2010 in Review

2010 has been one heck of an awesome year. It has been my best 12-month period so far in the last 23.5 years of my existence, closely followed by 2009, then 2008, and then 2007. Each year seems to be getting better and better than the previous one. So much change, so much growth, so much learning. I visited a total of fourteen countries in total this year. That's right, fourteen. The count is unusually high only because of my post-graduation Europe Tour in April. Otherwise, the count would have only been a mere 4 countries. For posterity, here are the countries I visited in 2010 listed in the order I visited them in:

  1. Canada (Vancouver, Waterloo, Toronto)
  2. USA (San Francisco)
  3. Spain (Madrid, Barcelona)
  4. France (Nice, Paris)
  5. Monaco
  6. Netherlands (Amsterdam)
  7. Germany (Berlin, Munich)
  8. Switzerland (Zürich, Interlaken, Lauterbrunnen, Gimmelwald)
  9. Italy (Florence, Venice, Rome)
  10. Vatican City
  11. Greece (Athens, Santorini, Ios)
  12. UK (London, Cambridge, Oxford, Windsor)
  13. UAE (Dubai)
  14. India (Bangalore, Chennai, Wayanad)

Between 14 countries, that was a total of 12 flights (take-offs) altogether. Still one less than how many I caught last year. I'm almost becoming like Clooney in the incredible movie Up in the Air. The irony is that I watched that movie for the first time while on a flight from Athens to London.

January to April 2010 was a new level of crazy. A new level of busy too. 4B, the grand finalé, cannot be described by words. Waking up at 7am every Thursday and trotting through the snow for 20 minutes at anywhere from -10 to -25 degrees to get to a 6-hour lab all the way from my home on Keats Way to Davis Center without any breakfast had taken the cake of craziness if there was ever one. I guess only my Google Calendar was privy to the ins and outs of the various classes and events and activities I undertook in 4B. And of course, there's always the beloved Twitter that so faithfully served as a micro-blog of the events and happenings during those wonderful 4 months.

But I was glad that at least I was taking 0 extra courses and had 0 job interviews that entire term. So it was nothing as crazy as 4A I suppose. I was just helping out a few friends with their own interviews here and there, but that was it. Nonetheless, taking a third-year combinatorics course (CO 370) as a free elective while others in my graduating class were taking introductory courses like ECON 101 and PSYCH 101 was like acupuncture to the neck. In any case, I doubt any of them got more than 100% on their final exams.

But the good news was that 4B was at least the last snow I would have to endure that entire year except for the brief time spent at Jungfraujoch, the highest accessible point of Europe in Switzerland.

Reading week off in February worked out quite well for me. It was my first reading week at UW so I put it to good use. I ran another session of my PHP crash course lessons in which I got to help out a bunch of UW people bring their PHP up to speed. I played a significant amount of ping pong with Shams throughout the week in the V1 residence. It was scary and yet comforting how good you could get at ping pong by playing 10 games everyday for 8 days non-stop. And all this was as we were catching glimpses of beautiful Olympic figure skaters like Yuna Kim on the V1 televisions. The crash and eventual death of the luge slider brought about a sense of urgency in my own actions: it's just too damn easy to die.

Solving hard concurrency assignment problems with Shams during reading week started to get fun. We also spent lots of time planning out our entire Europe trip, booking hostels and flight tickets, drawing out a budget, and figuring out ways to game the Schengen visa system to help Shams get his visa. Shams and I also celebrated Valentine's day together while consuming unlimited sushi at Ye's because we were just two nerds who couldn't find any girls to keep us busy that day. It was overall a very fun and memorable week even though I was stuck in Waterloo at -20 °C.

4B saw an unprecedented level of addiction and some days even borderline obsession. This time to 24. One episode a day, roughly a season a month. I completed many a homework assignment and work-out exercises shortly after watching each episode. The show is so hard core, so fast paced and so extreme, it's intoxicating! It's exactly the kind of stuff I had been looking for years and exactly the motivational boost I needed during my last semester of school. 4B wouldn't have been even remotely possible without ARR, 24, or Coldplay, in that order. Perhaps because 4B saw an unprecedented level of dip in motivation with school. A full-time job in hand, a solid plan for a tour of Europe, and a guarantee to graduate by simply doing rote work was just too much of a tease. 24 had indeed become the next motivational IV after House. It had been what Prison Break had been to me back in 2008. Each episode of 24 would be leave me with heart beats in the 150s per second, craving for more. But alas, I would rate-limit myself to a mere episode per 24 hours to keep the House effect sustainable. 130 hours across 200 days of pure awesomeness that I absolutely will never regret!

4B was also my last term as founder of WIT (Waterloo Indian Tamils). I had passed off the group to more able hands than mine as I started prepping for graduation. I think this group is going to see new levels. And to think that it all started with a simple seed in my head while I was showering, and 5 minutes to create a facebook group and invite the 5-6 odd Tamil people I already knew at UW. The group now has 26 members (and counting!) with events organized at least twice a term.

4B also saw the first time I tutored for money. So far in life, I had tutored tons, but always for free. I was surprised there were actually four 4th year Math-Biz students who expressed interest in CO 370. It was a moderately difficult course and the midterm was incredibly hard, so I guess they found the tutoring worthwhile. It was great for me since it allowed me to review the material several times while being paid and without having to allocate time to study on my own. Teaching other people the material drilled the concepts in my head really deep. I was thus able to destroy the final exam sitting in an exam room as wretched as RCH 101 with an insane 103% without having spent even a single minute studying on my own time. Nothing like getting paid to study!

I still am clueless as to how I got through the 4th year design project (FYDP), the mandatory final-year engineering capstone project. Especially with such a simple idea of a pre-heated in-sole made of a film composed of carbon nanotubes (CNTs) to keep your shoe warm in the winter. The big poster eventually looked great, and the presentation and overall symposium couldn't have gone smoother. Except for the part where I had to stand for only god knows how many hours. Tired and exhausted, but happy to have gotten one key graduation milestone out of the way without a single all-nighter.

Speaking of graduation milestones, I am so glad I skipped the IRC ceremony, the stag and gradball, the engineering formal. I was part of this elite few who voted to boycott the iron ring ceremony and the absurdity surrounding it. It just wasn't worth the fan fare and the hype. Sorry, but peer pressure just doesn't work with me after I've made up my mind.

When I finished my last final exam at UW on the 16th of April 2010 in the dinghy little room that was RCH 205, I didn't feel anything. Nothing at all. It was as anti-climatic as anti-climatic can get. I knew I should've felt something, but really didn't. Life moves on, I guess. The exam, NE 469 Sensor Miniaturization, was uninteresting as usual. The questions were unoriginal, mostly slight variations of example problems we had already seen in class. I was done with the exam in an hour, at 1:30pm, and was surprisingly the first one to leave the exam hall. I was content with my meager 86% I suppose. Juewen looked at me with a surprised look on his face when I got up to leave so early. He thought I was asking for another answer booklet.

What I really wanted was some warm french vanilla from Tim Hortons. Then I had to head home and prepare to help tutor my friend Stella next day on a math course I had taken nearly 2 years ago. Overall, it was a fantastic day in my books: cinnamon raisin bagel with half cream cheese in the morning, easy final exam in the afternoon followed by french vanilla cappuccino from Tim Hortons, new blog post shortly after that, and then socialize with 14 other fellow Tamil folks from WIT in the evening at Empress of India. But as I was waiting for the bus chatting with Sim (another random facebook add, circa 2007), I realized I was actually done with Waterloo for good! No more examinations for many many years to come! What a relief. But then I also realized I was leaving for Europe in 10 days. The joy was compounded.

The 2-month long Europe Trip was perhaps one of the highlights of 2010 besides graduation. We visited 10 countries and 20 cities in a span of 2 months. We left for Madrid on the 26th April, and got back to Waterloo 52 days later on Jun 17, tired and weary. During my trip, I got pretty close to my 4 travel-mates: Jon, Steffan, Shams and Matt. Steffan, as fate would have it, would later turn out to be my housemate 5 months later all the way in San Francisco, even though I had only met him earlier that year in CS 343 class through Shams.

The trip was exhausting, but extremely satisfying. It taught me a lot about myself, my strengths and more importantly my weaknesses. It taught me the importance of solid team-work and punctuality as well. I will never forget the 3 times we were a toe nail away from missing our trains. Hiking the intense Mountain View trail in Switzerland with Matt and Steffan with nothing but a few bananas as fuel was the most intense physical work out I had ever undertaken. But the view from the top was well worth the intensity of the climb. I felt like I was stuck in front of a poster filled with clouds, snow-capped mountains, forest, lakes and bright sun.

I can't stop thinking or talking about Europe. I'm really surprised how much ground we covered in just 2 months. It was an intense and fast-paced trip. There were a ton of stuff, both good and bad, but mostly good, that happened in each city that I will never ever forget. These memories will be added to my treasure chest forever. Overall, I mastered a bunch of life skills and experiences that are going to come real handy throughout the rest of my life. There was a time when I had been in 4 different countries, each in 4 different time-zones dealing with 4 different currencies in a span of 4 weeks.

I also consider myself lucky to have been able to fund my Europe trip 100% on my own. Everything including flight tickets, food, hostels and train tickets were paid out of my own pocket. I guess when you pay for your own trip, you tend to make the best out of it. I have to pause here for a second and thank co-op for providing me with the finances to fund my own post-graduation trip. Co-op has definitely come of age.

Returning from Europe was saddening, despite the strong travel fatigue that hit me in Oxford, but at least I had convocation, graduation, and reunions with friends to look forward to. I had also ensured to take full advantage of the Backstreet Boy's effect and listen to Coldplay throughout my entire Europe tour. Especially when I was sitting in trains with not much to do. Now I can pretty much replay the memories of any city in my mind just by listening to the right Coldplay song. And when I put Coldplay on random shuffle mode, my thoughts get to hop between one random European city to the next.

I was amazed to finally graduate after half a decade of intense torture, sweat, and toil. Those 5 years at Waterloo have been a complete eye-opener for me and has totally transformed my outlook on life. So many highs, so many lows, it puts the most daring roller coaster to shame. Overall, convocation and receiving the much awaited Waterloo engineering degree after four years, eight months, 65 courses and 6 co-op terms was a good ending to such a powerful episode of my life. The 8 solid academic semesters at Waterloo have given me a considerable amount of life experience to deal with almost anything that may come up in the future.

After graduation, I flew back to Vancouver and then finally to San Francisco for my first ever full-time position! Here I proceeded to continue my eight-month relationship with the city that I had fallen in love with back in 2009. It only seemed right to return to her after graduation. San Francisco allowed me to re-unite with old Waterloo friends: Paul and Lisa. Saying goodbye to Canada wasn't exactly the most pleasant thing to do since it had been my home and my land of tremendous opportunity for the past 8 years. But it wouldn't exactly be too hard to return if I wanted to. I will definitely miss you Timmy's. You had been my faithful companion and temple of thought and contemplation for the last 4 years.

Zynga! What a great bootcamp spanning 2 weeks. I met some of the coolest, smartest and most ambitious people here. I proceeded to join the zlive team as backend full-stack production engineer (whatever that means!) and worked like crazy for 5.5 straight months and still continue to do so into 2011. I learned a bunch of old tech and implemented a bunch of new tech. Managing 4500 servers in the cloud can get pretty intense sometimes! If nothing else, it certainly feels good to be financially stable for the first time ever. And finally, I can brag about achieving the highly prized goal of turning hobby into profession. Zynga is another chapter of my life I would never want to forget, and I am glad it was a chapter that had officially begun in 2010.

2010 was the year I revived three of my old-time hobbies. I got back into the activity I used to immensely enjoy when I was little: biking! I got a bike of my own, my first bike in over a decade, which I ride to work and back every day. It's the most fun 20 minutes of my day everyday. I also got my first fish in eight and a half years. Keeping small-scale aquariums was a fun hobby I had entertained from grades 8-10. But I had to eventually put to an end to that since I was moving so much. In November, I bought my next fish, a betta, for $1 from a dollar store after my stints with mollies, guppies and goldfish way back in 2002. I expected my $1 fish to die in a few days or at least in a month, but it's actually managed to survive almost 2 months now! I'm curious to see how long a dollar fish can survive. In fact, when I was Dubai last month, as we were driving by, I peered through "World of Fishes" (yes, "fishes"), the store I had spent so much time in chatting with the owner, and where I bought almost all my fish from back in the day. Nostalgia struck me hard. The third old-time hobby that I revived is soccer! I hadn't played in many years, but now I get to play with 10 or so Zyngites once a week every week on Thursdays. It's something I look forward to every week.

2010 was also a year when I trained myself to be able to eat absolutely anything vegetarian. Prior to that, I always had my reservations about certain dishes, fruits and vegetables. But now, if it's vegetarian, I can eat it. No matter what it is. And no matter how distasteful it may be. In other words, if anyone else can eat it, I can too. Being the least picky person when it comes to food has several advantages. I've observed that people who know how to cook seem to be more picky about their food choices and seem to have more reservations about what they will eat and won't eat. They're very sensitive to food that may be even slightly out of the norm. I think this is one of the biggest reasons, besides outright laziness, why I've never bothered to learn cooking. I fear that the second I learn to cook, I will immediately be able to pick out food that doesn't taste that great and will be consequently less willing to eat it.

2010 was a year I sneaked in a 2nd time of skydiving with my housemates after my last jump 2.5 years ago. The first time was in Baldwin, Ontario back in June 2008 with Faisal and Sandy from 14,000 ft. This time around was in Davis, California with Steffan and Max from 13,000 ft. I was enchanted to be able to deploy my own parachute this time around. I thought it wouldn't be as exciting the 2nd time around, but it most definitely was! I actually enjoyed the 2nd time a bit more since time didn't fly as quickly and could actually soak in the scenery.

In December, I finally managed to complete my Asia trip that had gotten postponed in May because of my Europe tour. I visited my hometown, the Vegas of the East, i.e. Dubai after 8.5 years. It's always odd visiting the city you grew up in after such a long time. The city has transformed dramatically in the last decade. It almost doesn't even feel like the same city I grew up in anymore. But fortunately, the apartment building I grew up in for 11 years is still there, tall and strong. Driving and walking through the city made me feel a bit queasy: I didn't exactly "miss" the city even though I knew I should've. It was a mix of confusion and surrealism really. The things around me seemed familiar, but I couldn't believe I had actually spent 15 long years in that one city.

While in Dubai, I had the fortune of meeting up with 6 out of a total of about 35 of my high school IHS classmates one evening. It was truly a great time together. It was interesting shaking the very same hands that I had once tried to break in a fit of anger just a decade ago. The best recollection of Marvin, Pawan, Inder, Amit, Ashwin, and Hardik, I guess, is playing soccer with these guys once a week every week for 5+ years in the hot sun. It was admirable to see how people who were so weak academically at one point could still succeed in life simply because they understood people and the economics of trade. But it's scary sometimes to know that there exist people out there in the world who used to know the real me. The Rajesh back in grades 7, 8 and 9 was very, very different from the Rajesh today. I tried explaining the differences to Dongni this past April, and I wasn't surprised at all when her jaw fell wide open.

I definitely missed not being able to catch some of my other cool long-time classmates too: Prashant, James, Pitamber, Hussain, Nigel, Macvin, Hitesh, Dhanush, Sailesh, Prakash, Rajiv, Rahul, Satpal, and Yogesh.

4 days in Dubai and after that was India: Bangalore, Kerala and Chennai. I was born in Chennai 23 years ago, but I never feel at "home" when I'm there. The city was as foreign to me as would Tokyo or Kiev, except perhaps for knowing the local language. But then again, there is no city in the world that I can definitively call my "home" anymore. You see, I get bored of cities too quickly. The only "home" therefore is a constant nomadic life of hopping from one city to the next every couple of years. That's perhaps the same reason why I like travel so much. Shams depicts this idea elegantly in his blog post Where is Home?

Mo and Faisal decided to visit me for New Year's eve. I had met Mo once before back in September 2008. What was supposed to be a quiet and peaceful new year's weekend turned out to be a very fun, eventful, and rambunctious 3 days. We covered a lot of ground in those 3 days.

2010 saw 12 seminal blog posts, an average of 1 per month. Blogging only when I had a real urge to blog definitely made the quality of each post significantly high. I don't think forcing yourself to blog because you haven't blogged in a while, or setting goals like "I'm going to blog once a week" is healthy since then you'll end up writing about topics you're not completely passionate about. This will reduce your interest in the blog post which shows in the quality of the content. This year, I am especially proud of my posts on time pressured exams and pull vs. push systems. I think they turned out quite well.

I don't think I'll ever forget 2010. It will be a year that will continue to be near and dear to me for many decades to come. It's a year of plentiful activities. Just so much has happened this past year. That's why I couldn't care less how long and exhaustive this journal entry got. I just had to get it all down on paper for my own future record.

But the most beautiful thing is that at the crux of everything that had happened this year, there were people, real people with real faces, behind them: I met some very interesting and/or smart people this year: Quy, Aletheia, James C., Ricardo, Max, Anshul, Ethan, Reeta, Marina, RJ, Troy, Scott, Kyle, Jyo, Jeeyoung, Monil and Mo Shafique. I truly hope our paths cross again to those who don't currently live in SF. I wish I could tell how many people I've added on facebook this past year, but that'd be more work than I'd like to do.

2010 saw a lot of first times. No, I mean A LOT. Well, there were a lot of first times in Europe, but in the interest of conciseness, I'm going to leave those out since there's just too many first-times in Europe to even remember, let alone enumerate.

  1. tried out some Ethiopian food for the first time with Kyle and friends. Ted, my classmate, and Daniel, my colleague at Tagged had been suggesting I try this for so long! I think the best part was when 5 people started eating out of the same plate at once.
  2. tried shooting real guns for the first time with Kyle and Jyo. It was, needless to say, incredibly fun!
  3. tried out hot yoga (bikram) for the first time. Got pwned by it, but it was totally worth it. Kyle was there too. Make no mistake, he got pwned as well. I probably lost about 5 liters of sweat in that one room during those 90 minutes.
  4. tried out Ayurvedic oil massage for the first time. So relaxing! Especially the hot shower after.
  5. first time making an Amazon purchase. Got a new Asus netbook. I'm such a laggard when it comes to technology.
  6. and of course, first time owning a netbook. See? A laggard.
  7. first time dressing up for halloween. I'm still not exactly sure what I dressed up as. But other people knew, so I'm cool.
  8. First time calling (not dialing) 911. Had a broken fire hydrant outside my house. Their response? "Yea we know about it." Even though, I called just a few seconds after the incident.
  9. first time owning cacti, my favorite indoor plants!
  10. first time adding my dentist on facebook. It is San Francisco after all. Even cab drivers here have iPhones, Gmail, and Facebook.
  11. first time voluntarily eating meat. It was beef. All the way in Barcelona. Shams said I was too scared to try eating meat. So I had to prove him wrong. It tasted bad, like chewing on an eraser. I couldn't finish it. It was undramatic, to say the least.
  12. first time owning an iPhone. Well, I don't technically "own" it, Zynga does, but I get to use it like I own it. The built-in camera quality is mind-blowing for a phone!
  13. first time tried indoor climbing/belaying. Thanks to Paul for introducing me to this cool sport.
  14. first time trying out ice cream sandwich
  15. first time filing US taxes and getting burnt by it
  16. first time on a non-intern US visa (TN)
  17. first time attending startup school. It was totally worth it
  18. first time launching my own AWS instance, both for work as well as for personal use
  19. first time trying out paragliding, that too all the way in the swiss alps. Video here.
  20. first time being inside a stadium
  21. first time watching a baseball game. and that too from zynga's private suite!
  22. first time trying to deposit cash into an ATM machine. And the machine ate it! I blame Steffan and BOA.
  23. first time actually playing credit card roulette. Losing isn't fun but builds tremendous sportsmanship.
  24. first time owning and using a wireless keyboard. I think I like the wired version better because you hardless notice the cord and is significantly cheaper.
  25. first time deploying my own parachute!
  26. first time playing blackjack! not with real money yet though. got to be patient to hit up Vegas for that.
  27. first time getting more than 100% on an exam at the University level. Got a number of those in high school, but this was a first for me in University. My score on the CO 370 final exam this April was, amazingly enough, 103%.
  28. first time trying extreme sky flying. It's like bungee jumping but not as intense. But it can be done concurrently with friends so it's more fun. Managed to squeeze in sky flying, skydiving, and paragliding all in one year!
  29. first time doing a desert safari, even though I lived in a desert for up-wards of 15 years. Also the first time I had ever gotten on top of a camel! It's fun being bumped around so much.
  30. first time visiting my high school friends from Dubai after 8.5 years! What a momentous moment.
  31. first time visiting a random facebook friend in person in another country. I visited Quy in London, UK, where she bought me some great Vietnamese food, and afterwards she came to visit in SF later in the year. Thus far, I had only visited random adds in one of the cities I was living in or had lived in. Aletheia was one such cool friend and random facebook add I had the privilege of meeting in January in Waterloo. The lesson I learned was that if you want to meet the truly unique types, the islands and peninsulas in the social graph of life, you have to seek these people out yourself. And what a pleasant surprise it was to see Aiping, of all people, when I went to visit Ale at her place. She was the last person I would've expected to meet there. The lesson I learned there was that seemingly random people are often times connected to people you know in some way or the other. Especially in a small town like Waterloo, the average degrees of separation can be as small as 4 or even 3. My blog and getting published in the Waterloo Daily Bulletin has allowed me to meet a bunch of new people through email and Facebook that I may have never met before.

I admire first times. It means I'm trying out new things. It means I'm pushing myself outside the boundaries. It means I'm extending my comfort zone a wee bit each time and each year. That is the end goal after all: a comfort zone so large, there was only one way I could've possibly gotten it.

In the end, all I can say is dare to set lofty, ambitious, and really aggressive goals every single day. It doesn't matter if you don't achieve them. The journey and experience getting there is learning enough that will take you a long way compared to not doing anything at all. Goal setting is the number one pre-requisite to attaining great experiences. Keep doing something. Never let your mind rot. The Slumdog Effect tells us that every little thing you do today will help you gain the skills and the knowledge to help you solve a problem or achieve success at an indefinite point in the future. So keep pushing yourself as much as you can. Never say no to a new experience that you may be initially afraid or skeptical of because it might push your envelope. Keep expanding that comfort zone more and more. There is no end to how much it can grow. Plan big, be hard-core, move fast, trust your instincts, sharpen them every day, and work hard on improving every aspect of your life every single day. Then every year will be magnitudes of order better than the previous one.

Before we close the curtains for the awesome year that was 2010, let us once again remind ourselves of Shakespeare's inspiring words like we did two and six years ago.

All the world's a stage, And all the men and women merely players: They have their exits and their entrances; And one man in his time plays many parts, His acts being seven ages. At first the infant, Mewling and puking in the nurse's arms. And then the whining school-boy, with his satchel And shining morning face, creeping like snail Unwillingly to school. And then the lover, Sighing like furnace, with a woeful ballad Made to his mistress' eyebrow. Then a soldier, Full of strange oaths, and bearded like the pard, Jealous in honour, sudden and quick in quarrel, Seeking the bubble reputation Even in the cannon's mouth. — Jaques, As You Like It (Act II, Scene VII)

Wish me more luck for 2011! I can't seem to have enough. I get the clairvoyant feeling this year is going to be a good year!

-- Rajesh Kumar
15 January 2011

Last modified: Sat Jan 15 2011 01:00 PM