Interesting time standards

I’ve recently been interested in time standards like the local time e.g. Pacific Daylight Time and general times. And I saw a comment somewhere either on reddit or hacker news about how times would work in places not on Earth, like the moon. I came across Barycentric Coordinate Time which is a time standard that is intended to be used for outerspace objects like planets, moons, their orbits, and satellites launched from earth.

Of course, it’s pretty amazing that we’ve been using a calendar system created almost 500 years ago and it still seems to hold up.

Self-knowledge

I just finished reading “Self-Knowledge” from The School of Life.

It’s a simple book and I’ve used it as a meditative practice.

Sit down for 10-15 minutes, read and reflect on the topics.

It covers various parts of our emotional life that translate, sometimes incorrect, into actions we take in day to day life.

I don’t like star ratings for reviews so I’m just going to say, I would recommend reading it.

My recent interests

Being at home has given me a lot of extra time to try new things and do things I didn’t really have time to do before. Not all the things have been very positive or productive but hey, there’s a global pandemic going on, anything to keep me inside is a good thing.

Video games

Before lockdown started, I was gaming at a truly casual level: once in awhile, a day full of gaming but oftentimes, just an hour or so during the week. This has changed drastically in the past few months. It started back in March, I downloaded Warzone (part of the Call of Duty: Modern Warfare game), which introduced me to the latest Call of Duty game and slowly I discovered that my friends and my siblings were playing it. This made the game a lot more interesting because I could be playing with other people (who can resist this during lockdown).
What started out as a simple way of chatting with friends and playing a video game turned into a nightmarish addiction. So bad that in July, I had to force myself to be away from my computer desk so I wouldn’t get triggered by my PS4 controller sitting right there. (I used the same monitor for my computers and my PS4)
I’m happy to report that August has been a huge improvement, I’ve only played starting on Friday evenings through the weekend (mainly skipping on Saturdays and then picking up on Sunday). And I’ve been good about staying away from it on the weekdays.

At the same time, I also haven’t touched any other games, it’s only been Call of Duty. Both Warzone and multiplayer are so well done that once I start playing, I can’t stop. The drug-like addiction is well built into these games.

Reading

During the past few years, I’ve been slowly increasing my total reading time on a daily average and total for the year. In 2017, I was mainly doing audiobooks but now in 2020, it’s a mix of both. When the COVID-19 lockdown started, I was in the middle of a few books and I was trudging through them, not making much progress but some time in June, this shifted. I started to listen to the audiobooks pretty consistently while cleaning and doing other chores around the house. And for sitting down and reading, I just find a couple of minutes here and there throughout the day, which ultimately adds up to a good chunk of time.
My main interest has been fiction books, mainly to find worlds away from our current one. The pandemic did push me to listen to the Station Eleven audiobook, not the best dystopian book but definitely a cool concept. I also started to move towards familiar authors like Terry Pratchett, Charles Bukowski, John Steinbeck, Brian Jacques, and JRR Tolkien.
I’m thinking of picking up the Harry Potter series as a comfort read next since I’ve seen the movies, listened to the audiobooks (if you haven’t checked ‘em out, I highly recommend them).

Streaming content

I didn’t want to separate YouTube, Netflix, Hulu, etc so this category sort of covers all that. YouTube has been a blessing and a curse in one. On the one hand, I can listen to relaxing background music and on the other, I can go down rabbit holes of various topics (my favorites being geography, history, and memes).

Netflix is sort of my umbrella term for any streaming services that offer TV series and movies. I’ve been watching the Studio Ghibli movies on HBO Max on the weekends and also just started watching Lovecraft Country. It’s hard to keep the traditional model of TV shows in my head nowadays but I also find it that I’m a big fan of the model, watching a series over an extended period such as a month or a couple of months helps me think more about the show, remember the characters better, and even come up with some conclusions that aren’t immediately apparent.

Naps

It’s been hot the past few days. Around 100ºF in Oakland and it feels new to me. Being in the middle of summer, always being home, and having a lot of chill music playing in the background has made me want to just nap at least once a day now.

Summer during the lockdown

I can’t believe it’s July already. There are so many people infected with coronavirus, it’s hard for me to understand just how many people’s lives are impacted, gone, or drastically changed because of this.

I don’t know how summers of the past have been in Oakland but this one is quiet and boring. But I am grateful to be able to type this with my health and safety in place.

Over the past few weeks, my addiction to Call of Duty has gotten worse. I was playing at a decent pace during weeks of the past, but now, I’m playing a couple of hours everyday. Starting today until this coming Friday, I’m going to pause playing the game to bring awareness back into my daily life.
The mornings start out fine and then late in the afternoon, around 4-5pm, I start to get the craving. After playing for 3-4 hours, I feel like I haven’t had enough. This is a big problem now because I neglect doing other things I take true pleasure in. COD’s developers have it figured out, the feature releases and the slot machine effects of the game keep wanting me to come back pretty much every day.

It’s a Mogwai kinda day

Every year when I clear out my Spotify library to start fresh, there’s tons of music that goes missing from my recent memory. I can only remember songs that either come to mind throughout a day or just artists that I was listening to days/weeks before cleaning up. So naturally, a lot of music gets forgotten about pretty quickly. This is good and bad. Good because I then end up finding new music that I enjoy. Bad because oftentimes, the new music is just reminiscent of the music I was familiar with or that it makes me forget about a great song or artist altogether.

This morning was interesting, the day was foggy and gray, unusual for Oakland’s sunny summer days and MONO started playing on shuffle, turns out I have “Ely’s Heartbeat” saved to my library. MONO is one of the dozen or so post-rock artists I’ve listened to and kept in my library. But there was something else to this song, right when it started playing, I remembered that there was another band I was a huge fan of that I hadn’t heard in a long time, Mogwai. My post-rock listening experience is sprinkled with a few of the big names and then some others. I don’t know where exactly Mogwai falls in the popular music spectrum but to me, they’re pretty high up on that list.

Their song “Tracy” is one of my favorite post-rock songs for it’s simplicity and nostalgia. The name also reminds me of my high school hometown which has a lot of strong feelings attached to it.

Mogwai on Spotify →

Black Lives Matter.

For too long the systematic oppression that’s codified in the American laws has caused too many innocent lives to be lost and too many black men to be wrongfully imprisoned. The current movement in America is not a sudden or unexpected event, this has been building up for decades and has finally started to boil over.

Below are some resources for more information:

Black Lives Matter website

Mapping Police Violence

George Floyd Protests around the world

Donate to the Black Lives Matter movement

Multiple resources aggregated

Reminiscing on a decade of cryptocurrencies

Cryptocurrency is one of the weird internet hatchlings that has gone from an esoteric project by an unknown guy to a financial industry that trumps many central banks around the world. It’s also one of the few areas of the internet where I got interested pretty early on.

Back in 2010, a friend of mine suggested I install a “bitcoin miner” on my pretty basic macbook pro (a 13″ 2009 macbook, specs were ok to use a browser). Over the next few days, it successfully mined something around 1.5 to 2 bitcoins, I don’t remember the exact amount. He suggested I get a “wallet” to keep it in. But, this didn’t make any sense to me, how can a digital hash generated by some random program have any money linked to it? Boy was I wrong. Well, a few weeks passed, this program kept running and I decided it was taking up too much CPU and RAM to work so I closed it. And then, a few days later, uninstalled it. And with it, went the 2 or so bitcoins I had stored in it. You might be thinking “dude, you just deleted $10k or $20k worth of money like that?” and the answer to that is no, I deleted what was essentially 5¢ or maybe 25¢ worth of money at the time. Additionally, there was no real way to turn that into real USD that I could do anything with. But, that’s the point of this, if it has potential for being something valuable later, it doesn’t mean that value is visible right this moment.

The next big moment in my crypto history came when Coinbase launched. I remember back then Brian Armstrong would send you 0.1 BTC just for joining. That was worth about $0.99 when he sent it (it shows in Coinbase transactions history). Well, I wanted Kristen to join Coinbase too so I sent that over to her. Eventually I also sent her $5 worth of Ethereum (later when it was added), which at the peak in 2017/2018 was worth $170!

The concept of crypto faucets might be familiar to some but they’re not around much more now. Akin to an internet version of a river of gold or diamonds, faucets would give you a small amount to deposit into your crypto wallet. I remember clicking random websites that would give you Bitcoin, Ethereum, Ripple, etc but never really anything more than a few cents worth. It was playful at most, not something that would give you a ton of money in today’s terms.

When Stripe partnered with Stellar to give out Lumens (XLM) to early adopters, I got 3,000 of them and at the peak of 2017/2018, it was worth about $0.90 a pop, I decided to hold and that again was a mistake, now XLM is moving between $0.08 and $0.12. I’m still holding on to that original grant since there’s no real advantage to selling it after all this time. But I believe Stellar has peaked since its use case of being a money transfer only currency is not really the highlight of cryptocurrencies.

Recent crypto activity

This is not advice but mostly my approach in crypto. I believe bitcoin has had its time, after 3 halving events, a couple of forks, and repeatedly proven slowness, it has had its time in the limelight. Ethereum still seems to be the front-runner but it might become challenged by the many different projects that rely on the network and will eventually run into a bottleneck of some sort. Ethereum’s contract system is probably the most useful part of the network.

Where Stellar and Ripple tried to be the Western Unions of the internet, there are attempts at any sort of use case possible right now with cryptocurrencies. For example, Handshake (HNS) is attempting to be the DNS and certificate authority using peer-to-peer DNS instead of centralized systems like Cloudflare. I also hold a bit of HNS but don’t expect it to return dollar returns and instead be useful to buy my domain (usmanity) in the crypto world world as well.

I remember when Tether launched and I was confused as to why you’d want to have a parallel of American dollars in crypto. Overtime, this has made more and more sense as going from crypto to fiat is expensive and slow, Tether and others help keep this simple. Plus, no tax reporting is needed if you go from one crypto asset to another (as of my understanding of this in May 2020). Coinbase launched their own USD-tied asset, USDC, it’s way too closely named to USD and I believe that was intentional. Tether just generates more Tether coins which means a lot of the money is non-existent and the money people are storing in this is just helping prop-up the coin in the first place (aka all modern banks in one sentence). An interesting development on USDC is that it pays interest to hold it! There are other coins that give some sort of a “dividend” for holding them, Stellar pays a 1% inflation fee which is to help early holders not lose value over time, this is possible since Stellar has scheduled release of more XLM over time. Others like NEO give out NeoGAS, but my understanding of that is limited since I don’t care much about NEO, it’s an Ethereum replica IMO.

Back to USDC, it seems that Coinbase is acting like a bank because just like banks can prove they have money to lend, Coinbase can use the USDC stored by their customers and lend out some of that for margin trading on Coinbase Pro. I’m sure it’s also useful for other use cases like proving they have enough money to stay afloat if most of their customers decide to pull out the maximum of $50k per day all around the same time. Imagine if your bank had that limit, it would be chaos. In the US, you can withdraw as much cash as you possibly can but banks do report it to the IRS if it exceeds $10k.

My current holdings

So nowadays, I’m pretty risk-averse, with a global pandemic in full swing, bills to pay, and not really being confident about the economy, I can’t be throwing around money willy nilly but I do hold some cryptocurrencies, I’ve listed them below, starting with the most to least:

  • USDC, about $2k right now. In Coinbase, it earns about 1.25% APY which is negligible during a typical month. Sign up for Coinbase using my referral link to get $10 in BTC.
  • Tezos, about 500 USD equivalent. A staking based reward system which pays out 5% in Coinbase, very odd concept in that the rewards are paid for the first time after 40 days and then every 3-5 days.
  • Stellar, about 3100 XLM which is around $300 right now.
  • BAT, less than $50 worth at any given time. This is because I use it on the Brave browser. You can download Brave using my referral link which will pay me in BAT if you continue using the browser: link.
  • Various ones in less than $10: 0x, Ripple, Dash, Litecoin.
  • What about Bitcoin? I hold about $100 worth of Bitcoin right now. Using the Cash app to buy this since it is one of the most straight-forward ways to buy BTC. My referral link for Cash App.

I believe we’re still at the infancy (or maybe toddler) age of cryptocurrencies, there are new developments almost every week but it’s a financial tool so some people and institutions are afraid to get near it. This will change as digital payments and money transferring becomes as ubiquitous as sending an email, text message, or tweet.

Now Playing on Last.fm

For a long time I wanted to have a simple UI for viewing what song’s playing right now and then have a bit of information about so about a month ago, I decided to try building exactly that.

I’m using Last.fm’s API since it’s pretty simple to get an API key and start making requests with a username passed in, no authentication needed.

You can check it out here: Now Playing

Example song playing on now.usman.xyz

One thing I wanted in this project was to get to a “done” state and have it usable. Since it has been a long time that I wanted something like this, I knew exactly what the requirements were in my mind.

I used Svelte to build this since it’s so lightweight compared to Vue and React. After the username is set, I just save it to a cookie and use that in the subsequent sessions. I didn’t want to overly complicate this project.
Code is here: https://github.com/usmanity/now-playing