Me: “I’m starting three new things this year.”
Holly: “What are they?”
Me: “Volleyball, west coast swing, and ice skating.”
– conversation with a friend

I was not mentally prepared for this year. I’m not certain it’s possible to start three new journeys simultaneously (while maintaining old hobbies) without feeling overwhelmed from lack of headspace.

I’ve come to accept I am a slow learner because of my choices. I’m stretched thin and can’t keep up with those who’ve started around the same time. To this end, I’ve become adamant about seeking advice from nearly everyone to pick up bits of learning when I can. It’s opened a few doors for me.

Time is my greatest currency as I have a lot to spend. As one of my mentors once said, “If you want to get better at something, just do it a lot.” I’m still deciphering the discipline-motivation balance in a few skills, but overall I’m proud of my accomplishments this year.

Volleyball

Me: “Hey, I’m the free agent.”
Captain
: “Cool, what position do you play?”
Me
: “Uhh…”
– my first day with the Wednesday SSC team

The serve flew at my face like a missile. I didn’t have the proper volleyball reflexes so I threw up my hands to deflect the impact. My receive sent the ball spinning haphazardly out of bounds behind me – a quick point for the other team.

The server eyes me again. I back up, preparing for a deep hit. He sees the gap I created and serves the ball short. I scramble forward and barely make the receive in time, but mistakenly swing my arms upward upon contact. The ball flies over the net and the other team sets a play that earns them another point.

Teammate: “Lock your elbows and push with your legs. Don’t swing.”

The server looks at me again – round three of picking on the new guy. I step forward and drop low, ready to spring either forward or backward. In my mind I’m repeating a summarized version of my teammate’s advice: “Plant arms, push legs; plant arms, push legs…”

The serve came fast and over my head. I throw my hands up and push using my feet. My receive creates a spin straight up. Not optimal, but plenty of time for my setter to reach it in time and make a play. We score the point after a well-placed spike by one of the hitters.

– – –

That was eight months ago. I am more confident now in my receives. My sets are lacking, my serves are inconsistent, and my spiking is below average, but I’m slowly improving. I’ve started playing in monthly recreational tournaments in addition to weekly leagues and have also started playing pick-up at Hanover’s Pflugerville every other Sunday. I enjoy the sport, the community (probably the most welcoming / friendly in Austin), and the amazing feeling of coordinated teamwork.

(Note: I will be taking an excursion to play in the NAKID Thursday Winter league in 2020. For those who don’t know, I played kickball in Austin for ~2.5 years before switching to volleyball. I intend to return to kickball for only one season next year.)

My first ATXSA Mad Hatter tournament. The community is silly, competitive, and fun.

West Coast Swing

My first dance in a West Coast Swing competition. It’s embarrassing to watch, but a reminder of how much I’ve improved.

I’ve always wanted to learn at least one dance in my life. After browsing YouTube and talking to a friend who does Blues, West Coast Swing seemed like the perfect fit.

Growing up, dance (even grooving to music) was not a part of my family, so this has been a step into intimidating territory. I’m aware of how un-smooth many of my motions are and it’s driven me to pursue technique over other areas such as patterns and musicality.

“Your steps are fabricated.”
– Gary McIntyre

Champions have a pushing step I’m still learning to replicate. It’s a source of frustration because I’m a kinesthetic learner but I can’t jump into a champion’s body to feel what they experience. I’m making slow progress by drilling with resistance bands at home, but I’ve struggled to find a motivation loop to be more consistent.

I’ve taken private lessons from nearly everyone in the local scene and have noted how they teach and what resonates with me. I’ve also tried WestiePro for analysis and JTSwing online classes to learn some patterns. However, I believe my current struggle is deeply fundamental. When I hear music, I get stuck in my head. WCS is a dance offering lots of space to fill with personality, and most WCS dancers have prior experience in another style. If I can address that issue by training in a freeform dance like Hip Hop, I might not feel as stagnant when hearing music.

In Q1 2020, I intend to take a chaotic journey into non-WCS dances to test that theory. I will not be signing up for another season of JT Swing, though I will be taking private lessons to convert some of the routine moves into socially leadable ones. I originally signed up for the team because my intuition told me I’d regret it if I didn’t. Looking back, I’m glad I did, even if my transition to a new job led me to miss many of the later practices.

Ice Skating / Roller Skating

I spent weeks doing this until my turns felt comfortable.

There are few activities in the world that feel like ice skating. Most movements we do in life are variations of normal human motion. Ice skating is unnatural, with stops, spins, and turns at nearly instantaneous speed – all physical impossibilities unless you’re on a sharp edge over ice (or you happen to be an elite supersoldier fighting aliens on a rimworld).

Many of us in adulthood are deathly afraid of failing in front of a massive crowd. Skating helps overcome that fear because we often practice during public sessions. We show up, try a move, stumble, get back up, and repeat over and over in front of others. It builds a powerful resolve for mastery.

Ice skating is also one of the best cardio workouts out there. Most skaters are in the best shape of their lives, possessing great strength, balance, and flexibility. I love a good workout that doesn’t feel like one and going to the rink never ceases to make me feel amazing.

Roller skating happens to be close enough to ice skating that I’ve also taken it up as an occasional hobby.

Compared to ice skating, which is technical with a structured learning path defined by Learn To Skate USA, roller skating feels like the Wild West. I find this fascinating because many ice skating techniques can be transferred to roller skates, yet the path to learning how to master quads is haphazard and everyone has different ideas on how to teach beginners.

Both ice skating and roller skating have a long ramp-up time: You first have to learn to skate before you can specialize. The options, however, are comparable:

Ice Skating
– Hockey
– Speed Skating (ice)
– Figure Skating

Roller Skating
– Roller Derby
– Speed Skating (non-ice)
– Roller Dance

I am interested in the bottom for both, though only recreationally.

For learning, I take ice skating private and group lessons at Chaparral Ice and learning how to roller skate from members of CIB Austin.

Digital Imaginations

I’m featured in GameDevTV’s first podcast of 2020 where I talk about my digital journey.

Sizzle (Recipe management app)

Work-in-progress as of 08/20/2018

This year I refactored Sizzle to use a redux architecture (ngrx/store). There have been no other new developments and I do not intend to finish this app. At its core, it is a just a gallery frontpage and user profile system with CRUD connectivity to a NoSQL database (Google Firestore). It can be easily repurposed into another type of app if I want to make a SPA in the future.

Slipspace (2D space shooter)

Three years of work produced a generic 2D space shooter.

I started Slipspace in 2015 as a side project to prevent burnout on Zems, my main project. I’ve documented what I’ve learned in a previous post. Ultimately, this project has suffered from a lack of direction in both the gameplay and code architecture. I will not be working on it anymore, though I may reboot the project in the future with a clearer vision.

Viviid (Stylized open-world environment kitbash)

At the start of November, I acquired a Nintendo Switch and spent ~10 hours running around The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild to study the environment. 7 weeks later and I’ve created an inspired world. I plan to dive deeper into environment design in 2020.

Zems (Tactical online card game)

WIP of the new level design. Not yet modeled are rocks and moss. The electric water shader also needs a few more iterations.

I learned a lot about level design workflow this year. At the beginning of 2019, I was employing an iterative approach. After a few frustrating trials my 3D modeler mentioned I should be following the tried-and-true process of hiring a concept artist. He was right – it’s been much faster iterating and modeling based on a concept rather than trying ideas as they come.

In 2020 we will finish the new level plus codebase refactors to hopefully get the project momentum underway again.

3D Modeling

“Spring” low poly render.

I started the year learning how to make realistic and procedural space renders. Eventually, I got exhausted of fighting with numbers so I switched to low poly. Truth be told, I’m not a fan of traditional low poly – it seems every indie developer uses it nowadays. At some point I will relegate “hard surface first” to the backburner and hop onto the sculpting workflow. Probably not in 2020 though. Someday.

Health & Fitness

Apparently I get a jaw workout too.

I started working with a personal trainer in September. I weighed 137.8 lbs, struggled to do 2 pull-ups, and got exhausted quickly. I now weigh ~150 lbs, can do 20 pull-ups (half extension) and roughly 13 with full extension. I hope to hit 160 lbs at some point in 2020.

I don’t cook anymore except on rare occasions. I subscribe to SnapKitchen for weekday meals. On weekends I treat myself to my favorite dish: poke. I monitor my macro-nutrient intake using MyFitnessPal. I’m not religious about it though – if I eat exactly the same foods as yesterday, I’ll skip logging that day.

I need to get better about sleep. I get adequate sleep roughly 50% of my days, relying on naps for the others. There have been over a dozen weeks this year where I felt exhausted earlier than I am used to. When I get adequate sleep, food and exercise, I feel limitless. I want more days like that.

Future Interests

Drone Racing

My desire to enter drone racing stems from reaching limits during travel and wishing I could pull a drone from my pack and take off. To fly like in the video requires a custom build with two camera relays and great piloting skill. Racing would be a great way to get into both.

Singing

I took singing lessons for ~4 months this year before my instructor’s rates shot through the roof and I couldn’t afford them anymore. Nowadays I sing in my car and at home, though I do try to practice the way my instructor taught me when the song goes out of range. Maybe someday I’ll find a new instructor who is affordable and start lessons again.

Table Tennis

Like bowling, once I learn how to consistently curve I won’t ever struggle finding motivation to practice this activity. Easy hobby for me to want to train and eventually become good at. I will take lessons at SPIN at some point in 2020.

Entertainment

I watched 52 movies this year, read 3 books (an all-time low for me), and watched 4 TV shows. I’ve absorbed a lot of creative content and gained insight into parts of life I’ve never known before – stripper lifestyles, rap battle culture, and managing a family of shoplifters. My curiosity is expanding rapidly.

What’s the best movie I watched this year?

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is not a typical superhero movie. The trailer doesn’t do it justice either. The film has the most unique visual style of any animated movie (each frame painted over) and features clever writing that goes deep into the bonds that unite and break relationships. In many ways it’s a movie about believing yourself and trusting others. Go see it if you haven’t!

The movie I’m looking forward to the most in 2020?

A lot of Westerners are clamoring for a live-action remake of the animated classic, but Disney already tried that with The Lion King to mixed results. In addition, Mushu in the animated version was offensive to people familiar with Chinese mythology. This live-action film, based on the trailer, seems to pay better homage to Chinese ideas of magic (transformation, short-term flight, etc.) while also being closer to the historical story of Mulan. I’m looking forward to it.

Best fiction novel I read in 2019?

The Poppy War starts like a YA (Young Adult) novel, but dives deep into politics, human relationships, difficult decisions, and both Chinese history and mythology. The genre is historical fiction / fantasy, and the timeline is based on real events during the opium wars of China. A lot of the ideas and images lingered in my mind for months and they’re partly the reason I didn’t read many books this year.

Best TV show?

Psycho Pass captivated me in 2012 with villains comparable to The Joker and an ensemble of protagonists who each had their own ideas about justice (with plenty of philosophical discussion). Season 2 (2015) was considered a letdown to many fans, but Season 3 (2019) is a return to form. Starting with a breakdown of how the 2008 financial collapse happened and how certain (fictional) politicians set themselves up to profit, the show follows a new pair of protagonists as they unravel a grander conspiracy.

Favorite new board game of the year?

Human Punishment

The base game released in 2018, but the expansion arrived this year and that’s when I picked up both. I love games where you figure out who else is on your team and then coordinate to eliminate everyone else. The novelty in Human Punishment is that players can switch allegiances (often not by choice), breaking up the monotony that ensues when one side gains the upper hand. I love it.

(Note: Rising Sun is still my overall favorite board game. I just wanted to mention one of my new favorites released this year.)

Most memorable video game, even though it came out years earlier?

“And then the archangel showed a vision… a city lighter than air. I asked her, “Why do you show this to me, archangel? I am not a strong man, I am not a righteous man, I am not a holy man.” And she told me the most remarkable thing: “You’re right, prophet, but if grace is within the grasp of one such as you, how can anyone else not see it within themselves?”

“And the Lord saw the wickedness of man was great and he repented that he had made man on the earth. Rain, forty days and forty nights of the stuff, and he left not a thing that walked alive. You see my friends, even God is entitled to a do-over, and what is Columbia if not another ark for another time?”

Dating

Rachel: “When you say low carb, does that mean you do keto?”
Me: “No, but my body probably goes into ketosis since I’m pretty active.”
Rachel: “That’s such an eye-roll statement.” *Rolls eyes* “I’m so active my body goes into ketosis.”
Me: “Hahaha, it’s probably true though!”
– excerpt from my last date

A girl stalked me this year. Every time I RSVP’d to a board game meetup she would show up, and she made an obvious effort to always play in the same game as me. I’m flattered, though I prefer more traditional indicators of interest.

I discarded one my prejudices this year. I used to think girls who like to drink and get tipsy were full of dumb life choices. But a few ‘why not’ first dates made me realize some of these women are doctors, managers, and lawyers. They are capable of logical thinking, decisionmaking, and lively conversation even if they struggle to make yes or no decisions after having a few drinks to de-stress.

I form the strongest bonds with witty, open-minded people who are down for anything. I love spending time with optimistic extroverts whose personalities bounce back and forth with mine. People who ride the line between intro- and extro- (like myself) are also fun. Hyper-introverts, while capable of playfulness once they leave their shells, often lack chemistry with me.

I don’t use apps anymore. I love talking to people at volleyball games, dances, and skating rinks, and usually not with the intention of dating. Many of my spontaneous adventures this year (plus inclusion into various social circles) have spawned from starting conversations with strangers. Dates are just cherry on top, and I can be picky with women because my life feels fulfilling without them.

Nero

My dog died this year. I’ve had him since middle school, though I wasn’t with him in his later years due to college and then moving to Austin where I didn’t want to bring him since he wouldn’t have a large backyard.

Our last candid photo.

I have a lot of memories with Nero, from a tough period as an early teenager where I was mean to a lot of people (including him), to running miles with him as part of cross country training, to a few serene moments where dad (who was dying), me, and Nero would all sit outside together to enjoy the calm outdoors. I miss him a lot.

Travel

Oklahoma (home)

Winter Holiday in the new Central Park, Moore, OK

Oklahoma has made some wonderful additions since I graduated high school. Many new venues have sprung up so it doesn’t seem like empty country anymore. I frequently visit on holidays and I’m excited to see how it changes over the next decade.

Chicago, IL

View of the downtown from Lincoln Park

There are at least five flights from Austin to Chicago every day. A round trip costs ~$100. I enjoyed the food (especially Alinea), skyline, running and biking alongside the Great Lake, and seeing Canada for the first time. I will visit again in the coming decade.

Charleston, SC

Walking along The Battery

Charleston is the most beautiful city I visited this year. It’s also one of the few places where I’m willing to eat shrimp, as the ‘shrimp n grits’ staple is fresh and delicious. Unfortunately, there isn’t much to do there besides explore and eat, so I don’t intend to visit again.

Phoenix, AZ

Downtown Phoenix

Phoenix’s architecture spoke to me the most out of the cities I visited. The blocky style with contrasting colors and clean streets reminds me of minimalism. I’m a sucker for contrast and sharp lines. I will visit again for ESS Camp.

Forth Worth, TX

Foggy night in Central Square.

Fort Worth has a lot of embedded history. From random sculptures on the sides of buildings to its chaotic mix of architecture from past and present, there’s a lot to ponder. Unfortunately, I don’t intend to return – the city’s vibe just doesn’t appeal to me.

Perspective

Sometimes I feel like the worst dancer on the social floor, and sometimes I am the worst volleyball player on the court. I can usually get past these facts by being objective – If I suck, then I suck, and that is just how things are at that moment. Any anxiety I feel is purely in my head, and recognizing this has helped me feel at ease.

I’ve unfollowed most people on social media. Posting to rake in the likes has only made me feel pity for people – the cognitive dissonance developed from playing a disingenuous game is a sign of deep inner loneliness. Instead of devoting brainpower and time to social media, I try to spend more time with others in person and be more mindful of the moment. I’m happier for it.

The Meaning of Life

A man wanders the streets of St. Petersburg on a gloomy night. Dwelling on how others have ridiculed him all his life, he slips into nihilism believing nothing matters. A few months earlier he purchased a revolver with the intention of suicide, but at present the gun remained unused in his drawer. As he stares at the night sky, a little girl of about eight, wearing ragged clothes and obviously in distress, suddenly grabs him by the arm and begs for help. But the man, disenchanted with life, shoos her away and returns to his squalid home.

As he sinks into his chair and ponders the end of life, he finds himself haunted by the image of the little girl, leading him to question his nihilistic disposition. He knew for certain he would shoot himself that night, but how long he would sit by the table and think about her, he did not know. Why did he not help the girl? He had made the decision earlier that he would put an end to himself tonight, therefore everything in the world should be the same to him. But it was not, and he could not take his life until he figured out why.