2018 Mid Year Review

At the beginning of the year, I decided to craft some resolutions and for the first 3 months I did a good job of reflecting and providing updates.

The next three, not so much. I missed recapping April before leaving for our big vacation in May and since May was mostly spent on travel, there was nothing to say about my goals. I decided to skip June too and craft a midyear review article. It took me longer to get around to this than I wanted, but such is life.

Rather than concentrate on my progress, I want to talk about my goals at a macro level. I think its time to reevaluate them.

Ever since proposing and talking wedding, Rachel and I have started to budget together. I tried really hard to track my individual spending but it became really difficult though vacation and in a way, it doesn’t matter. As much as I want to track my own habits, our budget is now a team sport. So long as we get to where we want to be by the end of the year, I’ll consider it a success. This weekend we had a nice conversation about our budget and the next 18 months or so and I am really happy with our progress thus far.

Cooking for myself has been fine, but I have been eating out more for lunch lately as I create more work friends who want to eat out. I like to think of these outings as professional development and again – as long as I stay within the budget, I suppose its not the end of the world. The key is to not get lazy in the kitchen both in what I prepare and how often I make things.

Weight loss has been an interesting one. Looking back at March I remembered that I went under 230 that month. Well, vacation wasn’t kind despite walking 9+ miles a day. Luckily I have been hovering around 228 the last week. While in London, I was consistently filling my rings due to all of the walking. At that time, Federico posted about his health journey and I felt inspired to try and do the same. According to Activity++ (which allows for the 2 “rest” days in there) I have a 62 day streak of closing my rings. I’m really happy about that, particularly since my move ring is set for 750 calories. I have to work up a sweat and be intentional to break that. Like Federico, I have decided to put my health first and I recommend everyone give it a try. Its one of the best ways you can treat yourself.

iOS development is another interesting one. With grad school and work, I feel like I have no programming left in me. I’m done with this goal for this year, and frankly, for a while. Luckily, I am scratching my iOS itch in a much nicer way – I recently got the go ahead to try and do some ARKit work. I have been watching WWDC sessions and working in Xcode at my day job. Hard to beat that! I’m really excited and mildly terrified of this opportunity. I hope I am able to deliver something useful.

Finally, I am looking forward to finally getting this podcast out. It’s already up if you know where to look for it, but we haven’t officially launched because of our summer travel making it hard to get in a rhythm. We should be good now. Episode 4 is recorded, and 3 is 95% edited. With some work to the website and a submission to iTunes, we’ll be a real show. Though still green, I think the show has potential and it’s a lot of fun to make something with a friend again.

Unhealthy Relationship with Rest Days

As I have gotten into the routine of working out every day, I have run into a problem: Rest Days. Anyone with an Apple Watch knows how it incentives 30 minutes of exercise every day. This month was near perfect besides the day after WWDC. I’m working towards my 3rd straight perfect week badge. But I think my body is telling me today to take a rest day, and this isn’t the first time. Today I’m feeling especially run down and its a busy evening so I am contemplating a rest day more so than ever. I think my fear with taking a day off is associate with my fear of losing momentum. I need to get over the rings and focus on what will truly result in a healthy lifestyle.

Obscura 2

I remember when Ben first showed me the Control Wheel at Stumptown during my December trip to NYC, just days before he moved back to Dublin. He demonstrated it with pride, even when it was a proof of concept without the rich functionality and haptic feedback it has today. It was clear he was on to something.

I’ve been on the beta for quite some time, but I didn’t truly put Obscura 2 through its paces until I went on vacation the past 2 weeks. After vacation, I wish I had put Obscura on my home screen sooner.

Designed for one hand use, the Control Wheel is a natural way to interact with your iPhone’s camera controls. I love the haptic feedback, making you feel each refinement towards a perfect shot. Obscura also remembers your settings between sessions. I shot a lot with the telephoto lens on vacation and liked that it was still on it when I would reopen. You have to check out the animations between the different grid modes. Superb.

Obscura also makes it easy to take RAWs. I really don’t know what I am doing when editing them after the fact, but this phone has 256 gigs of storage so heres to having the data later on just in case.

The photo library viewer is organized in reverse chronological order and displayed by a swipe down on the viewfinder. I like how I can swipe up in the viewfinder to see my albums, including the automatically generated Obscura album. Tapping on a thumbnail shows you the full sized image along with all the metadata you’d ever want. From there you can apply one of 19 beautiful filters. There are 16 more available; 15 through in app purchase and 1 through sharing the app.

Future app development and features are already under development and I can’t wait to try them out. Experience the joy of capturing photos with Obscura 2 for 4.99.

Here are some sample shots from Canada.

Musical Privilege

I was paging through the Relay.FM guests the other day and noticed my friend Dave Wiskus and clicked to see what shows he was on. I saw one of them was talking about one of his favorite albums Hot Fuss. I decided to relisten to the episode since I am more familiar with The Killers now than when the show was originally released.

Dave brings up a good point near the end of the show. He mentions that years ago music listeners had to go to the record store and spend money on a full album. These purchases said something about them and defined the kind of music they were into.

Between online music stores and now streaming, that whole model is upended. As Dave points out, you pay Apple Music or Spotify for the ability to stream nearly the world’s catalog of music.

This observation made me reflect on my own musical renaissance. When I first got an iPod, I began to fill it with all different kinds of music. In my youth I would… find a lot of things off the back of a truck. If I liked a song by a band I’d just grab the whole discography. My liberal use of μTorrent allowed me to explore music with zero cost. The result was asking my parents for a lot of CDs and and concert tickets1.

With streaming music services, me and millions of others continue to experience new music in a zero risk environment2. When people ask me what kind of music I am into, I frequently say I like anything where I can appreciate an intentionality in the composition. Some days I am rocking out to prog rock, the label I would have perpetuated in the record era. But today its equally as likely I’m listening to Top 40s, jazz, R&B, you name it.

I’m confident I never would have given this music the time of day if I grew up in a different era. The radio lacks the immediacy of streaming which I think is critical. If someone tells me to check out an album, moments later it is streaming to my ears.

I possess no single music identity and I’m grateful to live in an era of musical privilege.

2018 Resolution Update: March

Another update on my resolutions.

Budget

Well, this month sorta broke the budget. But I saw that coming, somewhat. Lucky for me, March was a three paycheck month.

I spent more eating out than I wanted to, even though I inflated the budget for post engagement eating out and our preplanned nice dinner the day after1. I felt like I got a bit more lax after I broke the budget, which is a bad habit. When I saw myself doing that I tried to tighten things up. I’ll be important to bounce back next month, particularly with our vacation coming up the month after.

Unfortunately, I noticed two days ago a bulge in my front tire’s sidewall. Not a good thing. I ended up having to replace all the tires, which wasn’t too bad since 3/4 were originals with 43k miles on them and the other about 30k miles. That was a pretty penny though. Low profile tires on 18 inch rims look cool, but they come at a cost. I didn’t have enough planned in car repairs this year, but luckily I had some slush funds that I didn’t allocate for that reason. Next year I will allocate significantly more for my car.

Cooking

I did end up hosting a big Chicken and Waffles night and it was a success. We borrowed Rachel’s parent’s fryer and I had to get that thing out of the house before I started trying to fry all the things. I met my goal of times eating lunch out, and it was always a social aspect either with friends or my team.

Losing Weight

I didn’t have a measuring tape. But I did go under 230 for the first time this month. I ended the month right at 230 for 4 pounds lost in the month. It was good to see a full month of the graph trending downward.

I am looking forward to getting more outside activity in now that the weather is getting better. Yesterday we went on a nice hike at a park in Baltimore City and I hope to do more of that this year.

iOS

Well, I bought a flight, tickets to Alt Conf and their Podcast Festival, and an AirBNB. San Jose, here I come.

As I wrote earlier this month, I’m at a bit of a development stand still because of Marzipan. But to be totally honest with myself, I didn’t make it a priority with all the other things going on in my life.

It will be hard to find the time for app development with work, grad school, and life’s other distractions. I hope I leave San Jose ready to write some code. I am taking Android Development for grad school this summer so I hope I learn some transferable skills / am able to write some algorithms that I can convert over to Swift for my actual apps.

Miscellaneous

I didn’t end up tidying up my desk much more… This month passed me by. After I was done prepping and thinking about proposing, I was in a whirlwind of celebratory hangs and wedding chatter. I hope that dies down a bit this month and I am able to focus on a few more things in life. A micro goal for this month is launch the podcast I have been working on with my friend Jun. We have two episodes done and ready to release, we just need a logo and a site at this point.

Development Paralysis

When it became clear that I would not have my golf app finished in time for this year’s season, I decided to halt development and consider another app idea that wasn’t seasonal. As I began to workshop the idea, it became fairly clear that the app would best be served as an iOS and Mac app.

Well, we might get a new UI framework this summer to do just that.

So instead of building this spring I’ve been waiting. I can’t help but feel a bit disappointed in myself for procrastinating on this project, even if I can rationalize a reason to do so. This time of year is when many established iOS and Mac developers refine what they already have, but as a new comer to the space, I feel guilty for not creating and simply waiting.

Proposal Behind The Scenes

On Saturday, I proposed to Rachel. She said yes. It was awesome.

But a lot of people have asked me for more specifics, so I want to go into a deep dive here.

Prework

I felt it necessary to ask for her parents’ blessing before proceeding with any real planning for the proposal. I even felt bad looking at rings before asking. Not because I was worried they would say no, but because I thought it was disingenuous to ask their blessing whilst making plans. I wanted to make it a genuine gesture and conversation, so I decided to head up to their house when I had a family party in the area later that day1.

It took some time to get to asking them due to an unexpected sister visit and not wanting to cut off conversation, but we did eventually get there and the response was great. It was at that moment that I truly felt accepted into the family. Rachel’s family has always been kind and inclusive towards me but it was still a special moment in my eyes as it was the first time I really expressed what their family meant to me.

Before leaving I let them in on my seedling of an idea – to use their dogs and house as the setting for “The Albatross Protocol.” 2

The Plan

In early January, after my cousin’s wedding which kickstarted Rachel’s engagement fever, we visited her parents. When we parked in their driveway they let out the dogs to greet us. It was later that night when trying to go to sleep that I had the idea of recreating that moment as part of the proposal. I stayed up entirely too late searching the web for others who have tried something similar.

The original plan was to have the dogs deliver the ring in a box. I searched Etsy high and low, and there seemed to be nothing like it. A lot of people end up tying the ring to the collar with a ribbon or a small lacy bag. That wasn’t quite rigid enough for my tastes.

Then I had the idea of my aunt Polly to make a box to attach to the dogs collar. She is exceptionally skilled with woodworking and I knew she could make an incredible keepsake. Though the plan started as a box for the collar, it quickly became apparent that the box would be too large and simply too beautiful to put on the dog where it could potentially get gnawed on by the other dog.

So what to do? I initially thought a special dog tag saying “Will you marry Alec” could work, potentially with a ribbon to draw attention to it. I also saw bandannas online to the same affect. Though I like the subtle nature of the dog tag, I didn’t want to potentially point it out to Rachel so I decided to go with a more obvious approach with the bandanna.

I’m glad I did. I spoke to my friend Alice about it who did an incredible job making the bandannas. It was her idea to put “She said yes” on the back and make them reversible for a photo op. I loved the idea and they turned out nicer than anything I could have ordered online. Since I proposed on Saint Patrick’s Day – more on that later – I decided to lean into it a bit with a subtle clover pattern fabric and green ribbon accent around the exterior of the bandanna. They came out great.

Another reason why I wanted to propose at Rachel’s parent’s house besides the dogs is because I know how much her family means to Rachel. As a big believer in our chosen family too, I wanted to make sure to invite some of our closest friends. I am so glad that Rachel’s parents were okay with playing host for this day. Having my mom there with some friends and her family made the day even better and Rachel ended up loving it.

The Date

Around Christmas last year, I commented to Rachel how I would never propose on a major holiday because you already celebrate that day and it makes more sense to add a new day to the calendar to celebrate. She joked, “knowing you you’ll propose on a little holiday like Earth Day” and I replied back, “no, a bit too mainstream, but I would consider Arbor Day.” Turns out, Arbor Day is a Friday in late April. I proclaimed it a wonderful day to get engaged and it was a running joke that Arbor Day would be the special day.

Clearly, Arbor Day was no longer in the running.

But I did want to propose before our trip to London3. I also wanted to propose on a “golden weekend” so Rachel could enjoy the whole weekend and not have to worry about work. That gave me two options, March 17/18 and April 14/15.

I also wanted to see if I could plan for us to go to Opera Night at Sotta Sopra, one of our favorite restaurants downtown. They do this once a month and lucky for me, both months happen to hit on those golden weekends. I thought this would be a great distraction from the main event, though Rachel apparently never thought much of the plans considering we had talked about going for ages and because she correctly assumed that I would not propose at a restaurant.

March 17/18 won out for two reasons. Rachel became available for Easter through a schedule shift4 and I thought it would be great for the family to  see her post-proposal. Second, I rather plan for the early weekend and fall back to the later one if weather was poor. I mean, if today’s weather was a few days ago, I doubt I would be writing this blog post or a major last minute change of plans would have been in order.

The Box

Like I said, this box went from a box to hold a ring box on a dog to an actual ring box. What a good change of direction that was! Polly did an incredible job. We sat down at my family party just after I asked for her parents’ blessing and she learned my preferences in wood and styling.

I was responsible for the etched logo on the cocobolo5 but she did the rest. I’m glad I gave her a direction and let her run with it because it allowed her and Lisa to surprise and delight me with the final product. I never imagined it would come out that good. A great touch is the magnet to keep the box shut. It reminds me of my various Apple products.

The Ring

Rachel and I had looked at rings a few times together so I had a good idea of what she wanted. Luckily for me, we have the same tastes so I was pretty confident anything I selected would be a winner. The only thing Rachel was torn about was whether to get diamonds along the band or not. Ultimately, she decided they distracted from the main stone and to go with a plain solitaire.

When I went looking with my Mom at a few places and ended up with a family friend, Rhoula. We told her what we were looking for and mentioned side detailing and she pulled out the perfect ring. It was a unique style, with diamonds on the side. If there is such a thing as love at first sight, it was me with this ring. My mom says I have never been so excited about a product not made by Apple. I think she’s right.

My only gripe was the stock version had 4 prongs and we both prefer 6. This small tweak took over 6 weeks to make, but it was absolutely worth it. Thanks for all the help Rhoula.

The Execution

After a historic UMBC victory, I was up the night before basking in Twitter. I eventually was exhausted and fell asleep around 1:45am and woke up promptly at 6:15am, earlier than a work day, because obviously getting good rest is too much to ask for on a day like today. But lets be real – the last time I woke up so anxious for the day to begin was Christmas morning as a child.

I made a nice bacon and eggs breakfast for us to try and pass the time and calm my nerves, but I basically had to force feed myself because I had no appetite. One goal of mine was to not drive so I could text updates 6 to the people at the house so I acted like I wasn’t feeling well –I wasn’t– and should try and get some rest on the ride up — knowing I wouldn’t. Rachel bought it and said she would drive up this time.

About 10 minutes from her parents’ house is a lovely bagel shop we like to get things from. Luckily this made my request for a dozen bagels with the idea of having some leftover for the week a believable one.

As we drove down her street, I insist she never has obeyed the speed limit so closely. It felt like it was taking entirely too long. We finally drove into the driveway and parked and Rachel giggles seeing Lucy in the window with her bandanna7. I sold getting out of the car per normal as she did the same. Once she got near the dogs I went back in to grab the box out of the bag8. When I turned the corner from the car I had the box on display and she started to say yes repeatedly. I told her to hold on and let me ask my question, guiding her to the center of the yard as Jun closed in to take photos9. As I was petting the dogs and she let out another “yes” the peanut gallery inside the house started to cheer. I laughed and waved them to come on out. It was once everyone filed out that I finally said my spiel, which basically amounted to “I know how much your family means to you and I wanted to make sure they were all a part of this special moment. Rachel, will you marry me?” Finally I got the yes that actually mattered, after months of planning and overanalyzing.

Cheers. Kisses. Hugs.

2018 Resolution Update: February

Another update on my resolutions.

Budget

This one I’m most excited about. Every budget came in under projections this month — though I did up my Transportation budget 30 bucks for all months since I noticed I undershot that original estimate mainly because I added things like tolls, Lyfts, and parking to that total.

I haven’t spent time with any automation tools or apps like Mint to help with these expenses like I mentioned last month. I’m actually thinking of opening some additional savings accounts to better visualize the different things I am saving for so I don’t build too much lock in with a service like Mint.

Another thing I have gotten into is stocks outside my retirement savings. I made a small account and have made over 6% returns in the month, which makes me quite happy. I haven’t gotten in too deep yet, but I can definitely see myself spending more time with stocks in the second half of the year.

Lastly I got some good tips from this video that I hope to implement. One interesting one is to keep a month’s worth of expenses in a rolling monthly CD. I think that will be a nice augmentation to my rainy day fund.

Cooking

I was better this month than last which is fantastic because last month was a big improvement too. One goal I have for March is to host some friends over for dinner. I miss making band meal and it would be a nice way to socialize with friends without having to spend money eating out.

Losing Weight

This morning I clocked in at 234, so I guess you can say that was an improvement, though I simply got back to the weight I started the year at. I lost my way at the gym again, but I did start it up again a few days ago (I honestly think this post is the reason for that). I plan to go tomorrow morning and keep this alternating schedule going.

I forgot to take measurements last month so tomorrow morning I am going to take them — assuming I have a measuring tape.

iOS

Again, I spent more time contemplating WWDC than coding.

I do have a plan, which again I came up with during my ride to work this morning. Forcing myself to give updates with my accomplishments makes me work on my shortcomings. I’m going to make an internal companion app that will help me data collection I need to do for my main app idea. This was a great idea from Curtis, who is definitely earning himself a beer or two next time I see him. Making this app for myself will help me get more familiar with Core Data and iOS development in general while also keeping it low pressure since this app will never go outside a TestFlight to anyone else I want to help with data collection.

Miscellaneous

I cleaned out some unused clothes from my closet and cleaned up my desk a bit. I want to finish cleaning off my desk this month which probably means getting some sort of drawer system or something. Or better utilizing the one I already have.