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

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.

Posted in Personal

Blog Series: The Art of War, Pt. 2

I have always been curious about what Sun Tzu teaches using the “Art of War”. Now, I am reading a modern Chinese interpretation by General Tao Hanzhang, (translated by Yuan Shibing). The book provides space for reflection for modern applications of timeless strategies for war: I try to answer these reflection questions.

This post focuses on the next three chapters of the book; the first three chapters are in Part 1. Read the book yourself too!



Disposition is the reason that a victorious general is able to command his soldiers. The chapter also instructs defense when one cannot defeat the enemy and to attack when one can. The five elements of the art of war are detailed in the chapter:

  • space measurements
  • estimation of quantities
  • calculations
  • comparisons, and
  • chances of victory

For further thought: Analyze the role played by those who have led you through an arduous task

A person that immediately comes to mind is Dr. Moya, my graduate program and thesis adviser. From the beginning, his disposition was clear: the research is my study. It was evident in how rarely he initiated consultation meetings until I submit some part of the research or scheduled a consultation. Whenever I schedule meetings, however, he is ready for discussion points and revision points. His role as a mentor led me to write the thesis with as little supervision and gave me independence in the research. All his comments built up on the existing work I have, not new ideas that he could force to the study. He asked me what I really wanted to do before providing the next steps I can take.

Chapter 5: Posture of the Army


Detailed descriptions required of the army were expressed. In any size of the army are two truths: management is a matter of organization and direction is a matter of formation and signals. Victory is sought by a skilled commander from the situation and not his subordinates.

For further thought: List your strengths, and reflect as to how they are being used, and what might be done to take fuller advantage of them.

I tend to be able to rest whenever I want to schedule it. This may not be as productive to a war as mastery of the sword or the bow, but resting in the fast-paced world we live in is a learned skill too. Particularly during weekends, my mindfulness that I have toiled for the past five days stops me whenever I think of work or writing at a time when I must be letting my mind simmer with thoughts.

Chapter 6: Void and Actuality


“One should always respond to circumstances in an infinite variety of ways.” Sun Tzu likens that army to water: avoiding strength, striking weakness, adjusts to the enemy, and able to adapt to inconsistent conditions. The army is strong when it forces the enemy to make preparations against possible attacks, not vice versa.

For further thought: Reflect upon an adversary, his strengths and weaknesses, his methods.

My biggest adversary may be time – the hours I live on everyday that limit the activities I can do. Time strongly affects my motivation: more time gives less motivation leading to procrastination. Being bound my deadlines, even self-imposed ones, elevate productivity.

Any thoughts you want to share? Type me a comment!

An animated book summary of the “Art of War” is made available by user Sanket Shah on Youtube.

Posted in Personal

Blog Series: The Art of War, Pt. 1

I have always been curious about what Sun Tzu teaches using the “Art of War”. Now, I am reading a modern Chinese interpretation by General Tao Hanzhang, (translated by Yuan Shibing). The book provides space for reflection for modern applications of timeless strategies for war: I try to answer these reflection questions.

This post focuses on the first three chapters of the book. Read it for yourself too!

Chapter 1: Estimates


Chapter 1 featured the five fundamental factors in appraising war conditions and the seven elements in comparing opposing parties. The chapter focused on the importance of forecasting the results of war based on calculations considering circumstances. In conclusion, “all war is based on deception,” and one can predict victory or defeat in war.

For further thought: List possible circumstances in the professional or personal environment that can be taken advantage of in pursuit of victory.

The exercise urges the application of war calculations to the modern battlefield: workplace and life. Advantageous circumstances must be identified to calculate the possibility of winning everyday. Some advantageous circumstances in the workplace are: a good manager or supervisor, flexible work schedule, supportive family and friends, automation and delegation of tasks, short and comfortable commute. A short and comfortable commute may be the most relevant in the Filipino context. A typical job does not pay for the hours spent travelling to and from the office (which is illegal according to a European court). A great commute is particularly advantageous in the morning, when a wonderful perspective of the day may diminish because of hours falling in line, sitting in crowded public transport, and dealing with fellow commuters. The start of the day sets the mood for the vital first two office hours, so a bad start provides a bad precedent for the rest of the day.

Chapter 2: Waging War


Chapter 2 highlights the importance of a speedy victory in war, as lengthy confrontation exhausts resources. Soldiers must also be rewarded to encourage better action – i.e., the response of man to incentives. One must take advantage of the enemy in even the smallest possible way: feeding troops on the enemy’s fodder.

For further thought: Reflect upon previous personal or professional battles that have overextended your resources.

The first that comes to mind is completing my Master’s thesis. Its completion was the primary reason for quitting a full-time job, yet there were personal hindrances to finishing it (read: procrastination). A learning point is to focus on one aspect and persist; a reward and accountability system must also be established. Currently, I am brewing a piece for the Asian Scientist Writing Prize, but I must overcome the fear of rejection and impostor syndrome to complete it.

Chapter 3: Offensive Strategy


The supreme excellence is to subdue the enemy without fighting; however, in case of offense, the relationship among the sovereign, the general, and the army are essential to be well-founded. “A confused army leads to another’s victory.” The chapter also presents the five predictors of victory.

For further thought: Reflect upon previous conflicts in which your approach left you vulnerable solely as a result of participation.

I do not know how to answer the question, as I rarely join in confrontations that make me vulnerable to offensive attacks. My strategy for offense is less aggressive than ideal: wait and see while analyzing the data and statistics repeatedly.

An animated book summary of the “Art of War” is made available by user Sanket Shah on Youtube.

Posted in Personal

Movie Themes: Passengers

“Passengers” tells the story of a journey to a space colony of Earth, a private-owned colony. To transport people, they are hibernated throughout the 100-year journey. In the middle of the journey, Jim Preston (Chris Pratt) is awakened prematurely – 88 years early – because of a malfunction in the ship that becomes the climax of the film. After a year of being alone, he finds Aurora Lane (Jennifer Lawrence) and falls in love with her. He contemplates waking her to compensate for his solitude; after much struggle, he wakes her up. Eventually they become lovers. Much of what happens next are climatic parts of the movie: no spoilers here. This write-up is no a movie review, just a discussion of the remarkable themes. A family-oriented review is available in Plugged In.

  1. The idea of a space colony because of Earth’s “overpopulation, degradation, and expensiveness” was the background of the extraterrestrial romance. Wall-E comes to mind; however, in “Passenger,” Earth is still inhabited – the center of civilization. There is an Earth to return to; Homestead II, the colony, is like a planned city that needs new laborers. In Wall-E, only waste management robots inhabit the earth.
  2. Living alone is a mental and emotional struggle for man – “it is not good for man to be alone (Genesis 2:18)”. Comparisons with the story of Adam and Eve in Eden internally shout to me at every segment of the second arc.
  3. Aurora is a writer who embarked the journey to write “a story only (she) can tell.” Her plan is to spend some time in the colony and return to an Earth in the future. She becomes a spacewoman, an alien, and a time traveler: who won’t read her books? Personally, I want an experience that only I can offer also: perhaps a book in a year?
  4. The 5,000 passengers of the ship are not all “adventurers” like Aurora. Jim is a mechanic who is migrating to the colony for his dreams, despite a 25% earnings share he will give to the corporation for the rest of his lifetime. The situation made me think of overseas workers, especially Filipinos, who sacrifice their lives – their families and their dreams – for a fresh start to their lives and a hope for purpose.

“Passengers” may have low critical ratings (31% on RottenTomatoes) but tells a contemporary plot: the frontier of space is within reach.