@December 31, 2023
2023 will be one of the most memorable years of my life. In May, I married an incredible person. That weekend, and the build up to it, will overshadow all else that happened this year. Having friends and family join together in one place is a surreal and truly special experience.
In other ways, apart from the wedding, I feel like I emerged from a rut that began in late 2020. I stayed consistent with habits like journaling and exercise, and have felt more intentional with my time.
How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.
This quote from Annie Dillard in The Writing Life has been stuck in my head lately. Each day, we’re presented with a series of choices about how to spend our time. These choices may seem small in the moment, but the sum of our daily choices over time is what makes up life. With how easy it is to fall into a routine, it’s possible to forget that we’re free to choose altogether.
So, as we go into 2024, I hope to be more vigilant with each day. This means a good mix of family, friends, work, and learning. Without further ado, here’s where I chose to spend time in 2023.
Avalanche Level I, backcountry snowboarding
This year, we spent the first few months traveling back and forth between San Francisco and Truckee, near Lake Tahoe. I was looking to get into backcountry snowboarding, which is a peaceful contrast to crowded resorts.
Backcountry snowboarding or skiing has all the elements of a good hike, often with the bonus of riding fresh powder. Snow obscures the trails, which makes navigating feel new and rewarding. This year, I took the American Avalanche Institute “Avy I” course, which is strongly recommended for people spending time in the backcountry.
While there’s still so much to learn, I feel less likely to go out in conditions that are outright dangerous. I got more experience using beacons for avalanche rescue, planning routes with CalTopo, and interpreting reports from the Sierra Avalanche Center.
Progress in jiu jitsu, exercise schedule
I started jiu jitsu near the end of 2021, and have trained on and off for the last two years. Like everything, consistency is key to progress. With the beginning of the year spent in Tahoe, and the summer focused on the wedding, I wasn’t able to dedicate as much time to training as I would have liked.
However, I redoubled my efforts near the end of the year, going three days a week from August until December. The progress was unmistakeable. I was passing and hitting submissions much more frequently, and occasionally against higher belts. Unfortunately, I partially tore my calf in the first week of December, so I was forced to take the rest of the year off.
Jiu jitsu will continue to be my main athletic focus, likely for most of 2024. Since the training is relatively intense, I’ve found that I enjoy the idea of an “easy” week, where I train Tuesday and Friday, and a “hard” week, where I train Monday, Wednesday, Friday.
Near the end of the year, I started out the “two-a-day” routine, which broadly means that I exercise twice a day, with one workout focused on cardio and the other on strength. This generally means that if I go to jiu jitsu in the morning, I’ll lift weights in the evening. If I don’t go to jiu jitsu, I’ll either run or stationary bike in the morning, and also lift weights in the evening. There are no planned off-days. Because of weekend plans or other time constraints, I typically can only do this five times a week.
Weightlifting, sustainable weight gain
I’m back into more serious weightlifting, especially in the last six months. This is partially motivated by jiu jitsu—it’s not fun being the lightest person in the gym, even if there are weight classes in competition. But I’ve also found that I enjoy the process again, lifting for its own sake.
A bit about my weightlifting history. Near the end of college in 2015, I weighed 185 lbs, and was lifting six to seven days a week, with a focus on powerlifting. I was essentially eating as much as I could every day to maintain that weight. After college, I fell out of that routine and started running more often. At the peak of my running fitness, when I qualified for the Boston Marathon, I had dropped all the way down to 140 lbs.
This year, I began lifting and eating again in earnest, but in a much healthier and sustainable way compared to college. I started the year around 145 lbs, and I’m ending it at 165. I don’t envision going above 185 lbs again—I like being a hybrid athlete, with a mix of cardio and strength.
A slow start to French, the “long part” of German
I was satisfied with my German conversation skills during a trip to Berlin near the end of 2022, so I decided to start learning French while maintaining German. One of my favorite sayings about learning a language is that “it’s not hard, it’s just long”, and I’m definitely in the long part of German.
Many popular language learning guides highlight the Pareto principle, or the “80/20” rule. In the context of language learning, this is the idea that learning the most common 500-1000 words will get you most of the way to fluency.
Now that I’ve done this with three languages, I can say that I agree with this strategy, but it’s also overhyped. At the very least, it will allow you to speak and generally be understood, which is certainly an accomplishment. However, building the reading and listening comprehension that most people would consider necessary for fluency requires significantly more work.
To illustrate this, here are Lingvist’s estimates of my progress in French and German. Knowing over 1,000 more words in German has only given me 2% more coverage.
When I read the news in German (typically Süddeutsche Zeitung), I typically recognize most of the words in a sentence. However, the words I don’t know are often the ones critical to understanding the meaning—the long tail of the remaining 27%.
A lack of focused learning
I haven’t been rigorous in my approach to general learning this year, and that frustrates me. I started Will Larson’s Staff Engineer, re-read some chapters of Designing Data-Intensive Applications, and started the Structure and Interpretation of Computer Programs. I watched several episodes of Point-Free. But I haven’t forced myself to stick with any of these.
Outside of software engineering, I’ve also been working through the Feynman Lectures on Physics, and made it to chapter seven (of 52). I’ve been trying to hold myself to higher bar of understanding before moving on, but this can make things very slow.
So perhaps in 2024, I will try to complete at least one of these books, and approach it in a more structured way.
That’s all for 2023! I’m truly looking forward to 2024. Thanks for reading, and Happy New Year.