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Third time around, has anything changed?
Feb 11, 2016, 10:52a - Life

I am now on a break from working a specific job, the third such break of my life.

My first break came in 2002, after graduating from college. From June until October, I had all my time to myself. With Dave, I tried to start a company selling live concert CDs at the end of shows, called Music Mint. I wasn't that into it, and it didn't go anywhere. I also helped Sachin a little on a project for recording music from internet radio, called Wimpus. Sachin released that and I loved it. And I spent most of my time with Becca, since we had just met the year before and now were somewhat obsessed with each other.

So, to summarize, Break #1 (2002), spanning 5 months, at the age of 20-21, in Los Angeles, consisted of:
- Project #1 (major): Music Mint -> explored and lost interest
- Project #2 (minor): Wimpus -> Sachin pulled it off
- Personal project: Becca -> success!

My second break came in 2006, after finishing at Google. From November until August 2007, I had all my time to myself. I wrote with relish on this very blog, the most I have ever written before or since. I was enthralled by trying to figure out how to get Pandora running on my Treo, even though they didn't have a public API and I had never programmed Palm before (it was terrible). I was also excited about getting my voicemails as transcribed emails, and I played around with Sphinx for that. Finally, I was intruiged by web-apps, and made my very first one all on my own. I also applied for grad school in neuroscience. Most importantly, I went on a 1 month-long survival school, the best thing I have ever done in my life, then and since. I read a bunch of books, as the Book Notes entries on this blog attest.

So, to summarize, Break #2 (2006-2007), spanning 10 months, at the age of 25-26, in Walnut Creek, CA, consisted of:
- Project #1: Apply to grad school -> got into MIT and went!
- Project #2: Make a web-app -> released one!
- Project #3: Blogging -> did a lot of it
- Project #4: Pandora on Treo -> beyond my skills so didn't go anywhere
- Project #5: Voicemail to Text -> Powerbook died, which terminated my momentum
- Projects (minor): Read and watched lectures about quantum physics, artificial intelligence (hence the web-app), and computational neuroscience
- Personal project #1: Read nonfiction books -> completed
- Personal project #2: Survival school -> best experience of my life

My third break came in 2015, after I finished publishing two papers from my PhD work in neuroscience at MIT. I'm in Break #3 as I write! We left Boston in December and we've moved to Oakland, CA. It's been 3 months so far, and I anticipate it to continue for a total of 10 months, like break #2. Becca is pregnant, so we've been preparing our new house for the baby (and for ourselves as well). I've been assembling lots of furniture, putting up curtain rods and curtains, and shopping. I've also become somewhat obsessed with the economics of money, as it relates to Bitcoin and investing, specifically in new issue, but hopefully I'll write more about this in the future. Finally, I've beccome somewhat passionate about making photographs reproduce what the eye+brain sees. I have several ideas for how to help make this happen, and with the new Android Camera2 api, I think I have a platform for testing these ideas. So hopefully I'll make progress on that as well. But given my history, I probably won't succeed on all fronts.

So, to summarize, Break #3 (2015-2016), spanning 3 months so far, at the age of 34, in Oakland, CA, consists of:
- Project #1: Economics of money -> read 2 books so far, watching Coursera lectures, plan to write a few blog posts with my own, (hopefully) novel ideas
- Project #2: Computational photography -> want to make Android app to test some ideas for improving photo image quality
- Personal project: Baby is coming! -> want to observe a mind grow and develop, and want to give the child a better childhood than I had (mine was good, but I see areas for improvement). I will probably spend ~6 months with the baby after they are born, before going back to a specific job in neuroscience.

So, why was I motivated to write this smidgen of self-reflection?

I am often under the impression that I am changing. That my ideas are changing, that my outlook is changing, that what I think is worth spending time on is changing. But looking back now, from the age of 20 to 34, I see that very little has changed in this regard. Given unstructured time, I split my life into 2. On one side are my creative projects, which are motivated by both my desire to learn and understand and my desire to solve a problem in my life. These projects have clear deliverables, such as a blog post explaining a topic or an app that does something neat that no other app does. On the other side, always, there is a personal project, one that gives me the emotional foundation from which I draw the energy to pursue my creative projects. First it was Becca, then it was myself at survival school, and now it is the baby.

So it seems that as much as I like to believe that I've changed over the years, the data seem to argue otherwise...

Read comments (7) - Comment

omar - Feb 11, 2016, 12:07p
that's a pretty remarkable conclusion based on this paucity of facts. might what you did at stanford, google and mit say something about whether you've changed or not? or are those just jobs, like F work man am i right?

also, i never knew about the vacuum cleaners. i must've missed that post. when i change the settings now, in chrome, and click the button, the vacuums don't start up. you might want to fix that, or mark the page deprecated.

glad to see you writing again

Nicky - Feb 11, 2016, 2:04p
so fun to read. Also, that baby is so lucky to have such an interesting and loving person as a father.

nikhil - Feb 14, 2016, 11:28a
see omar, even after all the years, you still read my blog!!! what more proof do you need that nothing has changed :)

sure, my interests have varied - stanford was all about learning how to code and do product design, google was executing with those skills, and mit was about learning neuroscience and trying to figure out a way to study the mechanism of consciousness. so the transition from consumer product design to neuroscience is vast, yet i still sit here, with my unstructured time, doing more or less the same thing.

omar, because you asked, i've fixed the vacuum cleaners to properly restart when you click the button, after the game has finished. that was actually an old bug that i just never fixed.

Neha - Feb 15, 2016, 9:26a
What books did you read about money? I'm also interested in money, since I've been learning about Bitcoin. Also, how did you decide on that Coursera class?

nikhil - Feb 15, 2016, 10:17p

I finished reading "Money - An unauthorized biography" a few weeks ago, and am going at "The Empire of Value" right now. The second one is a translation from French, and it's much less clear than the first. I got a lot of good ideas out of the first book, and I'm planning to blog about both soon.

The Coursera class was recommended to me by a stranger who contacted me about C. elegans stuff. We chatted on the phone and realized we were also both interested in economics, and he had listened to those lectures and recommended it. I am on lecture 6 now - so far it is really a class less about money and more about banking, which is interesting in its own right. It's amazing how we are able to use so many things without needing to understand how any of them work.

The Real Nikhil - Feb 21, 2016, 5:52p
hi, I really want to have the username @nikhil on twitter, is it possible for you to change it so I can have your @? I will pay if necessary

nikhil - Feb 24, 2016, 10:11p
How much will you pay for the handle? I have gotten many other nikhils already asking for it too.

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