In a Sunburned Country by Bill Bryson

I recently finished listening to Bill Bryon’s In a Sunburned Country. Narrated by Bill Bryson himself. It’s a fun listen, I haven’t listened to or read books that are formatted like a travel log before so this was my first time doing that. It’s very calming and pleasant to listen to someone just talk about a place they visited and throw in some facts about it. The combination Bryson’s writing and narrating it
himself made the book that much more enjoyable.

I started out looking for a book to listen to while riding on Muni for my short commute. Quickly, I realized that the book is a great summation of facts about Australia’s history and current (or current in 2000) affairs.

The book covers Bryson traveling from the Gold Coast all the around Australia ultimately ending near Perth on the south western coast. He covers a lot of topics I had not thought about, like what’s in the middle of the huge continent or how the people are.

He meets with some friends on his journey who take him to different parts of Australia, some great and some avoidable places. A fact that Bryson mentioned repeatedly, the country is huge. There have been many who have gotten lost in the middle of Australia’s Outback and never returned. A lot of Australia is still unexplored, this is kind of a nice thing, as it seems there are no parts in this world that are unexplored in the 21st century.

One thing I really liked that he covered was the history and status of
aborigines in Australia. Historically and currently, Aboriginal Australians are disadvantaged and often ignored by the Australian government. This has been evident by the misunderstood initiatives that led to things like the Stolen Generations. An inhumane act of authority in which the government started forcibly separating Aborigine parents from their children in an effort to “civilize” them but it led to a lot of orphan children not having a connection with the non-indigenous Australians as well as not really know where they came from. This was happening from 1905 all the way into the 1970s.

An Aboriginal encampment, near the Adelaide foothills, 1854 (By Alexander Schramm)

The situation for Aboriginal Australians has not improved much since the publication of Bill Bryson’s book. You can read more about recent programs that were aimed to change this: Northern Territory National Emergency Response and Stronger Futures policy.

My next book that I’m going to listen to Bill Bryson is A Short History of Nearly Everything. I’m thinking Bill Bryson might be a new favorite to listen to while walking and commuting because his voice and writing go so well together and the books are not too serious and missing a few seconds of something won’t affect what the book has to offer overall.

Being unaware of an economic depression

I’m in Mexico City right now but I can’t keep my mind off of Venezuela. Mexico City is beautiful, food is great, and people are nice but every bit of time I get where I have some time with my phone, I’m reading about what’s going on in Venezuela.

Until earlier this week, I was actually not aware of what was happening in Venezuela and I was, especially, not aware of what has been happening since the death of Hugo Chávez.

If you’re like me a week ago, right now there is an economic depression sweeping all of Venezuela as the government struggles to support its populace with basic necessity like milk, sugar, coffee, basic hygiene needs, and health care. I won’t go too much into details about all of what’s happening, there are better sources for that here:

I am writing this more from a perspective a moderately informed American. I keep up with major news stories and I read into things that interest me beyond tweets and headlines but this one has completely escaped my radar. It’s also surprising that nobody in my circle of friends has posted about it on twitter or facebook. At least that means that there are 500+ people in some capacity who haven’t read or read enough to share about the crisis in Venezuela. I’m upset at myself for not finding out more about this earlier but now that I know, I’m looking for better sources to get familiar with the topic.

From the outside, the Venezuelan crisis looks like any other crises that oil-relying nations go through but I’m curious to find out if there are external influences that affected Venezuela differently than say Norway in the 60s or Kuwait in the 80s.

This does give me something to read more about and learn because I don’t want my blog to be a political opinion blog so I wanted to share this from the perspective that it’s possible to miss out on big news like this and then the best thing to do is to be informed about it.

Getting my bike fitted by Pedro

Today, I went to get my bike fitted by Pedro and I wanted to share some thoughts about the experience.

I affectionally call my red Specialized Allez “Big Red” because it’s very bright red and it’s a beautiful bike. I bought this bike back in the end of 2012. It was my first bike purchase as an adult and I really didn’t know what I was doing. I rode a couple of hundred miles in 2013, then some here and there but from 2014 all the way until May of 2018, I pretty much just had Big Red hanging on a hook in my apartment.

With some help from my friends, big shoutout to Lokesh, I started riding again in 2018! Since May of 2018, I rode about 800 miles which brought Big Red’s total to about 1200 miles. So, more than half the miles this bike has came in the last 7-8 months. In that time, I fell in love with biking again. Most of the miles are from commuting and I did sneak in a few 15-20 mile weekend rides.

All this came to a halting stop at the end of December, with the holidays creeping closer, I was wondering if I was going to continue riding my bike in 2019, I surely was hoping so but I had to stop all of a sudden. This was because my knees started bothering me and I would just be extremely exhausted but not exhausted like a workout but more like fatigued to discomfort. This got me worried and at work some people mentioned that they got their bike fitted by Pedro. So I started looking into it.

Well, today, I had my appointment and I am so happy to say that it made me excited for biking again and I really want to ride my bike more and more now! He went over every detail of riding my bike to show me what things I need to change, what things needed adjustments, and if I could use some upgrades. The biggest adjustments were the saddle height and handlebars’ angle. After each bit of adjusting, I felt more “in tune” with my bike.

He did recommend I try clips and also to get a bike one size up from my I have and that was news to me because I thought clips were only for people who ride 50+ mile rides. And as far as size goes, I was thinking I was actually too big on my bike but after the adjustments, I could see that the bike was pretty much at it’s top end of adjustments to fit me today. Even with the size constraint, his adjustments have made me feel so much more confident on my bike.

Above all, Pedro is a very nice guy and a fun guy to talk to while he’s teaching you about riding your bike properly.

Please do check out his website for more details: https://fittedbypedro.com/

You can also check out my Strava here: Strava Profile

Trying out a new workflow for personal projects

I don’t have any serious personal projects right now because I usually start something small like the following few:

And after starting them, I realize that I got them done in a short spurt of energy but they are not projects I have much consistency with that I will actually keep up with them in the long run. The URL shortener was also a hack that I wanted to try to build in a short amount of time.

But the point of this post is to say that I haven’t really had a space to work on personal projects as I’ve had only a work laptop for the last 3+ years now. Since I left Outbound, I’ve had only a work laptop and it’s fine for small projects but once the project starts to have a database, a lot of assets hanging out in my recent files, and those sort of things, I don’t want it to be on my work computer.

Well, I had mentioned this a couple of times to people and one of those people is my wife. She surprised me with a Mac Mini for Christmas and I just got the computer in the mail today.

It’s the 3.2 Ghz hexa-core version which so far has been blazing fast! I’m excited to get it set up for some larger projects.

Especially Bookends which has been neglected due to the amount of work it takes me to get started with it. So in the coming weeks, I’ll aim to get a beta page up for Bookends and I’ll document the issues I’ve been running into as I’ve worked on it.

Thoughts on the Watership Down series on Netflix

I was writing about Watership Down in the books I’ve listened to in 2018 post, and while doing so I found out that there’s a new Netflix 4-part series available!

The series is split up into 4 parts of Hazel’s journey to find and secure a safe home for himself and his friends.

After reading about how Richard Adams felt about Martin Rosen’s 1978 version of Watership Down on reddit: link, I decided to not watch the movie. I did this because I am very happy with how I felt about Watership Down as a book and the audiobook version is an amazing piece of work to listen to if you want to try something else.

So, when I saw the preview of the Netflix series, I really got excited because it did not look as misinterpreted as the 1978 movie. And I think that was how it turned out as well.

The series does a good job of telling the full story, there are of course some hard to convey emotions and stories but overall, it did a pretty good job of capturing and showing the emotions and stories that the rabbits were going through.

On the differences part, I only noticed a couple which I didn’t mind as much and if you’re someone who likes the series and it’s your first foray into Watership Down, I recommend reading the book or listening to the audiobook afterwards. Three differences that stuck out to me:

  • Strawberry’s character is a female in the series while the book has a male character. As a female, the series adds on a love triangle sub-story which adds a bit of comic relief at times.
  • Both Pipkin and Silver are omitted altogether in the series which did not subtract from the overall story but it did create some scenarios where another member of Hazel’s group took that line of dialogue or part in a fight. I just really like the name Pipkin 😊.
  • The third one is in my opinion a difference because of how a book can be written versus how most visual things are made, there was hardly any real story telling from Dandelion or Bluebell. And when a story was started, the camera panned out and faded out which means you’ll only know stories about the Black Rabbit of Inlé and El-Ahrariah if you go through the book is not bad in my opinion.

Rosamund Pike as the Black Rabbit of Inlé is probably the best voice casting choice and Peter Capadli as Kehaar is so entertaining! I would recommend watching the series as it’s a great winter season watch, a group of rabbits running around finding a new home and fighting strange Elil on their way!

Netflix – Watership Down

Goal setting for 2019

I wanted to talk about setting New Years resolutions and goals in general. I’ve had a realization in the past few years of setting goals and acting on them. Goals that have measurable metrics like weight lost in pounds or number of books read are easy to track but pretty linear. By that I mean, they’re not goals that will require reconfiguring mid year or rethinking about what the ultimate goal is with numbered resolutions. By the end of the year, I forget what the original reason was for the goal and treat it like a timed chore until the winter holidays.

For 2019, I want to set the simplest of resolutions. To be organized and simplify things around me. And as vague as that sounds, I want to explain it in this post.

First, 2018 has been a messy and confusing year for me. From traveling, learning, and working, things had been filled to the brim with unexpected and exceptional things. I didn’t feel as satisfied with some of the trips I took because I felt stressed due to a something happening back home or at work (luckily no major crises). For learning, I kept trying new things without going deep into anything. The good part of that has been that I got to try a lot of new things but I didn’t feel like I mastered anything.

Second, simplifying has always made me feel like I have a better sense of what I want to do and why I am doing it. An example of this is actually this blog. Instead of relying on a convoluted updates process and hard to write posts in Ghost or on my own blog, I decided to use the industry-leading WordPress to blog. This led to less time spent maintaining or updating my blog’s settings and configurations of any kind. It’s almost no effort now because it’s easy to post and fortunately nothing breaks very often.

At work, a recent change I made is to switch from two monitors to one monitor. This is new so I can’t say with a certainty if it’s working out but I’ll post any updates if anything significant is noticed. It’s definitely to simplify but also to be more effective at the current task instead of just being “busy” without being productive.

So just like the above two examples, I want to find more opportunities to simplify in 2019. I believe finding the why is always important as it makes the goal more valuable in terms of what difference it makes in my life.

Cutting down on various interests that only become interests due to short term liking or hype will, hopefully, give me more awareness of what’s around me that I actually care about. Going deep into a hobby, project at work, or just learning something with a better understanding is my ultimate goal for 2019.

Wish me luck.

Top songs for 2018

Books in 2018

This year has been a great one in many ways and a year of learning good, easy, and hard lessons all around. One of my favorite revelations this year has been finding out that it takes a lot of focus to build some focus. Eventually, the latter increases while the former decreases. It’s easier to focus on things for a longer time if you spend consistent effort focusing. This has led me to write more, read more, and deliberately work on things I value.

Reading is one of my favorite things to do because it relaxes me, takes me away to a different world, I learn something new, or about someone new and all these things are things that reading in some form brings me. So in this post I’ll talk a little about that and a little about my favorite way to consume books consistently, audiobooks.

Last year, I started listening to audiobooks by way of Harry Potter and within 3 months, I finished all 7 books! This was a combination of the writing by J.K. Rowling and narration by Stephen Fry. I also listened to a couple more books along with that, including Jurassic Park narrated by Scott Brick (written by Michael Crichton).

This year, I continued the trend with even more books. I got to a total of 20 books! I did slow down a bit in the middle of the year but I started listening to more again in September.

Below is the full list of all the books I listened (narrators in parentheses):

  1. Artemis by Andy Weir (Rosario Dawson)
  2. The Lost World by Michael Crichton (Scott Brick)
  3. Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates (author)
  4. Lord of the Rings [radio show version] by J. R. R. Tolkien (multiple cast members)
  5. Ready Player One by Ernest Cline (Wil Wheaton)
  6. Watership Down by Richard Adams (Ralph Cosham)
  7. The Three-Body Problem by Liu Cixin (Luke Daniels)
  8. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams (Stephen Fry)
  9. A Fine Mess by T.R. Reid (author)
  10. A Brief History of Time by Stephen Hawking (Michael Jackson)
  11. Ikigai by Héctor García & Francesc Miralles (Walter Dixon)
  12. Dragon Teeth by Michael Crichton (Scott Brick)
  13. Exit West by Mohsin Hamid (author)
  14. The Five People You Meet In Heaven by Mitch Albom (author)
  15. The Tale of Despereaux by Kate DiCamillo (Graeme Malcolm)
  16. Deep Work by Cal Newport (Jeff Bottoms)
  17. Eragon by Christopher Paolini (Gerard Doyle)
  18. Factfulness by Hans Rosling (Simon Slater)
  19. The Wild Ones by C. Alexandar London (William DeMerritt)
  20. Stardust by Neil Gaiman (author)

Out of these 20 books, my top there are Watership Down, Dragon Teeth, and Stardust. All the ones I enjoyed the most were fantasy or fiction of some kind. Dragon Teeth blew me away by how well it was written and how different of a book it is from anything else I’ve encountered. I listened to Stardust within the last 2 weeks and it has been a great book read by Neil Gaiman himself! My favorite of the year is definitely Watership Down, check out my full review of it.

Now, on to 2019 and a full year of new books to check out! If you have any recommendations, please send them to me!

Some thoughts on 2018

The year is almost over and it’s a good time to be reflective of what has happened this year, where I went, and just how I feel about it. 

First of all, I got married in 2018!! 👫

Trips

I recently came back from Portland and I decided to jot down some places I visited in all of 2018.

Places I went to this year:

  • New York City
  • Las Vegas
  • Arizona (couple of small cities)
  • LA (SoCal area)
  • Portland

It seems like I went more places this year but I guess not. Weird because I felt like I took off time here and there that was for traveling but I guess not so much. 

Learning & projects

I’ve had a good time with learning new things this year. I decided to learn some more Vue.js and Node.js fundamentals. Learning node.js was actually more enjoyable because I could put together a whole “web app” after setting up a basic Express server.

I also started working on Bookends and I’m trying to spend more time working on it but the past few months have been unexpectedly busy which is not bad but it leaves little time for me to work on things at home.

For 2019, I want to continue learning new things. Hopefully, I’ll look into things like Ruby and Go, now that Weebly is part of Square.

Pets

Samson is a year and a half now. He’s super cute. Heisenberg is very cute still.

Me & Samson

Music

I wanted to post my top songs of 2018:

A surprise #1 but others are not so surprising. 

My top personal favorites:

  1. Raoui by Souad Massi
  2. Vienna by Matt Costa
  3. DNA. by Kendrick Lamar
  4. Malembe-Malembe by Bonga
  5. Kerala by Bonobo

I liked those because I was obsessed with each one for awhile at some point in the year.

Learning a bit of iOS

For years, I’ve told myself I’m going to learn iOS. I have had an iPhone since 2011 and I use tons of apps on my phone every day. Since the introduction of Swift, iOS has become even more appealing. 

So about 2 weeks ago, I started working on some tutorial apps and getting myself in Xcode for at least an hour. By now, I have a couple of small “useless” apps on my phone that I am surprised were pretty easy to build. They don’t do anything that would require larger app design thinking for now, I mostly made them after following some tutorials to see if it’s even possible.

I created one app outside of the tutorials for a friend who wanted just a “prototype” of an app for school.

Now, I’m thinking of building some replicas to see just how easy or hard it is to build some popular apps. I often forget how long it took to make some apps that seem “simple”, in both the well thought out design and also in the lack of UI. 

In addition to building the iOS part, there’s also this rest of the app infrastructure that needs to be taken care of. I haven’t really learned much about how data is saved, design is done dynamically for multiple screen sizes. I’ve played only with a few mobile-device specific sensors like shaking. So far, I’m swooning over iOS. 


P.S. I miss Samson. 

Conspicuous consumption and other thoughts on spending

I want to talk about how Conspicuous Consumption has led me to write this post, in a hypocritical state of mind if nothing else. As I posted late last night or early this morning, I am in Portland and it’s been a fun few days. I contacted a few friends to meet up and we’ve been catching up. One of my friends works at Nike and he gave us passes to get into the company store, so we went there today. 

I bought a bunch of stuff, and that’s not to brag, but instead to say it’s a bit disappointing that I did that. But hey, it was a “good deal”. 

The reason I am posting about conspicuous consumption is because this term got introduced to me while I was watching Patriot Act with Hasan Minhaj. In simple terms, it’s when people buy stuff to show off to other people. If you’d like to read more about it, check out the Wikipedia article on it.

It’s something that’s been in the back of my mind recently and I’ve been thinking about examples of where I do this and don’t even realize it. Today’s trip to the Nike store has been a big one. I bought two pairs of shoes even though I have 4 pairs at home. The ones at home are all due to reasons I use them for, one for biking and everyday wear, one for a big more comfortable walking. And two “dressy” pairs of boots. 

I see conspicuous consumption all around me but it doesn’t bother me, it gets me thinking about how it’s something that the person wearing it had thought of doing. But hey, maybe most people don’t think about it like I do, most people just buy things because they like them and they don’t give it much thought. I don’t want to judge people wearing nice things, instead, I want to understand what they’re trying to show. Is it a lack of something else that is being covered up, or are they just trying to match. I am betting it’s the latter more often than the former. 

Conspicuous consumption is not bad in itself but it can be detrimental to a society when the patterns become reproducible and destructible. Reproducible in the form of marketing, repetitive hype cycles, and large sales throughout the year. Destructive because it can lead people to spend more than they afford, it can lead to jealousy instead of intended envy which can result in negative emotions of many kinds, and it can also lead to a retail cycle that’s too short for people to feel satisfied. 

I believe this pattern will get worse a lot more before it becomes a trap people will want to avoid falling into. 

I’m often reminded about how my parents don’t really think about brands (except for cars). They don’t see the appeal in a brand name or especially a brand name over clothing if the clothing is to be worn to cover you and not to make you a walking billboard for a particular brand which you paid money to wear in the first place.