Goals for 2019

Followup from last year’s post:

Programming: I really dug into Pandas and not I feel pretty comfy with Python & Pandas. This year, I’d like to focus a bit more on stats and machine learning.

Work-life balance: I am freakin obsessed with my job, which is terrific. But I also feel comfy taking days off and leaving at a reasonable time to walk Domino. So, solid win on that front. I’d like to keep that going this year.

Had many fun adventures with Andrew. We’ve kind of made that a priority this year and I’d like to continue doing that.

Baking: made all sorts of cool things. Highlights were Georgian cheese bread (which tasted like crack but sat like a bag of cement), apple cider donut muffins (they’re muffins, so they’re healthy!), and cinnamon pull-apart bread (I killed the yeast and they were still delicious).

Boxing: started going to sparring regularly, which is incredibly fun and hard.  However, one of the women I spar with is several inches taller than me, solid muscle, and just got down to 30lbs lighter than me for a fight. While I don’t feel the need to be that skinny, I’m thinking maybe I should lose a couple pounds next year. Speaking of:

Eating better: we ate weekly salads this year (thanks to Andrew!) but I wouldn’t say we ate more healthily overall. I think we have a solid plan for next year, though.

Finances: not sure if I saved more than usual from my paychecks, but the MongoDB IPO was a nice bump! Dropping this from goals for next year.

Travel: failed miserably, had to go to California many times for work. However, I think I’ve figured out the basics of air travel to the extent that I no longer feel totally screwed over every time I fly.  I even got a free upgrade last trip! Dropping this from goals for next year, I’m going to have to continue to travel a bunch. And playing Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey is making me want to visit Greece.

Read a couple of books: success! My favorite books this year were Spinning Silver and Bad Blood. Dropping this from goals for next year.

Writing: despite feeling like I wasn’t writing anything, actually did manage to hit my goals.  Also, started writing on Medium, since it’s a GV investment.  I’d like to continue with attempting 6 posts next year.

Went camping and hiking a couple times and it was very nice, aside from the one time we got caught in the rain several miles from the trailhead.  But that was fun too, just not at the moment.

Home improvement: fixed most of our toilet’s innards and it works so much better now.  Brings me joy with every flush!

Finally, it was fun to think about this list and what I had done so far all year, looking forward to following up around New Year’s.  So, hopefully it’ll be the same next year.  Happy 2019!

A self-indulgent post for a self-indulgent day

I think how I feel around holidays is a good barometer for how my life is going. For example, last year over the winter vacation, I just wanted to stay there forever and dreaded returning to “real life.” By contrast, year’s winter vacation I had a lot of fun, but I was looking forward to coming back to work.

Similarly, today is my birthday and I did exactly what I wanted to do: went to work and got dumplings for lunch (which I do a couple times a week). I got a bonus sesame pancake sandwich, which I don’t usually get and was delicious, but I was so full I could only eat half of it. And got a piece of my favorite kind of cake (tres leches from Whole Foods), which I don’t have on a weekly basis. At work I was actually doing work that I don’t enjoy very much, but I knew it was important and related directly to my company’s success. And I found and fixed the bug I was looking for, pushed the fix, and got to see my fix working in production, which was satisfying.

Not actually mine, but basically my lunch.

Now I am drinking whiskey and finishing out the day coding up some more enjoyable stuff with two dogs at my feet (both had some of my leftover sandwich). Life is good.

I liked the name. It’s pretty good!

Goals for 2018

A list of things that I think are doable that I’d like to accomplish over the next year:

  • Become as good at Node.js as I am at other languages. I’ve been very impressed by the community so far and EcmaScript 6 is very interesting.
  • I think I’m on track for good work/life balance, but make adjustments as necessary there. Try not to feel guilty when I leave work. I am very much enjoying startup life and I really want it to be successful, but I also have need to have time and energy for Andrew and Domino.
  • Make sure I have the time and energy to keep having fun adventures with Andrew. He is my favorite person to do everything with, and it’s way too easy to end up doing nothing together every day.
  • Learn how to bake some other interesting things. This year I got scones, coffeecake, sausage gravy, and creme patisserie nailed, but I’d like to expand my repertoire.
  • On a somewhat related note, continue with boxing and get stronger/more in shape. I am super enjoying boxing and I have more upper body strength than I’ve ever had in my life.
  • Eat fruits and veggies more often. We’ve implemented a salad-once-a-week plan, but other than that this is probably the least likely to actually happen.
  • Continue to cut spending where possible. I’m generally pretty pleased with my budget, but there’s always room for improvement.
  • Not have to leave the country, nor take an airplane anywhere. No plans to do so and hopefully that will continue.
  • Read a couple of books. I’ve been reading less and less longform, I’d like to at least read one or two books.
  • Write at least 6 blog posts. Or otherwise make things/do creative projects.
  • Go camping. Maybe not for a couple of months, though.
  • Do a home improvement project. I’ve got a bunch of minor and major projects I’d like to do, it’d be satisfying to knock out one or two.
  • Remember to follow up and see how I did on these at the end of the year.

R&R

Andrew and I just took a month off to relax in a cabin in the woods. We are extremely fortunate to have jobs and lives that allow us to take off this kind of time, because boy did I need it. At the beginning of our trip, I was hoping to get so much done: programming, writing, art, and probably 42 other things. However, once we were settled it, my brain said:

And so we relaxed. We cooked at home:

Breakfast on our porch. Looks like a mess, but let me interpret: that’s homemade buttermilk biscuits topped with a poached egg smothered in bacon gravy topped with a homemade salsa. It was so good.
Slightly more picturesque spaghetti carbonara.

We hiked almost every day:

This was an incredible scenic lookout at the top of a mountain where the rock just fell away and you got an incredible view of the valley. We took turns dangling our feet off the edge of the abyss.
Andrew and Domino sharing an apple on a Mohonk Preserve trail.

We went apple picking:

Domino carrying an groundfall apple. He loved chasing them.

Went spelunking, which I had never done before:

Andrew in a Tyvek suit, ready to crawl through “Fat Man’s Misery,” a 3-foot-high tunnel with a stream at the bottom. We were entirely covered in mud when we were done. It was a blast.
Another part of the cave. I’d never seen anything like it before.

At the beginning of the month, I felt broken and depressed and it took a few weeks before I felt normal. The day I started feeling like, “Yeah, I’m myself again,” Andrew actually noticed (I hadn’t said anything) and pointed out at dinner that I had started talking about the future for the first time. The third week, I started feeling energetic again. I suddenly wanted to take a pastry class (we’ve been watching a lot of The Great British Baking Show), learn woodworking, pick up sewing again to make a Halloween costume, do a hackathon, and write a cookbook.

It also renewed my appreciation of NYC. As I had gotten burned out, the city had stopped being the “magical city on a hill” that I’ve always seen it as. I missed seeing our friends, but until week #3, I didn’t miss anything about the city itself. However, once my groove started to come back, so did my love for NYC. I couldn’t wait to get back, there’s a bubble tea festival and a documentary at the Film Forum about the NYC library system. And where else could I take classes on French pastry from some of the best chefs in the world, and turn around and have the world’s most extensive collection of fabric stores and access to a real-estate-related hackathon two weeks after I get back? (And, most importantly, nachos delivered to my door in 10 minutes.)

Sitting on the porch, sipping my coffee, and looking out into the woods is very peaceful. I’ll miss that feeling, and Andrew and I agreed that we should do something like this every 3-5 years from now on. But I can’t wait to get back to the city. I need my own kitchen where I’m going to try making some Genoise sponge cake…

Life hacks

I was thinking about a couple of little things that have made my life a lot better in the last year and I figured I’d share:

Buying cheese powder
I love mac & cheese, particularly Annie’s sharp cheddar. However, 1) they always give too many noodles and not enough cheese and 2) Annie’s switched over to only selling either gluten free (which has a glue-like consistency) or organic (and I’m philosophically, or at least stubbornly, against organic food). However, it turns out that you can get cheese powder on Amazon. I can use as much as I want (I discovered that there is such a thing as “too much cheese powder”) and on any pasta I want.
Hemming my jeans
I took a jeans-making class last year and, although I doubt I’ll ever make another full pair of jeans (it was a lot of work), I am now pretty comfortable with modifying existing pairs. I recently got a pile of $10-a-pop jeans from Goodwill and spent 20 minutes hemming up the bottoms and now have jeans that fit me much better than the $80-a-pair jeans I used to get.

To hem jeans you need a sewing machine, iron, and the ability to sew a straight line, but other than that, it’s pretty straight-forward. Put them on, pin where you want the hem to fall, measure. Say it’s 5″ from the existing hem (shut up, I’m short). Draw a line with a Sharpie (or tailor’s chalk, but I’m assuming most people reading this don’t have a well-stocked sewing room), giving yourself 1.5″ for the new hem (so a line 3.5″ from the existing hem). Cut off just within that line. Fold over the hem .5″ Sew it down. Iron the shit out of it. No one likes to switch modes and iron, but it’ll look super jenky and handmade if you don’t. Then fold over the hem again, which shaves off the last .5″, and sew it down ~7/16″ from the edge (as far away from the edge as possible, while still catching your folded-over part).

If you want the overstitching to be visible, use some sort of triple stitch, but I usually just use the normal stitch and it looks fine. You will probably have to hand-crank the machine across the seams, since it’ll be trying to stitch through 12 layers of denim at that point. Then iron again and you’re done.

Cooking breakfast on weekends
I have discovered that scones and dutch babies are very easy to make. It’s very luxurious having hot pastries and good coffee while the Google Home plays jazz.

Scones are great because they need cold, even frozen, butter (pro tip: get a 4-pack and stick it in your freezer, it’ll last forever) and don’t even require eggs. Just throw together flour, sugar, baking powder, butter, and salt, then add cranberries, chocolate chips, maple syrup and walnuts, or sprinkle with cinnamon and sugar. Always put a little extra sugar on top before baking, because it’ll form a delicious crust.

Dutch babies are great because, again, it doesn’t matter what temperature the butter is: you put it in a pan to start with and stick it in the oven anyway. Also, the taste reminds me of something from my childhood, but I haven’t figured out what, yet. I’ll have to keep eating them until I figure it out.

That’s senior programmer to you, buddy

After about a decade of professional programming, I have finally gotten promoted. For the first time. This is a weird industry.

Regardless, I am now a “Senior Software Engineer.” Woo!

Thinking about it, this has been a goal of mine for a long time. Now that I’ve achieved it, I’m not sure what’s next.

“…and Alexander wept, for there were no more worlds to conquer.”

The Haunted Homesteader

Andrew and I have always loved old places. Optimally, we’d like to live in a wizard’s tower on top of a mountain. However, we’d be willing to settle for a castle with a thousand acres of land. More realistically, we’d like an old place with a couple of acres. That you can reach without a car from NYC (I said more realistically, not actually realistically).

So, sometimes I browse the real estate listings, especially near the train stations along Metro North and one day I noticed something unusual. There was a place that was being sold right next to the train station. It was 10 acres of property. They were asking less than $1 million.

Okay, those were the good things. There were… a couple downsides. It was old (good) and had obviously been abandoned for years (not so good). It was missing certain crucial elements like windows. And a roof. It needed a completely new septic system and well replacement (well water in combination with septic tank problems: eww), needed new wiring, and god knows what else. It was a “historical property,” so any repairs we made had to be okay-ed by a historical accuracy board and materials would probably be exorbitantly expensive: no off-the-shelf windows from Home Depot. On top of all that, the walls were literally made of asbestos, so either we pay an exorbitant amount to have all of the asbestos removed, or pay an exorbitant amount for each repair we did because everyone would have to wear spacesuits and take crazy precautions.

So, I said, “Let’s just go up on the train an take a look. So I can get it out of my system.”

Andrew pretended to believe me and off we went. We got off the train and… the property was right there. Like, 5-minute stroll up the hill from where we got off the train. Note the “up-the-hill” part: this thing was basically invisible from every angle. We’d gone hiking from this train stop a hundred times and never seen it before. It was on a bluff overlooking the Hudson. We carefully circled the property, the ridiculously large property, trying to get a clear view of the place. There was no actual road leading to it, it was just… abandoned by time, on a bluff overlooking the Hudson. I was done for.

We continued to circle it and the “backyard” (the part not overlooking the Hudson, did I mention it fucking OVERLOOKS THE HUDSON?!) melts into reserved state land, so it’ll never be developed. We’d have a forest in our backyard for perpetuity. We walked down one of the trails through the woods in the “backyard” and sat down on a big rock overlooking a waterfall. We discussed, and negotiated, and fantasized. We started off agreeing that we’d both be comfy offering 1/5 the asking price. A few hours later, our butts were freezing, Domino had crawled into Andrew’s lap, and we had negotiated ourselves up to, “well, the asking price is sort of reasonable…” We’re terrible negotiators.

So, we contacted the real-estate agent so we could see the inside of the house. She took us on a tour and, in some ways, the place was amazing: floor-to-ceiling bay windows with views of the river, fireplaces in every room, and more rooms that we knew what to do with. In other ways, it was… not so amazing. For example, it was built before indoor plumbing, so the original floor plan had not accounted for things like bathrooms. Nor closets, apparently that wasn’t a thing. It was built for rich people in the 1800s, so the kitchen was in the basement (keep the help out of the way). There was obviously no electricity, so none of the ceilings have wiring for light fixtures. The owners built an addition with plumbing & electric in the 20s, but given its size and shape, it’s a bit quirky. For instance, they added an awesome “secret door” bookcase that swings open to reveal… a bathtub in a closet.

After seeing the inside, we were in love, but the love was tempered by the desire to not have to work until we died restoring the place. We talked to a some contractors. We talked to our friends. We talked to our parents.

And… we decided against it. I’m a bit heartsick over it, but it’s just 10 years too early for us to be able to dedicate that kind of time to fixing up a place. Doing the mature, responsible thing sucks.

Now we’re mainlining Ask This Old House. When the time comes, we’ll be so ready.

The living room.
The living room.

Recruiting review

Just got this message from a recruiter:

I know I recently reached out to you, but seriously, you’re the cat’s meow and I can see you being the perfect fit for [company]. Your current experience at Google is spot on with what our Talent Team is looking for.

[Description of company]

If I am way off base in my analysis of your profile, please let me know. However, if there is a small chance that I may have hit the nail on the head – I’d love to discuss the opportunity to join their team.

[Sign off]

deTECHtive | Talent Acquisition Manager

Points for actually describing what the company does. Points off for:

  • Using more analogies than I could swing a dead cat at.
  • deTECHtive
  • Being a Googler == what they’re looking for.

All in all, I rate it two resumes out of five: nothing egregious, but nothing appealing, either.

[star rating=”2″]

You do you

I’m a little tired and depressed this week. However, this was a very inspiring speech Neil Gaiman gave to new grads of an art school:

Neil Gaiman Addresses the University of the Arts Class of 2012 from The University of the Arts (Phl) on Vimeo.

I think that his point about doing what you love, regardless of the money, holds doubly true for programmers. We are extremely lucky in that, unlike artists, we can make an okay salary nearly anywhere. We might as well work on things that make us happy.