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!