Learning Points from Joe Smith’s TEDx Talk on “How to Use a Paper Towel”

And you thought you knew all about how to use something as simple as a paper towel? Look again in this TED talk by Joe Smith!

The key is shaking off excess water as much as possible before using your paper towel. Joe Smith suggests 12 shakes. After that fold your single sheet of paper towel at least once, then wipe dry both hands. Folding the paper towel allows interstitial suspension according to him, but I guess practically, a single sheet gets saturated with water and gets torn quite fast, so you definitely need to fold at least once before using. You do the same for toilet paper too presumably. Anyway, the effect of saving these paper towels goes a long way towards saving the earth. As for me, nowadays, I just wipe dry on my shirt.


Learning Points from Suki Kim’s TED Talk on “This is What It’s Like to Go Undercover in North Korea”

If you have not heard much about what life is like in North Korea, do spend some time here. Suki Kim, a writer, worked undercover at a university there and shared on what the reality is like for the innocent people there.

To the majority of the inhabitants in North Korea, everything is about their dear great leader. Everything you learn in school is about him, slogans peppering the countryside were about him, probably ad nauseum. They know nothing of the world outside their country, so they have never heard of Facebook, Amazon, Steve Jobs, Donald Trump, pretty much anything. Given all that, they must have some quite brilliant minds to be able to achieve some form of nuclear capability by themselves. But the sad thing is the life they are living is a total lie, and to expose them to the truth potentially brings them harm. Literally, big brother is watching them there. Their lives are just like being in prison, probably worse, in that they are watched so closely, so no one speaks ill of the great leader, no one talks about doing anything against him, and all the free time they have is spend honoring their great leader. I guess in that regard, if ignorance is bliss, it’s folly to be wise.

Learning Points from Dan Gartenberg’s TED Talk on “The Brain Benefits of Deep Sleep – and How to Get More of it”

Deep sleep, yes please! The problem I have is getting to that phase, let alone having more of it. Anyway, sleep scientist Dan Gartenberg shares how we might be able to maximise our hours of deep sleep supported by his research the past 10 years.

So in the 3 stages of sleep, namely light sleep, rapid eye movement, and deep sleep, deep sleep is supposedly when your brain does its regeneration function and we have long bursts of brain waves termed delta waves. By providing an external auditory stimulant during this phase, our brain can respond accordingly to the stimulants and primes the brain to go into deeper sleep. It is envisaged that in the future, there will be devices which can help us achieve more out of our hours of deep sleep and make us more recharged for the next days challenges better. Nice to have for those who can get to deep sleep!

Learning Points from Neha Narula’s TED Talk on “The Future of Money”

Given the recent hype about Bitcoin, I thought it apt to watch this TED talk to give myself some perspective regarding cryptocurrencies and what they can offer.

The concept of not having the physical money with us is already not new. A huge chunk of the money in the world does not exist in the physical form, but rather as 1s and 0s in computer systems, tracked by banks and other institutions to decide who owns how much of it. Moving on to Bitcoin is somewhat like evolution in a sense, where the tracking is made public rather than held in the hands of a bank, so all future transactions will not be hampered by the inefficiencies of banks, but can occur with much lower transaction costs. Well, at least theoretically.

I think the idea is good in some way, but the volatility of Bitcoin currently is worrying. Given how much it is fluctuating and on the uptrend now reeks of speculators who are trying to make a quick buck, and this hurts the movement towards cryptocurrencies. In a way, since it is unregulated, there’s nothing stopping people from doing ramping, which is essentially putting lots of “transactions” in which show the value of Bitcoin creeping up. For example, 2 friends who who bitcoins can continuously sell bitcoins to each other at incrementally higher and higher prices, though no monetary exchange takes place. When this is done, the community gets wind of the transactions in the blockchain, and imagine the value of Bitcoin going up. This drives the price up, and the perceived value. The volatility makes it hard to peg actual prices to it. Sellers will be forced to constantly adjust their prices in Bitcoin currency to reflect the latest prices, otherwise there will be a large de-sync between the value of what they are selling in cash versus that in cryptocurrencies.

I’m convinced that the current Bitcoin trajectory is a bubble phenomenon and that it will burst at some point. To jump in now to make a quick buck is like gambling, not something I would want to do. To those who believe firmly in the value of Bitcoin, good luck! I hope for your sakes that you know what you’re doing. Remember that Bitcoin is not the only cryptocurrency available, so what makes you so sure that that’s the one the world will adopt in future?

Learning Points from Shaolan Hsueh’s TED Talk on “Learn to Read Chinese…With Ease!”

If you were ever interested in learning Chinese and Chinese culture, but is turned off by their seemingly incomprehensible language, fear not! Shaolan Hsueh is here to help with Chineasy, a seemingly easy way to learn many Chinese characters.

So the premise is that the basic Chinese characters are actually simplified illustrations of everyday objects, such as man, sun, tree, etc. In truth, some of the depictions were a little bit of a stretch, such as the sun and the moon. Additionally, in order to understand some of the word combinations, you may need to understand a little bit of Chinese history, as evidenced by her example of exile (formed by combining 2 mountain characters) and mouth to mean exit. Nevertheless, a really innovative way to learn the Chinese language, or at read to understand what is written, without grappling with the intricacies of the different tones involved when speaking it. There are a whole series of flashcards and whatnots if you are interested to learn more at their website.


Learning Points from Jamila Lyiscott’s TED Talk on “3 Ways to Speak English”

Spoken word essay delivered by Jamila Lyiscott on broken English and how we tend to judge people unfairly because of it.

She speaks a different brand of English at home, in the classroom, and to her friends. Why does it have to be this way? If it can be understood, why is there a need to conform to a certain “right” way of speaking? Is there a need to look at someone speaking broken English with disdain, as if they are less educated and unworthy of being in the world, the same place as you are. The sharing is short, but honest. She views it as a linguistic celebration rather than a promotion of ignorance. I’m making a mental note not to judge people by the way they speak. It could have been inherent in their upbringing, their culture, so who am I to determine what is right?

Learning Points from Edward Snowden’s TED Talk on “Here’s How We Take Back the Internet”  

Unless you were living in a bubble, you would have heard about Edward Snowden and his whistleblowing antics several years back. He shares in this TED talk the motivation behind why he did what he did, and what we can do to protect our right to privacy.

Being part of the NSA, Edward was privy to some of the activities they were involved in which is not apparent to the public. He felt uncomfortable about how some of these things were done which he felt goes against what the masses want, namely their right to privacy. Sharing the myriad of ways the NSA is able to do that, through tapping our phone conversations, following our digital trail as we surf webpages etc, he felt enough was enough and opened up all these information to the world as the best way to protect everyone. He advocates having SSL encryption for all websites and webpages, and that the public should have the right to know if they are getting tapped on for information. The counterargument that these are used for the fight against terrorism is weak as so far, it seems like none of what was done has successfully stopped any attacks, but rather, have raised the said issues about our right to privacy. I reserve my judgement on his actions, but I do feel that sometimes it is not always right that the government knows what is best for the citizens. We should have the right to choose some of these consequences, and reserve our right to privacy. Having said that, no system is perfect. Would you trade your privacy for hundreds of innocent lives, including yours? If you knew that having this system would stop that attack, perhaps privacy isn’t such an important thing after all. I don’t know what’s right and what’s wrong, but I know that this is up for debate. An ideal system may not be possible, so if choices are not crystal clear, perhaps it’s best that each individual gets to choose what they want.

Learning Points from Dennis Wildfogel’s TEDEd Talk on “How Big is Infinity?”

A geeky one here on set theory and infinity. When Buzz Lightyear says “to infinity and beyond!” in Toy Story, I guess he really knows what infinity means, such that there can be a “beyond” beyond infinity.


So there are infinitely many whole numbers, and infinitely many fractions. These 2 sets have the same scale of infinity, whereby you can match each element in each set to a corresponding one in the other set. However, the infinity of irrationals is bigger than the infinity of fractions. Then there’s the continuum hypothesis, which suggests that there are infinities of size between that of numbers and decimals. Interestingly enough, mathematicians managed to prove that the hypothesis cannot be proven false, nor can it be proven to be true. It’s one of those weird unanswerable questions in mathematics. I guess scientists shouldn’t feel so bad if they cannot come up with a unified theory of everything since even mathematics itself has such limitations.

Learning Points from Manoush Zomorodi’s TED Talk on “How Boredom Can Lead to Your Most Brilliant Ideas”

This idea seems to be repeated in one of my earlier TED talk learning points regarding procrastinators titled “The Surprising Habits of Original Thinkers” by Adam Grant. Nevertheless, Manoush Zomorodi, a podcaster, gives more details regarding this aspect of how our brain works.

So it turns out that we cannot truly multitask. Every time we switch our focus to a different task, our brain uses resources to make the switch. If we do so too often, our brain tires. That’s what we seem to be doing when we never have a “bored” moment in our lives with the addition of smartphones. By being bored, our brain makes different types of neutral connections compared to when we are on autopilot, allowing us to connect disparate ideas together, creating innovation in the process. This is how we get original ideas out, and not be enslaved by our technological devices like taskmasters, ordering us essentially to check our phones to clear our notifications from various apps. Let us not be slaves to our devices, but let them become tools for our use again!