Stories from 2015 ← We Can Solve This

Stories from 2015

life, stories, review

Now that 2016 is finally upon us, I want to take some time aside and do my third annual yearly postmortem. January is mostly over, so apparently punctuality isn’t one of my greatest strengths in this lovely world of ours. I figured I’d better take some initiative and push this thing out before I get embarrassed about having not done it and let it slide silently off into the mists of time.

Better late than never; better done than perfect.

This post is organized into trimesters, because they happen to align pretty well with the major events of the year. This is not a coincidence; the school year has kept my life divided into trimesters for the last five years. Somehow, my life stayed that way even after graduation. Maybe this artificial segmentation will go away in 2016. I’m not really expecting it to; old habits are a lot like Bruce Willis.

Winter – School

2015 kicked itself off with a bang: I signed a job with my dream company, and met a woman. Pun unintentional, but not scratched out. Combined with a course load consisting only of project work and bird courses, the school term turned out to be pretty lovely.

The project work consisted of writing a Java compiler. You probably don’t know this about me (but you could probably guess if you’ve spent 5 minutes talking to me about programming), but compilers turn me on in a way that women don’t. I’m not super sure what it is, but I started programming originally in order to write a compiler. Finally getting a chance to do it was really really really exciting. I dived in. Probably too hard. My initial progress alienated a potential teammate, leaving what could-have-been-a-four-person-team with only two members. It didn’t matter. We were ahead of the class for the entire course.

My other project was the culmination of a few years work with some of my good friends as a capstone project. We built a tool for software engineers that sussed out the knowledge graph – who knew what – of an underlying codebase. We thought it was pretty cool, and apparently so did Yelp because we placed 2nd in a competition for cool projects. We lost out to a compiler. As you can imagine, I was very ambivalent about this outcome.

I spent the rest of the year flirting with the idea of doing a startup around this project, but ultimately decided I’m lacking the hustle to really make anything of it. At this point the project is probably considered abandonware, so feel free to take a look if that kind of thing tickles your fancy.

There was a big symposium for all of the engineers to show off their cool capstone projects. The woman I was seeing came to mine. I got distracted by my compiler instead of going to hers. She didn’t really understand how it could happen; I didn’t know how to explain it, and couldn’t really blame her.

Things didn’t work out between us.

Under the guidance of Alex “Dr. Monad” Klen, I started getting serious about Haskell. It’s changed my life, but I’m not entirely sure for the better. Now I feel like a little bit of my soul dies every time I need to write code that isn’t Haskell, because it’s so painful. That’s a good thing because it means I’m smarter and more capable, but I don’t get to code in Haskell professionally so, well, I’m sure you can do the modus ponens.

Technically I unofficially graduated sometime during this trimester. But nobody really cared, because the highlight of the term was pledging an oath on honor and cold iron, a ceremony which signaled the end of my engineering education. During a surprisingly non-cheesy ritual involving robes, chanting and iron chains, I received my iron ring – a symbol of the culmination of five long years working towards becoming an engineer. Though I’m not an engineer under the eyes of the law, I am under the eyes of other engineers, and that’s really what counts.

Foolishly, this ceremony was held only halfway through the trimester (after a sexamester?), and so the rest of the academic term was what one might describe as having been “phoned in.”

Spring – Travel

Backpacking

With more wanderlust than I could manage during the winter, I somehow convinced my best friend Rory to come backpacking in the UK with me. We spent two months bumming around without a plan. It was terrific.

Traveling with a friend is a very different experience from traveling alone. I think I prefer being alone, because it makes you take more chances and get into more trouble. That being said, traveling with a friend is much more comfortable and means you always have interesting conversation if you want it.

Rory and I got into too many adventures to recount here, but some of the highlight teasers were:

  • Joining a “10 pin bowling league” in Bristol with a batshit-crazy Australian named Ben who afterwards brought us out “to where the party’s at”, and subsequently managed to commit at least four felonies over the course of the night.
  • Meeting some German girls who had lost their passports while doing the macarena, and hearing stories about them from random travelers over the next two months.
  • Picking up the coolest girls in Manchester with the line “hey, want to party with [our ragamuffin group of disheveled travlers],” and getting kicked out of the club for not having cool enough shoes.
  • Getting a spur-of-the-moment tattoo on a bank holiday in a seedy Irish tattoo parlor with some girls who didn’t speak any English.
  • Going on the world’s most shit pub crawl in Belfast, lead by a sketchy guy who kept trying to give us “tattoos for really cheap”. We went to two bars and were the only people at both, but met some fantastic locals who happened to be on our flight to Scotland the next morning, and spent a few days showing us around.
  • Accidentally hiking up Arthur’s Seat with a reunited travel friend who happened to be on a blind date, and hearing it described as “not the worst first date.”

After too short a time (but what felt like eternity), Rory and I went our separate ways. I headed to Berlin for the LessWrong Community Weekend on the recommendation of a woman I had once kissed. After being told in no uncertain terms that she “didn’t want or plan to kiss me again,” the weekend went pretty smoothly.

I think the community weekend was the straw that broke the camel’s back, though, as I realized I’m not really very interested in LessWrong anymore. I just don’t care about any of the causes du jour, and was kind of hoping to spend the weekend talking about weird brain hacks and computability theory. Needless to say, that didn’t happen, but regardless I’m happy I went.

A big part of the reason I wanted to end up in the Bay for my job was because it was so close to the rationalist scene. Awkward. But the Bay Area is pretty cool so I guess I can’t complain too much.

Halfway through the weekend, I realized I didn’t have a plan for what to do next, so I started looking at potential options. When I went to book a flight, my credit card was declined and I realized that I hadn’t checked my bank account in some time. I logged in, and found I had negative four hundred dollars to my name. Canadian.

Luckily I had accidentally stashed away some American money in a bank account for rainy days. Further luckily I had brought that card. Upon inspection, it had a little more than $2000USD. Better than negative four hundred, but still not a great fortune on which to live for the next two months. And somehow get a flight home.

With immense amounts of shame, I emailed my mom asking her for enough money to come home on. She was lovely and said yes, but fuck. I’m 25 for fucks sake and shouldn’t need to be borrowing money from my parents. I borrowed it though, because I’m not stupid and being illegally stuck somewhere is unequivocally a stupid idea.

I booked a flight to Lithuania, which met my two desiderata for a country in which to be: a) remarkably cheap, and b) some place I knew I wouldn’t hate. Seeing as I had accidentally spent an extra three weeks in Lithuania during my last trip there, I figured I could probably rough it for two months.

Lithuania

The plan was to live in a hostel for two months. I knew a place. It was 8 euros a night, including breakfast and all the flirting you could do with the disinterested receptionists. Fortunately, after all of my failed attempts last time around, the receptionists were all new. Unfortunately, despite my best efforts, I didn’t impress any of them this time around, just like the last time around.

That meant the only people in Lithuania whom I might know were the tourism girls. I headed off the next morning to the free walking tour, and was recognized immediately by the tour guide. Much to my chagrin, I didn’t remember her name. Despite having been Facebook friends for a few months, and despite having been embarrassed the last time I couldn’t remember her name.

Whoops.

The tour guides (mine, and the one I was hoping to run into) invited me along to a trip to Lithuania’s lake-castle. I declined because I’m an idiot and in one fell swoop, somehow managed to not to make a bunch of awesome friends right at the get go. We all became awesome friends a few weeks later, but I’m still a little salty that we didn’t get started sooner.

Living in a hostel for three weeks was pretty wild. I went on a lot of pub crawls. I tried to melt cheese on top of hot chocolate. It didn’t work out, as you might have expected.

Some guys and I accidentally broke into a planetarium, and had to charm our ways out of being arrested with the surly security guard who didn’t speak even a bit of English. A girl and I talked our way past the security guard at the university’s library, again, somehow without any Lithuanian.

A couple of kiwis and I somehow stumbled our way into a fantastic friendship which culminated in eating ice cream and trying to take photos of ourselves jumping nonstop for a solid hour.

The tourism girls invited me out for Lithuania’s midsummer’s festival, where two couples, a very pretty girl and I journeyed together into the forest on the rainiest day of the year. The couples paired off, so I was left to learn traditional Lithuanian folk dances with a partner I was quite keen with whom to learn some traditional Lithuanian folk dances. We jumped over a bonfire, and lit tiki torches, and all wandered down a million steps to the river. At the river, I watched with a tiny pang of jealousy as my dancing partner sent a flaming wreath down the river in some sort of pagan ritual to find her husband. None of us found any blooming ferns, unfortunately.

Midsummer’s festival is sort of like New Years Eve in North America. Everyone was there, and getting home was really hard. After trying to get a taxi for 30 minutes, we decided to walk the 15km home. After some much-needed Maccas, we hiked up Tauras hill (and the view) and tried our best to witness the sunrise through the unending rain and cloud cover. We were unsuccessful, but found the kebab place, so it was all in all a pretty successful night.

Living in a hostel was cool and all, but after a week I decided I couldn’t do it anymore. I started looking for a flat, and managed to find a potential roommate – an Argentinian man who had at least three differently named Facebook profiles, each of whom had created some fake-looking “housing for students” groups. It was a little sketchy, but he and his girlfriend seemed nice enough. The three of us made arrangements to move in together; rent was cheap, and the place was gorgeous. He wasn’t going to be there on the move-in date, though.

I was convinced I was “moving in” with a con-man who would take my money and I’d never hear from again. But I didn’t really have a choice, and the money would be going directly to the landlord. I couldn’t actually figure out how it could be a scam, so I went ahead with it.

It wasn’t a scam! My roommates turned out to actually be super cool. They weren’t around for my first week of tenancy, however, so I had the place to myself. At least, until a woman whom I had met in Cornwall inexplicably arrived in town, intending to stay at my place. I’m not sure how she made it, but I’m pretty sure I hadn’t invited her. However, not wanting to be a bad host, I let her stay over.

Things got fresh. Things got weird. She had decided she was going to stay for ten days, but things didn’t work out.

I kicked her out after four.

With my new place in gear, a solid group of friends nearby, and a memorized route to the kebab place, things took a turn into the realm of being marvelous. We hung out every day. We did a lot of drinking. I tried to learn how to skateboard over the cobblestone streets of Vilnius. I learned enough Lithuanian to be able to buy kebabai. One time we played twister.

After a week or two of the moves ambiguously connecting with my folk-dancing partner, I decided to tell her that I liked her. It didn’t go well. She was gracious about it though, and after far too many drinks we ended up having snuck into Gediminas’ tower where we looked out over the city and talked about what we wanted out of life. Despite the rejection, it was one of my favorite nights of the year.

One night during the Perseids, we took a detour on our hike up to the Three Crosses, where the girls tried to perform a ritualistic sacrifice on me. They were unsuccessful, but only barely. We spent the night lying on our backs, looking up at the cosmos, while the girls somehow managed to keep missing the shooting stars.

My 25th birthday occurred while I was in Lithuania. In the style of my friend Malcolm, instead of wishing me “happy birthday”, I had told people to share a fond memory they had had with me. My dutch friend and I drank beer by the liters, and the girls got me a gigantic uncooked steak. We somehow ended up at a Lithuanian pun (a boat turned into a bar, called the Barža), and I proved once and for all that my 74 second peeing record wasn’t phony. Everyone was very impressed.

You should be too.

I’ve got a million other Lithuanian stories, but these are some of my favorites, so I’ll spare you the excruciating detail of the remainder of them.

I left Lithuania with a heavy heart, but feeling a little wide-eyed for Iceland, where I was stopping over for the weekend on my journey home. Turns out Iceland is shit. Don’t go, unless you really like tourism and hamburgers.

Fall – Reality

On my way to San Francisco, I headed via Waterloo – my old digs. It’s really strange how the city I once loved could be so different now that everyone has graduated and left; it seems like maybe it wasn’t the city that I loved but the people.

So Waterloo was relatively uneventful. I got into some trouble, ate some poutine, had a long discussion about feminism in academia, about the Canadian spirit, and about whether or not humanity would be worth saving from oblivion at any cost (yes). I also ate some kebab, which is definitely up there in the highlight reel.

And finally it happened. Four months after leaving Waterloo to go gallivanting around Europe, I left more permanently to start my new life in San Francisco with my shiny new adult job. I spent two weeks living in corporate housing in Santa Clara, which is far too long to live in Santa Clara. Two weeks was enough for the culture shock to kick in. I didn’t expect there to be any: Minnesota notwithstanding, apparently San Francisco is the Canada of the US.

My longest-running roommate and long-running friend decided we should continue our tenacious tenancy tendencies, and we somehow managed to beat the San Francisco housing market by locking in a two-bedroom, one-bathroom place without a working oven that is only 41% of our impressive after-tax salaries. Score! What a great city!

We’ve now been settled in one place for four months and twelve days. To date, this is the longest I have spent in one location over the last five years. We decided to buy furniture and decorate. It’s almost surreal to have this much stability in my life. Really all I need now is a girlfriend and a dog and one and a half children and I’d be all the way to adulthood.

Let’s hope that doesn’t happen anytime soon.

Speaking of girlfriends, I found myself in Mexico for my cousin’s wedding, where I met a couple of fantastic women on a bus. One of them and I accidentally found ourself in a pseudo-long-distance-relationship, and I ended up spending Christmas with her. I really like her, but we decided living in different countries with no intentions of moving to be a bit of a roadblock on the path to true love and everlasting happiness.

And so it didn’t work out.

A new city has been amenable to starting new hobbies. On the uncoordinated advice both of my boss and good friend, I decided to pick up the guitar. I’m a few months in and already so much better than I ever was at the banjo. It’s kind of like cheating at how easy it is. Not that I’m good, but I’m better than I should be for the investment I’ve put into it.

Perhaps further outside of my usual realm of comfort is that I’ve taken up painting, as instructed by Bob Ross. My evenings are spent cursing, yelling at Bob to slow down, and rewinding his youtube videos time and time again, trying to shamelessly copy everything he does. It’s strangely reminiscent of learning how to program all those moons ago. What should be a relaxing, zen-like evening is instead ultra stressful, but it results in paintings that aren’t half bad.

Ravenous fans of my blog will note that I participated in some sort of bastardized national novel writing month this year, where I gave it my some in an attempt to publish 50,000 words of reasonably-interesting blog posts. I only made it to 20,000 words or so before running out of things to say, but I’m glad I did it because the response was overwhelmingly good. All of the essays I thought were cheap throwaways turned out to be fan favorites.

From this I took away that I should just shovel out more essays even if I’m not very happy with them, because I’m a bit shit at determining what will be popular. Sebastian Marshall has some really good advice along these lines, but I can’t seem to track it down right now.

And I guess that takes us to now, give or take a month. The year felt like it went by far too quickly, but having just spent a few hours writing out thousands of words about it, it seems much more substantial now. I’d been planning on ending this essay with a more traditional year-in-review but let’s be honest with one another, we’re both tired of this. Splitting it out into another post might salvage some readers who are on the fence about how long this essay is, and will artificially inflate my post count for the year.

Let’s hope it works out for me.