The rational sacrifice

Check out this post on Elon Musk on Wait But Why. The post goes into great detail about how Musk reasons from first principle. By starting at the beginning and thinking about what’s best for humanity as a whole, Musk ends up being motivated to make reality renewable energy and travel to Mars. He didn’t just start there from scratch of course, and the article shows how he worked his way up from internet startups towards more lofty goals. It’s a good read, highly recommended.

Somehow, when I think about my own life in this way, and trying to be as rational as possible, I do not find myself reaching the same conclusions as Musk has. I think what Musk has done is, is you consider the human factor, not the most rational solution to the problem ‘what should I do with my life’. And that makes what he does all the more admirable. I’ll try to explain my reasoning with some personal life examples.

In my day job as software developer it pays off to be completely and coldly rational about your product. For example, even if you intend to be on a project for 6 months, it still pays off to focus on the extreme-long-term of the project if it was made to last long, even if you don’t intend to be on the project for that long. Rationally, what is best for the project is also best for you as a developer, because you are accountable for the state of the project. If the project goes well and continues to go well in the future, that means people think highly of you and will consider you again for future projects. Personal motivation and that of the whole are aligned.

Now compare that to Musk. He made his personal motivation to be the motivation of the whole. There is just no way that this can be an intrinsic, gut-feeling type of motivation, and he says so himself. He reasoned from first principles and arrived rationally at a conclusion about what he should do with his life. I know how this type of reasoning works; I use it all the time at work. In my case it means that I choose to increase test coverage, review code that someone else has already reviewed but I really want to be sure of, or spend a day debugging some hard-to-catch bug on production — all tedious tasks that don’t improve my knowledge as a developer. As a developer I can improve myself faster by learning new frameworks, trying new languages and venturing out into different areas of software. But I am employed for one particular project, and that project benefits the most from me doing what needs to be done, because no one else will do it.

I have no Musk-comparison for the opposite case: the case where you do something out of your gut feeling because you know it feels right, uncaring about the consequences, aiming towards nothing rational in particular but just wanting inner peace. But I do have an example of my own: that of cycling. Being on the road all day, seeing many things as I cycle along, with only room for one goal in my mind, sometimes pondering the book I’ve read the previous night. Cycling trips to me are a form of meditation, a way of clearing out my mind of unwanted thoughts and focusing on the here and now. It is a mental reset that, as far as I’m aware, I can only experience in that particular way, and it is a very powerful experience, especially when put into contrast against my daily life.

As someone who considers himself to be highly rational, I find it unreal that I am at my [best, happiest, most peaceful] when I am doing something irrational.

But then, rationally speaking, if I know that my mind and body can provide me with this peace of mind if I seek the irrational path, isn’t that the path I should rationally be pursuing? And isn’t everything else in my life second to that goal? It’s a deeply personal (even spiritual?) goal, one that is of no use to the people around me, society or humanity as a whole. I am no Elon Musk, and I can not rationally justify me sacrificing myself to save humanity. Or perhaps I just rate my chances of success pretty low. Either way, I know I will never be spiritually motivated that way, and I think neither can he be, which is why I think of what he’s doing as a sacrifice. I respect him for that, but I do not want it for myself.


Reading back what I just wrote I realized there’s a contradiction between how I describe my goals versus the whole in the third and fourth paragraph. Although I wrote that I don’t want to sacrifice myself in the way Musk does, it appears that I’m doing exactly that in the smaller-scale context of my project. That’s probably not good. I think I can attain higher goals before resorting to a self-sacrificing position.

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Suffering is living


Based on my experiences during a cycling trip versus my experiences of working / living the daily life, I infinitely prefer the life of the cycling trip. Cycling triggers strong emotions in me, both positive and negative, and a week of cycling inevitably ends up being more memorable than a week of grinding the day job. It’s not just that: cycling holidays give me a feeling of serenity that I just cannot get anywhere else. It’s the combination of physical exhaustion, seeing new sights, the possibility of unexpected things happening, being in full and sole control of everything I do all day, and not having to worry about possessions, obligations or anything else.

The best way I can describe this feeling is with an anecdote. When I’m at home I always need to be doing something: I need to play Minecraft, I need to do house chores, I need to learn some new programming technique, I need to pay some bills, I need to do some work thing. Even if I force myself to ‘do nothing’ for an hour and just sit on the couch trying to clear my mind, it has little effect. It’s real life in progress. There’s many things to be thought about. My mind cannot rest.

Here’s the contrast: yesterday I went cycling to a mountain lake I know very well, and a mountain pass that leads up to the ocean at the end that I’ve cycled once or twice and have really good memories about. The sun was high in the sky, not a cloud to be seen, and I had the mountain path all to myself with hardly a car passing me by all day. Just me, nature, a tough-but-not-too-tough uphill and a superfast downhill with a gorgeous view. That’s all I needed to think about all day. Not a single ‘real life’ thought entered my mind that day. At the end of the pass I was pleasantly exhausted and had a rest at my favorite beach spot. And then I just sat there, for an hour, thinking of nothing much in particular. My mind was at rest. I did not feel the need to think about something, to solve something. I was just content with being there in that particular moment. Real life provides me with so much things to think about but the beach is just.. the beach.


During the past few years of my life I have made some important life choices; choices that at first glance might seem to take me away from that serene moment at the beach. I cannot pretend to know what I’m doing with my life, nor that I am doing the right thing at this very moment, but every once in a while, thanks to cycling trips like these I get to insert a little moment of serenity in my life that allows me to evaluate my life choices in a more detached manner. Having done that, I can say that I am not disappointed at all at the choices I made so far. I think for me the key lesson of this trip was:

You will never truly appreciate something unless you have suffered for it.

This is a mental thing, and nothing anyone can tell me can convince me that it’s wrong. It’s just hardwired into my brain. I have experienced both sides of it: sometimes I get something without making an effort, or the slight effort I make has a huge payoff and I pat myself on the back for being clever. But emotionally speaking, it’s a billion times more satisfying to work really hard for something and then finally get it in the end.

And that’s the irrational part. Human beings are irrational. Logically speaking there should be absolutely no need for us to prefer the working-hard version over the get-things-for-free version if the end result is the same. But human beings are not wired that way. Our emotional payoff is triggered by irrational things, so we must adjust our logic to sometimes prefer the irrational instead. I could optimize my whole life so that I never have to work hard for anything ever again, but I would hardly feel a thing about it. Why would I want to lead a lifetime of meh versus a grand drama of emotional ups and downs? Sensations, that’s what life is all about. Experiences. You need to feel in order to be alive. That is the one truth that needs to take precedence over rational thought. Otherwise you’re just a machine.

To moderate and contrast that last statement a little: my little cycling trip of beautiful physical and mental ups and downs was paid for entirely by mind-numbing machine-like labour, done in a rationally optimized way to be perfectly efficient with the time I had available to me. I’d like to think that I do my job well: I don’t waste time, I use all of my brain to keep track of everything that’s going on and I always try to deliver quality work. It’s kept me employed so far in a deadliney environment so I must be doing something right. It’s not bad at all; I’m quite passionate about how to do my job right. But somehow all of that pales in comparison to the intensity of a cycling trip. If people would pay me to cycle without telling me what to do I would absolutely choose that over my current job.

But nobody does, of course. Also, nobody would pay me to be an astronaut or a formula one driver. Which is exactly why my current life style is as rational as it gets. I get paid for something I am really good at and also quite enjoy, and I use that money to finance the things that I couldn’t possibly do without. And then some things on the side too, because why the hell not.

I blogged previously about the mental fog that I was in before and when I started this trip. This kind of statement, this kind of clarity about my life and what I will go back to, is easy to see when you’re on a bike on a clear-blue day, cycling some lovely country lane towards a mountain, but it will be tough to keep a hold of when the daily drudge comes back and I’m commuting to work on a cloudy, rainy day. That is also why I write: to be able to read this back again later so I can draw inspiration from it. They’re a way of realigning my future self to the path that I know is right, my way of saying “Trust me, dude. We know what we’re doing”.

And on that note, I’m flying back home tomorrow. I won’t be using the word ‘drudge’ or ‘grind’ to describe my life any time soon; we’ve got a lot of fun things planned in the months ahead. And thanks to this trip I’m completely mentally ready for anything. Bring it on!

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Zen and the Art of Bicycle Maintenance

Hi blog, it’s been a while. This is going to be a long one.

Let’s start at the end. Two days ago I stood with my bicycle on the bridge connecting Kitakyushu airport with the mainland, on my way to catch a flight back to Tokyo, and later back to the UK. Despite all the troubles I’ve experienced on this trip, which I’ll talk about more later, I realized that I did not want it to end. Every single cycling trip I do starts with deadening preparation and a start so tough that it makes me think “Yup, this will definitely be the last one”. Then the end nears and I just don’t want to stop, and I know there’s going to be another one after this. It’s become what I do and who I am.

Cycling trips are my way of staying sane. I recently read The Martian by Andy Weir. A brilliant book. Spoilers following: the book has a great contrast between the main character being stranded on his own and taking care of everything himself, versus him being in contact with NASA and them doing all the complicated stuff for him. I love cycling trips because they force me into a situation where I cannot rely on anyone else to do things for me. I’m the one who needs to plan, who needs to fix the bike when it’s broken, who needs to deal with route changes, bad weather and everything else that could possibly happen. It’s a good feeling, that of doing everything yourself. And unlike in The Martian there’s less risk of death. So I’ve got that going for me, which is nice.

There’s so many things I want to write about now that I’m in the mood for writing. I really want to write about the trip but I need to get something out of the way first: why did I not blog for the past few months? I could come up with many reasons here, but the main reason is that I have been a braindead coward. I’ll elaborate.

First, the braindead bit: I have been utterly fulfilled in my daily life for the past few months. Our apartment purchase finalized without issue and I have been living happily together with my girlfriend. We’ve done all the critical housy things needed to make the place our own and are now no longer in such a hurry for further improvements. Things are good. Not much happens in my life. And when stuff does happen I have the opportunity to fire off a real-life status update to my girlfriend immediately, so it goes out of my system before I have a chance to even consider blogging about it. Which is probably a good thing, because most of the stuff that’s happening to me is just boring, personal, house life stuff, like comparing various types of blinds, discussing best methods of hanging up shelves or figuring out where to put the exercise bike. It’s all stuff that has been occupying my mind, but I never once thought it would be worth sharing with the outside world.

That sounds happy, right? It absolutely is, but a lack of variation in experience does dull the brain. I have only myself to blame for this: in addition to the ‘normal’ housy things, I have also been pretty enveloped by Minecraft. Whenever I feel sleepy or absent or otherwise reluctant to focus my full attention on something, I play Minecraft. I create massive worlds with elaborate backstories, and there’s always something more to do. It’s the most gratifying ‘game’ I have ever played, especially in the long term.

But I digress. The point was to illustrate how a lack of variety in experience dulls the brain. I pretend it doesn’t. I tell myself “Sure, I play Minecraft, I don’t have a social life any more, I don’t have much other hobbies, but that’s ok because I can change my life any time and mold my brain into something else whenever I want to”. I tend to use planned holidays as an excuse because I know that exactly what is happening now, will happen: here I am sitting in a cafe in Japan typing this up, a clear achievement of a brain that is once again creative and out of the Minecraft trap. I know trips have this effect on me so I let myself indulge in mind-numbing activities before the trip. Then after the trip finishes I tell myself it won’t happen again and I’ll stay in that creative first-person real-world mode this time for sure. I don’t think that’s ever worked, but there’s always a next trip to reset me.

So that’s the braindead part of the ‘braindead coward’, what’s the coward bit? A braver me of the past explains it better than I could.

The internet has changed. In 2005 you could write whatever the fuck you want, in my post of 2011 I mention the possibility of potential employers stumbling upon something they *might* not like. In 2015 writing on the internet is downright toxic for your career no matter what you write. It’s a given that people will find out everything about you before they consider you for an interview, and it’s foolish and naive to assume that they’ll take the time to consider your full background and context of whichever remark you wrote that caused them to scratch you off the list. I’ve made the mistake in the past of writing stuff in the heat of the moment that could really only have negative consequences for me. When I was confronted with that I deleted my blog for a while, thinking it’s better to have nothing at all than something that could be used against me. But, against my better judgment and what I think is rational, it just doesn’t feel right to censor myself on the internet. I’m having trouble constructing a useful train of thought for my wanting to keep my blog online, which is probably proof that it’s not rational. But my gut feeling tells me I should keep it, so I’ll listen to my gut. It hasn’t betrayed me yet. I can’t promise that there will be frequent future updates, but I will try.

Right, back to the cycling trip.

London had been grey and terrible for weeks when I left for Japan, bike in bag, driven to the airport by my lovely girlfriend. Well before the trip started I had cycled a few times a week on our exercise bike, but lost motivation about 2-3 weeks before the trip. I was incredibly overweight, and unfit. This, like letting the mental fog take me over, is another thing I thought I could get away with because I had a trip coming up that would ‘fix’ it. Because I only had a little under two weeks available for this trip, and very fixed inbound and outbound flights, I decided the only useful way to plan the trip would be to pre-book flights and hotels, which meant fixing my route and the minimum amount I would have to cycle each day. But, given the location of start and end airport, that there might be rainy days and that I would have to allocate myself some extra daylight time to fix potential mechanical mishaps, the distance cycled each day was not actually that much: anywhere between 40 and 80 kilometers per day. Quite manageable. In fact, for the first few days, I arrived at each hotel very early in the afternoon, giving me plenty of time to think, which is usually a bad sign. And because I already had accommodation and didn’t  to cycle more, I didn’t bother to take a longer scenic route or cycle to somewhere else after checking in.

I need to elaborate on that, because it wasn’t just a lack of motivation, it actually involved a fair amount of physical pain. Partly because I am overweight, but mainly because of a bad saddle angle, being on the bike for longer than 30kms caused me to have incredible saddle pain, which also carried over to the next day. It made cycling utterly unenjoyable because all I could focus on was the saddle pain. The worst thing was that I didn’t realize at the time that it was because of the saddle. I just assumed that I was hopelessly unfit and just really fat; I couldn’t get any power down on the pedals because every time I did I would feel the pain in my behind. Because of this I would take it easy, go slower and coast a little more, but even when coasting I’m sitting on the saddle, and it’s actually only making it worse because I’m not spreading the load between my legs, arms and butt: it’s just my butt that’s supporting my weight.

The worst day happened early on in the trip: it was a beautiful blue sky day. I was cycling along some perfectly flat coastal roads; not much traffic, with some nice scenery on the side. I didn’t have to go too far that day so I took it easy. It should have been the perfect cycling moment, and I recognized that as well, but somehow I could not make myself enjoy it. My mind was in a fog from spending too much time in hotel rooms and not on a bicycle, and my body was just hurting from the saddle pain which at the time I had not identified as being worse than it should have been. I just could not get my brain to reset and appreciate the moment, which led to frustration, which led to more frustration at being frustrated even though it was a prefectly beautiful day. I felt clueless and helpless.

It took me a long time to realize that my saddle angle was wrong because a) I had a plausible explanation in the fact that I was overweight and unfit, b) I had taken the time at the start of the trip to finetune every bit of my bike (gears, saddle height, brakes, fenders, chain), so my mental image of the bike was that it was perfect. And finally, c) the saddle angle actually slipped back more as I cycled along because the bolt was not tight enough. Later, much later, during the second-to-last day of the trip, I finally learned of all these things. The day before, after reaching my destination, it occurred to me that maybe my saddle could be angled a bit more forward. I thought it would make a minor difference, but when I made the adjustment it immediately solved all my saddle pain issues! It was an incredibly liberating moment because I could suddenly put all my power on the pedals again and go much faster than before. I was not as unfit as I previously thought after all. It was the best feeling of the entire trip, and I’m sure that one single moment of adjusting the saddle triggered the mental reset that I so desperately needed.

It’s not a magic solution of course: I’m still overweight, so adjusting the saddle angle just put a lot more stress on my arms, but they had nothing to do for the entire trip and could use the extra work. I can tell that I’m not nearly as fit as I was for last year’s trip, but I’m definitely not as unfit as I thought during the beginning of the trip either. After making the adjustment I was finally able to cardio-exhaust myself, no longer being limited by the saddle pain. It felt great.

There were many other mechanical mishaps during the trip. Fresh off the plane, when I first set up the bike, I noticed I couldn’t get the rear wheel into position at all: the two rear bits of the frame were bent inwards even further than they ever were in the past. I had to use brute force to bend the frame open again, which was probably a very bad thing to do, but I didn’t really have a choice at the time, since I didn’t want to abandon the trip. When I finally bent the frame back enough for the rear wheel to fit in, I noticed that one of the rear brakes was pressed against the wheel, preventing it from turning. Looks like my bending wasn’t exactly even and now the rear wheel was not quite in the center any more. I didn’t want to take it out again after all the effort and brute force I’d gone through just to get it in, so I took out all the spacers from the side that was hitting against the wheel, and put them on the other side. It actually resulted in a very usable rear brake.

Then I found out that the rear luggage rack didn’t quite fit any more, probably because of the bending. Lacking the tools to adjust it, I asked the taxi driver to help me out as I used yet more brute force to push the rack into a position where the screws would fit onto the holes in the frame.

There were some more minor mishaps as well during the trip: two of the bolts connecting the fender spokes to the actual fender fell off because I didn’t tighten them enough when building the fenders back home. With the bolts gone I just duct-taped them into place and it’s worked fine since. The gears have been surprisingly fine considering the amount of stress that the rear derailleur has surely been through during transport. The front derailleur needed a minor adjustment to prevent the chain from running into it at high gears, but it worked fine without the adjustment as well. Lastly, for some reason my handlebar-mounted gear lever came loose near the end of the trip. I haven’t quite figured out why this has happened, but rotating it 90 degrees tightens it again, so I’ve settled on that for now. I can fix it properly when I get home.

I could talk about many travel-y things here: how the skies were so blue and nice, how the roads were beautiful and quiet and devoid of traffic, how chilly it is in the morning. Or about the random guy who gave me a drink while I was having my morning conbini break. But the main focus for me during this trip was the mental fog and my struggles with the saddle and my unfitness. It may sound petty, but that stuff affects me a lot. In the beginning of the trip I was mentally sheltered and avoided social interaction. As the trip progressed I gained confidence again and began to sort-of return to my old self. Everything just came naturally again. An odd example of this: when the trip started and I first unpacked my bike at the airport, I took a long time to set everything up and eventually had to enlist the help of a nearby taxi driver. I hesitated for a long time before initiating the interaction. At the end of the trip when I had to unpack my bicycle, once again at an airport with nearby taxi drivers, I was swift, efficient and was not phased at all by a nearby taxi driver who seemed to scrutinize my every move. As soon as I first assembled the bike and returned from a test lap I crossed eyes with the driver, smiled and lifted my thumb up. I would never have been able to do that at the beginning of the trip. I can do many things when I am confident.

So here I am. Once again in Atsugi, the inevitable final destination of every Japan cycling trip I do. Yesterday I cycled from Haneda airport to Atsugi, via Enoshima. It was tougher than I thought; the damage done to my butt from the bad saddle angle isn’t quite healed yet, and the adjusted saddle angle did get painful near the end, but the feeling of returning ‘home’ quite compensated for that. I say ‘home’, but I’ve been back so many times and have settled into the UK life so thoroughly that Atsugi really does not feel like home any more. Nor any of Japan, for that matter. Japan is no longer mine, but I am content with occasionally returning to check up on it. It’s looking good so far. I’ve changed far, far more than it has.

I think it was on that worst day of the trip, the day that I just couldn’t get myself to enjoy, that I started a re-read of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. Barely a chapter in the mental fog lifted from me and a lot of things made sense. I have been paying way too much attention to the classical aspects of everything and not at all on the romantic. I’m getting all the technical details right, planning everything in advance with just the right safety margins, etc., but I never once thought about the romantic aspect of the trip – how to enjoy it – until I was on the bus to Haneda. The moment was brief, but amazing. I remembered what I was here for and it filled me with giddy excitement. It’s only now, near the end, that I feel like I’ve connected with the romantic aspect of the trip. I can see the bigger picture again.

Today I’ve booked a bus and a taxi so I can get home again on Saturday. I’ve still got two days left. I’m planning to cycle to my favorite lake, over a mountain pass and then back down again to the sea. On the second day I might climb the big mountain, but perhaps not. It’s not important what I do, as long as I enjoy it.

Every time I go on a cycling trip I find out what I truly need.

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Fascinating linkdump

Yup, I’m still alive busy moving apartments, but otherwise still interested in THE FUTURE.

I’ve also recently finished a Scalable Machine Learning course at edX. It was my first time trying out an online course and it turned out to be quite interesting. Especially the final week’s assignment produced some really cool results. Apache Spark is so much nicer to work with than Hadoop.

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A Brave New Internet (or: why I stopped using Twitter)

Twitter has been one of my favorite Internet places for at least the past 5 years. Twitter always distinguished itself from Facebook for me because of its ‘just a quick thought’-ness. Anything you can think of, just dump it on Twitter. Friends might follow you on Twitter, but thoughts on there are generic and meant to be seen by the world. Anything personal that I want kept between my circle of friends goes on Facebook, anything that doesn’t require a friend context goes on Twitter.

Or at least that’s how I started using Twitter, but I no longer use it that way. I’ve been tweeting my random thoughts less and less – more on that later. My main use of Twitter for the past few years(!) has been to complain. There’s nothing more satisfying when your train is running late again than to fire off an angry tweet towards the train company (that’s you, TFL). Or if my mobile phone’s internet has failed yet again during my daily commute (that’s you, Three). Or if the software for my fitness tracker is just so shit I can’t bear to use it (that’s you , Garmin). But I digress. What used to be a frivolous form of quick mind-blogging has turned into an utterly useless hatefest. It’s not healthy to use Twitter just for that.

So what about the other use? What about the short random thoughts? I had a fun random thought the other day at work, while performing a request for a client that was a bit out of my comfort zone, but at the same time no trouble at all and quickly handled. In a split-second I came up with “I’m a developer, not a nanny”, fired off a tweet and forgot about it. My mood never darkened, I didn’t brood on it, I just thought it was a funny thought because it drew parallels with the “I’m a doctor, not an X” meme from Star Trek which (I assumed) would resonate among my developer friends that are following me. Instead I got a concerned message from one of the people I work for asking me if everything was OK.

This is wrong on so many levels, but the main thing that bothers me is this: I know my colleagues quite well (I think), and I think they know me quite well. They know my personality and they know I’ll speak up when something bothers me, yet somehow the off chance that an extremely generic statement I make on a personal Twitter account might somehow end up reflecting badly on my client, or my client’s client, means that I will be spoken to by someone who did not understand the context in which the remark was made, or what it was even meant to represent.

And you know what the worst part is? I am in the wrong! I’m not saying that sarcastically, I truly believe that I did the wrong thing. I am wrong to assume that it’s ok to share a short message publicly without context and expect people to understand all of its nuances. The past that I fondly remember is not ‘better’ because people back then knew you better and knew to take things in context or not place too highly a value on it; it’s just that I used to get away with it because it just didn’t occur to anyone to check on Twitter what people you know are saying in public. You can argue very strongly for the right to say anything you want on the internet and get away with it but from a purely game-theoretic perspective an employer would be stupid not to check. All things being equal you’d rather have an employee with zero public presence than an employee with a potentially negative web presence.

I don’t fault people for thinking this way but, again from a game-theoretic perspective, my chances of remaining employed, and getting job interviews, only increases by shutting down my Twitter account. I’m not saying any public presence is a risk by definition. Github is a really good example of something that will very likely benefit you, even if you don’t write a lot of code publicly. Even if you suck at coding, Github would be a representation of that. It’s hard (but not impossible!) to take source code out of context, especially compared to a message of max 140 characters.

This is not 2005 any more. Back then as a fresh 20-something in Japan I could tweet and blog anything I liked without consequences. But in 2015 as a 30-something trying to be a responsible developer you simply can’t blurt out random things in public.

Lack of context creates misunderstandings. I truly believe in openness of information and that, provided all parties have the full context available, more information can only have a positive effect. But no one on the internet has the time or the interest to research the full context of something before making up their opinion. That simple little fact makes Twitter a risk without a reward.


I’ve pondered on whether I should write about this at all, and I’m still pondering about closing this blog again in favor of having an anonymous blog, which is what I did a while back. I came back here, to the good old Colorful Wolf, because I believed that I could provide the context people need to understand me. I naively believe that I still can have a net positive effect on the world by writing and sharing the things that interest me.


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A random rambling post

This blog has long since become a massive infodump about my life. I started blogging almost 10 years ago! That’s just mad. I never could have imagined that I would still have this blog after so long. Some of the frivolous hypotheticals I have asked myself on this blog have started with ‘In 10 years, …’, or ‘How would I feel about X 10 years from now?’

So, in the spirit of regaining some of the frivolous blogging spirit I had 9 years ago, and also to create some new content I can laugh at 10 years from now, let’s write about some random stuff!

There’s this funny personality type test here; 8 years ago I was an INFJ, and I’ve switched between INTJ and INFJ over the past 10 years, probably tending more towards INTJ in general. I’m surprised this hasn’t changed; I feel quite like a different person compared to who I was 8 years ago..

That is perhaps one of the things I am ‘struggling’ with the most today: I’m not 23 any more. I often wonder if, extrapolating from the 23-year-old me, is the current me the best possible version that I could have become? If I am, I wouldn’t have made a single mistake or wrong choice since I was that age, so I would rate that as extremely unlikely. It does make me wonder if, on the bell curve of possible future-me’s, most versions of me would more or less end up with a similar mind as the one I have right now. It seems likely, but my mind likes to pretend that only good things happened in the past and therefore the present must have the same type of good things happen to me in order for me to be as ‘good’ as I was back then. It’s silly, that: life does move on, and you can’t pretend to be a mad, directionless twenty-something forever.

I am very much not directionless any more. My preference for contemplating the meaning of life has evolved into a preference for building a sustainable and comfortable environment for myself in which I can continue to contemplate the meaning of life. Speaking of contemplation, I have not had a toilet of my own for 4 years now. That is fucking ridiculous. Every man should have his own toilet. But I digress.

An apartment or house that I own. That is what I want. And it’s not even ‘I’ any more, nor has it been for a very long time. Although I try not to drag her into my blog much, my girlfriend and I are very happy together – Happy enough to move in together, obviously. Having a girlfriend meant, very simply, a huge shift in lifestyle for me. As an introvert I tend to reserve a fair portion of my free time for myself; time where I don’t have to interact with people. I used to spend the other portion of my free time with my friends, and now nearly all of that time is spent with my girlfriend. My friends are no different either – this appears to be how 30-somethings live their lives at this age in this era in this country. While I fondly remember the days where all my friends lived in the same building and we could just knock on each other’s doors any time to go out and have fun, now is not the time, place, nor age for that, and I couldn’t get that experience back even if I wanted to.

I’m making some big choices lately, but I already know that I won’t regret them. Making the big choices in life has never been a problem for me; the only things that dissatisfied me were things that were out of my control. Buying an apartment in London in 2015 may well be a terrible financial decision, despite all the research I put into it suggesting that it won’t be. But even if it is, I estimate the financial loss to be acceptable, whereas the alternative of not having my own toilet for another 4 years just isn’t. I’ve put my life on hold for too long, but now it’s time to get what I want.

The future is full of possibilities. I used to pride myself on answering the question “Where do you see yourself 5 years from now?” with “I haven’t a clue!”. I’ve matured a bit, taken on responsibility, but I still value the idea of not having a fixed future very highly. My answer still stands, but the question has become: “Where do you see yourself 10 years from now?”. We shall see. We shall see..


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My peculiar relationship with cars, roads and driving

A long time ago I owned a car. But even before that I would play racing games. And even before that my dad would take me out for drives in the open country roads of my province. I have been on the road since I was a child, in one form or another. I absolutely love roads. It’s why I enjoy racing games, why I enjoy touring cycling, and, now that I once again have a car, why I enjoy driving.

However, something never feels quite right when I’m driving my car on the road or on the track. It’s extremely hard for me to define this, and I’ve tried to blog about it many times but I just couldn’t find the right words. For this attempt I’ve settled on this explanation: my experience lacks purity.

Purity of what? I think it’s best if I split this up into two categories: road driving and track driving. In both categories I have been spoiled by better-than-real experiences as I grew up. Let’s talk about racing first.

I think that, because of racing games and simulations, what I have come to define as ‘racing’ for myself encompasses only a subset of what racing in real life actually is. Racing, to me, is about driving a car, any car, right on the edge for extended periods of time, either to improve your lap times or to win a race, that doesn’t matter. It’s about being in a perfect flow state, usually while listening to music because that’s what I do when simracing, tackling corner after corner, getting into a trancelike state of becoming faster and faster without having to think about anything else except that. That to me is the pure essence of racing.

Guess what: real-life racing is far, far removed from that feeling. There is absolutely no state of flow involved when you drive your own car on track. Instead you’ll be worrying about your brakes and tires constantly, because in real life those items degrade and you’ll have to pay for replacements when they wear down or break. And they do break! I’ve been lucky enough to have very durable tires on my car but I’ve already had to replace the entire brake system once, and the second set is starting to wear down as well. This still astounds me: the fact that all you have to do is push your car to the limit and it starts to fall apart. It does not put my mind at ease that my brake and tire durability is measured in hours instead of months when I take my car to a track day. Of course I could push my car a little less hard, but that’s not what I take it to a track: I want to be on the limit.

..which brings me to my next point: I know the GT86 is widely proclaimed as a car that’s great fun to drive on track, but I think I’ve reached the limit of what it can do. It’s a bloody amazing car, and it’s brilliantly easy to control, but that’s also its downfall: it’s brilliantly easy to control and it’s not actually that fast, so after you get used to it there’s not really any long-term challenge to it. Sure, this sounds arrogant, I know. Who am I to criticize a car that I haven’t even driven in a race? I’ve only taken it out on a few track days. But I’ve also chased that feeling of perfect control and driving on the edge for about 15 years in sim racing. I can only say what I think based on my experience, and in my experience the GT86 is not a long-term challenge for me. In order to be that, I would have to upgrade it, which I am not going to do because a) I don’t have the money for that, and b) it still wouldn’t be as pure a feeling as simracing, and c) I REALLY don’t have the money for that – to get the thrill I seek I would have to buy a dedicated track-day car and a lot of extras..

Then there’s public roads. One of the things I loved about driving with my dad was that he always knew exactly where to go, in an area well before navigation systems became standard. Being a little boy I did not have the burden of ownership, maintenance or paying any of the fees that come with owning a car. All I had to do was sit in the passenger seat and admire the scenery. It was perfect.

When I got my own (well, dad-funded) car about 10 years ago it never even occurred to me to take it to the track. It just didn’t seem like a thing you did with your own car. It seemed absurd. Also, somehow at that age I had gotten a little less interested in cars, did not have many friends and just did not have that many places I wanted to go to. This was still before navigation systems were commonplace so I also realized quite quickly that, outside of my province, I had no idea where anything was, and driving in the city was definitely not something I’d casually do. My confidence in my public driving skills remained low until many years later, when I optimistically told a girl I liked that “Sure, I can drive a car in Australia, no problem.” and ended up going on a road trip through one of the most alien countries my younger self had ever seen. That two-week trip did more to my driving skills than all the time I spent driving in the Netherlands as a teenager.

But let’s get back to the point. During and before Australia I lived in Japan, and I cycled around a lot there. Living there in the beautiful prefecture of Kanagawa made me realize just how much you can do on a bicycle, and I ended up doing many cycling trips around Japan. I traveled by bicycle on all the roads that cars take too, and where cars would be looking for a place to park so they can admire the scenery, I would stop wherever I liked, whenever I liked. I didn’t have to worry about fuel, parking, scratches, road tax, car insurance or anything else. If there’s a viewpoint on top of a hill somewhere, the photo I make after suffering up the hill by bicycle will be a million times more memorable than the one I take after driving up there by car. And that’s if you find parking for your car when you get there: we drove to Wales last weekend with the intention of climbing Mt. Snowdon, but by the time we got there the main parking lot was full, all the small lay-by parking areas were full too and there simply wasn’t any place even remotely close to park.

TL;DR: owning a car is not freedom. It gives you range but it gives you range anxiety. It gives you something beautiful but something to worry about. It gives you access to the world but a world to get lost in. On good days the weather is perfect and you’re driving a countryside road with no traffic in front of you, but on most days in the UK you’ll be stuck behind a truck in the rain wherever you go. In this day and age, in this location, driving is not about enjoyment or freedom. It’s about practicality and getting to where you want to go. That’s all nice and dandy, but that is not the reason why I fell in love with cars and roads and driving when I was a child. It just isn’t.

So, there you have it. For all my life I played racing simulations and drove my bicycle because I could never afford a proper car, but now that I have one I learned that I already had something better. That doesn’t mind I dislike driving in real life altogether; it can still be great fun, especially if it’s an experience you can share with someone else. But when it comes to purity, there simply are better alternatives.

Posted in Cars, Thoughts | Leave a comment
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