Funemployment

It’s been a week since I started my self-chosen ‘funemployment’. As a developer I like to tell myself that the field I work in is so in need of developers that I can expect to find a job any time, but I know that a large part of that is wishful thinking, especially after you’ve reached a certain number of years of experience (and expect the salary to go with it). It’s not easy, and I am in the extremely fortunate position of knowing that there’s a place for me to go back to later when I’m done funemploying. That said, I’m not getting paid for anything right now and work is completely out of my mind. It’s an amazing feeling that I wish everyone could experience. The mental clarity is overwhelming.

I can’t help but contrast this to how I felt when I did my cycling trip last October. I thought it at the time, but in retrospect it’s blindingly obvious: I was unable to enjoy that trip properly because my mind was bogged down with stress and worries. When you’re already stressed out and you go to a situation that you think should relax you, but it doesn’t, it feels a bit like a very slow panic attack. You know you’re supposed to breathe slower and relax to stop yourself from stressing out, but your mind just won’t let you sometimes. It took until the very last day of that cycling trip for me to really regain that feeling of calmness. After entering funemployment it really hit me after the first full week and weekend of not-doing-work were over. It’s the feeling of not being in a hurry, and not worrying that time is slipping away. Elusive.

So what am I doing with my free time? Well, mainly: cycling. Albeit indoors cycling on the exercise bike most of the time, I’ve set my primary goal for this time period to be to lose weight. I’ve proven time and again that I suck at accomplishing this as a secondary goal. When I work full-time, even if I try not to think of work as my primary goal, I’m thinking about work at least 8 hours a day. Work becomes my primary goal when I work, it’s that simple. It’s the only way I can deliver good quality work and be professional. But with that generally comes stress. Not a massive amount of stress, mind you. My work situation is probably one of the best ones in the country. But I am also a peculiar individual with way too many hobbies and a desire to spend a lot of my free time on them. If after work I exercise, I have less time for my hobbies and I feel more stressed out about not having enough time. It’s a negative feedback loop; one that I am not happy about but have a very hard time avoiding.

Just cycling doesn’t take up nearly as much of my time as work did when work was my primary goal, so I’ve got a lot of time for secondary goals, without any of the stress of not having enough time, so I get to be creative and experimentful. One of the major side goals I wanted to accomplish this period was to get all my old photos on shutterstock in the hopes of making some passive income. I have over 10 years worth of travel photos. Sadly, the first 2-3 years of my collection are useless because they were shot on a crappy camera and the next 2 years after that are crappy because I had no experience taking photos and all the shots are very poorly composed or lit. Yesterday I submitted a batch of about 20 photos taken more recently, all fairly well-composed (imho of course), well lit and quite tasteful (again imho). They were all disapproved. Compositions that I chose specifically because I liked them were disapproved because of composition, photos that I liked because of the lighting were disapproved because of the lighting. Others were disapproved because of potential trademark issues, not having a release for a person in the photo who can only vaguely be spotted in a corner and is clearly not the main subject, or simply for being unsharp. Clearly, in the venn diagram of photos I’ve taken that I deem good quality, versus the photos that stockphoto can accept and thinks are good quality, there is extremely little overlap. Now that I know I’m unlikely to earn any useful income from shutterstock, I’ve scratched it off my list.

Speaking of passive income, another thing I was thinking of doing is to write some technical articles/tutorials. I’m not sure if people would be willing to pay for content like that, though, and it’d be a lot of time spent on something I wouldn’t do for fun. Maybe later.

There is one topic I always find myself coming back to for some reason: the stock market. Attempting to do some data analysis on historial stock prices and attempting to make some algorithms to predict stock values is something I’d do for fun, and something I’d go into without high expectations of great success. Yet if I did succeed somehow, it’s something that would be very easily scaled up. If you’ve got the right algorithm, all you need to do to make more money is to insert more money. Of course the quest for the right algorithm is a never-ending practically-impossible one, but that’s what makes it actually fun to play around with. I’m sure I’m likely to get discouraged as I learn more and things start getting more complicated, but for now I’m still in the absorbing-all-kinds-of-information phase, which is quite enjoyable. Plus, it’s likely to be information that will be useful to me in the future, so it’s a win-win.

I wasn’t planning on doing another cycling trip any time soon, but I have to admit that the bike is calling out to me.. maybe it will happen.

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Cycling trips

Why am I still doing cycling trips? I can’t deny that, over time, my reasons for cycling have changed. I’ve done cycling trips for sightseeing, for staying fit, for doing something amazing together with friends, for nostalgia, and for the sense of accomplishment. But I’d say that none of those are currently the true reason that would motivate me to do another cycling trip.

Coziness is a word I would definitely associate with a cycling trip in Japan. You’re never far away from society, and you can be pretty much sure that you will not encounter a single person that will try to do something bad to you if you’re on a cycling trip in Japan. You don’t have to worry (well, worry less) about safety, theft or crime there; the only challenge is the primary challenge: that of cycling and fitness. For every single cycling trip I’ve done I’ve been overweight, yet I’ve managed to cycle up mountains 1000+ meters high while carrying four heavy panniers and a backpack full of crap with me. Your body adjusts. You can go anywhere. And Japan brings with it the coziness that you need to not have to worry about all the ‘side quests’: no matter where you go, there will be a vending machine with an energy drink or a person who will offer to let you set up a tent in his garden (or temple).

Another part of cycling trips that I cannot do without is the freedom it gives you, but you need to plan it properly. By ‘plan it properly’ I mean: don’t plan it at all, and give yourself plenty of time to get to your destination so you can make detours and change the plan as you go along. It’s such an amazing feeling to learn about something exciting during the trip and to take a multi-day detour just to check it out, or even to just find a random road and decide to see where it goes, without having to worry about whether you’ll make your flight or not.

This freedom is a thing that cannot easily be shared. As soon as you start traveling with another person you’ll end up in a situation where you’re trying to maintain a schedule, and/or one person feeling like they’re following the other. That is actually a great thing, and some of my most memorable cycling trips have been with others, but as I do more and more cycling trips I’m starting to lean towards being a solo cyclist. I definitely would still go on trips with friends though.

This post hasn’t remotely done justice to the feeling I’m trying to describe. I can list the aspects, I can try to tell you why I enjoy them, but in the end, you just won’t understand unless you do a cycling trip yourself. So, get going!

Posted in Cycling, Japan, Thoughts | Leave a comment

Why I won’t be moving away from WordPress

I’ve made some time for myself to do some personal projects, and one of the things that’s been on my mind for the longest time was to move this blog away from WordPress and host it statically on S3 instead. Serving a single static html page (plus a few resource files, but not many) from S3 would be so much faster than letting the shared hosting server parse endless lines of php, most of which I don’t even want. The benefit in that aspect is clear, but in other areas it’s less obvious.

Easy of deployment is one of the issues. I’m not bothered about not being able to post by email or mobile – whenever I have something to write I’ll usually have my laptop with me. It doesn’t bother me that it won’t be WYSIWYG either (which it wouldn’t be if I write my own blog software because I don’t care about WYSIWYG). The problem is always with the software and the libraries. My software of choice for my would-be static blog is python, but I’ll inevitably end up requiring some libraries that will need to be downloaded and/or set up on each machine that I want to publish from. Knowing myself, I will forget to do this before I go on a trip and end up having to download those libraries at ultra-slow speed at some hotel in the middle of nowhere. Or I might be on a public machine, which will be even worse.

Comments are another issue. If the blog is completely static I’d have to go for a javascript-based comment service. I also have old comments that will either have to be converted to the new commenting system or else inserted into the html somehow if I want to preserve them. Again, there are solutions, but they’re hardly easier than what I have with WordPress.

Finally there’s the issue of dynamic pages: the calendar, archive and search functionality. Calendar and archive pages are pretty easily generated, but I’d either have to remove the search function or rely on an external service for that. Bleh.

The system I had in mind would be a collection of small tools:

  • A converter tool to convert a wordpress database into raw blogpost/page files (the exact format of which I would have to think about).
  • A compiler tool that reads the raw posts and writes usable html
    • Inserts content into a predefined template, I was thinking Django templates. This doesn’t have to be fast.
    • Regenerates related pages (front page, archives, calenders, category pages)
    • Converts any markdown text to html
  • An uploader tool that publishes the generated html
    • Would upload to S3, perhaps pluggable so other providers would work too.
    • Would be smart enough to recognize linked images/files and upload those too.

I’d leave the template design and making the javascript commenting system work all up to the user, since that’d be a one-off job (for me, anyway). The goal of all this is to make my life easier, but it’s an awful lot of work for an awfully small amount of easiness.. Anyway, if someone else would also be interested in using something like this (or willing to pay for something like this!) then do let me know.

 

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The end of the Long Haul Trucker

Last year in October I ventured out to Japan for a 2-week cycling trip with my good old Surly. It was a tough trip, not because of the trip itself, but because I was just not very fit, and only started improving near the end of the it all. Still, it left me wanting more. Sadly, that won’t be happening on my Surly.

It started on the trip before that, actually. After a long flight I took the bike out of the bag and noticed I couldn’t fit the rear wheel into the frame. But with a little applied force it went in anyway and I had a great trip out of it. When I arrived at my first destination of the October trip the issue had gotten worse, and I can only blame Turkish Airlines for not taking good care of the bike. It had plenty of ‘fragile’ stickers and even signs saying ‘this side up’, and instructions to not put the bike on its side but to transport it standing up. No such luck. It was extremely bent on arrival. I had to bend it back with all my strength to even have a cycling trip. Yet somehow, on the return trip, they managed to make it even worse.

In all honesty, I didn’t expect any airline crew to take good care of a bicycle transported in a soft-case. But also, I never expected a frame made of high-quality steel to bend that much just from transport. I’m not blaming Surly here. Everything I’ve read and heard from people indicates that their frames is one of the better, seriously tough ones. Then again, speaking from personal experience, I’ve taken the Surly out for maybe 6-8 flights and it is now irreparably bent according to an expert touring bike shop guy, whereas my first aluminium bike has been on at least twice that many flights and never suffered any frame damage at all.

I seem to be going against the prevailing opinion here. Everyone online and everything I’ve read seems to agree that steel bikes are the way to go, because of the way the frame flexes under stress and how it’s more comfortable to ride because of that. Aluminium frames seem to be ranked under the lowest of steel frames in the mind of many tourers, yet I can’t help but wish for my old aluminium bike back. I distinctly remember when I first got the Surly and went on my first long ride. The first thing I noticed was how incredibly tough the ride was compared to my old Giant Great Journey. Part of that was me being out of shape, not being used to the bike yet, etc. etc., but I’ve never been able to shake that impression. So in the end, at the end of the Surly’s brief but eventful life, all I can say is that I have not been very impressed by the Long Haul Trucker. It always seemed to be a bike that was meant for road racers who were willing to compromise in the direction of touring, not for touring people looking for maximum utility.

So, now I’m left with the option of getting a new frame in the UK and getting my old parts fitted on it, which will apparently set me back at least 800 pounds, getting a second-hand beater bike online and doing it myself (not my style, I am lazy af), or buying a bike at the start of my next cycling trip, which will save at least one flight of transport, which, in the case of Turkish Airlines, also cost me extra (a bit less than 100 pounds per flight if I recall correctly). At the moment I’m very much thinking of getting a new Great Journey, since at the current exchange rate the entire bike will cost less than the price of buying a new frame in the UK and getting the parts transferred, and I don’t have to pay extra for the first flight. As a special bonus, my compass bell will finally work again. I honestly never realized that that wouldn’t work on a steel frame until it was too late..

Anyway, the bike shop’s judgment was pretty conclusive. I don’t have to worry about trying to get the frame fixed because it’s just not worth it. It means I can move on and get a new bike now. It amazes me how I’m actually kind of happy about this, whereas when my first touring bike got stolen I was utterly gutted. Let’s hope that the third time’s the charm.

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Collected thoughts for a new year

It’s been a while. 2015 has been a very quiet year for blogging, although I did end up taking more photos than some of the previous years. I’ve been writing down short notes in Google Keep for the purpose of eventually turning them into blog posts, but find myself just ending up with more and more notes and never in the right mood to blog. But rather than throw them away, I’ll write them down here. They’ll prove useful to future me.

In addition to the small thoughts, when I think back on 2015 I can clearly notice one massive.. let’s call it ‘deficiency’ in my life: I have too many hobbies. I’ve reached the point where I’ve upped my quality of life so much that I need more real-life burdens to sustain myself. Or, to put it in real-life terms: bought a car, started living together with girlfriend, need to pay the mortgage. Thanks to the amazing apartment we bought I never have to complain about housemates or noisy neighbours again, but in return I need to keep it and all items in it clean and operational. 2015 is also the first full year that I owned a car – another maintenance burden. Adding all that newness to my old hobbies and combining it with a now more urgent need to earn income so I can pay the bills means that I have less time ever for just my old hobbies. Oh boohoo, #fwp..

It’s the main thing I want to improve upon in 2016: I want to spread myself less thinly. Less hobbies, more in-depth enthusiasm. Some things will have to go, such as the car. Other hobbies may need to be put into perspective given how little time I’ve spent on them in the past year. But all in all, a reorganization of priorities is necessary. It’s time to catch up to where I am in life.

That was the big thought. Here’s some small ones. Think of it as me-to-me pep talk.

  • Being good at something might make it boring, but only if you’re not careful.
  • A strong appreciation for things can only happen when you are not tired and if you are not worried about other things you could be doing with your time.
  • Pace yourself. Always go slower than you think you should.
  • You can’t stuff new experiences into your brain bucket if your bucket is already overflowing. Vacate your brain first.
  • As the body weakens the comfort zone decreases. Keep your body in shape. At least a little.
  • You can’t just receive absolute freedom and immediately know how to handle it.
  • Question: if you were in the position of someone who feels guilty about their lifestyle, wouldn’t you want to be able to enjoy life without guilt if you were them?
  • Question: how, as a 30+ years old with a steady relationship, busy work and long commute, can one keep in touch with old friends and have a steady circle of people one loves to hang out with every week? I’ll be thinking about this one for the rest of the year..
  • Home is the worst place to change yourself.
  • Don’t go with the flow. Think for yourself.
  • Keep asking yourself: what is my goal right now?

Time for 2016!

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Goals are personal

For some reason I always used to think that if I got a girlfriend my whole life would suddenly make sense. I would change my life to do everything for her and that would be more than enough satisfaction for me to live my life, no matter what I would have to do. We would have goals together and those goals would be the only ones that matter. The ‘I’ would dissolve into ‘we’ and the old me would disappear and something grander and better and different would be born.

This did not happen.

I mean, sure, there’s stuff we do together, and a very large part of our lives overlap, so there’s a lot of things that now naturally only occur in the ‘we’-context. But I’m finding that all those things still only make up a small part of me and that the things that really, truly, motivate me are part of my core being and have not changed at all.

And I feel totally guilty about that. After all, I am finally in this fantastic relationship with a girl who shares so many interests and ways of life with me, yet somehow I feel the need to have goals of my own in addition to that? Shame! But that’s the way I feel, and one of the things I am still learning in this relationship is how to not make myself feel guilty about that. The ‘I’ did not dissolve into the ‘we’, but everything ‘we’ do makes my ‘I’ experience better. And her ‘I’ exprience too (I hope!). That surely must be the sign of a good relationship between introverts.

2016 is approaching. I have many things I want to do. I have the means to do them, although it may involve taking a bit more risk than I usually do. But I’m looking forward to new things because the excitement of new things is what makes me happy. New things are always worth pursuing.

 

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Values, applied.

Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance is one of my all-time favorite books. I’ve recently revisited it and decided to start reading its sequel, Lila: An Inquiry into Morals. It’s been an interesting journey.

I found myself almost completely agreeing with the ideas expressed in Zen, so I expected Lila to be a confirmation of those ideas and something that would be an easy read for me. That turned out to be completely not true. I had trouble reading past the first half of the first part of the book because I simply didn’t like what the author was writing. The book seemed to casually put science and scientific development in a subservient position to the book’s ‘grand theory of everything’, and that kind of offended me. The previous book was very clear about the things it presented, and it presented no conflicts with the existing ideas I had. But Lila needed a bit of mental adjustment on my part before I was able to read on. Later on in the book I realized the issue is not as extreme as I described it here in this blogpost, but the way it’s written does pose a bit of a hurdle to overcome.

The metaphysics of quality is hard to accept. The subdivision into four kinds of static quality and one dynamic quality seems arbitrary to me still, even after having read one and a half books. I find the subdivision very useful, and can find real-life examples in my life that make (more?) sense when put into these categories. But even Pirsig himself mentions that his theory is another way of looking at the world, not necessarily the way. As with all theories, if it’s a proper theory it should be able to make predictions about future situations accurately if it’s to hold up. I don’t quite yet see how it’ll be able to do that for me personally, or how it will benefit me.

The theory does provide some lovely explanations about my own life. I can think about people and experiences in terms of quality and it makes sense. I know someone who always watches incredibly bad movies that I can’t watch without cringing, yet this person does not notice at all. Yet despite that lack of static quality this person does have an immense amount of dynamic quality, which is I think what draws other people to them. It’s nice to be able to give this trait a name, and  I think this name satisfies the properties better than any other word I could’ve come up with.

Traveling can be phrased in words of the theory as well. Particularly my cycling trips: when I first started doing cycling trips, everything was new. Every day was a new experience, with nothing planned and I never knew what would happen that day. It was absolutely at the cutting edge of experience. Pure, dynamic, quality. As time went by though, that dynamic quality turned into a pattern. I learned what I liked about the trip and optimized for that. I circumvented the stumbling blocks and became better at doing cycling trips, but at the same time the novelty was gone. I knew the country, I knew the routine, I had a pretty good of all the possible events that could occur to me on any given day. Dynamic quality had turned into static quality. It is by no means a bad thing, but it’s also something that’s no longer evolving. It’s a comfortable, fixed pattern. But it’s not the same as dynamic quality. To get that feeling back I will need to find my beginner’s mind again. I think I will have to visit a new country, or countries, to rediscover dynamic quality on cycling trips.

Girlfriend trips can be phrased in this terminology as well. Whenever I’m traveling together with my girlfriend it feels like she acts as a tether, or an anchor, to the static quality that binds us together. The things we both like, the things we both want to experience are the common factor between us, and it tends not to vary even when we are traveling. It’s the thing that binds us together, which, although it evolves, it evolves slowly, so I would call those values static. For me this means that when she and I are traveling together, I feel very much at rest and at peace, comfortable in my static quality. I think it’s more difficult to discover dynamic quality that can be enjoyed as a pair, but when you do, that experience is all the more intense.

For example, yesterday we arrived at a new place and had to go out for food in the evening. It was getting dark and it was Sunday, so not many places were open and we were in an unfamiliar environment. The situation was something that I found quite enjoyable, since everything felt new and dynamic. I’m not sure my girlfriend was in the same mindset as me though, because it’s very easy to get hung up on the static quality patterns that we’re used to.

But sometimes, when the moment is right, we find ourselves in a situation that maximizes dynamic quality in a way that pleases both of us, like when we saw the eagle rays when diving. Swimming under water against the current was something neither of us were used to, and the environment there was sufficiently different from a regular dive that it forced us to recognize the dynamic quality of the situation. Because we share the same static values that brought us into that situation I think we were both able to enjoy the dynamic quality of it in the same way. That’s what made it powerful.

I’m not quite finished with the second book. Perhaps it’ll turn everything on its head in the end and what I just wrote might make no sense. But it feels like a good addition to my mental world image. Let’s see if it’ll hold up over time and experience.

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Vivid

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We were swimming through a massive current, really feeling it tugging at our regulators, heading towards a solitary rock sticking out from the ocean floor. I didn’t really get why we were heading there until we arrived. Grabbing onto the rock carefully to give myself a moment of rest after swimming against the current, I finally looked up and saw this. A group of Eagle Rays gliding gracefully on the current that was giving us so much trouble. What an amazing sight. We stayed there for a while, taking photos and admiring the view, but soon had to go up since our air was running out. It’s a moment I won’t soon forget. A very powerful memory.

 

 

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