Hi! Welcome back to this blog thing. My life probably doesn’t look as interesting as 3-4 months ago, but I continue to have [amusing? perplexing? incomplete?] thoughts that I occasionally write about but never get around to editing for human consumption.

A Brief Update

I’ve settled into a normal life, I think. Work takes up a typical, work-like chunk of my time. Yesterday we had the luxury of girl scout cookies and working outdoors on the patio. The tech lifestyle I’m experiencing here is pretty great – it’s comfortable without being ostentatious, and my mornings are now so relaxed from only working forty hours a week.

Other stuff:

  • I’m still skating, still struggling with my lutz.
  • I’ve been re-learning Mandarin in preparation for a trip to Hangzhou and Shanghai in April – this was the main activity that edged out writing lately. In case anyone’s there – let me know!
  • I’ve been looking into developing for Android because it’d be nice to understand for my job, and I’m working on this app I’m calling “splunch” for now – for splitting a lunch with someone who wants the same food as you, because we could all use more lunch variety and portion control.
  • I’ll be in San Francisco the first weekend of April if anyone wants to meet up!

Books, for Guzzling

I found myself telling a few people recently that I feel like I don’t have enough time to read fiction. Given the vast array of real stuff that I don’t comprehend, it sometimes seems frivolous to worry about stuff that isn’t even real. But that’s ridiculous. I’ve been nourished by fiction this week. I was listening to this archived Radiolab podcast about how perhaps we don’t think unless we have words; this might be true. Sometimes reading analogies of your feelings in astounding phrasings is the best way to delineate things that normally pass by unnoticed.

Over the weekend, I read [/devoured] My Antonia by Willa Cather. I found it lovely to consider how our younger years cling to us and color our preferences for the future. At some point the main protagonist, Jim, remarks how Antonia (a friend since childhood) has been with him in all sorts of ways throughout his life, and that often his likes and dislikes are formed with some memory of her. When we know and love someone, we’re able to adopt their lens to see our world and sometimes we’ll adjust our habits to align with their values. Isn’t that amazing? Good love, like literature, it’s a way to step outside of ourselves to see more clearly.

I was also fascinated with how Jim’s cosmopolitan adulthood results in some “disappointment” in seeing Antonia’s life unfold – this judgmental tone recedes as Jim finds Antonia fulfilled in her life, but I think this is a common sentiment among those of us who grow up, move away, and hear about people from their childhood. In many ways I’ve been continuously struggling to reconcile my attraction to city habitation and a yearning for the quiet suburbs from my adolescence, weighing the symphony against the stars or weighing obnoxious food snobbery against posting links from upworthy (actually these two might be universal annoyances rather than region-specific). In the end there’s probably not much value in judging the superiority of  lifestyles; fulfillment is something we’re all capable of experiencing and typically the means that lead to real fulfillment are all decent.

Then the past few days I was addicted to reading Halfway House by Katharine Noel. This is a recent novel (published 2007) which narrates the story of a star athlete in high school named Angie, who suffers a mental breakdown and tumbles through a series of institutions, she and her family oscillating between wellness and terror. Much of this story was just painful, and I wanted to read to reach “resting points” where I felt like the characters were okay. But the language was also beautiful – kind of rolling and prickly; and then there was just memorable weird stuff, like a girl who razored a guy’s name into her skin (uhh what? she was ironically not diagnosed with a mental illness).

There was a lot in this book about understanding who we really are. Angie, having spent a long time on medication, wonders whether her real persona is the one that’s crazy without the medication, or the tamed one that’s often in a drugged stupor. Another character questions his identity upon realizing that his wife’s observant nature has colored many of his own thoughts or brought his thoughts to his consciousness. I think we all wonder about this somewhat – who am I really if who I am now was changed by very specific things in my life? Am I who I am now or am I the collection of various different versions of a person I’d be if I’d encountered different situations?

I think I’ll continue on this literary rampage for at least another week. Next up is probably either Half of a Yellow Sun (Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie) or The Joke (Milan Kundera) based on a friend’s recommendation. (What else should I read?)

Books, for Grazing

Most of the nonfiction I’ve been reading (or staring at) has been programming-related. There’s so much I want to read to fill in the gaps in my developer-related knowledge. I’ve found myself amongst people who are fairly language-agnostic and feel that many new languages are simply re-creating and re-solving old problems. I could see this being the reality, although I’m met with my old problem of not wanting to form an opinion on such a broad topic without compiling research. So here’s some programming-related reading I’ve been looking at lately:

  • Unix Power Tools – because the command line is way cooler than any javascript framework.
  • High Performance MySQL – good SQL queries are stunning.
  • The Art of Computer Programming – trying to understand the math proofs at the beginning of this book is exhausting! But I’m trusting it’ll lead to something good, so I’ll try to keep everyone updated in a decade or so when I get further into it.
  • Also, Algorithms: Design and Analysis Part II taught by Tim Roughgarden is starting on coursera this week. The first part was great (and I’d highly recommend it to people coming out of a more practical program like DBC), so I’m hoping I can find time to do the second part.