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Gaining a Perspective on Self Importance November 29, 2012

Posted by Wilz in Personal, Society.
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While participating in an online community, I wrote this (true) story in order to get two fellow members to stop a personal argument they have been carrying from one thread to another. Reposting the story here. For people unfamiliar with the Malaysian forum circuit, the LowYat forum is a very popular online public message board usually frequented by the tech community. Edits for anonymity in square brackets:

I was a moderator on a forum before. It was a community several times less mature than [this one], with significant numbers of mewling kids. The banhammer went up like about 6 or 7 times over contentious posts over the period of 2 years. (Many other times, but mostly for spammers or other problems we don’t have here – like posting pirated materials blah blah.)

I was also as vocal as [the moderators here] in threads and discussions, and I beat back a lot of people with argumentation / evidence / linking, etc. Kinda the same reason people dislike [one of the moderators] here I suspect.

After one of the banhammer cases, the individual being banned went to my Friendster page (it was that long ago, and many of the photos were embarassing for public viewing), downloaded all of my profile pictures, and put up a thread on the LowYat forums with all the pictures claiming that I was sexually harassing his female friend (or was it girlfriend? I forget) and trying to physically assault her. It was a warning thread to tell people to stay away from me.

After staring at the thread for a few hours, and writing a few paragraphs in self defense, and debating how much background information to divulge and so on…

I DID NOTHING.

I didn’t even create an account on LowYat. Friends active on LowYat asked me if they should go there and defend me, and I told them not to bother.

Because I stopped and asked myself – what good would that achieve? It’s his word vs my word, but more importantly, nobody cares. How much damage did he really do, considering the way he worded his post? Etc?

A few people posted and called me names, and some taunted him for not knowing how to defend his girl etc. Someone posted that there is no proof offered whatsoever, and after that someone else I don’t know actually gave the background information (I think this guy was banned from a forum that guy was moderating lol…). The moderator left the thread open in case “the guy being accussed” wanted to go and defend himself, and closed it after two weeks.

I didn’t bother. And it was one of the best things I ever did in my life. I grew up and learnt several very important things that day. To believe in fellow human beings. That idiots are not worth convincing. That non-idiots are not that stupid.

And most importantly: I AM NOT REALLY ALL THAT FUCKING IMPORTANT AFTER ALL.

Nobody remembers that, and I bet the guy doesn’t even remember it anymore. And I don’t remember it for the embarassment. I remember it with pride born out of humility. If I know who that guy is, I’d give him a hug, and tell him this story to thank him – thought it’s probably going to be hard for him to believe that I wasn’t being sarcastic.

LOVE THY NEIGHBOUR folks. It helps you live longer.

In case anyone starts thinking I have no feeling of self-worth whatsoever, a more complete description of my perspective would be: “I am only as important as what I wish to achieve”, but that came from other lessons.

You are who you pretend to be. May 13, 2011

Posted by Wilz in Personal, Society.
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This post is going to sound a little odd. It is inspired by this quote:

“Be careful what you pretend to be because you are what you pretend to be.” – Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. (American Writer, b.1922)

This has always been sort of like an epiphany for me. It carries a precautionary tone, but it can mean so many things. And it gives an odd, but very interesting way of looking at things.

Every now and then we hear of a great man/woman or a great act of good/kindness and we tell ourselves, “I don’t think I can ever be like that” or “That’s just not me.” This quote tells you that if you wish it so, you can. In fact, you will be. Just pretend. To yourself and others. As convincingly as possible. The other way to say this is probably “if you believe in something enough, you can make it happen”. That is the idealistic, positive tone of putting it, but it doesn’t really work for everyone. Some people cannot believe. However, those who do not have the strength to believe, can pretend that they do – and if you pretend long enough – that will be you.

Another way of explaining that – how are we ever certain that we’re doing the right thing or heading the right direction? Even someone who has looked really hard and figured out his purpose and direction as well as he can (and continue doing so with every new experience) – will have constant doubt. If I start bringing reusable containers to pack food, but I don’t know how to start conserving water when cleaning things because I’m a clean freak, does that make me green? Do I have the right to encourage others to be green? Should I first resolve all my own excesses?

Well the truth is – no one is holding a ruler and measuring when exactly you cross the line that makes you green, or charitable, or great, etc. No one can. So quite simply – yes – you are green when you choose to be. (I’m pretending here). If you sincerely pretend you are in all your dealings with yourself and with others – you will make it so one way or another. You gotta start somewhere. In fact, the decision to be something – is the decision to start pretending to be something. When we decide to change our ways and be green, we aren’t actually green yet – we are just starting out.

However if you don’t convince yourself that you have that green principle, you will never bring that reusable container to pack lunch, or refuse that plastic bag at the checkout counter. If you don’t convince yourself that you are someone who is on time, you will never plan ahead or apologize, because that isn’t your principle. If you don’t convince yourself that you are charitable, you will never offer that ringgit note to that stranger or friend who needs it. Life becomes a series of excuses of why you can’t be this and can’t be that.

Of course the precaution is there as well. We all make mistakes, but if we wallow for too long in self pity for being a horrible person – we will come to believe it. Everyone indulges sometimes – we allow ourselves a little too much gluttony, or a little too much envy, but eventually it will become us. We will find ourselves with people that we love to hang out with, but whose principles we completely disagree with (or more commonly, who do not have any principles at all). Everyday we pretend to fit in, and every time we allow ourselves to be silent on things we cannot stand for – we will slide that much closer to what we do not wish to be.

This is not in any way saying that everyone can claim to be whoever they want, wax poetic and that will be true. If you don’t bother to be consistent or hold to your pretense, you’re not going to convince anybody. However, if you’ve done your homework  and if you’ve figured out who you want to be and why you want to be that, you can safely ignore that little nagging voice that goes, “Nah… you’re just making this up as you go. Even with all the introspection, you really still have no idea what you’re doing.” In fact, embrace that voice – because you will know that you’re on your way.

When you get down to it, a good and consistent pretense is indistinguishable from a strongly and truly held principle. So call it whatever you want. We’re all pretending, but we all really are (pretty much).

So yeah – pretend to be awesome, and you will be awesome!

“What are you talking about, I already AM awesome!”

Yeah, that’s it. Good job.

“Wait what?”

:)

50th Anniversary of Human Space Travel April 12, 2011

Posted by Wilz in Astronomy, Society.
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Today is the 50th anniversary of mankind’s travel into space.

Today, we honor the brave men and women who strapped themselves to millions of kilograms of explosives to be blown into a merciless, radiation filled vacuum to show us that the stars are within reach. We remember those who have given their lives for it.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_spaceflight-related_accidents_and_incidents

Through your eyes, we have seen our home, our place in the universe, and the vastness beyond. We understand the fragility of our existence, the reason for our humility and (for some of us) the urgency to @#$% get with the bloody programme and stop being ignorant glorified monkeys.

https://althras.wordpress.com/2007/05/19/reflections-on-a-mote-of-dust/

Thank you.

Ken Robinson – Tread Softly on Our Children’s Dreams May 26, 2010

Posted by Wilz in Education, Society, Student Development.
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Ken Robinson’s second talk at TED is as powerful as his first. He likens the urgency of solving the crisis of human resources (education) to solving the climate crisis. Some highlights:

“Reform is no use anymore, because that’s simply improving a broken model. […] What we need is not an evolution, but a revolution in education. This has to be transformed into something else.”

I wish I had the luxury to give up on education in its current state as well. Still struggling to see the light at the end of the tunnel over here. He also quoted something from Abraham Lincoln:

The dogmas of the quiet past is inadequate to the stormy present. The occasion is piled high with difficulty, and we must rise with the occasion. As our case is new, so we must think anew, and act anew. We must disenthrall ourselves, and then we shall save our country.

I agree with Robinson – my favourite word in that whole quote is “disenthrall.” Every time I try to highlight to my peers or juniors that every “system” in the world is man made, far from perfect, and should be subject to scrutiny and improvement, they give me a blank stare. Being so enthralled robs them from the opportunity to see themselves as anything more than what the system tells them to be. It frightens me that so many of the next generation are content to choose courses based on what dad thinks will earn them the most money, with their own interest locked up deep in the closet.

It is also somewhat liberating to know that Lincoln had the wisdom to take tradition down a peg or two. The world it seems is stuck in the great vicious cycle of tradition. The young is deemed “too young” to be taken seriously, yet when they are deemed “old enough”, they often bring only the wisdom of “yesterday,” are out of touch with “today” and especially “tomorrow.” And those who decide who is “old enough” are often “the oldest possible,” who choose those most likely to honor “tradition.”

He ends the talk with a brilliant poem, and to a standing ovation. The brilliant talk below.

Ken Robinson’s earlier TED Talk is embedded in this post.

Another video I’ve found inspiring called “Exponential Times” below. It touches briefly on education and highlights quite well why things need to move forward – urgently. (Bear in mind that this is based on statistics from 2008 – two years ago.)

Money matters May 26, 2010

Posted by Siew in Society.
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Robert Kiyosaki is a man whom I knew about, but never really paid much attention to. I remember distinctly the kind of effect that he had on the assitant director of the student’s affiars department in my university, and I remember conversations with him turning quite unpleasant when discussions about student activities turned towards profit and money. That man waxed lyrical about the great Robert and the wisdom that he brought to the world, but I never did appreciate him trying to teach university students how to make money with student activities. But this isn’t about the somewhat distant past. Its about a rather dull lesson in personal finance that I had with a bunch of new colleagues.

I got an invite from a very excitable new friend to join in a boardgame session. I was told that it was a lot like monopoly. To be honest, I was already expecting what was coming, having seen an investment based boardgame being pushed to MMU students some time last year. And I was right. I went there with my housemates to be and within half an hour, they faked an incoming phonecall with their iPhone and left. Without me. Shrug. The bastards.

Anyway, the game itself was simple enough. You go round the board collecting paycheck after paycheck and decide what you want to do with that money. Once in a while share options and realestate option will crop up. You then decide what the economically feasible thing to do is. As a game, I admit, its pretty fun, although the financial planning element of the game is painfully simple. But I was a little weirded out by the way the game came packaged automatically with a flurry of financial advise. The game seems to preach on ‘leveraging’ on the labour of others and using ‘other people’s money’. According to the organizer of the session, Kiyosaki’s aim is to make more people richer. Apparently, the gap between the rich and poor is only going to get larger and you might as well get on the rich side.

I find that kind of thinking to be a bit unnerving. I actually asked the question “Do you realize that if your message reaches enough people in the world, we will ultimately reach an unsustainable economy?” She said she did. Then I asked her if the message is essentially speeding up the widening of the gap which would ultimately lead to political collapse once the gap is wide enough. She shrugged. It felt like I was talking to Bush. You are either with us or against us.

I admit to being somewhat concerned about my financial security, but I have never once asked myself if I could ever continue my lifestyle if I were to be fired tomorrow. I have never given a thought to passive income. I just think it makes for a very lonely world, where people think primarily about taking care of themselves and making sure that they don’t need to rely on other people. This is going to sound philosophical, but I think it erodes the biggest competetive edge that humans have over the rest of the life and that is the social intergration that we have. We no longer complement one another, we compete against one another. And at some point, I think we will find that there is no one competing next to us, and eveyone is fighting for themselves. There is no more team. Just me and you.

Reality sucks.

Teaching Math and Science – for Real May 14, 2010

Posted by Wilz in Education, Science, Society.
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Incoming overly long sentence :- You know those ‘seizures’ you get when your mind is screaming, “OMG MY THOUGHTS EXACTLY” a little bit too loud in your own head when someone else is talking while you politely wait for them to finish talking so that you can agree with them vehemently? A US high school mathematics teacher gave me one of those today, via a TED X Talk.

It’s about a problem I’ve been trying to express for a while, especially to my fellow educators. I usually refer to it as “lexical analysis of examination questions without actual learning” (being the geek and programmer that I am). He calls it “lack of math reasoning and patient problem solving.” Both describe the “plug numbers into formula” teaching that we do in most of mathematics and science education today. He talks about the whole thing in a much more positive way though. I tend to ooze negativism and sarcasm whenever I discuss these things.

What we usually end up achieving is the conversion of our students into walking computers. Given carefully worded questions (not unlike a programming language) with strategically placed numbers, they will identify a pre-programmed formula (14 weeks of lectures and tutorials in university) and be able to spit out a solution and answer. We then conveniently ‘evaluate’ their math understanding based on that. Given real world problems however, the likelihood of them solving it is pretty low.

Video below:

English teachers never have to deal with their students only ‘theoretically’ being able to speak English. Why are math and science teachers settling for that? It … doesn’t compute – in any way or form for me. At university level, our usual excuse for continuing the numbers-into-formula-plugging-education is that the students are used to it, i.e. blaming it on the schools. I wonder who the schools blame it on. And when does this cycle change if not with every individual teacher/lecturer/department/faculty out there?

I think it is high time that society stopped settling for half-baked math and science education in schools and universities. Until there is consumer awareness of the crappy methodology we’re employing in formal education, there will be little push for things to move forward. For real.

P/S I give short talks (for free usually) on consumer empowerment in technical education. Sick and tired of lectures, but don’t know how to point out that it’s a crappy teaching method? Think of yourself as a holistic learner but being forced to learn sequentially? Or are you a teacher/lecturer or managing teachers/lecturers and would like to start finding better ways of reaching your students? Look me up.

A follow up video to that is of course Ken Robinson’s TED Talk on how formal education kills creativity. I can’t believe this video isn’t up on this blog yet.

The Incomplete Survey April 28, 2010

Posted by Will in Education, Fiction, History, Society, Uncategorized.
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If life is a tapestry, Gezus was fairly sure that it is one of a million creatures copulating to the rays of as many stars. He was in a foul mood for certain, as was his mate earlier when last night’s effort proved to be fruitless yet again. Shina did the test three times and was last seen crying and on a tirade about his diet when he stepped out of the house to get to work. So the day that started off dismally continued its whimpering trajectory when the computer fed him the report of the latest survey.

SUBJECT: TERRA, SOL

SURVEYOR: CAPTAIN SEEKER KITAN, 4th SURVEY FLEET

PROBLEM: CIVILIZATION NOT ADVANCING AS PER PROJECTIONS. SUGGEST INFILTRATION TO ASCERTAIN REASON AND DETECT EXTERNAL INTERFERENCE, IF ANY.

It then rather painfully elucidate that the civilization on the planet is at least a couple of hundred years behind in sociological and mental development although technology is only lagging behind by a little shy of a century. Gezus tapped his temple, found the location of the survey fleet and started the procedures to beam his mind aboard their flagship, Are We There Yet.  He would be gone for at least a month and decided to let the computer inform Shina of that fact. Of course, being the honourable and sensitive male that he was, he hinted at the computer that it would not be too untoward if it made some insertions of URGENT, EXTREME, HELP and HERO at choice locations in the message.

Now it would usually be prudent to have described what Gezus looked like, or the general traits if his highly advanced species. Truth of the matter is, it would be an exercise in futility as they practically do not own bodies permanent in nature. In fact, their whole species is a complete amalgamation of different ones across the galaxy. What remains wholly “Gezus” is a brain which could be adapted into various bodies, although most would choose to stick to one for a reasonable period of time for the sake of procreation and as a matter of personal taste.  Members of Gezus’ society could also choose to be immortal as their neural imprints can be transferred into an artificial brain upon the deterioration of their natural ones.  Strangely, this was a practice not a widely embraced.

*

One peculiar thing about the space vessels operated by Gezus’ society is that not only do they run themselves but also they also name themselves, and often very inconveniently. For example, in the 4th Survey Fleet, the flagship was escorted by two larger ships Honourable Ideals and An Instrument of Peace. These two combat ships are somewhere between two to three kilometres in length and bristled with pointy ends like a Terran monarch caterpillar. Are We There Yet in comparison is a plain disc only a tenth long with observation ports all around the outside edge of the disc. Despite its diminutive size however, it boasted the biggest and most boisterous member of the fleet as its captain.

Captain Seeker Kitan was said to possess such a sensitive nose he could smell your mind (and indeed, the extremely sophisticated business end of his face was tuned to detect neural waves) so when Gezus stepped into the vast cabin at the bow of the flagship Kitan whirled around in a practiced fashion and boomed “Welcome, Operator to Are We There Yet-“

No we are not, Captain. I’d wish you would stop asking or we’ll never get there,” said the ceiling anxiously in a decidedly female voice. “Honestly, how hard is it to-.“ The voice continued but stopped abruptly when Kitan slapped a button on his chest.

“- and to my personal cabin. Don’t mind the ship’s computer, she’s bound to be a bit touchy after not getting anywhere for the better part of five hundred years, “ continued Kitan, apparently used to the interruption. Gezus had read about the ship’s tradition which originated far in the past where her navigators would plot courses a few parsecs more than required to avoid the chance that they would appear in the middle of a star, which was a tragic possibility back then. The practice then gained traction and has been continued ever since, driving the ship bonkers. “One of those spacefarers’ superstition no doubt.” He thought.

“Thank you for receiving me, Captain. Do you have my cover and vehicle ready?” Gezus asked as he glanced inquisitively at the ceiling.

“Yes you will find that all the navigational data has been provided and your human body is fresh from the factory. I’ve even taken the liberty to double check its backup organs and smooth every wrinkle, which seems to be quite a bad thing down there,” said Kitan gravely as he thumbed at the blue-green sphere off to the starboard bow.

“Thank you. I shall be back with a full report as soon as I can.” Gezus was about to turn away when Kitan approached and spoke softly, “there is something you should know.”

Gezus arched an eyebrow.

“Well, you see during the last survey we only managed to take samplings in a relatively small area. A complete survey was not possible due to-ah…us accidentally colliding with one of their probes,” whispered Kitan nervously.

“But that’s not possible! We would have caught the probe on our scans,” exclaimed Gezus.

“We would have, but for the fact that we were too busy shadowing one of their recently launched spacecrafts to notice. One which according to our calculations was heading to the fourth planet from the star,” chuckled Kitan, before continuing “Now that we’re needed at Alpha Centauri for some urgent pirate teasing mission, we will leave after you’ve landed and pick you up on the way back. I trust you would do a thorough job where we couldn’t.”

“I will try, but isn’t it puzzling how could these humans launch an even a primitive interplanetary mission with these low technological readings?” Gezus shook his head as he studied the report in his mind.

“Why did you think we brought you here? Now go prep for your launch, them pirates won’t be happy if I arrive late to the party.” Said Kitan with what you would call a wink as he guided Gezus out the door.

Two hours later Gezus landed as stealthily as he could in a small forest a short ways from a crossroad next to a field. His pod instantly buried itself into the soil as he made his way north quickly through the shrubs. His proxy body and clothes were closely tailored to match the inhabitants of the area where he landed, which was the only country surveyed by Kitan. As he approached the crossroad he attempted to work out the native script on the wooden sign by the roughly tarred road. There was nobody in sight but birds flying in the glare of the rising sun as he read:

“PYONGYANG – 25 Km.”

***

Author’s note:This was written rather quickly as a short story in reaction to North Korea’s most recent threat to nuke the US(for the umpteenth time) after a report about the South Korean navy ship was sunk by a torpedo launched by NK. And this is after all the aid by the US (among others) given to alleviate the famine which killed millions.

It’s just amazing how far removed a whole country can be in this day and age. It is also pretty telling how a biased education coupled with media blackouts is able to totally transform the perception of reality for these people. I’m pretty sure NK isn’t the first nor the last of these extreme forms of dictatorship where the head of state is still revered as The Saviour much akin to godhood while the citizens starve and never felt freedom nor WISH for it.

Is the onus on us more cultured and rational global citizens to liberate them? What would you do for a lost sibling who was raised by trolls and who threaten you repeatedly with a butcher knife every time you try to start a conversation?

On the flip side…perhaps these north koreans have an immense gratitude for their Supreme Leader, being how he saved them from certain death, never mind now that they’ll be thrown into a life of servitude and ignorance. Maybe the joke is on us and they’re all smoking something really awesome, which begs the question – where did they get it and can I have some?



I fucking hate fortune tellers March 18, 2010

Posted by Siew in Personal, Society.
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Its amazing how people can believe that somehow the date of birth of a person will dictate how his life will be. Its even more amazing when this belief goes beyond just fun dabbling in mysticism and people start making life decisions based on these predictions. I mean, its one thing to avoid wearing a certain colour because some guru asks you too, but to decide who to marry and what job to take based on how the fucking stars align is just frustratingly dumb.

Apparently, my girlfriend is bad for me. She will control me and drive a wedge between my mum and I. She will cheat on me and sleep with her boss to get ahead in her career. All that apparently because we are both Tigers. Fucking genius isn’t it? Oh, and apparently, she will try to convert me. Never mind the fact that she has become increasingly disillusioned by the church over the years.

The fact of the matter is that I have never been the type to bow down to my mother when it comes to things that are important to me. I make concessions all the time just to keep the peace and to prevent her from exploding into a raging fit. But when it comes to something as important as who I marry, I’m not going to fold just because she believes some crack mystic who studied in China for a few years. Its my life. I am allowed to make my own mistakes.

The biggest problem now is that its likely to be a self fulfilling prophecy. My mum already made up her mind not to like her because she is a feisty character and a little darker than your average china doll. (Which is a fucking irony since she herself is one strong-headed woman. And she has Thai blood, making her dark-ish too). Now with some mystic telling her that the gods have dictated that our marriage will fail, she is going to be determined to see the relationship burn. And the best part is, when I try and reason with her about why the predictions are very unlikely to come true, she dismisses me with “Aiya, don’t want to talk about it la. You already made up your mind about it. I say what also you won’t listen. Blinded already, see what you want to see.” There is so much irony here I think even Oscar Wilde will cringe if he heard my story.

I’m also wearing a pendant that cost RM280 because I need protection. Argh!

I don’t think I will ever tire of saying it.

I FUCKING HATE FORTUNE TELLERS!

On JAKIM Cheating on Online Poll Results March 10, 2010

Posted by Wilz in Politics.
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Tim wrote a post on his blog in which he claims to have found proof of JAKIM doctoring their own website’s poll on caning as a form of punishment. To translate, the poll asks “Is it proper for Muslim men and woman who commit the offences of drinking liquor and illicit sexual intercourse to receive the whipping sentence, in accordance to syariah criminal law?” The choices are “Proper” or “Not Proper.”

Tim was kind enough to furnish me the results of his script’s data (655 small HTML pages of the poll’s results page saved every 2 minutes) which I manually tabulated into 10 minute slices in Excel to obtain the number of votes every 10 minutes.

I immediately found that there are cheating on both sides of the poll, which shouldn’t surprise anyone really. Cookie deletion or IP anonymizers should be able to circumvent the poll’s one vote policy. Despite this, although I wouldn’t think of this as conclusive proof, I find Tim’s conclusions highly likely – 500 vote jumps on the “Proper” side happening three times is just a little too neat, even for people spamming votes.

It’s not hard to throw out the few slices of two minutes that contain obvious vote spamming on both sides of the poll. And the ‘real’ results of the poll, which is what I’m most interested in, is damning.

With spamming votes removed, between 11:30 a.m. on 9 March and 11:10 a.m. on 10 March, there are approximately:

  • 54 votes for “Proper”, vs
  • 604 votes for “Not Proper”
Cheating on Polls

Click to enlarge, full analysis in link below

Check out the analysis for yourself. The orange bits are the ones I decided are anomalous / cheated votes).

If Bill Gates could have just ONE wish… February 20, 2010

Posted by Wilz in Environment, Society, Technology.
2 comments

… it would be for zero emissions energy.

Nicholas and Calvin and I were just chatting on Thursday about how the world may be doomed and shit (for a Chinese New Year meet up lol). I mentioned that the one thing that can probably put a lot of problems in the world to rest is finding a solution to the energy problem, with a focus on replacing current fossil fuel based energy with cleaner energy. Added that fusion is still a far away dream, and massive optimizations on nuclear fission is probably the most immediate way to go.

This video came out on TED the very next day, and it’s great to know that Bill Gates agrees. :)