One of my favorite undergraduate courses was an optional elective on the topic
of ciphers, starting with handwritten approaches and eventually moving on into
mechanical and then digital cryptography. A few classes in the handwritten
section started with the professor writing ciphertext on the board and inviting
us to spend some time attempting to break it without knowledge of what the
cipher actually was.
A while back I pledged to write a paper on a topic unrelated to my academic
major for my Estonian fraternity. I never actually got around to doing this,
but at the time of the pledge I had the ciphers course fresh in my head and
thought it would more research would be interesting. So in the interest of
actually making some progress on this, I thought writing a bit about
handwritten ciphers here may be a good way to motivate myself. To ease into
it, I’m starting with the most basic cipher I know of: the Caesar Cipher.
I tried something new in 2017, which was to make a set of personal OKRs to
fulfill throughout the year. OKRs (Objectives and Key Results) are typically
used as a planning framework by companies (both Google and Twitter implement
them) but I had never tried to structure personal goals in this way. I’m not
sure it’s a general approach I’d recommend for anyone else, but I like the
idea of taking a set of abstract goals and trying deconstruct them into
I respect the effects of small adjustments to habits compounded over time. New
Year resolutions have been effective ways for me to implement such changes. In
2014 I started making one-second-per-day videos (and have done so in
2014, 2015, and 2016 so far!). In 2015 I started
regular Rosetta Stone lessons to learn Mandarin. In 2016 I tracked my weight
and food every day with the intent of losing 30 lbs by the time my daughter was
born. In 2017 I wanted to be healthier, happier, grow intellectually, and
create things. I’m writing this as a postmortem on the process, and an
accounting for how I think it went.
At the start of 2017 I, feeling a little unproductive, defined a set of goals
which I’d try to achieve by the end of the year. It was around this time that
I, feeling a little unhappy in my job, started looking at other places to work.
While I was investigating the culture and history of Stripe (which I ultimately
joined) one very common theme was how voracious of a reader its CEO Patrick
Reflecting on the meager list of books I’d completed in 2016, I realized that
my own reading pace had dwindled over the years. Back when I commuted to
Mountain View from SF, I generally had multiple hours per day to read. That
became maybe 40 minutes each day when I started taking Muni to work downtown.
When Twitter moved its office to within walking distance I basically stopped
entirely, not making up in reading the time I was gaining from a shorter
commute. I missed the depth I felt that I got from reading books and figured
the best way to bring that back was to construct a goal of reading a specific
quantity this year.
The first time I remember hearing the term “hackathon” out loud was when I was
a couple weeks into my employment on Google’s Developer Relations team. I was
trying to figure out what I was going to do to help bootstrap developers for
the nascent OpenSocial project. Patrick Chanezon, the Developer Advocate on
the project, said something like “we’re going to cold call a bunch of social
app authors and hold a hackathon to test out the API” which hadn’t really been
done before—we were helping pave a new path for the company at the time.
That first event was kind of a mess. I remember stalling for time with a room
full of developers since our test server wasn’t booting correctly. An engineer
was hurriedly trying to fix things so that the attendees could get to work.
The premise for Luis Buñuel’s THE EXTERMINATING ANGEL is that a group
of socialites are unable to leave a parlor following a dinner party. This is
about as much as I knew going into it, which was exciting, since the premise
works better that way.
I figure that if you’re going to keep people in a room there’s a few ways it
can go. The most obvious is that the room is literally locked or blocked off
and those folks need to escape it physically. In this case that seemed
unlikely, mostly because the movie is named The Exterminating Angel and that
would be a pretty bad name for a movie about a locked room.