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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The GT86 goes to Bedford

(skip if you don’t like cars!)

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My second track day. The morning started out foggy, moist and meh, but the clouds soon disappeared and made way for a somewhat blue sky. For once in my life I had been hoping that the day would be full of rain, since that would greatly decrease the wear on the tires and brakes, but it was not to be. I met up with an old friend and his RX7 and soon we were off doing our first laps at Bedford Autodrome, SEN circuit.

Since the track was still wet, it proved quite an interesting start. Unfortunately I had pressed the wrong button in my car, and instead of disabling all the driving aids I just managed to set it into sport mode, meaning odd correctional behaviour at the slightest twitch of the rear. Very confusing to me because I actually thought I had turned everything off, so the car’s handling didn’t make much sense to me. But eventually I figured out I was pushing the wrong button and managed to sort it out. By then the track had dried up and I managed to get into my groove.

Since I was driving with my friend’s much more powerful RX7, he proved a great benchmark to pit myself against. I managed to keep up with him quite well in the morning by braking late and driving right on the limit, but my buddy soon found out that one of his air intake hoses was slightly loose and was wasting precious air. He then proceeded to get into his own groove and blasted me away. The lack of power of the GT86 is absolutely noticeable during track days, especially when trying to overtake cars that are weaker in theory, but are in practice just fast enough to make it near-impossible to overtake on a straight, which, according to track day rules, is the only place you’re allowed to overtake. In some cases I managed to get a good enough corner exit to speed past a car before it picks up speed, which usually makes people realize that I’m faster and they should let me pass, but on other times there’s some annoying driver who never looks in his rear-view mirror and I’m stuck behind him for 2 whole laps. Oddly enough I didn’t see a single blue flag for the entire day, so I assume that the officials don’t mind a bit more aggressive overtaking.

In the afternoon my friend and I did a passenger session in each other’s cars, which was very enlightening. It’s quite amazing how different the RX7 handles compared to the GT86. It rolled a lot more, but at the same time felt more grippy and secure, and there’s no comparing the 86′s naturally aspirated engine to the twin-turbo powerhouse of the RX7. While my friend was sitting next to me I had a lucky streak and managed to overtake a pesky car in glorious fashion on the back straight purely by coming out of the corner better than him. Then a few laps later I managed to do my first power(ish) slide! I’m getting better at this driving thing :D.

The fun didn’t last too long, though, once again due to the brakes. The brakes started needing a bit more pumping not long after the day began, but this issue didn’t get much worse over the course of the day and was quite manageable. During the afternoon I started experiencing a lot of jittering and shuddering while braking hard, which was the same thing I experienced near the end of the previous track day. The problem gradually got worse over time and although it didn’t affect the braking power too much, it did seem like an obvious issue with some part of the brake system. I suspect it’s the discs, but don’t know enough about brake mechanics to be sure. I pushed the brakes a bit more but didn’t manage to cause them to fail horribly, so I assume they’re not a total write-off just yet. That said, I really need to get some proper track day brakes installed because this is just no fun.

The tires were surprisingly fine. The brakes heated up a lot, which heated up the tires a lot, which expanded the air inside them, which decreased the grippyness, but it was all quite manageable. I let a bit of air out once and the pressures did not increase significantly during the rest of the day, although the tires did start losing grip near the end. It was very noticeable in some corners where I just couldn’t help but squealingly drift outwards towards the side even though I was doing the same speed, gear and line I was doing earlier in the day.

Cars really aren’t a cheap hobby. A track day will cost you at least 100GBP+ just to book it, and then you’ll spend at least 2 full tanks of gas to get there and back, and to rev your engine on the track. In my case it seems that I don’t have to worry about replacing the tires just yet, but brake pads are going to be a recurring purchase, it would seem. Oh well, I can’t say I mind. Driving on track days is really good fun and an absolute must if you’re into cars. My next one probably won’t be any time soon. Many months will pass until the weather and my car are suitable again. I can’t wait.

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Everything in its right place (?)

Right, let’s get a little life streamwrite out of the way before starting the next phase of my life.

I am officially back to work after several months of break. I have to admit that I’m quite pleased about how I’m back at the old place, working with the people I know and like so well. While I’ve been away, absolutely nothing has changed in the company. It’s comfortable because I know what to expect. Too comfortable, perhaps? We’ll see.

Only four days ago I was relaxing at a tropical island with my girlfriend. We spent the whole week doing non-supervised scuba diving at the various dive sites of the island. It was pretty amazing. The perfect ending for a long period of holidays.

But everything must end, and everyone who is not filthy rich must eventually go back to work. My life always seems to be in either a self-actualized, enough-sleep, learning-new-things kind of holiday or semi-holiday period, or in an utter grind to level up and earn more money. There seems to be no middle ground. I can already feel myself slowly descending into grind mode. Self-awareness helps to keep yourself in the holiday mode for a bit longer, but it never last forever.

Some events can easily push you over the edge and make you lose self-awareness. In my case, I only barely caught myself at this yesterday. For the whole summer my home had been quiet, relaxed and peaceful, but yesterday all the housemates were back from holiday, and they were being noisy, instantly making me regret the decision I had made in quieter times to not find a new apartment but save up to buy one instead.

This place, where I live now, is absolutely not where I want to spend the rest of my life. But it’s comfortable enough to serve as a temporary base of operations until my girlfriend and I get enough money to buy our own home. Given that we are living and working in London, with some of the craziest house prices in the whole world, that is not an easy task. Given that I am committed to living here, the fact that I am powerless to affect my housing situation for the better makes me lash out and try to blame anything and everything. My housemates for making noise, my landlord for the rent price (even though he’s the nicest and most reasonable guy I’ve ever met and I like him a lot), the entire country for being so politically fucked up that they can’t do anything about this, and so on.

But at least I have an out. It’s a steep climb and it will take time, but there is a way out to reach a situation that I would be ultimately happy with and could find no fault with from my current perspective. Many people here don’t even have that chance because they simply will never earn enough money to buy a house.

It’s going to be a tough period before the winter holidays. It’s like that every year. But I’ve found my direction. I know what I’m aiming for, I know how to measure my progress, and I know that I can make it. Perhaps that’s enough.

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Time fills itself up

..or: what I’ve been doing the past few weeks. (tl;dr – nothing much)

I’m still officially on my not-quite-a-holiday-but-not-quite-working-either period. I was hoping to have a few weeks of absolutely nothing on my hands: no obligations, no chores, no must-do’s, no anything. The last time I had a period like that was after I left Japan and was in Holland with my parents for a few months. I tried to tell myself that such a period was still possible, but I really kinda knew already that it wouldn’t be.

In-between holidays and holiday planning I ended up searching for rental apartments, houses to buy and jobs. Since I decided I wanted I car, I had to decide which car to buy and deal with all the arrangements around that. I was expecting a bit of quiet after my sister came to visit, but because a middle-aged lady ran her car into mine I had to deal with getting the insurance money and the garage (which still isn’t quite dealt with, by the way..). Then a chance for a beneficial holiday presented itself, meaning I had to deal with delaying my resume date for work.

I had unreasonably expected another period of quiet right around now, but was wrong again. The car insurance thing is still going, so no mental peace there. Furthermore, I need to deal with renewing my passport, since it expires within 6 months, and accommodations for the next holiday aren’t quite perfect yet. Lastly, after the track day I did with the GT86 the brakes felt like they’ve grown a bit weaker, so I’ve been researching about which brake pads, discs and fluid to buy. I have to say that they’ve firmed up again after this week’s rain, so it’s not a necessity, just a luxury problem to ensure that the next track day goes more smoothly.

Lastly, I came back from holiday yesterday and some chav children decided that it would be fun to fuck around near my car. I was walking towards them from a distance when I noticed them touching it, and they appeared to be play-fighting and throwing themselves across the street, flinging each other into whatever came in their path, including my car. Yesterday was quite possible the first time in my life that I managed to intimidate someone (with language of course, not violence). The incident made me realize that I wanted to beef up my surveillance setup, for which I got a raspberry pi and infrared camera plus light. I spent half of today trying to get that set up, only to be rather disappointed by the frame rates. It seems to be a work in progress, though, as with everything Linux. At least the resolution is good. Still, setting it up properly will keep me busy for quite some time.

This is how time works. There’s no such thing as ‘free’ time. As soon as a time slot appears free, something immediately fills it up. There’s no use fighting it. Just accept it and fill as many slots as you can with things that you enjoy.

A long summer break. I’m actually kind of looking forward to getting back to work.

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