Personal Projects

Google is famous for the “20% time”, where each engineering staff is expected to allot 20% of their work time to personal projects, which may or may not contribute to Google’s bottomline. The idea is simple: to foster a creative atmosphere where smart, intelligent people can thrive without the artificial shackles that come from being a public listed company. The effort is so far successful — many of Google’s coolest apps came from the ideas borne during the 20% time.

That’s why I believe you should spend a few hours a week on projects completely unrelated to your daily job. These projects should not be pursued only for monetary reason. Instead, you should do projects you enjoy, projects for which you can see yourself working for many years. Having side projects will add meaning to your life, and achieving your goal in the end will give you a sense of achievement you might never earn in your workplace.

Some of my friends opt for side businesses: selling cupcakes, doing design work, running a tuition center. I found that they are more interesting to talk to, compared to people whose life is just work, TV and sleep.

Me? I am already running a full time business, so the last thing I need is another side business to add to my headache. I prefer more intellectual activities to do in my spare time. Currently, I am working on:

1. Editing a volume of a series on mathematics.

Currently, I am working on Volume 1 in this series, and I am the sole author and editor. I was asked by my colleagues in Persatuan Sains Matematik Malaysia to write a math text since 2007, but I have been dragging my feet (I have a short attention span and cannot write long chapters in one sitting). I hope to get my first volume published in August 2009, and then I’m going to work on the next Volume which should come out early 2010.

Level of Activity: High, I am spending my nights doing typesetting work on LaTeX and drawing geometric diagrams on WinGCLC. Currently at 150 pages.

Pace: Fast, I wrote and edited the first 50 pages in one weekend.

2. Writing a book on the history of economic systems.

I am planning to write a readable account of history from the perspective of an economist, spanning the prehistoric era to the modern era. In particular, I plan to write about how economic systems evolve, and how capitalism has been the best economic system to create wealth and prosperity.

Level of Activity: Low. I am not an expert in this field, so I need to do a lot of reading and research. I have to keep up with daily news and analyses by real experts. Also, since this is agenda-driven, there is a possibility that I might change my mind in the future and discontinue this work (hopefully not). Nowadays people blame capitalism for the economic problem, so the thesis a tough sell, especially in a quasi-socialist country like Malaysia.

Pace: Snaillike. I am lucky if I can finish this in 10 years.

3. Writing a booklet on entrepreneurship.

This is a project currently in the backburner. The idea is to write a booklet and put it up online for free as public service. But it takes way too much time than I can afford to spend right now.

Level of Activity: Low to nonexisting.

Pace: One chapter per month, should be done by end of this year.

4. Writing a series of children math books

Last year, Pn. Ainon Mohd. @ Sifu, President of PTS Publications & Distributors SB, suggested that I write a series of fun expository books on mathematics, targeted for (in her own words) “budak-budak Melayu yang bodoh matematik disebabkan oleh faktor2 sekitaran yang tidak mendukung.” It’s a very nice project and I hope to get starting soon.

Level of Activity/Pace: Zero. Might be nonzero after August (maybe).

5. Recording an oral history of early Malaysia.

This is just an idea I floated around a few friends. So far responses have been positive. No activity yet.

Please share your personal projects in the comment below.


4 Responses to Personal Projects

  1. firdaus says:


    hang nak tulis buku math dlm BI ka dlm BM?

  2. Mel says:

    Belonging to the target audience for #4, I highly applaud the effort. A minor part of why I dropped engineering (other than finding it thoroughly unfunny, which is the main factor) is that the numbers do not mean anything to me. It’s like I do the difficult counting, apply the right formula, and get the right answer, eg: 7. My next question is: “SO?? What does that MEAN?” I didn’t understand the significance of getting 7 as the answer, as opposed to let’s say ’19’. Anyway, the point is that (and I do have one) in law school, I discovered books that explain maths and physics with words, and only words. And THEN I started to understand numbers. This must seem amateurish, but my personal favorite is “The Universe and the Teacup: The Mathematics of Truth and Beauty”. I also finally understood one formula I studied in ATU (can’t remember which now) when I was in law school when I took the subject Islamic Worldview under a great Moroccan Prof. So, yes, some of us need words to understand numbers 🙂

  3. suhaimiramly says:

    Buku #1, 2, 3 – BI
    #2, 3, 4 – BM

    Ms. Mel / T-Rex,
    I think mathematicians and math teachers in the country (or everywhere) are not well-trained to communicate ideas in words, whereas math is all about ideas.

    Numbers and symbols are just a “language” that mathematicians made up to communicate among mathematicians. Even now, there are differences in math notations between countries.

    Ancient mathematicians did not use the notation we have today, but they had developed mathematics to a high level (e.g., see Euclid in Ancient Greece, and Brahmagupta et al. in Ancient India). They used words to write down ideas and formulas.

    Even in the old Trivium-Quadrivium system of classical education, math is lumped together with music, astronomy, and rhetoric, because people at the time thought of mathematics as a gateway to ideas, rather than an exercise of random manipulation of symbols (as you put it, why would “7” be different than “19”?)

    My stand in this matter is quite radical — I think mathematics should not be a compulsory subject in high school education (other than the basic skills: arithmetic and graphs, for example). Reason being that math, as it is taught now, is creating more students that hate math, than students that are good in math. Let mathematics be discovered in other fields — science, geography, music, or language — and then let students who wants to study math further take mathematics as an optional subject (like Biology or Chemistry).

    I will elaborate on this further. Thanks for your comment.

  4. […] Projects at ArdentEdu In 1 on 6 May 2009 at 9:53 am In my previous entry, Personal Projects, I wrote about working on side projects outside your daily job. Having personal projects will […]

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