Sundries no. 2 -

Sundries no. 2

These past two months have been very busy at work, particularly because we're migrating our entire front-end from an outdated stack (consisting of Google closure/"Soy" templates and an old internal project that was a precursor to React called metal.js) to a shiny, new stack featuring React, Next.js, Apollo GraphQL, and some other more cutting-edge tools that this migration has given us the opportunity to dabble in. It's refreshing to finally use these more modern tools at work. It feels like a clean slate--a blank canvas upon which to re-draw our project knowing what we know now about what it needs to do. However, it's a lot of work remaking our already-successful enterprise platform from scratch, and that's where a lot of my energy and attention is going right now.

That said, I've had the opportunity to transition from COVID Summer to Also-COVID Fall, which basically means breaking out my pipes, buying a bottle of scotch for the season, organizing some good learning material for myself, and focusing a bit more on hobbies than recreation.

Pipe smoking

I've enjoyed smoking an occasional pipe ever since an old housemate of mine let me try his one fall evening at our house, which was affectionately named Jurassic Park. I don't remember the tobacco we smoked, but it was aromatic. Shortly after trying it, I picked up a pipe of my own, as well as some Lane Limited 1Q tobacco. Smoking a pipe was soothing and I found the whole exercise of it rather freeing, but in a disciplined way. It somehow provoked the more thoughtful part of my mind while simultaneously relaxing me and rounding out any overexcited thoughts.

I really only smoke my pipe in the Fall, and then really only once a week or so. Even still, I've cycled through several pipes and tobaccos in hopes of finding somewhere comfortable to land for the foreseeable future. Right now I think I've found that landing spot with a rusticated Savinelli Porto Cervo 122 and Yorktown from Cornell & Diehl.


This Fall I've opted for Laphroaig 10. It's nothing fancy as far as booze goes... at least, not by hipster standards, since Laphroaig 10 is one of the best-selling scotch whiskies worldwide. That said, it's really nice. It tastes like Islay, which is a place I've never been. But I like to imagine the briney spray of the sea and the earthy, damp feel of peat bogs as I sip it, and the scotch does a good job of filling in the gaps in my mind. It's a nice way to finish out a long week.

As it turns out, scotch is a rather amazing drink for more reasons than just the taste. Here's a fascinating video (from the Laphroaig distillery of all places) demonstrating how it's made, from cutting the peat to firing the kiln, and explaining some of the wonderful history behind it:


Taking notes has proven helpful in reserving my brain for idea gathering and synthesis rather than storage. Now that a more traditionally indoor season is upon us (not to mention the perpetually imminent and stifling heaviness of COVID), I think it's appropriate to organize myself a bit more in the pursuit of knowledge. In other words, I'm assembling a curriculum for myself of topics I want to learn and then challenging myself to adhere to some semblance of a schedule in exploring those topics.

I don't want to force knowledge into my brain (or into my notes). I'm a fan of unschooling, and I like to apply the philosophy in my own life even though I'm a full-grown adult. My goal is to spark the fuse of curiosity in my mind so that my passion intrinsically motivates and guides my learning. Of course, I also want to challenge myself to expand my horizons and learn things thoroughly even when my interest is more momentary.

One of my motivating factors is that I went to college for business, not for computer science, and I'm a software engineer by trade. I don't think I suffer from imposter syndrome anymore, but I know that having a CS degree is more than just a credential. For example, the disciplined study of foundational subjects such as data structures and algorithms which most CS degrees provide does give degree-holders special tools to solve problems efficiently and effectively, and I'd like to equip myself. There's always more to learn, whether it's theoretical or practical. The beauty of unschooling-like education philosophies is that the lines between theoretical and practical are blurred as the mind interacts with the topics at hand.

My curriculum already includes (but isn't limited to):

I'd also like to gain a more comfortable grasp of the calculus involved with regressing a loss gradient, after dabbling with some machine learning recently.

Ultimately, I'd like to learn how to learn better.

Other stuff

I've been listening to a pretty steady stream of nature-oriented ambient/experimental music lately, particularly Richard Skelton. I've also delved into Benoît Pioulard and, on the classical side, Arvo Pärt, whose marriage of the sacred and the minimal has proven calming. Take a look at this performance of Pärt's Estonian Lullaby by violinist Anne Akiko Meyers, set to beautifully animated paintings:

Every new day is uncertainty.