Life Thinking

My 40-by-40 plan

A while ago I was reading someone’s 30 by 30 plan, 30 things to accomplish before the author turns 30 years old. Since I always liked lists, it got me interested. Since I’ve just turned 32 a few days ago, that other ship has sailed a long time ago, but then I can set my even more ambitious list: 40 by 40.

It took a 2 or 3 brainstorming sessions, here are the results, not any particular order, just numbering it to keep track, and a bit of explanation here and there:

  1. Travelling to: Chile, Africa (somewhere), Southern Hymalayas, a desert, Hokkaido (because seeing new places always open new dimensions)
  2. Create a new programming language (programming so much, maybe can make something new, which would me to appreciate the other languages even more)
  3. Become professor (that’s the science career path and working this long for other professors, I wanna see how I can be in their place)
  4. Publish a book (reading so much, writing quite a bit, can I really write something others want to read?)
  5. Start a company (the independence and creativity it would give me is hard to overestimate)
  6. Travel to space (unlikely, but let’s just set the goals high)
  7. Learn to play a musical instrument, current candidates: piano, trombone, or guzhen (I’m listening to so much music, want to be able to create something myself)
  8. Have an art exhibition (creativity knows no bounds, and interactive art is awesome, would be great to collaborate too)
  9. Be in a film (I’m a terrible actor, but still want to see what work goes into all the movies I like to watch so much)
  10. Sail on the ocean (adventure time, real travel, real toughness)
  11. Go skydiving (that must be a feeling impossible to describe, have to see it myself)
  12. Send my parents travelling somewhere where they wanted to go (I was lucky to have travelled more than most of my family, let’s pay back some of that while possible)
  13. Set up a foundation for some good cause (I was thinking about this quite a bit, I wonder how can I help the most?)
  14. Learn to swim properly (being a frong is just not enough)
  15. Run a marathon (I guess I’m already doing this wrong, but want to see what does it feel like)
  16. Do a defensive driving course (haven’t driven for almost a decade, but the way people drive in Taiwan, this would be a very important skill to learn)
  17. Write to my  inspirational people (though first really have to figure out who are they, have some but need time to think)
  18. Learn to meditate properly (have tried it a few times with guidance and it is simply life-altering experience, too bad single times fade, I want to have the habit)
  19. Create a high traffic website (can’t read Hacker News day in and day out without having this ambition)
  20. Become fluent in Chinese and one other language: Japanese, Spanish, French, or something else (languages are awesome, love to communicate with people)
  21. Long distance bicycle trip to somewhere (many people do that around Taiwan, and used to cycle much more than these days, is a great way to get around)
  22. Learn to brew really good coffee (these days I do drink a lot of coffee, but very few places make it such that it stands out, I want to see what it takes)
  23. Learn the constellations and other important object on the sky, be able to navigate by night (used to do much more astronomy as a kid, have to rediscover the universe)
  24. Get to know a traditional profession deeper, like carpentry or pottery. (there’s an awful lot to geek out about those)
  25. Build a building, or renovate an old one (break the mystery of the places where I stay everyday)
  26. Grow a tree (tried many times, and they have failed very early)
  27. Learn to be a technical writer (that’s the influence of my advisers from Oxford)
  28. Bring traditional Taiwanese food cooking back to Hungary, and Hungarian back here to Taiwan (cooking is a lot of fun, and dinner parties with people are even more)
  29. Overcome helplessness about the issues I see around me everyday (stray animals, homeless people, poverty, all could be improved upon if I can face them)
  30. Give away at least half of my stuff (I have too many things, need to simplify)
  31. Get back in touch with my childhood, teenager and uni friends (I have burned so many bridges by inaction)
  32. Learn to mix cocktails well – and come up with a new one that people actually like (cocktails are playground, and even though I can’t drink, I was reading a lot about them)
  33. Attend the Nobel prize ceremony (preferably when someone I know won the prize)
  34. Do something concrete for science education (also inspired by my high school friend who’s doing an amazing job at that)
  35. Write up our family tree and as much of our history as possible (I love history, and very interested in my family)
  36. Have a patent of an actually useful invention (then give it away)
  37. Have a radio show (had some small stuff before, just feel like doing it)
  38. Figure out how to donate blood again (they wouldn’t let me here because of being grown up in Europe)
  39. Learn to fly helicopter (somehow much more tempting than aircraft)
  40. Overcome the fear of heights (that would be very useful)

While making this list, though, I was thinking: this is all good and nice, but I care much less about it than I thought in the beginning. These would be nice, but I actually have 1-by-40 plan: be happy.

Let’s see how does that go. :)

Life Maker

Monocle and the one idea

I’m always looking for new and interesting magazines that I can read. I do believe there’s still future for printed journalism, even if most of the things I read now is online (Hacker News, myriads of blogs on Google Reader, links shared on Facebook and Twitter…). During my time at the university, a perfect weekend program was having brunch in the Common Room and checking out the latest issue of The Economist. My interests are mostly in analysis, world affairs, getting insights from people with much more experience, but not shoved down on my throat like many dailies seem to do but giving me space to make up my mind myself.

Monocle Issue 40 cover
Cover of Monocle Issue 40

Recently I was checking out Monocle in my local Eslite Bookstore, it was wrapped up since it’s not one of the cheapest (NT$520, almost twice the cover price elsewhere). The cover promises to have ABCDE: Affairs, Business, Culture, Design and Edits – which is all good and could be very interesting. I checked out on the web a little bit what did others write about it, and it is all good. With all the accolades, about their worldwide reach (apparently they have offices all around the globe), that they do their own photography because they want the best, with all the enthusiasm by the staff… I actually felt that this might be the real life embodiment of the Millennium magazine. That’s certainly a lot to live up to, isn’t it?

So, last week I bought it. First impression: I was pretty underwhelmed. The features are thin on content, most the content feels like an IKEA catalogue and how can I relate to something that advertises £190 polo shirts? I wasn’t that excited about it anymore, and it certainly wasn’t the Millennium.

Nevertheless, I took it out every now and again, reading more of it and things did change. I think I was wrong to hype it up for myself, should have judged it on its on merits. And on that, the writers are certainly clever. Maybe their bread is focusing on short observations but making many of them. The topics are actually worthy. The photography is indeed top-notch. The designs they show are really cool (and living in Taiwan, where I’m quite spoiled with good design, that is tough). In the end, I’d say it is a good magazine. Maybe not for me, or not every single issue, but if I’ve found in a library I’m sure I’d check it out. If design was my business I’d subscribe.

The One Idea

Nevertheless, there was idea that stuck with me (and maybe that’s one reason I’ve started to change my mind about the Monocle), which came from a rather short editorial titled “What Ireland can learn from Finland”. The writer argues, that Ireland’s crisis is pretty much inevitable, since no economy can survive on only the service industry. They should instead start to make things again, rolling up the sleeves and creating something tangible.

After reading this I felt a bit shocked. Looking at the things I’m doing, how I’m reading the hymns for software developers and Web 2.0 startups every day, how I’m positioning myself to become a better programmer. And despite doing all that, I do remember now, that I wanted to make things – and I haven’t. It feels like a wake-up call, that there are things that I value more but I forgot about.

This got me thinking: instead of being an awesome programmer (good luck with that), I really should think out how can I leverage my maker background (every experimental physicist is a maker) and programmer ambitions to create something new. Don’t give up either (I couldn’t) but find what unique combination of skills I might have. I really feel this is what would bring the much desired sense of achievement.

Got me thinking that I have all the issues from Make: in the last two years or so, but never actually did anything. That I planned to set up a hacker space in Taipei, but never got beyond asking my friends who would be interested in it. That I admired and saved so many things on Instructables but always had it linger on my Next-Action List.

“If not now, when? If not you, who?”

Now just stay tuned as I try to follow through. :)