Hello World 2021: Pulse check

Yes I’m alive! Though I seem to habitually forget how to write in this blog. It’s not to say that I’ve forgotten to document my life–the majority of my personal writing I’ve moved to more private docs–it’s just that I haven’t really figured out what I want to write about here in 2021. Though I suppose now that I’ve had this blog for over half my lifetime, it’s not surprising that my habits and style would change, long hiatuses included.

From Xanga to blog.skyrien.com

The world has changed quite a bit since I started this blog started in 2002 (nearly 20 years ago!). It started as a personal blog where, I posted quite random musings and conversed with my community (then of high school Naperville, Illinois folk). In doing so, I also cultivated my online internet persona and written voice.

I credit a lot to my sophomore year English classes for inspiring a habit of self-reflection and an appreciation for documenting my experiences in written form. The skill came in handy when I needed to write professionally, but I also furthered many useful skills — perhaps most importantly, metacognition–thinking about your thinking–in a self-reflective manner. At least, that’s how I remember it.

I still reflect fondly on the ‘publishing company’ we created for class–ours was called ‘4AM publishing’ which carried a number of meanings. It did give me an excuse to poke around and use more of the incredible 3d modeling/ animation tool that is 3ds max where I made our simple logo:

My amateur 3d modeling experience would come in handy in my near future in at least two ways: (1) CAD modeling props and environments for engineering school courses and (2) making my own models intended for 3d printing; and I’m still on Thingiverse!

Later in college, as I began to document more of my life and write more personal stories, I felt a need to share and document my story. I wrote quite a bit about my college experience (2004-2008) and writing continued up until around 2011. Through that period, I often had major thoughts and frequently would want to write them into a semi-coherent blog post. I experimented with several platforms outside of Xanga–including LiveJournal, Vox (different than today’s), WordPress.com, and probably a few more. Most I’ve merged back into blog.skyrien.com, which I claimed in 2008.

Over the decades, I’ve mostly reverted to simple commentary on other peoples’ created works. Actually creating new posts it’s much rarer and I’ve wondered why; it’s not like I have less to share. I do think it’s because I don’t really know the audience I’m posting to anymore; and perhaps more importantly, not sure what to write about. Incidentally, this is also why I’ve mostly been writing in my much more expansive journals elsewhere, where I don’t really have to wonder what reaction my posts may elicit.

I have expanded my tweeting though, but even that has been confused given the uncertain audience. I’ve often contemplated shifting more of my posting to anonymous social media–i.e. Reddit, where the security of anonymity brings out… shall we say a less inhibited internet persona.

Often it seems the internet is a permanent low-context environment; where anything you say can be re-twisted into anything. Or perhaps that’s just our political climate. Regardless, I think the essence is, what I’ve long believed to be the inevitable utopia (the future) of the internet, I wonder what the true impact of humanity earning this superpower will be. I still hope for the best, but I still don’t know what to write here anymore.

For me personally, I have perhaps, too many opinions and thoughts that could be construed in any which way. Keeping your own personal internet a safe environment for expression is critical. But it’s been said that the internet never forgets… and that can cost you; an election, job, friendships, or more.

Hmm… nonetheless, I do believe that the essence of sharing and connecting is innate in humanity, particularly when in a safe and productive environment that promotes the development of self-identity and a healthy, self-aware relationship with one’s other peers. The art of personal blogs seems to have become lost by many, who have reverted their online identities to things like their Twitter accounts and other private social media pages. To each their own; I’ve always loved having my own territory–here–with perhaps rules only set by my hosting provider.

Restarting this blog

So let’s do a quick catch-up… a lot has happened since my last post of September 2020, and doing a complete retrospective is quite hard. I’ve actually been accumulating a list of partially started drafts of posts over the past year since my Kindle ramble. I’ll keep them as drafts for now and quickly reflect on world events (that I may expound into their originally intended posts–

  1. COVID19 – Has it really almost been 2 years?! Crazy… this is going to be a life era for all of us, regardless of our political persuasion. I wrote about it once back in April 2020 — by then, the depths of the sudden shock of shutdowns were setting in, etc… but I’m pretty sure if someone suggested we’d still be talking about COVID19 years later… well, I suppose there’s at least a lot to write about! But indeed life does go on, and I think I have mostly fascinations to expound on.
  2. George Floyd, CHAZ/CHOP, and the Summer of 2020 — This itself deserves many books which I’m not qualified to write. Yet it has shaped the course of this nation and the discussion of race, policing, the boundaries of civil unrest, and one’s stand on the toughest social issues of our time.
  3. Election 2020 — Yeah, wow, the country survived–but the ominous seams still seem to be there under the surface; what is the endgame from all this polarization? What would a more proactive role be in ensuring the survivability of liberal democracy in today’s climate? An important civil discussion to keep having in these United States.
  4. Satisfactory, Dyson Sphere Program, and my newfound love of production simulation games such as these. I’ve admitted to a few that I somehow played 160+ hours of Satisfactory in the month of June; basically a full-time second job. Granted… much of that was spent accumulating resources while I slept, traveled long distances through hypertubes, or otherwise had very little engagement from me during those hours. But the hours I did play… very few games have encouraged such addictive yet beautiful game mechanics that make it such a joy to keep playing. I came upon this video yesterday and it very much sums up why I loved Satisfactory. Thank you Coffee Stain!
  5. Gadgets I’ve recently accumulated — I’ve acquired a number of new toys / gadgets that I’ve integrated into my lifestyle — a folding smartphone, a new smartwatch, an “Art TV”, (yes I suppose I’m a Samsung fan?), my wfh setup, autonomous vacuums, a dining table, etc…
  6. Cryptomining round 2 — I mined a bunch of Litecoin back in 2014; and now I’ve started on Ethereum with an RTX3080. Mixed experiences overall though in round 2.
  7. Playing around with hair coloring — The hair colors I have today I’ve generally had since 2017, so at least four years now. I’ve almost come to identify them as part of myself/identity, in that it almost feels weird when my hair is mostly natural. (Not that I don’t like my hair, but I like playing with its canvas).
  8. Seattle, Pacific Northwest, and how I became part of what I once fought–the Seattle Freeze… I guess after 12 years I’m maybe a local-ish person now?

And I’m sure more… but in any case, I’m writing all the above to move these ideas out of my mental space and start anew for 2021. I probably will write more about those issues eventually.

Decision: No self-hosting, yet…

One thing I’ve decided on though is to not yet try to self-host skyrien.com. I learned quite a bit and got the entire stack working locally, and even mirrored the MySQL DBs into MariaDB which Synology’s DSM seems to prefer. But really, the limiting factor was upload bandwidth by my home ISP.

And that ISP being Comcast in Seattle, the best reasonably priced up-speed only seems to offer an abysmally slow 6 Mbps. Not that I’m Youtube, but this upload speed is also shared by all other applications in my house, so even a single user uploading files would strain the available bandwidth.

So I’ll stay with Dreamhost for now.

But for now, my year-long blog post fast is broken! Tomorrow is a new day!

Got a Kindle Oasis and I’m reading books again!

After ten years of sort of wanting an e-reader, I finally got a Kindle (first a Paperwhite, which I returned and got an Oasis)! I had been debating whether to try actually reading my next book instead of doing my usual passive listening via audiobook. I’ve come to really like audiobooks, and sometimes would prefer them, especially if it’s narrated by the author. But a lot of content is better absorbed and enjoyed when reading in the richness of silent thought and imagination; for the book I’m reading now, Army of None by Paul Scharre, I’m glad I got it in a Kindle version I can actually read.

And I’ve missed reading with my own eyes; it’s far more of an intimate connection with the author-reader and I love having more space to pause and think about a particular sentence. Clever play of words are often missed in audiobooks, not to mention the difficulty in presenting visual content. Audible does provide downloadable copies of images, which helps a bit but it often feels like a clunky afterthought than a cohesive experience. Having books read to you can also be less engaging. I’m not really enthralled by the idea of sitting in one spot to listen to an audiobook, whereas I can do that for an hour or more with a book in hand.

I had first gotten the Kindle Paperwhite, the 6″ mainstream version and as soon as I got past the first few pages I realized how much different this felt than reading my phone, tablet, or other connected screened device. Perhaps its the eink display, the form factor, or distractionless interface, but despite having used screened devices for decades now, this felt new. Maybe even the idea of having a purpose built device for book reading that made me realize how much I’ve forgotten to actually make time for reading (as opposed to opportunistic passive listening like I do with audiobooks while in the car or on a walk/run).

It was an refreshingly awesome experience and I’m already looking forward to making time to read.

I had originally gotten the Paperwhite for the value, but when compared to the latest Kindle Oasis, I felt the Paperwhite’s screen was too cramped and after some debate, switched up. No regrets–the Paperwhite is almost there, but the Oasis is a better experience for reasons that many have articulated; I agree it’s not the best value, but for me, it is a sufficiently superior reading experience (bigger screen, warm light, physical buttons, ability to turn off touch screen were may biggest factors).

My only qualm was the lack of pocketability–I could actually fit the Paperwhite into many of my pant pockets–the Oasis, less so. But honestly, I don’t want more things in my pocket–I’ll carry around my Oasis just fine. (I guess I also did the whole, “if i pay into it, maybe I will keep more disciplined”, thing to motivate myself to read).

I’ve also been impressed at the huge selection of ebooks books available from the Seattle Public Library and despite a somewhat clunky unintuitive interface between OverDrive and Amazon (and Bibliocommons), so many books are available that I imagine myself reading more loaned vs bought Kindle books.

Overall, I’m quite pleased with how the Kindle is fitting into my life and looking forward to reading more books this year!

P.S. This year has been quite… um yeah. There’s so much I wanted to write over the past few months but never got around to it…

The still ongoing pandemic, still ongoing racial justice reckoning, the 2020 election, events in my own life, or any number of other thoughts on my mind. If I manage to collect myself enough to write about them I may share my thoughts. In the meantime, stay safe everyone!

Contagion! Global Pandemic! And of course, life goes on

An era for the history books

How quickly things can change. I have this Wall Street Journal issue I have from mid February, on the state of the US and global economy due to the Coronavirus in China. Let’s note that at this point, this was considered a polarizing pessimistic take by many, and the Dow and S&P would hit all time highs in the following weeks:

China’s coronavirus outbreak will likely dampen U.S. economic growth in the first quarter, according to a survey of economists by The Wall Street Journal.

The monthly survey of economists found 83% of economists expected the coronavirus outbreak will have a small impact on U.S. gross domestic product growth from January to March, or less than 0.5 percentage point. Just 5% of forecasters expected a significant reduction of more than 0.5 percentage point off the quarter’s annual growth rate, while 10% expected no impact.

These brilliant minds were collectively dead wrong

Now in mid-April, it’s been about a month since the entire state of Washington, and billions around world at large, has gone into a social distancing lockdown with effective shelter-in-place orders for months on end (until the end of May here in Washington). This period has created considerable stress for a large number of service workers who are finding themselves out of work for months on end. Massive economic levers are being pulled by policy and political change makers to prevent the economy from collapsing during this period, and for the moment in the US, it seems to be working. But we’re talking about unemployment in the 10-20% range, with a considerable contraction of the US economy for several quarters at a time.

I can’t quite say what the markets are doing, but in the two months since that publication, a recession a given and a depression being seriously discussed as a possibility as the full reopening of the US economy could be 18 months (!) or more. Tens of millions are on unemployment in an effective universal basic income, hundreds of millions of Americans are under legal quarantine and generally buying into the need of it to prevent mass deaths among the population.

Some key sobering moments have encouraged an honest take here — the British PM contracting the disease was quite an episode, with him being admitted to the ICU, it was rather dramatic. I was touched by the relative unity of the political scene there in stark contrast to what we’ve been seeing on the national state in the US.

Beyond that though, daily life has seen some changes. Notably, masks are far more accepted and in some places (and mandatory in others).

Life has also been altered

Travel is completely gone; airline traffic is down 96%, parks are closed, social events of more than a few people are not only cancelled, they are illegal (depends on state, but it is in Washington state). Overall I’ve been okay. I can work remotely. Life goes on. There are lot of things around the house that I needed to do anyway; I’d say I’ve been keeping quite productive. I’m thankful the world has internet; without it, I think it would have gone down very differently.

That it’s happening in 2020 instead of years means a few unique things:

  • Air travel and global integration allows for rapid spread of contagion, but also rapid international cooperation.
  • Major crises like this can elicit strong reflective reaction from policy makers, but a rational health policy based on statistics and measurements is critical to mitigate the harm.
  • With the recent rise of wealth in China, a great deal more has entered the middle class and have been occupying the airwaves. Based on how bad COVID19 is getting in the West, if there’s any basis in reality to Chinese statistics, it seems then that it’s incredibly impressive how quickly they were able to lock down, contain, and restart the economy.
  • The internet. It’s not even worth capitalizing the I anymore. Whatever it was before, it’s ever more critical now, to everyone.
  • Mobile work is possible for many if not most information-tech occupations; and it works for many. Working from home comes with it’s own set of pros/cons. More later.
  • Non-essential service sectors are nearly completely shut-down. The role of central governments and banks couldn’t be clearer in times of crisis.
  • It does seem that the US total deaths due to COVID19 will be far less than the worst case scenarios of widespread infection. Those had numbers of Holocaust like 3-5 million dead thrown around. Based on the latest projections (as of April 17th, this being a moving crisis), it seems like the numbers may peak around 60-70 thousand. Still horrific, but a fraction of the scar that a full 1-2% of the US population would have been. Whew.
  • The political fallout will be interesting. This is an election year after all.

So there’s too much to be said, and this isn’t meant to be a research blog. For me personally, life goes on. I happen to be able to work remotely, and it’s been an interesting test case of how to get people working across the world still able to function during this time.

I do think there are some positives that remote work offers. For one, there is is no commute. This for many saves hours off one’s day. I had a light commute of 20 minutes, and it was forced source of exercise. I’ve found myself needing to be more deliberate with habits that a workday builds in. Things like a commute, breakfast and lunch are all things that revolve around a cadence.

The explosion of video calling for work has also brought millions of people onboard, including folks from my own family. We’ve been putting Zoom and others to good use:

There’s also like… no traffic anywhere. Except that time in Seattle when that guy jumped off the I-5 and blocked the I-5 — I passed by what looked like a body in a blue tarp and confirmed yeah… some guy did something. (H showed me a later picture that was far too graphic to show here) I should have listened to Google Maps that day.)

But yes, other than that, there’s hardly any traffic on the road or in the skies.

Work is also changed

With everyone, from new hires to CEOs needing to dial in remotely, VCs are an interesting leveler of the playing field of meeting dynamic and team hierarchies. Nobody can have the ad hoc conversations that happen around the office, and every interaction has to be much more intentional. So I’ve found it a reason to be more bold. I happen to have a set up I consider relatively enjoyable, though I still find myself talking a lot of walks around the house before/after/or during stretches of meetings.

A couple weeks ago, a coworker of mine came by the house–quite the surprise, especially since I hadn’t seen almost anyone from the office with my own physical eyes in a month or more. It was nice, able to connect in person again. Social distancing is still good to enforce; just in case, but I think after this period, perhaps normal life will be more appreciated.

Stay safe world!

In the meantime, be inspired by an awesome live performance of the Civilization VI theme Sogno di Volare by Christopher Tin.