General Update

Hey guys! It’s been a little more than a month since my last post. Sorry about that, but lately, I’ve been trying to re-examine this blog’s purpose. I’m a little less into writing book reviews, and since posting my latest draft up on BetaBooks I don’t really have anything to say about writing. I mostly post my artwork on Tumblr or DeviantArt, and I suppose I can post them here as well, but I don’t know if WordPress is really the best medium for art. I know it supports “portfolio” style posts, but I don’t know if it’s going to help me much.

Reading

So, what have I been up to lately? Well, February was a great month for my Goodreads Reading Challenge. I finished 5 books!!

I finished the entire Percy Jackson series (read the first one some years back). I also read the newest from one of my favourite authors of all time, Frances Hardinge. I tend to write short snippets of my thoughts on Goodreads now, because I can control the privacy settings there. Don’t get me wrong, I try to be open and honest about my opinions, but like I said in my previous post, I’m trying to tone things down a bit. Trying to write my own story has given me a bit of perspective on the difficult, tooth-pulling process, and I don’t think I can write book reviews with as much hyperbolic expression as I used to do.

And I mean, like, you guys already know what I tend to rant about most anyway. Love triangles. And I’ve gotten better over the years in avoiding that, so there’s really not much passionate teeth-grinding to do. (Teeth-grinding that happened while I read the last 2 books of Percy Jackson, but like I said, I promise to tone things down, so let’s not get into it…) I also have less time for books I don’t like or get into, so I just move on to something I like.

Writing

I am currently on hiatus. I have posted the entire draft of my story on BetaBooks. A few people have signed up and are reading it. Once I get some more feedback on the entire story as a whole, I will rewrite again, and then hopefully will be able to send to a professional editor.

My goal is to get this released in some way, shape or form by the fall of this year. I think I’m in a good place to say that’s a reasonable goal. The only thing that’s holding me back is marketing. Like, it’s easy to post this on a personal website, or on Wattpad, but how I’m going to get people to read it, I don’t know yet.

Art

I breezed through Victoria Ying’s Visual Development course in Schoolism. I signed up as soon as the class was available. I never knew that the kind of artwork I really enjoy seeing on Tumblr and DA, and the kind I strive for in my usual posts, fall under the category of “visual development.” For some reason I always thought that term referred to something else. I’ll be doing a couple of the assignments from my favourite lectures. I wish I had time to just focus on art and really get better at it, but between work, real life, reading, and writing, my attention is quite split.

While I’m on writing hiatus though, I’m focusing on just churning out more artwork. I’m currently active in the Lockwood and Co. fandom, so expect some fanarts from there.

A hip hop AU hehe

Some of these are from a few months back.

I’m also trying to make more original artwork, because most of the art I had done for my story is now outdated, sadly. Also, I want to get a site up and running and I need some graphics for that.

A sketchdump of Sano, the main character

I discovered a problem with my new laptop screen while working on these. It emits a blue hue that makes all my drawings look garrishly yellow/bright on other, normally tinted computers. I’ve tried a lot of things, but I think this is just a result of me getting a cheaper laptop with an otherwise top-notch CPU/GPU specs.

Anyway, this is getting quite long, but I’ll leave with some colour practice I was doing this weekend. Each one of these is a 10-min render of a landscape image from Google.

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I’m Still In One Piece

So, so, so. This is totally unrelated to writing or reading or any of the things I usually post.

I’ve been driving to work for about a week now. I’m still very much a beginner — I only received my G2 license at the end of May, after all, and I did pretty limited driving since then. At the beginning of this month, I was able to secure a parking space at a train station on a line that has a stop 5 minutes away from work. Very convenient. The drive from my home to this station is about 30-40 minutes, but it’s in one straight line.

You know, I’ve always been one of those pedestrians who shake their head at drivers who do stupid things, and I also live in an area with an inflated insurance rate because people here are supposedly “bad drivers,” so I’ve always sworn I was going to be a Good Driver!

Well, easier said than done, especially when you’re a beginner, apparently. Since I started driving last week, I’ve had about… erm, three reckless driving experience so far, and honestly, I come home with my knees shaking, just being thankful I’m alive. It’s strange how all these instances happen on my way back home. My drive to work has thankfully been pretty uneventful (and believe me, I’d rather keep it that way). I don’t know what it is about the afternoon rush hour — is it that people are just more impatient to go home than get to work? Or is it that my northbound route just a little more disorganized?

Just to give some examples…

My northbound route is a little different than the southbound, because on the street that I would usually take, there’s a section under construction that squeezes the northbound cars into one lane. The traffic there during rush hour is pretty bad, so I take a parallel road home. Last week when I first decided to do this, I had to make a left. I didn’t realize that the left lane had its own set of lights, and I was already in the middle of the road. Once the north-south lights turned red, I knew the east-west lights would turn green before the left-turning cars would be given a go, so in the split-second in between, I zoomed out of the intersection. Yup, I can already imagine the heads shaking.

Another incident, a less stupid one, but still quite dangerous: again on another intersection. I was trying to make a right, but a car from the lane that had the right of way approached really quickly, honked obnoxiously at me, and zoomed right past. Okay, I know this was my fault (I mean, all of these silly mistakes are my fault for being not aware), but I was *this* close to hitting him. I had to slam on my brakes and my bags fell off the seat. Couldn’t he have slowed down and given me the space? I was already on the lane anyway. Again, I admit it was my fault, but I feel like sometimes people care less about actually driving safely than exerting their right to be on that spot when they want.

Not that I can brag about safe driving… so today, let me tell you about this side street I usually turn right into to get home. It has four lanes, two for the cars going right, and two for the cars going left. For the past week, the two lanes for the eastbound were blocked by some construction, so they turned one of the westbound lanes into the eastbound lane. That meant I had to go further than usual to make my turn. Today, they moved the construction, so it was the 2 middle lanes that were closed off! I did NOT notice until I was about to turn into the usual lane and found that it was closed. I couldn’t go back since there was a car behind me, so I used the westbound lane to go east. Ughh! Fortunatley there weren’t any cars in it, but as I was driving down, some cars started to appear. I must have confused the crap out of them, and I could practically feel the shame oozing from me in spades. I just accelerated so that I could move back to the correct lane past the construction, and I wouldn’t block them. But man, I must have appeared exactly like the kind of reckless driver I shake my head at.

Well, I came home, absolutely astounded that after a week of driving, my car and I are still in one piece.

 

May 2018 Books and Other Updates

Oh man, I haven’t posted in quite a while! And here I thought that after Camp NaNoWriMo, I should have more time to take care of this blog. It didn’t turn out that way, sadly, but I do think that May came with some developments.

7235533 The Way of Kings by Brandon Sanderson

Remember when I started this book earlier this year? Well, guess what? The impossible happened! I’ve finally finished it! Yay!

I don’t think it surprises anyone more than me that I took this long to read a Sanderson book. I usually gobble them up in a couple of weeks, and all of them are pretty much doorstoppers.

I don’t know what was up with this one. I felt like the plot was too slow; there were too many diversions (such as the constant flashbacks to Kaladin’s childhood, and the multiple chapters dedicated to extraneous characters). I know this was done for the sake of worldbuilding, but one of the things that always pulled me in Sanderson’s books is his twisty plotlines. There wasn’t much of that in this book — there wasn’t actually much of a well-contained plot, to be more specific. We just follow the lives of several characters, and sort of hop along for the ride. Which was why it was so difficult to pick up the book after a diversion happened or I’ve put it down — I know that when I picked up the book, I’ll just be going back to one of the character’s every day life.

I did care quite a bit about Kaladin, and the twist that happened at the end was nice; I saw it coming, and hoped it would happen some time in the middle of the book. It came a little too late for me. Unfortunately I don’t think I’ll be reading the rest of the series. I might just continue on with the next trilogy in the Mistborn saga instead.Read More »

Camp NaNoWriMo 2018: Week 3 Update

campnano

It definitely seems like I’ve been nothing but consistent during Camp NaNoWriMo this month. I’m on track to finishing my second draft. I only have two chapters left and an epilogue to write in the final 8 days of the month. (Though one of the chapters is going to be extremely long). I’m actually surprised that I didn’t regress too much, especially because at the beginning of this week, I had an issue with a package I bought that prevented me from writing more than a hundred words.

I keep reminding myself this is something to be proud of even as I look at my second draft as a whole, and feel the staggering amount of work I have to do for the third draft. Moreover, April has just been a weird, stressful month for me, so the fact that I can churn out a steady stream of words is something to be happy about.

There has been quite a few stressors in my life lately. I’m taking driving lessons again, aiming to get my license in May. For those who have known me for some time, you probably know I’ve failed my G2 road test twice now. I am under a lot of pressure during my refresher classes. Also, the project I’m doing at work is in a weird state right now. My partner for the project went on a short-term disability leave, and we haven’t been able to find a replacement who can help me. It’s really looking like I’m the only developer who would see this to the end. (Though one guy said he’d help me when he has time from his two other projects. I really appreciate his help.) The project manager role also switched between two people late last month, and we’re still trying to organize the release plan.

Because of the anxiety that these two things are causing me, I find very little enjoyment even in the things I used to enjoy. I dread the days when I have driving practice even though it only takes up an hour of my time. I don’t know why I get so worked up about it. I also don’t feel like reading when I’m on my commute to work, because I just feel lethargic about the project I’m working on. Every book I tried reading on the train these last few weeks have bounced on me, which is sad, because I did look forward to reading some of the ones I picked up.

Anyway,  I don’t want to be such a Debbie Downer. I do wonder how much of my anxiety is caused by me worrying too much. I want to have a positive outlook, and hopefully that would help me get my energy back. I’d really like to be the kind of developer who can face setbacks on a project, and somehow manage to turn it back around and make it successful. I’d also like to be the kind of developer who can drive. Hehe, yeah. It would make my life so much easier if I can just drive to work.

A Long Reflective Post

Happy New Year, everyone!

I try not to make a habit of being sentimental this time of year, as so happens with many people. Especially my parents, hehe. I understand why this season makes everyone a little emotional. After all, the Christmas season just passed and whether that was filled with high notes or low for you, the busyness can all be very emotionally demanding. And now we’re leaving behind another year, and looking at the net. I think the New Year is a time where most people reflect on the past and try to envision the future, and that too can be quite emotionally demanding.

I do think it’s important to reflect and to set goals, especially because at this point in my life, personal growth is becoming more and more of a priority. I just try to do it with a little less attachment to keep me grounded. There was a period a few years back where I would be very disappointed in myself because I didn’t accomplish as much as I wanted the previous year, and I ended up just dumping more goals on myself. Of course, that led to more disappointment the following year.

So I’ve been trying to keep my reflections and goals more reasonable this last couple of years.

Goodbye 2017

I am going over the list of goals I set at the beginning of last year and say how well I did with it. Looking at my list, I realize many of these were ambitious considering I was working through my masters degree in 2017. I think I owe myself some kindness since I was studying full-time until April, and then working full-time in an internship and studying part time until the end of December.

Create at least 1 completely coloured artwork every month

Fail. Completely failed! I started off great, but as the year progressed, I became increasingly unhappy with my sketches. So I didn’t even bother colouring them.

Finish the first draft of my story.

Accomplished! It’s a really crappy first draft, but at least I learned quite a lot about where the story needs to go.

Finish a second draft that involves a complete rewrite of my story.

Half accomplished. NaNoWriMo gave me an opportunity to rewrite my story halfway through, but I’m still working on the second-half of the rewrite.

Possibly send my story to a professional editor.

I haven’t even finished the rewrite, lol. Boy, was I ambitious.

Get As in all of my coursework.

The internship work and the entrepreneurial course are still being graded. Other than that, I got As in the courses I took during the coursework portion of the program. I died a little in my graphics class, but I still got that A. Minus. =P

Land myself in a good research internship in a company I like, doing work I’m passionate about.

Accomplished. =)

Read at least 1 book a month.

Accomplished. I surpassed my Goodreads reading target by 30%.

Be more patient.

Eh… these goals are harder to evaluate. I tried. I don’t think I quite succeeded. I felt quite harried this year, like a flag up on a high pole, under the whim of the wind. I was rushing from one thing to the next, and I don’t think that’s a sign of patience.

Meditate at least 5 minutes a day.

I think the previous goal should shed some light on how well I did with this one. Didn’t even get to do it.

Eat more healthily and exercise.

I think I did a pretty good job at this during the first third of the year. I was at home most of the time studying so I could exercise while I’m resting. When I started my internship, bumping my commute times to 3+ hours a day, my “rest” time has shrunk considerably. I come home and I am tired. What little time I have left went into trying to accomplish the goals I did manage to accomplish above.

Hello 2018

If there’s anything 2017 has taught me, it’s that I can accomplish a lot even during demanding times. But something I also learned is that I’m not always in the best state of mind and soul. I’m tired all the time even when I just sit all day at work. I’m impatient and cranky. It takes only a thing or two to get me feeling bummed out and burned out.

I find that my external goals haven’t changed that much. I’m still working on my art skills, I’m making strides in my story, I’m learning and growing in my career. But I think that even my external goals are affected by my internal state. When I’m lethargic and frustrated I just don’t get as much work done. I think everything I do is useless and I run out of energy and passion.

So for this year, I really want to focus on nourishing my internal self. Whether that means eating better, getting more exercise, or even just meditating a few minutes a day. Writing has always been therapeutic for me, but you all probably noticed that I don’t write on my blog very often. It’s because when I’m stressed or feeling bad about myself, I don’t want to share that publicly. Which is actually counter productive because it just makes me feel more alone. Most of my hobbies are solitary and so is my day job. This year I want to write just a little bit more to open up about myself so I don’t feel like I’m doing all of these alone.

Merry Christmas!

Just a short post to wish you all a happy Christmas. I tend to whine a lot on the blog when it comes to my writing process, so I think it’s only fair to celebrate better times. And what’s better than Christmas time?

Wishing you all a joyful, blessed day!

That Manifesto Thing

Last week someone at work brought to my attention the Google Manifesto shenanigan over the previous weekend. As a woman in tech, I hear about things like this all the time, but I’m too caught up with other activities to respond to these things publicly. I try to be a positive person, so instead of dwelling on all the lame comments that peppered social media, I’m just going to focus on those who have rebutted the manifesto with much better articulation that I could ever have.

A Brief History of Women in Computing: What I love about this article is that it pointed out what I felt was the biggest problem in the Google Manfiesto. The manifesto presented several biological research and used it to try to justify why women could be less suited for computing. However, as this article points out, the jump was too big. The biological components pointed out may explain certain traits, but not how those traits exactly cause an interest (or lack thereof) in computing specifically. As it is, the manifesto (yes I read it) sounded like it was motivated by the author’s deeply held stereotypes about women and he tried to back up his beliefs retroactively. Additionally, the manifesto does not address how modern computing environments were shaped by men and optimized for their own behaviour. Because let’s face it: a profession’s environment affects its workers, while workers in turn affect the environment. The relationship is symbiotic. Several of the manifesto’s points pertain more to computing environments rather than the actual task. For example, it said that computing is a high-stress profession requiring less empathy and social interactivity. Is it possible that women, with their different biology, could thrive in a different, yet equally productive, computing environment? I don’t know, and I think it would be more productive to conduct research on it than to rely on stereotypes to make leaps in conclusion.

So, About this Googler’s Manifesto: What I like about this article is his explanation about how engineering isn’t an isolated endeavour. This was a misconception I had when I was younger, and it’s actually something that attracted me to the field, because I like doing solo work. I’ve grown out of that misconception though, and I love computer science enough to also appreciate its collaborative and social aspect.

Tech’s Damaging Myth of the Loner Genius Nerd: This article expands a little bit more on the misconception of engineering as a solo task. What’s even more important is that it points out one of the things that really annoy me in the Artificial Intelligence / Deep Learning sector today: engineers seem to be developing tools for things that I don’t think many people will use. Take for example, machines that beat other players in a very particular game. What is this doing for the world at large? For people who are not gamers? For people from low-income households or third-world countries? What is this doing for the environment, for our healths, for improving society in general? As a computer scientist, making a positive impact in the world is my life goal, and it can be puzzling to hear that advancements in my chosen concentration mostly serve such a tiny niche. Every week you hear about that new deep neural net that can now replace a writer or an artist, but how about helping marginalized creators reach the audience who want to read their work? When did voices of machines become more important than the voices of humans? Especially when you know that these machines have been trained on a very particular subset of work that are most likely mainstream already. This article explains a little bit more on why empathy might be the key to averting this trend.

Anyway, that’s all I have for now. Like I said, I don’t like to dwell on this kind of situations. If you have any article you’d like to share, let me know. Or if you have thoughts about computer science or AI and what you think they can do for society, let me know too!

Learning is Intangible

In this post, I’m going to focus for a moment on my full-time job. I know that this blog is mostly filled with my hobbies and personal projects so it might seem like those are the only things I do. However, a good chunk of my life actually revolves around my career in tech.

I started my internship as a data scientist at the beginning of the month. It’s my 2nd full-time job as a computer scientist, and in some ways, I cannot help but compare it to my 1st full-time job. I worked as a front-end software engineer for over two years in a smaller company. Both companies are great, filled with talented people I get along with. More importantly, at both companies I am doing work that I am passionate about even though they are different.

And that’s what I want to focus on in this post: the difference between my experience as a front-end software engineer from a small start-up(-ish) company, and my impression so far as a data science in a much, much larger company.

I knew that the work would be different. And yet, I think I naively assumed that the job would be similar enough that I could measure my productivity in the same way. In my old job, I knew I was being productive when I managed to finish my assigned tickets. Depending on the tasks, I could finish about five moderate bugs in a day; for new features, I could at least get some new code out to be reviewed within a day or two at most.

In my new job, the process is entirely different. We’re working in Kanban style, rather than sprints. My tasks are a little more vague. Instead of having a specific goal I could measure, like changing the header background from white to grey, or adding a pop-out to a link, I’m assigned tasks like visualizing the clusters of similar items. As you can see, this task is less measurable. For one thing, the end goal isn’t to just have a nice visualization, right? Underneath that statement, I know that my goal is also to analyze the visualization, to obtain insights from the clustering. And this means that I have to find out a clustering algorithm that can actually give me a good visualization; it means that I have to find the data that can work with such an algorithm; it means that I have to find a visualization that can actually give me insights. And in the end, how do I know if the insights are meaningful or not?

For the past four weeks, I have struggled a little with this vagueness. Yes, I know I could ask, but I get the impression that it’s also part of the job of a data scientist to figure out these things. Whenever I’m assigned a task, it’s no longer up to a product manager to break down that task for me. It’s up to me to figure out what’s involved in that process.

I think this is the biggest difference between my previous job and the current one. As a junior software developer, my job was to implement whatever the product managers told me to. This is in contrast with a research position, where my job is to discover what must be implemented.

I worry that I’m not being as productive as I can be, and my worries are compounded with the fact that I don’t actually know how to measure my productivity as a data scientist. Which leads me to this passage from The Lean Startup by Eric Ries.

When I worked as a programmer, that meant eight straight hours of programming without interruption. That was a good day. In contrast, if I was interrupted with questions, process, or — heaven forbid — meetings, I felt bad. What did I really accomplish that day? Code and product features were tangible to me; I could see them, understand them, and show them off. Learning, by contrast, is frustratingly intangible.

Wow. This book is required reading for my Technical Entrepreneurship course that runs alongside the internship. I don’t have much of an entrepreneurial spirit in me, but when I read this, I thought, “Aha! This is why this book is required reading!” I never realized what it was that bothered me as I started my career in data science, until I found this passage in the book. I could have never put it in a better way.

Learning, by contrast, is frustratingly intangible.

I realized much of what I do in my new job as a research intern is learning.  When you’re researching, what you’re doing is learning. You’re learning what works and what doesn’t. I was so used to measuring my productivity in terms of how much code I write or how many tasks I finished. Now I have to figure out a way to measure my productivity in terms of learning and the return value from what I learn.