December/January

It has been quite a roller-coaster ride. I was supposed to write a single post for December, but thanks to some creative procrastination, I guess I have to settle for a combined post for both months.

After HackTrain in November, things have been moving swiftly on that front. The start of December saw our team’s participation in the post-hack reception (for HackTrain). We pitched our idea to a different set of judges and ended up as first runner ups this time around. This has translated into 25k GBP worth of accelerator funding. Have scheduled a meeting this Monday with the commercial director of one of the train-operating-companies and I have no idea what is going to occur. They seem rather open-minded to external sources of innovation, but my gut feeling is that the lines that they run do not require congestion easing solutions (should actually definitely do some research on this!). In any case, I am quite pessimistic about the chances of actually getting our project launched, but we shall see.

I apologize in advance for this laconic and extremely dry recounting of events. It is not that I do not want to better engage you, the reader, and also bequeath the future me a better understanding of the range of thoughts that I have had, but at this point I am plainly emotionally drained. It has been 7 months and 13 days, but yet I don’t think that I have really managed to move on. The two weeks or so have been extremely low points. There are many tasks to be completed and various responsibilities to attend to, but there are days that I just cannot muster the energy to get stuff done. I am doing things that excite me, especially in the machine learning field and coding in general, but sometimes i just want to curl up into a ball and not think about anything. I cannot fully pinpoint why I am feeling so depressed, but it mostly boils down to a general feeling of loss.

Spent about three weeks of December in the states with yinghang and john. Met up as well with wah loon, sheng, jyen, aaron, and patrick. The trip was slightly costly, but still pretty fun. Many days were spent coding, talking about various technology related topics, and chowing down amazing food. Could probably have attempted to see more the US, but I really don’t rue not having done so. Spent quite some time picking my friends’ brains apart. Each and every one of them have unique skills, expertise and perspectives, and I really wanted to learn all that I could from them.

Am in my third week of school now. It’s the last term of my undergraduate life and my schedule has been nothing short of crazy. Did a charity hitchhike to Rotterdam over one of the weekends (and reminded myself in the process that I really hate asking people for favours), started taking a graduate course on machine learning in school, worked on Qriousity (hmm there are organisation issues that I should really bring up), and I will be going to HackCambridge this weekend (have a few ideas floating around in mind, but considering the amount of code that I need to write for Qriousity, I might have to spend the time in Cambridge working on that instead, which is a shame).

Returning to the idea of Qriousity and startups (for want of a better phrase), one of the projects that I was working on abruptly (although not unexpectedly) broke down. Everyone just drifted away from the project and quietly moved on. What went wrong?

1. Expectations. The team had chosen to work on fashion and design, which was, to be honest, a topic that I had very little interest in from the get go. However I agreed to the topic because I expected one of the team members to bring in her machine learning skills. She didn’t, and naturally my motivation to contribute to the project declined. My unexpressed expectations remained hidden in the shadows, covered with a patina of toxicity.

2. Passiveness. When the project was being steered towards a completely unexciting angle of buying and reselling goods, I failed to express my disagreement. Instead I just turned a blind eye and told myself that ‘they will get it to work. I will let them lead the direction.’ Bad call on my part, and a lesson on being assertive well learnt.

3. The team. A well functioning team thrives on its diversity and upon the different skills that each team member brings with them. The artificial process that led to the creation of this team meant that a lot of us had very similar skill sets as we had all been trained in the same manner, and were pursuing similar degrees. There is no denying that my other team members are extremely talented, but, as a parallel comparison, even if we were to take the best chefs in the world and lock them in a room, they would be unable to solve a homogeneous differential equation.

It’s late. Till then.

October / November

It’s perplexing isn’t it? We always tell ourselves to live in the moment and to appreciate what lies before us. However in reality many of us fail to do so. We allow time to slip by, only to realize at the last moment that it is foolhardy to believe that the music does not end. Clinging desperately, we try to hold on to what remains.

This is the exact predicament that I am finding myself in. With roughly 8 months left in my undergraduate studies, the end is indeed looming in sight.

When I look back at my IB years, there are many regrets that I harbour. I wish I had been way less arrogant, less disrespectful towards my peers and more willing to take major risks. While obviously I cannot change what has occurred in that period of time, maybe there is still time left to mitigate the regrets that I will inevitably have of my time in the UK.

Cutting to the chase, one of the things that I do intend to do is to write a brief monthly journal of sorts to recount what happens over the next few months. So here it goes:

October. Was rather bogged down at the start of the month with hackathons. HackZurich was rather intense and was definitely a lot more competitive than HackGenY London. Although I didn’t win anything, I was pretty satisfied with the code that I was able to produce (Angular frontend). It also made me realize the importance of choosing one’s teammates carefully. Being in rather foreign territory and surrounded by a sea of people, I haphazardly agreed to join the first team that I met. This translated into a bad fit in terms of what I really wanted to do and what the team was set on solving. I ended up working on another refugee related platform project which was far less exciting than the hardware and big data hacks that I was interested in. Lesson learnt at least I guess.

The rest of the month was a bit of a wash. Back to back hackathons left me rather drained and I really did not want to work on anything. I wanted to spend time on improving code quality and reviewing some underlying principles that I glossed over initially, but most of the time I was too depressed to really get anything done. It is a little hard for me to recollect how I exactly felt during those few weeks. All I can say is that it was a mixture of disillusionment with life and hollowness as a result of the break up.

November. Three hackathons back to back. Snapped out of my lethargic haze.

      1. ProductHunt Hackathon: Built a site that generated random activity suggestions. Took up a technical lead role and had a lot of problems with code. JS Promises did not bloody work. Asynchronous processing created a huge mess. Horrible hackathon but expected considering the few hours that I had put into it.
      2. MasterCard’s Master of Code: Built an android app using react-native. Experienced first hand the importance of utilizing a mature platform with solid community support. Ian and I spent so much time getting the environment set up correctly and porting functionalities. Pair programmed with him on some parts and also wrote a simple API wrapper. Got lucky and made it to the top six finals thanks to some great pitching.
      3. HackTrain 2.0. I really did not want to go to this hackathon. Firstly, I was pretty burnt out. Secondly, this was an extremely competitive hackathon. Every one seemed to be either senior developers with years of industry experience or Masters/PhD students with backgrounds in CS or machine learning. The whole event was intimidating. Despite a really slow start, things worked out in the end and the team was pretty fun – everyone more or less clicked well.

Leading on from these slightly verbose descriptions of the hackathons, there is something that I want to slightly drill into, namely the functional value of business development people within the team (if any). While my first few events left me with a certain distaste of bizdev people (as they did not add any meaningful value to the project), Master of Code and HackTrain did made me change my mind. In the former, the bizdev person pitched the idea really well. The fact that he had the chance to get almost six hours’ worth of rest meant that he was on a totally different energy level to the other participants in the room when it came to pitching. In the latter, the bizdev person really pulled his weight in terms of defining a clear direction, asking pertinent questions and understanding the industry in great depth. He even managed to make the business model canvas feel relevant. Will definitely try to pick up some the techniques he used.

With regards to the rest of month, nothing much of consequence occurred. Worked on some Qriousity stuff. I am a little sceptical about the direction that the ‘AYTP Challenge’ is heading towards. The business case seems a little weak. But then, we will see.

I really need to start studying soon. That’s all for now.

HackTrain

Hmm. So yeah we emerged as the champions of HackTrain 2.0. I do not really know how to feel about this actually. On one hand, it is of course nice to win, but on the other hand, if I were to compare myself to the other developers at the event, I am definitely in the lower 50th percentile. I was competing against senior software engineers, graduate CS students with backgrounds in data science, etc and somehow we managed to scrap a win. Maybe we had a pretty decent idea (using cctv feeds to measure crowdedness in train carriages). or maybe we were just plain lucky. I am more inclined to believe that the latter is true.

In any case, here is a photo of us at the National Railway Museum in York:
CUb9aRqXAAAT6dP

Sea Captains

Recently migrated my web hosts due to some security related issues. In hindsight I should have gone for VPSs and install nginx/WP/load balancing myself. But then 60 USD for two years of worry free hosting is not too shabby I guess.

Having a few hours of downtime right now before tomorrow morning’s hackathon, I decided to resurrect this site and spend some time writing. There has been a few things on my mind as of late.

A few months ago someone that I loved dearly decided to part ways.

Initially when it happened, I still harboured hope that she would change her mind and we would return to our old ways – wiser,  more mature and but also relatively unscathed. The events that followed our parting has however made me realize that hope is nothing but a construct that us humans create in an attempt to delude ourselves. As humans we toy with the notions of probabilities and potential outcomes in order to temporarily sooth the turmoil that rages within. Irrational conjectures are embellished and subsequently marketed as panaceas for the soul. We manipulate hope in order to avoid reality.

And avoid reality indeed I attempted to. I tried to amend things, subscribing myself to the hope that there exists a certain combination of actions and events, which fulfilled, will lead to a desirable outcome. How foolish I was.

With time, shock, denial, and then hope subsequently gave way to a crushing realization that there was little that I could do to persuade her mind.

Even as I write this, a lingering thought that maybe I should just pick the phone and call her surfaces. Tell her how much I miss her. And maybe, just maybe, she will change her mind. I know the probability of that happening is zero, but is it possible that deep down in me a tiny unadulterated spark of hope still flickers?

It does. There is no doubting that. But it is weak flame encroached from all corners by a patina of darkness. A raging sea of darkness that mercilessly gobbles up every cubic inch of space, ravaging every corner with tides that are driven not by winds, but rather by the ejections from a bottomless pit of despair. Every idle moment is consumed by waves of despondency, regret, and dejection.

The sense of regret is by far most poignant. I cannot but express amazement at how I conducted myself in the past. The cold insouciance that I exuded, the cheap pride that I draped upon my shoulders and the tinted assumptive lens that I used to view the world.

If only I could turn back time…

Waiting for the Flight pt. 2

So this is how it feels like to be alone. I have always known that I am an introvert. But being one does not mean a universal hate of human beings. What it means instead is an unwillingness to step out of one’s social bubble. However when this bubble shrinks, the outer layers recede along with a shrinking core, a creeping, harrowing chill slowly sets.

In any case, thanks for having me for the past three weeks, Malaysia.

Bootstrap

Kinda glad I decided to create a new site today using purely bootstrap + HTML instead of resorting to awkward WP themes. Four hours for a one page site – not overly time consuming. But looking at the trello board, there’s still much to be done.

I do need to head to bed soon, but here are a few nooby things I realised:

1. LESS is really powerful. Finally got -lessc to work as well as the SLT2 plugin for LESS. Mixins.less gives you control over the variables used.

2. Awesome Font is awesome. http://fortawesome.github.io/Font-Awesome/

3. Bootstrap’s grunt is amazing. Finally figured out how to work with npm.

4. Finally realised that google font is as simple as <link href=’http://fonts.googleapis.com/css?family=Kaushan+Script’ rel=’stylesheet’ type=’text/css’> I dont know why I had such a horrible phobia using google fonts before this.

5. Finally understood col-lg-X. ugh.

I know this constitutes more of a series of notes to myself than a proper blog post. But I will try to update soon! (And update you guys on the project I am working on).

Updates:

1. Enabled a few annoying things: FB OG, Google Tracking, Gzip compression, htaccess -index etc. There must be some way to automate all these no?

2. Wrote / modded some js script to make a hide-able container.

3. Worked around col-lg to fix a weird js script positioning.

Anyways if you are curious, the site is http://commonwealthvotes.uk/. Still need to work on reflow and lazy loading principles hmm.

Waiting for the Flight

Am writing this now in Heathrow’s departures terminal while waiting for my flight. It seems too uncanny a coincidence that every time I am leaving I end up writing. Maybe it’s just because waiting for flights translates into free time, or maybe it’s a tinge of nostalgia that airports inevitable invoke.

Well settling into the UK has been quite smooth so far. I guess it helps when there are plenty of Malaysians staying in the same place as you are. Am gradually getting use to the weather, the food, the classes etc. But then that’s not the main point this post (unless I am here to bore you to death).

Well this point is mainly about about a single issue that is related by two separate events. First, I was in a public lecture by Robert Skidelsky and the anecdote was that Keynes once wrote in an essay that by the 21st century we would be working only 15 hours a week. Reality has turned out that Keynes is quite far off the mark. Working hours have decreased from the high 60s a week to around 40-50, but there has been no drastic change as predicted by technological advancements. The question here is then why do people continue to work so much? Considering that money and human wants are non-satiable, how do we come to a point where we become satisfied with what we have? Is there a route out of the rat race?

Second, I was told by my scholarship board that I have to do an overseas summer internship in my second year in order to be eligible for allowances throughout summer. The point here is not to critique them for doing so, it is not unreasonable of them at all to attempt to produce future employees that are well equipped for the workplace. The point here is that there seems to be an unholy obsession, in the LSE especially, about getting internships and landing jobs at major firms.

Which leads on to the issue of the point of work, and to an extent if it down the slippery slope, the point of life. Without rolling into an argument about existentialism or The Outsider etc, I just think that at times there is a need to critically rethink why we are doing something. I am not trying to condemn the job seeking individual, nor is this a rant on the evils of money, but what I believe is that money should always be a means to and end and not an end in its on right. Pushing this argument further, this applies as well to materialistic objects (ie things that one purchases to derive satisfaction but do not contain any inherent meaning). One thus can ask what does one mean by ‘containing meaning’? I wont attempt a substantive definition, but I will provide a minimalist along the lines of ‘when you are 60 years old will you look back at X and feel more satisfied with our life because you have it?’ Knowing a certain skill or possessing a certain experience passes the test but probably not an iphone or a gold ring.

Skidelsky’s book sums things up well – How Much Is Enough? 

Scab

I never had any severe bouts of homesickness or anything, and it’s not to say that this time is any different. But going home after being ten days abroad and then leaving again after leaving after 1.5 days is a pretty unamusing experience. Feels like I haven’t even talked to my parents properly or warmed my bed comfortably enough.

Just like a healing wound being scratched at. But well, live goes on.

And yes, will be missing you alot!

Will be updating every few daya from Vietnam (should the internet permit)