A really enjoyable three part essay series by Hillel Wayne comparing software engineering with traditional engineering disciplines to see whether we are really engineers, whether we are special and what we can learn from each other.
Machine learning looks like a very challenging field to keep up with let alone to study it. This guide by Vicki Boykis gives a bunch of pointers around reading, mapping and learning that can be applied to any large field you want to get into.
Looking at conversations from an improv perspective opens a lot of doors for interesting outcomes. It requires active thinking and leaning into the awkwardness both of which are good skills to practice.
I’m thinking back about this past year and this has definitely not been a great year. On the other hand it’s also the first time in a while where I have mental capacity to spare to even think about something like a year in review.
It felt like a year where not that much happened (no travel!) but at the same time a steady stream of minor misfortune was showered upon me. In the grand scheme of things I can’t really complain but all in all it was definitely a mixed bag.
Everything with my body was going well last year, until suddenly it wasn’t anymore. Adjusting to that has been painful.
Cycling was one of the best things. This was the first season that I started out with the road bike and even though it was cut short, there were some great rides to be had.
Most notably I went on one gravel group ride with the local Gravel Club which was a lot of fun and I went for my first century with a couple of colleagues.
My weight loss journey™️
At the start of spring I felt I needed to lose weight and then figured out how to do it. I went down from over 85kg back to under 78kg over the course of six months.
I’m writing a piece summarizing how I figured out weight but in short:
I eat because I’m bored.
I get to a caloric deficit by doing endurance cycling.
I try to fast after my last meal of the day until the next morning.
I’ve been very happy about this and wish I had figured it out earlier but a lot of this has been contingent on both me figuring out things about myself and the huge amount of nutrition and fitness knowledge available online.
Minor scrapes after ramming a car with my bike
I got myself into a bicycle accident slamming into a car on my way home from having my eyes checked.
A car turned right on Mehringdamm but then halted on the bike crossing because there were pedestrians crossing as well. I tried to swerve around but couldn’t and fell, rolled over my bike, hitting my head on the car and the ground. I got some scrapes and hematomas in my groin and on my temple. The one in my groin has dissolved, whereas the one on my temple can still be felt.
Every cyclists first thought in such a situation: the bike. My cockpit was twisted a bit and my chain was jammed behind the frame but otherwise it was fine. The chain broke a couple of weeks later—probably because of this.
The police wrote us up as being both at fault and I chose not to pursue the matter. In Germany, as a cyclist, you are pretty much always screwed so I’m counting my blessings and I paid the €170 fine to be done with this.
No more bouldering (and lots of other things)
Then the big one. The past year I finally got back into bouldering in a serious way and found my groove. I was getting to our local climbing gym more than once a week and improved to the point where I could climb V4 problems. I’ve been bouldering on and off since I’ve been in Berlin but this has been the best I’ve ever been.
Unfortunately, this didn’t last very long because at the end of August I was doing a very moderate traverse on the wall and lost my footing. Normally this wouldn’t be an issue but this time my right foot got stuck on the volume and twisted my knee on the way down. I heard a tearing noise while in the air.
A long story and a bunch of orthopedic visits later I find out that I have what is called an unhappy triad of injuries also known as a ‘blown knee’. It’s relatively atypical for climbing but checks out with the exact thing that happened to my knee.
The black tendon is my PCL. The grey cloud superimposed on it, is what remains of my Anterior Cruciate Ligament (voorste kruisband).
I’m scheduled to have my ACL reconstructed in February. Until then I’m not climbing or running anymore but doing some mild cycling. My knee does not bother me that much but it’s also not very happy if I stand or walk too long. The goal for the coming year is to have a stable pain-free knee.
I’ll be fine if I after this I can cycle and hike at a moderately high level. I’m not sure whether I’ll ever go back to climbing given the risk of injury. Watching bouldering videos on Tiktok at the moment makes my stomach turn.
Just as the end of the year approached we as a family finally caught COVID. Our LFTs were the first positive ones that I’ve seen this entire pandemic. That proved to me that 1. yes they do work 2. we didn’t have it before.
Despite going to the office daily and having had some close calls, it wasn’t me that brought it home.
Being stuck at home with the kids for 10 days waiting to test ourselves free was a trial of everybody’s sanity. Also because it’s relatively arbitrary and a bit of a voluntary act. People who don’t have themselves tested don’t face any restrictions. People who do get tested, get very few benefits out of it.
My mind has been doing better also because I had to reduce my physical activity. Instead of brutal physical exercise, I guess I’ll take on lots of mental exercise.
At the start of the year I got some lessons in voice coaching in which was nice but I had trouble combining it with my schedule. What I learned, I did manage to put to good use.
After trying every possible tracker out there, I picked Strides to remind me of the things that I should be doing regularly. It’s €5/month but it’s worth that just for getting me to do my push-ups regularly.
Not everything I’m tracking is sticking or even on track, but building habits takes time and active reflection. This app is the most minimal first step on that path.
While I was cramming HSK3 vocabulary in 2021, I realized I had no real motivation to learn Chinese. I probably never really had any to begin with. Following a whim I switched to Japanese. That has been going reasonably well and I can even recycle my knowledge of Chinese characters when learning kanji.
I finished the Human Japanese iPhone app and then spent the rest of the year learning all the vocabulary in it. Below you can see 4500 cards in Anki spread over a full year of studying.
Now it’s on to complete Human Japanese Intermediate and further material. Judging from a quick online test, it seems that what I’ve done so far brings me most of the way to JLPT N5 level. I may take that test in 2023 or go straight for N4.
I’m not sure when I’ll hit a wall but my main motivation is relatively steady: I want to make my next visit there the best it can be.
After a slump when it came to my professional reading I organized my PDFs and setup a flow to read papers. Then I tried to read a paper on uKanren and didn’t understand that. I followed the trail working myself through everything in The Reasoned Schemer to reintroduce myself to logic programming. That was very rough and I would not have understood it without the relevant bits in SICP and PAIP.
I have no idea why this book stuck but I thoroughly enjoyed the experience. The focused time, clearing my brain and working on something very difficult without direct application. Watching the lectures—some nights at 0:30 with my eyes falling shut—I felt like I was back in a dusty university chalkboard room.
The material stretched my thinking and facility for abstraction which pretty much seems to be the point of Category Theory. It didn’t do a lot for my understanding of functional programming, but I hope it laid a reasonable foundation for later.
I’m finding practicing math is more fun without the pressure and trauma of your life depending on it like in university. I’m now reading up on some Abstract Algebra which I felt I was lacking. It’s making me realize that I don’t vibe well with math that’s about numbers (except for statistics, I always loved statistics). I prefer logic, computability, topology and the likes.
Reading some good things
The year has been pretty bad for reading as most years recently have been.
The notable books I read:
Rust for Rustaceans by Jon Gjengset: A book for Rust library authors more than anybody else. Whatever I picked up I forgot pretty much immediately because I work on the application side of things. Still good to have read and I remain continuously amazed at how much Rust knowledge has to be picked up through osmosis.
The Ministry for the Future by Kim Stanley Robinson: The most important book that KSR has written so far. This is an essential inspiration for anybody interested in fixing the planet. Everything that KSR has been pursuing and hinting at in his previous books comes together here.
Midnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie: A tour de force by Rushdie which does what it intends to do, but is just too slow and heavy for me. The main thing I took from this book is an appreciation for and an interest in India’s culture and history.
Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel: Keeping with my theme of reading books whose authors had something bad happen to them I started Wolf Hall after Hilary Mantel passed away. It definitely is at least as good as everybody says it is. The topic of handling a whimsical man-child ruler is one that is acutely relevant in our current time. Advice on how to be a Cromwell is more useful than advice on how to be a Prince.
Picking up my studies
I reconsidered my position that I had completed my professional reading. For sure I read most of O’Reilly and all the relevant books in engineering and product management. That wasn’t particularly challenging beyond finding the time.
But there is a lot more stuff out there if you expand your horizon and don’t mind somewhat more academic books. With that in mind I went through my anti-library and assembled a new shelf on Goodreads with books that are hard and stretch what it means to be a professional: advanced studies.
I’ll be spending the next 5-10 years working through this eclectic collection of mathematical computer science, systems theory and management studies. I’m not sure yet where I’ll be able to apply this knowledge in my work/life but I can’t wait to find out.
All the other stuff has been fine.
Things are going well with the kids. They are doing well at daycare, they’ve completed their basic swimming certification (Seepferdchen) and they’ll start school next year.
What’s most exciting is that they are getting to an age where we can consume media together. We watched both Frozen movies and they got a Nintendo Switch for Christmas. Pikmin 3 is a big hit.
Work is very much a bullet train where we performed huge lifts during the past year while at the same time everything and everybody was rushing forward. Bootstrapping an entire engineering organization as part of a senior management team and building a multi-team platform organization is a lot of good fun, but it’s also a huge amount of work.
The focus after the building is execution and delivery which to me cements the idea that engineering is an operational discipline more than anything else.
Some people know that I used to be into esports and MOBA games. Because of that I couldn’t resist playing a good one on my iPhone. I got into Wild Rift from the very beginning, played it heavily and quit last year. Wild Rift is executed perfectly, it’s streamlined and offers the right amount of depth and duration. When the games are good (at around Diamond), they are very good but the rank reset every season makes playing this too much of a grind.
Then we got the Switch and now my holiday evenings are mostly consumed by Hades. If it isn’t one poison, then it’s another one.
One of the most atypical interests I picked up last year has been watches. I’m wearing a wrist watch again after having picked up an Orient Kamasu diver at a bargain. Not having to take out my phone to see the time has been great.
Not sure when or if I’ll buy another watch.
The demise of Twitter is one of the bigger stories of 2022 relevant to me because of the age and activity of my account. I was one of the first 10 twitter users in the Netherlands and it was a huge part of my online life. Time to move on.
The site may still be up and running but Twitter as a public space is over. Destroying something like that is a crime of a magnitude I hope we’ll appreciate and punish at some point in the future.
Thanks to some friends who set up an instance, I can in the meantime be found over at Mastodon: @email@example.com. It’s nice over there.