The Lifelong Learner :: Do what you can, with what you have, where you are -Roosevelt ::

Learning Less… But More!

Am I really an effective learner?

Just so we’re clear and in context, that’s one of my goals.

I want to learn to remember. And the only way I know how to do that is if I do something with that information.

But what?

I can write about it. That’s #1. I should, as being an active blogger is one of my goals as well.

I should read more than one reference on the subject. That’s #2. Reading mutliple books, articles on the subject makes the knowledge deeper.

And finally, to seal the deal, I should apply the knowledge. That’s #3. If it’s related to programming, my profession, I should write a sample program. Applying knowledge is not always easy, and might actually consume the most time. But without it, I feel, I’m not going to put the knowledge into my long-term memory. And depends on the scope and compexity, I might have to apply it multiple times.

So to answer the question, I am slowly transitioning to being an effective learner. I used to learn a lot by reading. But that’s shallow knowledge and I easily forgot. Now I’m trying to make the learning deeper… learning less, but more!

My New Hobby

I have a new hobby. It’s an expensive one. It takes time — long time if you want to perfect it.

Digital photography is my new hobby.

I’m already fairly deep into it. I bought my first camera, Canon Xsi, a few years ago. But I wasn’t doing much with it… taking pictures and viewing them in Picasa. Nothing else. Pictures were good, but I didn’t really understand what the features on the camera mean.

But then, somehow, I came across a few books on digital photography. I think it was while browsing at a B&N. by Bryan Peterson was one of them. It turns out he’s one of the best writers on the subject. Then I discovered Scott Kelby, another guru. I read more.

So I started a deep dive. I first read . Then I read , another very good book, though a bit more advanced and dry.

I got myself hooked.

I started getting the hang of it…

I no longer only shoot with the auto or semi-auto mode. I know what the Rule of Thirds or Golden Rule means. I know what each of the triangle pieces mean (ISO, shutter speed, and aperture). I know how to get a deep or shallow depth of field.

But I’ve only scratched the surface.

My learning goes on. And I have to learn a whole lot more!

It’s exciting! I love it.

Just the other day, I was photographing my son on a bike in front of our house and I noticed that his face was over-exposed (white). It turns out the camera was focusing on a wrong spot, so I switched to manual focus, problem fixed.

I’m making progress! :)

I also upgraded my equipment. I gave away the Xsi and bought Canon 5D Mark II. It’s an advanced camera and a great improvement. Bit pricey, but I think it’s worth it (one other I considered was 60D). 

Taking pictures is one thing. Editing is another — I’m still green there. But it’s something that I or any photographer has to do. So I bought Photoshop Elements 10 and I’m currently learning how to use it effectively (not that hard, actually). That’s another skill set that I need.

Have time, money and patience? Get into digital photography like me. I recommend it. It’s worth it! :)

New Category: Investing

I had a blog dedicated to investing that got quite stale — no updates and no visitors. I decided to take some of the most valuable entries in there and merge it with this blog under a new category Investing.

P.S. I want to put more focus on this blog in the near future.

Invest in Japan?

Barron’s has a lead article titled “Invest in Japan.” What do you think? Time to jump in after the huge tragedy? From my own experience, tragedies are one of the best times to jump in. Take 9/11, quick slide, nice and quick recovery. Will Japan be the same? Nobody really knows, especially with the current level of uncertainty.

If you do want to invest, as I’m thinking about it, I think investing in ETFs is the smart way to go.

Exchange-Traded Funds
Ticker Currency
FXY CurrencyShares Japanese Yen Trust
JYN Barclays iPath JPY/USD
JYF WisdomTree Dreyfus Japanese Yen
Stocks
EWJ iShares MSCI Japan Index
DXJ WisdomTree Japan Hedged Equity 
DFJ WisdomTree Japan SmallCap Dividend 
ITF iShares S&P/Topix 150 Index
JSC SPDR Russell/Nomura Small Cap Japan 
SCJ iShares MSCI Japan Small Cap Index
JPP SPDR Russell/Nomura PRIME Japan

Quote: Edelman on Win Obligation

Quote: W. Ward on Cheering Others

My Top 10 Products in 2010

I try to do this every year. I compile a list of products that I cannot live without. These are products I use every day. My favorites.

Kindle
It’s not only a Kindle reader, it’s the Kindle books I can read on my Droid X, on my Mac, at work, on the train. It’s everywhere and I love it.

Droid X
I got it this year as I switched jobs and we no longer have a Blackberry. I love it. I love the 4.3” screen. Love how fast it is. Camera could be better, some other things could be better as well, but I got it for the screen size and it delivers.

Intellij Idea 9
This is the first year I started using it as my IDE. And it became my #1 IDE. Not without issues. Not without some frustration. But it sucks the least. :) I hope it’s a mainstay in my development world.

Chrome
It’s fast. It’s simple. It has extensions. Do I need more from a browser? :) I still use Firefox, and FF is still OK, but Chrome is better.

Windows 7
I switched, in 2009 I believe, to Ubuntu Linux. Just before the end of 2010 I switched back to Win7. It’s more polished. It’s better as a desktop. There are issues that annoyed me on Linux: can’t watch Netflix, no iTunes, Kindle, and other things. Windows 7 is a very good operating system. Better than Windows XP, I think.

TweetDeck
If you’re into Twitter and Facebook and want to minimize the time you spend on them, TweetDeck is for you. That’s why I use. I can now also use it on my Droid. Love it.

Google Reader
I used to rely more on Bloglines. But they announced “out of business” message (supposedly somebody else acquired them). I wanted to separate my dev-related feeds with my personal ones, so that’s why I used both. Now I only use the Reader, with 2 accounts setup. Not the greatest, but I can’t find anything better.

Netflix
No longer renting movies. Just streaming them. I have my bluray setup with Netflix. The sooner the “big guys” realize Netflix is for real and that people stopped buying DVDs, the better for them. I pay for Netflix and no longer buy DVDs — I don’t think that will change.

Picasa
It’s the best picture manager that I know of. Simple, intuitive, fast. Do I need more? Plus, it’s available on a Mac.

WordPress
If you want a blogging platform, WordPress is the best. I love it. (Though manual updates annoy me.)

What are your products you can’t live without?

Hooked on Email

When you’re trying to get something done, checking email is a distraction. A big one. It disturbs your focus. Still, it’s very easy to get into a habit where you keep checking it. Constantly. Every couple of minutes. Maybe even more often.

I’ve done it.

Don’t you think it’s a time waster?

I do. I know you do as well.

It’s a habit that “creeps” on me from time to time. I have ways to manage it, but it’s easily broken when I’m expecting something. Or for some other, X, reason. Or when I don’t feel like doing work. Whatever. You know what I mean. :)

But I found something intersting today. It turns out there are some very effective ways to manage this constant email checking.

In this article, Why You’re Hooked on Email – And Five Ways to Stop, Ali Hale describes some very effective ways to cope with the “email checking” problem.

Yes, it’s a problem. It kills your productivity. And I think that’s a big issue.

She presents some very good ways. If you have or ever had this issue (most of us do, actually), at least at some point, you owe to yourself to read this article. Hey, it might help you in other ways.

I’m not going to summarize the article here. It’s better if you read it in full. But I learned a few things from the article. I discovered two new services that I think are really cool.

AwayFind.com – Instead of checking your email constantly, why not set up a “checker” for that important email you’re expecting? Yes, that’s how AwayFind.com works. You sign up. Install a Firefox plugin and then in your Gmail account, you can setup these filters. I think this is really cool. I signed up today so I have not really tested it yet, but I hope to use it in cases where I know I”m waiting for an email from somebody.

e.ggtimer.com – It’s an online timer, counting down. The nice thing about it is that it’s really simple. You go to a url, say http://e.ggtimer.com/2 minutes (go head, click it), and you have just set a 2-minute countdown! Nice, right? I know. If you ever used keywords in Firefox, you can make it even smarter and easier to use. I setup a keyword “timer x” where x is the amount of minutes I use. So I type “timer 10″ and I get a 10-minute timer. This is great. I know I’ll use it all the time. Oooops. I just heard the 2 minute timer I setup earlier. Works really great.

Once again, constant email checking is a problem. Recognize it. And then deal with it effectively.

Excellent Mutual Funds

While at the Barnes & Noble today, I got drawned in by a title in US World & Reports: The 100 Best Mutual Funds for the Long Run. Sure enough, I found a few funds that I think are top quality.

Large Cap Value

Comparing it to Fidelity Contrafund, which is considered one the top funds, I can see why Yacktman is on top: 3 year return of 8.9% is much better than -0.2% for the Fidelity fund.

Foreign Large Cap Blend

Very good returns. Better than Marsico Global, also a top rated fund.

Very good returns.

Good Quality Funds

In my retirement accounts, I only hold Mutual Funds. Why? More security. More diversity. I’m also open to holding ETFs, which are almost like Mutual Funds, but I try to stay away from stocks.

It’s good to rebalance every year or so. It’s been a while since I’ve done it. But because we had a decent dip recently, I think it might be a good time for me to do so. Plus, I have come across some excellent Mutual Funds in the Kiplinger’s magazine — I always try to buy their yearly issue focused on Mutual Funds.

Here are some funds which I like and which I picked mostly from that issue. I’m entering trades as I’m writing this post.

Bond Funds

A pair of the best and most famous bond funds, as per Kiplinger’s.

(also available as an ETF, )

Another of our favorites, same source.

The portfolio of Harbor more or less reflects the distilled wisdom of Bill Gross and his colleagues at Pimco. Kiplinger’s top 25 pick.

(also available as an ETF, )
For added security, it’s always have to have some TIPS.

Large-Company Funds

Recently reopened. Kiplinger’s Top 25.

Kiplinger’s Top 25. Impressive returns.

International Funds

Very good returns. Kiplinger’s top 25 pick.

Good returns as well. I like it.

There you have it!

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