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

 

Some days you are tired

Some days you are tired
Maybe you are tired of all the work
You can’t keep up with, it all piles up
Of all the meetings and reports
That come relentlessly without end

Some days you are tired
Maybe you are tired of all the time
That you never have enough of
Of all the deadlines and targets
That you never meet but should’ve

Some days you are tired
Maybe you are tired of the world
And how it’s unfair and never learns
Of all the madness and insanity
And sometimes you want to watch it burn

Some days you are tired
Maybe you are tired of people
And all of their pressure and expectations
Of all their lies and inconsistencies
Or disappointments in their decisions

And on some other days
It’s more of the same

But also maybe you see a smile in a child’s eyes
Or maybe you run into a long-lost friend from years ago
Or maybe someone laughs at a stupid joke you said
Or maybe you see a stranger help another
Or maybe you find a new favorite place to eat
Or maybe you solve a problem tearing you up inside
Or maybe a familiar tune plays on the radio
Or maybe finally you’re no longer in the red
Or maybe good fortune comes to your brother
Or maybe you find some time alone to breathe

And then you remember
That it doesn’t always go this way
That there are also better days

And you say to yourself

“Maybe tomorrow, I will not be so tired”

Thirty Eight

Thirty eight lessons I’ve learned through the years, in no particular order:

  1. Do not be beguiled by pretty things; not all that glitters is gold
  2. Remain true to yourself in the face of adversity
  3. You can’t help people who aren’t willing to change
  4. People will believe what they want to believe
  5. You don’t have to do what everybody else does
  6. Happiness often comes from small things
  7. Be thankful for what you have and appreciate the people who are there for you
  8. Other people think about you a lot less than you think
  9. Time you enjoy wasting isn’t wasted time
  10. Spend some time alone with your thoughts regularly; solitude has its benefits
  11. In most situations, a balanced approach will serve you well. Extreme or fanatical views will rarely be good
  12. Occasionally try again things you earlier dismissed, in case that they have improved or your own tastes have changed
  13. When in doubt and things are urgent, pick one option randomly and go.
  14. Don’t be afraid to speak your mind
  15. Life is too short to waste time on things that you don’t enjoy or don’t help you grow or people who don’t appreciate you
  16. It’s never too late to be who you were meant to be
  17. If it’s important to you, keep track of it
  18. The world is too amazing to be bored
  19. It’s okay to be weird and/or random every so often
  20. Life has no meaning except what meaning you give it
  21. All things, whether good or bad, shall eventually pass. Enjoy the good while it lasts, persist through the bad until you make it through
  22. Avoid doing or saying things in anger or hatred
  23. Things change and people change, sometimes for reasons we can’t ever explain. Learn to roll with life’s punches
  24. The world is filled with people who are terrible, cruel, or manipulative. That doesn’t mean there aren’t good people out there and that doesn’t mean you should mistrust everybody. “Do not let the world make you hard”
  25. Don’t worry too much about things that you can’t understand or can’t change. Focus only on things you can affect and that matter to you
  26. Quality is nice, but quantity often works too. Many failed or mediocre attempts will eventually converge towards a quality success
  27. Learn to accept when things need to end. Let go or be dragged
  28. Sometimes you just need the courage to power through the difficult parts
  29. For many things, the best way to improve is with time and practice and effort
  30. Learn from the past, look to the the future, but live in the present
  31. Life isn’t fair. Just because you’ve done all the right things doesn’t mean you’ll get what you want, even if you feel like you deserve it (the converse is also true – even if you do all the wrong things you won’t necessarily get punished for it)
  32. Strive to be fair and honest with people you deal with. Give credit where credit is due
  33. In order to learn, teach. In order to lead, follow
  34. When you are ahead, strive for stability and balance. When you are behind, be willing to gamble
  35. Always keep learning and improving. Every day, try to improve yourself or learn something new
  36. Every once in a while, expand your horizons with new things or different points of view
  37. Words are wind. Reinforce your words with deeds
  38. Age is merely a state of mind

Motivation vs Discipline

Motivation is a fickle mistress. It comes and it goes. It’s easily distracted. It can vanish in a blink of an eye. When it’s there, it’s great, but when it’s not you don’t get anything done and you don’t feel terrible. Motivation is based on the principle that you need a certain emotion or state of mind to get things done. Motivation is burst damage, you can get a lot done but you don’t know when it’s gonna come out.

Discipline is a harsh mistress. Discipline means doing things no matter what. It means you do what you need to do even if you’re uninspired, or tired, or exhausted. It means you gather all the mental blocks and the excuses and the urge to go do something else, and you power through all of these and do what you needed to do in spite of all of these. Discipline means that your goals are independent of emotional whims, that they need to get done no matter how you’re feeling. Discipline is DPS, it’s constant work that can get boring, but it will surely get the job done.

…I need more discipline.

Sketching Daily

I’ve had a bit more free time recently, and I’ve been filling that time by starting up some hobbies (some old, some new). One of them has been sketching. I’ve been drawing things for as long as I remember – I have elementary and high school notebooks with more doodles and x-men drawings than there are notes. And even at work, I often find other meeting participants checking out the random sketches I had been absently doing while other people were speaking.

I started following this subreddit SketchDaily. What they do is they have a bot post a daily theme (submitted by other users) and users post their sketches for others’ comments. “Sketches” is a wide-ranging term here, submissions can be anything – redditors will typically post sketches with a wide range of skillsets (some are beginners and some quite advanced) and mediums (some do real-life paper sketches or inked and colored drawings, others do digital stuff drawn on tablets or with photoshop).

If you follow me on Instagram (@roytang0400, it’s funny how I got that account, but that’s a story for another day), you know I’ve been posting my sketches for a bit more than a month now. I haven’t written a blog post in a while, so I thought I’d post about this and maybe show a bit of how I do my sketches. I’m not super talented or anything, although I like to think I’m not a beginner.

For March 15th, the theme posted on r/SketchDaily was “Lots of Dinosaurs”. I usually try to relate the theme to a pop culture thing I’m familiar with – something from movies, TV or video games. Since I’m a big Transformers fan, my first instinct was to do a drawing of the Dinobots. I’m not good enough yet to do one from scratch, so I usually search online for an image to use as reference. (I find that my sketches get a bit worse when I don’t use a reference)

I found the following image via Google Images, originally hosted on http://kaiju-kingdom-hearts.wikia.com/wiki/Dinobots:

The five Dinobots (if you are ignorant) are Grimlock (center, T-Rex), Snarl (bottom left, Stegosaurus), Slag/Slug (bottom right, triceratops, he was renamed to Slug in later versions because apparently Slag had negative connotations somewhere), Sludge (top right, apatosaurus), and Swoop (top left, pteranodon)

I usually start by doing a light-pencil sketch of a rough outline and layout:

20160315_204514

I’m drawing on a cheap sketchpad I bought for like 50 pesos using a 2B pencil. I usually just take pictures of my submissions using my cellphone camera, which explains the shadow near the bottom. I started out placing Grimlock’s head then placing the other Dinobots around him. It turned out that I had made Grimlock’s head a bit too big which meant I didn’t have room to place the other Dinobots exactly as they were in the reference image, I had to bunch them up closer (Sludge is mostly just a neck and head now), but that’s fine. Too lazy to start over.

Once I have the initial light-pencil sketch, I draw in some heavier lines. I start with Grimlock in the center:

20160315_210755

Then Snarl and Slag on either side:

20160315_213816

Then the last two, Swoop and Sludge:

20160315_215206

Now, usually I’d stop at this stage and maybe polish a bit more (Grimlock probably needs an Autobot symbol on the chest) and just submit it to reddit already. But the problem with this sketch when I look at it, it’s hard to tell the Dinobots apart – like in the image above, it’s hard to tell where Grimlock ends and Snarl begins.

So just this once, I thought I’d try adding some colors to the sketch. I’d never done it before, but my mom was into the whole adult coloring book fad so she had some colored pencils lying around for me to use.

Again I started with Grimlock:

20160315_221453

And then the rest:

20160315_224636

Okay, it didn’t really improve telling the Dinobots apart by that much. Maybe only a little bit. At this point I’ve already spent way more time than I normally do on this (I was already on one and a half hours, most days it takes me less than half an hour), so the I went ahead and submitted the above image to reddit.

The above isn’t representative of what I do with all of the sketches. For one, this output is way more detailed than my usual ones. And the process varies slightly depending on what I’m drawing. I will usually always have the preliminary light-pencil sketch. Sometimes for drawing real-life people, I’ll want to do an outline trace, which means overlaying the paper over an image I want to draw (usually on the iPad) and lightly tracing the outline with pencil. It feels a bit like cheating, but real-life faces are hard enough without it. Maybe someday I won’t have to do them anymore (although I’ve only traced like 3 sketches I think). And as mentioned, I don’t usually do the coloring – and I probably won’t do it again, takes too much time.

I’m still not sure how far I’m taking this hobby. I have no ambitions of becoming a professional or anything (a friend once commented he was scrolling through his instagram feed with famous artists like Leinel Yu and one of my drawings was interspersed and surprised him LOL), but like life, I’ll just see how it goes I guess.