If twenty seven was the age I threw myself into the world, then twenty eight was when I chose my paths to focus. COVID-19 shut down my social activities early in the year, but I was beginning to feel overburdened from my widespread engagements anyway.
I’ve learned in life there are numerous activities we discover ourselves enjoying, but not all of them provide the same fulfillment. For example, some of us prioritize physical touch while others relish the feeling of total freedom. Naturally, the former will find partner dancing to be the ideal hobby whereas the latter will seek figure skating, gymnastics, etc.
I am the latter.
When the pandemic struck and lockdowns began, I spent a week of internal deliberation. I predicted we would be in lockdown through the end of 2021. Even with two vaccines in distribution now, I still stand by that prediction. I don’t have two years of my life to spend waiting, so I quit West Coast Swing and volleyball to focus on figure skating.
Figure Skating / Inline Skating
I don’t call myself a figure skater yet. I refuse to give myself that title until I am skilled enough to enter freestyle practice sessions. I honestly struggle with learning this sport. But I love it so much I don’t want to quit.
When COVID-19 struck the US, I panicked. Every place began shutting down, and my intuition told me I needed to either find a solution or give up skating like my other social activities. I spent six hours one evening doing research before I discovered Off-Ice Skates, a UK company that makes inlines designed to imitate the feel of figure skates. I immediately booked an order with expedited shipping. Just a few days after my skates got mailed, the UK stopped all exports to the US. Whew, close timing!
Off-Ice Skates enabled me to utilize the tennis court in my apartment complex for practice while the rink was closed. By the time the rink reopened (mid-June) with limited capacity, I had progressed both in my forward edges and comfort skating backward.
Bunionettes (Tailor’s Bunions)
I have them now. More than half of all skaters have either bunions or bunionettes due to the beating our feet take. I’ve started wearing toe spacers and bunion pads all the time to hopefully prevent further development. My skates are also punched out to give more room.
The Process of Adult Learning (Neuroplasticity)
I spend a lot of my free time thinking about processes. The greatest piece of advice ever given to me was, “If you change your process, you will change your outcome.” I attribute a lot of my figure skating improvements to changes in how I approach practice. However, there is a lot each of us can do outside practice to improve our ability to learn. The following is not limited to skating, but for increasing our learning capabilities as a whole.
To improve in any skill, we have to build new neural networks or strengthen existing ones. The recent field neuroplasticity studies how circuits in the brain are constructed and strengthened over time. Brain studies say the reason learning is more difficult as an adult is because the brain tries to be as efficient as possible. When we are children, we don’t have many circuits and therefore learning is easier. As an adult, the brain will do its best to utilize existing networks instead of trying to build new ones.
How do we improve neuroplasticity? Based on current research, all of the following have compounding effects with each other:
- Getting sufficient sleep and hydration. Both are often neglected. Really, go drink some water right now.
- Eating a strong diet with plenty of nutrients (lots of veggies!), especially foods rich with omega-3 fatty acids like eggs and fish.
- Frequent exposure to ‘enriched environments’ that demand focus and constantly challenge us. It’s easier to build new pathways if our brains are frequently doing so.
- Intermittent fasting. We athletes have to be careful about when we do this though.
- Learning a musical instrument, new language, or anything that forces our brains to build lots of new circuits.
- Doing things with the non-dominant hand. For example, brushing teeth with the left hand when right-handed.
- Reading fiction. I found this one surprising as many people I know tend to read non-fiction, but apparently there are greater benefits for reading fiction because of the higher creative processing involved.
It’s possible to do all of these while living a figure skater lifestyle. The only item I don’t currently do is anything music-related. At some point I would like to learn how to sing, I just haven’t found a strong enough reason to pursue that yet.
I spent the first half of 2020 focused on one at a time. In July, I switched gears and fully embraced my hobbyist nature: Instead of focusing on a single small project until completion, I began shifting my time between large projects. The result is I published works at a good pace for the first 6 months then seemingly disappeared. Most of my large projects won’t be released for years, but I’m certain to be more proud of them. I’ll still work on small projects in the future, it’s just that now my main focus will be on larger-scale productions.
These are either single works or entries to an event.
This was my team’s entry to Ludum Dare 46, a weekend event to make a game prototype in 72 hours. I’m not proud of this entry – it’s very buggy compared to Heart of the Grove – but I don’t hate it. I’ve written a separate postmortem about my experience.
3D Modeling & Animation
This will be the last year I model everything from hand. I intend to primarily kitbash moving forward, going for more complex works where most of the hours are spent on integration and composition.
Creating Viviid last year was a mix of learning and frustration. The foundation of an environment is the base terrain, and unfortunately I learned the hard way why most environment artists use specialized tools. This year I decided to delve into World Creator to streamline the terrain creation part of my workflow, and it helped immensely.
Illine is not yet complete, but the above pictures show its current state as of year’s end. I intend to finish it in 2021, then move on to creating more worlds because it’s fun. I enjoy making islands, and as I continue to create new environments, eventually I will be able to combine them together into a single large world and maybe turn it into a game in ten years. We’ll see.
One of my earliest projects was a 2D space shooter. I abandoned it for various reasons, but a top-down space shooter is still something I want to publish someday. This year, I refrained from doing programming work for long-term projects I couldn’t fully commit to, so I focused on the asset side instead. What I have in mind for the reboot is a biomechanical ship with several configurations the player can transform between in real-time. For this I teamed up with the incredible Igor Puskaric, who created what you see in the video.
Zems is my longest-running project. I still get emails from players who participated in the 2015 public test asking if the project is still in development. The combination of game mechanics that comprise this project’s design is something special.
Like with most projects this year, I’ve sidelined programming work and focused on the artistic (card illustrations and level design) elements instead. This is for two main reasons:
- Unity has changed its fundamental rendering paths, splitting into two major pipelines. Both are currently in heavy feature development and stability testing. My artistic work uses the heavily experimental (read: Buggy) HDRP, which should eventually be stable once I’m ready to sink money into development again.
- The studio I contracted for the backend multiplayer architecture in 2015 has not failed (like my startup) and has even taken on contract work to create card games for other clients. Their experience creating multiplayer card games greatly exceeds my own, so there is no reason for me to drive the programming whenever I kick off development again.
As for when I will begin production again, I’m not sure. As a hobbyist I don’t feel the same pressures I did running the startup. I have time to create more art, build wealth, and play life safer until I feel the technology and workflow are much better.
Health & Fitness
I started ballet this year, which was spurred by my figure skating aspirations. The physical activities I do each week are:
- 3-4 ice skating sessions, each lasting around 2 hours.
- 3 workouts with my personal trainer, each lasting around 30-45 minutes.
- 1 ballet private lesson, lasting around 1.5 hours.
One of my skating goals is to execute an illusion spin, which means I need to get close to doing the splits. I’m working on my flexibility but not focusing intensely on it. Naturally it should improve as I continue to do stretching exercises over time.
I hardly cook anymore. I mostly get takeout and my favorite dish is still poke.
I changed a food habit this year. Instead of eating until I feel full and saving the rest, I ration the dish beforehand. This adds consistency to the amount my stomach has to process at a time while also making me a bit hungrier throughout the day. Sometimes I snack on fruits instead of eating a meal, which could be unhealthy. I’m not a nutritionist, so I’m still experimenting and trying to figure out the best eating patterns for my skating regimen. I really do need to talk to a sports nutritionist though.
Massage Guns are the real deal. Right now they are primarily used by elite athletes, but they do an amazing job of relaxing or waking up muscles (depending on setting) in 15 – 45 seconds of application. I personally use them before warming up since cold stretching muscles runs the risk of injury. I imagine in a decade every athlete will be using one of these, and in two decades, probably everyone. It is said frequent massages improve life expectancy, so I would bet daily use of massage guns likely have the same effect.
I don’t cook anymore unless I have a reason to. In Q3, I wanted to have funds to invest on a few high-risk stocks so I spent a few months cycling through my favorites. None of these dishes are new to me, but they taste amazing as always.
This is the first year I’ve used grocery delivery services. The main issue with them is consistency. For example, I will order chicken breasts but sometimes get thighs. It’s usually not a problem since I can adapt the meal. Plus, most groceries are perishable, so I often receive a full refund but still get to keep the items. This year, I received over $100 worth of free chicken because I was delivered the wrong kind.
COVID-19 shut down movie theaters and postponed most releases so for the first year in my life, I watched more shows than films.
“Down to Gehenna or up to the Throne, He travels the fastest who travels alone.”
Operation Alberich was a planned German tactic in World War I in which German forces would retreat to the Hindenburg Line where masses of artillery were positioned to decimate allied troops that might give chase. 1917 is a movie about a pair of soldiers sent to deliver an urgent message through abandoned territory to the Second Battalion of the Devonshire Regiment, which was originally ordered to chase the German forces on retreat. It is an artsy war story with a deeply human touch.
Technically released in 2018, I first heard this at a West Coast Swing social at Go Dance before the lockdowns.
Recommended by a friend I met at Austin Blues Party before COVID-19 shut everything down, The Good Place surprised me in its presentation of philosophy and ethics within a plot filled with twists and turns. I recommend it to all who ponder the human condition.
Another show I watched this year worth mentioning is The Americans, which really is as good as people say.
Dying was easy. Living was so much harder—that was the most important lesson Altan had ever taught her.
“I don’t understand.” Rin couldn’t put her discomfort into words. She could barely breathe. “I don’t know why-“
“I do,” Daji said. “It’s realizing that the future doesn’t include you.”
She saw it in a flash of utter clarity. She knew what she had to do. The only path, the only way forward. And what a familiar path it was. It was so obvious now. The world was a dream of the gods, and the gods dreamed in sequences, in symmetry, in patterns. History repeated itself, and she was only the latest iteration of the same scene in a tapestry that had been spun long before her birth.
It’s been years since I teared up over a book. Rin’s journey in the trilogy is a trip through hell and back that culminates in a bittersweet, realistic ending.
“A man recalled singing on the porch of his home when he was around six years old. His mother screamed at him not to make such ‘noise’ and he vowed he would stop. Years later in a required high school singing class, he was tongue-tied. When the instructor learned he was literally unable to sing, the boy was allowed to stand silent in the back row of the chorus all semester and given a passing grade. As an adult, the man would never risk singing, not even in the shower.
Inevitable in the socialization of all of us, from a young age we have internalized restraints against our impulses as well as developed expressions based on consequences of our behavior. What is often called guilt, then, is a reflexive reaction against the possibility that some other will be displeased, thereby activating the immense reservoir of emotion we all carry.
Most of us were conditioned to be nice rather than real, accommodating rather than authentic, adaptive rather than assertive. Guilt as a defense against a deeper angst reflects a lack of permission to be oneself. It is experienced as overwhelming precisely because it spawns from a great childhood vulnerability as a power that is never lost, residing and springing forth from the unconscious with paralyzing power. In these moments we forget that we have since become an adult who is perfectly capable of making decisions of value even at the displeasure of others.” (Paraphrased)
“The hardest battles are fought in the mind, not with the sword.”
”So strange that we go to such lengths to bury dead, something so very ordinary, inevitable. It’s as if we conspire to hide death, because we have no answer for it.”
“Never forget what it is like to see the world as a child, Senua: where every autumn leaf is a work of art; every rolling cloud, a moving picture; every day a new story. We too emerge from this magic, like a wave from the ocean, only to return back to the sea. Do not mourn the waves, the leaves and the clouds. Because even in darkness the wonder and beauty of the world never leaves. It’s always there, just waiting to be seen again.”
This game is a one-of-a-kind journey into the mind of a girl set out to conquer her inner demons.
In January, Checkmarx (my employer) flew the company to Pattaya to kick off the year. It was an interesting experience but frankly I’d rather not visit again. It’s dirty, every other person is out to scam you, and it’s also the unofficial prostitution capital of the world.
New York City, New York
I visited NYC at the end of February, just before lockdowns started in March. There, I skated in the famous Wollman Rink and the beautiful but lesser-known Rockefeller Rink. I also spent a night in a speakeasy trying Lindy Hop for the first time. My most memorable experience, however, was a boxing lesson in Brooklyn (just outside NYC), where the famous Gleason’s Gym resides.
Fort Worth Botanical Garden, TX
This is the third year in a row I’ve visited Ft. Worth. This year’s trip was a chance to catch up with my mom. We explored the Gardens, and the experience inspired me to add a Photography section to this website.
Springfield, MO -> Effingham, IL -> West Lafayette, IN -> Sesser, IL -> Alton, MO -> Camden, AR
I took a personal road trip to low-COVID-risk cities across the Midwest in July. The expedition lasted two weeks and involved driving, hiking, biking, skating, and spending time with a friend.
We are on the precipice of an exciting future: Renewable energy (ICLN), autonomous vehicles (IDRV), genomics healthcare (IDNA), and artificial intelligence (BOTZ). When investing, the main question I ask is:
What is almost certain to gain market share 10 years from now versus what will have lost market share? Evaluation examples:
- Gas cars or electric cars
- Oil or renewable energy
- On-premise (data center) services or cloud services
- 4G or 5G (yes, there are 5G-specific stocks)
- In-person retail or online retail
Identifying these consumer patterns is enough to accrue serious gains if one invests within the next few years, but it’s also important to consider the ramifications of each consumer trend. For example, evaluation 5. Yes, that means Amazon is a sure winner, but take it further: What can’t one buy at Amazon? Homes. Loans. Insurance. Furniture. There’s lots of growth for new interesting companies in these changing consumer trends and there are more trends than what I listed above.
Notable stocks I have bets on as of December 2020:
It must be mentioned that risk goes both ways and I also stand to lose a lot, but I’m young enough to take my chances.
I rarely buy new anymore. As I continue to explore the Internet, I find more and more enthusiast markets. These are places filled with passionate hobbyists who buy new and then sell after a short time. Enthusiasts are particular, so often they sell for negligible reasons like preferring a different color or version.
Some notable deals I’ve acquired over the years:
- Oyama CXE8D Folding E-Bike. $1500 MSRP, purchased for $700. Included a rearview mirror accessory.
- Samsung Galaxy S10+ Unlocked, $1000 MSRP, purchased for $500 (including screen protector and case from original owner).
- Risport RF3 Pro Men’s Figure Skating Boots, $430 MSRP, purchased for $250. Worn by previous owner for one month, just long enough to break them in so I don’t have to.
Enthusiasts tend to buy accessories (screen protectors, cases, etc.) for everything, so these markets have massive value, though the great deals can be difficult to catch at times.
Time Value of Money
I bought a new car this year.
I usually don’t purchase the first edition of a new product. However, my previous car (a 2011 Buick Regal) was having maintenance problems every month, so I felt compelled to switch sooner than later.
My monthly payment is $310.35 for a loan time of six years. The interest APR on my loan is 5.39%, which is lower than the average annual return on the US stock market index. The mathematics behind time value of money checks out in favor of delaying payments here.
|Years||APR||Monthly Principal||Total Interest|
|Current Auto Loan||6||5.39%||$308.96||$3,284 (Paid)|
|Shorter Auto Loan||3||5.39%||$617.92||$1,622 (Paid)|
|US Stock Market||6||10%||$308.96||$6,360.66 (Gained)|
The first row is my current auto loan. The second row is what I would pay in interest if I doubled my monthly principal payment and paid off the loan in half the time. The third row shows what happens if I keep my current loan and invest the equivalent monthly principal in the US stock market index. As you can see, my choice comes down to: Would I rather save ~50% in interest by paying the car off in half the time, or would I rather gain ~90% by investing?
Some say paying off a car early offers peace of mind, but there is little peace of mind to me when I stand to gain roughly double in interest through investing. Understanding compound interest keeps me from being uncomfortable with debt.
I only went on a few dates this year. Due to the pandemic, I didn’t initiate much. However, I still put some thought into what I’m looking for.
Someone once told me “don’t date potential” and I believe there’s truth in that. I have a high preference for women who invest. Such women tend to have confident mindsets thanks to possessing a financial intelligence beyond “I have a budget.” In modern America, it is impossible to save your way to a higher socioeconomic class. It’s also incredible how much of a difference a person’s outlook is when they have actual, calculated plans for their financial future. Unfortunately, few women around my age seem to have financial intelligence (most just possess financial responsibility), so I’ve been mainly looking for mindsets that should eventually lead to investing.
There are other factors such as chemistry and values, but quantifying those can be a fruitless endeavor. The former is difficult to define while the latter is often poorly reasoned since differences in values can sometimes create an interesting complement.
All said, I wouldn’t mind if I never married. My life is incredible. But, it would be nice to meet someone who is so enjoyable to be around that I want to share things with her.
A Special Place
“In my restless dreams, I see that town.
You promised me you’d take me there again someday.
But you never did.
Well, I’m alone there now…
In our ‘special place’…
Waiting for you.”
– Mary’s letter to James, Silent Hill 2
At the start of Silent Hill 2, protagonist James Sutherland receives a letter from his wife Mary requesting he meet her at their ‘special place’, a town called Silent Hill. The issue is, Mary died of an illness three years ago. How, then, did James receive the letter?
In late November, I was skating at The Crossover and talking to another figure skater during a break. In our conversation she mentioned she was exhausted, having already been at the rink for 5 hours. I asked why she didn’t go home. She said, “I feel happier here than when I’m talking to my therapist.” I realized then that the rink was her ‘special place’. Over time, it has become mine too.
Years ago, I went on a date with a quirky (but fun) girl. One of the questions she asked me was, “What do you consider to be your stomping grounds?” It threw me for a loop because no girl had ever asked me that before. I didn’t have a good answer so I fumbled a reply that I don’t remember. Looking back, I realize she was asking me if I had a ‘special place’.
It sounds romantic to have a ‘special place’ to go to, but if we look beyond the cheesy love stories, there are psychological benefits to having a place away from home where we selfishly divulge in another side of ourselves. For some people, it’s going to a park every few days to read or perhaps a nature walk in the evening. For others, it’s private time at Church. But whatever it is, I’ve come to realize it’s important to have one.
As for the girl, I didn’t give her a second date. She was hard-working, interesting, and memorable, but she didn’t have any hobbies except for super-introverted ones like reading. Still, I learned something from her, and from now on I will now ask on future dates, ‘When you need to escape, where do you go?’
This is the first year I’ve written a regrets section. I have a few every year and it will be good for me to make note of them moving forward.
I had a pen pal for most of this year. I say had, because a few weeks ago I wrote things that made her upset. I hope she’s willing to forgive me at some point.
I had a hand in causing an aspiring adult skater to quit. I spent much of this year establishing friendships with other skaters at the rink. I tried to take one outside the rink but ultimately decided I didn’t want to be closer friends because our life philosophies clashed too much. She didn’t take me ending the friendship very well and stopped coming to the rink. When fallout like this happens, it sometimes results in one person leaving while the other stays. That’s what happened here, and I am sad my actions ultimately led to her decision to quit.
Someone once told me that when we don’t like something, we have to choose between telling “what we believe to be the truth” or “keeping the peace.” I believe the best approach is a middle ground, but I still need to learn the best ways to actually do that.
I ended Twenty Seven with a story about the meaning of life, but this year I want to end with thoughts about my life purpose.
When people discuss nature vs. nurture, the discussion often biases toward nurture since that is more easily controlled and analyzed. But in my experiences with people of different backgrounds, I’ve learned nature plays a significant role. There is a reason why nearly every rock star documentary features the inevitable photo of its subject playing piano at a ridiculously young age, sometimes even before he/she could walk. Most successful entrepreneurs profited on lemonade stands at age five, sold burned CDs out of a backpack at fifteen, and already failed more times than most had tried by twenty-five. Even people like Leonard Cohen, who didn’t become a major known singer until fifty, studied music as a child, learned guitar at a young age, and had musically inclined parents.
Personally, I’ve always had an interest in creating things. As a child, I made board games that my friends would come over to play. I drew manga a lot. I constructed cities using paper, colored pencils, and tape. When my parents finally bought me Legos, I would use bricks and then switch back to paper when I ran out. As a teenager, I made custom websites and even Myspace layouts. In my early years as an adult, I taught myself programming and 3D modeling and jumped into game development. My desire to make things has never ceased.
Game development is one of my primary hobbies now. It is the culmination of every aspect of digital art into a medium meant to be experienced. How do you get people to empathize with a character who possibly dooms all of humanity? The Last of Us did that with its story. Want to be a space pirate in the far future? Elite: Dangerous offers such opportunity. Video games allow us to have experiences not possible in the real world. The medium is not limited to entertainment either – the applications of games for education, counseling, team-building, psychological healing, and more have not been explored. As time goes on, video games will have an increasing role in shaping our future.
When I was younger, I dreamed of running my own digital entertainment studio. Now that I’m older, I know it statistically doesn’t make sense to do so. The success rate of a digital entertainment startup is lower than most startups in general (and I did try it once but ran out of money). There’s an excellent talk from industry veterans about the mistakes new indie studios make (some of which I made), but as a hobbyist now I don’t need to worry about achieving so many sales-y things. I don’t need revenue to cover the cost of the game plus fund the next game, I don’t need to ‘dumb down’ mechanics to appeal to a wider audience, and I could care less about critics. I have the ability to build solely from my own passion, which is what most big studios wish they could do: Create whatever they want. As an artist, this is the ultimate dream, and I intend to never waste my creative opportunity as the years go by.