The race to 1,000 miles

In May, Kristen bought her new bike and we made a bet to get to 1,000 miles by the end of 2018. I’ve never ridden (rode?) this many miles before so this is a big undertaking. 

I’m currently at ~ 318 miles while Kristen is at ~ 375 miles. I set up a quick tool that helps me figure out how many miles I have to ride most days. I say “most days” because I wanted to be realistic about how many days I’ll actually ride, which won’t be everyday. 

This is a screenshot of a recent check. “Effective days” is a rounded down number of days that’s about 3/4th of the days left in the year. 

I’ve calculated at 6.8 miles per day which is doable because my current daily commute is ~ 8 miles. 

You can see the code here: https://github.com/usmanity/tools/blob/master/miles_per_day.py

Bookends update, August 12th

It’s been a few weeks since I wrote the the initial Bookends post. I’ve been taking a couple of hours every week to work on the setting up Bookends and today, I sat down and got the search working using OpenLibrary’s API.

The search works by doing a naïve search so I think right now, it’s not ready to be used as it’s not reliable.

If you look at the screenshot below, you’ll notice that there’s no way to tell which book is actually a real Harry Potter book or one that’s missing an author. 

Searching for “harry potter” by Bookends

Next steps will include actually getting the search to order based on popularity. Also, I want to add more descriptions and covers before allowing people to actually play with this.

It’s been a slow progress because I’ve been thinking more and more about making the application portable from dev to production. No idea how I’m going to do caching right now and so I spend some time thinking about that right now. 


Check out this song:

Deleting data.usmanity.com

Yesterday, I made the tough decision to get rid of my data.usmanity.com server, it’s been sitting idly for over 6 months and I haven’t really done much with it. I had been waiting for some time to rewrite some of the app code to handle sending different forms of data over and I just didn’t take the time to do so.

I also had data on there that was becoming stale if not useless for me since I didn’t have access to the mysql DB anymore.

Going forward, I’m planning on a different way to handle storing data and maybe something that’s more versatile.

In a conversation with a friend recently, he told me how his strategy is to not worry about creating complicated flows for personal projects, this wasn’t something I had thought about before and that’s why data has always been a neglected project because the deployment process has led me to stop using it.

Bookends, for fun and for learning

During the months of May and June, I worked on a hobby project with a friend of mine called “Decide”. You can go check it out here. During development, I learned a couple of new things, technical and personal things about myself. Technically, I learned some React based on Next.js. If you’re about to start learning React, don’t pile on another piece of tech on top of it, it’ll just make things more complicated and development even slower. My friend took care of most of the deployment work and the heavy lifting related to getting the app working, he even did a lot of the styling so I was left with figuring out some minor bugs, adding some features, and eventually doing some product development. This felt odd to me, I wanted to learn more and do more during this process. Well, we figured that the project was going to be “done” soon so we should just launch it and let it simmer on the web. After about a month of being live, we have some users on it but we’re not actively working on it. I wanted to start working on something new.

This post is about that new project. I am starting working on another hobby project now and I’m hoping as time goes on, it can be more than a hobby project especially depending on how much traction it will get over time. I don’t want this to be a rushed project, I don’t want it to be a dance of git between two people, and I really don’t want it to be vaporware. So how do I prevent this from happening? Well, I’m hoping this won’t be a short-lived idea since it’s not something I want to just throw on the web and walk away. I have decided to take the development slowly. A couple of days after work during the week, maybe a few focused hours on the weekend. It won’t be a dance of git since I’m going to be the only developer on it for as long as possible. And it not being vaporware? Well…that’s going to depend a lot on how much effort I put into the project and actually make it useful for the community. 

So what is this project? Bookends is an a place to track your books and discover new ones. You might be thinking, “Goodreads already exists, why another one like it?” I love Goodreads, I use it often but it’s not what I want a book tracking, readers’ social network to be, I think it can be more than what it is right now. There are so many people out there who love books and I believe Bookends can be a place for them to belong and be part of a community. 

Anti-social network ideas & privacy

Most social networks thrive on the network effect and then turn around and use the same mechanism to betray or at least kindly coerce their users into paying them somehow, whether it’s clicking on ads or providing valuable gross data profiles that can be then sold to corporations, governmental agencies, and even potential employers read more about this. Sure, this might be a necessity for companies that are pushed by their investors and stakeholders to churn out huge profits but I believe people’s emotions and wellbeing should not be taken advantage of for the sake of making money. I don’t want to build a social network that takes user’s activity and turns it into revenue. I also don’t want to build a social network that acts like a layer of information for corporations to make more money. 

My goal with Bookends is to provide a safe and friendly community for book lovers to connect and share ideas. It’s not to collect every action you perform on the website and then turn it into a unit of revenue. 

For the privacy portion, it’s amazing what contemporary tech companies can collect about their users but they don’t always have to do that. I don’t want or need to collect user information that’s only used to build generic profiles to be sold to ad buyers. A user’s privacy means they will only share things with their circle of friends. 

People should connect over books and genres they love and that’s my hope with Bookends. 

What is a user?

User on Dictionary.com
A user is an odd term, in my opinion, it’s technically fine to call anyone using something a user but I believe it’s a bit too abstract or if you’d like to ignore the first definition and go with the second one, it becomes a bit more weird. But I think a user on Bookends is really a “reader”. You read books, you’re a reader. So you’ll see me refer to users on Bookends as readers.

Development status and what’s in it for me

The past few weeks, I’ve spent after-work hours working on the backend setup for Bookends. I’m grateful to have a team at work as each person is great at their own role making development easy but since I don’t have a team working on this with me, it’s a bunch of googling, reading, experimenting, and spinning in circles. I do feel like I’m learning more and more about each part of the product. From putting together the landing page and pointing it to the Bookends domain (www.bookends.app) which needed to be https to getting the vue.js app working properly, I’ve been making slow progress but I’m feeling like things are speeding up.

Why would I want to build a social network for book lovers? I love books, that is a big reason. Building a place for communities to thrive is important and meaningful to me. I want to grow as a developer and having something meaningful to work on will help me do that.

Currently, Bookends is live as a landing page but the past few evenings, I’ve spent putting together the initial user interface that will feature a search for looking up books. The alpha will launch as just a search for books. The beta will feature reader profiles and the ability to track books. As things move forward, I’ll look for a way to allow making upcoming features a publicly visible thing but for now, I don’t have a good way of doing that.

Who’s paying for it?

Most startups don’t worry about making money because they’re in a hurry to collect the most users possible and then somehow figure out how to make money, that has worked out for most of them, but some just can’t figure it out (see Tumblr, Luxe, Rdio, etc.). Accumulating the most active users in a month or being the largest network of any kind is useless if the users on the network are either addicted or not adding value. That’s not my aim with Bookends, if each reader using Bookends can comfortably use the product and get something out of it, that’s worth it to me. At this point you might be thinking: “but who’s paying for it!?” Initially, the first few months, I have no plans of growing exponentially as it’s a hobby project so I won’t worry about making money in any way. This is not to say I’m going out to raise money or do anything like that. I’m still working my day job so I can pay for rent and food 😂. What I am thinking is that in the long run, it would ideally be a community funded project, something that the community can help fund and grow but I’m not concerned about that right now, first let me find that community! 

Please follow along this journey and I would love feedback anything I’ve said in here and on the project itself. You can go checkout the project here:
https://bookends.app.

The City & The City

This is a weird one. This post is about not being able to finish this audiobook. I’ve been on a good streak with audiobooks in the past few months, finishing about 2-3 a month. But…I’m not sure what’s happening with this one.

So far, I’ve listened to a total of an hour of the book and I can’t seem to keep up with the story and maybe the narration doesn’t sit well with me, I just can’t keep going. I’m calling quits on this one. 

Before I started listening to this book, I had heard good things about it and China Miéville but maybe I should read the book instead of listening to it. 

For now, it’s going to back to the stack. 

Dividends as income

I wanted to write about this for awhile but I can find a good starting point so today I just sat down and decided to type out what my thoughts are about this topic.

What are dividends? 
In this post, I’m referring to the stock market’s term “dividends” which means an amount paid out to investors who hold shares of a company. Mostly larger companies do this when they’re big enough that their investors have been holding their stock for a long time and this might be a way to keep investors interested in holding it even longer plus it’s a way for investors to gain some money without selling shares.

What am I doing with dividends?
The past few years, I’ve been using 2 main ways of investing my money (outside of a 401k). First, I use Betterment, this holds most of my money since I don’t want to be playing with most of my long term savings. Second, I use Robinhood which holds what I call “experimental” money. I call it experimental instead of play or fun money because even though it’s all dependent on me how I invest this money, it’s still real money! I still want to make sane decisions and hold stock of companies that are valuable.
Robinhood makes it extremely easy to buy and sell stock and best of all, it’s always free! This means buying 1 share or 100 shares doesn’t cost a penny, traditional brokerages charge an insane amount no matter the number of shares being traded.

Dividend as income
Having no minimums or fees on trading, Robinhood makes it very easy to start buying shares of many companies and essentially allowing you to build an extremely well diversified portfolio. 
I started using Robinhood at the end of 2014, so about 3.5 years now. In the beginning, I was just buying a few shares of each company I just was interested in or had some familiarity with and this quickly turned out to be a mediocre strategy. If you ask most people “what is your goal with investing?” I’m sure most will say “make money.” And that’s really why it’s easy to say “well, that should be the strategy, to make money” but I think it’s more complicated than that. 
Seeing your shares rise in value is easy in a booming economy like the past few years but I believe this will start to slow down or some sort of a bubble bursting will happen soon. 
So to think about how to make an income using dividends, I started looking at companies that either pay dividends consistently or pay a high amount of their earnings as dividends. The latter are usually companies that are REITs (short for Real Estate Investment Trust, learn more). REITs pay high dividends and are usually pretty cheap to buy, but the problem is, the share price doesn’t see tech company gains and it’s dependent on the economy since infrastructure and real estate are pretty dependent on how the economy is doing. 
Examples of companies that pay well in dividends and are just household names are AT&T, Colgate-Palmolive, Coca-cola, and many more. These are called Dividend Aristocrats, they’re well-known and large companies that usually align very well with the economy. 

Current status
Right now, I’m able to get about $40 in dividends every month (not an average). The goal is to slowly move this number higher and higher and I’m not sure what the best way to go about this right now as I’m buying a mix of high growth companies as well as REITs which pay a high dividend. 
I’ll post more about this in the coming weeks, please let me know if you’d like to know more about any of this. 

Mid-year check-in, also I’m 28 now

Yesterday, I turned 28. This is the perfect time to reflect on the first half of 2018 and also my past year since I turned 27. When 2018 started, I decided not to start with any resolutions as they most often don’t get fulfilled. I wanted to mostly observe myself and get to know myself better. I guess that has been one of the main things for me this year in my personal life.

I’m happy to report that audiobooks have been a steady obsession over the past 6 months continuing from 2017 as well. This helps me learn about a topic or listen to a fictional story while doing things like commuting on the bus, mundane tasks around the house, and often times relax before going to bed. 

I haven’t been writing as much as I’d like to, one thing I notice is that writing down things like notes, thoughts, opinions, and blog posts like this helps me recenter toward something I much prefer. A stabilizer of some sort.

This post isn’t as exciting as I’d like it to be but this is so far my 2018. 

Also, I got married in April ❤️.

Preview of Free Press

Below is a screenshot of the most recent changes I’ve made to free press to get a single post showing. It’s missing author, date, and other important links but I’m working on that next.

I’ve spent maybe 15-20 minutes just trying to get the line-height correct, but…it’s a tricky problem because I’m sure by now my eyes can’t discern what’s good and bad after looking at this screen.