Farewell Charlie Munger

One of my intellectual heroes Charlie Munger has just passed away at the tender age of 99. I feel quite sad because on the one hand so much of my thinking and values has been based on his writings and speeches, and on the other hand, paraphrasing Charlie himself, who I am I to complain about a world in which we got to enjoy Charlie for 99 years? This post is a reflection on the impact Charlie has had on me since I first “met” him.

My first purchase of Berkshire Hathaway shares was about 15 years ago almost to the day (Nov 18, 2008). I had recently started investing my own money in 2006 as my mother reluctantly handed the reigns of an investment account she opened in my name over to me. I obviously didn’t know much about investing at the time so I used my usual method of getting up to speed: reading. Fortunately Buffett was already famous by then and I was able to pick up a forgettable book about his investing style (I later found better ones to read). None of what I read really stuck at the time, but the one thing that it did lead me to was Charlie.

I forget when I first started learning more about Charlie but my earliest post was in February 2010 referencing his USC commencement speech. This must have been around the time when I really started to appreciate his fierce intellect and dedication to rational thinking. It wasn’t an accident that a young budding mind trying to find his intellectual place in the world embraced the teaching of this wise old billionaire. Coincidentally, I had just started my PhD and had lots of time to “procrastinate” on these things as grad students wont to do. In 2010, Charlie was 86. How many grad students are spending their time admiring wise 86 year old billionaires? Probably not enough in my opinion.

It’s hard to describe how big an impact Charlie’s works have had on my life. He has not only provided me with an intellectual framework to learn worldly wisdom, but he has also shaped my values and approach to life. The combination of simple to understand (but hard to internalize) ideas, an upstanding moral code, and a track record to show that it works, made it so that I couldn’t help but become one of his “groupies” as Charlie likes to call them (his wit and catchy one liners didn’t hurt drawing me in either). I started to read and listen to him, coming back time and again to peel back yet another deeper layer of meaning that I had missed the first time. Over the past (at least) 13 years, he’s taught me countless things that have guided the way I think, behave, and live my life. Charlie was the best mentor that I ever had, even if he didn’t know it. As Charlie would put it, I “made friends among the eminent dead” except that I was lucky enough to experience him while he was still alive.

The rest of this post is a bunch of large and small ways Charlie has affected my life. It’s hard to weave (and recall) a narrative of how Charlie’s mentorship has led me to this point, so instead I’ll celebrate him by listening the myriad ways he’s helped me.

Worldly Wisdom: A Framework for Learning About the World

One of the things that immediately attracted me to Charlie was his idea of worldly wisdom, in Charlie’s own words:

What is elementary, worldly wisdom? Well, the first rule is that you can’t really know anything if you just remember isolated facts and try and bang ’em back. If the facts don’t hang together on a latticework of theory, you don’t have them in a usable form.  You’ve got to have models in your head. And you’ve got to array your experience—both vicarious and direct—on this latticework of models.”

A Lesson on Elementary, Worldly Wisdom As It Relates To Investment Management & Business, Charles Munger, 1994.

The concept of having a latticework of mental models has guided me on how to learn things and what to learn. Fortunately coming from an engineering discipline, I naturally learned a lot of useful mental models from the hard sciences like probability, big ideas from physics, margin of safety, etc., so many of those came naturally to me. But as Charlie espouses, you can’t just rely on one discipline to explain how the world works, you need to take the most important ideas from each of the major disciplines. These ideas will carry 90% of what you need to know to explain the world.

This idea was quite profound for me because, all of a sudden, I had a framework to learn about how the world works and that knowledge was now accessible. I was no longer confined to my narrow domain of computing, but instead I simply had to pick up the big ideas from other disciplines that were not part of my formal training. I didn’t need to do a PhD in them either, I just needed to find some elementary (for the subject) ideas and learn them. It was a liberating for me.

The follow on to learning about these mental models was both internalizing and using them as second nature, which was another thing entirely. The ones that I had formal training on were much more easily to internalize (usually the ones related to math); the ones that were not part of that training took a lot longer (e.g. psychology). For most things, it’s still a process. Ironically, I feel some of my least developed mental models are on the financial / business side even though I’ve been investing my own money for over 15 years. The math is simple but there is a lot of layers underneath.

For the uninitiated, a great place to start is with Charlie’s speeches in Poor Charlie’s Almanack. Of course, many of his speeches are also on YouTube and those are also good if you want something a bit more interactive.

Introducing Me to My Other Mentors

Through Charlie, I also met with the eminent dead in Lee Kwan Yew and Herbert Simon. Lee Kwan Yew was the founding father of Singapore and one of the best political minds of the 20th century. Charlie held LKY in such high regard that he had a bust made of him (along with Benjamin Franklin). After listening to his speeches, learning from his wisdom, and reading his memoirs of the founding of Singapore, I can see why Charlie had so much admiration for him. LKY is a no-nonsense leader with a brilliant intellect and a hardcore ethic of doing what works. A couple of his memorable quotes:

I always tried to be correct, not politically correct.”

We are pragmatists. We don’t stick to any ideology. Does it work? Let’s try it, and if it does work, fine, let’s continue it. If it doesn’t work, toss it out, try another one. We are not enamored with any ideology.

— Lee Kuan Yew

From LKY’s writing, I’ve refined my thinking in many ways. I’ve internalized that you can both be effective and do what’s right — there isn’t a conflict but you have to work for it. His writing has reinforced my values on working hard and smart to accomplish something worthwhile. It made me more confident not to put up with mediocrity, and to demand more from myself and others around me.

On the other end of learnings, he has also given me new perspective on non-Western schools of thought. Singapore and other Asian countries have shown you can have success that isn’t a copy of the Western democracies. It’s hard to see living within the Western world, but the prototypical American or European style of development doesn’t have to be the only way forward, this is particularly true for Asian countries with their own unique cultural, economic, and religious backgrounds.

Herbert Simon is another one of the people I greatly admire. I have only known him through his autobiography Models of My Life, which I learned about from the reading list in Poor Charlie’s Almanack. The title immediately grabbed me as I have often tried to frame my life in terms of models (a la mental models). The more I learned about this renaissance man, the more I admired him. Not only did he win the Nobel prize in economics but also the Turning award (compute science Nobel prize equivalent). One of his big contributions to economics was Bounded Rationality, one of the earliest iterations of behavioral economics. One of Simon’s core values (as seen in Bounded Rationality) is that one cannot rely only on theory and that one needs to really incorporate the empirical. This idea has stuck with me ever since graduate school, so much so that I ended naming my technical blog Bounded Rationality.

I’ve read his biography several times now and one of the reasons is that I see so many parallels of my life in his (albeit with much less grandeur). I could related to everything he talked about from teaching at university, his musings and research on AI, to his relentless focus on the empirical. And it wasn’t only his professional life, I could relate to many of his reflections on his personal life as well.

In reading about Herbert Simon, I learned more about how to do things well but more importantly, it allowed me to reflect on what I had been doing because it was so easy to see myself in him. I think this is a sign of a great mentor where they not only teach you to be better, but give you the gift of understanding yourself better too.

The Time I Met Charlie (Sort Of)

Photo my wife snapped of Charlie at the Berkshire Hathaway Annual Meeting

Being the hardcore Berkshire fan that I was, I went to the annual meeting three times in my life in 2013, 2014, and 2015. I almost didn’t go the first year because my friend was flip-flopping on going but luckily my girlfriend at the time, now wife, agreed to go with me (no wonder why I married her, right?). In 2013 it was a big deal because it was my last year of graduate school and I wasn’t flush with cash. Despite the low funds, we booked our flights well ahead of time, paid really high hotel fees at the Hilton Garden Inn in Omaha, and woke up extremely early to get good seats. I was glued to my seat during the Q&A while my wife listened to the intro video, a few questions, and then quickly proceeded to do some shopping at the big convention hall.

As we wrapped up the day, we were walking out of the main auditorium into the hallways when, lo and behold, we see Charlie walking out of one of the exits to board his golf cart! At that time, he must have been a young 89 but was still able to move short distances by himself but likely required transportation for longer distances. When I saw him, I was so afraid to go up and talk to him because I didn’t want to waste his time and bother him. A few nearby tourists started swarming him, luckily, there weren’t many other people around. My wife asked me why I wasn’t going up and I told her I didn’t want to bother him. She quickly jabbed me to get my phone out, grabbed it from my hand, and snapped the above photo before Charlie drove off. I’m so thankful that she did because it’s a really special memory of being up close and personal with one of your heroes, even if I didn’t really meet him. (Again, it’s no wonder why I married my wife, right?)

Rationality and Independent Thinking

Being rational is a moral imperative. You should never be stupider than you need to be.
— Charlie Munger

One of the deep values that I embodied from Charlie was the absolute focus on being rational. I always fancied myself as being more rational than most but here Charlie was raising the bar on the need to be rational. It’s not just a nice to have, it’s a moral imperative. For me at least, it’s so obvious, why would you want to be stupider than you need to be? And thus it wasn’t just something nice to have but a lifelong goal that I have strived for aiming to be less ignorant about the world.

The other quality about Charlie that I admired was being a true iconoclast. In his usual witty, no holds barred manner, he would attack any institution that showed the (unfortunately common) inanities of humans nature from economics departments to Bitcoin, no one was safe from his piercing critiques (of which, he was always right). This departure from “playing nice” and “following the crowd” but rather thinking independently through each situation was something that I respected immensely.

I can’t say I’m even close to reaching one percent of Charlie’s skill on both of these fronts but they have dramatically affected how I approach thinking. I strive to be both rational and to think independently — both very difficult things to do in this age of constant information flow and biased media. But what choice do I have? It’s my moral duty to be less stupid than I was yesterday.

Life Philosophy

Besides the focus on rationality, the other big area that Charlie has taught me is on how to live life well. This may seem weird to learn from an elderly billionaire but many of his ideas were distilled down from various great minds such as the Stoics, Benjamin Franklin, and the other thousands that Charlie has learned from through his insatiable reading habit. Instead of using an AI model to distill these ideas, Charlie provides a much better, curated (and dare I say more intelligent) curriculum on how to approach life.

The two big ideas in this area that I have really internalized I wrote about in my Life Lessons post:

  1. Understand how the world actually works and not how you wish it to be.
  2. The best way to get what you want is to deserve what you want.

The first one follow directly from being rational. Don’t be more stupid or ignorant than you have to be. The second one is a philosophy on how to approach life directly taken from Charlie’s mouth. There are many ways to achieve the same outcome. For example, to get rich you can lie, steal, and cheat, but this is not the best way. The best way (note: not necessarily the fastest or easiest way) is to deserve what you want. The way I interpret this is that, on average (i.e., probabilistically), this is the most likely way to reach your goal. As Charlie likes to point out, the world is not yet so irrational that this advice doesn’t hold.

This is an idea that I’ve internalized for a long time. In fact, this was one of my core philosophies on finding a partner. To find a great partner, the first thing to do was deserve a great partner i.e., being caring, confident, successful etc. Being an awkward, shy kid throughout my youth, it took a lot of work to be the person that my wife deserves. This idea was such a meaningful part of my life philosophy that I quoted it in my wedding speech:

So I’ll end with this quote from one of my favorite people, Charlie Munger: “What’s the best
way to find a good wife? It’s to deserve a good wife.” And that’s what I promise to you,
that I’ll work everyday of my life to deserve someone so amazing as you as my wife.

The other big idea that I really appreciated from Charlie was that he consistently acknowledged that life is hard (surely influenced from the Stoics). While other motivational speakers only tell you the rosy side, it doesn’t always match up with my experiences that sometimes bad things happen and you have to deal with it. Another classic Charlie quote:

It’s not supposed to be easy. Anyone who finds it easy is stupid.
— Charlie Munger

And the important part is that he’s not just parroting things he’s read, Charlie has suffered great tragedy in his lifetime from his son dying from cancer at the age of nine to losing sight in his left eye in his 50s due to a failed cataract surgery. Despite these setbacks, Charlie has learned to remain resilient and not suffer from self pity. For more on this subject see Charlie’s speech “How to Guarantee a Life of Misery“.

Other Ideas and Quotes

There is so much more that I learned from Charlie and if I continued I would fill a book. Instead, I’ll end this with just a small subset of the topics that he’s greatly affected my thinking on and related quotes:

On Working Hard

Another thing you have to do, of course, is to have a lot of assiduity. I like that word because it means: sit down on your ass until you do it.

On Learning

I constantly see people rise in life who are not the smartest, sometimes not even the most diligent, but they are learning machines. They go to bed every night a little wiser than when they got up and boy does that help — particularly when you have a long run ahead of you.

On Approach to Life

Spend each day trying to be a little wiser than you were when you woke up. Discharge your duties faithfully and well.  Slug it out one inch at a time, day by day. At the end of the day — if you live long enough — most people get what they deserve.

On Failure

There’s no way that you can live an adequate life without many mistakes. In fact, one trick in life is to get so you can handle mistakes. Failure to handle psychological denial is a common way for people to go broke.

On Envy

“Someone will always be getting richer faster than you, this is not a tragedy.“

On Holding on to Your Ideas

Any year that passes in which you don’t destroy one of your best loved ideas is a wasted year.

On Narrow-Mindedness

Most people are trained in one model — economics, for example — and try to solve all problems in one way. You know the saying: ‘To the man with a hammer, the world looks like a nail.’ This is a dumb way of handling problems.

On Old Age

The best armor of old age is a well-spent life preceding it.

On Reading

In my whole life, I have known no wise people who didn’t read all the time — none, zero.

On Incentives

Well, I think I’ve been in the top 5% of my age cohort all my life in understanding the power of incentives, and all my life I’ve underestimated it. And never a year passes but I get some surprise that pushes my limit a little farther.

On Math

Without numerical fluency, in the part of life most of us inhibit, you are like a one-legged man in an ass-kicking contest.

On Thinking

People calculate too much and think too little.

On Who to Associate With

Oh, it’s just so useful dealing with people you can trust and getting all the others the hell out of your life. It ought to be taught as a catechism. … [W]ise people want to avoid other people who are just total rat poison, and there are a lot of them.

Thank You Charlie Munger

It’s not easy to find a great mentor but I’ve been lucky to have access to the best one I could have ever hoped for. From the bottom of my heart, I want to thank you Charlie for everything that you’ve done for me and the generosity that you’ve shown sharing your wisdom all these years. The best way that I can think of to show my appreciation is to live my life according to your teachings and be generous with sharing my wisdom with others just as you did.

2022 Year-In-Review

Thankfully 2022 has felt a bit more like a “normal” year. I saw slightly more people in person, got into a groove at work, and continued to play and have fun with my daughter. It’s not quite like it was before the pandemic but it doesn’t feel strange anymore. It’s not clear whether it’s because I’m getting used to this new environment, or if it is actually getting back to normal. Like most things, it’s probably a mix of both.

Pandemic notwithstanding, this year had fewer really big changes compared to the last couple of years, which is a really nice change. It feels good to get into a groove where I can start to feel productive in many different areas of my life. This is a lot harder when things are changing fast where I’m forced to constantly rebalance different parts of my life. A calm year, like this past one, gives me more time to think and reflect on things, two activities I really enjoy doing. I’ve included some of those reflections in this review for posterity. Enjoy!


Family: As anyone with young kids can attest, they take up lots of time. From those who haven’t experienced this joy, it may seem like a big loss. You have less time for everything. Friends, side projects, TV, going out, you name it. But on the other hand, the joy you get from playing with your child is infinitely better. Let me attempt to explain.

A good (math) metaphor I was thinking about: imagine your happiness can be modelled as a rectangle on a two dimensional plane. The area of the rectangle is your happiness from all your non-child activities e.g., friends, going out, etc. Once you have a child, this area shrinks. You no longer have much time for any of those things. No drinks with friends, no going out to the movies, drastically reduced TV time etc. BUT… what happens when you have a child is that a whole new dimension of happiness opens up with it being measured by the time spent with your child. Your happiness is no longer measured by area but by volume. So in some sense (projecting onto the two dimensional plane), your life is worse off. But when measuring using volume, your life is infinitely more rich. Not a perfect analogy but it gives you a sense of the phenomenon.

Other than the standard things one does with a toddler, not much has changed on the family side. Just enjoying all of it. We’ve been spending a bit more time with the extended family too as COVID worries wane and hope to do more of it next year.

Friends: I’ve been terrible at keeping in touch with my friends these past couple of years. I use the excuse of not being able to meet in-person combined with having a small child, but that’s a weak excuse. Recently, I’ve been trying to get in touch with some of my friends now that I’m more comfortable with limited in-person meetings. I hope I can do more of it next year.

Health & Fitness: On the health side, through the first half of the year, I continued to lose a bit of weight and in the last half of the year plateaued. To be honest, I’ve relaxed some of my weight loss efforts because I’m already at an acceptable weight (but who wouldn’t want to lose another 5 lbs?). The good thing is that I think I’ve successfully adopted a lot of habits that will keep the weight off, namely, eating a lot less per meal and little, if any, binge eating. We’ll see if it sticks when I (hopefully) start going out to eat at restaurants next year.

On the fitness side, I’ve done little to nothing. Even though I have a home gym downstairs, it has seen little use. The main problem is that with the little free time that I have (not playing with my daughter), I am just not prioritizing fitness (for example, I’d often rather be writing). Hopefully I’ll get some free time back as my daughter gets older.

Hobbies: On the hobby side, as with last year, not much progress on either music or Chinese. On the music side, my main practice has been playing and singing with my daughter, which is one of the main reasons why I learned to sing in the first place. It’s wonderful to be able to share it with my daughter, and she sings surprisingly well for a toddler. As for Chinese, I’m still doing biweekly lessons but progress is slow and proportional to how much I put in, which as you might guess is not much. Still, it helps to have a refresher periodically, which is at least some maintenance.

On the blogging side, I’ve written nothing on this site (except this post), but have published two posts on my technical blog. One of them was a monster post on stochastic calculus, which I’m quite proud of since it required a huge amount of learning on my part. I also have one in progress now that hopefully will go out soon, so maybe we can count that as two and a half.


Borealis: I’m roughly a year and a half into my tenure as a Research Director at Borealis and I’m enjoying it. The people are smart, I’m doing some interesting AI work, and the work-life balance is good. Not much more to say except that it reminds me of the Tolstoy quote: Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.

Rotman: Similar situation at Rotman where I’m a Data Scientist in Residence and an Adjunct Professor. It’s not too different than the last few years. I recently realized that I’m into my fifth year with Rotman — how time flies! The biggest thing I’m looking forward to is the current revision of my course (Deep Learning with Applications in Marketing — not the actual title). I’m including some topics that I haven’t dug into much myself, so it gives me a chance to learn / review.

The only thing I’ll say about having another half job with Rotman is that it is hard to balance my time (now that I have a toddler). With so little time available, I really have to find time to fit in the Rotman work. Right now I’m at my limit — I am unlikely to take on additional side work for now. Another way to put it is the marginal cost of my time is very high at this point. The relevant question is: how much would someone have to pay me to spend ten less hours per week with my daughter? It’s pretty high.


As with everyone else in the market, this year has been quite interesting to say the least. My investments (beside my house, which I don’t really consider as an investment) are almost all in stocks. I run a relatively concentrated portfolio with between 5-10 long term holdings where my largest holding is more than 25% (Berkshire Hathaway if you were wondering). I would say I’m an intermediate level value investor, not really that sophisticated but learning. I’ll just rattle off a few thoughts, mainly for myself, but may be interesting to others:

  • A downmarket humbles you. Some of my investments have gone down more than 50% (thankfully my whole portfolio hasn’t suffered as much). The two holdings that are down more than 50% had already dropped 25% from their all time high when I bought them! It gives a lot of perspective to how overvalued (or undervalued) a company can be. Markets are definitely not efficient (in the short term).
  • Interestingly I had 30+% of my portfolio in cash leading up to 2020. In 2020, I got lucky and picked up a bit during the big drop after lock downs, allocated a bit more to a couple of stocks that dropped in 2021 (which subsequently dropped a lot more in 2022), then did the same thing in the first half of 2022, finally, deploying most of the rest at the tail end of 2022. Sitting at the end of year, almost all of those positions are down (except one or two of the most recent purchases). We’ll see if it’s a slow or fast recovery, but that just goes to show you how hard it is to time the market.
  • Despite the large paper losses, I’m not too worried. The one big advantage I have is that I’m a patient investor. I don’t get too jittered when things go up or down. I’m happy to sit on my butt for a long time. I will say it’s a lot easier for me though because I have a good emergency fund, a steady job, and I’m still in the accumulating phase. It probably would be a lot harder if I was trying to live off my portfolio.
  • I recently started listening to more business podcasts (which are generally easier to find time for compared to books). The one realization that became extremely clear is that I don’t really know that much about business, strategy etc. An example of this is that when I read conference call transcripts, I understand (mostly) the detailed points but have trouble putting them together into a bigger picture. I’m learning slowly but the first step is acknowledging that I don’t know.
  • Along these lines, I’ve historically eschewed investing in fast growth companies with little or no profit. The tough part is that most of the value is derived from very optimistic future growth, which is inherently difficult to predict. Still, there is good money to be made in this area. Most folks in technology are a lot more comfortable investing in these companies (although I have my doubts on how successful they are overall). There’s always talk about how investing in Amazon in the 2000s would have net you a gigantic win (but you would’ve had a couple of lost decades investing in some of the other hot companies like Cisco). So to this end, this year is the first time I’ve invested in a high growth company that is barely profitable. The margin of safety here is that it’s 75% off its all time high, has a huge total addressable market, has amazing execution and culture, and should benefit from some secular trends. Time will tell if this is the right call.


Here are a bunch of things that I’ve collected over the year that probably could be blog posts on their own, but I don’t really have time to write. Instead, I’m just going to jot them down here for posterity.

  • On Quality Time: On one of the podcasts I was listening to (forgot which one), I heard a really insightful comment that I had to write down (paraphrasing): There is no quality time without spending lots of time. You can only get quality if you spend lots of time. This was in the context of kids and family (but probably applies to other relationships). You need to spend a lot of time to be able to establish a relationship where you can actually get to “quality time” (however you define it). You can’t just spend an hour of “quality time” with your kid a week and expect it to be good enough. Quality time implies lots of time. Something I’m trying to live by with my daughter.
  • Tradeoffs: Life is about trade offs — especially with time. This is something that I learned early on in my engineering education. There’s rarely a right or wrong direction, just trade offs (although there are often obviously better choices along a certain axis). We shouldn’t lament that we cannot do everything we would like, rather be happy with the choices we made to prioritize the most important things in our lives, which will be different for everyone.
  • Rich Life: I started to listen to the “I Will Teach You To Be Rich” podcast by Ramit Sethi. It sounds a bit like a scam, but his material is pretty good (for beginners) in personal finance, and his insight into personal finance problems is deep. I think he hits the nail on the head when he consistently emphasizes that most money problems are psychological (strongly held beliefs about money that we learned growing up), and not necessarily strategic nor tactical. The one thing that struck a chord with me is how he challenges his wealthy listeners on what their rich life looks like. Most people who are saving a lot, even those in the top 1%, can’t describe what they would do with money to live a happier or more fulfilling life (aka a “rich life”). This resonated with me because that’s pretty close to my mindset.  Always focused on savings or investing, but for what?  To retire early and do nothing all day?  It made me realize that I have so many good things going on for me right now and that I should really just enjoy the ride.  Hitting some artificial date for financial independence isn’t going to help if I don’t already know how to be happy with the extremely fortunate position I’m currently in now. So while I’m still going to invest prudently, I’m also going to make sure that I’m living a “rich life” for both today and tomorrow.
  • Bias: I would generally consider myself in the top decile or so in terms of being rational. But it’s so hard to avoid bias. One case in point is that I invested a little into Meta (Facebook’s parent) on a dip, and my view on Facebook has totally changed. Previously, I had a minor disgust for what they do, their non-ethical use of data, and the negative effects it has on society (note: I don’t use Facebook). After investing (and doing a bit more research), I now see it as a slight positive to society. I can see how valuable some of its services are, and how hard some of the problems they work on are (e.g. filtering hate speech etc.). My previous ideas were probably too negative, and my current ideas are probably too positive. But it’s amazing how much of a swing I can have in bias just by having a minor stake in it. A lesson for all of us on the inescapable effects of bias.
  • Networking: Networking, both professionally and even socially, has been something that I’ve not done much of. I’m probably below average to those who are at equivalent place in their career. One good short course that I found was Jordan Harbinger’s 6 Minute Networking, which provided a step-by-step way to reconnect within my network. The way that I’m thinking about it now is that I just need to get into the habit of connecting with people. It’s always something I wanted to do, and I often do enjoy seeing what folks are up to, but I just never really knew how to do it. This course is good because it clearly lays out how to do (and explains the reasoning). It’s free and easy to start (more difficult to keep up though, as with any habit), so it’s definitely something I recommend.
  • Key choices: I came across an idea that I’ve seen multiple times: there are only a handful of key choices that can explain the bulk of your career / life trajectory. A few that were incredibly impactful for me on the career side: attending University of Waterloo (versus University of Toronto), choosing my graduate school supervisor, and joining Rubikloud. These were all really big forks in the road that led me to where I am. Most of the other decisions I made along the way were not that impactful (although cumulatively probably important). Interesting to reflect on these big decisions and imagine what other paths my life could have taken.
  • Diet: Something that I learned about myself is that how well I eat depends so much on how well I’m feeling, which includes sleep and mood. Eating junk food is definitely one of the ways I comfort myself and the best thing I can do to lose weight is to make sure that I’m feeling physically and mentally well. Easier said then done, but it does give me another mental model to think about how to adjust my lifestyle to achieve my health goals.

The Next Year

Despite all the craziness going on in the world, I’m actually feeling optimistic about 2023. I can see a path towards more “normal” interactions where I can sit down with friends and extended family to eat a meal, have my daughter play with other kids, and do most of the things that I was doing pre-pandemic. Beyond this, all of the main parts of my life are pretty stable (after a couple year of upheaval), which will allow me to better optimize for some of my goals (e.g., learning, healthy, happiness etc.). Of course I’m sure 2023 will throw some curve balls my way, but it’s a nice feeling to be looking to the new year with a renewed sense of optimism. It’s been a tough couple of years for everyone and I know not everyone has come out as well as I have, but I truly hope that 2023 will be brighter and more joyful for both you and me.

2021 Year-In-Review

It’s been another strange year. The global pandemic rages on and I’m still stuck at home. The scary part is that it’s starting to feel like a new normal. So much so that without vacations or social interactions, a lot of this year has flew by with many days blending into each other — something that is a little bit scary. Perhaps one of the only things that helps stave off the monotony of this life is my daughter, who has progressed from infant to toddler along with all of the associated changes. It’s a joy to watch her learn and grow, and it makes most days fun and enjoyable. A few other important changes have shaken things up a bit as well but I still long for the days where I could go out, meet up with family and friends, and enjoy some good food and drink. It’ll come eventually but for now I’ve lowered my expectations and instead I am trying to find balance within the current situation. Life can be so unpredictable and strange but all we can do is choose how we react, and in my case I choose to make the most I can out of a global pandemic. So with that, let’s get on to the review!


Family: Almost all of my free time has been taken up raising my daughter, this is probably a very familiar experience to most new parents. It’s been such joy seeing her grow this past year. There is a saying: “we are the average of the five people we spend the most time with”, and without a doubt my daughter is one of the people I spend the most time with and has affected me in a dramatic way.

Seeing her delight in the simplest of acts somehow gives me a new perspective on life. In many ways, most other things have decreased in importance. Notwithstanding the pandemic, things that I used to do regularly such as going out to eat, hanging out with friends, or lazily sleeping in on the weekend are things that I still miss but not urgently. I get more than enough entertainment and joy from playing with her (even when I’m dead tired!). In other areas such as work, I’m less stressed than I was previously. It’s a bit easier for me to take a step back away because I have this totally different world (my daughter) that keeps me occupied. Having said that, a bunch of new worries all related to my daughter are starting to surface starting with COVID. As I understand that is only going to get worse as she grows up, but for now I’ll do my best not to think too hard about all of those things.

As an aside, one really cute thing I did on her birthday was write a letter to her. It was an idea I got from somewhere on the interweb. The idea is that you write a new letter each year and when she’s an adult she can have some insight into her childhood and what it was like raising her. Other things like journaling and taking lots of photos and videos are still things that I do, but probably not as often as I should. It’s a very unnatural habit that I never really picked up but it’s never too late to start!

Staying at Home: We’ve been trying to keep extra safe taking many precautions and severely limiting outside contact. We have frequent visits from the grandparents, less frequent visits from my siblings (and their kids), and maybe one or two visits from friends. For my wife and me, this is fine because we have a really nice setup at home. My main worry is about my daughter who hasn’t had much interaction with other kids (or people). She’s still young so I’m not too worried but parents will be parents.

Friends: My only regret during this time has been that I’ve been out of touch with many of my friends. Part of it was expected because of the time with the baby, part of it was because I dislike socializing over virtual media. I spend all day staring at a screen that the thought of spending more time in front of it to socialize seems unpleasant. The few times that I have chatted with some friends virtually, it has been fun but those times have been few and far between. Perhaps it’s time to change my stance on it, in the back of my mind I’ve been hoping for a return to normalcy but I should know that it’s going to take longer than I think.

Health & Fitness: Due to the aforementioned lack of time, my fitness has really taken a hit. Even before having kids it was challenging to find time to work out, but now it’s taken a back seat to the other things (mainly my daughter) that come before it in priority. I’ve probably gone to the gym only a dozen times in the last year, and that is considering that I have a home gym in the basement! The upside is that I get some light activity when I play with my daughter who loves running around the house but it’s far from what I should be getting. Hopefully as she gets older, it’ll be easier to find some time to do more explicit exercise.

Apart from exercise, one achievement that I’m quite proud of is managing my weight. Over the past six months, I’ve lost more than 10 lbs (average 1-2 lbs/month), which is the first time ever that I have intentionally lost weight! Since the pandemic, I’ve had pretty terrible eating habits and much less movement so I gained a bit of weight (maybe 5 lbs or so). But since around June I decided to cut back. What I’ve found works is cutting back on sweets and generally eating less each meal. At first it felt like I was under eating at each meal, but then I realized that my stomach doesn’t signal my brain that it’s full right away. Moreover, I had the habit of drinking liquids after I ate, which contributed to the delayed stomach-full signal. My current rule of thumb is that my plate should look like it doesn’t have a lot of food on it (based on my old standards). Cutting sweets out was also tough since I have a big sweet tooth. In general, I’ve tried to substitute fruit in its place (sometimes several pieces), and when I do eat something unhealthy, I try to limit the portion instead of binging as I used to do.

The whole weight loss experience was pretty tough at first. Some days I’d revert to my old habits and overeat at dinner or have a bit too many sweets during the day, but the important part was just pick myself up and start eating healthier the next day. My mindset was different from past attempts to cut back. I wasn’t trying to lose weight, I was instead trying to develop better habits. The focus on trying to change behavior was the important part for me. Another key aspect that worked for me is weighing myself almost everyday. I’ve heard that it’s generally not a good idea but I’ve found it works incredibly well for the way my mind works. Whenever I see my new weight, it helps me think back and try to “explain” why my weight suddenly went up or down. Over time, I’ve started to develop an intuition of what will affect my weight, which in turn helps me make better choices during the day. For me, this works much better than calorie counting which I’ve found it hard to develop an intuition for. (Fun fact: Red meat and salty food are big confounders because they can add temporary weight over multi-day periods, while a reasonable portion of ice cream won’t do too much damage.) I hope this change in behavior is durable to get me down to my target weight. I’m the lightest that I’ve been in the last 5 years and down a couple of belt notches too. So far so good.


Borealis: In July, I moved over from Kinaxis to Borealis AI. Borealis AI is Royal Bank of Canada’s industrial AI research lab. At first, it seemed like an awkward place to have an AI lab given that most labs are part of some consumer facing tech company, but after thinking about it a bit more it makes a lot of sense. On the one hand, traditional banks are getting disrupted from many different sides, evidenced by the numerous fintechs, so they need to adopt innovative technologies or risk falling behind (in the long term). On the other hand, large banks (like RBC) have the scale to make small improvements matter. In the same way that a slight improvement in Google’s ad system can create tens of millions of dollars in value, adopting AI at scale in a large bank can also lead to some potentially high returns as well. One hypothesis that I have is that you need this massive scale in order to make this type of industrial AI research lab viable (or I guess a never ending source of VC funding?). Otherwise, it’s difficult to justify the cost of hiring so many AI experts.

Specifically about Borealis though, I’m quite happy with my experience so far. All the people have been extremely friendly and welcoming, the hours and compensation are good, and most of all my background in leading large scale enterprise AI projects and organizations is providing a lot of value. Borealis is mostly a separate organization within the bank, so we have lots of freedom in how we operate (relatively). It feels like a small-ish (~100 people) organization and one where I can make a big impact. This meshes well with my background at smaller startups and medium size companies (even though the greater RBC is massive).

It’s still pretty early but I’m enjoying my time there and I’ve always had a background interest in finance. Learning about all the various parts of what make a bank work is very interesting. From personal banking to risk to capital markets, it’s all very interesting to me. Most of all, the team we have here is incredibly intelligent and working on state-of-the-art ML. I’m in the fortunate position that I have visibility in most of the projects that we do so there is a lot of learning by osmosis that happens (there’s also a lot direct learning too). The best part is that some of the ML topics that I’ve been studying on my own have come up once or twice already at Borealis (including one of my technical blog posts someone at Borealis noticed even before hearing about me). The dream is to be able to align the two worlds of personal interests and job. Of course, it’s not a perfect alignment (nor will it ever be) but I think it’s a good start.

Rotman: I’m continuing my role as an Adjunct Professor and Data Science in Residence at the Rotman School of Management, University of Toronto. My main duties are in the Master’s of Management Analytics program teaching a course of deep learning x marketing along with organizing several events. I enjoy the teaching and interacting with students but maybe for an uncommon reason: it forces me to break down concepts into simple explanations that can be practically used. This in turn helps me better understand the material. I deeply enjoy this type of knowledge acquisition and it’s also fun helping others understand it as well.

This past year was the first time I taught fully remote. It’s been a tough year for everyone but especially students. Outside of courses, a big part of the program is all the networking and other related events that go on, but all of those had to be held virtually. Although the virtual events that have gone on are among the best I’ve seen, ultimately they cannot replace face to face interactions. Everyone is making the best out of a bad situation I guess.

My course delivered virtually worked out well since mostly of the course is lectures plus assignments and projects. I also have some built-in interaction with students throughout my lectures so that forced some engagement, but there’s definitely something missing in terms of connection with students and, as a result, learning. It’s hard for the teacher’s passion to come through virtually to movitate the students to learn, and it’s these intangibles that are really lost. I’m slated to teach in person next year, but who knows what’s going to happen with the pandemic. Let’s hope for the best.


It’s hard to find time for hobbies when almost all your free time is spent hanging out with your kids! In some sense, it’s the ultimate “hobby” that takes priority over all others. Fortunately, my daughter’s sleep has started to stabilize (sort of) over the past six months, so I have one or two hours at night before bed where I prioritize between chores, hobbies, and spending time with my wife. Weekends are a total write-off because we’re spending almost all our time with her (such a big contrast from before!). One thing that all parents will tell you is how much more efficient they are with their time, that is definitely true for me. With the little time I have, I have managed to do a few things listed below.

Reading: I haven’t done much deep book reading lately. It’s primarily because it’s hard for me to find a solid 15+ mins of time (ideally 30+ mins). I’ve probably only read a few books this year, mostly 5-10 pages at a time when I get a few quiet minutes. The thing I think I’m missing is finding a consistent time slot to do deep reading. I’m still searching but my schedule is changing every few months adapting to my daughter’s schedule, so this still remains elusive.

One area that I have done more reading has been online newsletters send to my email. There has been a boom of expertly written newsletters (some paid) that I’m eagerly consuming. These are easier to read because I can read them on my phone while having lunch, or while taking a short break from work. These newsletters remind me very much of magazine articles in length and content that I used to read. Nothing as well researched or deep as a good book, but at the same time they are much more substantial than most online news articles. If an author has to read dozens of primary sources to write a single well researched book, these newsletter writers probably read one or two. Still relatively well researched for the format and frequency.

The nice thing about newsletters is that they are more timely than books but more well researched than newspaper articles (or worse social). It’s a really good trade-off in terms of time invested vs. benefit. Additionally, these newsletters give me great perspectives on areas that I’m interested in and want to learn more about (e.g. business, investing, finance). Two of my favorites are Money Stuff by Matt Levine and The Diff by Byrne Hobart, both of which I highly recommend.

Blog: As you can see from my personal blog and technical blog, I’ve hardly posted anything. Most of my writing either occurs during the newly found hour or two at night or when I’m on vacation and we have some extra help around the house to watch my daughter. Even weekends, which used to be a great time to sit down for a couple of quiet hours, are now full-time parent duty. Not that I’m complaining, my prioritization of time has been good in retrospect. I hope that as my daughter grows up, I’ll find a bit more free time to write a bit more. There’s something very satisfying about writing that you don’t often get in other activities. For me, I think it’s the combination of deep thinking (which I love to do) and creating something that really does it for me. Hopefully I’ll get more time to work on it going forward but I’m okay with the current slow pace of progress for now.

Chinese: A goal that I’ve had for a long time has been to become fluent in Chinese (Mandarin). One of the main reasons was so that I could teach it to my kids. Now that my daughter is learning a bit of it, I joke that my goal has shifted to becoming better than her at Chinese (which I am winning but to be fair, she’s not even two years old)! I picked up Chinese lessons again this year, shifting to private virtual lessons so that I could have more flexible hours. I would estimate that my current status is barely maintaining my current level. I’ve found the only way to progress is to actually do the homework assignments, which I’ve rarely done. Having a lesson every week or two is barely enough to keep my language muscles working, but the past year has been quite the challenge in many different respects. This is relatively low on my priority list so I’m happy enough just maintaining baseline until I can free up a bit more time.

Music: I stopped music lessons during the pandemic. Along with Chinese, it’s relatively low on my priority list. The only guitar I play nowadays is the few minutes when my daughter wants to hear it before she gets bored and moves on to the next toy. On the flip side, I’m doing much more singing but only of kids songs that my daughter wants to hear. I’m happy enough for now but, as most parents probably feel, I often long for the days when I had more free time to work on my hobbies. That feeling quickly disappears though when I see my daughter running towards me shouting “Baba” (Dad in Chinese).

2022 and Beyond

I’m not sure why but I have a lot fewer expectations of 2022. It might be due to the long drawn out pandemic, it might be that I’m becoming more like my daughter with a shorter attention span, or it just might be me maturing and becoming more of a stoic. In either case, I don’t have much time to have expectations. Half of the time I’m just trying to get through the day when I’m dead tired, and the other half I’m living in the moment playing with my daughter. I guess this is what parenthood is all about. For now, my mind is primarily on my family and I’m quite happy with that.


Back in high school and undergrad, I was an excellent student: high marks, attended every class, and generally did what a model student ought to do.1 I was also pretty cocky — at least in the narrow domain of academic related things. Although I didn’t think myself as being smarter than others (just having a better system for school), I was pretty confident in my abilities to do well and wasn’t afraid to let others know about it.2

When others were complaining about the workload, I assiduously did all the required work. Other times they would complain about the poor teaching skills of the professors (especially in math-heavy courses), where I usually didn’t have too much trouble following along (and where I did have trouble, I wrote everything down, went home to review the notes as required, which usually resolved things). I once scored a perfect grade on a mid-term where the average was close to failing (and also had a perfect grade for a calculus course due to a 100% weighting of the final exam as an option). It’s not too difficult to see a young man who otherwise isn’t very exemplary in other respects, cling onto the one thing that he excels at: academic excellence. Cockiness aside, I’m pretty sure I wasn’t a jerk about it (I hope), I just didn’t hide the fact that I didn’t find things difficult as others, and in many cases thought it was easy. If I had stayed along this path, I’m pretty sure things would have not turned out as well as they did for me. School is an incredibly artificial construct that rarely resembles the real world. And if I kept up with that attitude, I was probably in for a rude awakening, or worse yet, be in denial about it. Luckily some smart people (literally) helped me along the way.

Graduate school was a formative time in this respect. I was simultaneously studying for my Master’s (and PhD later on) while working at a startup my advisor founded trying to commercialize his research. The lucky break I had with this opportunity is that I met a couple of folks, one of my advisor’s students and one at the startup, who set me straight. But they didn’t do it directly, in fact, I’m pretty sure they didn’t even know or mean to do it. All they really did was be great colleagues and give me the opportunity to work alongside them, except for one very important detail: they were obviously smarter than me.

Now smart can be defined in many ways, but however you define it, occasionally you meet someone who is just on a different level than you. It’s not that they just have more experience or work harder (sometimes it’s both or neither), their brains just work faster than yours. They’re quicker, get to the conclusion faster, frame the problem in ways that you hadn’t imagined, and all around are just clearly better than you at solving precisely the types of problems you think you’re good at. And for me, meeting not one but two of these fellows, gave me the great privilege of being greatly humbled.

Here I was this hotshot who did so well in school, but felt completely dwarfed by these two folks. I soon realized that I wasn’t the smartest in the room, and I had to adjust accordingly. And it was probably done in the best way possible where these two folks would actually mentor me and help me learn. What better environment can there be than to have super smart nice people help you learn and grow? This is one of the reasons why I look back so fondly on my graduate school days even though it was (at times) tortuous work being on the paper publishing treadmill while simultaneously working for a struggling startup.

Since then I’ve had the opportunity to work with a few others who were on another level and it’s been one of the great joys of my career. And it’s not only been on an intellectual level. I met others who were just on some higher plane of thinking in other areas such as emotional intelligence, leadership or salesmanship. It’s been so rewarding learning from them, often times just by working alongside them. Growing alongside smart folks who are nice enough to have me along for the ride has been one of the great privileges I’ve had in my career.

Nowadays, I’m a lot less cocky about most things (but I think others would agree that I’m still not quite modest). If I were to guess, some of it ironically stems from the confidence I’ve gained in my abilities that has allowed me to eschew that unnecessary crutch. However, I know at least a big part of it is due to all the amazingly smart folks that I’ve met and worked with along the way. Without the opportunity to work alongside them, learn from them, and grow with them, I would be in a very different place in my career. If you haven’t had a similar experience yet, I highly recommend it, because it’s probably one of the most impactful things that can happen in your career.

  1. This is kind of an ironic statement in a post about humility but I quantitatively was a very good student. I had the highest graduating grade point average in my high school and second in my region. In my undergrad, I actually had the highest average in my graduating class and got an award to that effect. Although for my undergrad it’s a bit misleading because I believe someone in my program-year had a higher average than me but that year they had two computer engineering classes so technically I was first in my class but second in my year. []
  2. In other matters though, I was a complete novice, dating being a good example, but that’s a story for another post. []

2020 Year-In-Review

Phew, what a crazy year! So many things have happened this year, and I’m not talking just about the global pandemic. It hasn’t been easy but with some luck, lots of support from my loved ones, and a new shining star in my life, 2020 has been a surprisingly good year for me!

If I had to put a theme to 2020, it would’ve been change. So many aspects of my life have changed that I’m squarely in a “new chapter” of my life. I’ll get into the details below but definitely lots of new priorities for me, new challenges, and making more time for what’s important. I think you’ll be able to see the shift looking back at my previous reviews (2019, 2018, 2017).

I’m really looking forward to 2021, mostly for the same reasons everyone else — a return to pre-pandemic normalcy. Thus far, I haven’t been able to really share my good fortune with my friends and family (at least in person), which I’m just itching to do. 2021, you can’t come fast enough! Alright, let’s get to it.


Family: The biggest event to happen to me has been on the personal front: my daughter was born this past summer! She’s been the center of my life since she was born, and has now become my primary motivation for practically everything. More money, more time, more knowledge? It’s all so I can give and teach her the best that I can provide.

This is obviously a big shift in mentality from before. I was discussing this with a friend and he remarked: “Isn’t it a bit depressing that your life now just revolves around your baby?” In my pre-baby mindset, I probably would’ve agreed. Post-baby though, it’s different. It’s almost feels like any motivations I had earlier were either selfish or hollow. Not to be too dramatic about it, but my daughter has given me a new sense of meaning in my life. It’s a weird feeling but from what I gather, many other parents have had similar experiences.

I’ll spare everyone the details about sleep deprivation, overwhelming joys of being a father, and usual struggles of first time parents. Instead, I’ll just list a few tips that I’ve found really useful so far (all of them advice I’ve received from friends and family):

  • Whenever someone offers you help, accept it! It’s no time for modesty or being polite. Newborns are a tremendous amount of work, you need all the help you can get! (Fortunately, I’ve been so blessed to have a lot of support from my family, even with the pandemic looming over our heads.)
  • Keep a written journal of your babies development (I just use the notes program on my phone to keep track of notable things every week). My friend gave me this advice lamenting that he has terabytes of photos and video of his kids but couldn’t remember when certain things happened (like their first words). I’ve documented the day when we were at the hospital (because I was worried I would forget), and began documenting important developments starting at around 4 weeks of age when I got this advice. It’s useful for posterity but even more useful to really cherish the moments. When you’re in a sleep deprived state, you usually aren’t in the mindset to try to remember all the notable details — writing it down really helps.
  • Use some system to automatically tag your photos. It helps when you want to find something later on, and it allows you to put together “albums” from that time period. It also allows you to put together those “cheesy” automatically generated slide show videos (something I’ve discovered: it’s only cheesy when it’s not your kid). Luckily, the iPhone system does most of this automatically. It recognizes people, places, and time and will add the appropriate tag. The only caveat is that my daughter’s face is changing so fast that the iPhone can’t recognize it after a few weeks so I have to just tag one of the newer photos periodically. It’s a small amount of manual effort for a reasonably indexed system of photos. (Bonus: make sure to back it up too)

There are a bunch of other baby related tips that I’ve picked up too but I’m not too confident that they are universally applicable, so I’ll leave those to the experts. I’m sure I’ll have much more to add to this next year, and I’m really looking forward to every moment!

Property Ownership: This year also marks the first time I actually own property! Last year with the baby on the way, we were casually browsing what is on the market but didn’t find anything in our price range that met our aesthetic. Luckily in the middle of the pandemic we were able to swoop up a great place that had just come on the market with no competition in sight! It is (and was) a pretty rare thing in Toronto except for a few month stretch in the middle of the pandemic, so we’re counting our blessings. Of course with property ownership comes huge debt in the form of a mortgage. We got a great rate, again due to record low interest rates, so I’m not complaining but it does feel like a heavier burden with a big mortgage looming over your head versus our carefree renter attitude of yesteryear.

In any case, we’re super thrilled with the house, especially with the baby and the need for more space. Lots of small little projects and some big ticket items we need to spend on to get the house in good shape, but we’re still very happy with the purchase and look forward to building many special memories here.


Acquisition: Speaking of big changes, the past six years of my life at Rubikloud have culminated in an acquisition by Kinaxis. I posted a retrospective on the whole experience. There was obviously a lot that I didn’t write about and a whole wealth of learnings that I will get to some day when it’s not so raw.

The one thing that I will mention is that it was a pretty stressful time! The COVID lockdown had just started and I was involved in all the usual due diligence activities in addition to my regular duties, which probably amounted to roughly a 60 hour workweek plus it consuming my thoughts for the rest of my waking hours.

There was a lot of preparation, I probably ended up writing more than 50 pages of technical documents over a month or so (including the retrospective). And after that, there were numerous presentations to explain the documents and walk them through all of the various activities. I will say that it wasn’t an unpleasant experience (and pretty good as far as DDs go as I hear, pandemic notwithstanding), just stressful because of the usual high stakes uncertainty of it all. Luckily, things worked out pretty well and, as usual, my wife was incredibly supportive of me during this time of stress.

As for life at Kinaxis, I’m starting to settle in. It’s a slightly different industry (supply chain in general vs. retail/CPG), but I’m glad that our team is still working on the same types of problems but at a bigger scale. It’s also nice to have the resources of a bigger company behind you to really tackle some of the ambitious things that we were never able to do as a smaller company. I’m sure I’ll have a lot more to write about next year when I’ve had more time to work with the team and integrate with the company.

Rotman: Not much has changed at Rotman for me. I’m still teaching, and helping out with various functions at the Management and Data Analytics lab. This year I was teaching a full half-year course on deep learning (with applications to marketing). I really like my offering of the course, which is a departure from the typical CS treatment. It’s much more focused on the intuition rather than the theory (at least that’s my approach). Luckily due to scheduling, we jam packed the teaching within 5 weeks in January and February, right before the pandemic hit hard so I wasn’t forced to move to online teaching. I will be teaching online in 2021 though, which is going to be an interesting experience that I’m sure I’ll write more about next year.


Books: Pre-pandemic, I was reading a few books but with the confluence of the pandemic and the acquisition (and the associated stress), I wasn’t able to read much. The main “trick” that I find with reading is that you have to find a consistent, ideally daily, time for it. In other words, make it a habit. I had a decent routine pre-pandemic of reading before bed. I continued this for a bit during the beginning but eventually reverted to watching TV instead, which felt a bit more relaxing. After the baby came along, my schedule got turned upside down and I’m just beginning to find some time again to read.

The key to finding time to read is making it a daily habit. And to start a habit, you want to have an easy “one foot hurdle” to jump over until it becomes a habit. In the case of reading (which I got the idea from this video about how to read more), you want to set some super low bar such as reading one page per day. That’s it, just one. Of course, it’ll rarely be one, maybe three, maybe 10, but as long as you can keep it up every day, it’ll start to stick.

With that goal in mind, the next thing to do is to find a time during the day. For me, it’s usually during my morning routine (embarrassingly often on the toilet) that I make sure I get my “one page” in. Previously, this time was filled with news and social media, which I’m happy to spend less time on. The other place I’ve found that works is when I’m holding the baby for a nap. It’s almost the ideal situation, I’m usually in a quiet room with only myself (and a sleeping baby) for almost an hour. The only problem is that it’s usually dark and my arms are mostly occupied. The solution has been the Kindle app on my phone. I’m not a huge fan of e-books but I’ve got to make compromises somewhere.

The last thing to keep me on track are daily reminders. I’ll probably write a post on it later, but the Due App is amazing! You can set reminder like you usually wont to, but the great thing about it is that it keeps bugging you with notifications until you either snooze or mark as done. For example, I set a reminder daily at 8 am in the morning to read one page. If I don’t end up reading one page by 8:30am, I’ll get a reminder. If I didn’t snooze it, come 9:30am, I’ll have another few reminders. Seeing that you have dozens of notifications (when I’ve turned off most other notifications) really gets my attention. It’s really great at making sure I don’t just ignore it and carry on with my day. I used it for a couple of other things mentioned below as well to form habits (in addition to the usual purposes for one-off reminders).

Blog: As you can see from my blogs, I didn’t do much this year. On the personal blog front, I only had a couple of posts on the pandemic and acquisition. On the technical front, I also only had two posts on SHAP and ANS. The last two I’m most surprised with because technical posts are way more involved. I’m still trying to figure out how I can get time to do more writing. Writing is a bit harder than reading in that I can’t just write one sentence at a time (or at least I think I can’t), and I can’t do it in a dark room while I’m holding the baby. The only time I seem to get to write now is when I have a vacation or break (like this post over the Christmas break). I’m hoping that as the baby gets older with a regular sleep pattern, I can go back to a routine I had before of waking up early and doing 30-60 mins of writing. Right now, it’s not quite feasible because I’m struggling to get enough sleep as it is with the baby. I guess you’ll see how I do next year!

Chinese: 2020 hasn’t been a great year for learning Chinese either (with one exception). After lockdown, I stopped going to in-person Chinese lessons and had almost no time (or mind space) to learn Chinese. The one exception was that I had been spending more time with my wife’s family who are native speakers, so I did improve a bit on that front. After the baby came, I tried to do virtual Chinese lessons in the evenings but that was unmanageable with the baby whose bed time was around the same time.

My new strategy is two fold: the first strategy is that I bought some Chinese books on my Kindle app that I also throw into the reading mix, and in conjunction I’m also using the Pleco flashcard app to help remember new words. The other strategy that I’m planning is to start virtual Chinese classes (or tutoring) on the weekends where it’s easier to schedule an hour. Let’s see how it goes.

Music: The theme continues where I haven’t really done much music wise. I haven’t taken in-person lessons since the beginning of the year, and I’m not too fond of doing them virtually because I’m really annoyed by video lag. One bright spot is that I’m singing and playing guitar for my daughter. That’s a lot of fun (even though she pretty much likes all music, no matter how poorly played), and it really makes me a bit proud of the work I’ve put in over the years to improve. Hopefully I can go back to in-person lessons when this is all over.

Fitness: With all the stress above, fitness has been tough. Luckily, post-pandemic my wife convinced me to do virtual training with my personal trainer. That’s worked out well because I almost never feel like exercising but having a scheduled time really gives me the “kick in the butt” I need to do some good for myself. After the fact, I’m almost always happy that I had worked out.

The other thing that I’ve been doing recently in the last month is walking. The previous owner of my house had a treadmill that I bought, and I’ve been aiming to do exactly 21 minutes of walking everyday on it while slowly ratcheting up the distance every time. Let’s me explain it a bit.

Why 21 minutes? Because that’s pretty much exactly the time a regular sitcom episode takes (I have a TV setup in front of my treadmill). The everyday part (or more realistically 4 out of 7 days a week) is about trying to keep a habit going. The ideal time I found to do it is right after the baby goes to sleep where I have roughly an hour of personal time (30 mins walking, 30 min getting ready for bed) when my wife is watching the baby (my wife and I swap after my hour is done, and I reserve the baby watching time for additional TV).

My real goal is not actually walking but running, and this is a “trick” to get me into the habit. Initially, I just walked at a slow pace for an episode of a sitcom (started re-watching Parks and Recreation), and the next day I just tried to beat my distance by 0.01 miles (treadmill uses the imperial system). So far so good, I’ve increased my distance in 21 minutes by roughly 0.15 miles. At this point, I’m starting to have to run near the end of the 21 minutes in order to beat the time, which is exactly what I want. The best part is that it’s not too much of a burden: I get to watch TV and each day is basically just as easy as the day before. So far so good, let’s see how it goes.

Looking to 2021

Others have put it more eloquently but I can’t wait until 2021 gets here. 2020 has been a crazy year (in almost all respects), and I’m glad if 2021 is a bit more boring. I could use a boring year to settle into things and adjust to my new life as a father and at a new company. Most of all, I’m looking forward to being able to meet with my friends and family, especially introducing them to my daughter in-person. We’re almost there so make sure you and your loved ones are staying happy and healthy, and have a happy new year!