Posted in Personal, Research

Four Themes from “Happy City”

The book “Happy City” by Charles Montgomery illustrates the role of urban design towards providing a happiness solution to the cities of the world.

Aside from Mr. Paulo Alcazaren and Prof. Ernesto Serote, I do not know other authors who wrote books about the Philippine cities in a tone similar to “Happy City.”

With this hope, I wrote a hub enumerating four themes from the book that I found applicable to the Philippine context. These four themes are:

  1. The essentials of a sustainable city
  2. Dedication to public mass transport and public transit
  3. Specialized geographies, and
  4. Defining the city

I invite the architects, engineers, and planners to leave comments and stories of successes and failures in the Philippines towards urban design. I hope one day, in addition to technical documents and consultancy reports, books on urban planning and environmental studies will be published with the narrative and illustrative pattern of “Happy City.”

Check out my article here:

Posted in Personal

Write yourself a recommendation!

“If I have seen further, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.” – Sir Isaac Newton

Sir Isaac Newton owed his success to a known secret: you look beyond the status quo through the discoveries and lessons of other successful people. Today, to stand on the shoulder of giants may mean simply requesting a recommendation letter. Particularly in academic careers, recommendation letters are necessary requirements. These letters give a candidate a lift off the rest of the pack.

Sometimes, though, the giants in our lives are preoccupied with activities and commitments that keep them busy. So, should you then just stand aboard other shoulders?

Why you may need a self-recommendation letter

When I decided to apply for a faculty position in a premier university, I needed to submit three recommendation letters. I already have a list of four or five people to send a request for recommendation: two previous company supervisors, two previous professors in graduate school, and one member of my thesis committee.

I sent the requests and expected either a commitment to write the letter or a rejection because of busy schedules.

Two replies were neither: I received instructions to draft respective recommendation letters. I assumed this was because of their busy schedules: both held high positions in their respective organizations.

If you were in my place, your response may have been similar: paralysis. I did not know how to sell myself without sounding too proud or too modest. However, as I collected myself, I realized: this is a great opportunity. My two references really want to help me. They are busy, but they still want to support me in this application.

But, how can one tread the line between stating accomplishments and just tooting horns?

It is important to realize that through writing a self-recommendation letter, you accomplish three things.

  • First, you reflect on your milestones, putting yourself on the shoes of your references to determine which milestones are relevant to who.
  • Second, you show your objectivity in self-evaluation to someone you respect – your professional reference. You are not too high on a horse yet you know you are not a weakling.
  • Third, you have the advantage of communicating the accomplishments you think qualify you for the position. You promote your professional brand as a person who will make waves in the organization, company, or university.


Tell them who you are! |Photo from Pixabay.

How to write a self-recommendation letter

After sending my self-recommendation letters for review, I received two different responses.

One of my references edited the letter. He added some personal anecdotes about our working relationship. Some additions had previously skipped my mind; I did not know that some little things I did meant greatly to him and left a good lasting impression.

The other one, meanwhile, returned an undersigned copy of the exact letter. I received this as a seal of satisfaction for the letter I wrote.

Do you need to write a self-recommendation? Here are some guidelines I learned in drafting my self- recommendation letter:

  • Write distinct self-recommendation letters for each reference. Tell stories that are unique to you and your reference. These narratives will make your application stand-out and focus the theme of the letter.
  • Keep your curriculum vitae or resume close for quick reference. Your mind will benefit from having a ready source of ideas. Your application is a package, so all elements must be coherent and representative of one brand: you!
  • Do not worry about perfection.  Your letter will surely be read at least once before being undersigned. Just make sure the letter is free from clumsy grammar and spelling errors, as a sign of respect towards your references.
  • In the forwarding e-mail, express sincere gratitude towards your references. They are putting their reputations at stake to support your application, so the least you can say is “Thanks!”

Recommend yourself with confidence

Writing a self-recommendation letter is a great opportunity to help your references help you! They may have the willingness to help you, they may think you are worth the position, but they may also be swamped in busy schedules. Help them help you!

Have other suggestions in writing recommendation letters? Leave a comment!

Posted in Personal

I gained these five benefits from naps

A lot of research and productivity articles have testified to the wonderful discovery called napping. Though there are many types of naps, I prefer the 20-minute one, proven to provide improved alertness. I want to share five benefits I continually reap from napping.

It resets my day

Research shows that the first two hours of the morning are the most productive hours. During these hours, one is capable of eating frogs. However, the morning motivation wanes after office work, chores, or procrastination. By 11AM, I am out of juice! Napping gives me a reset button.

I typically take a 20-minute nap in the afternoon, an hour after lunch break. I set the alarm on my phone and try to steady my thoughts into rest. After some time, I hear a beeping sound – the signal that the second part of my day has begun. It is a redemption afternoon, good for completing the most urgent morning tasks or for catching-up on reading and refilling the idea repository.

It complements my sleep hours

Science has measured the required sleep hours humans need to function well. Typically, I incur 7 hours of night sleep, particularly now that I write at home. Some nights, though, I sleep late into the night; I may come home from heavy traffic or have a night-out with my girlfriend. In these cases, afternoon napping adds another 20-30 minutes to my sleep bank. The lacking sleep hours for the night before are supplemented by the nap minutes I get in the day.

It rests my eyes

Screens hurt the eyes – the windows that help behold the beauty of the world around us. I often write directly into my laptop for storage and pace purposes, exposing my eyes as long as my writing time is not finished. During five-minute Pomodoro breaks, one of my activities is closing my eyes to give them rest. By doing so, I take care of my eyes somewhat, however, after this exercise, my brain is still cluttered from the last session’s task. Napping increases the benefits, as, in connection with Point 1, it has added value to productivity than just closing my eyes while sitting.

It buffers personal time within the work day

I look at a day and divide it into three 8-hour phases: work, recreation, and rest. I try to respect the boundaries of these phases. I will not write professionally on my family time; I also prevent burnout by spending real hours on wasting time. However, because of the waning of motivation, exceptions are necessary. Napping gives me a pass for integrating rest time – personal time – into work time. Because I see napping as a reinforcement for motivation to accomplish my most important tasks, I give myself permission to let it pass.

It lines me up with productivity giants

Many of the best and most popular people in history value naps highly: Winston Churchill, Thomas Edison, Albert Einstein. Google’s Julia Rozovsky proposed a nap room as a business venture. The Art of Manliness gives a glimpse of famous leaders going for a short snooze. I feel like I am in company when I tell others that I take afternoon naps.

I love naps!

Napping was one of the controversial topics Dr. Jose Rizal detailed in his “Indolence of the Filipino.” I echo Dr. Rizal: napping is a good reward for productivity. It has helped me accomplish more during the day and has helped me give my body a healthy boost for the night before.

Do you nap? Which benefits have I missed? Leave a comment!

Posted in Personal, Research

System Dynamics Modelling and Urban Environmental Systems

This is the presentation I used for my teaching demonstration for a faculty position at the Ateneo de Manila University.  System dynamics modelling is a powerful tool that must be optimized by researchers, especially those from developing countries, because it does not require extensive data gathering. A free software for learning system dynamics modelling is Vensim.

Posted in Personal

When you can’t write the next sentence, try one of these

These five activities are my choices whenever the acclaimed writer’s block dawns on me. These are effective for me, I hope these work for you too. Add your own through the comments!

Make a list of recent wins and highlights.

The benefits of list-making are proliferated on productivity sites – and for good measure. Lists promote logical and exhaustive thinking and free-up brain RAM. What better list to make than a list of accomplishments! Celebrating wins provides a fresh perspective: You are not defined by the now! You had better times than this, you can do better again! Remembering your finished outline, sentence, and paragraph will boost your confidence to continue on the article sitting in your desk. Banging you head on the wall won’t.

Squish the doubt bug.

“I should not have started.” “This was a bad idea!” These paralysis phrases are like roaches that spoil the family dinner because they just happen to come out then. Squish them! Raise your foot up and take a whack at them. You have the skills, experiences, and talent to finish the task. The team believes in you – you must too.

Do something else – except social media.

RESET – it frees us from the shackles of this fast-paced life. The clock continues to tick as the pointer keeps on blinking. You’ll squeeze your brain for words like a sponge if you can.

Stand, look far, and breathe. Step out the door while stretching your arms to the sky. See the beauty of the flowers or talk to your neighbor’s dog. When you do something else, you tell yourself: there is more to life than the task at hand. Just resist a social media rush. It will suck you in and clutter your mind more! Better yet, when you feel FOMO nudge, get on the floor and plank. A twenty-minute nap can also help: set an alarm so you can go back to your masterpiece on time.

Set a goal for a time.

Call your friend the Pomodoro timer and write until the beep cuts you mid-sentence. Completing a session means you win! Do not aim to finish: aim for a goal. Two hundred words in two Pomodoros and the chapter will write itself. Then, add this win to your highlights list and let reinforced feedback work for you.

Persist through it – then quit effectively.

The brain is your best weapon. It is more powerful than you can imagine. It’s your hammer, your lasso, your sword. “Just do it,” and it will be done. Then, do the Hemingway – quit in the middle. Tomorrow is another day. Present You did the best possible. Reward yourself with a family dinner or a friendly hang-out. Watch an episode of that superhero series you like. Read a book. Just make sure to sleep well: Tomorrow You is counting on you for productivity.

What do you do when the next sentence can’t write itself?

Posted in Personal

The Day after Mother’s Day

Yearly, we celebrate the mothers of our church. This year, one of my teammates in the church multimedia team made a promotion greeting for our church fan page. I simply noted her for her apparent grammar mistake: it should be Mothers’ Day, not Mother’s Day. Many mothers are celebrated – plural possessives must have an apostrophe after the plural form. Afterwards, I browsed Google for some quick ideas: everyone used “Mother’s Day.” Puzzled, I thought, “Has everyone forgotten basic English grammar rules?”
The Sunday celebration came and went. Then, in the afternoon at home, after the family went to a quick lunch with some friends of my mother, I did what any rational man would do. I let Wikipedia answer my query. Behold, a new learning for me: Anna Jarvis, the woman who trademarked the holiday, noted that the form used must be singular possessive, “for each family to honor its own mother.” The holiday is not a mass celebration, like the Philippine Heroes Day or the Veterans Day. High individual regard is due for the best woman in anyone’s life.
Yet, the day after Mother’s Day is most essential. After selfies and social media messages for these women, what effort would you do to make time count for them? Hopefully, you said your greeting personally and saw her smile after your hug. The best gift to give your mother is your presence.
Do you have Mother’s Day trivia? I want to see!
Posted in Personal, Research

An Overview of Secondary Cities

This is the presentation I used for my teaching demonstration for a faculty position at the University of the Philippines. As a former staff of the USAID-SURGE Project, I cannot deny the importance of secondary cities in the current urban world. A significant comment of the panel was that the presentation uses “development language” heavily.

The presentation derives from the presentation of Mr. John Avila during the Philippine Institute of Environmental Planners Conference.