As of about an hour ago, fall has officially begun. The equinox feels as good a time as any to reflect on my summer, as well as provide a cognitive break point and encourage myself to treat fall differently.
Normally, I reflect like this approximately once a month, reviewing my previous month, getting a handle on the big picture of my upcoming schedule, and setting some personal goals. I don’t write them for an audience, but my plans aren’t really secret — I often tell Grace or other friends like my community group what I’m thinking. In a certain sense, though, God is my audience, and I’ve certainly felt waves of conviction and resolve while reflecting, similar to those I’ve felt in church or reading through the Bible.
Naturally, though, my choice to make this reflection public before writing it will likely inflect my writing in various ways, some of which I might not even be aware of. I already feel a need to edit my language to be more precise; when writing for myself, I feel a bit more free to follow ideas as they come rather than retrace my steps to write more precisely. Anyways, here goes.
Summer of Fun
This summer has been arguably my most fun ever. To be sure, it wasn’t as fulfilling as getting married last summer, as intriguing as visiting Singapore for the first time in 2015, or as transformative as the missions trip / English immersion camp I helped with in Taiwan in 2010. But it was the most enjoyable, at least in the short term.
The story of this summer for me starts with my baseball team, the Arizona Diamondbacks, doing rather unexpectedly well. After a disastrous season last year, they’re in line to make the playoffs for the first time since 2011, and will probably clinch a wildcard spot this weekend with about a week to play. Like any fan, I tend to pay closer attention in the years when they’re doing well: I remember clearly the last two times they reached the playoffs, winning the NL West in 2007 and 2011, the summers between my junior and senior years of high school and college. Sure enough, they’re back at it as I begin my final year of grad school…
I paid a lot of attention to the stretch run in those years, but my fandom this year has surpassed them all. When it went on sale in July, I bought three months of MLB.TV for around $20, letting me watch live Diamondbacks games (with full pausing and restarting abilities) for the rest of the season. I also found a community of fellow Diamondbacks fans to cheer with at the AZ Snake Pit, and even wrote a guest post about their narrow and soon to be impossible path to winning the division over the collapsing Dodgers.
Along with following Major League Baseball as a fan, playing with and managing my church softball team has been really fun. I love the mind games of the sport, the challenge to hit the ball between fielders and place fielders appropriately to prevent the other team from doing so. Then there’s the heavy use of statistics and the ability to optimize a lineup; this is my first year as a team captain and I had a ton of fun coding up a Google Sheet to manage everything about our team.
This year has also given me the opportunity to help the league as a whole with scheduling, which has been a blast. It might sound like work, but I enjoyed the puzzle of creating an optimal schedule with every team playing every other team, as well as balancing times and locations of games, and the most complicated constraint of shuttling the league bases from field to field. We’ve finished with an 11-team double-elimination bracket, which I also really enjoyed coding up and displaying in a Google Sheet.
Of course, I’d also be remiss if I didn’t mention all of the board games I’ve gotten to play this summer. Our Saturday night board game group has continued as usual, mostly alternating between our apartment and another couple’s. Alone, Grace and I have been playing plenty of two-player Hanabi just with each other, even recording our scores over the last few dozen games to see how well we actually do. (Current averages: 28.3/30 for regular Hanabi, 23.7/30 for silent, both played with six-card hands.)
This summer, though, we’ve also both picked up another habit: Playing Dominion online. Dominion is a wildly popular card game that I first got addicted to in college; I’ve seen it take over a couple of friend groups. The latest online implementation is actually pretty impressive, and basically free: The (second edition) base set is free for everyone, and as long as someone in the game has a subscription for the expansions (a few dollars a month), you can play with them. There’s also a leaderboard, and I was able to work my way up to the top 100 as I played a few hundred games this summer.
Speaking of the internet, I’ve also found it impossible to ignore the ongoing dumpster fire in Washington, DC right now, and I’ve taken to reading about politics on Twitter whenever I have the chance. It’s very much disaster voyeurism; as I noticed in a previous post, I’m not doing anything about it. But the point of disaster voyeurism is that it’s fun, and I can’t deny that reading about politics has been an outlet for me to relax.
On the more tangible side, Grace and I discovered the only slightly mitigated joy of stocking our freezer with cartons of tasty ice cream. I was floored by how cheap half-gallon tubs are, especially when they go on sale. Our favorite flavor this summer has been S’mores, a limited edition flavor of Friendly’s ice cream. The graham cracker goes really well with toasted marshmellow ice cream — as one friend put it, “it’s more than ice cream.”
Summer Fun is Ending
None of these things are going to, or should last, too much longer. Softball will likely be the first to finish up, with the second-to-last day of the double elimination tournament tomorrow. We’re in the loser’s bracket, so if we win twice, we’re in the finals next week, but if we lose either game, we’re done. There are a few loose ends to tie up as we look ahead to next season, and we’re going to have a manager’s meeting in October to figure those out, but otherwise, softball is done.
The MLB season is similarly finishing up: The relatively new wildcard rules mean that the Diamondbacks will host a one-game playoff against another wildcard team on Wednesday, October 4th, and if they lose, they’re done. If not, they’ll play a five-game series likely with the Dodgers starting that weekend. Given my investment, I’ll probably want to watch every single one of their playoff games in full, but that’ll end soon enough.
Dominion, too, has a natural endpoint with its own playoffs of sorts. I’m playing in the first tournament on the new server, which is single-elimination with actual prizes for the top eight. I’m seeded 40th, so I’d have to upset a few higher-seeded players to get there, but it’s not impossible. Matches are weekly with my first match coming up next week (after a first-round bye), and I’ve been using the tournament as my excuse to play around half an hour a day. Once I’m eliminated, I’m planning on curtailing my Dominion playing habits.
Ice cream, too, is becoming a lot less attractive as the weather turns colder. On top of this, the S’mores flavor is limited edition, and it seems to be running out. We still have some other flavors in the fridge, but they’ll be finished within a week.
Even some of the craziest politics of the Trump presidency seems to be winding down. His most worrying advisers are gone, and my favorite Senator, John McCain, has seemingly pounded the final nail in the coffin of all of congressional Republicans’ frenzied attempts at party-line healthcare reform. Despite their widespread destruction, this wild hurricane season does seem to be bringing the country together to a small extent. We’re hopefully entering a period of relative political calm, allowing me to feel less obligated to keep up on Twitter.
Board games will continue, but at least one friend is gone now. Guang Hao, the Singaporean labmate of my Caltech friend Helena’s who served as one of the bridges to bringing Grace into the group (and whose birthday party we first talked closely at), has graduated and moved to Seattle to work at Microsoft Research. He had been busy finishing up for most of the school year, but came back to the group over the summer. His final night at games, the two of us stayed up super late playing 7 Wonders: Duel, a fitting finale to his time in our group.
And Fall Has Already Begun
All of these fun things are finishing up just in time, because my real work this fall is just beginning.
My big new priority this fall is finding a job after I graduate. I’d been unofficially wavering for a while, but I’ve finally decided not to continue in academia after graduation, so I’m looking for a job, hopefully as a data scientist, in the Boston area.
I’ve also already started taking Chinese again; we have our first test on Monday. It’s been a challenge to get back into it 15 months after I took the first year here, but it’s so much easier to study it with Grace now that we’re married. The main problem is that it’s a ton of work, living up to its 12 hours/week unit designation.
And I’m teaching one more year for IdeaMath, the weekend contest math program I’ve been teaching at for the last five years. And that’s starting up immediately; my first class is tomorrow.
Finally, of course, I still have my usual research to get done. I very recently learned how to connect to a cluster associated with Lincoln Labs to run the computationally expensive simulations that were super slow on my cheap laptop, and I hope that will allow me to iterate much quicker. I enjoy my current line of work, so this is exciting.
At some level, I still naturally balk at replacing hours of watching baseball, softball, politics and Dominion with a less instantly-gratifying job search, Chinese studying, teaching prep, and research. I’ll still need to be diligent to not just check Twitter when I’m bored, and not to have to stay up late to get my Chinese homework done after some ill-advised games of Hanabi. Even among the tasks I want to get done, it can be tempting to focus more on preparing for teaching then necessary (e.g. spend more time optimizing my team assignment algorithm), when I could be doing research.
But I’m hoping that reflecting in this fashion, and making it public in this way, can at least encourage me to take this transition seriously.