The Goldfinch, movie vs book

I was in the middle of writing my thoughts on the book version of The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt and then I realized that I should just wait until the movie comes out to write up my thoughts on both together.

If you’ve read the book and haven’t seen the movie, I’d suggest not reading ahead.

The book is about 800 pages and I listened to the audiobook version which is about 35 hours long. Listening to it entirely took me about a month since I was listening on and off. The book is great, Tartt does a great job of describing important scenes and emotions within and around Theo. A lot of stuff happens in the book and so the 800 pages feel warranted and not excessive in my opinion.

Now, the movie tries to squeeze everything that happens in the book in about 2 and a half hours. That’s not enough time. Some scenes felt like they were skimmed or filmed for the sake of showing fans the faces to characters they’ve read a lot about. My favorite character, Hobie, gets little screen time and as someone who is such an interesting character, he is hardly shown in his true form. The casting for Hobie was perfect but a little bit of screen time doesn’t make up for that.

The plot is extremely intricate in the book and in the movie, it’s confusing and downright annoying at times because things just don’t make any sense from scene to scene.

iPhone 11

Today, Apple announced new three iPhones, an iPad, and the Apple Watch series 5. I’m sure you’ve already seen all the news about this, my post is not about specific features or what Apple didn’t release. I’m only posting to note that I’m going to be buying the iPhone 11 not the “Pro” model.

This will be my first time upgrading and not going for the flagship model. In the past, Apple has mostly kept to the mid-size and large size iPhones but as of the iPhone XR, it’s clear that the line up will now have a 3rd, the lower end iPhone. Here “lower” end doesn’t necessarily mean low-end, because the specs of an iPhone 11 non-pro are pretty spectacular except the screen which is still the LCD screen. But is an extra $300 worth the slightly brighter screen?

You might be thinking is it really slightly brighter or actually very different? Let’s go with the latter, let’s say the OLED screen is vastly better than the LCD screen. Does that mean it’s necessary for an average smartphone user to have a vastly better screen on their phone? Probably not. After today’s announcement, some features are not must-haves at this point for me, and I bet for a lot of other people as well.

I upgrade my phone every two years and this year, I might be moving very much laterally than upwards with a new iPhone.

Maus #1 by Art Spieglman

I just finished reading Maus: My Father Bleeds History, written and illustrated by Art Spieglman. I’m still processing it. I’ve been reading it over the past days. I’m currently in New York City and I brought the book with me. I wanted to read something different while traveling. I didn’t know much or even anything about the book before I started it. I got it as a gift from a friend last year and I’m finally getting around to reading it now.

If you’ve never heard of this book before, it’s a graphic novel that’s written about Art’s parents, from an interesting perspective. Art visits his father over the course of the novel and each time finds out a bit more about his parents’ time in World War 2.

I enjoyed reading it because I’m on vacation here in New York City. I took breaks whenever I couldn’t take any more of the grim reality Art’s parents were going through.

September in New York is pretty much perfect and I’ve taken advantage of the weather. Whenever I took a break, I either napped or walked around the neighborhood. I’m still processing the book so walking around, with nothing but what I had just read in my head, I’m grateful for this experience since I’m privileged to be able to do this.

Apple Card  First Impressions

I decided to try the Apple Card and so I signed up for one about 10 days ago. Below are some of my thoughts on it but please don’t think this is a full review of the card which I’m sure you can find in many other places, I will only focus on a few things I care about.

Getting approved

The Apple Card lines up very well with the mid-to-high credit score base, this is anything from 680 to 750 and higher. This means that Apple or in the case of the approval, Goldman Sachs, doesn’t really do anything differently than any other bank so if you have a card like the Chase Freedom, any of the non-premium Amex cards, or cards like Uber, Amazon, and Discover It, you shouldn’t have any trouble getting approved for this card. In my opinion, the mid-to-high credit score having base is the base that usually has iPhones so Apple is doing a good pick of their customer base.

Card features

So before we get to the app features, I wanted to talk about the Apple Card as a regular credit card and its features. Cashback is pretty easy to understand, albeit a bit backwards:

  • 3% only at Apple (store, iTunes, app store, and Apple.com website)
  • 2% on everything paid for using Apple Pay
  • 1% with on everything paid for with the physical Apple Card

And the above cashback is paid everyday under the term “Daily Cash” that’s deposited into your Apple Cash Card (the other one in your Wallet app). The payout happens around “end of business” day (6-7pm) for me, which might not be the case for everyone but since I’m in the same timezone as Cupertino, it might work out nicely for me.

Other than that, a couple of features I’d like to highlight:

  • No foreign transaction fees
  • No annual fees
  • No late payment fees (although Goldman Sachs will be happy to jack up your interest rate)

App powered Card

The Wallet app has come a long way since Passbook where it contained loyalty cards and boarding passes, now it contains a whole payment ecosystem! Below are some screenshots of what the UI looks like when the card as some activity on it:

Apple Pay, just like any other card
Receipt page, similar to any other card except this one shows Daily Cash
This is the main Apple Card view when you tap the card within the Wallet app, notice the vertically misaligned “Weekly Activity” and “Pay More” buttons
Weekly transaction overview, nice that it shows a weekly change in percentage as well
Payment view

So overall, the card as a nice UI but I think there is a lot of room for improvement. A lot of the logistics of the card are hidden away in the settings page which some times you’ll want to be able to access without tapping a couple of times. The main annoyance I’ve felt is that the “Pay Later” mechanism is different depending on where you enter that flow. If it’s from the main card view, it will just ask you when you want to pay later, but from the settings view, you have the ability to choose how much and how often not just when.

One very good thing Apple has done with this card which I believe is a huge credit card experience improvement is simply to show your “current balance” containing all your spending, including “pending” transactions. Because as a customer, I don’t care if my bank has not “settled” with the other parties yet, I want to know at a glance how much money I’ve spent so far. If I spent $100 today and it’s pending for 3 days, I will still be responsible for it whether it was settled today or from 3 days from now, I spent the money today! Chase is notoriously bad at this, some transactions will be pending for up to a week so your balance will go from $0.00 to whatever you did over the past week all in one day!

Color changes

Yes, the Apple Card’s colors change in the app but…I’m not sure how they will look day to day since I’m only doing 2-3 transactions at most a day so some day the card looks blue and others it looks orange. Maybe others have had a better experience with this but for me, it looks like a nice marketing gimmick.

As you can see, this is not a full review so please go somewhere else to read that but for me I just wanted to jot down these notes. I do hope it gave you a bit more context 😁

Starting over, thoughts on meditation

I’ve been going through some painful self discovery in 2019. A lot of contradictory thoughts and feelings in my head. Anything from simple things at work and home to big things like where I want to live has been unreal this year. For instance, at the start of this year, I felt like I wanted to move away from the city to Southern California. That has changed and I don’t really know where I’d like to live in the coming few years, fortunately, the place I’m in right now I don’t have any complaints about.

This post is about meditation, I recently started getting serious about doing meditation. My earlier attempts at meditation were always driven by incorrect or ill-informed ideas such as “you need an empty mind to meditate” or “be away from everything and in a quiet place”. The latter is pretty bad because at my house, the pets are always around me so I wouldn’t be able to be myself and it’s not often quiet. I got a tip from my therapist that I should just try to meditate in places that are far from quiet, like the bus or at work. So far from what I understand, emptying your mind is not the goal of meditation. Seeing your thoughts and letting the float by is one goal and it has been pretty tough. I’ve been reading Meditation for Fidgety Skeptics by Dan Harris which has some good ideas on getting started and it also has convinced me of getting rid of some of my doubts. I highly recommend checking it out.

One of the big things I’ve started learning from meditation is that you are going to be always restarting and there isn’t anything wrong with this. The conventional sense of “failure” is actual a success case in the world of meditation. It will get easier to focus on my breathing as time passes by every time a thought takes over me, it’s not a “failure” but instead a challenge that came up and I need to overcome.

My awareness and mindfulness has become something now but I can’t say it’s much yet. I’m trying to be mindful and mindfulness can be cultivated by meditating but I’m still very early in the process.

Interesting Unicode Symbols

I spend a lot of time looking at Unicode, at work and personally, just because I love finding a shape already available by default through my default system fonts instead of adding an image for it. The basics that everyone has seen are things like ← ↑ ↓ → and © ™ etc.

A couple of months ago, I worked on a page that had some types of dashes that I often confuse myself, check it out here:

I wanted to share some interesting ones I’ve found recently:

☉ Sol, or the Sun. It’s also used for solar mass.

Caduceus and ⚚ Herald’s staff. I can’t believe these are available in Unicode, they’re so detailed! They’re also used for healthcare related signage nowadays.

▧ ▤ ▥ These are some shapes I really like out of the many available geometric shapes: Geometric Shapes – Wikipedia


℻ You read that right, it’s just fax as a symbol in Unicode 🤪. But, while looking this one up, I found out that “fax” is short for facsimile which means to make an exact copy of something.


Turned ampersand. This makes me uncomfortable.

Now all in H1 sizes! (Yes, the alignment of the Caduceus symbols is a bit off…)

☉ ☤ ⚚ ▧ ▤ ▥ ⅋ ℻

I will post more as I find them. 😁

Dull lull in July

I’ve been going through a slow time in July and I haven’t been very active on my computer besides using it for work at work. At home, I’ve just been keeping away from the computer almost full-time. There is some good news because of this, I’ve started to spend more time reading, doodling, eating, and doing anything else away from a computer.

After getting away from my computer in June and ending my work on Bookends, I felt a weird sort of burn out, not exhausted by more like a relief and now I’m looking for a new project and trying small things here and there but nothing sticky yet.

Learning Ruby has been slower and less fun than I thought it would be. When I was messing around with Python on my own time, it was fun to create small projects and build things on top of them but…that’s not the case with Ruby. Javascript was always easier to learn and play around with since it’s one language to write for server side and client side code.

I’m writing this post after attempting to write a couple of other drafts which I just couldn’t get myself to finish and it has become a common case for me that I’ll start something and won’t want to finish it. I believe I’m either attempting harder than achievable projects or not being consistent enough to continue working on them. I learned something from Eric Barker’s Barking up the Wrong Tree recently, if you want to achieve something above your current skill level, make it slightly harder not impossible to achieve which will give your brain enough reassurance that it will continue as small, consistent wins are better than large one-off lottery-like wins.

I recently created the following graphic using CSS:

You can see it here: Stop War @ usmanity.com

A big surprise for my birthday this year was that Kristen got me a bike. The bike is great but last weekend, I decided to ride up Bernal Hill which is a pretty steep ride and it hurt my knee. I haven’t been riding my bike as much because of that but I have been very cautious about my knee and I’m looking for ways to improve my knee.

Turning 29 and other things in June

This month has been a quick one, I can’t believe it’s already the 18th as I type this. Below is a short review of the month and my 29th year.

Continuing my habit building for reading, I’ve been making steady progress reading books and listening to audiobooks. This month, I finished up 3 books and one audiobook so far. The books were Guards! Guards! by Terry Pratchett, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas by Hunter S. Thompson, and How to Invent Everything by Ryan North. Each of these books is pretty different each other which kept me engaged the whole time. I was reading How to Invent Everything on my iPhone any time I was bored or had a few minutes, in a couple of months, I finished it which actually surprised me how little effort was required to finish it. I wanted to read a fantasy book that’s different than what I was into before (mostly Game of Thrones and Witcher lore) and Guards! Guards! is a good departure from that. I took a trip to Las Vegas and Los Angeles last week and so I read Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. My experience in Vegas was pretty tame and wildly different than Thompson’s characters’ but it was still a fun read.

In my last post, I stated that I’m stopping work on Bookends and over the past couple of weeks, I’ve been thinking a lot about what I want to do next with my personal time at home. One of the big goals is to become more aware of myself, meaning more time spent being healthy which includes mental and physical health. I haven’t talked about this before on my blog but around the end of last year, I started seeing a therapist and it has helped my mental health a lot. I’m becoming more aware of myself and others around me. One of my main weaknesses is lack of empathy and I’m trying to hone that part of my brain. I’m also feeling less down all the time and excited (not just motivated in bursts) to work on new things. After I built some parts of Bookends and also my go link shortener, I realized that some things just take time and others will come with time, e.g. building a useful version of the link shortener took a couple of iterations but spending time learning node.js and some javascript concepts I didn’t understand helped me move ahead with confidence.

For learning in programming, I want to start focusing on ruby mainly because I use it at work and secondly because I want to build things using a different technology stack (rails, Sinatra, non-JS tools). The next few months are going to be focused on learning ruby and trying to build some tools with ruby.

In other aspects of my life, nothing major is going on. I am hoping to spend more time become self-aware and introspecting. Thank you for reading!

Goodbye Bookends, for now

Today, I’m stopping work on Bookends. In this post, I’d like to reflect on why I’m stopping work on it, what I’ve learned, and what’s next.

Bookend’s purpose is to help track and discover books. So far, I don’t think I’ve solved this.

What I’ve learned

When I started the project, I had a simple understanding of how to build a web application using Node.js, working on Bookends has helped me learn or solidify my understanding about routing, authentication, hashing, async calls, promises, and building an API. These are just Node related things, there are other things like how to deploy a staging and production server and how to keep a simple deployment flow have been one of the most delightful thing about Bookends.

Developing a project on your own is boring, hard, and slow. That’s one of the biggest lessons I’ve learned. It’s hard to keep going when there’s no users who want to use your product. It’s boring because every time you work on something, there’s no user feedback. And it’s slow because you have nobody to think with.

The tech stack I chose was familiar to me but it’s not very productive to build an application for the first time with a bunch of tools glued together. I chose node.js with express, vue.js, and sequelize as my main stack. Each of these tools, I’ve learned to use and build with better throughout my year with Bookends but it was still slower because there is no convention guiding best practices with any of them apart from the documentation.

Building an app that relies on third party data is tough, all the book info on Bookends was sourced from public APIs like OpenLibrary and that resulted in lower quality results in the end.

Bookends is currently not solving a problem for anyone and I’ve seen myself become detached from it.

Why I’m moving on

The past few weeks have been pretty hard by myself, inside my mind there have been conflicting thoughts that if I stop this, I’m giving up and at the same time, if I stop this I’m buying myself time to do something else. Up until last night, I was working on small features but even after stopping for the night, I felt like I wasn’t happy with the progress for the day. Fighting against my tools every time I work on it has been draining me to the point where I’m unable to go on my personal computer and concentrate on anything else. As you can see with hardly any posts in the past month.

What’s next

I’ve been using ruby and rails at work. I’m in a reverse tech cycle here, most people are moving to node.js and a modern front-end framework like vue.js or react while I’m moving to a more conventional web app framework like ruby on rails. I want to spend more time learning ruby, building things with ruby, and learning better habits for myself as a web developer. There are so many things I still would like to become proficient at like testing, iterating on product ideas, solving real world problems, learning deployment best practices, moving away from weekend projects for a change.

I might come back to working on Bookends when I have more experience building web apps.


Below are some screenshots of the most recent deploy on https://bookends.app. Depending on when you’re reading this, the site might still be up or not.

April showers bring May flowers

This post is just a summary of my month of April. I was in a lull at the beginning of the month but I started to get more aware of myself and started reading, writing, and doing things to get myself out of that initial lull.

Books

I finished listening to At Home by Bill Bryson in April which was a nice listen. It was a good summary of the past 250 years of history about things around the house. Like why we have different rooms like closet, kitchen, and bedroom. Where do we get the concept of having lawns? There were so many interesting facts in this book, I couldn’t keep up!
I also listened to Astrophysics for People in a Hurry by Neil deGrasse Tyson. It was a fun and quick listen, it’s a great intro book for astrophysics and the author makes everything pretty approachable for a non-astrophysicist.
I finished reading Aladdin by Yasmine Seale which I didn’t enjoy as much I was hoping to. It’s too simplistic and that might be because of the original book and not the translation itself.

Health + fitness

I’ve been getting more active recently. I started doing about 10 minutes of yoga every morning and I’m trying to get back to riding the bike about 1-2 times a week.
I’m also trying to be more conscious of what I eat but that hasn’t been a huge concern for me. I try to limit myself to some meat throughout the week and not everyday.

Code + side projects

I worked a bit on Bookends in April but I didn’t make a huge dent in all the things I’d like to get done before I consider the app ready to be used. I am deploying as many small changes as I can. Each time I am adding something new, I’m having to rethink about the models I’ve already set. Once I got search working, things have gotten a bit easier to work with. Next is just getting a nice user flow going and not removing all new user data on each deploy, I am doing this to avoid any unforeseen issues since I’m treating the current version of the app at bookends.app as an alpha release.
I’m hoping to spend more time learning Ruby in May as I’ve gotten super busy at work and haven’t been able to spend any time learning concepts and language specific oddities.