You can’t always get what you want?

Sometimes I buy something nice for myself. Something that is not the best-value-for-money product, but something a bit more expensive. It’s better, of course, just not quite as betterer as you might expect from the price tag. Yet, unquestionably, it’s better. I enjoy such a purchase greatly because I know I bought something good, but I also feel guilty about having spent money when I didn’t really have to. After such a purchase I feel like I need to stop spending for a while, so even if there’s something else that I really want, I’ll delay buying just for the sake of it, even though I can afford it.

This seems to happen to me with complete disregard to price range. I’ll feel bad about going for the slightly more expensive meal (~20GBP), the slightly more expensive Lego set (~50GBP), the slightly more expensive headphones (~200GBP) or the slightly more expensive bike (~1000GBP). Just reading back what I just wrote makes me feel guilty for buying all those things, even though I know I can afford them and enjoy all of them.

As you get older there’s more and more purchases coming up: a car, a house, a hotel, a planet, a galaxy. I feel the need to have worked harder for each thing that I own because I taught myself that if you want to buy something, you should suffer. The idea of “I just bought that and didn’t even break a sweat” implies a never-ending guilt trip to me. But only if you buy nice things. Buying crap things is OK. You don’t feel the need to suffer so much when you’re buying crap things. The problem with that is, you’re buying crap things.

Perhaps I just like tormenting myself. I’d just really like it if I could be happy about the nice things that I buy without feeling guilty about it..

——–

I was going to call this post “You can always get what you want” and make it about how I can afford the nice things instead of the average things, but a) the tone was very dickish and b) I didn’t actually get what I want cause I don’t want a guilt trip and I have one. Damn you, Rolling Stones, you were right after all.

 

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The GT86 goes to Assen TT track

So, an odd weekend, and the chance presented itself to try out the new braking system on the GT86 before the cold winter. Or rather, during. After a long but satisfying drive from Calais all the way to the north of the Netherlands, I made it to Assen, the home of the Dutch motor grand prix. Cold, gloomy weather awaits.

That, and chavs. Lots of Dutch chavs, or ‘sjonnies’ as the Dutch prefer to call them. Lots of 90’s and 00’s BMWs, Golfs and the like. In the UK you had your fair share of chavs, but also a reasonable number of ‘car enthusiasts’. It’s hard to write down the difference between the casual chav and the car enthusiast, but when you see it, you’ll know without fail.

The organization, done by vrijrijden.nl, was casual and free. Signup was easy and there was no hassle with sound checks at all, but you do get a transponder to carry around in your car. Before each session the cars do a pre-line-up at the entrance to the pit lane, and then line up at the pit exit to leave in single file. There is no safety briefing and there are no rules about overtaking, using the kerbstones or drifting. A huge difference compared to the strictly-managed UK tracks.

All this freedom sounds nice in theory, but is definitely not when you’re racing around with a bunch of chavs in beat-up cars with a death wish. I’ve seen many people spin out, run off track, blow up their engines or have some other mechanical failure. There were loads of individual driver errors, way more than I’ve seen on Snetterton or Bedford. Nearing the end of one session, about three cars spun off or broke down in a single lap and the session was suspended. Lastly, because there were no rules about where not to to overtake, some cars drove needlessly competitive and took risks that really weren’t justified given the situation. A particular orange 350Z springs to mind: every time that guy overtook someone it came to a near-crash. A total disregard for other drivers. He was a fast driver, but an idiot who had no regard for the situation.

Ok, that’s all the bad stuff out of the way. Now for the good stuff! The track was amazingly fun to drive after the cars had dispersed a little. Loads of fast, technical corners with some good hard braking points as well. I had some great battles with various cars, including a pimped-up Mini Cooper that I just barely could not catch before the session ended. Another highlight for me was holding off a deceptively beat-up 90’s Honda CRX with a very skilled driver who kept catching up with me in the corners. I really had to drive all out to keep in front of him.

Things didn’t go super-smoothly for me either. In the double right handers before the final straight I nearly lost my car twice. The first time I just overshot the corner like an idiot because I judged my speed wrong, but I somehow managed to hold it onto the runoff area and get back on track. The second time I pushed myself a little too hard and swung the rear out a bit, but again managed to hold it.

The worst incident I had was in the very first corner, on cold-ish tires, right after the second session had begun. I’d done a lap already so assumed the tires were ready, and then tried to push a little to pass a car in front of me, but carried way too much speed into the corner. Because I had so much speed and the angle was so very wrong, I tried to bleed the speed rather than try to drift my way through it, but I overdid it with the steering and caused the rear to break out (which is quite an easy thing to do in that corner). To make matters worse, just when I thought I had caught it with a nice correction, I slid off track over a bump into the runoff area, causing an even worse angle. In the end I did manage to catch that as well, but it certainly wasn’t graceful.

The GT86 is ridiculously controllable, but also quick to hit its limits. It seems to have two modes: either you’re stable turning into a corner, meaning you’ll end up in understeer if you push it. But if you use the brakes right, or if the track induces the right kind of bumps, then the rear gets light and jumpy, which is exactly what you’ll want it to do. Then you can choose to straighten out a bit to accelerate smoothly and quick, or dab the throttle or steering just a little more to induce a lovely little slide. It’s just so entertaining to drive. I hardly ever found myself frustrated at how it handled, right up until the end of the third session when the tires started to feel a bit worn out, causing a lot more understeer.

The brakes are an interesting story. I’ve had the stock discs and pads replaced for a set of DBA 4000 slotted discs and Hawk brake pads. I also had the brake fluid changed for something that can handle higher temperatures. I was expecting the brake performance to be at least as good as before, and hopefully without as much fade, jittering or wear as I experienced on the original ones. To be honest, I can’t say that I’m flabbergasted by their performance. The braking force was perhaps equal to the original brakes at the start, but it definitely got worse during the second session. It did remain stable after that and did not deteriorate at all any more, so they’re definitely longer-lasting than the originals. Braking at full force was only barely able to trigger the ABS to kick in on a straight line, which I think means that the tires can hold their grip at the maximum amount of force the brakes are able to exert on them.

I dunno. They just feel weaker. In the end I felt more confident that I wouldn’t have shitty side effects from hard braking, but I also knew that I’d have to pick my braking point early, and that I wouldn’t be able to brake just that extra bit harder if I really needed to. Opinion inconclusive. I’ll have to try them again at the next track day.

The brake pedal travel did increase during the session, again up until a point where it remained stable. It now catches at a fairly lower point. At first I thought that it was because the fluid had boiled causing the gas in the lines to compress whenever I brake, but now I’m wondering if brake pad wear isn’t a more simple explanation. If the pads are just that much thinner I just have to push that much more in order for them to reach the discs. That would mean that I’ve severely underestimated the lifetime of brake pads, though, and would probably need a new set after another 1 or 2 track days. Not good..

Assen was an awesome track and very memorable. I’d rank it just above Snetterton and easily above Bedford in terms of excitement and technical challenge level. But I would not want to drive it again with vrijrijden.nl, simply because there’s too many unskilled drivers in dangerous cars. There really should be a ‘non-chav’ class at these kind of events..

Right. Time for winter.

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The 911 Junior

Many many years ago, back when I was still in what the Dutch call ‘base school’, the school you go to before you enter high school, I was just an average, introverted, definitely-not-popular-but-not-terribly-picked-on-either kid. Until one day my dad got this:

This little Porsche 911 Junior was a ‘proper’ car in so far as that it had a petrol engine, clutch and gearbox with 2 gears forward and 1 reverse. I’ve seen it being displayed online as a ‘911 go-kart’ but it was definitely a lot slower than your average go-kart. It’s in this vehicle that I learned for the first time how to shift gears and use a clutch. Although, years later, when I first drove a real car, it made me realize just how much the clutch (and the brakes!) were worn out in that little Porsche, and barely working at all. Little young me did not know that and thought that it was normal for the gears to clink and hardly press into gear even with the clutch fully depressed. I distinctly remember breaking a headlight on a car’s tow ball simply because I was rolling out from very slow speed and the damn thing just wouldn’t stop. It was a very un-epic accident. I somehow managed to hide it from my dad for weeks and felt very guilty afterwards until he finally found out..

This go-kart was way too slow and unsafe to be allowed on the public road, of course. Normally in the Netherlands electric children’s vehicles get to go on the sidewalk and drive anywhere they like, but since the Porsche Junior was just a little too big and too fast (and too petrol-engined) for that, the only place I could drive it was in our own backyard. This would be a good time to mention that my backyard happened to be a large gravel/paved area full of garages, since part of my dad’s business was to rent out garage boxes for storage and cars. Another situational fact: right behind our area was a wire fence with a hole in it, and behind that was my school. After going through the hole in the fence the school was just at the other side of a footpath.

So it was inevitable that, after school, I would be driving around in our backyard making lots of noise, attracting the attention of whoever was at the school playground after school. It didn’t take long for everyone in my class to learn about the car, the hole in the fence and that I didn’t mind letting people sit next to me while I was driving around. Eventually it got to a point where I was so popular that people would line up to get in the car with me. It was ridiculous really, and very out-of-character for the introvert little me, but it was my first taste of popularity so I didn’t want to resist. I lost my popularity as quickly as I gained it though. A base-schooler’s attention span is short, and there are many rainy days in the Netherlands during which I couldn’t drive. It was probably for the best. Popularity doesn’t suit me.

My most vivid 911 memory is when I scared the shit out of my dad. So at this gravelly backyard, right at the end of the backyard was a strip of grass with dirt soil underneath, about one car-length wide. Immediately next to it was the wire fence, so you definitely wouldn’t want to brake too late when going in that direction. I found out that, even though the 911 Junior was way too slow to do any kind of exciting driving, especially in a small-ish area such as my backyard, you could get the rear to slide out if you made a turn right at the end of the yard, getting the car onto that patch of grass, centimeters away from the fence. It worked especially well after the rain when the grass was all wet and muddy.

Obviously my dad wanted me to drive carefully with it, as he told me many, many times. For some reason I believed that, if I only drove the car in first gear when we was around, that would convince him that I was driving carefully. Even though, as soon as he was out of visual range, I would rev it up and switch to second gear, which entirely changes (and loudens) the sound of the engine. There’s no possible way he could not have heard that, but at the time I just assumed I got away with it.

One day, I found out that he knew. My dad was in the backyard with some customers and I happened to be driving around as well, going slowly in first gear to show him what a good boy I was. My dad saw me driving up and, with a smile on his face, made the gesture to ‘speed the crap up’. I suddenly realized that he knew how I had been driving and that he was okay with it, so I sped up to full speed, raced to end of the backyard, steered in, slammed the handbrake and executed a beautiful drift over the muddy grass. I then drove back at a decent speed towards my dad, who was making faces and gesturing wildly for me to stop. I don’t quite remember what he said at this moment, but I believe it was something along the lines of “Don’t, EVER, do that again”. Lesson learned: going a bit faster is okay, sliding cars around near fences is not.

Soon, right around the time high school began, I had a growth spurt and no longer fit in the car, although by then I had already grown tired of it. I  didn’t want to get my dad angry again so I drove a lot more carefully after that incident. That, combined with the fact that the backyard really wasn’t that exciting after a while, really ended my career in backyard driving. Still, those were some amazing times. I had been obsessed with cars during my early childhood, mostly thanks to my dad, but kind of lost interest in them during high school. The interest remained dormant though, occasionally triggered via go-karting, getting my first car, watching Formula 1 and later watching Initial D. I’m now at the point where I own my first rear-wheel-drive car, paid for by my own hard work. Technically it’s my second real car, but I’d like to think of it as my third, because that 911 Junior was just awesome.

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The cycling spirit

The cycling spirit is gone. I caused it myself, by getting a car. Although I’ve still got my bike, and I keep it in ready condition, the need to get out there and cycle around is ever decreasing. That feeling I used to have, that of “I can go anywhere by bicycle” is kind of gone. Not completely, mind you. And I’m sure it will come back next spring, but right now I just feel more comfortable in a car. That feeling makes it even less likely for me to go out and cycle, because it somehow feels like a mental betrayal to other cyclists. I’m not ‘one of them’ any more, at least not at the moment. I still want to do long-distance, fully-loaded cycling touring, but I’ve gone from being “an infrequent cyclist who does cycling trips” to “a car owner who sometimes does cycling trips”. It feels different.

Maybe I’ll just give up on cycling for a while. England’s not the country for it anyway. England takes cycling way too serious. I miss the casualness of Japanese cycling.

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Constructing a mind palace… in Minecraft

I absolutely love Minecraft. Though my level of obsession has dimmed a bit compared to when I was first mindblown, it’s still an amazingly satisfying sandbox to play in. There always seems to be something new to build, which always manages to recapture my interest.

One of the things I noticed while playing Minecraft is that I pretty much know exactly what, where and how I built the things in my world. If I somehow lost my world and all of its backups, I am positive that I could recreate an extremely large portion, if not all of it, just from memory. The connection to a mind palace should now become evident.

In the past I’ve tried to build mind palaces of things, and have been more or less successful, up until the point where I try to populate the rooms in my mind with actually useful information. That’s where my memory stops functioning well, I suspect because an entirely imaginary mind palace is just too unreal for me to hold in my mind. But if you tied a mind palace to something tangible (well, more or less) like a Minecraft world, a place with actual houses and paths and rooms, then perhaps it would be a lot easier to store knowledge in. If you go so far as to place things that you want to remember in signs and books, I bet you could remember a lot.

Another good example of a mind palace is my photo folder on my hard drive. I’ve organized it chronologically and hierarchically, first by year and then by month+day. While I can’t remember exactly what happened on which day, using this folder structure as a mental guideline, I could tell you with reasonably high confidence what I was doing at any given month. But only for those months that I have photos of. My hobby of photography has waned a lot over the past years..

tl;dr: create a physical or virtual structure to hold your mind palace, then populate it with real-world information.

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“Survived another week”

I caught myself thinking this recently. Despite the fact that my life has never been better, my goals are far away, which sometimes makes progress indiscernible. It led me to think about how I could progress towards my goals faster. A provoking thought entered my head. What if I really let myself go?

I’ve never really given myself one hundred percent towards a goal for an extended period of time. I’ve never had to. Every time I do, I find that either the goal changes, or I become adept at reaching it so I don’t have to devote one hundred percent of myself. If someone waved you a check of a million dollars or pounds in your face and told you to type the entire text of the bible over and over again for several years on end, sacrificing your social life, your personal hygiene, your health, would you do it? If not, where do you draw the line? Would more money change your decision? The promise of a better life? Or would you do it if you could give slightly less than one hundred percent , like maybe if you could keep a small part of your social life?

Life isn’t usually that simple. There’s never a simple case where you can simply do X for Y days and receive Z, at least not for significant values of Z. There will be interruptions, unclarities and changes of mind. It might look simple to you at first glance, but it never is. The best way to simplify your situation is by knowing more. Know more about your profession, your situation and what you’re good at. The more you know, the more you’ll realize that it’s not an easy road. But also, the more you know, the more you realize that there is a road and it is possible to travel it. If you know what you’re doing.

tl;dr: expand your knowledge, don’t expect anything.

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As days go by

I haven’t blogged in a while. Despite having switched from enjoying-life-mode back into grind-and-earn-money mode, I’ve managed to maintain a remarkable sense of self-actualization over the past few weeks. I think the reason for that is partly because I try to work less long days, as I mentioned in the previous post. I get time to recover and clear my mind at the end of the day, rather than never fully clearing it and piling up new workloads the next day without having fully processed the previous day.

Working less hours is part of the reason, but also a consequence of something else. My goals in life have become startlingly clear to me after I found out exactly how much money I need to buy a house in this bloody country. It’ll take years and years of savings to fully pay off a nice house. Even if I found  a better paying job, the difference it would make will never be as significant as I want it to be. And even with a better paying job you’re bound by obligations and forced to work for the better part of the year. Given that fact, I’d say I’ve got a pretty damn good job right now, and I see no reason to change it for something marginally better.

Financial independence is the final goal. It’s not even worth thinking about what I’ll do after I achieve it, because the possibilities will be endless. In the past I tried several times to ‘do a startup’, sometimes alone, sometimes with friends. But what I’ve come to realize is that the startup life is not something that I want for myself. I’m usually quite introverted, and although I learned that I can muster up the extroversion needed to function capably in a startup role, it’s not something I enjoy doing or would feel comfortable with doing for a long period of time.

This is the point where people tell me “but to gain something you will have to step out of your comfort zone”. Well, yes and no. Stepping too far out of your comfort zone is simply not sustainable and will wear you down. For me, I think I function at my best while 95% within my comfort zone, using the remaining 5% to explore new territories. I need to find things out for myself. Advice from others only helps at the most superficial level, any concrete advice will be noted only for reference while I make my own mistakes, from within that very comfortable 95% plan.

Realizing that I am more reluctant to leave my comfort zone than I previously though, I began to list my options. The list is limited, of course, compared to before, but the remaining options are those that I feel much more enthusiastic about than anything else. And because the options are 95% within my comfort zone, I get to expand my knowledge while actually enjoying it rather than feeling stressed out.

I don’t believe that any advance in knowledge in the field of programming is going to help me to make progress as a human being. While it’s true that I’m getting better at coding, especially within a project atmosphere, most of the things that I learned, that I value highly, are as a result of interactions with people. Focusing deeply on a topic will teach you two things: in-depth knowledge of the topic, and how to focus deeply. I think I’ve learned enough on how to focus deeply on something to apply it to things other than programming. Don’t get me wrong, I still love to code. But I find that a lot of my peers see coding as the final goal, whereas whatever the thing is that they’re coding is just a happy side effect. I want to use programming as a means to an end, whatever end that could be, even if it has nothing to do with coding or dev-ops or anything technical. I believe that if I can use programming in this way, I can become better as a person.

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The law of diminishing returns

There’s an ideal amount of time you can spend at work, working. In fact there’s more than one ideal amount of time. In my case, I find that if I work for 6 hours and then go home, I still have enough mental energy left to work on personal projects after the commute. Working 8 hours is also good, although productivity does decrease a lot in the later hours. But it’s better than working 7 hours, because in that case I find myself both mentally tired and not with enough time and mental energy to do stuff at home.

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