So it’s been four years

The day before Thanksgiving 2015 I concluded my bike ride. That’s a little over four years ago. After I typed up my post summarizing the last leg of my trip I didn’t know what to do with this blog. Besides the obvious, which was to just walk away from it and let it skulk on the Internet, visited occasionally by myself, nostalgic family and friends, and the accidental wanderer who tumbleweeds over thanks to a nudge from Google’s algorithm.

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Thanksgiving 2019. Thanksgiving marks another year since the conclusion of my bike ride. It’s kind of bittersweet for me and makes me reflect and get all broody.

My father turned 80 last March, which inspired some celebration and reflection. My mother asked me to consider giving him a gift of my blog in book form. Sure, he could visit my blog anytime, but there’s something about having an actual book to thumb through, so my mom tried to make the case that my father secretly wanted a physical copy. I remained unconvinced that my dad desired a book of my blog.

But I was pretty certain that my mother wanted one.

So for Christmas I got my blog turned into a book as a gift for my mom! I checked out some different sites that turn blogs into books and all of them were pretty frustrating to use. I resigned to using intorealpages.com and had low expectations, but when the book arrived I was very pleasantly surprised! When she unwrapped it, my mother made the sound I was hoping she would make – some combination of “Aww you shouldn’t have” with “Well it’s about time!” – and family and friends clustered around to flip through the memories. Stories resurfaced and came alive again. It all made me homesick for my blog. I started lamenting that no memories from the last four years would be so easily printed out and shared during any future Christmases. I shared these thoughts with Sue (yes, I still run to Sue when I need help processing events) and she helped me commit to bringing the blog back!

Welcome to Barbells Bikes Biytes and Bones!

What, you may be asking, will be covered in this rebirth of a familiar blog? And what’s with the Biytes? Great questions! Let’s restart the blog with a metapost about the blog:

Biytes, a lazy portmanteau pronounced just like bites and/or bytes and means exactly one or the other or both. I’ve chosen to cram this into my title because it starts with B. I mean, clearly, that’s a requirement. Also, because I want to talk about food and computers.

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I promised food on this blog, so here’s a picture of some vegan steak I had with my Cousin Sue in San Diego, May 2019.

“Amy, you’ve already been talking about food throughout your blog,” you might be saying. Well sure! Who doesn’t like food? Kind of like sitting. Montgomery Burns once said, “Oh yes, sitting! The great leveler! From the mightiest pharaoh to the lowliest peasant, who doesn’t enjoy a good sit?” You could say the same about food. Who doesn’t enjoy a good food? Seriously though, my lifestyle has changed a lot, and yet the enjoyment of good food remains consistent. From the cross country cyclist to the Silicon Valley vegan software engineer, who doesn’t enjoy a good food?

“Vegan software engineer?” It’s a little bit hilarious that this blog has come to that. In fact, in my post From Eureka to Portland, aka You’re Going the Wrong Way, I made my one and only mention of veganism, and I’m afraid it’s not entirely positive:

I also met a 70 year old man going south who’s done cycling tours all over the place, but then he wanted to talk to me about his all vegan, all organic, non-GMO diet and toxins in the air and toxins in the water and Big Pharma and the exploding rates of autism, so I excused myself and continued going The Wrong Way.

To be fair, this man wasn’t just vegan, he was also constructing some conspiracy around autism, and it appears that I wasn’t in the most chipper of moods. Reading back on that post, it’s a little embarrassing… was I really that bitter over jokes about going the wrong way? Did I really zipper myself up in my tent and refuse to talk to the other cyclists at the campground who were traveling south? I guess I have to cut myself some slack and try to remember just how difficult those first weeks of my trip were.

Anyway, the point is that many changes have happened during the past four years, which is why Biytes has now become part of this blog’s title. I’ve gone from cross country cyclist eating anything in sight and posting pictures of my giant omelet breakfasts to vegan software engineer meticulously reading ingredients. The blog will now embrace discussions surrounding vegan food and coding adventures. The topic of why I decided to go vegan last March at my birthday party can be addressed in later posts. Let’s move on to the software engineering part of things.

I like to joke that after finishing my bike ride, I noticed that I was really tired and would like to do something that involved a lot of sitting. So I learned how to code. It’s not untrue, but it’s also not that simple. When I was teaching high school biology in East Side San Jose back in, like 2012 (?) I had my first exposure to coding. As science and math and English teachers, there was the rather lofty and ambitious goal that we could also teach our students to code. While simultaneously teaching science, math, and English. With no extra time. In the very same 50 minutes a day we had to teach our subjects, to also teach teenagers how to code. It seems laughable now, but at the time I was naive and idealistic and believed that both could happen – nay, even support each other! Coding was the magic sauce that could be poured over any subject to mask its bitter taste. Students don’t like biology? That’s ok, just trick them into learning bio by having them code biology games! And to help us out with teaching a subject that we ourselves did not know, we teachers were given a whole weekend to learn Flash. Needless to say, my students did not learn how to code, but I learned enough to realize that I kind of liked coding, and that if I really wanted to, I could probably learn it without having to re-enroll in college. The idea had been stewing in the back of my mind ever since, so when I heard about coding bootcamps in 2016 and found myself a little out of ideas on what to do next after finishing a big bike ride, I decided to sign up for 14 weeks with Coding Dojo.

I’m sure I’ll mention Coding Dojo a lot in upcoming posts. Those 14 weeks were some of the most fun I’d ever had. Part of me just loves to be a student, but also I just loved coding. Algorithms were my absolute favorite. They’re logic puzzles that are an absolute delight to fiddle around with and get stuck in and solve and optimize and approach from all different angles. It was also just fun to build stuff all day every day. We made all kinds of web apps and iOS apps and games, what wasn’t there to like?

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Here’s a cohort of Dojo students with instructors on their graduation day. I’m not in the photo because I’m taking it. I think I remember teaching this group the MEAN stack.

I ended up staying on at Coding Dojo as an instructor for two years. Of course, teaching a subject is what really makes you learn it. After two years at the Dojo covering a variety of languages and tech stacks, from Angular to Django to MySQL, I finally felt confident enough to apply for a software engineer position and ended up at PayPal. I’ve now been at PayPal for about six months and am starting to feel like a functional part of the team!

Since this blog is going to include my coding adventures, I guess I’ll start now by sharing one of my on-going projects. One of my favorite topics is graphs, which opens the door to path-finding algorithms, so I decided to put myself to the test and try to build a program that would solve Ricochet Robots. To summarize, Ricochet Robots is a game where you can slide four robots around the board. They’ll slide in one direction until they hit something – either a wall or another robot. You’re given the goal to get a particular robot into a particular spot on the board. You may move any of the robots, and you compete to see who can get it done with the fewest moves. We have a great love-hate relationship in my family with this game, and there have been many times when we’ve wondered if there was a more efficient path that we weren’t seeing. I wanted to build a program that would answer this question once and for all.

After many many many hours, I came up with a program that solves almost everything I give it! Almost. So clearly it isn’t perfect, but I figured it was at least worthy of a user interface, instead of just living on my console. So I studied Unity for a bit and gave it a cute little frontend. The robots can be clicked and dragged anywhere on the board, and then you can click and drag the diamond to show where the end goal is. Click the diamond to choose which color robot you want to end up there, and then the program does the rest. Here’s a quick little video demonstration:

As for what else will be going on in this blog, barbells and bikes are very much a part of my life to this day, and I’m still taking any opportunity I have to spread the word about the bone marrow donor registry, so I’m sure these topics will make their appearances. In other news, I have two cats now, Snowball and Nibbler, both Humane Society rescues, and I’ve moved into an apartment with a roommate named Eli.

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My girl Snowball, she’s a big kitty!

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I made my kitten Nibbler wear bat wings for Halloween, but he just threw a fit and rolled around on the floor.

I also really like quilting, enough so that I considered adding another B into the blog’s title – a quilting term like Batting or Binding or Bias – but I’m storing that idea for another day should the need to resurrect the blog come again.

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I made this quilt completely out of fabric scraps I had laying about and gave it to my frugal Uncle Dave for Christmas.

For 2020 my goal is to post at least once a month, so wish me luck and let’s see where this goes! Happy new year everyone!

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