The Boy Who Would’ve Reached for the Stars (Q1 Review)

The past few weeks have been incredibly intense; I had been root-causing and then fixing a fairly complicated issue on AtlasDB that involved unearthing rather messy relationships between various components. I thus took three days off this week to cool off a little, and also to collect some of my thoughts on the quarter gone by.

Looking at my public GitHub statistics, I merged twenty-eight pull requests over the last three months, ranging in size from one-liners to an almost 3000-line monster that should probably never have been. That’s about two per week, which is a reasonably healthy rate, especially bearing in mind that much of the last three weeks was spent debugging the big issue. (I acknowledge this metric is pretty coarse, but it does at least reflect positively in terms of the pace at which development work is getting reviewed and merged to develop.)

It seems I’ve done quite a fair bit of pull-request reviewing as well; recently this has to some extent shifted towards benchmarking and performance, which is something I find to be personally interesting. Concepts that a few months ago were merely abstract ideas I was vaguely aware of, such as volatile variables, blackholes and false sharing now actually do mean a fair bit more to me. I’d say there’s progress here.

Other goals in terms of computing such as learning more about distributed systems, contributing to interviewing and sharpening my knowledge of Java have certainly been trundling along acceptably well. My work with MCMAS development also continues, and on a bright note my submission (together with Prof. Alessio Lomuscio) of a paper on symbolic model checking CTL*K got accepted at AAMAS 2017. I’m also in the process of setting up a more modern version control infrastructure for MCMAS, and merging my own CTL*K-related changes from the project down into MCMAS’s master branch. This adds an end-to-end test framework and also fixes some old bugs in MCMAS, including deadlocks in counterexample generation.

Financially, the market continued its march upwards and my portfolio gained 4.8 percent (inclusive of reinvested dividends). Interestingly, I thought it had largely been flat across this January-March period. I was of course aware of the Trump reflation trade, but thought it was already largely priced in by the end of last year. Looking at things within my control, I continued my monthly regular investment scheme, and successfully completed an admittedly ill-conceived challenge in February to limit discretionary expenditures for the month to a hundred and fifty pounds (clocking in at 148.16). I decided to replace my laptop in March, which was a significant budget bump, but not unreasonable given my previous machine had an SSD failure and had served me well for about two years.

Amidst all this, it can be easy at times for me to simply lose myself in the music rhythm of getting things done, to paraphrase a certain rapper, without considering why said things are being done. I had to make a trip to New York to do some important work, and on the flight back to London I noticed X Factor winner James Arthur’s new album, “Back from the Edge” on the inflight entertainment system. I liked “Impossible” and “Say You Won’t Let Go”, and I was aware he had a great belting voice, so I decided to give it a spin.

The title track, among other things, flags a desire for the speaker to return to his beginnings. It’s delivered with a lot of vocal power (as I would expect), which works for me at least (viewed in the sense of announcing or declaring one’s return):

Back from the edge, back from the dead
Back from the tears that were too easily shed
Back to the start, back to my heart
Back to the boy — who would’ve reached for the stars

Thinking back, things have changed quite a fair bit for me over the last few years as I moved from Singapore to London. I’d say the most obvious changes were in terms of academic/professional expectations (they’ve always been fairly high, but skyrocketed after placing 1st in first year), work ethic (I do remember being pretty lazy) and personal finance (I’m now much more frugal and also invest in stocks and funds). In many cases, I’m relatively satisfied that these changes have taken place; I wouldn’t say that after these four to five years and reflecting upon them I’m now seeking to come “back from the edge” or “back from the dead”. However, I’m sure there are some less obvious changes that are certainly less positive, such as relatively less interest in and less time spent on learning outside of engineering and finance; these are often exacerbated by high expectations leading to more time/effort spent on ensuring said high expectations are met. There definitely exist things which I used to like about my past self that aren’t as present in my present self.

I’ll be finalising Q2 targets soon; apart from the usual engineering/finance/friendships (EFF) targets which are certainly very important, I will include one or two other things as well. I’ve generally found identifying what I want to accomplish beyond EFF which are often my primary foci difficult, and other things tend to be very quickly deprioritised if specific objectives for them aren’t established.

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