Review: first half of 2019

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What have I achieved from the first six months of 2019?

Weight Loss

I started on a ketogenic diet at the end of 2018, and it has since helped me to lose 15kg in 6 months. In fact, i achieved it within 3 months, and it maintained for the next three without much fluctuation. In the past, i had success at weight loss as well, but that never lasted long unless i maintained a diet AND exercised regularly. I started on keto with much skepticism because the rationale goes against our better judgement. How can a diet consisting of 70% or more fats help us lose fats? That just sounds oxymoronic. However, it worked. Keto works on the premise of a high fat, moderate protein and low carbohydrate diet. Research has proven that it is sugar that causes obesity, not fats, at least healthy fats. This has not been always the case. Before the 1990s, it was believed that a diet high in fats was the culprit for the widespread problem of obesity worldwide, especially in the west. Things have since turned but even with new evidence, a lot of people are still resistant to the idea of a high fat and low carbohydrate diet. Firstly, a high fat diet sounds unappealing and unhealthy. Secondly, carbohydrate is a staple in many countries, especially in Asia where noodles and rice are the main foods. Until now, it has not gained traction in many countries and a lot of people are still cynical about its effects. In my opinion, the most significant hindrance is the high demand of the diet. In my case, it took almost 3 months to feel completely comfortable and normal with such a drastic change in diet. The body simply needs time to make all the necessary adjustments. It also requires a high level of discipline, which is sorely lacking in most people who want to lose weight. Imagine, i have eliminated rice, noodles, and starchy vegetables entirely from my meals. On most days, i do not even consume the 20g of carbohydrates that is allowed for everyday consumption, fearing of not being able to reach ketosis. To maximize results, i tried intermittent fasting along with keto. Intermittent fasting works by consuming all meals in one day within a specific eating window. In this way, our insulin levels will not increase drastically throughout the day and the liver will not become insulin-resistant. For example, in the first 15 days, i tried the 16/8 intermittent fasting, meaning i consumed all my meals within 8 hours and no eating for the rest of the 16. After feeling accustomed to it, i tried the 23/1, basically meaning i only ate one meal a day at a specific timing. I chose 12pm. I adjusted the timing along the way. to 2pm and then 3pm. That allowed me to be less hungry for the rest of the day. After 3 months when my weight became stable, i started to eat more normally but i still restrict myself to two meals a day, and no snacking in between meals. I have personally benefited from keto, but i know that it cannot be sustainable in the long run. Research has also shown that a diet lacking in carbohydrate is detrimental to health as well. Therefore, i am slowly adding carbohydrates back into my diet and monitor my weight along the way. I believe everyone differs from one another in terms of body type and composition so the best and the healthiest way to lose weight has to come from trial and error. Only we know our bodies the best. Being able to lose weight has made me a more confident person because i know i can take charge of my life. In the past, i felt i had the obese genes because i put on weight really easily. Now, with the correct knowledge on factors contributing to weight increase, i can eat the correct food at a greater amount without putting on an ounce.

Spanish

I have wanted to learn a third language for a long time, but laziness always prevailed. The thought of the potential difficulty in learning a new language turns most people away so they are afraid to even try. However, once we take the first step, things are not nearly as difficult. I started learning Spanish from all types of sources at the start of the year, and half a year later, i am watching Spanish dramas and reading news in Spanish. I cannot say i understand everything, but with subtitles and dictionary, i can follow without feeling clueless. Half a year to reach the intermediate level is not a short time, but i am very glad that i started. Imagine, it could have just been another typical 6 months like those in the past without anything tangible achieved. At present, i have acquired the sounds of Spanish words, the basic grammar (gender nouns, the definite and indefinite articles, comparative and superlatives of adjectives, personal pronouns, prepositions, conjunctions and negatives), the most commonly used verb tenses (the present, present progressive, the preterit, the imperfect, the present perfect, the conditional, the future and the present subjunctive) and some of the most frequently used vocabulary (numbers, time, body parts, professions, food and drink, health, and the weather). Before I delved into the verbs, it felt like a mountain unclimbable. The conjugations are different for each tense, and for each tense, there are 6 different conjugations for the different pronouns (first/second/third persons singular/plural). Also, conjugations are different for past and present participles, and imperatives! That means, for any single word in Spanish, there might be more than 100 different spellings or conjugations. That is something very new for me, as this is not the case for Mandarin Chinese and English. The nouns for the two languages are not gendered as well. Guess what, after overcoming the initial fear, it did not come across as insurmountable once i started to learn step by step. It turns out there is always regular and irregular verb for each tense, and even for the so called irregular verbs, there are observable regular rules. Also, the present and preterit are the most difficult tenses to master, but after that, the rest of the tenses have much less significant unpredictability. For the nouns it turns out, there are rules for follow in terms of suffix to identity the gender as well. Moreover, the best thing for an English speaker trying to learn Spanish, is the vast amount of cognates to English! Approximately 33% of the most commonly used words in Spanish are cognates of English. What a blessing. I have not tried purposely memorizing vocabulary because i know it does not work for me. Therefore, i have chosen to read news and watch dramas to learn Spanish in context. In this way, i am able to apply what i have learnt in context and work towards the goal of being able to listen and speak Spanish efficiently. Also, the study of Spanish has improved my English grammar, surprisingly. In the past, English came more like an intuition so i did not really care about what is direct or indirect pronouns or how sentences must involve a subject, a verb and an object. From learning Spanish, i am more acquainted with the various terms of grammar and it bodes well for future language learning such as French. French is just like Spanish, an Indo-European language under Romance category. They have lots of similarities so learning one well can definitely help with the other.

TOEFL

I had taken the IELTS many years back so i wanted to try TOEFL. The former is required by British schools and the latter by American schools for foreign students, even though both are recognized internationally. Both tests have four components, reading, listening, speaking and writing. If we think about it, it is a scientific test for the English proficiency at a holistic level. We cannot escape all those components in our usage of a language. Only after i started to prepare for the test did i realize how poor i was in all components. For reading, there are 3 passages totally 45 points. For listening, there are 6 dialogues totaling 34 points. For speaking, there are 6 task as well. For writing, there is an independent task and an integrated task. The only way to do well for the test is doing the past test paper sets, called TPO. The skills required are standard throughout the years. After 3 weeks of practicing, i managed to score 30/30 for listening, 28/30 for reading, 27/30 for writing and 23/30 for speaking. I did the TPO but i did not do equal amount for each component. The conclusion? The score is directly correlated to the amount of effort put into each component. I did 43/54 for listening, 34/54 for reading, 9/54 for writing and 14/54 for speaking of the past TPO. This convinces me more than ever that for tests and exams, practice does make perfect. The same cannot be said of all skills but it can be relatively accurate for score systems. Improving on my command of English is not the only benefit from preparing and taking TOEFL. The topics tested have also increased my interest in the natural sciences and art history.

Reading and Writing

I believe reading and writing should go hand in one. Reading is output while writing is input. We cannot always read without writing nor can we only write without reading. Both processes together enable us to be entertained, informed and educated, once input equals to output. Therefore, firstly there is a need to know HOW to read and write in order to be efficient. Never in the past had it dawned on me that i do not even know how to read or write. I thought reading is just a natural skill that everyone possesses naturally. It turns out so false. After realizing that i cannot read complex classic books and that i tend to forget everything i read after a while, i started to think about changing the way i read. After doing some research on effective readers, i have found that book that they use to learn how to read is, ‘How to Read a Book’ by Mortimer Adler and Charles Van Doren. This book introduces 4 levels of reading and approaches to different kinds of reading matters. It makes complete sense to learn how to learn first before learning, because learning the correct techniques and methods will allow us to learn more effectively and correctly. The same applies to writing. There are some books to refer to but i have found The Elements of Style by William Strunk to be more relevant and useful to me. It is very short, containing only 77 pages. But that drives home the important point of writing precisely: write short and concise. This may come as a slight surprise for me because during my school days when i took English literature, the rule was to throw in bombastic words and complex sentences to display literary knowledge.

Political Thought

Plato, Aristotle, Cicero, Marcus Aurelius, Augustine of Hippo, Thomas Aquinas, Niccolo Machiavelli, Thomas Hobbes, John Locke, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Montesquieu, Emmanuel Kant and Adam Smith… i need some more time to say smart things on this.

Things to improve for second half of 2019:

  • achieve the intermediate standard in Spanish
  • read more books
  • write more posts
  • achieve the beginner level in Python
  • understand more on evolution and genetics
  • understand more on blockchain and bitcoin
  • achieve introductory level in French

Start writing, no matter what.