Philip Guo (Phil Guo, Philip J. Guo, Philip Jia Guo, pgbovine)

Ten 'tips' for life

These so-called 'tips' were conceived from ideas developed through lighthearted discussions with my good friends during our Summer 2005 Miami vacation. There is actually some seriousness in them, if you read carefully between the lines :)

1. Don't make sex tapes ... unless you want people to see them.

Assume the worst-case scenario for all of the data that you leave around ... especially on the Internet (yes, I'm talking to YOU, people who put your entire lives on blogs and then puzzle over why your stalkers know so much about you). If someone is really out to get you somehow, then they will find this information. Motive is a strong ... motivator. Is the extra pleasure of watching your own schlong on tape worth the risk of someone discovering this video? On the flip side, if you really want people to see certain things to boost your popularity or notoriety, then a sex tape leak or related "accident" may be the prudent course of action.

2. Don't use manual controls when you don't absolutely need to do so.

Don't make your life harder just because you feel that you're more hardcore or tech-saavy by using manual controls when automatic ones will do just as well (this can apply to a variety of gadgets and gizmos). Don't sweat through your shirt trying to drive a manual car during normal circumstances when an automatic will do just as well, or even better. Don't use the manual controls on your camera during normal shooting conditions when you really don't care about the details. etc. etc. etc. Only use manual features when you feel that their benefits outweigh the cost in extra time and effort. After all, you don't calculate long division of 6-digit numbers by hand, right? Why bother when a calculator can do just as well, or even better? Why program in assembly or C anymore when you have JVisualPyRubySharp++ (or whatever programming language you love)? On the flip side, sometimes it may be educational to work through a problem by hand, so that you can gain more intuition or see patterns arise in your intermediate steps. Remember, benefits must outweigh costs.

3. Don't miss ... especially when kicking someone in the balls

If you really want something, stay focused and give it your all. Don't half-ass it. Either don't do something because it's not worth your time or others' time, or do it all the way. When some dude is about to kill you and you see a chance to kick him in the balls, you don't just give him a wimpy hesitant ball-grazing kick; you need to kick him as hard as you can and shove your foot through his scrotum into his bladder ... because your life depends on it.

4. Backup your data ... data is everything; hardware is nothing.

What is the most important part of your interaction with computers? Your $2,000 laptop? Your new 24" flatscreen monitor? Your kick-ass new 3-D shooter game? Wrong. It's the data that you create - documents, digital camera photos, emails, webpages. Your own creations are priceless and irreplaceable. Hard drive space is so cheap nowadays that there is absolutely NO EXCUSE not to backup your data. It is absolutely insane to leave only one copy of all of your precious data on some fragile piece of silicon, metal, and magnetic tape which burns so hot that it could melt down at any second and destroy your digital life along with it. Backup regularly, or you WILL regret it. Data is everything; hardware is nothing. Hardware is just money - it can always be replaced. Lost data is lost forever.

5. Parenting is a highly context-sensitive problem.

Everyone wants to think that they are good parents and that their particular parenting techniques are the most effective. However, you must realize that kids are not just raised by their parents; they are also raised in large part by their environment. Environment includes their neighborhood, school, peers, and media such as television, music, and the Internet. And don't forget that children differ in those things you might call genes. Thus, a parenting strategy that raises Ivy League angels in one family might lead to depressed psychotic sociopaths in another. It's good to listen to the advice of other people who are parents (see Tip #10: More knowledge is always better), but realize that you do not have full control of your children's upbringing. They are at the mercy of their environment - their social context - most of the time. I believe that the most effective parenting strategy is to first realize that parenting is a highly context-sensitive problem and that the context (environment) must be taken into serious consideration during the parenting process. You can't raise your kids in an isolated cave (unless you're a caveman).

6. Rational and intelligent progress will come with time (and even feel like it's natural), assuming that there are competent, hard-working, and adaptable agents assigned to the task.

When I am working on complex software projects for my research, sometimes I get overwhelmed at the apparent impossibility of finding the source of a particular bug or the daunting complexity of a new feature I am trying to add. However, if I just relax and take it easy, making small baby steps at a time - coding, testing, coding, testing - after a few hours to a few days, I think back on how I felt so lost in the beginning and realize that I am no longer feeling lost. I realize that the solution I have been building up gradually (even though it didn't look like that much progress at the time) was actually decently rational and intelligent in hindsight. The progress seemed to feel so natural, like I was getting some magical vibe or intuition. The reality is that I was just methodically following an iterative design and testing process so common in engineering. It really works, given people who are competent, hard-working, and adaptable to changes. You can't expect to jump over huge mountains one leap at a time. You need to know that you've gotta climb diligently and cautiously, but as long as you have a decent idea of where you are going, you will make steady progress toward your goal at the peak.

7. It's amazing to see the intersection of pedagogy and practicality.

For many years in elementary, middle, and high school, and even during early college, the burning question that students invariably want to ask is, "When am I EVER gonna use this stuff?" When am I ever going to have to do long division or find determinants of 3x3 matrices or recall the dates of famous historical events? I think that it's a great moment in one's personal education when one makes that connection between what one learns in formal education and what one can learn and apply in the real world. This moment comes at different times for different people, but it's a beautiful feeling when the childhood world of formal education that most of us live in for nearly two decades intersects with the adult world of 'real-world' knowledge and applications. Of course we are never going to use (or even remember, for that matter) most of the stuff we learn in the classroom ... that's an obvious fact. But we need to realize why it wasn't a waste of time to learn all of that in the first place ... that's a question you need to answer for yourself.

8. If you think that you might possibly need glasses, then go get some glasses!

Don't think that you're invincible even though you are getting old and imperfect. It is foolish, prideful, and dangerous to deny your own mortality. You will live a much happier life if you accept the ups and downs of each period of your life instead of always longing for the past. And if you adopt a healthy attitude on life, it will make others around you happier as well.

9. Life is not purely functional. It's not all about input-output relationships and 'numerical' gains. There are side-effects and global environmental variables.

People in the modern world talk so much about manipulating human capital, working relationships so that both parties can get the most gains, and in general, treating human beings like automata who accept inputs and spit out outputs. Put person A and person B together in a room, negotiate price C that's optimal for both parties, and you've got the highest gains for everyone! What we need to realize is that human life does not consist of a series of mathematical functions, which when called repeatedly, always return the same value. Our functions are more like computer programming language functions that have side-effects and can mutate global variables called our environments. Thus, you can't easily quantify human behavior or always 'work it' in politics, business, or inter-personal relationships so that someone gets some amount of numerical capital or gain. We don't live in a mathematical vacuum.

10. More knowledge is always better. Ignorance is often not bliss.

When given a choice to know more or to know less, always opt for knowing more. Don't worry ... you do have enough room in your head to hold all of that extra knowledge. However, remember to always think about what you learn using your stored experiences before incorporating that new knowledge into your brain. Blindly accepting new knowledge can be harmful because you may be the target of brainwashing. However, if you always accept new knowledge voraciously but intelligently, then you will build up a large database of well-organized wisdom and be able to better sort out what new knowledge you can absorb and then file that away in a more organized way. The only way I can think of that more knowledge can be detrimental is if that knowledge somehow alters your viewpoints in order to hinder you from accepting additional knowledge that would be beneficial to you.

Created: 2005-05-30
Last modified: 2006-03-09