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Coding, Web and Personal Development

A Writing Spree

Writing

I haven’t been able to write anything here for a while. My recent trips, books I’ve read, movies I’ve watched, stories I’ve been in. It’s not that I don’t have the time - I still managed to watch some episodes on Netflix, but I have troubles saving the attention for writing after waves of the day.

I’m ongoing a change of my career, and I’ve finally made some time for myself - a whole month to rest, relax, and reflect. So here comes the idea of a writing spree - write a post every day for 30 days, inspired by my friend J who had composed a song every week and carried it on for a year. Sounds fun, right?

Want to get the words out so I can hold myself accountable. This trick always works for me. I can control every minute now. No room for excuses. Let’s set the bar high.

As for the execution, I’m a big fan of having a system, a routine, a ritual for such project. The time, the place, and the pace all matter to keep me in the desired context without distractions, deep and long, like a diving in the deep sea.

For the time and place, I’m gonna live in the countryside myself to kick off the writing spree. Start a digital detox. Gonna bring lots of books.

For the pace, my daily writing rotation might be separated by languages - English, Japanese, Chinese and Ruby - my favorite programming language. That would cover a 4-day rotation, then maybe I’ll even continue the Creative Writing course in Coursera, or pick a theme and try to write a series of it.

That’s the commitment. We rarely get such opportunity, will do my best to make it count.

April 01, 2018

Narcos Season 3 on Netflix: Never Ending Conflicts

Narcos Season 3, I was skeptical about the show as Pablo Escobar, the main character of the previous 2 seasons, faded out and the Cali cartel bubble up to the surface. I was happy to be proved my concern was unnecessary; this season tastes surely different, it tastes great.

A post shared by MATIAS VARELA (@matiasvarela) on

Among the new colorful characters, I think zooming in on Jorge Salcedo—later the chief head security of the Cali cartel—is a genius move. The show takes us to his life, his family, his desire, and struggles. We get to see how his morality was shaken, shifted, and shattered under extreme circumstances. How yet another good guy could do bad things. How a man with his words fell into his wife’s arm, like a vulnerable baby. It was an emotional journey, the backbone of the season.

Also, there are more of the Cali cartel “godfathers”—the conflict between the Rodriguez brothers; how power drives you to feed your ambition; how the once seemingly unbreakable empire got tore apart with the cumulative efforts of each individual who stepped forwards and risk their own lives on the field.

I especially love the limited scenes to Pacho—his past and pain, loyalty to the brothers and cruelty to his enemies. When things went south and a new gate opened for him, his true color emerged.

Lastly, salute to Javier Peña, the fighter who won’t bend to the shitty crappy “politics.” The world needs such people.

In Case You Want More

October 21, 2017 tvshow, narcos, netflix

Systems, Goals, and Odds of Success

After Reading the Book “How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big”

Book - how to fail at almost everything and still win big by scott adams

What this book is trying to tell is extremely simple: treat yourself as a programmable moist robot, build the system to control the inputs, so you can determine the outputs. Your time, focus, and energy are the fuels to keep you in the game, equip yourself with strategies with good odds, all you need to do is stay in the game long enough, success will find you, sooner or later.

Continue reading…

What distinguishes it from other self-help books are:

1) The author is the creator of the cartoon Dilbert, that means you will get tremendous entertainment value from the book, guaranteed. It’s enlightening and humorous, the only non-fiction book so far that keeps making me laugh while also sharing something inspiring.

2) Thanks to his various experience in public speaking, business writing, and other backgrounds, I found the book extremely easy to read and persuasive (in a good way.)

I’m glad he stopped pursuing the career as a salesman, otherwise, I might have bought whatever product he’s selling. I’m so hooked as a reader for his humor and storytelling technique.


“Passion is bullshit”, “Goals are for losers.” Given that I’m right in the season of dumping the goal-and-passion-driven engine to my mental garage, this line hits me at the perfect timing. I’m definitely biased, maybe I’m seeking validation, but what it presents is worthy food for thoughts.

The culprit of goals, almost by definition, is that it sets you “in a state of nearly continuous failure at best, and permanent failure at worst if things never work out.” It pushes you to fight the feeling of discouragement at each turn.

A system is “something you do on a regular basis that increases your odds of happiness in the long run.”

For a cartoonist, that might be drawing one cartoon per day; for a writer, writing five hundred words per day. In contrast to goals, systems bring a steadier stream of low-grade highs. They’re guides to a fulfilling life, day by day, rather than enticing pictures of some grand end goal without instructions for how to get there.

It focuses on designing each action that naturally drives you to the next step without the need to use up your limited willpower supply. In another word, it’s kind of in the same family tree of routine, ritual, habit, and compass, but system gives you the vision of each component connected to the final outcomes, and it does sound much cooler right?

The concrete example of the author’s system: “Eat right, exercise, think positively, learn as much as possible, and stay out of jail, and good things can happen.” I know it sounds stupidly simple, maybe not that different than what your grandma told you when you were a kid, yet whether you can keep doing all of these throughout your life is the key. Design each step carefully so it drives you to the next action, and collectively it’ll increase the odds for luck to find you.

I have to admit that I do feel that he’ll success one way or another, if not Dilbert it may be other projects (just like Dilbert was one of them.) He’s seeing the world in a macro view, each time he applies his system, he gets a better chance of winning the game.

It reminds me of the Starcraft league (or any other sports leagues), you may get lucky to win one game, but to be the winner of the best-of-7 series, to beat the equally talented opponents, to advance through the seasons of, years of tournaments, you’ll not only need a good strategy, but also apply it, practice it, tweak it, maintain it, and reduce the required willpower to the minimum so it can be sustainable. All of these in a whole is the system.


The book covers a lot of topics: passion, goals, systems, attitude, talents, observations, humor, happiness, diet, exercise, and luck. I’ve never thought about that I would want to acquire skills like public speaking, persuasive writing, humor, and golf(!), but now I’m deeply hooked.

Thanks to the another book Irresistible that pointed me to this one.

Lastly, this could be a spoiler but, my favorite line of the book is this one: “Say something, you bastard!”, page 166.

September 24, 2017 Book

Sharing dreams are hard

I dream a lot. I know technically, we humans all dream when we’re asleep and it’s just a matter of whether you remember it or not. Still, I reinforce: I dream a lot.

Some of my dreams are bizarre in an inexplicable way, some are so vivid and immersive that I can’t stop replaying it in my head throughout the day. For such dreams that evoke an emotional response, I would like to share it with people and naively believe they’d be interested too, but I’ve failed every single time.

Continue reading…

Sharing dreams are hard. Unlike real experiences, which we forge into a story form that consists of a proper setup, escalation, and twist in an intriguing way, dreams are literally up in the sky and out of our control.

Because dreams are non-logical, non-sequential, with lack of a kind-hearted narrator to fill us in, it’s hard for the teller to reconstruct, and also hard for the listener to capture the whole picture. It’s against how our brain pieces information together.

Simply put, dreams are unshareable.

Sure, we’ve got the powerful weapon when it comes to storytelling, “exaggeration.” We can choose to sprinkle some secret hot sauce to our dreams to increase its entertainment value. But I would know I’m cheating. Eventually, it’s me trying to share the experience, I may still cut some trivial clips, but I don’t want to decrease its legitimacy or lie.

Despite these natural flaws and how meaningless my dreams are to you, I’d still like to take on the challenge. Zero exaggerating guaranteed™, you have my word, but note that there will be no climax or closure or any forms of those things.

So here we go.


First one was an eerie happening. Two giant battleships suddenly appeared in the sky, as if they just blinked from other galaxies, some electronical particles were still left in its trail. Amazingly the battleships share 90% similarity to the Terran Battlecruiser of Starcraft (lucky me, I got the chance to see it “real.”)

People looked above fearfully, for a few seconds, the battleships just hung in there like the alien’s ship in the movie Arrival. All of a sudden, the ships started shooting the ground. I couldn’t believe it until I saw bridges, buildings, and people getting smashed by its laser beams. I could feel my heart pounding so hard, “OMG it’s really happening. Who are they?! Why are they doing this?!”

I tried to run, but got trapped by the laser beams, somehow it didn’t hit me but only around me, as if it wanted to keep me alive on purpose. I thought I was done.

The end.


The second one, unfortunately, involved one of my innocent female coworker/friend. As bizarre as it can be, I saw her in my dream half naked (and thank god, she was blurry). She didn’t say anything, she was just standing there, half naked.

Naturally, as you can imagine, I raised my hands (but hold on your imagination there), and flashed her my wedding ring and said in an emotionless tone: “sorry I’m a married man”, as if I were to speak the secret code to bypass a speech recognition system and unlock a door or something. It all happened within 3 seconds.

The end.


(Okay this is the last one, hope you are still there.)

It was my least comfortable setting. I was like the little yellow man in Google Maps, got dragged around involuntarily by an evil-minded kid, and just to screw with me, he dropped me to a random place on Earth. Then I opened my eyes. I was in the middle of a busy crowd, which was rushing towards the buildings ahead.

“Where are we going?” I grabbed one guy nearby and asked.
“To the exam, yo!” He shouted as if it was too obvious.
“What.. what? What exam? Where am I?” I panicked.

Then I realized, I was carrying a shoulder bag, and somehow I knew I would find a paper clue that would tell me which classroom to go take the exam, for which I knew nothing about! Why on Earth did I end up like this? What was I doing the whole semester? Where did the time go? It didn’t add up, how could I possibly remember nothing?!

I entered the classroom while scratching my head with all kinds of questions, then I realized: I didn’t even have a pen to take the test.

The end.

September 10, 2017 dreams, random

Blinkist Impression: Non-fiction summaries in 15 minutes

Blinkist is a service that provides summaries of a non-fiction books that you can read in 15 minutes. I gave it a try over the weekend and here are some first impressions.

It won’t be the dominant way of reading books for sure, but it can be useful in situations like the typical “don’t have enough time” scenario. These summaries are written by the staffs of Blinkist who love to read.

Continue reading…

Also, I found that for some authors that I can’t stand their attitudes or repetitive writing styles, but they did make some good points in their books (like The 4-Hour Workweek), with Blinkist I can grab the core ideas with all the arrogance or repetitive shaved off.

It can also be useful for single-purposed how-to guides, like learning some tips on cleaning up the room, without reading through a whole chapter (or chapters) of the life philosophy of the author (if you’re not interested in at all).

What We Gain from Reading?

During the free trial period, I picked up several new books and also some I’ve had read to compare and try to make a baseline of the evaluation.

The summary is of good quality, and I love the final “Actionable advice” on the last page to give you some guidance on what you can act upon right now, usually something small that you can start immediately.

Although it helped me quickly consumed some books on my to-read list, I didn’t proceed to subscribe. Something was missing for me, some key ingredients. It got me think what we actually gain from reading.

A Source of Food

Whenever I start a new book, it feels like I’m on a new journey. I have this hope beforehand where it should and would lead me to, even though most of the time I won’t get exactly where I planned to be, the journey itself is valuable.

The materials presented in the way are good supplies for thoughts. They may not directly contribute to the point of the book or are trivial and off-topic, but it inspires me to ponder, to seek the answer myself. These “by-products” are missed if you’re running too fast.

It reminds me of the movie Passengers, where they found the meaning of life “during the journey”, not as planned after arriving at the destination.

Bullets are the backbone, but we may need more flesh.

In Control?

I was gonna say it could be a good “addition” to my day-to-day reading activity. But what put me off was the lack of options of the pricing plans.

The subscription is $50 a year, with a $80 Premium plan that provides better functions like audios and sync. Interestingly you can’t pay monthly, need to be 1-year upfront. I wonder if they made it that way to prevent people from signing up just for 1 month and reading like a marathon and then just bailing out.

This “lack of options” led me to think I’m less in control (exactly the case mentioned in 100 Things Every Designer Needs to Know about People). If it has had the monthly option, I’d probably sign up and forget about it and let it last for a year heh, who knows heh?

Nonetheless, I’d still recommend you to check out the 1-day free trial, especially with the App that can read it for you, and decide if it’s worth for you or not.

August 27, 2017 Product, Book