5 Foods I Don’t Like

I consider myself an adventurous and unpretentious eater. I don’t eat at my favorite restaurants more than once or twice a year because I would rather go somewhere new. I eat Dominos, and I eat fancy Neapolitan pizzas. When presented with an array of desserts or pastries, I will find a knife and take a bite-sized piece to try everything, within the boundaries of courtesy but usually beyond the boundaries of my appetite. As important as it was to get a Cronut on my trip to New York, I also like Oreos and deep-fried Oreos. And even though I don’t quite understand picky eaters, it usually don’t bother me since I’ll find a way to like whatever they like.

However, I do have preferences, and although my threshold is low, there are a few foods that fall below the line, which I will avoid if possible.  Continue reading 5 Foods I Don’t Like

Catching up on Instagram

About a week ago, my coworkers were talking about signing up for Instagram over all-you-can-eat sushi. While mentally preparing ourselves for an onslaught of rice and raw fish, they explained the humor in picking a username, the mechanics of gathering followers, the importance of too many hash tags, and anything else that one asks when comparing social media services used in different amounts. It came up again with my college friends over dinner, so 4 years after acquiring a smart phone, I registered for Instagram.

Onboarding was rough. I tried to login using my Facebook account, but it ran into an error after setting my (unique) username, and when I tried to redo those steps, it told me that the name was taken (by me). After quitting the app, it let me login, but I still wonder if I missed a fun and relevant part of the onboarding experience.

Within a minute of registering, I was surprised to find that I already had followers. Inquiring later, apparently by logging in via Facebook, my friends had been notified that I had joined Instagram. Shortly after, I posted my first picture.

S'mores brownies! #baking

A post shared by Kevin Leung (@stoicloofah) on

Continue reading Catching up on Instagram

A Visit to the Houston Rodeo

A few weeks ago, Julie and I went back to Houston for a friend’s wedding. Despite having spent a third of my life there, I don’t identify much with Texas in conversation, and I warn against making vacation plans to anywhere except Austin. However, it’s always nice to spend time with family, and that Sunday, we decided to visit the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo. That would sound like a very Texan thing to do, but my family never went while I was growing up, so it was worth trying. Continue reading A Visit to the Houston Rodeo

Surviving the Bane of Road Trips

I grew up on the family road trip. Every summer, my family would pile into the minivan and travel across the United States to national parks, amusement parks, and swimming pools at Fairfield Inns. I would pack a bagful of toys to occupy myself in the car, and over the years, those toys turned to library books, then copies of the USA Today. Some of my best reading was in the car on a random interstate because I had nothing more interesting to take my attention.

My family abided by a strong, tacit principle of keeping yourself entertained. My sisters and I spoke only to change the temperature or get a snack from the trunk filled with cereal, granola bars, and fruit taken from continental breakfasts. Altogether, it was an undemanding experience that we were all well-prepared for and very comfortable with.

Despite my extensive experience on interstate highways, road trips these days make me nervous. I mostly travel via plane since road trips only make sense for a few California destinations. However, my habit of road solemnity is apparently the anomaly. On my first Los Angeles road trip, I was shocked when a friend took shotgun with only a water bottle in hand. He wasn’t planning on sleeping: he was planning on talking for 6 hours.

I often ramble just to avoid awkward silences, and over the course of several hours, that is a lot of space to fill. I consider myself a decently interesting person, but I can only babble for 2 or 3 hours before running out of things to say. And if we’re doing the road trip to LA, that leaves us somewhere between remote and nowhere with only uncomfortable silence to keep us company.

Despite my inadequacy for the task, I too have embraced this chattering mindset. In fact, I now consider it my job as a road trip passenger to talk and keep the driver occupied. It’s only fair for all of us to share the load, and an engaged driver is a better driver.

Still, I had hoped there was a better way to road trip together, and I think I might have it. On the drive back from LA this past month, my cousin Adam introduced Julie and me to what I see as the future of non-awkward driving: Dungeons & Dragons (or just about any role-playing game). Specifically, I’m referring to the style of D&D that plays like improv theater using dice to resolve situations with chance. It is brilliant in several ways.

First, it’s not just a way to kill time: it is legitimately fun. Games like Contact and I Spy aren’t fun. If they were, people would play these games in regular life or at dinner parties, too. On the other hand, D&D is fun enough that there are conventions and businesses built around it. It is still somewhat niche, but this game has something for everyone.

Second, it is totally flexible with the number of people participating. It works for pairs. It works for 7 people stuff in a minivan. It works when someone falls asleep. It works when you’re skeptical friend realizes it is awesome and joins half-way through the game.

Second, you can play by only talking. Most board games require boards or cards to look at or share information. And if you were playing D&D as a tactical combat game, you would need a big grid map, miniatures, and a table for your players to surround. However, if you’re just focused on the storytelling, you can play the entire game in words and not worry about setting something up in a car. Also, it doesn’t require much packing or preparation. It’s nice if you can have character sheets printed ahead of time, but these days, you can find everything you need on the internet and use a dice rolling app.

 

Third, the driver can participate as well. Reading is a great way to pass the time in the backseat, but that doesn’t keep the driver entertained or engaged. Sleeping is also great but highly discouraged for drivers. Other than needing someone else to click the dice roller on their phone, drivers can participate fully.

Fourth, road trips fix the worst part of D&D: the time commitment. As much as I love D&D, it does take a very long time to play. Combat is slow as you go turn-by-turn, and even out-of-combat interactions are filled with long decisions and scene descriptions. Although it is engaging, an evening of D&D can fly by without much progress. On a road trip, however, that’s not a bug. That’s a feature.

So the next time you are packing for a road trip and dread how you’re going to get through the car ride, remember D&D. Or if that sounds too intense, check out Fiasco, an amazing storytelling game. Or try out improv theater games or group storytelling. All it takes is a little imagination.

Discovering My Web Design Mistakes

Although it is already February, I have just started my 2017 goal of learning web design. Since I prefer to learn through doing, I decided to start with my primary side project, Spawning Tool, to develop my skills. On Spawning Tool, StarCraft players can browse replays and guides submitted by other players to find strategies to try out in their own games. I have had a lingering concern about the home page content but couldn’t figure out what needed to change. Since that is the landing page for most visitors, it was a good place to start my design journey.

I asked my coworker Alex, a designer, how to learn web design, and he recommended that I look at other websites and pick out what design elements I like and don’t like. Following his advice, I picked out three sites similar to Spawning Tool in some way and compared their home pages.

Continue reading Discovering My Web Design Mistakes

Lessons in teaching a video game

This past week, my coworkers and I spun relived junior high with a Diablo 2 LAN party. To fit the stereotype, we got pizza for dinner and picked up Doritos and Mountain Dew to power us through 4 hours of gaming. Although Diablo 2 (D2) is mostly cooperative, we split into 2 teams and raced to beat Diablo first*. Unfortunately, the winning team only got half-way through the 3rd of 4 acts, but despite the sore eyes, wrists, and right index fingers, we had a ton of fun.

*for reference, speed runners can beat D2 in less than 1 1/2 hours. Here’s a video of MrLlamaSC doing a speed run for an event where he explains in detail exactly what he’s doing

Well, most of us had a ton of fun. Although many of us have fond memories of endless Baal runs, we also had a few Diablo 2 newbies. Some were slightly too young and had played Diablo 3. Some had just played a lot of other video games but never action RPGs. Some hadn’t played video games at all. It’s was a mixed group, and in retrospect, it wasn’t a particularly fun experience for them. Continue reading Lessons in teaching a video game

New Year’s Goals 2017 Edition

It’s 2017, and it’s a time for new beginnings. In fact, it’s a time for new beginnings to new beginnings because this year, I have graduated my “New Year’s Hopes” to “New Year’s Goals”. For years, I have written up a mishmash of aspirations. This year, I will write up a mishmash of aspirations that I have a loose plan to complete.

Actually, I ended up taking my annual goals quite seriously this year. After reflecting upon this past year, I saw the wonderful things happen that I didn’t plan for. I also saw the missing things that I wish I would have done. And in the end, life happened. That’s a situation I am familiar with. It’s the same situation as going to the grocery store without a shopping list. It’s the same situation as having an only growing list of movies to watch. It’s the same situation as Dota 2 mid-game where your team wanders around until you randomly run into the enemy and just end up fighting.

This is what happens when you haven’t established any priorities and therefore have no plan on making anything happen. Sometimes it turns out well because serendipity is wonderful and should never be lost. But it’s also really nice to have a vision and work towards it.

Because I enjoy systematizing thinking, I ended up doing Alex Vermeer’s 8,760 Hours. It’s a process for breaking down your entire life into different aspects to analyze how things are going (a “snapshot”), where you would like to be (your “ideal you”), and what short-term goals will get you there. Continue reading New Year’s Goals 2017 Edition

Rewatching Star Wars as Movies

(Author’s note: there are really minor spoilers of the original and prequel trilogy, but there are no spoilers for Rogue One in the blog post ahead)

I was a huge Star Wars as a kid. I first encountered it in 1st or 2nd grade when I checked out a Star Wars juvenile paperback from the library and subsequently mispronounced “Jedi” when raving about it to my mom. Ultimately, my mom was the gateway to my soon-to-be obsession when she borrowed the VHS tapes for the original trilogy from the library, and we watched them as a family. Other than being very scared of Darth Vader in The Empire Strikes Back and needing my parents to cover my eyes, I was fully engrossed in every moment.

Many years and extended universe (now known as “Legends”) novels later, my Star Wars fandom has waned. However, it was given that I would see Rogue One. We ended up seeing it with Julie’s parents, and overall, I enjoyed it. I thought it was better than The Force Awakens, though seeing the gritty side of the Rebellion made me somewhat uneasy. I also was weirdly confused with the Michael Giacchino soundtrack sounding just like Star Trek, but that’s a minor issue. Continue reading Rewatching Star Wars as Movies

Looking Back on my 2016 Milestones and Achievements

This past October, I went to my 5 year college reunion. I enjoyed catching up with many of my classmates, but I was surprised that I have been an adult for 5 years. The time truly went by too quickly, and without the regular progression from quarter to quarter, class year to class year, it’s easy to forget how much has happened.

Reflecting on 2016, it’s hard to remember how my life was different on December 31st, 2015, but were I to say that not very much happened, I know at least one person would be very disappointed with me. To appreciate the big accomplishments and wonderful things that happened, I thought hard and went through my calendar to journal out what happened over this past year. Here is a sampling of what I picked out:

  1. Julie and I got married! That was a fantastic party and a wonderful weekend to spend with the people most important to us.
  2. I joined the Foothill Symphonic Winds to play tuba. Most of what I forgot came back quickly, but really, what I appreciate is the feeling of being in a community with a shared purpose.
  3. At Zanbato, we changed a significant part of our technology while building a new product and flipping much of our engineering team. And it all went great.
  4. I replaced a flat tire and a broken light switch.
  5. I invited my neighbors over for a holiday cookie exchange. It was terrifying to meet people I hadn’t talked to for years, but it went great, and my neighbors are awesome.

There were 2 big themes that I noticed from the longer list.

First, most of the memorable moments involved other people. Spending time with friends, family, or even strangers seems valuable in itself regardless of what we were doing. I thought I would recognize more new skills, personal development, and completing goals. I’m glad for those things, but they didn’t quite make my list.

Second, there wasn’t much overlap with my Asana TODO list. Maybe it’s self-evident, but it seems odd that lists I review constantly to figure out how to spend my time didn’t pop out. Things like “reading the news everyday” or “watched 20 movies” just didn’t beat the singular events, planned or unplanned. The regularity, of course, makes each specific instance less significant, but I had hoped that those efforts had accumulated into a major achievement.

Over the past month, I came across two articles on Hacker News that made me think about where my TODO list fits into my life. The first was “Five Things You Notice When You Quit the News“: it criticized the value of “staying informed” and “being concerned”, which ran contrary to my post-election effort to diversify my new sources. The second was “Why time management is ruining our lives“: it pointed out the issues with the productivity industry, which made me rethink the diligence by which I maintain and use my personal TODO list.

Looking at my TODO list, I have roughly 3 different types of tasks and lists:

  1. Things that I need to do but would forget if I didn’t write it down e.g. “Call to reschedule my dentist appointment”
  2. Long-term goals broken up into consistent progress e.g. “Read a The Angry DM article every week”
  3. Tasks to live the life I want and be the person I want to be e.g. “Exercise everyday”

The first two types seem useful for organization. The last category is more troubling because I have effectively systematized my character and lifestyle into a TODO list. Not only does it seem like an odd way to live, it also requires constant review and introspection on whether those tasks are really what I want them to be.

For regular blog readers, you may be anticipating my New Year’s Hopes post. Usually, I think about my hopes as I’m writing them, but they have gotten wrapped up in reflecting on 2016. As I look back on this past year, I have also projected what I want this next year to be like. All of that should be aligned with my annual hopes as well as the TODO list that I use day-by-day.

I won’t spoil too much about my hopes in this blog post since that post is a ritual in itself. However, I hope it will be a more accurate representation of what I actually value in life rather than a smattering of goals. It would be too strong to call it my purpose, but maybe in a year, the big moments of 2017 will be less surprising to me.

The Skating Rink

Before splitting up for the holidays, I wanted to meet up with my Bay Area transplant cousins Maddy and Adam. Maddy suggested that we might go ice skating, and since Julie had coincidentally mentioned skating as well, I knew we had quorum.

Wanting to avoid downtown Oakland, we drove out to Walnut Creek on Ice, which was the next closest rink to Berkeley. It was small and crowded. There were a lot of flailing skaters to avoid. It wasn’t safe to go very quickly. All of that was very similar to my past 2 experiences skating at the Winter Lodge.

What was new, however, were the “walkers”. Instead of carefully skating with their children and occasionally getting pulled down, parents could rent big, plastic, sliding podiums (see an example here) for their children to hang onto and scoot along. I can appreciate the concept: they work like training wheels, and they provide a physical barrier around the child. However, I found them somewhat scary because they can move so much faster and unpredictably than a child sitting on their butt because they had fallen down.

Having to deal with inexperienced skaters is fairly unusual amongst leisure activities. Most activities are structured and separated: 10 people play a game of pickup basketball, and 2 play a game of chess. Some players are good and some are bad, but you generally don’t have to worry about someone else knocking over your pieces. Even in other forms of exercise, there’s enough structure to avoid chaos. Swimming pools for doing laps get divided into lanes, and when it’s just open hours at a pool, there isn’t much of a shared goal. Ski slopes are rated for difficulty, and bicyclers pass on the left.

The skating rink, however, can have an arbitrary number of people sharing the same space, and successfully skating requires a lot of awareness to avoid others interfering with you. I have heard that some rinks have inner and outer loops for different experience levels, but that isn’t a lot of granularity for the chaos that can still ensue when one person can’t stop in time.

The fact that we haven’t imposed more structure, however, is maybe a testament to its effectiveness. When people fall in a skating rink, they usually laugh despite landing on ice. I can’t remember witnessing any serious injuries while skating. Generally, the crowd successfully skates around at the same rate. Despite complaining about how choppy the ice gets and how I almost got decked trying to avoid some hapless child, I have a good time skating, and since the rinks haven’t put in rules, I guess other people do, too.

After skating, we went to Smoke’s Poutinerie for dinner to incidentally complete a very Canadian experience here in California. Despite having skated frequently as a child in Canada, I can’t remember eating poutine while there. My best hypothesis for why is similar to why I missed other food in my childhood: my mom didn’t like it. But she probably knows best. Despite how wild the skating rink looks, a pile of fries drenched in gravy and covered with bacon is probably more dangerous anyways.