“Happy New Year!”
There. I said it at long last.
But a quarter of the year has already passed, you exclaim loudly at your monitor. It’s bloody March! You’re too late even for the Lunar New Year!
Yes, indeed it has. Time flies when you’re having fun. But in my case, time flies regardless.
Last Year: A Retrospective
Prior to last year, I had been involved in full time research. Life as a research student is fairly mundane for the most part – it’s not bad, but it has its routine elements. Some people can’t handle this at all, but it’s not a big problem for me. The freedom and flexibility that I gained throughout my PhD was the main reason for this blog’s existence and allowed me to develop my hobbies and passions on the side.
Regular readers would have noticed that last year was a bit of a quiet year for the blog. That was because I had announced my intentions to travel through Asia as a reward for my efforts in study, as well as a chance to recharge myself and ready myself for a new phase of my life. I spent around half the year outside the country travelling on a budget, visiting Hong Kong, Taiwan, South Korea, Singapore and Japan.
This was a trip of a lifetime, and it was absolutely awesome. While I didn’t opt to splurge, I never felt like I was deprived. I had the freedom to do exactly what I want, when I wanted. I had absolute motivation – every morning I woke up with a plan of what to do, and I’d try my best to make it happen regardless of the weather. Half of the time, I’d get distracted by a road-sign somewhere and divert to something even more interesting that I wasn’t aware of. This taste of independence was addictive and empowering. It made me realize just how bad I am at being a tourist in my own backyard, about how much we are blind to the world due to the routineness of our lives. The world is full of never-ending wonder, and sometimes you don’t have to go far to experience it.
The context of travel provided the ideal excuse to get out the camera and do some photography. Actually, not just some but a lot of. I came home with close to 40,000 photos, many of which I’m still dealing with now. It’s partly the reason why there haven’t been many posts about my holidays – I want to get it all sorted first. Oddly enough, people often criticize photographers for living life through a lens and missing out on the details. But to the contrary, I found that the lens made me look more closely at the fine details. Over the course of the year, I saw my photography improve – I reduced my spray-and-pray tendencies and became more deliberate in my execution, I even had visions about how I wanted a photo to turn out, even if it didn’t eventually go my way. But it was a step forward for one of my hobbies I’ve been somewhat neglecting.
I had the chance to experience life as someone who didn’t know the language and had to both learn survival phrases as well as exercise innovative strategies to communicate. It was through this that I understood the function and form of language, and through trying to learn the basics of Korean, I understood how people’s thought processes can be influenced by the structure of the language and the vocabulary available (e.g. subject-object-verb order being the inverse of English makes it hard for foreigners to form valid sentences). I also became more sympathetic to strange and sometimes funny signs with odd English expressions or typos. Ultimately, I even became grateful to see one (especially in Japan) where the meaning could be deciphered despite the faulty grammar. It was also nice to see the cultural differences in people and their interactions – the strict queueing and manners in Japan proved quite refreshing, to the point that I almost boiled with rage when someone cut in front of me in a bus queue on returning.
There were some funny moments, such as buying food at the convenience store which turned into food roulette – choose anything and hope for the best. But there were also many successes, where things turned out easier than expected thanks to technology such as Google Translate, Google Maps (with GPS), public transport apps or even just meeting some helpful multi-lingual staff. Coping strategies such as “symbol matching” were quickly developed, but also, I started to subconciously learn the language.
But as an engineer, my idea of sightseeing didn’t end at visiting tourist attractions. With my software-defined radio (SDR) gear and a loop antenna, I had some good successes in capturing signals that were too weak to be heard from home even with antennas much longer. Receiving the Kyodo radiofax station from within Japan and confirming its liveliness was a high point. However, in many cities, the radio-frequency interference was almost unbearable which made radio reception opportunities somewhat limited.
I also had a great time travelling on the different public transport options available in each country, taking some footage and notes on various driverless transport systems, examining how the ticketing system and fare structure worked and actually riding through the whole length of the network in several cities. The convenience of the subways in many Asian cities really puts Sydney’s network in perspective – a friend told me to meet with them halfway because visiting them was too far. As it turns out, it would have taken under 20 minutes to get there and cost me barely AU$2, which is insignificant when compared with Australia.
Besides that, I also had the wonderment of staring up into the power poles and looking at the wires and transformers, the traffic lights and control systems, the lighting technology used and even the colour of the sky. The sky really is a lot more blue in Australia!
It did wonders for my health as well. I walked about three times as much as I did when I was home, and I lost about 10kg of weight as a result. I felt much more energetic and no longer feared a long walk. Of course, that was hard to maintain once returning home to the routine life.
The year was set to end on a good note, and it ultimately did after reaching an amicable agreement with Netflix with regards to the Stranger Things cover. However, the issue did consume much of my energy, and as a result, I chose not to blog for a while to recover (while my site recovered from the back-breaking load which saw a whole month’s traffic in a day).
Into 2018: What Next?
Since 2017 went so well, allowing me to reinvigorate myself, I decided that 2018 will be the next big step in my life – reinvention.
The year started off slowly – instead of putting out content, I decided to take a break and appreciate the content put out by others. Ultimately, it’s enriching to me to take the time to absorb this as a form of education, and also, a bit of comfort to know that there are equally passionate people out there showing their work to the public.
I haven’t updated the interesting links for a while (I probably should), but I have watched and do recommend these YouTube channels for being interesting, entertaining and of high technical quality or with high production values:
- bigclivedotcom – teardowns and tests of cheap and sometimes dangerous products, along with some reverse engineering and the odd politically incorrect jokes.
- Techmoan – quality videos on obsolete audiovisual formats and equipment.
- The 8-Bit Guy – basic restorations, history and technical details on vintage computing equipment.
- 8-Bit Keys – a second channel dedicated to keyboard restoration, repair and demos.
- CuriousMarc – more serious restoration of vintage computing equipment for the Computer History Museum. The series on the Xerox Alto is highly recommended.
- databits – a channel on vintage/retro tech with a lot of stuff about rarer vintage media formats.
- ashens – a comedian that makes rather funny videos on a wide range of things, especially gaming handhelds, toys, and food.
- Barshens – a weekly entertainment channel which brings together a number of personalities to play a game with hilarious results.
- Gaming Historian – focused on gaming history and consoles with a very informative style. Highly recommend the video on The Story of Tetris and The Life of Satoru Iwata.
- ElectroBOOM – this guy loves to show the painful side of Electrical Engineering, so you don’t have to experience it yourself firsthand.
- LGR – more gaming reviews, this one has a humourous presentation style and can get quite personal at times.
- Classic Gaming Quarterly – more detailed videos of gaming system launch history.
- Modern Vintage Gamer – a bit of a mix of stuff about gaming, but with a very interesting style.
Family life was also becoming somewhat problematic (for reasons I won’t explain here), but also, I felt I didn’t spend enough time with my father. Because of this, I spent the better part of last month orchestrating a full clean-out and house move. As a bit of a hoarder for the just-in-case scenario that never happens, I had a lot of items and this process proved to be quite time consuming.
Equally time consuming was to be the handyman and fix all the little issues in the house that have been piling up for a while. My father is getting to the point where he’s not able to handle these things on his own, and as a result, I’ve been climbing onto roofs to fix loose wooden battens, replacing 16 tap washers and three toilet outlet valves to stop leaks amongst other things. But I didn’t mind this, as it allowed me to do what I liked – to be hands on and solve problems.
For example, to solve the lack of task lighting at my desk, I jury rigged a Philips SmartPanel 2.0 fitting using two pieces of fishing line to the batten, and wired up an adapter that let me plug in a WeMo for wireless control. It’s probably not standards compliant – but both WeMo and the panel are double insulated, so the lack of earth shouldn’t be a safety issue. But it meets my needs and helps my productivity.
Another example is using Raspberry Pi units and various Wi-Fi adapters to connect to a “free” Wi-Fi network in the distance, NAT-route it locally, and broadcast an AP using hostapd using the one box. I also have another Raspberry Pi configured with parprouted so as to work as an Ethernet to Wi-Fi bridge, allowing me to join my wired devices as well. This set-up is quite versatile, allowing me to change over to using tethering on my mobile phone if necessary as well (as many of them have a “number of devices limit”, and running many machines behind a single NAT will appear to the phone as a single device at the expense of breaking some UDP-based applications with no NAT traversal abilities). I could buy something like a TP-Link Travel Router which could do similar things, but the truth is that building it your own is a better solution as it will have two radios that can operate on non-overlapping channels, thus reducing the throughput penalty of a single-radio based “extender” style configuration, and allows you to have a custom high gain antenna to get the signal where you need it.
However, choosing to move house was probably the right thing to do. For one, it resulted in a critical re-evaluation of the physical items I had stocked, resulting in quite a lot of things being disposed of (as being broken, worthless, or unnecessary) or donated to charity. This made me feel a lot lighter – more free of material burden. Moving house allowed me to have a change of scenery, which has helped to push my motivation and energy levels even further. It’s a lot of work, and I still haven’t fully unpacked, but it was worth it as it prepares me for a future where I might be moving out of home for other reasons.
Since the move, I have been doing 20-30km of bike riding about four or five days of the week along various roads and cycleways. I have also been eating more healthily, and eating less, as part of my commitment to health and an intention to lose more weight (as most of us probably need to do). I feel that I’m happier here, and my mind is more at ease.
This year will also be the year I find permanent employment. It’s something which I put off in order to have the holiday last year. Despite the state of the job market, I feel that now is the right time for me to find work with a company that I enjoy working with, doing something that I enjoy.
This year may also be the year I … well … maybe … will have some romantic pursuits in my life? Maybe? I hope so …
But regardless, technology will always be a part of my life, and my interest for the technical aspects will always be there. Whenever I can, I will try to blog. I’ve actually prepared a lot of content to go up on the site, but just haven’t had the time to upload it. It’s just a matter of time before it gets online. Everything is still the same (for the most part), although my silence has probably meant less offers of review items recently. Aside from that, I haven’t really purchased many items myself, hence the lack of reviews.
In short, 2017 was a great year for me, and left me feeling more culturally enriched, refreshed and reinvigorated. I broadened my horizons, indulged in hobbies I didn’t otherwise do, saw things from a different perspective and challenged my perceptions. I proved to myself that I was more versatile and adaptable than I ever thought possible.
Accordingly, I have decided that this year is a year of reinvention. To that end, I started off the year appreciating what others have done, as well as cleaning up my life and moving house for a change of scenery. I redefined my priorities, reset my motivation and got hands-on into solving problems.
It’s going to be another milestone year in my life. But one thing will not change – I am still going to be devoted to tech.