My New Blue Light Blocking Tinted Glasses

For the past two weeks while I am at work or at home working on a computer, playing video games, etc. I am wearing a pair of prescription glasses with a blue light blocking tint to them. After a number of different articles came out saying how blue light being emitted from our screens is causing harm to our eyes and sleep, I thought it would be best to ask my optometrist about getting a pair of glasses that block out the blue light.

What I have noticed in just these few weeks of using prescription glasses with a blue light blocking tint was my eyes were less tired at the end of the day, slightly less red and irritated looking, and I fall asleep a little easier. Is this just a placebo effect and something that I am just noticing now because of my new glasses? Perhaps, but in my mind I would rather have “healthier” eyes and an easier time falling asleep with a better sleeping pattern than the opposite. With so much negativity in the world, having something positive is essential.

My original pair of glasses were fitted with transitional lenses (they get darker depending on the amount of UV light detected) and unfortunately I could not get them equipped with both transition lenses and blue light blocking lenses. So now while I am indoors working on a PC or playing Xbox I wear my new glasses, but when I do anything outdoors I wear my older pair of glasses with the transitional lenses.

If you stare at a computer or screen all day then I suggest you take a look at getting a pair of blue light blocking tinted glasses, either with a prescription or not. Previously I believe the glasses lenses that were available had a yellow hue to them, but now (well mine anyway) are clear and depending on the angle you hold them you can see a blue fade to them. To me the eyes are one of the most important body parts and I would absolutely be devastated if something seriously injured them if I could have prevented it. These glasses are one type of protection and prevention that I am more than happy to have obtained.

Microsoft or Google’s Productivity Apps

My original post was going to be about the two different AI assistants that Microsoft and Google offer, Cortana and Google Assistant respectively. However while writing and reviewing the post the theme of productivity and how the two assistants are making life simpler kept appearing. So instead I discarded that post and started this one. I try to streamline and make my life easier by looking for ways to automate, digitally organise, and remove redundant or boring tasks while taking advantage of applications on both mobile and PC to keep everything together.

As someone with an Android phone and has/is still using Google’s products on a number of platforms it would make sense that I lean towards Google’s ecosystem and productivity apps. But, Microsoft’s own products are just as good (if not better IMO) than Google’s. Are there other productivity products out there that do the same job or better? There could be but I generally only like using first party products because I don’t like giving other applications access to my account information. If others have suggestions about other apps that are useful let me know in the comments and I’ll potentially take a look at them and break my rule.

Email

Be it personal or for work, I use email a good amount. On my Android phone I have disabled the Gmail app and have opted for the Outlook app. There are several reasons for this. Aesthetically the Gmail app is pleasing and the performance is great, you never see any slowness or lag. Outlook is not as visually pleasing and appears more formal but it too performs well with little to no lag or slowness. If you are on PC then you can use both Gmail and Outlook through your web browser of choice, and if you subscribe to Office 365 (like I do) you can get access to the Outlook application where you can have both your Gmail and Outlook accounts synced up. The features that you get with Outlook on their apps and the web are also far superior than what Google offers. Outlook can be far more complicated and daunting with all your options, etc while Gmail is more user friendly, streamlined but lacks the options that Outlook offers. Score one to Microsoft here with the number of email features on offer when using Outlook.

Calendar

This one is a no brainer. For some reason Google has a separate app for your calendar which is a little bit of a pain. But the calendar app they do have is like the Gmail app aesthetically pleasing. Not only does it look good but it also performs very well. However the major draw back is that it will only sync with your Gmail account (perhaps I have not found the right setting but I cannot sync other calendars to it). Microsoft’s Outlook app has an inbuilt calendar (yay, less apps) and it has all the features the Google Calendar app offers. On the PC you can again use a web browser to access both Google and Microsoft account calendars. The Outlook app to manage your calendar on PC is a power user’s dream. There are a number of features that are either really hard to find in Google Calendar or are not present. So again Microsoft takes the win here by making Outlook such a powerful app on both Android and PC.

Tasks, To-Dos, and Reminders

I decided to bundle tasks, to-dos and reminders together because I generally treat and use all three in a similar way. Microsoft allows you to handle these either through the dedicated To-Do app (would have loved to be able to do this through the Outlook app like everything else unless you use Outlook on PC) or the AI assistant Cortana, plus there is the Microsoft Launcher, but I won’t discuss the details about that app here. I just want to point out that aesthetically Microsoft’s apps on Android feel very corporate and formal, but the To-Do app feels very consumer friendly and welcoming like Google’s apps. Google handles tasks, to-dos and reminders in a much similar fashion. Google has Google Keep and a new Google Tasks app, plus there is the Google Assistant. I previously used Google Keep and it did the job really well, but after moving to Office 365 and Microsoft’s products I found that Google Keep was/is fairly basic. From what I have read about Google Tasks, that product is also basic and has only the very bare minimum features with more coming the future. If you want a number of features for your tasks, to-dos and reminders then Microsoft’s products are the way to go, but what Google offers do the job just fine.

AI Assistant

The AI assistant of choice really depends on which ecosystem you are using. If you are in the Google ecosystem using Gmail, Google Calendar, Google Tasks, Google Keep, etc. then the Google Assistant is the one you should be using IMO. If you use Outlook and To-Do then Cortana is the AI assistant you need to use. Google Assistant on Android is integrated so well it is really a shame that Cortana does not integrate as well. If I could identify one area where Google is leaps and bounds above Microsoft is the quality, performance and appearance of the app on Android. I believe Cortana does not look as good as Google Assistant and also is not as responsive. There have been graphical issues when I launch the app at times, there is the occasional lag, etc. However with every new update of Cortana on Android it gets better. Cortana on PC however does not have the same issues as it does on Android in regard to performance and appearance. Both AI  assistants perform very similar when I ask them questions in my day to day use so if you’re worried about not being able to answer or perform a task during day to day use then you shouldn’t. They have their own ways to perform the same task but it is just a matter of getting used to it. Google’s feels a little more natural than Microsoft, but it is not a major issue. If I had to lean one way, Google’s integration with all their platforms, products and services, aesthetics and performance makes this one a win for it.

Overall Google and Microsoft offer a number of products and services that can pretty much handle everything that you throw at them. Google’s products are simpler, easy to use and are very consumer friendly. They perform very well and visually are superior to the ones offered by Microsoft. Microsoft’s products feel more business, formal and professional oriented. The number of features that they have is also far superior to that of the features the Google products have. If you are a power user and really want to streamline, organise and stay on top of all your things then Microsoft has you covered. At the end of the day you cannot go wrong with either ecosystem and it is all about what you want out of your apps.

My Artificial Neural Network Application & Podcast

The last month my blog has been fairly quiet.

I have been a little busy working on my artificial neural network, practising BJJ and playing some video games; plus I was sick for a couple of days. Initially my plan (which I stuck to for an extended period) was to put out a blog post every one to two weeks. However coming up with meaningful content that often can be fairly difficult.

This month I plan on writing about my artificial neural network with some emphasis on how a multi-layer perceptron works and how my application works/be used. It can be viewed on my GitHub page.

The current state of my artificial neural network on GitHub is just the skeleton with the majority of the code still not pushed to the repository. As I start to push the meat of the artificial neural network components such as the feed-forward, backward propagation, etc I will be creating specific blog posts.

The podcast that I was working on has not turned out as expected so I am in the process of re-evaluating the tools and topics that I will cover. I still plan on creating a podcast and with the new Content Creator version of Skype it should make the process  much simpler.

Learning Patience From Teaching

I would consider myself a fairly calm, level headed and patient individual; never can I recall a time where I have gone off the deep end and blown a gasket. There is nothing beneficial in becoming angry, frustrated and furious at an individual or team, or questioning whether someone has really been paying attention in a demeaning fashion. I have seen first hand what happens when someone does blow up and starts angrily blaming and non-constructively criticize someone. As I worked with a variety of different individuals from a number different backgrounds, beliefs, understanding and competence, I have learnt to be patient and try to understand why and where they are coming from.

The reason why I am writing this blog post is because this weekend I was asked by my parents to construct an specific Microsoft Excel spreadsheet that can be easily modified aka “Idiot Proof” as they put it. I am not an Excel wizard or master, but I do know my way around a spreadsheet and I can do what was necessary in Excel for them. As I finished the spreadsheet and was showing them, they seemed fairly happy with the result which was good. But as I was showing them how to update and use it to meet their needs, that is when my patience was being tested. What I originally thought was going to be several minutes explaining how to use the spreadsheet turned into an hour worth of explaining.

My dad is an electrical engineer and as far back as I can remember he has used a computer. He knows how to build them and use a number of various software programs effectively. But his knowledge is limited when it comes to the Microsoft Office suite other than how to send an email in Outlook. My mum on the other hand is what you would call  unfortunately, computer illiterate. She knows the very (and I mean very) basic computer functions. Browsing the Internet (safely), and updating the computer is all she really knows how to do. Anything else would require me to either write it down in simple easy to understand steps or show her continuously until it becomes second nature. She has not used computers as much as my dad or me, so I don’t expect her computer literacy level to be as high as either of us, and that is perfectly fine. She is more than willing to learn which is fantastic.

Back to the Excel spreadsheet. It was constructed in a way that would auto-populate nearly all of the necessary cells with only a couple left to be filled in, and rows in a table would be used to auto-populate a number of other cells. I showed them once how to add a new row to a table in the spreadsheet which allowed the cells to be auto-populated. The actions and process was extremely simple. I laid it out to them in the following way:

  1. Left mouse click in the table cell to select the table.
  2. Right mouse click in the table cell to bring up the pop-up.
  3. Select Insert from the pop-up.
  4. Select Insert Row Below from the pop-up.

I really didn’t think it could get any simpler or easier. However it took them a number of times to understand that you cannot just enter values below the current row and have the necessary cells auto-populated. Knowing that for them this is fairly foreign, I needed to be patient and try to answer their questions as best as possible, in the most simplest way too. If I didn’t have the patience to explain something as simple as adding a new row to a table in Excel then it was a perfect time to learn to be more patient.

After showing them a couple of other necessary actions to perform some other tasks I asked them are there any other follow up questions they had. My parents wanted to see if they could do the whole process from start to finish by themselves with me watching to make sure the right actions were performed. The very first task was adding a new row to the table, and already like an old bad habit they just entered the values below the row and not in the table. I calmly explained to them again that they needed to add a new row to the table otherwise the value will not auto-populate. So I proceeded to show them again how to do that. Again, if I didn’t have patience or was hot headed then I most likely would have said something like “I just showed you how to add a new row to the table like 5 minutes ago, how did you forget? Or were you just not paying attention?”.

As a project technical lead and a software engineer who has been with my current company a number of years, I also provide support to any new software engineers that join our teams. Once again I get to interact with individuals ranging from software engineering interns who are still studying at university to software engineers who have been around the block. With the vast difference in experience that someone has, I need to be able to be more forgiving, understanding and patience with someone who has never rebased a Git branch or resolved merge conflicts before pushing to their origin. I get the opportunity to teach someone something new while also learn to be more patient, understanding and a better leader. It is a win win for everyone 🙂

Obsessively Learning For The Better

Ever since I could remember I always loved to learn and help others. Be it to learn how things work, why something was designed a specific way, and/or what made this thing function the way it did. All of those questions fuelled my curiosity and passion to learn, to understand, and to help others understand or solve their problem. There is something satisfying about knowing how things work, why they work, and being able to answer people’s questions with an appropriate answer. Plenty of people are not too concerned about the how and why, and are just happy that it works; this is absolutely fine as well. For me however, the more I understand something the more I can leverage it to my advantage getting the absolute most out of it. This is probably another reason why I became a Software Engineer and continued to study after my Bachelor degree to obtain a Master degree.

I encountered a small technical issue yesterday and was browsing Stack Overflow to see how others resolved their problem and what the exact root cause was. There was a perfect answer to the issue with a equally perfect explanation as to why it was failing and how the fix solves the issue. Sometimes when I see the answers to questions on Stack Overflow there is just an answer with little to no explanation as to why it fixes the issue. These answers I feel are not that great because really you don’t learn and understand how to fix the problem, you just use a solution without understanding the problem properly. You don’t learn anything. If I do encounter just an answer to the problem I try to read up further as to why this solution works. In the long run being able to understand the problem completely and how the solution fixes it is far more beneficial.

On a daily basis I try to learn something new, be it a new functionality that I didn’t know in Java, C++ or C# had or how to use my body to ensure that I can easily incapacitate an attacker with minimal effort using BJJ. By me constantly learning something new every day I can better myself which in turn I can try and assist others to better themselves or provide a solution to a problem they have encountered. This desire to learn has helped me in my career so far as a Software Engineer, as you need to constantly develop your skills and research new and upcoming technological trends to stay relevant. It is a challenge to try and better yourself day in and day out, but when you go to bed at night and you think about what you have learnt that day or how you have helped someone, it makes going to sleep that much easier.

Goodbye 2017, Hello 2018

2017 I bid you farewell, and I welcome 2018 with open arms.

Overall 2017 was a great year for me, I started a number of things such as Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and this very blog site. But with having done everything there was still a couple of things that I would have liked to have done such as release my app to the Windows Store, read a couple of more books and learn some new technologies that are not directly related to my work.

So now that 2018 has rolled in I am going to start making quarterly goals with mini goals in those quarters. With these quarterly goals I am hoping it will allow me to focus, reach some more milestones and achieve everything that I want to in 2018. If I was to give 2017 a label, it would be the year that I started many things. With 2018 I want it to be the year that I not only start new things but continue and finish a number of other things.

Right now I am in the process of thinking about and starting to write my quarterly goals. The very first item I put on that list was to release the alpha version of my artificial intelligence app to the Windows Store around April, some more information about the app currently can be found here. I also have picked out the first book I am going to read for 2018, Astrophysics for People in a Hurry; more information about the purchasing the book can be found here.

Let the 2018 adventure begin 🙂

BJJ: A Physical and Mental Workout

I have been doing Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu for nearly a whole year now and I obtained my second stripe on my white belt last Friday; I was extremely happy that I managed to get it as well, but I know there is a long way to go. I want BJJ to continue to be a part of my life for a long time to come. It has been extremely beneficial for me both physically and mentally, plus my training partners are some of the nicest people I have ever met; the ego is checked out at the door at where I train.

When I wanted to start training BJJ there were plenty of people from family and friends who asked me “why do you want to do it?“. As a UFC fan I really appreciated the ground and submission game at play and listening to the Joe Rogan Experience podcast with the likes of Joe and Eddie talk about BJJ, how it changed and made their lives better; I thought why not give it a shot and what do I have to lose. While I was in high school I was fairly active so I was keeping fit, but as soon as I started university and began working full time, my physical activity essentially became non-existent. The only real exercise I ever did before starting BJJ was walking to and from work.

Starting BJJ was an eye opening experience. I knew I was out of shape, but I didn’t know I was that out of shape. My cardio was really bad. I had problems lasting more than a couple consecutive 5 minutes rolls at a time. So from the get go I knew BJJ was going to help get my cardio to where it should ideally be for someone my age. My cardio has gotten significantly better but personally it is not where I want it to be. I don’t gas as early but I still gas before the end of my session, something that I personally want to change in the coming year.

Learning all the various positions, submissions, etc. is extremely satisfying. Knowing that if I get into a street fight and it goes to the ground I can defend myself if they have a jacket (Gi) or they just have a shirt on (no Gi). I don’t need to physically hurt them either which is a bonus, I can painlessly subdue them while making sure I am safe. I don’t plan on getting into any fights anytime soon but if something does happen or I need to help someone, I am at least more prepared than before.

One thing that I really did not know was how much of a mental game BJJ is. Joe Rogan and others I kept hearing say that BJJ is like a physical chess match where you have to be multiple moves ahead of your opponent to beat them. I can for a fact verify this. If you clock off mentally for a split second there goes your full mount or your closed guard; you could even fall into someone’s triangle choke. You have to be on the ball and always thinking about your next move. I love this about BJJ. I have submitted people who are physically larger than me but I have also been submitted by people who are physically smaller than me. It really does feel like a physical chess match. At no point can you not be prepared.

Some days I feel really good because I didn’t get submitted or performed successfully a submission on someone, but other days I feel really bad. I either got submitted a crazy amount or I just did not have a good session. What I learn from this is that I need to continue to improve; I never take it too personally. I don’t dwell on the success or the failures for very long because I found that in BJJ your performance can change from roll to roll and session to session. Never take anything for granted because it can be taken from you so quickly. Your ego should never get the better of you and you should never feel bad when you get rolled by someone else.

Overall I feel that BJJ has made a positive impact on my life. Physically I have never felt better. Being a very competitive person it allows me to vent and release my competitive nature, otherwise I would have to do it while playing video games. Mentally it has allowed me to be both humbled when getting destroyed by people physically smaller than me and it has shown me that I have so much to learn (something that I really love doing). With every roll and session I learn new and little improvements that get added to your list of moves and positions.

After every BJJ session I come home physically exhausted and mentally drained, and I love every part of it.

Please Websites Stop Doing This

I generally don’t rant too much, and if I do I definitely don’t do it on the net. But it has gotten to the point where it has really started to annoy me and most people I talk to say the same thing. So I decided to make this little post about the latest annoying trend on the Internet. Videos that automatically play with or without sound (primarily with sound).

Many sites are doing this now. If you go to a site that has any videos you may notice that the video starts to play automatically at full volume, if you continue to scroll through the page and the video is still at the top of the page all you can hear is the video’s audio, or the video player shrinks and moves somewhere else into view and continues to play. Who in their right mind thought that it was ok to have videos automatically play (with audio)? When did this practice become standard? Does no one think of the consumer of the content? There is nothing worse (when visiting a website) than getting unwanted material/content thrown in their face without your consent, it hurts the eyes and the ears.

I have two main problems with this new trend:

  1. Will someone think of my bandwidth – when I’m on my home network I’m not too concerned about my bandwidth because I am on an “unlimited” plan (thanks TPG). But when I am on my mobile I am on a pre-paid (pay as you go) “plan”. I don’t need to be excessively charged for videos that automatically start streaming.
  2. “Ow my freakin’ ears” – that awkward and frustrating moment when you visit a page, you start scrolling down, while unknowingly to you a video somewhere on the page starts to play and the only thing you can do is hear it. You start to hunt where on the page the annoying video is playing from. It is absolutely rude and obnoxious to play a video with the audio on without the individual’s consent.

The only social media platform that I am a part of, LinkedIn, will start to have this feature as well. However to their credit the audio will be off which covers my second point above, but it will still chew up bandwidth if left playing I assume [1]. So if you produce content on the internet and have a website that contains videos, please for the love of God I beg you do not have videos automatically play. If you truly must (I don’t see why you would though) have videos automatically playing then at least have it muted.

I can see in the near future extensions for browsers that block automatically playing videos, just like individuals creating extensions to block invasive ads on web pages. If the content providers don’t change to be more conscious and consumer friendly then the consumers will take their browsing experiences into their own hands just like they have with ads and ad blockers.

Returning And In Podcast Form Too (Soon)

Well hello there,

It has been a really long time since my last post (apologies) and there are a number of reasons for that. Mainly I was sick over an extended period, 3-4 weeks to be exact. First I had food poisoning from one of my favourite Chinese take away restaurants, that put me out of my daily job, BJJ routine and any side project work for over a week. Then a couple of days later I came down with the cold/flu. I thought I had cleared cold and flu season this year but nope, I must have just caught the tail end. So, I was again bed ridden and had my entire routine all messed up. Now that I have missed about 3-4 weeks worth of posts and any real side project work I am back, not at full strength but I’m back.

While I was in bed resting, I also took some time to do some shopping on Amazon and bought a couple of books to assist me in becoming a better professional, software engineer, developer and programmer. I purchased:

  • The Clean Coder: A Code of Conduct for Professional Programmers (see here for further product information)
  • Clean Code: A Handbook of Agile Software Craftsmanship (see here for further product information)

After reading, and re-reading sections of both books, I realised how poor of a professional developer, programmer and engineer I really am. Some stuff that I thought I was doing right, was completely wrong or could be greatly improved, and there were areas where I didn’t know that I needed to work on. If you are a professional, developer, programmer or engineer and want to better yourself, then both of these are solid purchases and will help you on your path. I am not afraid to change, especially when I am or others are constructively critical of the way I am doing things.

Now in saying all that, my good friend also purchased Clean Code: A Handbook of Agile Software Craftsmanship and we got talking on Skype about the book. It is from there we thought it may be worthwhile to discuss our professional experiences along the chapters of the book and discuss the concepts and ideas presented. As soon as my voice comes back and I can actually finish a podcast session without coughing up a lung I will be providing more information about the podcast. Right now it has to fit both our schedules are we are both very busy people, but we really want to get this done.

So stay tuned and please be safe and healthy.

 

 

Abandoning Most Social Media Platforms

I am a millennial, and like most millennials you would expect me to have a Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, Google+ and who knows what other social media account on whatever platform. And you would be right about three months ago, but now you would be completely wrong. Currently I have abandoned nearly all social media platforms. I only have a LinkedIn account for professional purposes, Google Hangouts (no Google+ account anymore) and Facebook Messenger (do not have an active Facebook account).

Since closing and abandoning the majority of the social media platforms I have never felt better. I have been sleeping better, staying focused more, getting distracted less, and have overall felt less overwhelmed. Plus I reckon if I didn’t abandon all those social media platforms I probably wouldn’t have started this blog, played around with a number of different programming languages and technologies, and even start a number of small side projects (finishing them though is another story unfortunately).

What led me to close my social media accounts? One of the most annoying things I have found with social media is the lack of face to face social skills among people my age. I would go out to dinner or events with family, friends, etc. and some people would just be on their phones; now I don’t go out with those people anymore. I’d try and start a conversation but they would just not be interested. I’d ask what they are doing and they would respond with comments like “Scrolling through Facebook”, “Checking out what people are tweeting”, or “Fixing myself up for a new selfie I’m going to post online”. This type of behaviour made me decide to close my account, but it was not the only reason. I wanted to get away from all the annoying, in your face, and know-it-all posts, messages, and pictures. I could have blocked, unfollowed, unfriended, etc. the individuals who post the content but why bother when I would nearly have to do it to half my “friends” lists. Another reason why I chose to close my accounts is because I would constantly be replying to peoples messages, posts and pictures. I felt like I had an obligation to reply back, and now I don’t need to worry about it 🙂 Do I miss the hilarious Facebook posts from comedic pages? Absolutely. Is it sometimes difficult to co-ordinate events when you cannot reply to a Facebook Event or Group? Yep. But I have learnt how to manage all of that now.

At first I found it hard and had withdrawal like symptoms. I would constantly be checking my phone for no reason for example. Habits I had formed over time based on social media I never knew I had or were doing was obvious now to me. After about two weeks that all died down and I no longer had the social media monkey on my back. So I think going forward, I will most likely not be going back to those platforms, as I see no real reason to. Nothing that they offered I realised I needed. I still find ways to communicate with my friends, I don’t miss out on any social events, and best of all my health and the amount of time I have now allows me to try and do new things.

So if you really are hooked on social media platforms, maybe you need to have a think about why you use those services and if you really need them. Maybe even consider what you are doing when using the services and when you are using them? Are you browsing Facebook/Twitter/Instagram when you are going out to eat with friends instead of conversing with the people you are out with? If so, maybe you need to dial back your social media usage a little. Try going a week or two without social media, maybe your life will change for the better. I know mine has.