Skydiving

Yesterday, I joined Phil and Cody in throwing ourselves out of a plane in celebration of Phil’s graduation because, you know, he’s afraid of heights, and that makes perfect sense. I had decided to go a few days ago because it was for a good cause and because it was something I knew I was going to do at some point – I guess you could say it was on my bucket list. Facing Phil’s fears with him made it all the sweeter.

As an aside, if you ever decide to face your fears in a dramatic fashion, I will probably be excited to join you.

Anyway, we made a few mistakes in registering ahead of time, most notably that we didn’t pre-register at all, which cost us up to $70 per person in savings, and we were put at the back of the wait list. We also brought cash for whatever reason, and we were told that the weather would be terrible, all of which were lies. It was like Ryan didn’t even want us to come, probably so that we couldn’t uncover the sham that is his skydiving career.

We persevered through the onerous legalese, which comfortingly mentioned INJURY and DEATH on every page. But then, it also mentioned canoeing and horseback riding quite often. We could only imagine what had happened involving canoes, horses, and skydiving that they felt compelled to protect themselves against that eventuality. Regardless, we signed our lives and IMPORTANT LEGAL RIGHTS away to Skydive Chicago. It made for good laughs, and for contemplating mortality and horseback skydiving.

With all the paperwork done, we headed to a training video session that went through most of the legal paperwork again and also walked us through the procedures for skydiving. The man in the video had an amazing beard, which obliterated most of my specific memories of the video. But perhaps most alarming was when Cody pointed out that the video said we would get more training while we were in the airplane and that we would learn to land on the way down.

Finally, our call time was up. The equipment helper handed us our jumpsuits and seemed surprised and eager when I told him that I wouldn’t mind wearing pink, so I donned the Pink Ranger outfit. Phil wore green, I wore pink, and Cody got the black and yellow jumpsuit, Bruce Lee-style. Shortly after, we met our videographers and our tandem coaches, who walked us through the procedures for the jump a few more times and taught us to smile at the camera whenever possible.

I asked my tandem coach if anyone had ever passed out during a jump. The answer was yes, but mostly very large people with poor circulation. When the parachutes engage, the harnesses would tighten up and cut off blood flow. Cody, meanwhile, was investigating the economics of becoming an instructor or a videographer, who get paid per jump. The short story is that you should not skydive if you hope to make a living out of it.

We boarded the next plane. It was little more than a tin can with propellers. I helpfully reminded Phil of this as much as possible during our ascent to 13,500 feet. At about 1,100 feet per minute, it would take roughly 15 minutes. We flew in a half-loop west and came back around east for the drop zone. Later, Phil assured me that he knew exactly how high we were, being a graduate of the Atmospheric Sciences department, but, more to the point, because he was afraid of heights.

Everyone in our flight-enabled tin can was a formation skydiver except for the three of us. “You’re going to watch a bunch of people disappear real fast!” my tandem partner said. I imagine he was grinning, because Enzo was always grinning, but I couldn’t see him. We were jammed in the plane between each others’ legs, leaning back against each other for maximum seating and minimum free space.

The lack of space wasn’t an issue in a moment, when the formation divers waddled over to the exit, clumped up, and then evacuated the plane. In a split second, the plane was empty of everyone but Phil, Cody, and myself. Cody was first, then Phil, and then myself. There was no height to stand, so we, too, waddled forward on our knees to the exit.

Tandem jumping is peculiar because it’s mostly for training and safety, so as a tandem partner, we don’t really get to do much. We were taught to rock back and forth and then at some point our tandem coach would essentially hip thrust us out of the plane. All we had to do was sit up on our knees and arch, placing our head on our instructor’s chest and maintain that throughout the freefall, which accounted for the first minute of the jump.

The freefall was intense.

Enzo, my trainer, had mentioned that skydiving was a great way to get into the moment. I can attest that nothing obliterates thoughts of the past and the future like being 13,500 feet up, staring at the landscape below with the enraged roar of the sky in your ears as you plummet downward. There is nothing to hear but the wind, and nothing to focus on within 10,000 feet other than the photographer. The other jumpers have disappeared into the vast, vast ether that makes up our atmosphere. They and everything around for miles are gone.

I checked my altimeter like I’d been trained to. It read 7,000 feet. I was supposed to pull the chute between 5,500 and 5,000 feet, but it seemed like just moments after checking the altimeter when my coach pulled the chute for me. I’m still not sure whether he was going easy on me, or whether time was dilating in my mind. I felt a jerk and then pulled into a slower, but still quite speedy descent as the chutes deployed. Enzo had me grab the guide handles and started directing me on how to turn. He pulled us into several sharp turns that felt like rollercoasters – only this was under our control! I wooped as we took several sharp descending loops left and right, always checking below us for prior jumpers. I could see Phil and Cody in their brightly colored jumpsuits far below.

Enzo went over our options for landing. The wind would affect whether I would land on my feet or skid to a stop on my ass. I don’t remember which landing correlated with which wind speed, but I think I remember him saying that no wind meant an ass landing. So, up my legs went, and we went in. After a somewhat awkward landing, I set foot on solid ground once more, and rejoined Phil and Cody for a celebratory hug. We would rejoin our coaches for a final debriefing and to get our certificates, but we were skydivers. We had done it.

In retrospect, while our classroom instructor had sold us on the video and photo package, it is probably one of my few regrets on the trip. I would probably get the package again if it were my first time, but it isn’t without downsides. Being told to focus on the camera takes away from the moment. For a split second, I was hyper-focused on the oncoming ground. It would have been helpful to my awareness to just be in the moment, focused on my training, but instead I had this guy recording me and the potential Facebook crowd that I had to appease, as I would no doubt be uploading it to “social,” as they say. Maybe if I hadn’t been distracted, I would have been able to pull my chute on time. Maybe I would have remembered more of freefall than I did.

The photos and videos are valuable in their own ways, regardless of how many photos they took of the plane and of random people’s backs. They were probably a good investment, but it may have been a better investment for someone who would have completely freaked out in the air and had better reactions. I would have liked to remain focused on the jump.

That said, skydiving was an amazing experience and one I’d be open to repeating in the future, despite its cost. The videographer asked me afterward if I’d do it again and, after I froze while thinking about the economics of doing so, he managed to eke a “yeah, probably” out of me.

But next time I want to do it on horseback.

Falling out of love with games

My random late night submission to nodontdie.com, a series of interviews about falling out of love with gaming.

~

I think the last great age of gaming in my life ended with the rise of Super Smash Brothers Melee. Ironically, for years, I thought it was the height of game design, combining the simplicity of a platformer with the depth of a fighter. I didn’t realize until almost a decade after it was released that it was likely that very same depth, or the depths to which people would go, that ended my relationship with SSBM and other games.

Looking back, I can see that it was always the community that had grown past me, past the point where I thought it worth following. It was my cousins who out-played me in Counter-Strike and Halo, my high school and college friends in SSBM, and even my little sister in casual games like Dots. I lost interest because it began to feel like work. Maybe I wasn’t competitive enough. Maybe I was familiar enough with the concepts, but unwilling to put in the hours. Maybe I was just not good enough. Regardless, the games and the gamers both passed me up.

Last year, I spent an obnoxious amount of time playing Sky Force for Android, which is easy to pick up and scratched my itch for an top down plane game, or whatever you call them. It recalled memories of Tyrian, Raiden, and Raptor on DOS. It was almost bullet-hell like in its difficulty at times, and maintained an almost perfect level of interest. I improved as a player at the expense of the joint at the base of my thumb. I played it alone, or with my nephews, Rylie and Bailey. There was no competition. Sure, theoretically you could compare scores and awards, but ultimately, it was a matter of Player versus Environment, an environment you could accumulate permanent advantages against.

I think, ultimately, that the hesitation that comes when I pick up a controller these days stems from the fact that I can be judged and found wanting, or put into a hierarchy and valued based on my performance. Despite my forays into public speaking, acting, and dance, performance in a video game may be the one arena that I can control the least, and the one where competition with others *is* the learning process. I don’t like feeling unprepared. I can’t tell you how happy I was to play against bots in Counter-Strike, only to find out that, no matter how many hours you spent scrimming against them, it wouldn’t matter a whit in a competition against real people.

My hesitation doesn’t mean I won’t play games, just that I generally don’t. It means that I’ve searched for meaning elsewhere. I used to play a Ranger in Guild Wars, a class that was known for its buffs and versatility. For that matter, I’ve almost always played a Ranger in any DnD based game, virtual or otherwise. It is a very useful character to have on a team, though its ability to solo is limited compared to other classes.

Solo effectiveness aside, I find myself drawn to the image of the Ranger – an advance scout whose maps chart the way for friends to come, whose sharp eyes can pick out a stash of berries or a hidden enemy, whose skills can mean survival or death for the party as a whole. Mother nature is at once the Ranger’s closest ally and most lethal foe. The Ranger doesn’t go head to head with the Warrior or the Sorcerer, the Ranger is a force of nature, like the wind or the current of the river. Life is much easier if you move in step with it.

Similarly, I may not be the best in the world at doing anything, but I have a plethora of skills and a way of navigating the world via paths less traveled. Calling myself a Ranger would demean people with real survival skills, but I do see something of myself in the archetype. Like the Ranger, I won’t win an outright fight with anyone who knows what they’re doing

So maybe my hesitation to play games comes from the fact that I’m not competitive. Or, maybe, it’s because I was meant to survive, explore, and lend a helping hand in a harsh world, and that’s competition enough.

Musings after acting in my first play

Long day today. Commuted to Chicago. Had a technical interview, ate at my favorite banh mi place (heyo Lotus​!), acted as a jerk husband in a play called Reclaiming Life: Silencing Stigma​, ate more food in the reception, got drinks with cast-mates afterward.

Have to crank out the last few things on my client project to get the site up and running for real, and rehab my ankle, for which I must turn to the dark arts of zheng gu shui and epsom salts. I also need to memorize lines for Tug of War​, the next production I’m in, and schedule another interview…

It sounds busy, but it’s really not that bad, probably because I don’t have a real adult person job…yet.

Being able to be involved in the arts is a real blessing. Singing at SingStrong​, acting with Circa Pintig​, and dancing with Chicago Dance Crash​ in the past has been a joy, and I am grateful for the opportunities I’ve had to perform – to play! – with these amazing people.

I feel complete with Art in my life. Sometimes I worry that it will fade away, whether through physical infirmity or practical lifestyle concerns, but if it’s survived this far, perhaps it will continue to live on. I think I’m just beginning to realize how important a role it plays in my life.

Anyway, random musings. I should have been asleep by now.

Toronto: Random acts of violence

October 14th, 2014:

We were attacked by druggies in Toronto’s Kensington Market.

We were out after getting dinner and a drink. We saw some people doing fire poi so we said hello. As we started to leave, someone tackled our friend Egon. I got between them and Egon to prevent the situation from escalating and that’s when I got punched in the face and kicked in the stomach.

We slowly backed out. Alyson got between them and me and they refused to hit a girl. Meanwhile our friends had gotten out of the park – they had been shouting at us to leave “their” park. One of them was following Egon. A few people had begun to call the police. One guy threatened to “get out something sharp” if George called the police.

Someone who was shooting a film at a shop nearby let me in to clean the blood off of my face. Then someone shouted something about gasoline and the next thing we knew there was a fire in the streets.

The police arrived shortly after and subdued three men, then took our statements.

And here’s me playing Sky Force while waiting for the cops to take my statement:

I figured I needed to waste some time.

I figured I needed to waste some time.

As much as I like to pretend that I took the attack in stride, the events of that night shook me and led directly to my taking up Krav Maga. I analyzed what had happened and I realized that the only way to get an upper hand in situations like these is to understand what’s happening before it happens. Then, when it does happen, keep a level head and maintain awareness of what’s happening. If those can be achieved, the next step is directing friends to the best or safest actions.

If we had been able to recognize what was happening, we would have been much better off. While Alyson, my sister, says she remembers seeing the attackers from earlier, I had no recollection of seeing them. It made me rethink how I look at people – or whether I even really see people at all. Could we have identified them as unsavory elements beforehand and kept away from them? Perhaps. And even as the attack was occurring, I didn’t know whether or not they were part of the larger surrounding group of fire poi enthusiasts (they weren’t) or just their own gang. This was definitely a factor in my holding Egon back and backing out of the area. I wanted to keep an eye on the obvious aggressors while removing us from the situation.

Unfortunately, this also put me in front of my friends, unable to see or communicate with them. While I’m glad nobody else was hurt as badly, as I acted as a shield, it also meant that I immediately lost sight of my friends. Thinking about it later made me realize that we only ever see half of the world around us and we can only remember or focus on small parts of that at a time. I backed out of the park slowly because I didn’t want to turn my back to my attacker – a white guy, just north of  6 feet tall, long, scraggly, dirty blonde hair, unbuttoned plaid shirt – but also because I didn’t have any idea where my friends were. They had probably fled a while before I decided to turn around.

As a corollary, memory works in mysterious ways. We have unreliable memories, based on reconstructions that can be tampered with. Throw in the fact that we truly do not experience most of the world, most of the time, and what you get after a traumatic event is fragments, like pieces of a once-complete puzzle that was thrown to the floor. I had to reconstruct what exactly had happened based on several accounts, not because it was so violent that it disturbed my ability to remember, but because it blew up the narrative that we were having a fun night out on the town. I probably remember more of that night than most other nights, but I was less able to place those memories in a way that makes sense because someone attacking me does not make sense.

Another aside is that training makes a huge difference. When the white guy was attacking me, I was punched in the face a few times. I kept thinking, “is he about to hit me?” just as the punches landed. This happened three or four times. I got an idea that something was happening, but not what. Meanwhile, he also attempted a similar number of kicks, most of which I blocked without even realizing or noting it. As a tricker, I’ve trained with kicks far more than I’ve trained punches, whether throwing them or defending against them. I don’t need to analyze someone’s body mechanics to come up with the realization that they’re kicking me, I just know it’s happening. Punches, though, are quicker to fire and less familiar.

We could have also used more direction as a group. If we had been able to identify the situation beforehand, we could have avoided it altogether. If I had been in a strategic position and maintained awareness before or during the attack, I could have immediately told my friends where to go and to call the police. As it was, we fled haphazardly and I’m not sure who called the police or when, but it felt like too long after the fact.

One thing I haven’t mentioned yet is my own personal combativeness. It apparently takes more than someone hitting me a few times in order to trigger a violent reaction on my part. Instead, I was very reasonable, assuring them that we were leaving the park and backing away slowly. Unfortunately, reason was clearly not a language that he spoke. If I’m to be less than humble, I am extremely fit and coordinated and I could have taken any one of the 3-5 drug-addled guys in a fight. But I still didn’t even consider attacking the guy until I thought about it afterward. To be fair, I was also unconsciously factoring in the fact that we might have been outnumbered, which may have tempered my bloodthirstiness, but I was still shocked at how much of a good little sheep I was, waiting for the slaughter. I don’t know what would have happened if he had decided to use a weapon instead of his fists. So while it was good to know that I have a strong pacifist streak in me, it would have been nice to control the situation and kick some ass.

EDIT – the previous paragraph came out a bit muddled. On one hand, it’s about maintaining control. If the guy had used a knife or a gun, I could have been dead with my level of preparedness at the time. Controlling the situation lets you to prevent further violence. On the other hand, I don’t want to deny that my ego took a hit afterward. Is it silly? Yes, but I’ve been conditioned to see myself as an action hero. Also, I’m Batman. Tell your friends.

I said afterwards that it was like being in a natural disaster (mostly to justify going back to Toronto and gorging myself) in that sometimes you’re in the wrong place at the wrong time, affected by factors beyond your control. But you can always train and control your own responses to those disasters. Krav Maga has been a really good lens for understanding that training and control. But the main message is this: exceptional times call for exceptional preparedness.

Coding is not the new literacy.

Recently many people, including myself, have been talking about coding as being equivalent to a new kind of literacy. Just as the literary revolution spread knowledge everywhere, the new coding economy is spreading the ability to leverage computers everywhere. I just realized that I was wrong.

It is different because code is not a means of communication between humans. Yes, it can be, but so can punching someone in the face. Nuanced communication like “I like you” or “imagine a world without lawyers” can’t be translated into code because code exists to shuffle electrons around in a massively complex switchboard. Not a brain. Code is intended to execute functions, not to elicit form. This makes code fundamentally different from literature because it’s not inherently valuable to people. A love letter is valuable. It infers meanings and may cause reactions, but the expressions within it do not cause, and generally are not intended to cause, deterministic reactions from the recipient.

And, critically, once someone reads source code, they never have to read or write it again. Unlike reading and writing, code eliminates marginal value from repetition. Imagine writing a love letter…and then reusing it for every relationship thereafter. It will also never be learned as widely as reading or writing because good software is reusable and invisible, whereas saying “hi” or “how are you doing?” will always have relatively the same usefulness throughout your life.

As software eats the world, it replaces human knowledge work by leaps and bounds. Excel spreadsheets can now tabulate what was, to a human worker, essentially infinite cells, sum them, average them, split them this way or that, and all, again, effectively instantaneously. Boom, several hundred hours of manual work, eliminated, and not just for that worker, but for everyone, everywhere. Evolving business needs, as well as the quickly changing programming fad of the week, means that software is subject to a kind of evolution that not only builds on source code lineages, but mutates and even eliminates them.

This also means that the barrier to entry for programming will almost certainly remain at a constant high. The Three R’s (reading, writing, and arithmetic) are very nearly all prerequisites for programming proficiency. Programming changes quickly, so it’s a constant grind to stay in vogue. There’s no native coding environment that you can be immersed in because code does not serve the same functions as language and, again, eliminates the need for repetition, which is how we learn. Sure, you can repeat code katas, but you don’t need to use and comprehend a kata over and over like you do a phrase or a sentence.

So I have very low hopes that these barriers to entry will be easily overcome or that everyone in the future will write code. What worries me is that we may divide ourselves further into the haves and the have-nots. The impoverished have fewer opportunities to learn, and programming is generally dependent on having a strong grasp of the Three R’s. I am also annoyed because “code as literacy” has a certain self-righteousness about it that ignores its own privilege and the fact that code is primarily written for business interests. Code as literacy would be cool if it actually did lift up the common person instead instead of corporations that pick and choose which commoners to bestow a living upon. The “teaching people to code so that they can get a job” narrative is frustrating because, compared to reading and writing skills, it’s a disproportionately commercial skill. Once you are literate, you don’t need to make money with it in order for it the skill to serve you well: in daily life, in career, in entertainment value.

Let me take this moment to acknowledge and applaud initiatives like Code for America, as well as any open government data initiative. These are our programming community wellsprings and signposts, respectively. Hell yeah.

Anyway, this rant kind of tumbled out and I was definitely having difficulties philosophically differentiating code from language, so I’m sure there are gaping flaws. But sometimes you want a sewing machine and all you get is a shitload of staples.

Writing about failure

Writing about failure is particularly interesting to me right now because you don’t hear about it very often. And when you hear about it, especially in the technology space, it’s always spun into a life lesson For Great Prosperity. This post is a little different. It’s not advice so much as an empathetic shrug for anyone who happens to share my woes.

I’m okay with being a failure right now. That’s how I feel; how I feel is the Truth; and the Truth needs to be said, especially if it’s one of those rare truths that no one talks about. One such truth is admitting to being less than a spectacular employee; it’s horribly taboo. But not everyone is amazing at everything, and employers see through the posturing, anyway. I would prefer that we stayed honest: people are, on the whole, average. That’s what the word means. In a lot of ways, I am interchangeable as an employee. I’d do about as well at anything as anyone else would. And in terms of being an engineer, I feel like I’ve been less than successful.

Not only does failure feel bad, it negatively affects your ability to portray yourself in a positive light, which is a crucial element of making an impression on employers in order to make a living wage. For instance, I have a rather negative outlook on my career as a Ruby developer right now, so this is probably how I’d summarize it:

  • Lucked into a web development internship where I did nothing.
  • Spent several grand on a course where I learned about Rails routes and then taught myself the rest.
  • Happened to know someone who let me work on his startup where we duct taped things together.
  • Started working at a well-funded, but dying company doing more CRUD stuff and APIs.
  • Freelanced at a company and grossly underestimated the timeline and cost of the project.

Can you imagine what I’d be like in an interview right now? It would probably look like this. On the other hand, here’s how an employer would want to hear me talk about it:

  • Meticulously tracked my practice in Rails, which convinced the head of the IT department at a large fund to take me on as a web development intern.
  • Jumped into a Ruby on Rails bootcamp to accelerate my learning and make connections.
  • As a junior developer at an early stage startup, upgraded the backend API for a push-notification platform for stock advisors with features like uploading to the Amazon S3 CDN, email templates, job queues, and front-end customizations.
  • Joined a major newspaper to work on their Hypermedia REST API, the front-end Rails engines that consumed that API, and WYSIWIG tools. I integrated third party libraries like Google Analytics, AdStream, and many others. We used continuous deployment to Amazon EC2 and S3 with Jenkins and tested at all levels (unit, feature, integration) with Rspec.
  • Developed a mobile API for art from the ground up with test-driven development, deployed to Linode with Ansible and Capistrano.

The truth lies somewhere in between the two. But composing the latter seems like too much effort in order to get another job that I probably won’t appreciate and won’t do well in.

I’ve received the advice that I should do what I’m passionate about for essentially all my life, but what do you do when your passion falls through? When you discover that what you are isn’t what you thought you were? Taking into mind the advice to be “so good they can’t ignore you,” have I mistaken “being passionate” for being attention deficit all these years? Should I double down on algorithms, data structures, and the latest frameworks so that I can be competitive in a job market that I don’t care for? Is it the job that I don’t care for, or where I am in my proficiency level? Or is it the people? Or the lack of a mentor?

I went to a friend’s art show on Saturday. In our conversations, I’d been calling this my “problem with capitalism” – that is, my inability to coerce myself into doing things I don’t like in exchange for currency, not caring about money in general, and the failure mentality. Regarding the last, he mentioned that everyone thinks that the way architecture works is the model of the lone genius architect who cannot fail, when in fact it’s the opposite. Architecture and art, he said, were about failing faster in order to learn. This is a common refrain in startups and technology, but there is a tension between that and being a 10x engineer, the programmer’s version of the lone genius. It stratifies egos, and even if it is imaginary (1, 2), it is reflective of a fixed growth mindset. People are not biologically born to be 1x, 3.14x, or 10x employees at a certain job. Their varying skills are varyingly effective in different contexts, and their motivation and ability to learn are dependent on environment and task, as well.

Long story short, it’s okay to be a failure. In my case, it’s okay not to be an engineer. It reminds me of what I think of when I read the quote “winners never quit and quitters never win” – but what about comparative advantage? I could spend years training to dunk on an NBA regulation height basketball hoop so I could be an NBA player. At 5’7″, there’s a slim chance that I could do it. But it would be a waste of time. If I were to stick with my goal of being an NBA player, quitting from that particular avenue is probably a smart idea. Better yet, quitting the basketball avocation would probably be much more worth my time in terms of probable payoff.

Tiger Woods is said to have completely reworked his golf swing over and over. George Carlin was known for throwing out all his comedy material on a regular basis. I’m not dead, so I get another chance. It’s almost forced on me, actually. I’m grateful to be alive, for my friends, for my family, for the opportunities I’ve had, and the future ahead. It’s just that, on some level, I have to scrap everything and start over again. The end of one thing is the beginning of another. It just takes beginner’s mind.

Which leaves me with one question: now what?

I have two pieces of the puzzle: Stay alive. Krav Maga.

Intentionality

Something I’ve been thinking about lately is being intentional with whatever I do. A few years ago, I tried an experiment where I tried to consciously decide what to do before I did anything. This, frankly, was overload, but it did tell me a lot about how much of my life was on autopilot – basically everything. I’ve been trying to do something similar, but with specific actions or domains.

My go-to strategy with learning used to be to attempt to immerse myself in something. With guitar, for instance, I would pick up the guitar and carry it around all the time, figuring that it would trigger some kind of useful activity, and, on the whole, it would lead to an improvement in guitar skills. So I lugged it all around the house and twiddled with it. But, while I did learn something from it, it was very superficial learning. What was worse was that I quickly habituated myself to the guitar and then promptly learned to ignore it. Pretty soon, it was collecting dust whenever I wasn’t doing something almost totally useless with it.

Which is another aspect of intentionality that I am learning. Not only is it important to be intentional about when I pick something up, it’s also important to be intentional about what I’m doing. The (somewhat specious) 10,000 hour rule doesn’t mean 10,000 hours of “being near something and absorbing additional skill by osmosis,” it means 10,000 hours of focused learning.

Immersion probably works better for cognitive tasks that actively push you to remember and employ skills, like languages, rather than specific subject matters. Come to think of it, immersion probably works better for things that you can actually immerse yourself in, like environments, rather than skills. You need certain skills to navigate environments, and the navigation itself can be a means of memorization. On the other hand, skills almost always come with attendant communities (guitar players, programmers, etc.) and locations, which may provide a facsimile of an environment.

Up until now, 90% of the use for these things has been for my nephews to build structures with.

Until recently, these were mostly used to build forts. And yes, that is floral print wallpaper.

Speaking of environment, what triggered this line of thinking was working out and manipulating my environment. I have a few mats that I can lay out in order to exercise on. This morning, I laid them out and then worked through some martial arts movements and then ended with some calisthenics, which sounds a lot fancier than saying that I started playing a DDR megamix on YouTube and then started doing pushups and sit-ups until I couldn’t move anymore. After wiping the mats down, I toyed with the idea of leaving them on the floor. They took up a good portion of the floor and the complete use of the space was pleasing to look at. However, I had misgivings about it immediately. I realized that leaving the mats on the floor wasn’t an intentional use of the mats – or the floor – or my time. If they were out all the time, I would quickly learn to ignore them, or walk on them, when I should be using them as a trigger to exercise. And if I spent the time to lay them out again, it would be a very simple first step to actually starting my exercise regimen, which will hopefully snowball into my actually doing it.

Being intentional with everything is difficult. I don’t recommend it. There are plenty of muscles I don’t want to think about using when I’m walking. But being intentional with certain things can be very helpful.

Crossroads

Aside: A blog is both private and public. Private in that communication goes one way, so I can pretend that I am shouting into a void. I can find myself in the echoes – that is, I understand my own worldview by putting it into words. On the other hand, there’s no doubt that people do actually read this, which I’ve found somewhat surprising and distasteful as of late. It’s probably for the same reasons that I started cracking down on my Facebook privacy settings.

But sometimes you just have to say something. Even if it’s up to chance who hears it. Even if it’s no one but yourself.

I find myself at a few crossroads:

  • I want to leave the country because I feel like I’ve more or less tainted my reputation in the United States and it would be far more exciting to see the world. At the same time, I want to stay here to become part of the Krav community.
  • I don’t want to get a job in technology, because while it’s an effective tool, I don’t have a passion for technology itself, but its uses. At the same time, my most marketable skills are in technology.
  • I need to use what’s left of my reserve capital wisely, but I’m probably going to give it all to my parents.

I have answers to all of these questions, but making a move on any of them is the difficult part. I have to choose which road to go down and then take the first step. And, unfortunately, that first step will set me down all three roads at once.

Brian Kung: Under Construction

I’ve never felt more like I’m under construction than I do now. Not in school, not when I was learning Ruby on Rails, not when I was teaching myself tricking in my backyard.

In no particular order:

  • Getting attacked in Toronto (whole nother story there) taught me how bad my situational awareness is and how ill-prepared I am, psychologically, for an attack.
  • Leaving my first job showed me that I wouldn’t be happy in a corporate environment.
  • Failing as a consultant taught me that I needed to do my time and be professional.
  • Being jobless taught me that freedom is awesome because I can do  whatever I want and terrible because I mostly want to bum around and eat things.
  • Failing at programming job interviews made me realize that I have a long way to go as a programmer.
  • Failing to execute on my own projects made me realize that I am not as driven as I thought I was.
  • Visiting places for a week or so at a time made me realize the benefits that come from putting down roots.
  • Struggling with creative works made me realize that I am not creative in the purest sense that I do not create things.
  • My history with anything that truly challenged me showed me that I don’t commit and I don’t tackle hard problems. Music, programming, even tricking.
  • My last encounter with love crushed whatever hope I had in “being true to myself” and “waiting for the right girl,” and my experiences with online dating have left me with little hope for any alternatives.
  • It’s been amply demonstrated to me that money is a huge differentiating factor in quality of life. Unfortunately, I seem to have little to no interest in acquiring it.

I feel like I am struggling to redefine myself in the face of monumental failures, and only luck has managed to get me to where I am, today. I doubt the very instincts that got me to this point, and so I feel hobbled in being able to use those instincts to evaluate my options for moving forward. So I don’t make any moves.

The only saving graces I have are my family and commitment to learning “fundamentals.” For me, the latter has taken shape in two ways: a rekindled interest in old hobbies (Chinese, guitar, mathematics, computer science, and tricking) and a newfound fascination with martial arts. Specifically Krav Maga and everything they offer at Krav Maga Illinois. What differentiates my interest now from my interest in the past are commitment and humility.

I hope, anyway.

Krav Maga is interesting, in particular. It took a very specific set of circumstances for me to actually take it up. Had any of those factors been missing, I don’t think I would have actually signed up. Thankfully, a friend was already going, there was a Groupon, it’s highly practical with a focus on situational awareness (see bullet point on Toronto), the people there are great, and it was also just minutes away from my house.  Whew, that’s a lot of stuff.

For a long time after my last stint at Eight Bit Studios, I was listless. I gradually rediscovered the fact that I had no interest in finding a career in programming. It’s funny how long that took. After all, I’d known shortly after graduating from Code Academy that I wasn’t interested in this “acquiring money” bullshit, much less working on other people’s applications. However, a year of professional software development will do that to you, I suppose. I think I am more interested in the mechanics of an industry job than I was before, simply due to exposure, but a little bit more than zero is still not very much.

I’m half tempted to add a “just kidding, please hire me!” clause, but I am sick of kowtowing to employability. I am more than an employee. In fact, I am primarily not an employee. My one concession to employability is that I haven’t lost the skills I’ve already gained.

I feel like I’ve regained a little vitality thanks to Krav Maga. I’ve made new friends and I am learning skills. Everything boils down to survival and dealing with an attacker, so the answers are obvious – there’s no need to doubt my instincts here. And if I get it wrong, feedback from the instructors is immediate. The path of progression is obvious. Exercise is also no doubt a mood-lifter by itself. Besides, punching, kicking, and kneeing things are immensely satisfying activities in and of themselves.

I was lost. I distrusted my decision making processes. I still do, in fact. But now there’s a tiny flame in my life, one I can navigate by in the darkness, one step at a time. And for that, I am extremely grateful to everyone at Krav Maga Illinois, especially my friend who has been very supportive of my new interest. It may be too soon to tell, but I hope Krav will be an instrumental piece of whatever future I manage to cobble together.

Maybe it’s me

“What the hell is this?” he growled, storming into the office and slamming the papers down on the desk. The jumble of busy-office-chattering-reporters-gurgling-water-cooler shut off with a bang as door met jamb.

I jolted upright. “What is what?” I said dumbly, scrambling to compose myself. Lazy, confident, a bit disheveled – okay, now for the sneer – don’t reach for the papers too quick- oh, dammit.

“I gave you the recommendation you’ve been working so hard for and you threw it all away. The brass took all of five minutes to find this filth.”

I turned the packet around. Sure enough, I found my name emblazoned at the top of the page. Every keystroke below it felt like a punch to the heart.

“Where’d they find this?” Shit, I could have denied it. I cleared my throat. I’d just thrown that option away, so it was no use crying over spilled milk. Or spilled beans, in this case, even if it was one bean and not even the kind imported from Brazil.

“On the internet.”

The internet.

“I thought they shut that down for good.”

“The government can get to it. So can anyone else with enough money. And the brass – our brass – has money.” He shook his head and stared out the window, short-cropped greying hair limned in the light. Pulling out a cigar and a lighter from his breast pocket, he brought the tip to a glowing ember with practiced ease. Now, the cigar was from Brazil. Or something. It was fancy. That was the point.

I sat in my un-fancy chair, wearing my un-fancy blazer and dress shirt, a pretend two piece suit, chewing my lower lip. I allowed myself to be paralyzed. At this point, it was probably better than whatever I could muster, and it still looked like the boss had something to say.

“You know, kid,” he said, confirming my hunch, “I really liked you.” Uh oh. Past tense didn’t sound like the best tense for my sense of self preservation. He went on, “but there’s no place for you here. I’ll give you until noon to pack up.”

I smelled Brazil waft by, aflame, followed by aural chaos until the jumble of busy-office-chattering-reporters-gurgling-water-cooler eased to silence.

I leaned back, threw my legs up on the desk I’d never sit at again and plucked a page from the front of the report. “Damn them,” I muttered, and sent it fluttering to the floor with a flick of my wrist. I scanned the next one. “Damn me.” Another page spun madly on its way to the ground. “Damn them.” Another. “Damn me.” Another. “Damn them. Damn me…”

Finally, I found myself staring at the last page, cheek to palm, eyes half closed.

Then I took my feet off the desk and threw the page over my shoulder as I turned to leave. A thousand pages with my name on them circled the desk, and the final one came to rest in my chair. It was too bad I didn’t have the boss’s lighter. I stepped into discordant noise and shut the door behind me.

Maybe it was me.

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