knew that I could never be a commander. No matter now, since I’ve only 2 more cycles to go.
I just felt that it was a funny thing, we were all obsessed with national service when we were school kids. When I was in my uniformed group, we were always told, we had to do this or else we wouldn’t be ready for service. And now I’m at the point where none of this would ever matter. It really felt that national service was one big anticlimax.
42. Remedial training
Most of the time I didn’t have to go out on my own to do my IPPT test. I would have at least 1 in camp training and the IPPT would be conducted then. Suddenly there was one full window where there was no training. And I forgot to take my IPPT test! It was horrifying. I was charged, I was fined, I had to go down to CMPB (taking leave, of course) and answer charges. Dress up in an army uniform. I was in this room, and the officer read the charges out to me. Then he said, “Are there any reason why din you do IPPT?” I said no. He was probably a little startled that I wasn’t going to come up with any bullshit. SAF officers are probably trained to think that you are being cheeky every time you open your mouth.
I got fined $50. But the next time, I was told, I would be thrown into detention barracks. So I got to be extra careful with my IPPTs now.
The funny thing is, I had an in camp training scheduled. And I would pass it if I passed my IPPT. I fucking failed my chin ups by 1. And in the end, I was subjected to the indignities of remedial training.
My 9 years were OK. They weren’t excellent, but they weren’t horrifying either. Except for my first few years at work, which were full of existential angst. They were, truthfully, quite underwhelming. And it did feel like I was just muddling along, and pushing all the big and important stuff to a time that was later in my life. In fact the first big event of my life that would come up would be my studies. Another big one, if I could manage it, would be to find a partner. A third one, would be to have a musical career of a larger or smaller sort.