Useless Stuff

Death Valley – Day 1

After returning from Anacapa Island, we drove the 5 hours to Death Valley. We stayed at The Ranch at Death Valley in Furnace Creek. The hotel is in a prime location although you definitely pay for it.

We woke up before dawn on Sunday morning and drove 15 minutes to a popular overlook named Zabriskie Point. There were a ton of photographers lined up with their fancy tripods waiting for the sunrise. I found a little spot and sat there with my flimsy tripod and and 8 year old camera and took a bunch of photos as the sun slowly rose over the eastern mountains.

Death Valley - Zabriskie 5_1

Around 9am, we headed back to the hotel to get our free breakfast. With the room costing approximately $350/night and dinners costing around $30 each, we were determined to take advantage of the free breakfast. After completing breakfast, we headed out to hike the Golden Canyon.

Death Valley Golden Canyon 1

The entire hike was 4.8 miles and had an elevation gain of 919 feet. The Gower Gulch trail was hiked to make a loop. The hiking GPS track is shown in the map below.

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After finishing the Golden Canyon hike around 12:30pm, we drove to the Devil’s Golf Course. This area has huge, jagged deposits of salt and mud. It’s frustrating just to walk over. Here’s a picture although I don’t think it really gives a sense of the weird salt structures.

Death Valley - Devils Golf Course

Our next stop was the Room Canyon Hike. This one was a little off the beaten path. We learned about it from a hiking guide book in the general store at the hotel. It was an interesting hike but I didn’t really get many good photos. In fact, the only photo I like from the hike were of these small flowers.

Death Valley - Bloom in Room Canyon 1

The following map shows our GPS track of the Room Canyon hike.

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We then drove to Artist’s Palette right around sunset. Artist’s Palette is a section of the mountains that has different shades of pink, purple, and green. Each color is associated with a given mineral. Red, pink, and yellow indicate iron, purple indicates manganese, and green indicates decomposition of tuff-derived mica.

Death Valley - Artists Palette 2

After sunset, we drove back to the hotel and ate a buffet-style dinner. Afterwards, we drove back to where we started the day, Zabriskie Point, for some night photography.

Death Valley - Star Trails at Zabriskie_1

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Anacapa Island

For our second day in Channel Islands National Park, we headed to Anacapa Island – the second smallest island of the national park. Anacapa Island consists of three main islets named East, Middle, and West Anacapa. We were specifically visiting the East Anacapa islet.

We departed Oxnard Harbor on the Voyager for the 1 hour boat ride to the island. We saw a few common dolphins and sea lions on the ride over. Once we arrived at Anacapa, the captain backed the boat up to a dock within a little cove. It was impressive the captain kept the boat in contact with the dock as the swells pushed the boat around while within the cove.

Disembarking the Voyager at Anacapa Island.

Once disembarking, we were greeted with a climb up the cliff of the island (see below). However, once we completed those 157 steps, the top of the island was relatively flat.

Anacapa - Dock

My first impression of the island was “Oh God, I’m in Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds.” There were thousands of Western Gulls. Here’s a picture just showing a few of those gulls. It was quite a miracle that we didn’t get pooped on during the 5 hours we were on the island.

Anacapa Western Gull

Since the island is so small and we had 5 hours to explore, we decided to take it slow and joined a guided tour. The volunteer tour guide provided some interesting insights into Anacapa island. Many of his points focused on the western gull, since they were everywhere.

Anacapa - Western Gull

Here are a few of the key points that the tour guide mentioned regarding the Western Gull:

  • Anacapa Island is the largest nesting ground of the western gull.
  • The western gulls will bring food from mainland California. They particularly like fried chicken so you see a lot of chicken bones throughout the island.
  • Mature western gulls have a red circle on their beak. This is pecked at by the chicks to get food from their parents.
  • Western gulls will form lifelong partners.
  • Western gulls on Anacapa generally produce 2 eggs per nesting season although particularly healthy birds will have 3 eggs.

The guide also gave us some history of Anacapa island. It was originally inhabited by Native Americans known as the Chumash. Archeological sites suggest the island was populated from 8000 to 11000 years ago.

During our hike, the guide pointed out an area on the trail that was covered with a bunch of broken shells. It turns out we were standing on a midden, or a old Native American trash heap. The Chumash were known to use purple shells as currency. They would find these purple shells and drill holes to wear them on a necklace. These shells could then be traded as currency. This practice eventually ended when the Portuguese introduced glass spheres as a currency.

The guide also described how the Chumash would use shark skin to sand wooden boats and use pitch from a natural oil seep on the islands to waterproof their boats. Unfortunately, as with most Native American tribes, the Chumash were decimated by the diseases of Spanish missionaries. The Chumash tribe still exists with 5000 members although they no longer live on the Channel Islands.

Anacapa Light House

The primary structure on the island is the Anacapa lighthouse. The building was completed in 1932 and the Coast Guard started managing the lighthouse in 1939. In the 1960s, the Coast Guard automated the lighthouse eliminating the need to have a full time person to run and maintain everything. Unfortunately, there is a loud fog horn at the lighthouse so we could not get too close without blowing out our eardrums.

One of the difficulties of stationing people on Anacapa Island is that there is no fresh water source. The Coast Guard had the bright idea to build a large concrete pad to catch rain water and store it in barrels. After building the concrete pad, they quickly realized that the water was undrinkable due to all the bird poop.

The Coast Guard also had the good intention of introducing ice plant on the island to help prevent erosion. However, since that time, the ice plant has been recognized as an invasive species and tends to crowd out other native plants. There are active conservation efforts to replace the ice plant with native plants. The island also has a greenhouse to assist in raising native plant species to replace the ice plant. As you can see in the following photo, the red and purple flowering ice plant is still dominant on the island.

Anacapa - Couple in Ice Plant Blooms

One of the more dominant native plants was the coreopsis, which was also flowering during our visit. One of my favorite photos from the trip is shown below where I took an image of some coreopsis blooms from below looking up towards the sky.

Anacapa - Flowers

The final stop on the guided tour was Inspiration Point. The California Brown Pelican population, which nests on Western Anacapa Island, was decimated by DDT in the 50s and 60s. After DDT was banned, the population has rebounded. The number of nesting sites increases by approximately 10-fold, from 500 sites in the 1950s to approximately 5000 today. Here’s a view from Inspiration Point – it’s a beautiful overlook.

Anacapa -Inspiration Point Pano

After Inspiration Point, we hiked the few remaining trails on our own. One of the highlights from this time was seeing a colony of sea lions sunning themselves at the water’s edge. Unfortunately, I wasn’t carrying a telephoto lens so I didn’t capture the best image but you can get a sense of the number of sea lions laying out.

Anacapa - Sea Lions

We departed East Anacapa around 3:30pm after hiking approximately 4.4 miles. A map of our hike is shown below.

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The following is a slideshow of all the photos I captured from the Channel Islands National Park.

Channel Islands National Park 2020


Santa Cruz Island

For our first full day in Southern California, we took a boat out to Santa Cruz Island – one of the five islands that make up Channel Islands National Park. Santa Cruz is the largest island in the national park with 60600 acres, followed by Santa Rosa, San Miguel, Anacapa, and Santa Barbara. The following plot shows the division of the national park’s 249,000 acres.

Your Diagram TitleThe National Park ? Water: 125,252The National Park ? Land: 124,102Land ? Santa Cruz: 60,645Land ? Santa Rosa: 52,794Land ? San Miguel: 9,325Land ? Anacapa: 699Land ? Santa Barbara: 639The National Park: 249,354The National Park: 249,354Water: 125,252Water: 125,252Land: 124,102Land: 124,102San Miguel: 9,325San Miguel: 9,325Santa Rosa: 52,794Santa Rosa: 52,794Anacapa: 699Anacapa: 699Santa Cruz: 60,645Santa Cruz: 60,645Santa Barbara: 639Santa Barbara: 639

The 1.5 hour boat ride from Ventura Harbor to Santa Cruz Island was relatively uneventful although we did see a few common dolphins along the way. We reached Santa Cruz around 10:45am, disembarked, and received a safety briefing from a volunteer guide. One of the key insights was always keep your bag in sight as the foxes and ravens may often work together to unzip and steal any food inside. After completing the safety briefing, we proceeded to hike both the Navy Road and Del Norte Trails which was a 7.8 mi hike with 1575 ft of elevation gain. The GPS of that hike is shown below.

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One of the best moments of the hike is when we crossed paths with an island fox. The island fox is one of the smallest canids in the world. It is approximately the size of a house cat, which is about one third the size of a normal fox (i.e. the gray fox). Although it was listed as an endangered species in 2004, the island fox population has recovered in recent years due to several recovery efforts, which include reducing the number of golden eagles (a predator of the island fox) and re-establishing the bald eagle on the islands.

Santa Cruz Fox

The Del Norte Trail provided some great overlooks of the nearby Pacific Ocean. In the distance you can see the mountains of mainland California, which are approximately 30 miles away. The February weather was perfect for a hike – sunny with temperatures in the lower 70’s.

Santa Cruz Hike 1

At 3:30pm, we departed Santa Cruz and started the 1.5hr boat ride back to Ventura Harbor. On the ride back, we encountered a huge pod of common dolphins. The captain told us that the rule of thumb is for every dolphin you see on the surface, there are about 7 dolphins below the surface. Based on this rule of thumb, he estimated there were approximately 3000 common dolphins in this particular pod.

Huge Pod - Santa Cruz Return

The common dolphin is known to be very intelligent. There’s evidence that these dolphins can team to help one another. Here is an article describing how common dolphins formed a raft to keep a dying member of their pod afloat. There’s also reports of dolphins helping humans. I found this article from National Geographic particularly compelling. A pod of bottlenose dolphins (different from those photographed on our trip) led researchers to a suicidal girl floating miles away. QED: dolphin’s are awesome… Here’s a better picture showing about a dozen common dolphins surfacing at the same time on our boat trip back to the harbor.

Common Dolphins - Santa Cruz Return

We arrived back to Ventura Harbor around 5:30pm. We completed the day at Winchester’s Grill and Saloon. I had the tri-tip barbecue sandwich with grilled brussel sprouts and apple crumb cheesecake for dessert. The tri-tip barbecue sandwich was just ok – the meat was a little chewy and the barbecue tasted like something you would buy at the grocery store. The grilled brussel sprouts were great and the apple crumb cheesecake may have been the best thing I had on the entire vacation!

Useless Stuff

2018 Resolutions


  • Run 365 miles
  • Exercise Time > 150 hrs
    • 2 hiking trips


  • Eat healthier
    • Continue eating vegetarian Blue Apron
    • Eat more home cooked meals
      • Purchase from fast food restaurants or cafeteria a max of 4 times per week
      • Eating with friends is unlimited


  • Max out 403(b)
  • Regularly contribute personal brokerage account
  • Continue effective altruism


  • Review 52 technical papers
  • Average 30 minutes a day of intellectual pursuits such as reading textbooks, reviewing papers, taking classes.
  • Read 30 books
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2017 Resolutions – Year in Review

The following discuss my self-assessment regarding my 2017 New Year’s Resolutions. Overall, I give myself a B- mean I did pretty good but definitely fell short of where I wanted to be. Here’s the order of how I grade myself, from best performance to worst performance: (1) exercise, (2) intellectual pursuits, (3) adventure or finance, and (4) nutrition.

Without further ado, here are the results…


Overall, my performance was mediocre in this class of resolutions. Nutrition seems to be one of those areas I have little willpower. I think I will need to come up with more creative ideas to trick and goad myself into a more nutritious year in 2018. Here’s my grades:

  • Healthy Food: I consistently ate my vegetarian Blue Apron meals throughout the year. This generally meant that I had at least 3 healthy, home-cooked meals during a week – maybe more if I ended up having leftovers. However, there was very little to be proud about beyond those Blue Apron meals. I typically ate McDonald’s or bagels for breakfast and cafeteria food for lunch. There’s much more room for improvement in 2017.
    GRADE: D
  • Sweetened Beverages: I went another year without a soda although I do occasionally have some form of sweetened beverage like coffee or sweet tea, although those times are few and far between and usually related to some social function so I’m happy as long as I seldom partake and I’m not starting any bad habits.
    GRADE: A
  • Less Cafeteria Food: My original goal was to eat much less cafeteria food than I did in 2016. Unfortunately, I made zero progress on this goal earning an F. I do think this is a good goal though so I will try again in 2018.
    GRADE: F
  • Less Sweets: Yeah this is another F. I often would eat cookies from the cafeteria or sweets that colleagues would bring into work. There is definite room for improvement in this goal as well.
    GRADE: F


Overall, I’m really pleased with my exercise progress in 2017. Although I only achieved one of my two goals, I think I exercised quite consistently throughout the year and improved my physical fitness. In 2018, I hope to mimic the progress I made in 2017. Here are those results:

  • Running: I ended up running 406 miles in 2017 – greatly exceeding my goal of 365 miles for 2017. The tracking tool that I generated really helped keep me on track throughout the year. I will use that again and hopefully figure out how to implement similar solutions for other resolutions.
    GRADE: A
  • Physical Activity Hours: I fell short of my 150 hour goal by about 18 hours. Although I missed my goal, I’m pretty happy with the number of runs, bike rides, and hikes that I completed throughout the year. Even though it’s a failure, it’s a slight failure.
    GRADE: B


A third category I wanted to focus on in 2017 were my finances. Specifically, I wanted to maximize my retirement savings, build up my personal stock account, and continue giving to my charities. Here’s the breakdown of these goals:

  • Retirement Savings: I basically easily achieved my goal of contributing the maximum amount to my retirement account. This should be easy to accomplish for 2018 as well.
    GRADE: A
  • Personal Stock Account: I wanted to build up my personal brokerage account throughout the year. Although I did make contributions to my account, I think the impact was much smaller than I originally had intended. (Note to self: I really should have come up with a concrete number to aim for rather than these wishy-washy “save more” type of resolutions). My main fault was I never transferred a regular amount of my paycheck to the stock account. I need to implement that first thing for 2018.
    GRADE: D
  • Giving: At the beginning of 2017, I set a goal to make sure I’m making a positive impact with my finances so I set a goal to give money to worthwhile causes, specifically my niece’s and nephew’s college funds and Against Malaria. I consistently gave to all three throughout the year. Could I have given more? Yes. Did I accomplish my original goal? Yes.
    GRADE: B+


I set up a goal to push me outside of my comfort zone – specifically get out of my routine and out of the house more often in 2017. Overall, I think I did pretty well although there is room for improvement in 2018.

  • Photography: I made some progress in my photography with two fun trips out west. The first trip was to Utah in late spring and then Washington State in late summer. However, I didn’t do much outside of these trips. I didn’t build a 365 photo/day album or create an album at the end of the year to give to friends and family (actually, I started but found I didn’t have enough good pictures to fill out 12 months!)
    GRADE: C+
  • Travel: My original goal was to take a few big trips where big was defined as more than 4 days away from home. I accomplished this in 2017 with my Utah and Washington trips.
    GRADE: A


For the last series of resolutions, I wanted to be sure I kept pushing myself intellectually. I am quite please with this progress. Although I dropped the class resolution, I ended up completing four classes on deep learning taught by Stanford’s Andrew Ng (via coursera). I am halfway through a course on cryptocurrency from Princeton (via coursera).

  • Reading: I also read a lot this year although I fell a little short of my goal of 30 books. I have completed 27 books this year. I could have made 30 but I ended up reading a 1248 page behemoth the past month and a half – so I’m not too disappointed that I fell a little short.
    GRADE: B+


Useless Stuff

January Review


  • Healthy Food: I ate at least six healthy meals each week in January, of course, I’m referring to my Blue Apron meals. I did eat too often at the cafeteria and had moments of weakness, like yesterday when I ate about a dozen chocolate chip cookies and three chocolate muffins – a gift from my sister. Overall, I’m pretty happy with my progress although there is room for much improvement in February.
    GRADE: B
  • Sweetened Beverages: I had no sweetened beverages in January. I’ve been drinking solely water or tea. The plan is to continue this progress. 438 days without a soda!
    GRADE: A+
  • Less Cafeteria Food: I packed on a few occasions so not a true F but only a hair above failing. My goal for February should be just to improve on January’s result – which should be easy as I would just need to pack four times.
    GRADE: D
  • Less Sweets: I did well early in the month but started slipping towards the end of the month. I will need to step up my game in February.
    GRADE: C-


  • Running: Doing great here. The treadmill has enabled me to run regularly and I’m about 200% of where I need to be to reach my goal of 365 miles this year.
    GRADE: A+
  • Physical Activity Hours: All of my physical activity has come in the form of running so far. Need to do some other activities.
    GRADE: C


  • Retirement Savings: Feel like I’ve done well here.
    GRADE: A
  • Personal Stock Account: All my investments have gone to retirement in January. Once I hit the 401(k) limit, I should be able to make more progress here.
    GRADE: F
  • Giving: I have met my charitable goals so far. Just need to maintain my progress.
    GRADE: A


  • Photography: Nothing.
    GRADE: D
  • Travel: I did make that one day trip to Delaware.
    GRADE: B


  • Books: I completed one book: Eating Animals by Jonathan Foer. It was recommended in a podcast I listen to. It’s one of those vegetarian books. It didn’t really convince me to drop all meat and become vegetarian but it was good to learn more of the vegetarian perspective and I think I am making progress towards eating more vegetables than meat and hopefully I can make the switch one day (I even got the veggie burrito from Chipotle this evening). Need to speed it up if I’m going to hit 30 books this year.
    GRADE: C
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Mid-January Review

As part of my resolutions, I hope to review my progress twice a month. For the first half of January I did quite well.


  • Healthy Food: I made some good, healthy dinners courtesy of Blue Apron. With the exception of Chipotle, I think I ate completely vegetarian for my dinners. I might try to make a commitment to only eat vegetarian for the rest of my January dinners. To be honest, I’m motivated by health reasons although alleviating some small fraction of animal suffering could be a perk. Only negative is I’ve had a lot of Chipotle in the past 15 days. For the rest of January I’m going to limit Chipotle to only once a week.
    GRADE: A-
  • Sweetened Beverages: I had no sweetened beverages for these first 15 days of 2017. I’ve been drinking solely water or tea. The plan is to continue this progress. 416 days without a soda!
    GRADE: A+
  • Less Cafeteria Food: I have failed on this resolution so far although I’m trying to choose lighter options in the cafeteria. I’m going to try to start small the next two weeks: 2 packed meals for the week of the 15th and 3 packed meals for the week of the 22nd.
    GRADE: D
  • Less Sweets: I have done really well at home and have had no sweets (don’t have any in the house). At work I have also done well (no cookies or deserts from cafeteria) although I have had a few weak moments with candy and chocolate people have brought in. Goal for the rest of this month is to have no sweets at work too.
    GRADE: B+


  • Running: I am ahead of schedule of where I need to be. I’ve run 29.6 miles so far. Having the treadmill has definitely made it easier for me to accumulate some running miles in these cold winter weeks. I have even made a little tool to help me track my progress. My goal for the rest of this month is to maintain the progress I’ve made so far in January.
    GRADE: A+
  • Physical Activity Hours: All of my physical activity has come in the form of running so far. I’ve logged 4.5 hours of running but this is approximately 2 hours short of where I should be. I need to get out of the house on the weekends. For these cold months, that probably means hiking.
    GRADE: C+


  • Retirement Savings: I maximized my retirement savings.
    GRADE: A+
  • Personal Stock Account: I haven’t made any contributions yet simply due to some big purchases associated with the house. I should start making progress on this in the upcoming weeks.
    GRADE: F
  • Giving: I have met my charitable goals so far. Just need to maintain my progress.
    GRADE: A


  • Photography: I took a weekend trip last weekend to Delaware – just so I can I visited the state of Delaware. I took a few photos but the snowy weather prevented me from really exploring too much. I put in an effort but didn’t make much progress. This weekend I stayed at home due to weather and then a home improvement project. I should make progress in the upcoming weeks.
    GRADE: C
  • Travel: I did make that one day trip to Delaware. No travel beyond that but I won’t punish myself too much as it isn’t reasonable to expect travel every 15 days.
    GRADE: B


  • Books: I completed one book: Eating Animals by Jonathan Foer. It was recommended in a podcast I listen to. It’s one of those vegetarian books. It didn’t really convince me to drop all meat and become vegetarian but it was good to learn more of the vegetarian perspective and I think I am making progress towards eating more vegetables than meat and hopefully I can make the switch one day (I even got the veggie burrito from Chipotle this evening).
    GRADE: A+
Useless Stuff

Quick Trip to Delaware

I was playing around on the internet this morning and came across the site where you can create custom maps. In a map of the United States, I started clicking all the states I have visited. I was surprised how many I have been to – there are only a few remaining states remaining. Unfortunately those missing states are all in the middle of the country and visiting them brings the same dread I feel for visiting a dentist. The one exception was Delaware. I couldn’t remember a single time being in Delaware.

As Delaware is only 2 hours away, I took a quick road trip to Dover, which turned into an interesting adventure due to the snowy weather. Although there was a little accumulation near D.C, there was probably about 4″ of snow in Dover, which made driving a little more interesting. Anyway, I stopped in Dover for lunch. Instead of exploring the area though, I felt that I probably needed to head back as the snow was still coming down pretty hard.

Anyways, here’s the map of all the states I’ve visited. Notice Delaware has now been checked off the list.

A few pictures from the trip:
20160107 Snowy Drive//
20160107 Delaware//

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Resolution Strategy – No Sweets

I thought I should spend some time coming up with strategies for achieving some of my New Year’s Resolutions. I’ve come across many articles and books that discuss that we only have so much willpower. Instead of putting myself in a situation where I have to use willpower to make a correct decision, I want to come up with a system, or hack, where I don’t even leave myself a decision.

For example, consider the Less Sweets resolution. Suppose I’m at home and I get the sudden urge for a snack. In the kitchen, I have the choice between some fruit or some chocolate snacks. Instead of leaving myself in a situation where I have to use willpower to choose the fruit over the chocolate, I should avoid having chocolate in the kitchen to start with. It’s much easier for me to avoid purchasing chocolates when grocery shopping than it is to turn down chocolates in the kitchen in that moment of weakness when I’m craving a snack.

Hack #1: Don’t purchase sweets or sugared beverages while grocery shopping. 


Useless Stuff

2017 Resolutions

2017 Resolutions



Studies indicate the food and drinks we consume have a significant impact on our general well-being. In 2016, I made excellent progress switching to a healthier diet by purchasing vegetarian meals from Blue Apron. Although these vegetarian dishes could be healthier, they are much better than my normal diet of fast food and snacks.  Beyond eating more vegetarian meals, I also never drank a single soda in 2016. One goal for 2017 is to continue this push for eating healthier but how can I do this?

Blue Apron

First, I will continue to use Blue Apron as my main resource for healthy dinners in 2017. The vegetarian Blue Apron options are a great way to ensure I eat a large quantity and variety of vegetables. I recognize I could probably make even healthier decisions than those afforded by Blue Apron but Blue Apron is a system I think I can stick with throughout the year.

No Sweetened Beverages and Lots of Water

As in 2016, I resolve not to drink any sweetened beverages – specifically sodas – for 2017. I did an excellent job in 2016 although I did have about a dozen hot chocolates late in the year. I also resolve not to purchase a bottled beverage in 2017, including water. This isn’t necessarily related to health but rather it seems wasteful to buy water when I can easily carry free and clean tap water around with me. I even have some awesome flasks just for that purpose.

Metric: Streak of days without a soda.

Drink Tea

In conjunction with the no sweetened beverages resolution, I also plan to continue drinking unsweetened teas. In 2016, my office mate introduced me to white, green, and oolong teas. I want to make tea one of my primary beverages for the health benefits, particularly for green and white teas. I even received an electric kettle and tea pot for Christmas. Now I’m all set to enjoy tea both at work and home.

Less Cafeteria Food

One of the nice things about my current job is the cafeteria. When I do eat unhealthy, it is generally because of the cafeteria. Even though they have a salad bar, I generally opt for the grill, sandwiches, or pizza. In 2017, I want to pack my lunch more often. This will help me both eat healthier and save money. How to do this? One simple method is to use the Blue Apron leftovers as lunch. This will take care of probably two lunches a week. To do better, I may need to cook a meal on the weekend and freeze it for the week ahead. Here are my current ideas on how to make this happen:

  • At the start of each month, plan the weekly meal that will be cooked on each weekend.
  • On each weekend, cook the week’s meal for work lunch.
  • During the week, rotate between the weekly meal and Blue Apron leftovers.

Metric: Number of lunch purchased or total amount of money spent in the cafeteria.

With the magic of I can calculate that I spent about $1780 at the cafeteria in 2016, which corresponds to about 270 lunches. There are only 261 work days in a year so a portion of those purchases were additional trips to purchase snacks like cake or cookies. Shameful I know!

Less Sweets

This is probably the toughest resolution in this group. I have a sweet tooth and there always seems to be sweets around – like coworkers bringing in donuts and cookies to work. Unfortunately, I have very little self-control, especially during the work day when something sweet wakes me up from my many midday stupors. I’m not sure how I will be able to achieve this one. Here are my ideas:

  • When I have an urge for something sweet, drink a lot of water first. For whatever reason, that often suppresses my cravings.
  • Have a bag of good snacks available in the office like nuts and trail mix.
  • Substitute fruit for sweets.

Metric: Number of sweets consumed.

Wrap Up

Many of these resolutions for eating healthy build on how I am currently living so I don’t think I am stretching to achieve these goals. For example, I haven’t had a soda since November 2015 so it’s not hard to keep the streak alive at this point. Similarly, I’ve been cooking with Blue Apron for almost half a year so the time and financial commitment for those meals should not be a problem. The two resolutions which are a little more ambitious are (1) the fewer cafeteria lunches and (2) fewer sweets. Both will be tough and I don’t expect to eliminate either one completely but hopefully I can make significant progress in those areas this year.



Running a mile each day of the year is a good challenge for me. I will set a resolution to run 365 miles in 2017. I missed this resolution in 2016 with only logging around 270 miles. I was going strong until I moved into a house around October. This threw me off my schedule and I no longer lived near my normal running path so running languished for several months. I also recognize that every year I fall behind my goal early during the cold months and spend most of my warm months trying to catch back up to where I should be.

This year I have a special weapon – I purchased a treadmill. I have been running consistently for the three weeks I’ve owned the treadmill. The plan this year is to use the treadmill to maintain progress on the running resolution so that I’m not playing catch up most of the year. The challenge this year is living in a new area and not really knowing nearby running paths. Signing up for a few formal races might be a good way to motivate me to continue running regularly.

Metric: Number of miles run.

Hours of Physical Activity

Similar to last year, I want to track my total number of hours of physical activity as I feel my fitness should be more than simply running. Last year, I recorded many activity hours due to hiking early in the year although I still fell short of my goal. So what steps can I take to make sure I achieve the goal this year?

  • Complete my running resolution. This would account for approximately 50 of the 150 hours.
  • Hike! Hiking is good exercise, it gets me out of the house on the weekends, and can help me contribute to my photography resolution.
  • Bicycling. There are a ton of trails in the DC area. In the warmer months, I should start exploring these trails. Since bicycling can take several hours, this is a good way to pick up some activity hours.
  • In my adventure efforts, choose options where I can spend a good chunk of time doing something physical (e.g. hiking).



Maximize 403(b) Contribution

Contribute the maximum amount to my retirement account allowed by law, which is $18,000 for 2017. In addition, this year I get my matching contribution from my employer too!

Build Up Personal Stock Account

I depleted a large chunk of my personal stock account for the down payment for my house. I would like to make regular contributions to that account this year. We’ll see if that is possible, particularly if I need to spend a lot of money on the new house. What can I do to make this happen?

  • Live within my means, in particular, pack lunches to both save money and eat healthier.
  • Avoid too many extravagant purchases. For me this usually means electronics like TVs and computers. I don’t want to live the life of a miser but I’d rather spend money on creating memories (vacations) rather than gadgets.
  • Transfer a small amount of money with each paycheck to the stock account.


I want to make sure that my life has a positive impact in some form. This is particularly tough for a loner like me – most people leave an impact simply by raising a family. Consequently, I need to find creative, non-conventional ways to make a positive impact for others. For 2017, I want to focus on financial giving. The two big areas I want to commit to are:

  • Give monthly to my niece’s and nephew’s college savings accounts.
  • Give to charities based on logic and reason rather than emotion or convenience, that is, aim for effective altruism. For now, this means making regular contributions to effective charities like Against Malaria or other similar charities that make large impacts with donor’s investments.

Metric: (1) Total amount of money donated to niece and nephew college accounts (2) Number of malaria nets purchased.


I want to push myself out of my comfort zone. In general my comfort zone is at home watching sports, playing video games, or surfing the internet. Travel is one of those ways to disrupt the routine.


I have neglected photography for many years. I want to make an effort this year to reboot this hobby. Photography is great because it gives me an artistic outlet but also forces me to get out of the house, that is, photography is a nice little hack to make me more adventurous. This is great but what specific steps can I take to ensure that I actually do some photography?

  • Weekend photography trips. Come up with little trips to do on the weekend for a few hours to work on photography. Examples included downtown D.C., Great Falls, National Arboretum, etc
  • Long trips to scenic destinations. Plan several trips throughout the year to scenic destinations like the West, Hawaii, Iceland, etc.
  • 365 picture album for 2017. Make a goal of having an album with one picture a day. The goal would be to get 365 pictures for the year not necessarily take a picture each day.
  • Work to create a photography album to give to friends and family next Christmas.


In 2016, I didn’t travel at all as I wanted to build up a slight buffer in my annual leave. Now that I have this buffer, I want to make travel a priority this year. I want to take a few big trips, where I define a big trip as 4 or more days away from home. Otherwise, I may try to make a number of small trips where I try to make the most of some normal or extended weekends.


Unlike previous years, I’m going to drop my class resolution. I’m not dropping it just because I didn’t do any in 2016. I’m dropping the resolution because I’m pleased with both the mental challenge of my work and the variety of my projects that I feel I am pushing myself mentally just through work alone. However, I would like to continue pushing myself outside of work and one of the biggest areas I want to concentrate on is reading.


For this year, I would like to read a total of 30 books. I’ve read about 25 books in 2016 despite having a goal of 52. For next year, I would like to read a little more than I did this year although I’m backing off the 52 book goal simply because I want to balance the amount of time reading versus time for other productive activities (photography, photoshop, travel, exercise, cooking, etc).