What a year it's been. It's been - by far - the most memorable year I've had in recent memory.

Let's start off with how I did on my 2023 Public Goals - the "yearly" goals that I actually published in mid-October. I'll score myself on a scale of 0 to 5.

2023 Public Goals Recap
3/5 - Don't miss a week of Fractally Recursive.

I ran out of steam halfway through, and only sent out 10 editions. I used this email newsletter as a creative outlet more than anything - but I realized that I wasn't getting that much out of writing it every week. I'll consider writing it as more of a pop-up newletter in the style of Craig Mod, though.

2/5 - Write four blog posts.

I published 1 blog post, A Conversation: with Mary Rose Cook, that can hardly be considered a blog post, and 1 other blog post Building AlternateTimelines. I have one post (Understanding Git from first-principles) in the works that I'll have to publish in 2024.

Writing these blog posts are a really great way to patch up the gaps in my knowledge. Often times, when I work on a project, I go completely on autopilot and just copy-and-paste whatever works from ChatGPT or StackOverflow without trying to really understand what I'm doing.

4/5 - Ship three personal projects.

I shipped 2 personal projects since mid-October: AlternateTimelines and my personal journaling stack. I would've liked to ship more technically challenging projects like my Git-reimplementation and improvements to my blogging stack Electric, but alas.

One critique I have about the projects that I shipped this year is that they probably aren't pushing my boundaries enough. My personal journaling stack is a perfect example: it's something that will add a ton of value to my life, but it's not technically demanding. On the technical side, it's just a bunch of AWS Lambda functions and React. Mostly an exercise in designing and focusing on visual details like animations and transitions.

0/5 - Read 4 books.

Raise NotImplementedError because I failed abysmally at this. I did get through 50% of Designing Data-Intensive Applications, though.

The main reason here is that I doom-scroll on Twitter a ton.

Through the looking glass

For the first three months of 2023, I was at home in Korea. I had decided to take a quarter off to "find out what the f*** I wanted", because I was really in a state of limbo.

Then came ChatGPT.

I still remember how I felt when I first tried it. It was magical. That Arthur C. Clarke quote about advanced technology being indistinguishable from magic - I truly, truly felt it for the first time. I started really getting into languages, both formal and informal. I then got sucked into interface design and end-user programming.

I had started to really see the beauty of computers.

Here were these machines that were completely antithetical to humans in every aspect: rigid, unforgiving, and calculating. But the abstractions and structures that we built on top of these machines reflected us in every aspect. In data structures and their access patterns, I saw the ways that humans process data. In programming languages and their many paradigms, I noticed different accomodations for different psychologies. In modern machine learning, I saw child development research.

Once I realized that software/hardware engineering was a craft, it was all over. I needed to approach the "computer craft" in a different way.

My uncle once told me this story of his friend who's a knife maker. It was my first time playing a round of golf outside, and while we were riding in the cart, I asked him:

Anything I should focus on or look out for? Feeling a little nervous.
I have a friend who makes knives, and I asked him once what he makes new apprentices do.
You want to know what he said?
What'd he say?
"I make new students do one thing: Watch the metal."

Beautiful art emerges from a deep understanding of the source materials. An expert sushi chef will go to the fish market himself to pick out the best fish, but the apprentices are the ones that prepare the meat. Rodin was famous for toying with different kinds of materials and plasters for producing his sculptures, but his assistants were the ones who actually made the sculptures.

The endgame, if there is one, is always to understand the source material better. Everything - techniques, tool-making processes, optimizations - derives from this goal.

So bits, bytes, and silicon - as unforgiving as you are, I promise to watch you.

Flipping the page

On June 3, 2023 - I graduated from college. I didn't really think much of it, though. Partially because I was two years behind my peers after having completed my mandatory Korean military service - but also because I was aching to move onto the next chapter in my life.

When I look back on my college career, I can't help but feel a little regretful. I didn't explore and extend my boundaries at all - which is unfortunate because that is what college should be about. Instead, I followed the well-beaten path. I studied hard for exams. I took the classes that I was supposed to take. I grinded interview prep just like everyone else.

I always felt like I was behind - which was true, in some sense. My peers had gone on to graduate when I came back to campus. Inefficiency and "exploring myself and extending my boundaries" seemed completely out of the question.

But now, when I look back, I realized I had all the time in the world. And I had much more to gain by stopping to smell the flowers and to explore the forest.

At the end of it all, I'm reminded of this line in The Curious Case of Benjamin Button: "You can be mad as a mad dog at the way things went. You can swear and curse the fates. But when it comes to the end, you have to let go."

Time to move on.

Into the weeds

Fast forward to August, when I started my first full-time job as an options trader. I was a little nervous, but excited about starting the next chapter.

I won't lie and say that everything was easy. It was hard being an absolute beginner again - but I found that I had developed a nice set of tools to rely on during sink-or-swim moments.

I've really learned a great deal since I've started working, and I'm always mesmerized by how applicable options theory and trading is to life in general.

If I could summarize the most important lesson that I've taken away so far, it's to always be in the game. Never pull. Situate yourself to take advantage of every opportunity by walking the tightrope between taking on too little or too much risk. And finally - always, always, always question why certain opportunities were not taken and why certain opportunities were taken but not taken advantage of enough.

So long 2023! You've taught me lots.
My 2024 public goals
Read 40 books.

Trying this one again. I'm looking to read some more fiction, especially. Reading about bits, bytes, and numbers are mentally exhausting at a certain point and though I find my endurance increasing, I know that fiction is just as important as non-fiction (if not more).

Reach out and talk to 20 new people.

I reached out to Mary Rose Cook this past November and conducted a short 45 minute interview with her. It was a really awesome experience - thank you again Mary!

Hence, I'd like to conduct more Conversations throughout the course of this next year.

As a naturally introverted person, it's been difficult at times to talk to new people without being awkward and stuttering. But it's something that I really want to get better at, and besides, I almost always walk away from conversations feeling like I've learned something new.

Write 20 blog posts.

Not much more to add here. Writing shows me where I'm slacking off and sets me straight.

My goal is for 50% to be technical blog posts and the other 50% to be more artistic, meandering blog posts.

Release 5 difficult technical side projects.

Often, my side projects are not pushing my boundaries enough. I want to ship 5 projects that are:

  1. pushing my boundaries
  2. technically demanding
  3. fulfilling a personal or greater need
Obviously, not a lot of side project ideas fit into this sweet spot. But I want to really push myself to learn more and "keep my eye on the metal" like I mentioned earlier.

Build 1 source of income.

Since all the projects that I build are for myself, I often slack off on robustness and "customer service" (since I'm the only customer and I can dive into the code itself). This means that I can be out of touch with what problems other people have.

Fortunately, money talks; if someone wants to pay to get something done, it means that they have a real problem that needs fixing.

Join a community.

Related to the goal of talking to 20 new people. But at the same time, I really miss having a community around and would like to join one where there are a smattering of different kinds of people.

150kg squat, 170kg deadlift, 100kg bench.

My best numbers are 140kg squat, 150kg deadlift, and 75kg bench. But I put up these numbers back when I was in the military. I stopped going to the gym back in March 2023, but I've been slowly getting back into my exercise routine as of late.

Hopefully these numbers will take care of themselves.

Run a marathon.

Just because I've always wanted to know what "the wall" feels like.

Rearview mirror to windshield

I'm optimistic about how this coming year will turn out.

The only message I have to 2024-me is to act more. I legitimately cannot remember the last time that f***ing-around-and-finding-out turned out badly for me. The asymmetric returns for action are enormously biased to the upside, and I - being an options trader - am a little horrified that I haven't been taking advantage of convex payoffs. Sometimes I will win some. Sometimes I will lose some. But I want to be in the presence of opportunities - no matter what. And the only way to be in the thick of it is to act, to make decisions, and to follow through.

This next year is the first full year where I will be dancing to a different tune from the one that I've been tapping my feet to.

And this time - I'm picking the music.