Year-end-cap

Observations:

  • I got married!
  • I question whether this blog adds value to my real life any more.
  • Compared to 2015 I am cycling more and am fitter.
  • Being fitter has helped me keep my peace of mind during stressful situations at work.
  • Schelling points and fences are fascinating.
  • Next year I wish to speak my mind more freely among my friends.
  • I increasingly want to be part of a community again.
  • I actually typed a really long post for the end-of-year event but decided not to post it.

Prep work is done. Time to make a move.

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Going home

Changing the country you live in has introduced a very particular anxiety inside me; an anxiety that I feel I’ve finally overcome. I’ve moved countries twice now, and both times I’ve had a strong sense of loss associated with the country I was leaving. I was afraid that everything I knew in there would disappear, and that it would no longer be ‘mine’. Every time I’d go back to those countries I’d revisit all the places I had my best memories at, trying to document as much as I could of how I wanted to remember everything.

Years pass, and hardly a year goes by where I don’t at least make a quick visit to either Japan or the Netherlands. The first going-back trips were only mildly memorable, with the memory of how I used to live in that country still fresh in my mind, and my mind uncertain about where I would be staying. But as I started to accept that, first, I wouldn’t be returning to the Netherlands to live, and then, that I wouldn’t be coming back to Japan any time soon, those trips became more nostalgic. Melancholic, even. Not overtly. Not obviously. But the feeling was always there at the back of my mind.

I’ve finally out-nostalgia’d myself. I’ve gone back to the Netherlands and to Japan so many times now that the going-back trip has become a steady, recurring, theme that I can rely on to keep occurring. No mad catastrophic event will suddenly wipe either country off the planet. Life moves on in all places. Nostalgia has been a warm and cozy side effect whenever I went back, but lately I am focusing more and more on the new things, on the way forward. Rather than seeing my experiences as a past that is over, I am starting to see it as a stable foundation that I can build something new on. It expands my options. The more I think about it this way, the more I am able to come to terms with my nostalgia. And finally, after ten years, I think I am at peace with having lived in multiple countries.

The past is dealt with. The future is being built.

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The right moment

There is a right moment to get out of the shower. There is a right moment for returning home after a nice walk. There is a right moment for everything. Your brain will tell you. If you overstay, you’ll know. If you’re early, you’ll know.

This is the right moment to finish this blogpost.

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Be direct

People are too polite. Politeness causes misunderstanding, especially across cultures or across nationalities, but even within the same culture it can be a problem. British people are sometimes ridiculously polite and indirect to the point where it serves no logical purpose and only slows down social progression.

Example: two people are getting to know each other and want to be better friends, but neither is sure about the other whether they want to improve their relationship or not. They are not sure because, at the end of their meeting, they repeat set phrases such as “That was fun, let’s do it again some time”. Then, when setting up the next meetup, quite often the tone of the next message is something like “Hey, last time was kind of fun. Do you maybe kind of perhaps in the future want to do something similar again? Only if you have time though. I wouldn’t want to impose on you or anything..” – Totally British tsundere.

Don’t fucking do this. There is absolutely no need to make communication this complicated. Just say “Last time was fun. I want to do X with you again. Do you have time Monday?” It really is that simple. There is no need to beat around the bush. Just say what you think. No one will think worse of you, or if they do, you are not a good match and there’s no point in hanging out anyway. Be direct.

I see this kind of behaviour a lot more when interacting with native English speakers, or in a group that is largely composed of people that are very adept at speaking English even if it isn’t their first language. The more adept you get, the more subtle the language becomes. This is not a good thing. At least not in this context. When it comes to social situations it is very important to be completely unambiguous. I’ve noticed this in Japan a lot while hanging out with people from various countries at the same time: eventually people realize nobody gets the cultural subtleties that they put in their speech, or they just don’t translate well to English, so after a while people tend to become more direct with each other. This is a great thing because it saves time for everyone.

Playing with language subtleties is fun when you’re having pub banter or lifelong friends or just two native speakers with an interest in language, but as soon as you’re not 100% sure that the other party will interpret your signals correctly, be direct. Use more easily understandable phrasing. Don’t leave things to be misinterpreted.

That’s for the sending end. As for the receiving end, I’m very comfortable with taking people at face value and not spending ages trying to analyze what they’re trying to say. I do find myself occasionally encountering people who throw linguistic subtleties at me. I take “That was fun, let’s meet up again” to mean “That was fun, let’s meet up again”. Even if I usually get that there is (or might be) a deeper meaning behind something, I am very comfortable pretending not to understand it. As a result people have become more direct with me and life is simpler for both me and the person I’m interacting with. It saves me a lot of mental processing power to spend instead on things that I enjoy. Miscommunication is not a thing that I enjoy.

Keep it simple. Baka.

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The Friend Situation

(after writing this post I realized it is somewhat of a followup to The Intern Effect.)

It’s been a long time since I started blogging. I’m no longer a green 20-year-old. Life has happened and is continuing to happen, but rather than levelling up all of my skills, some of them have begun to atrophy from lack of use. One such skill is that of being social. My life at this point is so comfortable that I can usually get away with only talking to the people I need to, eg. the colleagues in my team and my significant other and on occasion an old friend or two. Over the course of last week I’ve had the opportunity to engage in social interaction with a much larger group of people, who are all unknown yet amazingly interesting to talk to. It was an event that I won’t soon forget. Let’s call it the “going on a trip with people you think can be your friends but you don’t know them that well yet and then you end up being pleasantly surprised by everyone” kind of feeling. It’s the AK feeling all over again! How fitting that the company I would go to after AK ended up being part of something called AKQA. Life gets better if you just keep adding letters.

But hey, this blog wouldn’t be this blog if I couldn’t find something to bitch about, so here goes. There’s one thing in my current life that I am not very happy with, and the effect of which kind of got hammered home during last week’s events: I don’t have any super best friends. I mean, I’ve got close friends, and I’ve got one or two people who may take offence at my saying this, but I don’t really have any one or multiple people that I know I can and will be able to hang out with at any time now or in the future, and that’s entirely my own fault. Life has happened, and all my old friends (and myself!) now have their own situation that takes precedence over ‘hanging out with friends’. I don’t blame them of course; none of us live near each other any more so it’s not like we can see each other every week. As a result everyone spends more time with their significant other which leads to babies, which leads to even less time spent with close friends. That’s life. But that’s also choices.

That’s where I left it at in 2009 in The Intern Effect. What I feel I am lacking is something that, at the time, I attributed to Japan being Japan and interns being knowingly temporary, but it was really much simpler: I was younger. Greener. I still seek the same thing, but I am seeking it at a level further than I even thought about back then. Close personal connections. Connections that are hampered by those pesky little personal lives that everyone has. A perfect example of this: one of my friends changed cities recently and I promised to visit him, yet I still haven’t done so, even after I had read a blogpost from him complaining about the exact same feeling of friend disconnection. We’re all seeking a more fulfilling form of friendship, yet we’re all somehow not doing the things we need to to get it.

I dare not answer yet what could be the reason for this, or how to ‘solve’ it. Perhaps that’ll just automatically make sense when I’m older. But I think I’m old enough to see the problem clearly now, and to have some ideas of where to look for a solution.

Learning a new skill is easy in that you can quickly get up to a reasonable level, and then need an extra-ordinate amount of time after that to become an expert. It’s no different with friendships. True friendships require a lot of time and commitment, with no guarantee of payoff. Just like when learning chess or playing a game or training your body, you might plateau and be unable to get any better. I think that’s a little bit what is happening to me: I’ve built up the social skills and experience needed to easily make friends and quickly get up to a quite-satisfying level of friendship, but then I plateau. I need to improve (or recover) my social skills as well as just spend more time with people in general. I haven’t made it easy for myself by moving away from a lot of people who I could be closer to, but that’s something I can fix. Not easily, though. Getting better at something takes time, and I need to finally make a proper decision on what (or who) to spend that time on. Like I said in 2009, I want to make the world a better place. I am becoming more aware of my own personal limitations within that context. Perhaps many people taking many small steps is as effective as one person taking a giant leap. Just don’t jump off a cliff.

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Why I hate Interstellar

I love sci-fi. I’ve been a long-time fan of all things Star Trek, I loved the Martian, I’ve read loads of sci-fi books like The Culture series, The Forever War, The Foundation series, and so on. I’m quite fond of hard sci-fi, so when I first heard that Christopher Nolan was working on a large scale science fiction movie that would try to stick to science I was very excited. In fact, Interstellar is one of the few movies I went to see in a theater. Sadly, my expectations were betrayed.

Perhaps it was because of the hype of it being a scientifically accurate movie, but I could not contain my disappointment. When I first saw it people in the theater were ooh-ing and ah-ing whenever something happened, and all I could think of, and came close to expressing vocally, was: “fucking bullshit”. Interstellar shits on science. Interstellar pretends to be interested in science, courts it, dates it, then realizes it’s not what it was after and brutally murders science and shits on its grave. That is how much I dislike this movie.

I think the problem for me is the initial premise. The movie goes out of its way in the beginning of the movie to show us humans: humans not at all different from us, because the events in the movie are supposed to have taken place shortly after present-day earth. The movie needs us to believe that these people are equivalent to modern-day humans. Then it proceeds to rub it in by giving Matthew McConaughey some clunky exposition dialogue to Murph about the scientific method, and how as a scientist you need to come up with a hypothesis, write down your findings and prove it. The movie clearly portrays the setting as ‘In this universe science is true, yo. You better believe it.’, and then goes on to violate exactly that premise. Sure, they got the little science-y details right, but that doesn’t do shit if your overarching plotline is inherently anti-science (and full of plot holes).

It’s been a while since the movie came out and I still hear people going on about how great it was. The movie still has a great rating on imdb too, so I was willing to concede that I might have been wrong about it. Today I watched it again. Nothing changed. Well, one thing. In the theater I didn’t want to be that guy who loudly shouts ‘BULLSHIT’ during the movie. At home I had no such misgivings.

The whole point of science and the scientific method is observing, coming up with a theory that fits the evidence. The movie uses this as a plot device, for science’s sake. If you’re going *that* far to insist on science then you can’t just do a heel-face turn at the end and be like ‘five dimensions and a predestination paradox make all of this okay’. Because it fucking doesn’t. That’s making a mockery of science. The danger of using ‘legit science’ as your movie backdrop is that you can’t make dumb plothole mistakes, like landing on a planet with massive waves without realising it had massive waves. There must be at least a minimum of dozens of scientists at NASA. Don’t tell me none of those people would’ve thought that a giant black hole would affect the tides. Or, even simpler, a pilot landing on the planet with waves of that close an interval would absolutely have noticed something on his approach. So, yay for scientific accuracy, nay for basic common sense. I guess you can’t have both in a movie because that would make things too boring for the viewers. But then I’d prefer leaving the science out rather than the common sense.

Now let me be clear: I have no problem with movies that make a mockery of science, or anything else, or with movies that don’t take science that seriously. I still enjoy Star Wars, I love Game of Thrones and I’m fine with whatever unrealistic laws of physics and reality are thrust upon me in whatever anime of the month I am watching. But the movie can’t violate its own rules. Interstellar establishes ‘science just as in real life’ as its own rules, and then in the end is like ‘Oh, by the way, this movie’s rules were actually science just as in real life plus five dimensions plus time travel plus the power of love. Fooled ya’. That is just not cool. It’s as if I was making a movie that portrays Christianity as true and then in the end was like ‘oh by the way, Christianity is only true because of science and God doesn’t exist. Fooled ya!’. Certainly anyone should be allowed to make a movie like that, but that doesn’t make it anything less of a dick move.

So there you go. I could not suspend my disbelief during this movie, and the reason for that is, ironically, because the movie tried to stick as close to reality as possible, and then failed miserably at that. I would’ve been much happier if they’d tried less hard at representing real-life science and focused more on the plot holes and fixing the common sense issues instead. I’ve experienced this a lot in Nolan movies. He likes to dazzle you and blind you with his pretty imagery and fantastic plotlines (don’t even get me started on Inception, although I liked Inception a lot better than Interstellar) so that sometimes you don’t even realise that you were fooled. Sometimes that works out, sometimes it doesn’t. Interstellar was a classic Nolan bait-and-switch that I did not enjoy.

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Daily life and fulfillment

Usually when I’m happy I tend to think that I am happy despite daily life. I tend to think that spicing things up and doing random things is part of what makes life fun. I still think that, but I also think that doesn’t necessarily imply that not doing that makes life not fun. I find pleasure in doing something well, and I’m getting better at doing my every day things, every day. If you focus on something and focus on getting better at it, then you can find enjoyment.

I love building things. I love it when there’s a problem I can’t quite grasp, but then I start working on it and, as I am working on it, the solution becomes clear. That’s just such a satisfying moment. But it’s also where my flaw lies, because as soon as I grasp the solution I lose interest. I get the fulfillment from thinking about the problem, starting to solve it and finding the solution in my mind, but not from working it out until the end. So after I find the solution it just becomes a chore; yet another thing to finish.

(No moral or life lesson. Just observations.)

 

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Guidelines

I’ve been following three ‘principles’ of sorts lately. I think they’ve been quite useful for me. Maybe they’ll work on other people too. In no particular order:

  • Own it – whatever you do, don’t feel embarrassed about it. Pretend if you have to. Eventually it becomes second nature.
  • Always leave something left to do for the next opportunity. Be it programming, gaming, travel, or that TV show that you were intending to binge-watch. Leaving something open means it’s easy to get back into things the next time.
  • Avoid procrastination by not thinking things through too much and just taking the first step. Don’t try to solve the entire thing in your head from beginning to end, just start somewhere and keep making progress incrementally. It works for me especially on the things I don’t like, because once I’ve started I feel like I might as well finish it.

Mental health, y’all.

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