What I'm Doing Instead of Watching Netflix

I spent the better part of 2016 and the beginning of 2017 without a consistent internet connection. Between fulfilling my dream of living the #vanlife, roadtripping to Mexico, and hibernating in a remote cabin, there wasn’t much time or incentive to install a router anywhere. Accessing the internet came to mean a trip to the nearest cafe to get some work done. The internet became a utilitarian tool rather than an addictive form of entertainment.

But I had different goals back in my limited-internet existence. I prioritized spending time with my partner Claire, walking in nature, getting better at surfing and climbing, and connecting with the people I met along the way. I have since buckled down and settled into a familiar state of studying and working hard in order to build my skillset for the life ahead. While our internet-free days were liberating, I’ll be the first to admit that it’s impossible to be productive at home without reliable internet.

Although I have felt extremely productive since setting up in a home base that isn’t on wheels, I have also watched more TV shows on Netflix in the past few months than I did in that entire year without internet. Claire and I settled into the dangerous habbit of watching an episode with every meal. Not a dinner went by without watching at least one, usually two, episodes of Friends. We ended up slamming back a decade of episodes from the legendary 90’s series in a matter of months. It was clear that something had to change.

I’m not planning on cutting Netflix out of my life entirely. After all, one certainly needs downtime in life, doesn’t one, Jeeves? But I’ll be chosing movies and shows more selectively, and planning when I’ll watch them, rather than allowing them to dominate my daily routine. What follows is a list of things I’ll be doing instead.

Programming

I’ve always been drawn in by the purity of mathematics, but I’ve always known that much of the beauty that is inherent in mathematics can often be realized through beautiful programming solutions. Furthermore, the powerful ways in which statistics, which I know intimitely in a theoretical way, can be applied to the real world through programming is becoming increasingly difficult to ignore. I’ve been programming off and on in some combination of R, Python, and Java since 2014. But it seems that every time I learn something new about implementing these languages, five new unkowns crop up. Simply put, it seems that the number of things that I know I don’t know increases exponentially with the things that I do know. The vast sea of knowledge to acquire is ever increasing.

In order to keep developing as a programmer and applied mathematician, I want to continue to chip away at Project Euler’s monlithic collection of problems. But I also have a handful of ideas percolating which I plan to attempt to implement and write about here on this blog over the course of the summer. Finally, I’ll be looking to contibute to a couple of projects on GitHub in order to get my feet wet in the world of open-source collaboration. If you happen to have any suggestions, definitely let me know!

Reading

I’d love to be able to say that I’ll be replacing all those wasted Netflix hours with strictly productive programming. But most of us, unless we have some superhuman passion for the projects we’re working on, need a certain amount of down time in order to stay sane. Reading material of any kind seems like the most natural alternative to an unhealthy Netflix habit.

Acquiring reading material is a lot like learning programming concepts for me. Any time I discover a new author or genre, I become posessed to purchase and subsequently read every book related to that genre or author. As with programming concepts, the number of books that I want to read increases exponentially with the number of books that I have already enjoyed. Lately, there just seems to be way too much great reading material, including my growing stack of unread weeklies from The New Yorker, to be sitting around watching Netflix.

I love keeping several books on the go all at once. Here’s what’s sitting on my desk right now:

  • Gravity’s Rainbow by Thomas Pynchon

Earler this year I finished Roberto Bolaño’s 2666. Coming in around 900 pages, it is the longest novel that I have ever thoroughly enjoyed. After finishing and digesting it, setting out on a new novel of any lesser length seemed too easy.

When I started out on Gravity’s Rainbow, I didn’t have the foggiest idea of what I was getting myself into. After reading the first few short sections and then conducting a bit of research about the book, I learned what I trap I had fellen into. To give you a quick idea, academics on the subject often debate which of Infinite Jest, Ulysses, or Gravity’s Rainbow is more difficult to read. Care to guess which novels are next on my list?

  • Metamagical Themas by Douglas Hofstadter

I’m a long-time Douglas Hofstader fan. In high school my brother gave me a copy of I Am a Strange Loop. Much to my surprise, I actually finished this dense piece. In first year of University, I took a course for which the required textbook was Gödel, Escher, Bach: The Eternal Golden Braid. To this day, I consider one of my greatest lifetmie achievements to be actually reading that tome from cover to cover.

Metamagical Themas is a collection of articles which Hofstadter originally wrote for Scientific American in the early 80’s. The articles usually cover Hofstadter-esque concepts including mathematics, art, cognition, loopiness, and strangeness.

  • Causality: Models, Reasoning, and Inference by Judea Pearl

I don’t plan on reading this one from cover to cover. I’m mostly just mining it for general probability and reasoning intuition. Although I’ve taken quite a few courses related to probability and statistics, I feel as though there may be gaps in my reasoning due to a heavy focus on theory and notation in my previous courses.

  • The Pleasures of Counting by T. W. Körner

A mentor of mine asked me to read this book back in 2014. I read the first several chapters that same summer, but when school was back in session, this tome quickly began to collect dust. I’m revisiting it now with the hopes of again acquiring some intuition about how mathematics can be used to solve real-world problems through the likes of operations research.