Monthly Archives: March 2009

Was Math Discovered or Invented?

I just listened to a podcast episode of the Design Matters with Debbie Millman, with guest Natalia Ilyin. This was a particularly interesting episode for me because of the amount of philosophical questions posed, like the time when Jonah Lehrer of Proust Was a Neuroscientist was the guest.


One of the topics they talked about in the beginning was whether humans discovered mathematics, or did they invent it? While there are arguments for both sides and the discussion would go on forever, they pointed out that humans point out relationships of things (such as seeing one planet next to another planet means that there are two planets, hence mathematics! But if you don’t see the relationships of those objects, no math occurs).

Symbols and Answers

Before they started talking about the mathematics topic, Debbie and Natalia discussed the theory that that are two types of people in the world, the kind that asks for meaning in everything in life through symbols and things, and the kind that are, I guess, more objective and follows a specific path and looks for the correct answer and that’s it.

This to me is sort of a left brain, right brain question, and it got me thinking, where do I fit? For a good chunk of my life, I’ve been dedicated to finding the right answer, because math, a favorite subject of mine, typically has one right answer. But at the same time, I’ve been told by some and have realized myself that I often have so many ideas in my head, and that’s where the creativity portion and the practice of graphic design come in.

So I often see myself as being in the middle: I enjoy the creative arts and graphic design, because of the enormous range of possibilities and opportunities, but I also get excited about math and programming, as I am comforted by the fact that following a particular set of direction gets me a particular answer or outcome.

So in situations where I am undecided, which happens often, I reach for the middle ground and ask, “Can’t I be both?” This is why I’m getting comfortable with where I stand right now: sort of one foot in the graphic arts, and the other in web programming. I’d love to do both at the same time, so let’s see how that works out.


Another topic that came up during the interview was the idea of perfection. Natalia believed that perfection is about completeness, and design is really good for people with OCD, because designers usually follow a grid created by modernists a hundred years ago dreaming of creating Utopian societies and no one has since figured out a better way to teach design. I just can’t help but agree and put myself within that group.

There are many other topics that they’ve covered that I do not have time to cover here, such as what “home” really means, and how semiotics affect us. So if you’re a neurotic, and/or math-loving, and/or philosophical type like me, this podcast is worth checking out. The Design Matters podcast is available on iTunes.


What Am I Doing? (Mar 2009)


Things are going well with my freelance project. We’re pretty much wrapping up with the foundation of the site, with a few more adjustments and fixes. Hopefully, in the coming weeks, I’ll be able to present it here with some process work.


I finally had some time to revamp my GTD system, and it seems to be working better than before. I basically digitized my projects list and actions so that they’re easier to look through (and therefore, less intimidating for me to review and organize). There are still parts of the system that I need to streamline, but things are definitely more efficient already.


I recently started using a public Twitter account. My username is ivanwlam, and you’re welcome to follow me if you want. So far, some of the “famous” people I’ve followed include David Allen (the GTD Guy), Ze Frank, swissmiss, Armin and Bryony at Under Consideration, and TED.


Me. Me. Me. The fact that I forgot to mention that I went to watch my friend Sam Sellers talentedly compete at the SF stop of the Cut&Paste; Competition Tour is unacceptable. Long story short, Sam did a great job and was robbed of his first prize. I love the piece he did for the first round, which was (and will be again) my Facebook profile photo.


Something happened in the past week that retriggered and intensified my motivation to advance my career and my life as soon as possible. I can’t go into the details, but I now have a stronger desire to be independent and self-sufficient and to take control of my own life. So hopefully, in the coming months, I will have more exciting things to report.

Really Simple Designer Web Comic

Within the past month, I ended one blog and started another. Really Simple Designer Web Comic was an experiment to create a daily web comic starring Point, Line, and Plane. Every start of the day, I take about half an hour coming up with a concept and quickly draw a comic for the next day on my Wacom tablet. The idea of this project was to become more comfortable with my tablet, and I definitely am now. I ended it after two months because it was taking too much time of my day and the creative juices just weren’t flowing as fluidly as I’d like.

One Per Day

One Per Day is a much simpler project. Every day, I post about the day before, using only one word or phrase as the title of the post, and only one sentence describing the day. This keeps my post lengths short and to the point. It’s sort of a practice for me to pack as much content and meaning into one word and one sentence as I could, instead of dragging on and on about an incident (which I tend to do quite often… like right now).

The idea for One Per Day originated from a revisit to Ze Frank’s The Show, which indirectly kept a record of Ze’s personal life and experiences behind the scenes during its running. I have tried to keep a record of my life ever since I could write and had self-awareness. I used to write by hand with special notebooks and special pencils, and then switched to LiveJournals for a while, then to design blogs with monthly reviews (like this one).

But all these posts were taking too much time of my life to sustain, as I write really long posts, usually about now-apparently trivial things, and I wouldn’t want to return to them if I wanted to recall events of my life at the time.

One Per Day reaches a compromise between wanting to document every experience of my life and cutting down the number of words that I would have to read later on. One year from now, the individual events that happen every day will mean very little to me. In the end, a day is just a day, even on special occasions. What’s more important is the overall mood.

I just started blogging on One Per Day on WordPress (my new friend, perhaps my fortune cookie best friend?), and I haven’t gotten to redesigning it. But the presentation is going to be more streamlined and intuitive. Subscribe to the feed, and stay tuned.

Quotes I Go By Lately

“A day is a day. Every event, however trivial, will, by definition, influence and change the rest of my life.”

“Keep it simple (and easy), stupid.”