Looking Back on 2018

December 28, 2018
Confidence: certain

Narrative

The year started with a bang! I had just come back from a month in Thailand, confident in the fact that my life needed a big change. I quit my job and hung out with my parents for a bit, while trying to figure out what to make of my life.

Because I was on a work visa in the US, that meant without a job I was going to be soon deported. Since I needed to move anyway, I started thinking about what other countries I could live in. Thailand and Lithuania were the two strongest contenders---the tie was broken by how easily I could get a Lithuanian visa.

But it wasn't that easy. The only place to do it in Canada was on the other side of the country, so I packed my bags and went to visit my family in Ottawa. I snuck in overnight, had a great time with them, ate some grim shawarma, and went on a tour of parliament.

The appointment for getting my visa was rather eventful. The Lithuanian ambassador didn't speak much English, and his fingerprint machine wasn't working particularly well. What resulted was 45 minutes of him yelling at me to "PUSH IT PUSH IT PUSH IT" as we tried to line my fingerprints up well enough to get a scan. The fee for a visa was $92, which I paid with a $100. He didn't have change and I didn't really need it, so I told him to keep it.

APPARENTLY THIS IS UNWISE. APPARENTLY THIS COULD BE CONSTRUED AS ATTEMPTING TO BRIBE A FOREIGN OFFICIAL. WHOOPS.

He was very good about it. When I came back to pick up my visa the day after, it came with $8 in change. Getting the little piece of sticky paper that said I was allowed to live in Lithuania was one of the best feelings of my life. It's no secret that I have fond feelings for the country, and my spirits were extraordinarily high for a few days.

That night my cousin and I went to Ottawa's oldest bar, where we started a dance party, convinced the band to only play Sublime covers, and met the oddest cast of characters.

I flew back to Denver, where I found my friend from Ireland who had arrived a few days earlier and was expecting to stay at my place. Whoopsies! Thankfully he didn't die in the cold---though he was a welcome addition to the little welcome-back party that my friends threw for me.

In Denver, I decided to get back in touch with a women I'd gone on a few dates with in 2017. It... wasn't good. She blew me off more often than she didn't. She'd always have a good excuse, but they were always a little too good. Like, nobody has that many excuses.

We'd decided to prepare stand-up sets together. I did my bit; she didn't, and even had the audacity to not show up. We stopped dating shortly after. Even though the experience wasn't very good, it taught me something. I knew in my heart that this woman was no good for me, but my brain couldn't explicitly point out the bad behavior. I learned to trust my feelings more than I was.

I spent my last few months in Denver trying to meet as many people as possible. The result was staggering---in a few short weeks Denver went from a place I couldn't wait to leave to a place I was going to miss.

My last few days in Denver were rather eventful. I'd talked a bunch of close personal friends into flying up to Denver for my going away party. We threw one hell of a rager, which resulted in me going to the Grateful Dead bar across the street wearing only a sexy bathrobe. Allegedly I drunkenly came back at 2am in the morning waking everyone up telling them about how many kisses I got. However I maintain that this is all hearsay and slander.

On my last day in town, I put up a craigslist ad with the title "come to my house and take everything I own for free." The scavengers came with great alacrity, separating me from all my worldly possessions in less than an hour. Unfortunately for them, the elevator got stuck during the event, and so many people found themselves trapped or trying to carry a couch down 16 flights of stairs.

With a heavy yet hopeful heart, I headed for the airport. My flight to Vilnius was supposed to be three legs but ended up being 14, and leaving me in the wrong country. It was not a great experience, but it was a nice chance to practice my zen. I got a lot of practice.

Being back in Vilnius was odd. I could still find my way around, but I had no idea where anything was. Also it was cold as all heck, and my luggage had gotten lost somewhere in Iceland. Lots had happened in Lithuania since I'd been gone---perhaps the most relevant of which was my best Lithuanian friends were no longer friends with one another. They didn't mention this to me, and so I'd often invite both of them to do things. They'd usually both decline.

My interpretation of this was that they didn't like me.

So instead I holed up and started working on personal projects. I wasn't necessarily what you'd call depressed, but my visions of what it'd be like to be back in Vilnius were sorely mistaken. It wasn't all bad! I dated a fantastic woman for a few months; she was running a film festival and so I got to see a lot of weird-ass European films.

Even though my old skateboard was still safe and sound with my ex-roommates, their cat had claimed it and had started to ride around the apartment. I couldn't take that away from him, so I decided to buy my own. Because I was embarrassed about being bad (and because it was really fucking hot), I went out every night around midnight and practice ollying for an hour. I landed a few, though it was nothing to call home about.

But I did anyway.

After about four months I reached rock bottom and decided that Lithuania wasn't the place for me. I was having too hard a time fitting in culturally and linguistically and it seemed like I might just be getting over those obstacles in time to have my visa expire. I notified my landlord I was canceling the lease and booked a flight for home a few months hence.

I started writing a book. A few weeks later when I showed a rough draft to people, they said they'd pay me to write it. So I got started.

Before leaving Europe, in June I went to ZuriHac and met a bunch of nerds and had a fantastic time talking about Haskell. I also met a woman I hit it off with, and on a whim went to visit her in a different country for a week immediately after the conference. We got along surprisingly well.

What proceeded was a few months worth of long-distance dating, which didn't go too well. We'd feel the need to have longer visits when we did meet up, even though shorter ones are significantly better for budding new relationships. There was talk of me moving to the same city as her. The idea was that in the past I've continually prioritized my plans over women I've liked, and where the hell has that gotten me in my love life? She was keen on this idea, but the more I thought about it, the more it got in the way of the things I wanted to do. It felt like too much sacrifice on my part for too little on hers.

Things fizzled out and I winded my way back to Canada. On my second day back, my cousin drove me out into the woods to go to a weird music festival. I met a ton of strange characters out there, all of whom implored me to come live in Ottawa. At the time, my plan was to move back to Kitchener/Waterloo where I'd done my undergrad. I had a good time in the woods, but soon after went back to KW.

I was expecting big things from Waterloo, but a vast number of the people I was excited to see again were not there. Even though they lived there, they just didn't happen to be around that week. My takeaway was that people don't really like living in Waterloo, and they take as many opportunities to leave as they could. Informal surveys of random passersby agreed with this sentiment.

The woman I'd been seeing in Europe happened to be in New York for a conference. It seemed too close for us to not see one another, so I suggested we meet up. She said there was no way in hell she'd come to Waterloo, so we agreed to meet in Ottawa. We spent some time there, but she left and I didn't. I haven't seen or talked to her since. But I'm still in Ottawa---taking the night bus back to Waterloo only to be unimpressed by it again seemed like too high an order.

I spent forever trying to find a place to rent in Ottawa. Apparently my lifestyle is weird enough that people were averse to renting to me. I sort of get it---no job, no long-term residencies. But I had cash, and I was willing to put down six months in advance. No takers. It reminded me of this quote from the Elon Musk book:

Every time Tesla interacted with Detroit it received a reminder of how the once-great city had been separated from its own can-do culture. Tesla tried to lease a small office in Detroit. The costs were incredibly low compared with space in Silicon Valley, but the city's bureaucracy made getting just a basic office an ordeal. The building's owner wanted to see seven years of audited financials from Tesla, which was still a private company. Then the building owner wanted about two years' worth of advanced rent. Tesla had about $50 million in the bank and could have bought the building outright. "In Silicon Valley, you say you're backed by a venture capitalist, and that's the end of the negotiation," Tarpenning said. "But everything was like that in Detroit."

Ashlee Vance, Elon Musk

Eventually I teamed up with a realtor, assuming I could develop rapport with her, and she could use her clout to win over others. It worked, but only by the skin of our teeth. I'd promised myself that if this final place hadn't gone through I'd go back to Waterloo where the startup vibe is still alive and strong.

I joined an old person choir. On my first rehearsal I was the youngest member by like forty years. Thankfully a few other youthful types have joined since.

During the housing search, I'd met a woman on Tinder. We'd gone on a lunch date that hadn't gone very sexily, but somehow ended up on a second date later that evening. I got a text the next day saying "you're great but we'd never work out, though let's stay friends." I replied that that didn't work for me. Lads, if you find yourselves with a friend-zone problem (which I had been at the time) give this technique a go. I got an instant 180 turn on it, and we dated for a few months.

Things were really good, but eventually the big issues caught up with us and we found them insurmountable. It's a bit of a shame, but my feelings are that it's better sooner than later.

My housing finally went through, and I went into full beast mode to finish my book. I'd found myself stagnating on it, and in a burst of inspiration, decided to give myself a deadline. It's amazing what happens to ones productivity if your reputation is on the line. I published it, and it made back about as much money as I'd spent in the last year. That means I'm relatively net-neutral financially, which gives a good indication that I can do this retired thing forever.

After a few days of well-deserved rest, I started hunting for roommates. A fantastic lad who'd crashed my birthday party was looking for a place, so I invited him to come live with me. It's one of the better things I did last year. In a surprise twist, I found a random woman on Facebook to also come live with us, and she's turned out to be fantastic also! I've come a long way on the roommate front from the cocaine dealer who was always trying to kill me.

Retrospective

You know that feeling where you look back a few months in the past and think to yourself "wow, how was I such a big idiot back then?" I like that feeling. Some people get bummed out by having been an idiot, but me, I'm thankful that I'm no longer as big of an idiot.

That's sort of how I feel about 2018.

One year ago, I set what-felt-like big and scary goals. Today, having accomplished most of them, it seems sort of silly to have set the bar so low last year. I fucked around without direction for most of the year and yet it still came out alright.

To jog your memory, my goals for 2018 were these:

  • Publish 3x as many words as I did in 2017. This works out to roughly one blog post per week.
  • Contribute one major feature to an open source project.
  • Read 52 books.
  • Work my way through every problem in the Awodey Category Theory book.
  • Publish an academic paper contributing something novel to the field of computer science.
  • Have two five-minute conversations a day with people I don't know.
  • For every week that I'm not in a serious, committed relationship, go on a date with somebody new.
  • By the end of the year, have brought together a community of people that meet regularly, even without me acting as a catalyst.

I want to take some time to go through each.

Publishing

Excluding this post, I published 108,000 words last year---35% more than my goal of 78,000. That's 34 blog posts and one book; significantly better than the eleven posts I managed in 2017. It's a pretty good book. You should go buy a copy.

I'm going to score this one as successful.

Contribute to Open Source

My plan for this goal was to contribute to Conal Elliott's fantastic compiling to categories tool---a piece of software that is capable of transforming arbitrary computer programs into other domains that are also capable of computing. This doesn't sound particularly interesting until you realize just how much of the universe is capable of computation---everything from Mario levels to highway layouts to (maybe) soap bubbles.

I synched up with Conal and got a small amount of work done, but in the end, creative differences took reign. Conal is one of my intellectual heroes, but it was evident early on that we weren't going to work together very well. That's OK, it happens!

However, a few months later it dawned on me that it wasn't the open source aspect that I cared about, merely the contributing part. The spirit of the goal was to use my skills to give something back to a community, and in that aim, I decided to do some pro bono work for a choir I'd joined. I made them a website, and have dragged them somewhat-kicking-and-screaming into the 21st century technology-wise.

All in all, I'm also scoring this one as a success.

Read 52 Books

Heck yeah I did.

This goal was actually surprisingly hard. 52 books is enough that you don't really have time to choose what you're going to read next---you just depend on lists you've made in the past and the recommendations of people you trust. As a result, I read way more books this year than my last few put together, but I also read a bunch more books that I actively hated.

And this is where the difficulty comes from. It's not in the actual reading, but in the structure of needing to finish a book a week. I'd find myself about 30% of the way through a long book that I hated, and instead of either finishing it or putting it down, I'd just avoid reading. Sometimes for weeks on end.

The good news is that I read about the same number of 5 star books this year as I have cumulatively since 2014. What a fantastic feeling!

Put another in the success column!

My top books of the year are these:

Category Theory

Finally we get to a goal I failed. Awodey's Category Theory is 247 pages long, and I made it through 87 of them. That's about 35%. Something I knew early on was that Awodey was not trying his best to write an accessible book. Here's an example of a sentence directly out of the book:

"Since if fh(z) = gh(z) for some h : Z → A, then h(z) ∈ {x ∈ A|f (x) = g(x)} for all z ∈ Z, whence h “factors through” the inclusion function i, in the sense that there is a function h̄ : Z → {x ∈ A|f (x) = g(x)} such that i ◦ h̄ = h."

Take a few minutes to try to parse that sentence. It's hard enough to decipher grammatically, even if you completely ignore all of the math bits. As a result, I'd spend about an hour per paragraph working my way through this book. Most of it was not spent on difficult math, but merely on figuring out what the hell Awodey was trying to tell me.

After a few months I realized that there was no way in hell that the secrets of category theory were valuable enough to put up with this crap. The mathematics were too far removed from any topic I knew how to care about and my motivation gradually slipped away.

This one was failed.

Contribute Something Novel to Computer Science

The goal here was publish an academic paper contributing something novel. I didn't end up publishing a paper, but I did come up with something novel and wrote a blog post about it. This felt good enough---the value was in progressing the state of the art, not in getting credit for it.

The idea, in short, is that I found a technique for performing static analysis of free monads. I know you don't really care, but this problem was considered to be impossible. The general solution still is, but my technique allows you to do the impossible in many cases, and to determine when it's feasible to do so.

This is a pretty big result I think, and so I'm calling it a resounding success!

Meet New People

I was supposed to have two five-minute conversations every day. With people I didn't know.

This one was hard. Really hard. Worthwhile, but hard. It was pretty OK while I was in Denver and everyone around me spoke English. I met lots of people in my neighborhood, which singlehandedly turned Denver from a cold city into one where I ran into friends everywhere I went. That was cool.

Having a goal of meeting new people is a great feeling. It forces you to get off your phone or out of your book or whatever, and go up and just talk to people. It sure makes airports more interesting!

But when I got to Lithuania, I noticed this habit of mine started slipping. All of a sudden I had an excuse to not go talk to people: "oh, they probably don't speak English. It would be a waste of time." Obviously bullshit, but that doesn't matter. Excuses are insidious things.

To stay afloat on my goal, I'd go out to parties and mingle there---often meeting ten or more people in one fell swoop. It was better than nothing, but for some reason wasn't as satisfying. I think it's because the people you meet in your everyday life are the people who are around in your everyday life. As in, you're way more likely to run into them again.

Let's get down to brass tacks. As of writing, I'm about 25 days behind on this goal---which corresponds to being about 95% successful. As such, I'm marking it as mostly successful. It was beneficial to me to have gone out and done, but it certainly could have been executed better.

Go on Dates

The goal was to go on a date with someone new every week that I wasn't in a serious relationship. In 2018 I went on 68 dates with 15 different women, which you'll notice is above the date-goal but below the person-goal. I was in three serious relationships last year, so I can't fall back on that as a crutch.

Early on into the goal I noticed that it had perverse incentives---rather than going on second dates with women I liked, I'd just go out with someone else instead. In addition, my tracking for this metric was poorly thought out. It would only track dates rather than dates with unique women, which meant it was often showing green even though I was technically behind.

In retrospect, the goal was somewhat poorly thought out. I like that it got me out and actively asking women on dates---68 is a looooot more than I went on in 2017---but the quantification was flawed.

Because you're interested, the wildest date I went on was a week long, in a different country, staying with a woman I'd only met once a few days before. Having a life strategy of "always saying yes" sure leads to some interesting experiences!

I'm marking this goal down as mostly successful since I got what I wanted out of it, despite not actually accomplishing it in letter nor spirit.

Create Communities

At the end of November, realizing I was hella behind on this one, I decided to sign up for a Meetup.com account and start a group. The idea was "Coworking Ottawa"---a chance for people to get together and work on the things they've always said they'll get around to doing, but somehow never do. I thought it was a pretty great idea!

I hosted three weeks of it, but unfortunately the turnout wasn't spectacular. Only one person showed up whom I hadn't first bullied into coming.

ROOM FOR IMPROVEMENT. This one is a failure.

Conclusion

All in all, 2018 has been my best year ever. For the first time in my life, I'm feeling confident in my skin, like I'm ready to take on the world. A big part of it is having set lofty goals and, for the most part, crushing them. But the other part is having struck out on my own, living life the way I want to, rather than the way other people tell me it should be done.

I'm not yet sure what I want out of 2019, but I've set a high bar for it, and I can't wait to crush that one too.


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