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Breakfast Notes #19 (Fire Ants, Moon Landing, Meaningful Trees, Learning Beyond College)

Breakfast Notes #19 (Fire Ants, Moon Landing, Meaningful Trees, Learning Beyond College)
Photo by NASA / Unsplash

Good morning friends.

Thank you for reading my op-ed piece featured in the Straits Times last week. I will remain steadfast in my commitment to preserving and promoting the tradition of liberal arts in Singapore.

Here are the breakfast notes for this week.

How Fire Ants Cross A River

When waters start to flood a fire ant colony, they must act immediately. If not, they will all drown. The worker ants link their bodies together to form a raft. They then transport their queen and her future offspring to the centre to keep them dry on top of this ant-ship.

The whole process takes less than two minutes.

The fine coat of hairs on the ants can entrap air so that those serving as the boat's base can avoid drowning. If all goes well, a whole colony of ants could migrate with minimal casualties.

The fire ants offer an illuminating lesson on emergencies. The key to maximizing survival in an emergency is a hardwired instinct towards cooperation.

Obviously, we are not ants. When emergencies such as COVID-19 emerge, our immediate instinct is to guard our ass. (No surprise, why toilet paper runs out fast in a pandemic) As such, it would be wise of states to condition a sense of preparedness amongst its citizens, to introduce a force function of coordination occasionally through simulations. Eventually, the country will kick into gear instinctively when an emergency emerges.

The Myth of The Moon Landing

A great myth of the moon landing was that it was a great national undertaking, supported by a patriotic American public.

Polling data compiled by Roger Launius from the National Air and Space Museum in Washington DC  suggested the US public was unconvinced that space was a national priority and with public approval for it hovering only at 34%.

This level of support was equivalent to President Donald Trump's approval rating at his lowest.

The lesson: We think we remember the past well. We are often wrong.

A Meaningful Tree

I recently watched a house tour of Sheng Siong supermarket billionaire Lim Hock Leng's Singapore home. He spoke about a tree with three trunks that he believes to have been growing for Sheng Siong for three hundred years.

He says,

'The parts are like us brothers running a business together. Disagreements will arise, but we give way to each other for the sake of harmony. There may be three trunks, but the middle is empty. This means we always have a common ground to give.

Who knew trees could have such meaning?

How (Not) To Sabotage Others

In 1944, the CIA released a guide on sabotaging an organization. It has since been declassified. Suppose one wants to be an abysmal leader. In that case, one should practice the following acts: 1) Insist on perfect work in unimportant products 2) Hold conferences when there is more critical work to be done 3) Apply all regulations to the last letter.

The worst sin of all, be pleasant to inefficient workers; give them undeserved promotions. Discriminate against efficient workers; complain unjustly about their work.

Visualization Of The Day

Matt Baker

This visualization from Matt Baker at UsefulCharts.com demonstrates how the modern Latin script used in English evolved from Greek and other alphabets.

Learning Beyond College

One of the best pieces of advice I got in college was that by hook or by crook, I had to find my way to learn from the best teachers.

It was why I flew to Charlottesville from Singapore so that I could learn about The Art of War as taught by a military strategist.

This advice works for life beyond school.

Find your 'intellectual idols' and absorb as much wisdom as possible. Be it YouTube clips, books, essays or even conversations, do what you can to distil and integrate their best.

May The Sun Shine Upon Your Face,

Keith