Compartmentalization

I had been looking into a software performance problem for a few hours now and had decided to call it quits for the day. I turned off the lights and climbed into bed, hoping to get to sleep early for a change. I hadn’t been in bed five minutes when I thought about something I hadn’t tried yet. I picked up the tablet that was beside my bed and did a few google searches and soon I was back on my desktop trying out some parameters I hadn’t tried yet.

Ideally one practices some sort of compartmentalization. There should be a clear boundary between work and non-work and you can set work aside as needed. It’s something I’m really bad at, as seen in the example above.

It’s something that needs a certain kind of discipline, and we all know discipline isn’t my strong point. Working from home and with everything in the cloud and accessible online makes that discipline even more important. And even more difficult! It’s a lot easier to create separation when your work stuff is only accessible from the office.

My tendency for multitasking probably doesn’t help either. Even when I’m playing a video game or out on a walk, I can still get distracted by notifications on my phone. I’m used to it and I expect it and I don’t really want to disconnect – so maybe I’m kind of asking for it too.

The other day I was supposed to take a day off from work and was planning to chill all day and maybe work on some personal projects. Still I ended up replying to a few emails and discussing some stuff on slack even while I was playing Persona 5. It wasn’t much work time but still drove home that I was so bad at compartmentalization.

Software development is also like any other professions that involves creative problem solving. It’s hard to set aside the problems you’re trying to solve. You can’t just suddenly quit on a problem at a certain time. They tend to keep spinning around in your head and will pop back into mind at random. And once a new idea or solution does come to you, one might think it wise to just write it down and pursue it later, but then you risk losing flow. Flow is a valuable commodity in professions like mine, so you kind of want to ride along with it when it decides to come.

Supposedly you should be setting aside specific times of the day for when you hunker down to work. That way your mind gets conditioned that “this is work time”. And it makes it easier for you to create that separation between work time and nonwork time. And hopefully flow comes to you at the proper time instead of randomly while pooping. That’s not always easy though, and not always viable due to scheduling concerns. But it should be a step in the right direction. Hopefully it’s not too late to learn that kind of discipline.

Thirty Nine

I haven’t had much time to write recently. Been busy. (I’ll write about that some other time.) But I’ve kind of been posting regularly on this date for a while, so here we are.

Ah, time. And the inexorable passage thereof. There’s some kind of big milestone for me in around three hundred and sixty-five more solar cycles. Well, I don’t personally consider it big, since that’s kind of arbitrary. But as people are wont to say, life begins… maybe I’ll save that for next year.

This year, kind of at a crossroads. Considering where to go and the way forward. Trying out some things. Figuring out what’s important and what’s not and what one would be willing to give up.

In all honesty there’s a good chance that in another year’s time, I still wouldn’t have figured anything out. Maybe that’s what life is though. A constant struggle of figuring out where to go next.

And so it goes.

Adulting

Some time ago a friend from high school invited me to her daughter’s debut. And I had to proxy for her daughter’s ninong and maybe give a few words on what it means to become an adult. My first two reactions were (1) wow I’m so old one of my batchmates has an eighteen-year-old daughter; and (2) what the heck would I know about becoming an adult? (I guess (3) was “oh, it’s a debut, so it’s formal and I have to dress up? I hate dressing up.”)

I mean, don’t get me wrong. I certainly consider myself an adult. But I have no idea when that transitioned happened. It’s not like when you turn eighteen you get some kind of brain implant that magically tells you how to live life and be independent and get a job and be responsible and do your taxes and all that stuff.

If anything, I would say “becoming an adult” is a continuing task that keeps going on even when you’re nearing the big four-oh and beyond. I guess the zeitgeist is already aware of this though, given how we’ve coined the word “adulting”, which basically means doing stuff that makes you feel like an adult. Like going to the bank. Or signing contracts. Or even dressing up to go to a formal event.

While we were having dinner at the event, I jokingly said I should just give a message like “fake it til you make it.” I basically feel that’s what most of adulthood is: bumbling along until you figure out what the heck you’re doing. When you’re a kid you look up to the grown-ups who can go out and do anything they want and confidently do all these jobs and they know everything. But when you grow up you realize that’s not really how it works – most of the time all the adults are struggling through life too, trying to figure out whatever thing they have to do that day, or even just trying to make it to the next paycheck. And you’re definitely going to miss being a kid. Maybe that’s the sign that you’re already an adult, when you already miss being a kid?

I ended up reading a few words from the actual ninong, so I didn’t get to give my own adulthood message. One of my other batchmates gave the debutante a copy of The Art of War as a gift, with the message that adulthood is basically warfare so she should be prepared. While I agree with that sentiment somewhat, I think for me the most important thing about becoming an adult would be learning to find your own voice and identity. That means figuring out what’s important to you and what values you hold. Being an adult isn’t easy, but knowing yourself in this way gives you a framework to guide you in your adulting decisions.

A Bus Ride in Metro Manila

 
“Grabe naman kasi ang ginagawa nyo sa pasahero” (This is too much for the passengers), she said. She was a short, old lady trying to get to the front of the bus so that she could disembark. But like most city buses in Metro Manila during rush hour, the bus was filled to the brim with people, many of them standing tightly packed in the aisle, holding on to handrails on the bus ceiling or the nearby seats. Her young son, a short boy of maybe 14 years, weaved through the standing bodies packed in the bus’s aisle to retrieve a plastic bag they had brought on board.
 
It took them more than five minutes to disembark, even with the driver getting off to help them with their bags. City buses usually have a conductor to collect fares and assist passengers, but at this stop the conductor was way at the back collecting fares.
 
It was a Saturday early evening. A couple of hours earlier at around 4pm I had decided to take a bus from the Mall of Asia in Pasay. I was headed home to Tandang Sora in Quezon City, on the opposite side of the urban sprawl that is Metro Manila. I had the option of a short jeepney ride to the MRT station and taking the train, but I was rather sleepy so I decided to board a city bus even though it would probably be a longer ride. “It’s Saturday,” I said to myself. “Surely there won’t be much traffic.”
 
I got on board a Fairview-route bus waiting near the mall. Since this was the first stop for the bus, I was able to get a seat up front near the driver and the bus doors. I paid my fare (P40 apparently) and put my head down on my bag, hoping to catch some zzzs along the way. I assumed the ride would take around an hour and a half.
 
I managed to get a little sleep, but even when I woke up almost an hour later, the bus had just managed to make it past Buendia. That was only around a third of the trip. Looks like I was in for the long haul.
 
By this time, the bus was already full. No more seats were to be had and any passengers that boarded would have to stand in the aisle. “Diretso lang po tayo sa likod!” (“Let’s move to the back please”), the conductor would urge, to free up space for disembarking passengers near the front. But for some reason or another, Metro Manila commuters always prefer standing around near the bus doors, which means that area is always the most crowded. Pretty soon, new passengers are no longer able to move to the slightly more spacious far end of the bus. Many of the passengers are women, some senior citizens even. I think about getting up from my seat to let someone else sit, but like many times before I come to the conclusion that being a rather large person, it’s far more space-efficient for me to be in a seat than blocking the aisle.
 
“Grabe naman siksikan dito!” (“It’s too tight in here!”), one of the male passengers complains. But the conductor is not taking any of their complaints. “Ganyan po talaga pag rush hour! Kung ayaw nyo po ng siksikan magtaxi kayo!” (“That’s how it is during rush hour! If you don’t like it, you should take a taxi!”)
 
He’s not wrong. Almost always during rush hour, city buses passing through the middle parts of Metro Manila’s main thoroughfare EDSA are filled to overflowing with people. Many non-airconditioned buses will even have people standing in the open doorway, hanging on to the bus railings for their livesPick-up points near the middle of the route, such as Megamall in Mandaluyong, are often battlegrounds where commuters struggle and elbow each other to get into standing room positions on already crowded buses.
 
Most commuters have little to no alternative. While the MRT was supposed to supplement public transport along EDSA, most of the time it is crowded as well and these days prone to breakdowns. Most of the stations often do not have working escalators so many commuters, especially older people, are hesitant to use it. Most of the poorer city denizens can’t afford to take taxis, but even then they are in short supply. Even if you are lucky enough to find a taxi, many drivers are selective and will either ask for exhorbitant ‘tips’ or outright deny fares who want to go too far away or through too much traffic. Uber’s surge prices get insane during rush hour as well.
 
A lot of people, especially drivers of private cars, complain about city buses, and justifiably so. Drivers and conductors are paid on a “boundary” basis. To maximize their earnings, they need to get as many passengers as possible during their trips. This means many of them are overzealous and often cause small to large traffic jams in their pursuit of more passengers. They have no concern for overloading laws (which are rarely enforced anyway) and will pick up passengers even if there’s no bus stop. At least as long as there are no traffic enforcers around.
 
Every so often there are suggestions to reduce the number of buses on EDSA. Anyone who’s seen how full these buses get during rush hour should realize this is a ridiculous proposition. Despite being undisciplined drivers, EDSA buses are far more space-efficient in terms of the number of commuters they are able to ferry across the metropolis, as compared to the large volume of private cars on the road. What’s needed is more professional bus services. Drivers and conductors should be paid a fair salary so that they don’t chase after passengers so ruthlessly. But such proposals never gain headway – the bus franchisees often complain that they are barely making enough money as it is.
 
I’ve been a commuter for most of the past two decades, and I’ve steadily seen the congestion for city buses and EDSA traffic go from bad to worse to much, much worse. These days I try to avoid commuting too far (I’m lucky to have that option). But on days like these when I’m crisscrossing the entire metropolis, I’m reminded of how bad the situation is. The congestion on EDSA is representative of the congestion in Metro Manila itself.
 
It’s almost 6:30pm before I make my stop at the Quezon City Memorial Circle. The bus ride took nearly two and a half hours. The old woman who takes my seat is grateful for the reprieve. A few minutes before me, the man who had been arguing with the conductor disembarked, and they exchanged another set of bitter words.
 
“Gago, tatandaan kita! Di na ko nagpapasakay ulit ng ganyan!” (“Fool, I’ll remember you. I won’t let you board next time!”), the conductor shouts after him. He turns to the rest of the passengers and reiterates that they shouldn’t complain about the congestion, since that’s how it always is. I remarked, as I got ready to get off the bus, that perhaps that man and that old lady weren’t regular commuters, and some of the other passengers chuckled.
 
Sadly, this was the reality that Metro Manila commuters had to live with. It’s a reality that can perhaps only be addressed by a concerted effort to decongest the metropolis and to professionalize and modernize the public transport services. There are no quick fixes or solutions coming forth. So for the foreseeable future, this is what we live with.

Paella

A couple of years ago, two friends and I were being tourists in Barcelona. With its wide, spacious streets and strangely uniform city blocks, we walked around a lot. During one of our tourist days, we decided to eat some paella on the way back to our AirBNB. Who comes to Barcelona and doesn’t eat paella right?

We ended up walking for quite a while. Every time we came upon a new restaurant that served paella we would consider the price and the restaurant and would think, hey maybe we can find somewhere better or cheaper further along the way. At one point a Pinoy working in a nearby restaurant even overheard us talking about it in Tagalog and he called after us as we walked away. “Dito, mura lang!”, but we paid him no heed.

How could we know which restaurant was the best one until we walked all the way and saw all the options? But walking all the way back to the AirBNB to see all the options meant we would go for a longer time tired and hungry, so that was obviously no good. Even worse, we may find at the end of the walk that the best choice was too far back and we end up with a suboptimal paella. At some point, we would have to decide that “Okay, the paella here looks good enough, let’s eat here.”

I thought it was kind of a metaphor for life and choices and such. You can’t know ahead of time whether the options presented to you now are the best you’ll ever get. But at some point you have to stop browsing and overthinking and decide to settle for something that is “good enough”. Sometimes it turns out great, sometimes it ends poorly, but it’s almost always a gamble. Life decisions are only hard if we make them hard. But as long as you made the best decision with your limited information, I think you can always choose to live without regret.

We ended up eating at this small diner near our AirBNB. It was run by an Asian dude and his family, though it seemed they spoke better Spanish than they did Chinese or whatever. I had the Valencian paella which had meat instead of seafood or whatever (no surprise for anyone who knows my dietary habits.) I don’t know whether it was the best or the cheapest paella we could have eaten that day, but I could tell you it was pretty damn good anyway.

Scary Movies and Games

I’m not a fan of scary movies. I don’t appreciate the idea of paying money to get surprised by jump scares or whatever.

Back when I was a kid I remember my dad watching a Betamax copy of The Gate back home and me and my younger brother were watching with him and the movie seriously creeped me out. There was this one scene where a demonic eye manifested on the lead kid’s palm and that scene stuck with me for a while. (Maybe some latent form of trypophobia – don’t google it.)

Slasher movies I find a bit more acceptable – I watched a few of them in the 90s like Scream and I Know What You Did Last Summer. But the really creepy stuff like The Ring and similar films I’m not particularly interested in.

For scary video games, we played a few of them back on the PC when we were young. The most memorable would definitely be Waxworks, a kind of point-and-click with first-person grid-exploration horror game. I remember my brother and I would play it late at night while the folks were out. There was one time we had to stop because we had been surprised at the sudden appearance of some bad guy in the pyramid stage. We had to turn off the PC and run out to the sari-sari store so that we had some people to talk to. We eventually managed to finish this game, but I think after that part we refrained from playing too late in the night. LOL.

I also played the original jump scare game, Alone in the Dark although I never got into the succeeding series like Resident Evil. These days I don’t bother with scary games anymore. Sometimes I consider playing stuff like Amnesia, but I’m sure even if I’m a grown-up I’d still get creeped out by some of the stuff and that’s not really how I like to be entertained.

 

 

Planning / Reacting / Relaxing

At any point in time, what you are doing can be grouped into one of four buckets:

  1. Planning
  2. Executing a plan
  3. Reacting to something
  4. Relaxing (leisure time)

Overthinkers tend to do too much of #1. The most efficient people probably spend most of their time in #2. People whose lives are chaotic do too much of #3. Almost all people don’t get enough #4. (I might be doing too much of #4~)

My 2016 in numbers

Random statistics from 2016:

  • 74 blog posts (total of 769 currently on this site, some imported from as early as 2002. The record for a single year was 148 back in 2008, but that was back when I didn’t do social media much so even short posts made it to the blog, delicious bookmarks were auto-posted here, etc.)
  • 50,135 words written for Nanowrimo
  • 321 sketches submitted to r/sketchdaily
  • Duolingo streak: 225 days
  • Answers written on Quora: 427
  • Programming languages/frameworks learned: 4
  • Instagram posts: 390
  • Facebook activity: 218 statuses, 178 links, 164 photos, 31 videos. You can generate your own report at Wolfram Alpha
  • New facebook friends: 39
  • People I unfriended due to political discourse: 0
  • People who unfriended me (probably due to political discourse): 1
  • Baptisms attended: 4
  • Weddings attended: 2
  • Wakes attended: 1
  • Games purchased (not including any I got for free for some reason): 19 (2 PS4 retail, 1 Wii U retail, 16 Steam including 3 from Humble Bundle)
  • Games “finished” (story/campaign completed OR achievement complete): 11
  • Best Hearthstone rank: 9
  • Best Duelyst rank: 7
  • Average points per turn in Words with Friends: 26.5 (up from 25)
  • Books read: 30 (year target was 52). Here’s the list.
  • Things watched on Netflix: 880
  • Quiz nights attended: 11 (we won prizes 8 times, first place 5 times)
  • Uber trips: 22
  • Minutes spent outside walking or running: 21,772 (slightly under 59.5 minutes per day)
  • Donuts eaten: 4
  • Times I won the lotto: 0
  • Bears defeated in single combat: 0

Decluttering

I traditionally try to save some time on the week between Christmas and New Year’s Day to do some cleaning up and decluttering of my stuff. One would assume that having more time meant I would be better able to organize my stuff and all that, but one would be wrong. My room still has stacks of books, toys, Magic cards and other stuff in random places.

Or maybe I just have too much OCD that I want everything to be neat and organized, but I’m not industrious enough to make it happen. I’m sure there are people a lot more cluttered than me.

Towards the start of the year, I told myself I should throw out/get rid of/dispose of at least one thing a day. It’s one of those relatively easy things to do I haven’t been able to maintain.

Why do we keep around all this old stuff we don’t need?

Part of it may be from a mentality of scarcity – we don’t want to throw away stuff for fear of finding out that we may need it later. But reasonably, if you haven’t used a thing in years, maybe you’ll never use it and even if you had need of one, how difficult would it be to find one again? Some kind of pack rat mentality. I know a few of my friends who would be very familiar with this.

Other things we keep around for some sort of nostalgia or as keepsakes of other people and faraway places. That’s fine I suppose, but maybe one shouldn’t put too much value in things that don’t actually have them. Case in point: I have a bunch of rocks here from different countries I visited in Europe, haha. Pictures, letters, and other personal keepsakes one might consider digitizing and storing in the cloud.

Having a cluttered space has a cost, one that’s difficult to ascertain or quantify. Not only do things look messy, but things are harder to find when you need them most. There’s also a strange satisfaction that comes from achieving a fine, organized space (before it all falls back into chaos of course.)

 

Large Projects and Losing Focus

I’m kind of a serial project starter. I’m sure it’s a very common thing. I’ll often have random ideas for projects I could do, big or small. I’d have a dozen of them percolating in my head at any one time. And somewhere between four to five dozen scattered down in various documents, notepads and what not, waiting to be explored. (I literally have two such small post-it notes with 5 such items in front of me right now)

These projects range from the small (programming: small scripts to automate some stuff I do regularly; sketches: quick sketches I want to do; writing: blog posts, short stories;) to the rather large and time-consuming (game development ideas, complicated data analysis ideas, novel ideas, some major reorganization/sorting of stuff, and so on). Unfortunately, starting new projects is rarely fruitful unless you actually finish those projects. And I rarely finish the larger projects.

I think about what it takes for me to get one of the largest projects to completion. At which stages do I typically falter?

Typically it starts with an idea. Something cool I could do. Or make. Or write. At this stage there’s a lot of optimism. I’m probably in love with the idea. If it’s a big enough idea, I might even think it’ll make me famous. Or earn me a lot of money. Or win me a nobel prize. Or all of those!

If I don’t like the idea enough to start on it immediately, I’ll add it to one of my lists that hopefully I manage to get back to sometime within the next century.

If I do like the idea enough, I’ll move on to some form of brainstorming. Maybe I’ll let the idea run around in my head for a couple of nights. Typically I’ll run the idea through some people I trust and would have a similar interest in the area. Then maybe draw up a short idea document outlining some of the details I’ve already imagined, to be expanded or reduced later as needed. If it’s a writing thing, I start to think in broad strokes: what the setting is, who the protag is, where I imagine him to be ending etc

At this point I pretty much have an idea of what I want to do. The next step is to study what I need to execute. If it’s a programming or game development project, I look into what tools I’ll need or programming techniques I need to learn. I might need to access or scrape some sort of data source for analysis so I’ll start looking for sources

Then I would try to get started. For programming stuff I might make a small prototype already. If it’s a writing thing, I might write a scene or two.

After the first tranche of work, I’m going to assess how much farther I need to go. And typically this is where many of the projects will drop off. At this point I become aware of the size and scope of what I plan to do. I would look at the sheer amount of work needed to bring the project to conclusion, and it can be disheartening.

I start out optimistic, thinking about the exciting, cool stuff I get to try out, amazing scenes I want to write, interesting gameplay mechanics I thought of, and so on. But once I get past that I start to realize that finishing the job will require a lot of drudgework too. That means a lot of small, annoying, menial tasks that I’ll put off and won’t want to do

I read a lot of self-improvement and “getting things done” sort of stuff, so I know all the usual advice: break down the big tasks into small tasks, take one step at a time, and so on. The problem is usually lack of focus. Since at this point there’s a lull in my interest towards the project, it’s an opportune time for some other idea to come along and distract me. Or maybe some shiny new video game or book starts taking up my time. Or some other random distraction that takes my time away. Then I’m too lazy to pick it up again, and the vicious cycle repeats with the next big project.

Smaller projects are fine – the ones that only take me a few hours or a day to do. It’s the bigger ones that are the problem. I mostly know where I have to improve – I have to be able to focus and commit my time. Eliminate distractions. Stay on track. And so on. Someday I’ll get it right