Matt Damon: It won’t fill you up

My weekly schedule now includes 20 hours as a Graduate Assistant at school, 20 hours of internship, two Capstones which include hours and hours of in-class sessions, team meetings and individual work. Needless to say, I feel pretty much drained and can’t wait to see out the semester and my degrees. 

For some reason, I came across the below interview by Matt Damon. I saw it the first time almost exactly a year ago, the time I was trying to find a way to be happier in life. It was a great coincidence. Today, I saw it again on my YouTube timeline and it was a nice reminder. Listen to what he had to say about his Oscar win


Even though I sleep for only 4-5 hours a day and every morning I feel like crap, there may be a chance that I won’t feel as happy after graduation as I think I will now. There is a chance that grinding for hours like I have been doing is what will make me happy. There is a chance that learning new stuff and doing meaningful work every day like this will make me happy. Who knows?

Nonetheless, have a listen. You may like it as I do 

Informative newsletter and tech sources

Where we get information matters. As there is so much information/noise floating around, a good curator and/or a great content provider has become increasingly important, at least to me. Here are a few of my go-to sources every day. Keep in mind that these are related to business and technology, two areas I am invested in. 

CBInsights

It offers deep-dive reports into technology and business. There are many free reports that can be downloaded or consumed immediately on site. What I like about CBInsights is that their researchers really roll up their sleeves in their work and offer great insights, sometimes from a surprising angle. Their use of visualizations such as tables, graphs or mind maps is pretty rad as well

The Hustle

It’s a newsletter on business and tech. Apart from offering what news you should know at the beginning of a day, The Hustle has a great team of copywriters. Their witty and funny writing is what hooks me up. The newsletters don’t have the same level of deep investigation as CBInsights does, but if you want a skim of what is going on out there in business and technology, it’s pretty good. Oh, if you want to do some B2B marketing, it can be a promising channel. I have seen Airtable, Microsoft and Salesforce sponsored content by The Hustle

Morning Brew

Same as The Hustle. I consider The Hustle a tad better & funnier. Still it’s worth giving Morning Brew a try

Ben Evans newsletter

His newsletter is on a weekly basis. It’s a collection of articles in technology and business that he thinks are important. 

Ben Thompson’s Stratechery

It’s a highly regarded website on strategy and technology. There is a paywall to his daily content, but his weekly content, I believe, is free. You will learn a lot from Ben as many others, including some famous names in technology, do. 

ARK

A friend suggested this one to me a few weeks back. I am still pretty new to it. But if you are a fan of cryptocurrency, AI, machine learning, industrial innovation…it is worth a read

Thanksgiving

In Vietnam, we don’t have Thanksgiving and it’s not a big deal in Europe either. So it’s a new concept to me. Nonetheless, I feel very thankful to America and what I have had for the past 2.5 years. 

I came here for more education, especially on the technology side, and a chance at a better life and career. In about 4 weeks, this Vietnamese will graduate with no student loan whatsoever. It’s all thanks to the school and the opportunity it’s given me. 

My first internship in the US was at an e-commerce website based in Omaha. It was an SEO position. Though I knew conceptually what SEO was, I had had little experience in both SEO and e-commerce. Yet, they took a chance on me and while it lasted for 10-11 weeks only, I picked up something along the way that proved to be useful later on. 

My next internship that has been going on for 1.5 years is at a technology company. The position advertisement was labeled Graphic Design, but the job description sounded an awful lot like one of a marketer. I applied and got an interview. It went well and I got the job. My boss later told me that she and the VP of Sales and Marketing agreed that even though I wasn’t exactly what they were looking for (someone with more design skill) and they didn’t know yet how I could fit in, they determined that I would come on board. 

Plus, I have met some great folks at school and forged friendships that would last for years to come. 

So I am pretty thankful for everything America. 

Fernando Alonso

The final race of the 2018 Formula 1 season will be this Sunday at Abu Dhabi. It’s also the final race, possibly ever, of one of the greatest drivers who ever drove a Formula 1 car: Fernando Alonso. Tributes of the man by news outlets have already begun. Though there are still a few days away, I already have goosebumps and feel a bit sad. 

Alonso is a two-time world champion from Spain. Even though his race wins or pole laps never fully reflect the talent of the man, he is well-regarded on the paddock and more than 10 years of watching the sport, I have never heard or read even once that his talent is ever doubted. All I have read is one of the greatest drivers in the history whose career is littered with driving the wheels off his cars, taking a car’s capacity beyond its limits, ill-informed decisions and utterly bad luck. 

I was super elated when he decided to drive for Ferrari, my favorite team. He won in the first ever race with the team! The first 3 years, especially 2010 and 2012, were remarkable and bittersweet. He and the team lost two championships on the final race twice and through bad luck despite having an uncompetitive car. Per BBC in their 5-part story on the man

In the fourth-fastest car, Alonso led the championship for much of the season, taking three outstanding victories along the way in Malaysia, Valencia and Germany. He was overtaken by Vettel in a burst of four consecutive wins by the German in a run of races in Asia in the closing stages of the season. But Alonso lost the title only because of two instances of bad luck.


He was taken out at the start of both the Belgian and Japanese Grands Prix: in Spa by Romain Grosjean’s flying Lotus after the Frenchman tangled with Lewis Hamilton’s McLaren; at Suzuka when the front wing of Kimi Raikkonen’s Lotus punctured his left rear tyre.


Had only one of those incidents not happened, Alonso would have been champion.

The two championships lost in 2010 and 2012 sadden me to this day. I cannot re-watch the final races of those two years again ever. It’s just too difficult to take. 

Though in the middle of two Capstones, I cannot wait to watch, for one last time, one of the greats. Hopefully his McClaren will give him and all the fans, myself included, two hours of Fernando Alonso. 

This is his favorite race win and mine. A spectacular win from 11th position

Official Transcripts and fees

I was having my coffee at a shop in Austin when I ran across this piece on the local newspapers that is really annoying.

Official_Transcript

On top of high tuition fees and textbook prices, students have to pay for a host of other fees that in some cases are truly outrageous. In this particular article, it’s just ludicrous when an official transcript costs $10 to $20. A few weeks ago, I had to pay $75 in total to receive my two official diplomas, something that was beyond me. Official diplomas should be automatically free for graduating students, instead of costing almost a week of food. Plus, students have to pay $100 to borrow a gown for 3 hours on our Graduation Day. Graduation Day is a glorious culmination of months of hard-work, supposedly so, at school. Yet, in order to taste the sweetness of our hard-work, students have to pay an outrageous amount of fees which can amount to a significant sum for low-income students and families. I just think that it’s not right.

Public Transit

Landing in Austin, I immediately went to Uber and Lyft apps to look for a ride to Austin Downtown. Each came back with an estimate of $20 for a ride. I thought, well, it is what it is. In my defense, it is kinda a trained reaction after living for a while in America, where public transportation can be disappointing in some cases. Anyway, I decided to give it a try and ask the Information Desk about buses to Austin downtown. It turned out that buses run every 15 mins, even on Saturdays and most Sundays from and to the airport. The charge? $1.25/person/ride. It took me only 25 mins to reach Austin downtown, not much different from the estimated time of an Uber/Lyft ride. But I saved $19.

Imagine how much money & time we could collectively save from using more public transportation and less personal vehicles. No more scrambling to find a parking slot, no more parking fees in your building, no more car insurance and safer transportation. A well-designed public transportation network will be a great investment of tax payers’ money and a spoon for low-income folks who should not be forced to buy a car for daily commute.

In Omaha, one of two biggest cities in Nebraska, if not the biggest, there are more bus routes from downtown than other parts of the city and on the weekdays. If you live reasonably far out, no matter the direction, from the city center, there is no bus at all. On the weekends, there is only one bus every half an hour or every hour. To popular places such as Social Security Administration or DMV, there is usually one bus every half an hour, even on the weekdays, and it usually involves transiting from another bus. Trust me, it’s hugely frustrating and unnecessarily time-consuming. On top of that, drivers in Omaha are terrible. I don’t know about drivers in other cities, but a busted car front is not an unusual sight there. If you are not an experienced driver, it can be dangerous and daunting. Oh and it is even worse in the winter. My boss told me on Friday, the first day of winter, that she had to turn around and come home after 2 miles because there were a lot of accidents and the roads were too slippery.

P/S: After telling me about the bus, the lady at Austin Airport’s Information Desk promptly gave me a quarter for my bus ride. Talk about first impression from a new city!

 

 

Gratitude

If you get to know me these days, I have a tendency to go on and on about how much I am struggling between two Capstones and a job. I am not good at programming, but I have been hustling to write line after line of Javascript, Python and HTML. Hours and hours of being glued to my desk and sometimes the code didn’t work. Imagine that monumental amount of frustration.

This weekend, I am on a quick getaway trip to see a good friend from Belgium, who is in the US right now for business. So while on the planes and during layover, I have some time away from all the coding, Slack messages and fear that the code won’t work. Time to reflect.

Before this semester, I kept saying to whoever cared enough to ask: I can’t wait to graduate. 5 weeks from graduation, I am; however, often overwhelmed by the feeling of uncertainty. What will I do when I am no longer a student? Being an immigrant in the US these days is not easy or enjoyable. Finding a job and getting the paperwork to work is challenging, requiring quite a bit of luck. Even though I have a clean track record (I don’t even have speeding/parking ticket) and my employer indicates an intention of keeping me permanently, my fate rests entirely upon some stranger in the Department of Homeland Security. There is nothing else I can do, but to wait and pray.

There are things that I don’t like about the US. It’s normal. I don’t think there is anywhere I wholeheartedly like. But I have gained quite a lot here. I wouldn’t have learned about coding had I still stayed in Vietnam. Instead, I am able to write some code now to the point that I enjoy doing it. Who knows? Maybe it will lead me to a great opportunity one day.

My job teaches me a great deal about enterprise IT infrastructure. Without coming to the US, how could I have known about cloud computing, storage, next-generation firewalls, etc…? (sounds smart heh?). Trust me, I am a newbie with a mountain of knowledge to learn. It’s like Himalaya. It keeps rising higher and higher.

More importantly, I have met some incredible people while in the US. Some will still be my friends a few years from now. Three days ago, a friend from Germany that I met while in Omaha, texted me out of the blue on Whatsapp, saying: “Minh, how is it going? Closer to graduation? Just want to let you know that if you want to find a job in Germany, don’t hesitate to ask”. I made my day and days after that.

What I am trying to say is that I am grateful for what I have got during the last two and a half years. Has it all been perfect? No. But I am grateful for it.

I spent an illegal and unacceptable amount of time on debating with myself: if I could do it all over again, would I still come here? Trust me, such a debate could drain you. After all, I left behind everything I had up to August 2016 to come to the US. No friends, no family, all the professional credibility and network in Vietnam that would mean nothing , and a personal relationship that would be broken at some point.

But whenever I am not in a bad mood, at a low point, drunk or bone-tired because of work and school, I feel grateful to the US and all the people that I have come across. Really. Would I still do it? The answer is yes.

Poor User Experience on CRN

If you go to crn.com, you will come across some articles with pretty annoying design and poor user experience. Look below

CRN Web Experience

The article is split into multiple parts and pages, forcing users to navigate to other pages to read it in its entirety. The first page features one photo and 5-6 small paragraphs. It’s a very annoying experience for audience. I don’t know the real rationale behind this design, but I think it is aimed at increasing page activities and lowering bounce rates. Obviously only the folks at CRN can tell whether this design does whatever it is aimed to do, but as a user, it is the sole reason why I don’t read CRN. Even though it’s a known brand in the technology media sphere, but I prefer siliconangle.com, or lightreading. There is not much on CRN that can convince me to click 5 or 6 times to read an article.

Cost of user acquisition keeps rising. It’s not easy to acquire users and it’s damn sure not easy to retain them. If you already convince people to read your site, at least make it a pleasant experience.

Born a crime

If you haven’t read “Born a crime“, I urge you to. It’s a great book by Trevor Noah. He chronicled his story growing up in South Africa in an insightful and humorous manner. It cracked me up a couple of times. As the books I read are quite serious, the humor, positivity and his experience in the book give me a quick escape sometimes, especially on bad days. Like today. Here are some quotes I particularly love:

“Being chosen is the greatest gift you can give to another human being.”

“I don’t regret anything I’ve ever done in life, any choice that I’ve made. But I’m consumed with regret for the things I didn’t do, the choices I didn’t make, the things I didn’t say. We spend so much time being afraid of failure, afraid of rejection. But regret is the thing we should fear most. Failure is an answer. Rejection is an answer. Regret is an eternal question you will never have the answer to. “What if…” “If only…” “I wonder what would have…” You will never, never know, and it will haunt you for the rest of your days.”

“When you shit, as you first sit down, you’re not fully in the experience yet. You are not yet a shitting person. You’re transitioning from a person about to shit to a person who is shitting. You don’t whip out your smartphone or a newspaper right away. It takes a minute to get the first shit out of the way and get in the zone and get comfortable. Once you reach that moment, that’s when it gets really nice. It’s a powerful experience, shitting. There’s something magical about it, profound even. I think God made humans shit in the way we do because it brings us back down to earth and gives us humility. I don’t care who you are, we all shit the same. Beyoncé shits. The pope shits. The Queen of England shits. When we shit we forget our airs and our graces, we forget how famous or how rich we are. All of that goes away.”

“Language brings with it an identity and a culture, or at least the perception of it. A shared language says ‘We’re the same.’ A language barrier says ‘We’re different.’ The architects of apartheid understood this. Part of the effort to divide black people was to make sure we were separated not just physically but by language as well…The great thing about language is that you can just as easily use it to do the opposite: convince people that they are the same. Racism teaches us that we are different because of the color of our skin. But because racism is stupid, it’s easily tricked.”

The downside of extreme individual freedom

Personal freedom such as freedom of speech or freedom to do whatever we want is important to every single one of us. I mean who doesn’t love it? The freedom is especially emphasized in developed countries. In the US, it’s the first Amendment in the Constitution. The positive side of individual freedom is often mentioned. What is not is the other side of it.

Everything has two sides to it and so does individual freedom. What I usually read and hear is that anyone is free to do whatever he or she wants. To the extreme. In that sense, it’s acceptable for anyone to commit murder or spit out insults to other folks. Why wouldn’t it be if we were allowed to do ANYTHING we wanted? In reality, murder or intentional insults are not acceptable. They are condemned. They lead to punishment. If it were acceptable that somebody could injure or insult us, why would we take legal actions then?

It goes to show that absolute individual freedom doesn’t come without baggage. There are two options. Either we accept its less-than-extreme version that comes with some collectively formed restrictions or we have the extreme and should talk more about its downsides. For instance, if we must have the extreme freedom of speech, expect that somebody will come at us with hate speeches or insults. Coming to this awareness may not change some people’s unfavorable behavior such as bigotry, racism or hatred. Nonetheless, we should know more about the two sides of freedom so that we know what we can choose and what we can expect.

I know my choice. I love freedom, but I don’t prefer the extreme version of it.