CTWC 2020: A New World Order

Gallopin’ Gorgons!  This past Sunday’s CTWC Grand Championship matchup was truly a tournament for the ages.  Top-eight, single-elimination, same piece-set, with global participation.  CTWC has been around since 2010 and has always billed itself as the “World Championships.”  But Real Talk for a moment.  As Heather mentions in the Ecstasy of Order documentary, for the longest time, the “W” in “CTWC” was a kind of inside joke– it really was practically restricted to only the people who happened to live around LA.  Then in 2012 once it moved up to Oregon to the Portland Retro Gaming Expo, it then –if we’re being honest here– should’ve been called:  “The-Classic-Tetris-World-Championship-that-only-people-who-can financially-afford-flying-to-Portland-and-staying-in-a-hotel-for-an-entire-weekend-can-attend.”

But then COVID happened this year.

For the first time in CTWC history, money and means would be far less obstacles to participation.  Though, to be fair:  You still needed decently fast internet, an NES, the game cartridge, and some minimum tech savvy to know how to stream on Twitch.  But this, beyond all doubt, was a far lighter lift and one trillion times more democratic than in previous years.  This year the existing Tetris world order was primed for a shaking up.

And boy, were things shook.

Below are several quick highlights of the tournament.  The first surprise:  Huff pulling up a 3v2 upset of two-time defending champion, Joseph Saelee in the opening round of eight!

Sir Huffulufugus would go onto semifinal where he ultimately lost to thirteen-year-old, No 1 seed, Dog, 1 vs 3. But in his final game, he noticeably scored a maxout but still lost to Dog who’d scored ~1.1 million by level 28! No shame, Huff, no shame. That was a match well played!


Finally, after two months and hundreds of contenders… the Grand Final Championship Match saw… Brother versus Brother. You literally couldn’t have scripted a more more cinematic, Hollywood-style final showdown. One day I’ll write up the match specific details, but for now, let’s just jump to the best part:

Down 0 vs 2 against his older brother, 15-year-old P1xelAndy, 13-year-old Dog was faced with that monstrosity of a set up. With his back against the wall, with no where else to turn, Dog then subsequently turned on beast mode and joined the Mount Rushmore of all-time Tetris greats, storming back to win the match in a reverse sweep. Words are inadequate here to describe Dog’s legendary comeback but as Liam Neeson’s character once told Bruce Wayne:

“If you make yourself more than just a man, then you make yourself something else entirely… Legend, Mr. Wayne.”

–Liam Neeson (Batman Begins)

And also:

Despite a misdrop (in the heat of Game 5, the Champion Match DECIDER!) that would’ve ended most people, a few pieces later, Dog manages to fight his way out of it! Good lord, what poise and composure. Tetris is so much about not only playing pixel-perfect, but also being able to think fast on your feet in the heat of a critical moment. Because no matter what, the pieces will just keep raining down! So when things do go wrong (and they always eventually will, if you’ve played long enough), not panicking, keeping calm, and fighting back one piece at a time is absolutely critical. Truly, a big kudos to Dog for battling his way outta that roof on level 24 in Game 5. Well done.

Taking a step back, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the gods who organized CTWC 2020 for us mere mortals: Director Vince Clemente, Keith Didion (vandweller), and Technical Wizard Extraordinaire Trey Harrison. Additionally, the commentating by Chris Tang, James Chen, and Arda Ocal were all also top-notch and superb as well. This year I really appreciated that they aired “Player Interview” videos before the matches that gave the audience a better chance to get to know the players. Many fans don’t closely follow the Classic Tetris scene so those interviews were a terrific “gateway introduction” into the Classic Tetris World. At the height of the stream yesterday, when Joseph was playing against Huff, the viewership reached ~30k on Twitch! Later, after Joseph was eliminated, those viewership numbers did drop though. Moving forward, whether or not the scene can grow and expand will highly depend on whether more players became well known.

So incredibly looking forward to next year! Well done to all players and organizers this time around and thank you for giving us such a great show! 🙏🙏🙏

What Don Draper Taught Me About Being a Man

Don Draper from the television show, Mad Men, has been on my mind a lot lately.  This year because of COVID, Bagel and I have watched a good amount of television.  Since January, we’ve ripped through The People v. O. J. Simpson: American Crime Story, Community (S1-6), When Calls the Heart (S1-2), Under the Dome (S1-2), and I also discovered and personally devoured all four seasons of Rick and Morty as well (Bagel dislikes cartoons so she sat that one out).  Of all of the shows I’ve seen this year though, Mad Men is definitely the most thought-provoking.  The show’s actually quite old; its first season released back in 2007.  And while I remember at the time watching the first two or three episodes, I eventually lost interest and never continued.  Thirteen years later though I think I’m finally now mature and old enough to appreciate Mad Men— this is probably one of the best television shows I’ve ever seen. 

To be clear, this is still not a show that I’d probably watch on my own.  Left to my own devices, I generally turn to television to be entertained.  Fare like Rick and Morty and Community are right up my alley.  But now I’ve met Bagel, my repertoire of appreciation has significantly expanded!  On our evening walks, Bagel and I often like to discuss Mad Men and its different characters.  While the show is fictional, it possess a fidelity to the 1960s that I’ve never seen in period television.  In the past, I’ve watched (and tremendously enjoyed!) period pieces like Spartacus: Blood and Sand and The Tudors but let’s just say that “period authenticity” isn’t exactly the appeal of those particular Starz and Showtime cinematic masterpieces.

Mad Men fascinates me though precisely because is so real.  I love all of its attention to period detail.  The way people smoke and drank (and littered after picnics in the park!) back in the 1960s is insane!  And since I obviously wasn’t around for the Cuban Missile Crisis or the prospect of nuclear annihilation, seeing people live during those periods have been hugely educational.  And while there are tons of things I could discuss (and probably will in future posts), today I wanted to write about Don Draper.  Specifically, what I’ve learned from him about what it means to be a man and a good husband.

I’ve always been proud of my own honesty and transparency.  But what I learned from Don is that when you’re married, being a good husband does NOT mean telling your wife and family everything.  In the past, I always foolishly believed that I should tell Bagel everything.  For example:  Our finances.  Let’s just say this year has been a very rough ride.  And there are times that when I’ve mentioned the specifics of our finances and budget to Bagel, it’s just needlessly stressed her out. If I lost a good chunk of money day-trading one day, it’s not like she had any way of helping to recover that money. She was helpless and this added information did nothing for her except ruin her day.  I always thought I was being a good life-partner by telling her everything.  But now I realize I was wrong.

On days when I’ve lost a ton of money and I’d tell Bagel about my poor results, she’d get super stressed out.  But then a few days or weeks later, I’d often make back all of the money!  And then I’d tell Bagel about my good days too.  I had thought that we were a team and so I should share with her, my failures as well as my triumphs.

But I now see the tremendous error of my ways.

By sharing my daily ups and downs with Bagel, I was needlessly taking her on my rollercoaster ride.  She often had trouble sleeping at night and poor appetite on days when I lost a ton of money day-trading.  When I reflect on this year, I see all of that was entirely unnecessary.

What I learned from Don Draper is that when you are the man of the house, your wife (or S/O, life-partner, etc) doesn’t actually want to know everything.  As the man, it is your duty to be the provider and primary caretaker.  (Or if you’re a house-hubby and the wife is the one who works, then the same would go for her.  Basically, I’m talking here about situations where one spouse works and the other stays at home as the homemaker.)  If you are the primary provider of a single-income household, it is simply your duty to provide comfort and security to your S/O.  You need to find a way to put food on the table and roof over your children’s heads.  And that’s it. There is no need and no reason to share all of the gory details on how the sausage is made.

You don’t need to share every single financial detail with your S/O.  Now, two caveats here:  First– if your S/O specifically asks, then sure– you can tell him/her the details. 

However, if they don’t ask, as the Main Provider of a single-income household, your job is to give your S/O a sense of stability and security.  Absolutely, make a monthly budget and expect everyone to stick to it.  But aside from that, there’s no need and no purpose to share daily details with your S/O.  The second caveat is– sure, if things really go sideways, you should tell your life-partner.  For example, Bagel and I have agreed that there is a certain number our household savings (that I day-trade with) should never fall below.  And if I ever fall under that number then I should automatically tell her.

Aside from these two caveats, a good S/O should just exist to be your life-partner’s rock.  Don Draper never shares any of his daily work shenanigans with Betty; he simply shoulders all of the troubles and burdens alone. That is his sole responsibility and duty as the Man of the House. Betty doesn’t care what Don does at Sterling Cooper; she just wants to be able to shop for groceries, take care of the kids, go horseback riding, hang out with and drink wine with friends, etc.  When you get home from a hard day’s work, you leave it at the door.  Your wife just wants a lovely husband, safety, and security.  That is what it means to be a man.


Inventors are a breed of people whom I have long admired.  There’s something enormously empowering about moving through the world, noticing that something is lacking, and then feeling confident and capable enough to think to oneself, “Huh.  I can fix this.”  And then proceeding to just fix it and reify your imagination into reality.

Years ago, in a different lifetime, my company once dispatched me to some conference in some great wild yonder.  I don’t remember the details at all; like, I literally don’t even remember what the whole event was even about anymore.  (Such is the hazy reliance of human memory, alas.)  But I do remember one single memory:  That morning I was sitting in the little dining area adjoined to the lobby, enjoying the hotel’s complimentary breakfast spread and leisurely perusing the morning’s paper.  It was some local rag, the kind I always enjoyed flipping through whenever I traveled.  There was a certain feeling of total voyeuristic locality that I always loved.  Ha!  Here’s what’s going on in town!  I’m one of the people!  And for whatever reason, a small article caught my eye:  “Local man gets fed up and builds steps at town park on his own.”  The exact wording of the headline escapes me now, but the gist of the writeup was that there was this sexagenarian who always strolled the town’s park every day.  And the dirt walking path in the park apparently had an easement that was quite steep not easily navigable for older folks.

Well, for years, this sexagenarian –a war vet; or at least someone who had served, if I recall right– had bugged the local municipal government to build some steps on the easement.  It was steep!  Dangerous for old folk, especially!  Well, for years, the town did nothing.  So one day, at the crack of dawn before anyone was up and about, this old geezer just takes a bunch of wooden boards, a hammer, and a bucket of nails to the park and builds his own steps!

Of course, once the town learned about it, they sent engineers to tear the whole thing down (“not to code”), which I think everyone generally expected.  (Governments can do great things.  But often, they’re much more adept at impeding and destroying rather than building!)  But it was the principle of the matter.  That old dude tried to follow all of the right procedures, saw nothing was being done, and finally just did everything himself!  Yeah!

This morning, I had my own bout of two-handed-can-do-attitude as well. My stupefying, unbridled genius was restless for a fresh, new challenge.  Later this evening, Mal is coming over for “artistic-foreign-movie-night.”  She and Bagel wanted to watch something and while I rooted for a Vin Diesel or The Rock vehicle, I was soundly rebuffed and summarily shot down.  The only wrinkle in our planned endeavor though is that Mal is Chinese and her English isn’t the greatest.  So I needed to obtain Chinese subtitles for whatever we’d be watching.  Well, we ended up selecting Certified Copy which is a 2010 art film by the Iranian writer and director, Abbas Kiarostami.  (Not exactly Michael Bay, but alas, I was outnumbered. ☹️)

Anyway, getting to the point:  Certified Copy is a French movie and features significant spoken portions in French and Italian, in addition to English.  So if we were gonna make this work, Bagel and I also needed English subtitles.  We basically needed dual-track subtitles for this foreign film.

Dear Reader, let me assure you:  I looked everywhere.  Dual-subtitled video doesn’t exist for purchase or rent anywhere!

I tried Amazon Prime, Netflix, as well as our local library.  And while our library had a Criterion Collection edition of Certified Copy, there was nothing that featured dual-track subtitles.  Anyway, fast-forwarding to the end, by using VLC, Google, and sheer force of will and perseverance, after spending all morning on it, I figured everything out!

Mwhahaha!  Sure, maybe not quite on the level of inventing the lightbulb or the printing press.  But I’d like to think I channeled some of my inner-Edison and Guttenberg this morning.  They’d be proud.  😀😄😁

Seven-Time Classic Tetris World Champion, Jonas Neubauer

Warning: Spoilers Ahead for CTWC 2020’s Group E!

Seven-Time Classic Tetris World Champion, Jonas Neubauer, went out in a blaze of glory this past Sunday during group-stage play (Group E Bracket) of CTWC 2020.  The Reign of Neubauer was long and splendid, stretching from 2010 to 2017 (with only one defeat to rival Harry Hong in 2014) but starting in 2018, 16-year-old Classic Tetris prodigy, Joseph Saelee snatched the crown, handily defeating Neubauer in a 3-0 sweep in that year’s finals.

In 2019, Neubauer exited that year’s tourney early in a shocking and disappointing loss to MegaRetroMan in Round 1; and ever since, all eyes have been on the longtime veteran CTWC champ to see what he’d have up his sleeves for 2020.

Jonas did not disappoint.

I know I’d already written about CTWC 2020 last month as qualifiers kicked off, but with the first half of group-stage play finished, I thought I’d write another entry more specifically about Jonas today.  First, more generally, as a CTWC fan for several years now, these past few weeks of non-stop Classic Tetris have been an absolutely phenomenal treat.  It is so glorious to be able to tune in every weekend and watch the best Classic Tetris players in the world show their mettle.  Truly, what a time to be alive.

Also, some results have been surprising!  I also follow Classic Tetris Monthly (hosted by God’s Gift to Man, vandweller) and from that scene, some “new kids on the block” were expected to make a big splash this year at their inaugural CTWC debuts.  Let me say, these young guns (and emphasis on ‘young’) were heavily hyped.  The Canadian, Jake B, posted an impressive 5x maxouts during quals and was seeded 8.  And the American, Eric, who posted an astonishing 7x maxouts during quals, was seeded 2.  Both of these players shockingly flamed out early in their respective brackets though and didn’t even make the final rounds.  Maybe it was the pressure and heat of the moment?  Bad RNG?  Or maybe just a bad day.  In any case, we’re looking forward to seeing them again in the future!  Needless to say, they’re still young and have time on their side! 👍

Back to Jonas though.

I don’t know exactly how old he is (though he is married; that, my friend, means more than all those T-Piece trophies combined.  Hi, Heather! 👋) but one thing I really give Jonas props for is despite being several decades older than the new youngblood on the scene, and for being a DAS player, the old dinosaur still had some fight left in him.  As someone who is older myself, I really appreciate the old guard showing these young whippersnappers that age, experience, and wisdom do count for something.  And while that something maybe wasn’t quite enough to see Jonas through to absolute victory this time around, it was still certainly a valiant and magnificent effort.

Here’s a quick play-by-play highlighting some great moments this past Sunday:


Jonas did not have an auspicious start in Round 1 on Sunday, ultimately losing Game 5 to the newcomer, RedShurt.  Upon beating Jonas in Round 1, here’s RedShurt making the happiest anatomically possible face for a human to make– he’s just beaten the SEVEN-time world champ!!  This was, and might quite possibly be, the greatest moment of RedShurt’s life.

Continue reading “Seven-Time Classic Tetris World Champion, Jonas Neubauer”

Classic Tetris World Championships

Joseph Saelee: TWELVE maxouts in two hours. Legendary.

November is going to be lit.  People who know me will know that I’ve been a diehard Tetris fan my entire life.  Back in the day, it was Tetris on the TI-83 Plus.  Then at some point I got a Nintendo DS and Tetris DS probably remains my favorite handheld version to this day (though Tetris Ultimate on the 3DS is a close second).  However, my absolutely favorite version is, by far, Tetris on the NES.  Though the game was released back in 1989, I only discovered it a few years ago when the (now famous) “Boom! Tetris for Jeff!” 2016 CTWC video landed in my YouTube recommendations.  It was mesmerizing.  That same week, I remember running to my local pawn shop and getting both an NES and a copy of the game.  I was instantly hooked.

This year, because of COVID-19, the CTWC organizers did something very special.  Normally, the event happens in person at the Portland Retro Gaming Expo in Oregon every October but this year because of the virus, they organized an online tournament!

Since 2012, CTWC has been a 32-person tournament and happens single-elimination-style over the course of a single weekend.  The shindig starts on Friday and by Sunday, a champion is crowned.

This year’s online tournament is wild though.  They expanded participation to become a 64-person tournament and qualifying rounds lasted an entire week, Oct 12-18. The extended format also now allows for double-elimination in the “group stage” play during the first two weekends of November. 

Last week, I literally had their Twitch channel up every single day on my second monitor and was watching hours of Classic Tetris each day. Since folks were attempting qualifying runs from all around the world from Finland to Japan to Spain to here, the good ol’ USA, there was nearly always some Classic Tetris on, ready to watch.  It was amazing.

Converting a meat-space event into a virtual one is no easy feat. And while I didn’t participate in the tourney (am nowhere near good enough!) I did read through the rules that they posted online. In particular, I found this section (specifically, Rule 9) impressive about how a judge verifies a player’s authenticity:

Since everything is streamed over Twitch, they needed to be thoughtful about how they would suss out bad actors who were trying to cheat. This verification system, while simple, I feel is a reasonable deterrent.

In this age of COVID-19, everything has changed. It’s unclear, at the moment, if things will ever return to normal. But personally, I am really enjoying CTWC 2020 this year. It’s a genuinely remarkable logistical accomplishment and, importantly, really gives folks, especially those far away and who are younger, a chance to participate who otherwise never could. Not everyone can fly to Portland and stay in hotels for a weekend every year! This year’s online tourney has truly democratized the competition– hooray for technology! 😊😀😁

Institutional Knowledge via Public Artifacts

Publicly posting artifacts on a constant, consistent schedule keeps me motivated.  These days, it’s enormously easy to relapse and go off the deep end of unproductivity.  Here’s a trick that I’ve found which works for me:  Write an email to your future-self describing whatever bug fix or feature you’ve implemented.  Write the way you’d normal write an email to a BA or business liaison.  Then go and actually implement the feature.  Record everything in GitHub.  I can’t lie, I enjoy looking at the Progress Map and seeing one big block of progress.

Because there’s a public artifact of my work, I can then easily review my WordPress or GitHub and simply, at a glance, see how I’ve been spending my time and everything I’ve been doing.  If you’ve having trouble staying motivated, maybe give this a whirl.  It may do wonders!

If you’ve ever worked at a company, especially a large one, then you’re familiar with the concept of institutional knowledge.  I know ever since Citizens United, it’s really unfashionable to view companies as human entities.  But in many ways, if you really think about it, companies are human-like in many ways.  Any individual cell is extraneous to a human, but in aggregate, they constitute the human body.  Likewise, any individual human is insignificant to a company, but together, they are the company.  Institutional knowledge is the idea of documenting one’s work and knowledge in such a way that after the employee leaves the firm, the company will still have semblance of whatever the employee knew/did while s/he was here.  In addition to oral transmission (the employee teaching other employees via “knowledge transfer”), we were also expected to document as thoroughly as we could our work so we’d be, in a sense, fungible.  Should the company ever need to replace us (for the “greater good,” of course), it was important such replacement happened as seamlessly as possible.

Now, of course, as these things always are, in practice, institutional knowledge –at least where I’d worked– was near complete shit.  Some employees were understandably reluctant to part with their knowledge because –surprise, surprise– they didn’t want to be fungible, interchangeable assets.  Gee, who could’ve guessed?

Anyway, I’ll save the diatribe for another time.  The point I wanted to make today, in this entry, is that as I’ve grown older, it’s become useful for me to apply the concept of “institutional knowledge” to myself, as a person.  In other words:  Treat myself, a human, more like a company.  Through the course of any given day, week, or month, I’m entertaining hundreds of various, disparate thoughts, on a variety of subjects.  On any given topic, I may have spent tens or hundreds of hours contemplating.  Gay marriage/abortion/gun rights?  Toast or croissants?  Is this Basketball Dome undertaking really a good idea?  And I’m certain I’m not alone.  Every day, people are probably thinking hundreds of random thoughts about a dozen or so different topics.  The real tragedy here is for the vast majority of us, these are all ephemeral.  Sure, our stronger convictions we’ve probably thought to ourselves thousands of times so they’ve turned into core beliefs.  But everything else is just sadly lost in the ether.

Thus, what I’ve enjoyed doing is maintaining a personal blog to keep track of everything.  Even if another human soul never sees it, I sincerely believe the record-keeping is valuable.  You can chart your growth over time and see how your positions have changed as you gain life experience.  You can literally write about anything; it’s your blog.  Movie and book reviews, thoughts about current affairs, etc.  As you begin to amass a corpus, what’s also fun is periodically reviewing the material and extracting the trends in how your musical tastes and concerns of the day have shifted over the years.  Like, “Oh– this was the period I was super into punk rock.”  Or, “Oh– I really got sucked into election politics and American Civil War history for six months here.” Juicy self-insights everywhere!

Writing and reading are truly the gifts that keep on giving.  Record those artifacts and build a time capsule for your future self!  Sure beats watching random YouTube clips all day.

Flexible Minds

LetterSong TitleMovie TitleReal Person
AAlways Remember Us This WayArmageddonAlger, Horatio
BThe BestBeauty & the BeastBrie, Alison
CCall Me MaybeCrazy Rich AsiansCarlisle, Brenda
DDrone Shot of My YachtDie HardDonovan, Landon

Neuroplasticity has been recently on mind. (You did almost get a post about “Nigel Farage” today though.) Namely, I’ve been thinking about aging and how as we get older, people seem to grow increasingly rigid in their thoughts and ways. From my limited understanding on what I’ve read, I believe the calcification happens because of our biology. Neurotransmitters, brain chemicals, all that. It’s sadly unavoidable, a fate destined for us all.

To combat the advent of such sadly inevitable dementia though, Bagel and I have been recently playing a game I (creatively) call, “The Grid Game.” We usually play it when we take our evening walks after dinner. The way it works: We alternate taking turns– like I start with ‘A’, she replies with ‘B’, etc. Everything must be done purely from mental recollection– no smartphones or Bing allowed! If one of us gets to the answer first (haha, usually me– but only because we’re playing in English! Bagel language would be a different story altogether) then we give each other hints like, “This is the first movie we saw in the cinema together.” Or– “My favorite song last summer! Played it in the car every time!” Stuff like that.

We initially conceived of the game as a way to help her improve her English. But I have since taken to playing it on my own time and with more specific categories (like “World Leaders,” “TV Shows,” and “Fictional Characters.”) It’s actually harder than you may think; remember, no smartphones! The other day, I got stuck on “Real woman’s name that starts with ‘I'” and after something like 20 minutes, the best I could come up with was “Laura Ingraham.” Not my proudest moment, I’ll confess. (For “Real man’s name that starts with ”I’,” my response was immediately, “Kazuo Ishiguro.”)

Anyway, I now keep a Google Doc open in one of my hundred tabs I have open and occasionally revisit it throughout the week. A coding exercise I’ll probably eventually do (gotta put all the data science I’ve learned to work!) is build a “Diversity Score Calculator” to analyze submissions and then break them down by sex/race/age/genre. I’m still kicking around some ideas but I think it’s an interesting exercise to judge your own implicit bias. When you free-associate, do you most often think of white people? Black people? Men or women? American, European, Hispanic, Asian? Contemporary or historical figures? Artists or politicians? Other? If political figures appear, are they most often right or left, conservative or liberal? For artistic works, summer blockbusters and platinum hits or the classics? Breakdowns like that. Anyway, just my random idea for the day. So much to do and so little time!

PS. For anyone who’s interested, you can make a copy of the template here. And also, here is my own personal August 2020 entry. Again, the idea is to just free-associate and complete the sheet as fast as possible. Like, a good time would be 10-15 minutes. Don’t worry about “appearing PC” or cosmopolitan and worldly. No one’s gonna see your answers! Just be yourself. You might be intrigued with the results.

Truly an Age of Wonder

Emoji Dick.  Man, I don’t even know where to start with this. On one hand, it is certainly a grand testament to the power of human imagination and the aggregate efforts of crowdsourcing.  Together, there is no obstacle too great, including Herman Melville, that we cannot surmount and overcome.  On the other hand, it is rare I discover something I so genuinely, sincerely consider useless.  Generally, I pride myself as an open-minded individual.  I consider it a strength that I can usually find merit in just about any project, human, or argument.

But good lord.  Emoji Dick– this one I really needed to stretch for– it’s a real reach.

I first discovered Emoji Dick on the a16z podcast hosted by Sonal Chokshi.  (For what it’s worth, by the way, Chokshi is excellent.  I curate my podcast playlist very carefully and have listened to many voices over the years.  The way she thinks about “insight per minute” and information density is the absolute best.  I really love listening to her interview and show run the a16z podcast.)

Anyway, emojis were something I had for the longest time never cared for.  I’d considered them childish and was enormously snobbish about them.  I consider myself “grammatically proper” and refuse to shop anywhere that doesn’t use “ten items or fewer” for its express checkout queue.  So much to my surprise, there’s an entire hidden political war in the world of emojis.  For example, as Chokshi raised in the episode– does Taiwan get an emoji flag?  For China, that was a no-go and would have huge implications on the Unicode standard (for in which there is a Unicode Emoji Subcommittee). And were there sexist implications of the “woman emoji with bunny ears?” And how would each vendor (Microsoft, Google, Apple, LG, Samsung, etc) choose to implement those Unicode emoji standards on their own platforms? It was a fraught and twisted web.

So fast forward to now and I’m wholly onboard.  The emoji ship has sailed.  I’ve decided to take life much less seriously (especially after meeting Bagel).  We only live this lifetime once… might as well use some emojis. 🚢👋🍰🚀

Fear & Discipline

Creating something new is always the easy part. It’s actually finishing the damned thing that is the challenge. I am especially guilty of this– enormously prone to begin half-a-dozen projects (day-trading, writing, data science) and finish/continue none of them. I’m not proud of it and this morning I’m going to take some time figuring out how to do better.

The root problem really isn’t difficult to grasp; put succinctly: I lack discipline. It’s natural to possess enormous enthusiasm at the beginning. A new idea or flight or fancy strikes you. And you’re off to the races, not sleeping or eating until you’ve finally If you examine my GitHub commit history, you’ll see that on most projects, the early days is when all of my commits happen. But then the weeks pass and that initial optimism wanes. Why?

Part of the problem is I’m drawn to novel challenges. When I examine my GitHub commit history, I see the times when I get a second wind on a long-gestating project is when I encounter a new technical challenge that requires new learning. For example, I recently received a new requirement for which I needed to learn BITFIELD and Sever-Sent Events. New stuff! Fun times! I was back to the races.

Instead of entirely being powered by novelty and love of learning and knowledge, the answer to my lack of discipline is fear, which I have found to be a particularly inspiring motivator. In particular: Bagel’s Wrath.

Over the years we’ve been together, she’s come to absolutely hate my undisciplined nature. She hates that I begin and never finish things and my very American, very accepting attitude of, “Fail fast and often; there is no shame!” She comes from a very different, “completest culture” that is very shame-driven. And so she’s developed a habit of randomly bursting into my man-cave to check up on me. If I’m not doing what I’m supposed to do (eg. programming), she will harangue me for about fifteen minutes and then whack me with an 18-inch long summer sausage that we keep in the refrigerator. The sausage is hard and cold; it hurts.

Of course, I’m still prone to distraction– like writing this blog post. But because of the Bagel Panopticon, I’m only allowed to indulge in my distractions when she’s either away at yoga class, shopping, or sleeping. So it’s really only under the cover of dark that I’m able to write these posts. The Eye of Bagel Sauron sleeps, but only barely.

Frida Kahlo & Diego Rivera

Bagel and I have developed a fun routine where we will alternate “movie night” picks. Left on my own, I’d probably be the most useless life partner ever and just be stuck in my own world in my man-cave all the time. (All that Python and JavaScript isn’t going to write itself!) Having a dedicated movie night every few weeks though at least forces us to be on each other’s radar.

Anyway, for my selections, I’ve picked scintillating cinematic masterpieces such as the Rachel McAdams/Will Farrell vehicle, Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga and Sliding Doors. Bagel, OTOH, picks stuff like Frida, which we watched last week.

Personally, I dislike Kahlo’s art (it’s too dark, depressing, and morbid for my tastes). Bagel really connects with it though. I’m much more a fan of Rivera’s mural art– the work he did at 30 Rockefeller (that sadly never saw the light of day) and in Detroit speak to me much more. I don’t know what it is exactly, but to me when I see Rivera’s murals, it instills a sense of hope and wonder. A sense of progress. Human civilization and grandeur of history. In the epic sweep of time, we may all be little more than dust. But by golly, in this short time humanity’s around, we’re gonna galumph! To hell or high water.

In addition to Rivera’s art, my favorite part of Frida was seeing their housing setup in Mexico City! Good lord, it’s ingenious: Kahlo and Rivera essentially lived in their own buildings, connected by a sky bridge:

The best part of the movie!

What a great idea! Rivera lived in the red house while Kahlo lived in the blue one. I’ve already discussed with Bagel and once we make enough money one day, we’re definitely going to recreate this setup! Brilliant!

Rick and Morty

S1E2 — “The Dog Empire Episode” is when I knew I was watching something special. But this scene, “Rick’s Sacrifice” from S2E1, is legendary.

On my own, I don’t watch much TV these days. If anything, I’ll watch clips of things from YouTube and I do try to set aside time with Bagel every day to watch 22 minutes of a sitcom. But left to my own devices, sitting down and watching anything from start-to-finish nowadays is genuinely a pretty heavy lift for me.

But a few months ago, I discovered Ricky and Morty— and this one, this, I made time to sit and watch. I binged all four seasons, an episode a day. Within a month, I’d watched every episode.

I find Ricky and Morty compelling for mainly two reasons: First, it’s novel (to me, at least) in the sense that it’s a cartoon that’s chiefly nihilistic. I give Justin Roiland a ton of credit (along with Dan Harmon). I don’t know exactly who is contributing what, but when I watch R&M, I get the impression that it’s created by people who have suffered severe depression, have given deep and enduring thought to The Big Questions about life, purpose, and the meaning of everything– and basically have come out on the other side of that chasm as a survivor. “Nothing intrinsically means anything. But whatever. Let’s go watch TV.” is one of R&M’s life lessons. From my perch in this, oh-so-long life I’ve so fruitfully led, I think that sentiment is pretty much spot-on.

Second– any show, book, comic, or cartoon that deals with time, parallel universes, and the Multiverse (eg. Jet Li’s The One or Steins;Gate), I’m instantaneously hooked. Seriously, I live for that stuff.


Recently, Bagel and I finished the entire six-season, 111-episode run of Community. I’d watched the first several seasons between 2009-2015 when the show first aired but had fallen off the wagon at some point. It was nice to return and finish the show properly.

If I had to pick one aspect I enjoyed most about the show, it’d be the show’s irreverence. Of all of the cast, my favorite person was definitely Pierce. (Though I also love Hickey, losing Pierce was truly devastating.) I know Harmon gets a lot of criticism (at least from the little I’ve read online) but I do believe the man’s a genius. Between Community and Ricky & Morty, the ideas and writing are just undeniably excellent. In Community, Pierce is outright racist and misogynist. And not in an ironic way either. But in a genuine, the person actually is racist and misogynist. But still to be able to make him a sympathetic and likable character (at least I thought so) was an extraordinary feat.

To be fair, there are definitely more than several episodes that went over my head. Being the meta-show it is, if you weren’t familiar with the underlying “formula” that a particular episode was parodying or paying tribute to, then you wouldn’t get the many inside-jokes, nods/homages, and references. Bagel didn’t like the first two seasons because they consisted of mostly talking. She really started enjoying Community in S3 and S4 when the show, in her words, “got more high budget.” (Eg. We got to venture outside of Greendale and see individual people’s apartments and houses.)

For me though, I really loved the “low-budget” talk-heavy episodes. Run Lola Run/Sliding Doors, cough, “Remedial Chaos Theory” (S3E4) is probably my favorite but one of my favorite moments in the show’s entire run is definitely Chang’s “Winger Speech” in S6E12. Ah, Community, you will be missed.

PS. Actually, come to think of it, my other favorite episode is “Digital Estate Planning” (S3E20). “Journey to the Center of Hawkthorne” is glorious.

Why Negativity is Good

It keeps us from wandering too far astray. Haha, imagine a world with no negative feelings! It’d be like that M. Night Shyamalan movie— a total hellscape! People destroying themselves left and right, unchecked self-destructive behavior everywhere!

We feel positive when we behave in ways that make us feel good. If we eat delicious food or awake refreshed after a great night of sleep, we feel happy and joy because those actions are healthy. Feeling positive reinforces healthy actions and behaviors.

Likewise, we feel bad when we engage in self-destructive/unhealthy behaviors. We feel awful after consuming too much liquor. We feel exhausted after pulling an all-nighter. Those negative feelings is our body warning us to not repeat these actions.

Positivity and negativity are flip sides of the same coin– they cannot exist absent each other. Both are our friends. Like a world without brake lights, a world absent negativity would be disastrous.

Furthermore, I argue that a life well-lived is a life where someone has encountered a high number of negativities. I would much rather live a life having experienced 100 positives and 200 negatives than a life of 10 positives and 1 negative.

It is simple logic: Positive experiences are much more valuable (and thus more heavily weighted) than negative experiences. If I taste 100 foods and dislike 90, I’ll never eat those 90 foods ever again. But the 10 dishes I do enjoy, I’ll eat many more times, until the end of days!

Life is like the timeless BFS vs DFS challenge. Do we go broad? Or do we go deep? Obviously, the answer is both, depending on the details. But if I were forced to choose only one: I contend that we go broad.

The next great adventure might be the one right around the corner. Your next favorite dish might just be the one you decide not to order. The love of your life may very well be that very next date. (Related: Optimal Stopping Problem.)


This may sound outrageous, but I humbly contend that I have never made a mistake.

Now sure– if you were to ask my dear wife, Bagel, she’d disagree with you with the force of a thousand suns. But honestly– sincerely speaking, I genuinely feel like I’ve never made a mistake.

First, what is a mistake? Now, I know this seems somewhat rhetorical/pedagogical/didactic/pretentious/eye-rolling. But bear with me a moment. I do feel this definition is really important to precisely nail down.

If you make a decision with the most knowledge and information you have at that moment, then I argue you’ve done the very best you possibly can, regardless of whatever outcome results. Even if you are ultimately in error, I would argue –in good faith– that you didn’t make a mistake.

An example: After much searching, you applied and got a new job at a company that initially looked very enticing. But after several months, you realize you hate your coworkers, the job, and decide to leave. Was quitting your old job (which was very lucrative) and taking this new job a mistake? Nope.

In my mind, a mistake is when you have all the available knowledge. But you simply miscalculate or mistype. Meaning to type “the” and instead typing “teh.” (Happens to best of us.) That’s a mistake.

A good heuristic for whether you’ve made a mistake: (Bear in mind, this exercise only works if you’re honest with yourself!)

If you could travel back in time to the exact moment you made the decision, would you have done things any differently?

As the Olympic Rower, Gold Medalist Greg Searle once famously remarked, “There are no sacrifices. There are only choices.”

Ode to the Dishwasher

In our apartment, I love our dishwasher. This may be difficult to believe, but growing up, my family never used the dishwasher. In our home, we washed everything by hand.

After we moved in together, living life with Bagel the first year was a bonafide project. In the beginning, we sectioned off duties such that she was responsible for anything related to the kitchen (cooking, cleaning, grocery shopping). And I was responsible for paying the bills. But after a few months, that plan quickly imploded. She deeply resented having to do all of the domestic chores and wished to work as a career-woman instead. And on my end, frankly, I would be positively thrilled to be a “house husband.”

Ultimately, the solution we devised is that she handles all of the cooking (which she genuinely enjoys). And I do all of the cleaning (loading and unloading the dishwasher and vacuuming; each of us does our own laundry). Over time I’ve actually really come to appreciate this division of labor because I love listening to podcasts! I own a pair of nice wireless, noise-cancelling headphones so dishwasher/vacuum time is when I listen to all of my podcasts. With Tim Ferriss, Shane Parrish, NPR, and Paul Ford in my ear, I get my daily podcast dose in (at 1.25x speed, which is key) while making Bagel happy. Win-win, all around! Since I no longer have long commutes any more, my podcast-listening had heavily declined.

What I realize now is that in the past, I heavily relied on interstitial spaces to complete “micro-tasks.” When I was on the subway platform waiting for the metro to arrive, that’s when I’d dash off a quick reply to a text message or email. When I was riding public transit or commuting, that’s when I’d listen to Sam Harris or Ezra Klein.

Now all that has disappeared, figuring out a life routine that still gives me “dedicated inertial time” has become paramount. Otherwise, I fall off the wagon replying to text messages!

A Commitment to Write Every Day

I’ve been dismayed with how little I’ve written this year. Though I’ve done many things in 2020 (learned node.js, took an online data science class, learned some OpenCV), I’ve really dropped the ball on writing.

Developing “tiny habits” is the secret. Same time, same place, same routine, every day. We brush our teeth and shower every day without giving these basic activities any thought. By completing these basic tasks every single day, in the long run, we ultimately develop good and enduring health.

The challenge, of course, is writing requires forethought. Brushing one’s teeth is a purely mechanical exercise, a task that requires zero mental exertion.

Writing, however, especially if it’s long-form, requires some degree of thought. It is similar to programming. Coding an app is relatively trivial once you’ve actually set your sights on a destination. It’s deciding where you actually wish to march your army that is the challenge.

In analytics and learning theory, they call this dichotomy “exploration” versuses “exploitation.” Exploration is the task of ideation, brainstorming, and learning what is possible. Exploitation is leveraging what you actually know and bringing all that knowledge, all of those tools you’ve painstakingly acquired over the years, to bear on a singular task to accomplish a specific objective.

Moving forward, I am committing to writing 250 words on this blog every single day for the next 30 days. John Scalzi at Whatever embarked upon a similar project several months ago and I found his experiment inspiring. 250 words is short. As of this sentence, this post is exactly 250 words.

George Floyd

Last weekend, Cal called me and we got to discussing all of the social upheaval that’s recently transpired.  Since I had my head down and was crazy busy studying, I actually hadn’t heard about George Floyd or anything that’d been going on.  More generally, since back in mid-April, I’d simply decided to entirely detach myself from following news.  I’d been very unhappy with March and how I’d lost, literally, the entire month so wrapped up in COVID-19 and had gotten nothing done.  A year from now in 2021, COVID-19 will be a distant memory.  But I’ll have nothing to show for my March 2020.  Time had gotten away from me and it was time to get back on track.

After spending the last two weeks of April casting about, I decided on a new plan.  Instead of following the stock market, and living and dying on every massive 3,000-point swing in the Dow; instead of anxiously tracking global death counts and infection rates from the Coronavirus; instead of all of that– I was going to detox.  I removed Yahoo Finance, Google News, and Reddit from my phone’s home screen.  And then I set about to find a new project to focus all of my time and attention on.

I fiddled with some ideas such as getting back into fiction-writing or learning new technical skills (like AWS, React, or Angular), but ultimately, I settled on pursuing a deeper understanding of data science.  It was always something that intrigued me and with this great Quarantine of 2020 going on, this seemed like the perfect opportunity to retreat into my man cave, isolate from the world, and learn something new.

So, last weekend, first week of June, I finally emerged from my man cave.  Nearly two months had blown by and I’d not followed the news at all.  I’d registered for some online data science classes and were totally immersed in those.  For two whole months, it’d been literally nothing but eat, sleep, go out for a walk with Bagel, study; repeat.  And once a week we left our apartment to buy groceries together.  But that’s it.  The only indulgence I allowed myself was taking a break every few hours from studying when my brain was fried to go onto YouTube where I’d decompress by watching competitive Classic Tetris (1989 NES version) videos.  One Saturday afternoon (May 30), I was taking a break and watching a CTWC video when I saw SpaceX was launching American astronauts to the ISS.  Cool!  I watched that live launch (Elon succeeded!) and then forwarded the video to Cal.  She messaged me back later saying she hadn’t paid attention at all with all of the other news that’d been ongoing.  I was perplexed.  Some other news had happened what was bigger than spaceflight returning to America?

And that’s how I learned about George Floyd.

It’s Not the Days in Your Life but the Life in Your Days

What has surprised me about writing is just how exhausting it is.  When I was working, there was a general cadence to my day that was very non-taxing.  Going at half-speed, I was able to join conference calls, attend meetings, reply to emails, and write code.  It was, only seldom when working on a thorny programming challenge, that I would come anywhere close to spinning up my full mental repertoire.

But with writing, that’s been completely different.

Every day I sit down at my keyboard is fraught.  I’ve been trying a version of the Pomodoro Technique (but with one-hour sprints) which means each hour is similar to taking a standardized test like back in my schooldays.  The heart rate is raised, my palms are slightly sweaty, and there’s a constant underlying tension and anxiety.  It’s intense.

Consequently, my daily rhythms are weird.  Sure, I’ve been currently fighting a long-term illness and maybe my stamina isn’t currently what it once was when I was a younger man.  But every fourth or fifth day I’ll simply be so exhausted that I spend nearly the entire day sleeping.  I’ll wake in the morning at my usual time, eat breakfast, try to write a bit or look at stock charts, maybe place a trade or two, and then a sudden unyielding exhaustion will simply overtake me.  I never return to bed when I nap, because I’ve found that I always sleep even longer on a mattress and will only awake groggy or with a pounding headache.  Instead, I nap on the floor which is just uncomfortable enough to prevent me from oversleeping.  And it’s just mind-boggling, every fourth or fifth day, I’ll just sleep half the day away.  By the time I wake, it’ll be around 4p.  I get up off the floor, try to eat something, maybe do the laundry, and then that’s the day.

Every evening, Bagel and I also video-chat.  And she’s always telling me how at her office, people are routinely putting in 12+ hour days.  In fact, when I worked at the bank, I too remember routinely working from 8a – 10p.  That was a pretty standard day.  But now I’m just amazed by how much of that work was Grundoon-like busy-work and not truly challenging in any way, shape, or form.  I must have written thousands of emails during my time at the bank.  And programmed hundreds of thousands of lines of code.  Not to mention spent hundreds of hours in meetings and on calls.  But during all my years there, none of that holds even the remotest candle in mental effort and challenge it takes for me to brainstorm ideas, write characters and plots, and edit/revise/polish prose.  Not even in the same galaxy or universe of difficulty.

Similarly, I remember from many years ago how professional mathematicians are pleased with themselves if they manage to get four solid hours of work done in a day.  I’ve started developing a theory that if you’re in a job where you’re routinely working 10/12/14 hour days, then that job is clearly pretty menial in some sense.  Simply because the human brain is unable to do more than four or five hours of “deep work” in a day.  And definitely not consistently, day-in and day-out.  Of course, I’m only talking about white-collar, office type jobs, because that’s all I have experience with.  But seriously, this writing project is a whole other beast entirely.

Spider-Man: Far From Home – The Importance of Callbacks & Continuity

Yesterday, I visited the theater alone to watch Spiderman: Far From Home.  It was pretty good!  I don’t watch movies much anymore– the last one I saw in theaters was John Wick 3 with my sister who’d happened to be in town visiting for the weekend.  So it was nice to go out on a discount Tuesday to see a movie on the cheap.  With Bagel still abroad, life around here has gotten pretty isolated and lonely.  I don’t really have many friends here and so I pour my time mostly into day-trading, writing, and doctor visits nowadays.  It’s not the life I’d choose but it’s the life I lead.  It is what it is.  In the grand scheme, despite my current challenges, I recognize I’m already luckier and more privileged than something like 80% (at minimum) of the global population which lives on less than $2 USD a day.  So I’m grateful and brook no complaints.  We do the most with what we’ve got and just try our best.

*** Warning:  SPOILERS! ***

My favorite moment in the film is a scene after Happy (Jon Favreau) has picked up Peter Park in his Stark Industries jet.  Peter has just gotten beaten senseless and nearly killed by Mysterio, only escaping by the skin of his teeth after being hit full frontal by a highspeed train bound for the Netherlands.  In the jet, Happy lets Peter access Tony Stark’s super-futuristic in-jet lab where Peter designs a new Spidey suit using Stark’s nifty holographic 3D interface.  There’s a small moment, with no dialogue, of Happy watching Peter expertly manipulating the holographic controls, clearly reminding viewers of how much Peter and Tony Stark are alike.  Both are geniuses with hi-tech gadgets; both have chosen to suit up to fight villains; both have chosen lives of self-sacrifice in order to serve the greater good; etc.  IMHO, these are the strongest moments of any of the MCU films.  At this point, it’s been 11 years and 23 MCU movies.  Sure, there are plenty of impressive set pieces with millions of dollars of CGI and stunt action.  But for me, while the eye candy is nice, it’s the small human drama moments –especially those that leverage continuity and callback– that really make the MCU shine.  Remembering that amidst all of the spectacle, that these are nonetheless human beings with human stories that we’re watching on screen is paramount to making this whole enterprise work.

Additionally, I read these thoughtful Verge and GameSpot pieces today which also got me to thinking:  The worldbuilding consistency of the MCU has really taken a backseat to the individual storytelling within each self-contained movie.  And this is probably a good thing.  Honestly, I never considered this aspect much previously.  But I think both Noah Berlatsky and Meg Downey make excellent points in their respective write-ups.