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Tuesday, December 18, 2018

Day 1: Road Town, Tortola to Privateer Bay, Norman Island

Our paddleboard had gotten delivered the night before, and Mark's flight was thankfully only delayed an hour, so we could get the ship's briefing and get the scuba gear delivered and installed before doing one final provisioning run. Mark showed up from the airport just as we'd come back to the boat and then we were off!

In past years, I'd moor'd at Kelly Cove and then dinghy'd over to the caves for the snorkeling. But from last year, I remembered that there were a fair number of mooring balls at Privateer Bay, which was right next to the caves, so we made for it and arrived at 3:00pm or so to find a couple of mooring balls left. We picked one up and proceeded to get into the water.
The caves on Norman island are a snorkeler's delight. You can snorkel along the reefs and watch the wildlife, or dive into the caves, take off your fins, take a break on land, and then go back to swimming. We did all that, and also discovered a bunch of cuttlefish that we would also find again later, in large groups.


By the time we'd finished exploring and returned to the boat the sun had gone down, so we enjoyed the sunset and the barbeque dinner. At this point, we knew what would happen the next day, which was a visit to the Indians and then Cooper Island to refill the tanks!

Monday, December 17, 2018

Prologue

American Airlines was a nightmare. First of all, they'd called several times prior to the trip to change our flight. We had gone from flying into EIS to flying into STT, and then from flying into SJC to flying into SFO. Given that the travel plans were made as much as 6 months ago, we had no choice but to accept those changes and then complain loudly to customer service, which resulted in them giving us a measly 5000 additional frequent flyer miles! Then when we finally showed up on the airline, the promised "first class" lie-down seats didn't fold flat. (I was skeptical of the airline promise in the first place, but I looked on seatguru and at that time it seemed to indicate that I was wrong)

But our nightmare was nothing compared to what Mark Brody went through. His flight was so late that he missed his connection in San Juan and was forced to overnight in a hotel there. Arturo had suggested that he fly to STT but the morning flight and wrangling with airlines made it so that Mark was too tired to try.

We arrived safely and on time in St Thomas, and picked up the baggage with relative speed, but got to the ferry only to discover that the 3:30pm ferry had sold out! Fortunately, there was another ferry at 4:00pm (and the last ferry was at 4:30pm) so we were good.
On the ferry, we sat on the top deck to get maximum sun so we could get over the jet-lag. Arturo had arrived on time with no problems, but he'd been depending on having Mark to help him provision, and with our ferry schedule and the need to go through immigration at the ferry terminal, there was no way we would make it to the Omega before 6:00pm.

Indeed, by the time we made it to the boat (there were very few boats on the Conch slip) and moved in, we were famished and walked down to the Indian restaurant for dinner, leaving poor Arturo to provision by himself and pay the taxi driver extra to get stuff down to the boat. When we were all united, we discussed various plans to leave the dock without Mark if he became delayed again, but came to no definitive conclusion.

We were all pretty tired and so turned in early.

Sunday, December 16, 2018

2019 Book Reviews

Non-fiction
Audio Books

Saturday, December 15, 2018

Index Page: BVI 2018

From November 16th to November 27th, Arturo Crespo, Mark Brody, and my family did a sailing cruise in the British Virgin Islands. This marked my 5th trip to the Virgin Islands and Bowen's 3rd (lest I forget, however, this was also Bowen's 5th sailing cruise!). This is the index page for the day by day trip report and other expository information.

This was our first trip since the Hurricanes in 2017, which changed the British Virgin Islands in ways we expected and didn't expect. First of all, the one of the mooring balls we used to use for diving were swept away and have not yet been replaced. This wasn't expected, since I expected things underwater to not get changed that much. Then there were the indirect effects. For instance, the Wily T in the Bight sank and was replaced by a newly built one, but then the owner of Norman Island forced the Wily T to move to Peter Island's great harbor. That meant that the Bight is now a relatively quiet place, while Great Harbor is now a go-to destination for the party crowd. But it also meant that Cooper Island was less crowded, as the Great Harbor on Peter Island now draws some of the crowd that used to visit Cooper. Finally, in Gorda Sound, Leverick Bay has gone from the quietest harbor to the busiest --- the other harbors are still under reconstruction. There are still a lot of boats sailing the waters, but many of the smaller charter companies have yet to recover their enter stock of sailing and motor vessels so now is the time to visit if you want quieter harbors.
White Bay, Peter Island, BVI

Day by Day Trip Report
  • Prologue
  • Nov 18th: Road Town, Tortola, to Privateer Bay, Norman Island
  • Nov 19th: Privateer Bay, Norman Island to Cooper Island
  • Nov 20th: Cooper Island to Prickly Pear Island
  • Nov 21st: Prickly Pear Island to Marina Cay
  • Nov 22nd: Marina Cay
  • Nov 23rd: Marina Cay to Anegada
  • Nov 24th: Anegada to Cooper Island
  • Nov 25th: Cooper Isalnd to White Bay, Peter Island
  • Nov 26th: White Bay, Peter Island to Great Harbor, Peter Island
  • Nov 27th: Great Habor, Peter Island to Road Town, Tortola

Friday, December 14, 2018

Review: So Good They Can't Ignore You

So Good They Can't Ignore You is Cal Newport's counterpart to John T Reed's Succeeding. The difference is that Cal Newport's an academic, so he'll take his arguments to extremes that most normal people won't. This is both a good thing and a bad thing. It's a good thing, because you can see how he takes his arguments to the logical conclusion. It's a bad thing, because that approach lets him ignore practical realities that aren't necessarily congruent with his worldview. As such, I think John T Reed's book is much better, but that doesn't mean that Newport's book isn't worth reading.

There's one core thesis to Newport's book, which is that passion is a worthless idea. He points out that even "passion" touters like Steve Jobs did not have a career path with a clearly defined goal at the outset. Most success stories revolve around opportunistic approaches, where skill/talent meets opportunity. As such, Newport's advise will sound a lot like your grandparent's approach to love in an arranged marriage: there's no such thing as an ideal career or person, you should just learn to love what you're stuck doing.

Obviously, high caliber people (i.e., people who can be bothered to read a book such as this one) will have lots of choices as to what skills and careers to pursue. Newport declares that the best approach is to have career capital. In other words, be so good at something valuable that you can have your pick of projects in the related area. Again, this is kind of an odd duck. For instance, Scott Adams' advice, which I think is quite appropos for most people, is to have a combination of skills that make you unique, rather than being the best in the world at any one thing. (Newport himself is such an example: an academic who can write is far more valuable than most other academics, excepting the ones who are at the top in their field)

He then blathers on about mission and a marketing approach to constructing your ideal career and lifestyle. This is by far the weakest part of the book, since it's quite clear that Newport himself doesn't have a good understanding of marketing and mission either. His habit of summarizing each chapter at the end just looks like padding because his chapters are so short!

Ultimately, I like the book's major thesis, but I disagree that Newport's approach is clearly the correct one. For instance, there's a huge factor involved in personality and fit to your job and career. John T Reed points out that it's much easier to adjust the environment to fit your personality, rather than trying to change your personality to fit your environment. That's much better advice than Newport's. Similarly, in a world of increasingly short attention spans, in many cases all it takes to make it into the top 10% is to be willing (and able) to read a book and execute. Now, being in the top 10% is great. But being in the top 10% of basket ball players won't get you anywhere, while being in the top 10% of computer programmers will get you a good job that pays very well! So it's important to understand that when building "career capital", but Newport doesn't acknowledge or seem to understand that.

I started this review wanting to recommend that you read Newport's book. But by the middle of writing this review and reflecting on the book I've realized that the academic approach to career advice that Professor Newport espouses is as unrealistic as the "passion hypothesis" approach he inveighs against. There are much better career guides out there. Go read those instead.

Thursday, December 13, 2018

Review: Outdoor Research Helium Rain Pants

I'm a sucker for deals. I thought I was happy with my Columbia Titanium Rain pants, but Massdrop had a good deal on the Outdoor Research Helium Pants, and in a moment of weakness, I bought it. It didn't rain in California for a while, but when it finally did recently, I dug it out and put it on.

Wow, these are nice pants. The material is thin but waterproof, and the medium fits me perfectly. These are much lighter than the Columbia I previously used. No water gets through the pants no matter how much I rode in the rain, and I never got hot. They are much thinner than the Columbia version, and lighter as well. Now I'll have to sell off my Columbia pants because these are so much better than I wouldn't go back to the Columbia again.

Recommended.

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Review: The Learning Brain

The Learning Brain is  The Great Courses series on how your brain learns material. By coincidence, I audited this course while also reading How to Become a Straight-A student, so the two complemented each other, with this course providing the theoretical background, while Newport's book provided a practical approach.

The theoretical approach has much to recommend it. For instance, rereading a textbook is known to be useless (Newport also appears to know this, but never explains why in his book). It turns out that it's far easier to recognize material you've read than to retrieve it. In order to pass exams or truly internalize the material, you need to master retrieving it, so the best approach is to test yourself. Similarly, highlighting material is inferior to explaining the material in your own words, which in turn is inferior to mastering the material to the point where you can teach others.

Polk goes beyond what Newport does by providing further details: here's how much spacing in between study sessions you'll need to maximize effectiveness. Even better, here's how you learn implicit skills (such as playing tennis, golf or the piano) so you can maximize performance. It turns out that randomizing your skills gives you worse performance at the time of practice but will improve performance in the long run. This is counter to most practice: for instance, many tennis players will go to the court and practice forehands, then backends, then serves. Professor Polk's approach would have you randomize which one to do. (I've found this to be true in swimming pools: most people would practice one stroke for 15 minutes, then another, then another --- I myself tend to interleave my strokes for precisely the reason Polk provides)

There's great stuff about the neurobiology behind all this learning, and in addition, there's also a section on aging and how to prevent it from affecting your brain, but of course you know the answer to that: a healthy diet, plenty of exercise, and good sleep.

What I haven't seen elsewhere in this course is a study on human motivation. There's a ton of studies showing how the US falls far behind many other developed countries (and also many developing countries) despite having some of the highest per-capita spending on schools and students. It turns out that the reason is student motivation. Unlike many other countries, the USA had the highest number of students who agreed that "doing well in school is not important to succeeding in life", as well as many who worried that doing too well in school would stigmatize them socially! (Obviously, the sample for these studies drew from far more school districts than those you find in Silicon Valley) The material covers both intrinsic and extrinsic motivation, with results you might have read about or heard about from elsewhere.

Needless to say, this is a great course (pun intended) and well worth your time. Recommended!