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
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.
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
(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
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:
- Julie and I got married! That was a fantastic party and a wonderful weekend to spend with the people most important to us.
- 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.
- 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.
- I replaced a flat tire and a broken light switch.
- 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:
- Things that I need to do but would forget if I didn’t write it down e.g. “Call to reschedule my dentist appointment”
- Long-term goals broken up into consistent progress e.g. “Read a The Angry DM article every week”
- 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.
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.
According to tradition, I hosted my company for an early Thanksgiving last week. Although I enjoy hosting and cooking for friends regularly, this event is by far the most ambitious as I cook a full meal for about 20 people. Each year has been an opportunity for me to learn more about hosting, and I have a few more lessons to share from this year.
In the past, I have done various ethnic and regional cuisines, but I have run short on ideas. Of course, there are plenty more unexplored cuisines in this world, but I have only picked cuisines that I think I have an edge on and wouldn’t be offending co-workers who know that culture better than I do. This year, I ended up doing a Canadian Thanksgiving, which was some combination of stereotypical Canadian food (butter tarts) and using maple syrup in everything. Continue reading Lessons from Hosting Thanksgiving: 2016 Edition
Last night, we saw one of the most shocking results in American democracy with the election of Donald Trump as the next President of the United States. We’re shocked about how wrong the polling was. We’re shocked that the people of this country would elect Trump. But really, we’re shocked to learn that this country is not what we thought it was, and more specifically, that we as a people aren’t who we thought we were.
As the progressive movement has made tremendous advances over the past few years on gay marriage, universal health care, and more, we have distanced ourselves from the opinions of many people across this country. We have allowed righteousness and confidence in our worldview to scorn or ignore many people who feel left out of this movement. These changes have eroded trust in our government’s ability and willingness to reflect our beliefs and have a beneficial impact in the lives of regular Americans.
In defeat, our pride is hurt. We could dispute the mandate or election process. We could call others racists or sexists. We could reject Trump as being “our president” and spend the next 4 years trying to undo this election. We could retreat into our own separate spheres and ignore the wide differences in our political views.
Or we can use this moment to unite us. We can re-affirm our belief that this country is stronger together. We can harness the our shared identity and turn our empathy towards the half of the country that very clearly stated their problems and desire for change.
I am optimistic and believe this election can be a positive force in the progressive movement. Faced with the reality of how this country really feels across a swath of issues, this election can be a call for us to re-engage in civic life and create the change we want to see. I believe that our government and our institutions can and should create good, but they are only as strong as the trust and energy we put into them.
As I saw the election results develop over the course of the night, I simultaneously experienced 5 stages of grief. In the end, however, I realized that this country will endure. Through our faith in democracy, we have gone through 56 peaceful transitions and 1 very notable unpeaceful exception, and although it might be a statistical error, I’ll take those odds.
Maybe this country isn’t what I thought it was, and honestly, what democracy has revealed about who we are has me worried. However, that feeling and perception doesn’t have to define any individual or us collectively. Across every facet, this election has been about change. Let’s all be part of that change and remember that our identity isn’t defined by any individual, community, or state. No single person is American: together, we are Americans.
Under my desk right now, I have a stack of about 52 unread magazines, and when I say “about”, I mean I just crawled under my desk, did a shoddy job of counting, and am not confident enough to give an exact number. But there are 52 of them.
I finished the September 2014 edition of “Discover” magazine and thoroughly enjoyed it. The “upcoming science events” section in the back felt dated, but the rest was interesting, including a story about reconstructing soldiers’ faces and a story about a medical tech lab using everyday items. As my backlog would indicate, I’m not very diligent about reading magazines, but I really enjoy them. My stack is a mix of “Discover”, “Wired”, “Popular Science”, “Stanford Magazine”, and a few “Makes” as well.
I have a hard time reconciling that fact with related feelings about magazines. For one, I generally dislike owning physical books and find them a burden to carry around or even own as they take space on my bookshelf. I only really like having physical copies of books that I really enjoy.
Also, I like completing things and checking them off my list. Books are big, discrete volumes that I look back at a sense of accomplishment having read this or that. Periodicals are, well, periodic, and one can never really be done reading them until they go out of business.
And most apparently, there’s a lot of stuff in magazines that I’m not really that interested in. On the internet, I will browse my reddit front page and click on a few links. On the rare occasion I have physical newspapers, I skim a lot of headlines. Magazines are also an amalgamation of topics that I would seem to skip as well, but I actually read them cover-to-cover and enjoy them thoroughly for it.
I’m not sure what the difference is with a magazine, but somehow, they are the cheese with my broccoli. I enjoy magazines because I’m willing to read all of the stories I would never select myself but often open my mind to new ideas and learn about totally different topics. They are my touch point with basic sciences, inventions in consumer electronics, and innovations in every discipline of engineering I never encountered. When I started college, I was excited about taking only computer science and psychology courses. Now, I find batteries and social dynamics just as interesting and wish I had gotten more breadth in my education.
Today, there’s a lot of concern about internet “filter bubbles” created by algorithms that feed you only information that reinforces your existing ideology. We also talk about the “echo chamber” of cable news where media outlets reinforce and amplify the same message through exclusive exposure. Selectivity in our media is very comfortable: I myself am a very picky redditor.
It feels like our media and communities have fragmented so much, but I wonder how big the gap really is. I think most people are curious. Although it takes some small amount of willpower to get there, we also enjoy the mental exercise of engaging with those ideas. Political polarization isn’t new, but types of media are, and I wonder whether we all just need to find our “magazines.”
These days, most magazines have an online presence as well with all of their print content replicated. I don’t think of myself as a nostalgic person. I honestly really can’t relate to people who enjoy the physicality of flipping through the pages of a book. Even so, there’s something really “right” about magazines that I uncomfortably can’t explain.
But I’ll still enjoy the heck out of them.
Also, if anyone in the bay area wants back issues of magazines, let me know. I have a stack of read magazines under my desk that I want to get rid of but just value too much to throw away.
This past weekend, I watched 2 entire football games and saw 1 touchdown. For reference, a typical football game will have maybe 6 touchdowns. Between 2 games over 7 hours, I saw 1 guy with the football in his hands in the endzone. Rough.
I watched the first game in-person at my 5-year college reunion, where Stanford lost to Colorado. I will not attempt to summarize the game any better than ESPN: “Sloppy Colorado holds off equally bad Stanford 10-5“. I watched the second game over pizza at my friend Tom’s place, where the Seahawks and Cardinals managed to both fail to win the game and ended in a 6-6 tie. Neither game had much of a highlight reel, and yet, I had very different feelings about both games. Continue reading The Best and Worst of Football