Travels

Cuba Tips!

I had a wonderful whirlwind trip through Havana with Alex last Thursday РSunday. While the borders are open to Americans, I was still nervous about going through immigration, and had a difficult time gathering information about what to expect, what to do, and what documents we needed in order to travel. Sooooo, I wanted to share my learnings and some of my favorite things we did there!
~Cuba Tips~
My favorite thing to do was just walk through the streets and people watch. Everyone lives in the streets – there’s no internet and the weather is perfect, so there’s a lot of hustle and bustle and activity. You never know what you’ll stumble upon. ūüôā
Here’s a few highlights though!
Going out at night:
– Fabrica del Arte
– Cabaret show at the Tropicana
Touristy things:
– Ride in a pink convertible classic car (everywhere in the old town), the driver will tour you around to the Plaza of the Revolution, John Lennon Park, and other sites that are out of walking distance
– The Revolution Museum
– Walk to all of the four plazas
– Walk along the Malecon (sea wall surrounding Havana)
– Walk through China Town
Places to drink:
– 303 O’Reilly – rooftop bar
– Hotel Nacional (open 24 hours) <– best mojitos
Places to eat:
– Fabrica del Arte rooftop restaurant (need to call ahead for a reservation)
– Breakfast near our AirBnb, I’m not sure the name but it’s near 101 Calzada, Entre L y M
**In general the food was not spectacular (honestly), so go with whatever looks good! ūüôā The menu generally has grilled fish, chicken, and pork, with sides of fried potatoes. None of it is bad, just can be a bit over cooked.
Places to stay:
– We stayed in the Vedado neighborhood, in an AirBnb with a view overlooking the ocean. It was gorgeous, but it was a little far to walk to the old town. If you want an authentic Cuban neighborhood experience, I would recommend this neighborhood. However, if you want to save some money on taxis and be more in the center of the tourist activities, I would recommend the ‘Old Town’ of Havana.
Places to change money:
– Hotels i.e. Hotel Nacional (Bring Euros instead of US Dollars)
**Try to get small change if possible, many people claim they don’t have change.
**Always ask cab drivers for a lower price than the one they first give you, but generally you’ll pay 5-10 CUC for rides around town, and 25 each way to/from the airport.
Things we didn’t do but that I’d like to next time:
– Casa de la Musica (Live music & Salsa dancing)
– Santa Maria Beach (30 min outside of Havana)
– El Morro (take a boat across the Havana harbor to the fort)
– Cuban Art Museum
– Art street
– Tobacco Factory Tour
Things to take care of before you travel:
– get a Visa (purchased through Southwest.com, and also available at the airport, but was nice to take care of beforehand for peace of mind)
– get health insurance that is valid in Cuba (covered by our roundtrip Southwest ticket)
– say you’re there for People to People/Educational purposes (we didn’t have to show any proof of this, but were asked verbally when getting our Visa at the airport – I had an itinerary just in case)
– download maps since you won’t have internet while your’e there, we used the app GuidePal
– get Euros
Hope this is helpful/useful and happy traveling!

 

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Journal

Co-Pilots

The dark blue Honda Accord approaches the curb and slows. There is a woman driving and a man in the passenger seat. 

The person at the start of the line, standing just in front of me approaches the back seat behind the passenger, and I hold up two fingers, making eye contact with the driver.

They nod in unison, smiling, so I walk around to the back seat of the driver’s side, get in, and put my seat belt on.

We proceed onto the on-ramp of the 24, and the driver adjust the volume of NPR. Louder, so we can all hear it.

The male passenger hands her a mason jar of green liquid, presumably a spinach-apple-ginger juice. 

She stares straight ahead, gripping the steering wheel, eyes never leaving the red tail-lights in front of her.

Her phone is held by a case attached to the air vent. He taps the screen, exploring the other options reported by the GPS. He finds a slightly faster route and softly but firmly says “Let’s go over. Over. Over. Good here. Stay. Good.”

She follows his lead.

“Now cut left.”

A large black suburban paces our car.

“That guy’s being a jerk.”

Supportive.

“Go. Now now now.”

She successfully changes lanes.

We’ve made it to the carpool lane.

They breathe sighs of relief.

Silently, they pass the jar of juice back and forth.

“We should do this every day,”¬†he says.

The NPR reporter is speaking on the ethics of doing expensive heart surgery on opiate addicts. Specifically, following the story of a drug addict who has had recurring bouts of endocarditis, an abscess on his heart valves. This drug addict says he has been clean for the past two years, since his most recent bout of endocarditis.

Endocarditis. The disease that causes addicts to quit and start anew. 

I think about the value of a human life.

She says softly, “that’s crazy”.

He affirms, “that sucks”.

He offers her the last sip of green sludge. She politely declines. He gulps it down. Puts the lid back on the mason jar and the jar by his feet. 

He notices a red dot on her screen. He updates her apps. 

The phone rings.

It’s Jeff.

He answers for them.

“Jeff! We have a table setting ready to go for you for tomorrow night, are you in?”

That’s what I’m calling about. What time?

We can all hear him.

She chimes in, “I already put it in the text, 7 o’clock.”

“7 o’clock,” he echoes.

Well, I’m coming from Sacramento.

She says, “He can come any time, we’re just looking forward to seeing him.”

He repeats,¬†“you can come any time, we’re just looking forward to seeing you.”

Jeff says, “Ok great, see you tomorrow.”

Jeff.

They discuss another text they’ve sent.

We’re at the base of the off ramp.

He says, “You can drop them off on the left.”

“Is that safe?”¬†

She’s concerned.

“Yea it’ll be ok,”¬†he reassures.

He turns to us in the backseat, “Ok, we will drop you off here.”

She says, “Have a good day.”

We part ways. 

Uncategorized

What to do?

After our current president was elected I felt really really bad. I was angry and disappointed and confused.

Now that our president is in office, I feel even worse.

The ‚ÄėMuslim Ban‚Äô is tyrannical and is the most disgusting act I have seen an American president do in my lifetime.

Some of the kindest and most intelligent, hard-working, ethical people I know are from countries where the predominant religion is Islam.

At the company I work for, over half of my co-workers were not born here in America. I am proud and honored to work alongside such a diverse group of people.

Working in the Bay Area, I am part of the highest concentration of population that make up country’s largest economic sector Рtechnology. Imagine if the websites of all the companies who employed immigrants shut down for a day. The internet would break.

I am humbled at the enormity of the impact this would have on the world.

Given the bubbles we live in, I am assuming that If you are reading this, you share my sentiments.

So for the million dollar question… what can I as an individual do?

The only good answer I’ve heard to this question is… just do something.

Do not let this question plague you to inaction.

Do not think that the impact of what you do as an individual is insignificant.

No, you may not be able to single-handedly make sweeping policy changes that lead the world to a better place, but you can do something.

Write. Talk. March. Call. Volunteer. Donate. Email. Petition.

 

Here are some concrete ways to get involved:

https://5calls.org // 5 people to call regarding issues you care about

https://dailyaction.org/ // one text a day on something you can do

https://www.aclu.org/ // donate to the ACLU

Uncategorized

2017: Stay DRY

Another orbit around the sun, another year under our belts.

In the new year, I’ve been reflecting on what this year’s motto will be. Each year I generally have a theme that I often refer to and aspire to as I journey through this world. Also, I love mottos.

This year, my motto is: Stay DRY. ¬Ļ

You may be asking yourself, what does this mean, and why are you capitalizing ‘dry’?

DRY is a programming principle ‘Don’t Repeat Yourself’.

It aims to reduce the amount of repetition in one’s code.

Why is this desirable?

Less repetitive code = easier code maintenance = less bugs.

Less code to write = less typing = more efficiency.

 

Applying this (literally) to my life, I am aspiring for more efficiency, and less maintenance (and less bugs).

In choosing a principle of software engineering as my motto, I am explicitly implying that I am working towards mastering the art of computer programming, and this motto serves as a statement and a reminder.

Applying this even more literally, I would like to have higher quality rain gear so that I never feel an ounce of water on my sensitive skin that is prone to transmit a feeling of ‘cold’, especially when wet, no matter how hard it is raining nor how long I am subjecting myself to being outside while it is raining.

Metaphorically, I would like to not repeat mistakes that I’ve made in the past, whatever they may be. And, I invite new experiences into my life. There is a beauty in finding satisfaction and contentment in a daily routine, but even more beautiful to me is finding ways to explore the world from within the routine.

For example, one way I do this already is that every day I try to choose a different route through downtown as I walk from my casual carpool drop-off location at Fremont and Howard St to my office. If I’m feeling wild, I even get a latte from a cafe that I’ve never tried before ;).

Simple? Yes. Satisfying? Absolutely. DRY? You betchya.

 

When I was telling the new years crew about the yearly motto, I was asked, how do I decide on a motto each year?

Well, the answer to that is unclear…

Sometimes I set an intention and a clear, succinct, (preferably catchy) few words describe that intention.

Sometimes I let my mind wander and various mottos float through my mind, but one resonates above all the others.

Sometimes I just start saying a turn of phrase and it sticks.

But this year, it was different.

This year my motto is inspired by the massive rainfall that is falling upon California at this very moment. Though welcome, the precipitation seeped through my zippered pockets as I skied down the slushy slopes of Kirkwood yesterday, infiltrated the hideous Otterbox case that has dutifully protected my phone for over two years, and short-circuited the battery.

 

So thanks for the rain, but this year, I’ll be trying to `Stay DRY`.

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¬ĻAppropriately, I began the year in the desert of Joshua Tree.

 

A history of my annual mottos:

2016: In the window

2015: Don’t rock the boat

2014: ? ‚Üź (I was Ukraine, and my brain was frozen)

2013: What does it matter?

2012: LLSOD (unofficial)

2011: TMG (unofficial)

Uncategorized

My morning dilemma

Today I was taking BART into San Francisco to go to work, as I do every day. As our train pulled away from the West Oakland station, a middle-aged black man entered our cart, demanding ‘scuse me. ‘scuse me. A blue acoustic guitar was slung across his back and he carried a plastic bag in his hand. There was not much room for anyone to move, but he pushed his way through to the middle of the cart. He sneezed a couple times (literally right behind me). Then he put down his plastic bag, filled with dollar bills, and swung his guitar around to playing position.

The man yells, “Excuse me folks. My son was hit by a drunk driver, and I need money for my son. He was 12 years old and he was hit by a drunk driver in the Marina. I appreciate you listening and that you would at least have the patience and kindness to clap at the end of this song.”

He then played a rendition of John Lennon’s Imagine‚Ķ and honestly, it wasn’t terrible. In fact, the moments in which his voice cracked only added to his pitiful and tragic character.

We pulled into Embarcadero station, and he asks for anything we could spare and after he again recounts that his son was hit by a drunk driver, I couldn’t help but question the man’s story.

But then I thought to myself, does it matter?

Here is a man, who is in need, asking for help, because of a tragic event. As a person deciding whether or not to give this man a dollar, does it matter if the story he is telling is true?

—-

Let me now walk you through my stream of consciousness on the matter at hand.

Here are a few scenarios in which I am certain that yes, it does matter if the story is true:

If we were looking at distributing a scarce resource, I would say yes, it does matter.

If we were looking at an opportunity cost, I would say yes, it does matter.

Would I give all of my money to someone who needs to pay hospital bills for their child, or would I give all of my money to a drug addict? The answer would obviously be to pay hospital bills.

But this is not the situation at hand. Regardless of the reason for the man’s need, he is asking for help, and the result of the situation will be (in my case) that I give him $1. In the sense that the end result for me (that I am one dollar poorer), it doesn’t matter.

I don’t need this dollar. I want to give it to the person who is asking for it, simply as a response to a request.

Does knowing the true outcome of the dollar matter? Whether or not the man has a child who has been hit by a drunk driver, I will never know the outcome. I will also never know if he has actually taken this dollar and put it towards medical bills. So. there are at least two major opportunities for this man to stray from what he is presenting in this economic exchange.

I don’t think knowing the outcome of the dollar matters in my decision making process because I am giving not for the outcome. I am inclined to give because of the emotional response I had to this man who is obviously in need for some reason. Whether his story is true or not, I do know that the man is in need.

And would I feel better if the story was true? Not necessarily. That would mean that this man’s innocent son was hit by a car, in which case $1 would not help this man’s situation significantly.

If the story isn’t true, then the man may buy drugs once he gets off the BART train. Though I don’t intend to support an addict’s habits, at least he doesn’t have a 12 year old son who was hit by a car.

I don’t necessarily enjoy being lied to, but would I give $1 if he was honest about wanting money for drugs? No, I don’t think so. So I am at least partially invested in the reason for the need and the use of the dollar.

So the situation I find myself in, is that there is a man who is in need in front of me, and I am having an emotional response to this, because of the story he told me, that may or may not be true. I am trying to decide if I should give him a dollar.

I will probably never see this man again, I have no personal connection to him, so I could take that $1 and donate it to an organization that provides services to low-income or homeless populations. But figuring out the most utilitarian way to use a dollar is not my dilemma. Sure, if I was abstractly trying to determine how to best use a dollar to benefit a homeless person, then I would abstract my intent to the larger problem I wanted to contribute to, and I would give my dollar to an organization that I trusted to carry out my intended purpose of this dollar.

But that is not my dilemma.

My dilemma is: does it matter to me, in this moment as I am trying to decide whether I should give this man who is in need a dollar, if this man’s story is true?

Fodder for Thought · Movie Critiqes · News · Opinion · Reviews

A reflection on journalism: Anderson Cooper, Network, and the media today

When I watched Anderson Cooper’s heartfelt tribute to the victims of Orlando, I was reminded of the beauty of true and pure journalism. In its essence, journalism is honest and it is humanizing. It portrays the darkness in the world, but celebrates the humanity despite.

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I read the news, but I don’t enjoy it.

I am upset often by the content of what is reported – war, greed, bigotry.

But more so, I am upset by how the news is portrayed.

——-

I remember I used to want to be a journalist. I remember being in Mr. Wallach’s English class in 11th grade, and learning about Gonzo Journalism and reading Hell’s Angels by Hunter S Thompson. For my gonzo journalism essay I went to People’s Park in Berkeley to report on homelessness. Reluctantly I was escorted by my mother who compromised by sitting 20 feet behind me.

Under my guise as a “a reporter”, I bravely and boldly asked questions from behind the ballpoint pen I carried. I asked an older homeless man why he was homeless. He very rationally explained something about money being stolen from him, and bad luck, and bad people, and something about drugs, and losing his house, and not being able to or not wanting to make any changes. That that’s just the way things go.

I remember I thought I was going to feel a lot of sympathy for the homeless after spending a day interviewing them, but that wasn’t how I felt. If anything, I remember that was the first time I understood that people fall to vice, and that bad things happen in the world, both self-inflicted and as a matter of circumstance.

I don’t remember enjoying this revelation, but I did enjoy being able to talk with a subculture of society that I had never interacted with before. I felt like I was learning more about humanity and this world and I liked that.

Somewhere along the line I didn’t pursue becoming a journalist‚Ķ that dream never made it beyond the basement of Barrows Hall when I was a journalist at the university radio station, 90.7 KALX.

———————-

The media is powerful. It has been designed to be the main avenue by which we can discover what is happening in the world.

Yet news breathes life into wrong-doers by disproportionately giving attention to them and to the negativity surrounding an event. Quantitative statistics are headlined and bolded, dehumanizing individuals who are victims.

What saddens me most when I read the news is not that I am enlightened to tragic events in the world, but that the media has decoupled “news” from the individuals it affects.

I watched the movie Network over the weekend. The infamous line ‘I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it any more’¬†originated from this movie. But more so, it explores how in the media, specifically news, the pursuit of ratings leads to exploitation, insanity, the loss of self.¬†

And what makes this movie so incredible, is that it was made in 1976 and it could not be truer to this day.

This is what saddens me, most of all.

And this is why I found Anderson Cooper’s response to the tragedy in Orlando to be so powerful. Because in response to such a horrific event, he was able to honor the victims, and humanize the event.

 

As a plea to those who are involved media, bring back true journalism.

Thank you Anderson Cooper, for the news.

To the families and friends of the victims in Orlando and beyond, I am so sorry for your loss.  

 

Programming

Learning… to Program

I am currently trying to get into the “world of programming”.

This endeavor began in May 2014, when I attended Coder Camps, a 9-week coding bootcamp in Houston, TX. Following the program, I took the scenic route and rather than diving straight into a job as a programmer, I was hired to open the Bay Area Coder Camps office. After the campus was up and running, I felt that my time and utility as Campus Director had come to its end and I wanted a more technical role, so in November 2015 I took a short-term (3-month) coding iOS contract with an early-stage startup.

So here I sit, almost two years after deciding to go to Coder Camps, and in many ways I feel like I am still such a NEEEEEEEEEWB.

I originally learned JavaScript at CC, but I have since then decided to pursue iOS development. Why? Mainly because I like the idea of building iOS apps, but also because I think the timing is right. Apple released a new coding language called Swift in June 2014, which means that even though I am new to coding, I have the opportunity to learn a language basically from the beginning of its time here in this universe. (And I think iOS developers are more in demand here in the Bay Area. #Capricorn)

So how does one go about learning a language?

Many experienced developers¬†will tell you: just start building an app. But there is no “just” about that. What many experienced developers forget is that when you are new to the world of programming, even knowing how to literally start a new project can be a near impossible task. There are so many options in every screen! What is a single page application? What is a tabbed application? What is a playground? How do you even choose what tools to use to develop?

So I’ve found it helpful to follow¬†a more structured approach. I find online tutorials to follow. There are many out there, and my only advice is: pick one and stick to it. It’s difficult to use one tutorial provider for one subject and then jump over to another tutorial provider for another because tutorials often build on one another in ways that are similar, but different enough that one new to programming will get confused by.

Arguably the most important aspect of learning to code is to find¬†a mentor who you can ask questions to. While I know that you can’t “just find a mentor”, you can do things that will increase your chances. Go to a Meetup and make friends. I’ve found that most people who are experienced coders are willing to help out and share their knowledge.

However be prepared for this…

Imagine you are blind, but you are learning to see, and¬†you need to know what¬†color the sky is. You ask¬†you friend/mentor who can see and understands color distinctions, and you ask them: “what color is the sky?” The straight-forward answer would be: you guess it, “blue”. But imagine if you instead received the answer, “Well, it depends on the time of day, on the weather, and really it all depends on how someone perceives color. In fact, the sky is “blue” during the day because¬†molecules in the air scatter blue¬†light from the sun more than they scatter red¬†light. When we look towards the sun at sunset, we see red¬†and orange colors because the blue light has been scattered out and away from the line of sight.” Although this is a very thorough and accurate answer, this would be a very confusing and probably frustrating¬†answer to someone who¬†was just beginning to understand what color is.

This is what programming is like. There is so much to learn, and everything is intertwined. Asking someone for help to solve a seemingly simple error can open a world of questions that dig into the ontology of computer science that is so out of the scope or understanding and your frame of reference, that it just leaves you feeling helplessly unknowledgeable and with your original problem still unsolved!!

But my word of encouragement is this: Have no fear, for everyone must start somewhere. And the only way to get from point A to point B is to take one step after another.

My advice to one who wants to learn to code (and to myself), or to anyone trying to learn anything for that matter, is to just. keep. trying. Set a balanced and realistic schedule, and stick to it. A few hours a day of undisturbed focus, and next thing you know it will be months later and you will be an expert! Or at least know a lot more than you did a few months ago. THE SKY IS BLUE!!