2013: Strangers, Money, & Opportunity

Last Year's Short Rib

The title of this post sounds a lot like the headline of some political scandal, but in fact, it highlights the keywords of things I learned this year. I don’t know about you guys, but I learned and changed a lot in 2013. I discovered new passions, such as Olympic-style weightlifting. I tried new things, from coding at hackathons to wrestling, and I changed the way I make decisions.

Cantonese Pork Belly at Nom

What I learned

Talking to strangers is really fun. As humans, we naturally appreciate it when a stranger strikes up conversation with us. It implies that someone who has no vested interest in you decided to take time out of their day to talk to you. It’s a form of attention, and who doesn’t love attention? In the age of the Facebook like, this is the most natural and pure form of ‘liking’ there is. “Hey, I like your piano interpretation of pop songs. If you posted a video of it on Facebook I would like it, but since this is real life, I’m going to tell you that in-person and talk to you.” This actually happened. I was waiting inside the Timothy Dwight College common room for my cab to Union Station where I would leave on a train for Thanksgiving Break. The frigid air outside slowly crept inside, but the industrial strength heaters kept the cold at bay with a continuous blast of warm air. Sitting on one of the olive leather couches, I heard someone playing piano behind the corner. I immediately began reminiscing over the past semester, which was quickly winding down, and the past weekend, a whirlwind of craziness that is the annual Harvard-Yale football game. As I sat there waiting, listening to piano, and reminiscing, I felt bliss. The piano jived perfectly with my mood, so much so that I had to compliment this mysterious player before I left.

Just as I was about to leave, I walked around the corner to see who I could thank for that moment of bliss. It turns out, the piano man was a freshman in my residential college whom I had never met before. I politely interrupted his playing to tell him that his music was wonderful. He responded, “Wow, thanks. That just made my day.” We briefly talked about Thanksgiving Break plans. I was going home to see my mom, and he was going to spend the break with his sister and her boyfriend. We both left that interaction feeling good—him for getting complimented on his piano skills and me for making someone’s day.

Garlic Fries at ATT Park

If you really think about it, what percentage of the time when you’re out traveling or running errands alone would you rather have been with someone else. In my case, a majority percentage. Instead of just sitting on a train pretending to tend to super important emails, most of us would rather sit on a train talking to someone. Life is more interesting with conversation, and you never know who you could meet by chance.

I met one of my closest senior friends in college because a mutual friend told us we should work on a web app together. Back in January of this year, I barely knew him. Now we’ve hacked together at multiple hackathons, attended a startup conference together, had on-site interviews for the same job, and turned late-night Monday Chipotle runs into a tradition.

Earl at Stanford

Money doesn’t buy happiness, but it can facilitate spontaneity and create experiences. In turn, these spontaneous experiences can bring happiness. Some of the most exciting times I had this past summer occurred when I visited the San Francisco Bay area for a web development program at Google called Chrome Academy and a second time to visit FiscalNote and Google (again). I still remember exploring the search giant’s Mountain View campus like a kid and sharing endless laughter while hacking together Twine.rs late into the night. I remember eating Korean food and getting the cute cashier’s number with Jonathan and Gerald back when they were basically half the FiscalNote team. None of these experiences would have happened without $400 plane tickets at a bare minimum.

Earl snatching

As another example, anyone who enjoys sports or other physical activity knows that equipment costs, facility dues, and other related costs can balloon out of control. This past summer, I discovered Olympic-style weightlifting. It’s a sport where athletes compete to lift the most weight in competition lifts, the snatch and clean & jerk. These lifts test strength, speed, and flexibility. How I stumbled across Olympic-style weightlifting is still kind of vague, but as early as May this year, I could spend hours watching someone like Lu Xiaojun snatch 150kg over and over again without getting bored. By the time I got home for summer break, I committed to get better at weightlifting and have been training for it ever since.

It’s been an amazing journey, but without money, I wouldn’t be able to train. Olympic-style weightlifting requires bumper plates, which are special weight plates you can drop on the ground. They are essential to weightlifting because gently placing weights back down on the ground after lifting them up over your head causes undue stress on the back. Unfortunately, my residential college gym doesn’t have bumper plates. In fact, there are no bumper plates anywhere at Yale except for in the varsity weight room, which is only open to varsity athletes. You would think that heavy pieces of metal and rubber shouldn’t cost too much, but a small set of bumper plates range from $300 to $4000. I ended up shelling out for my own cheap set and now use them in my residential college gym. That’s a few hundred bucks that will bring me endless hours of happiness. This realization of money facilitating experiences has caused me to think about the balance we should all strive to strike between financial security and expenditure. It’s something I plan on getting better at and something you should think about too.

Spanish chicken rice bowl

2014 Resolutions

This second part is more for myself. To announce my goals for 2014 so that I can hold myself accountable.

  • Snatch 200lbs.
  • Clean and jerk 245lbs.
  • Get to ~69kg/151.8lbs and 12% body fat.
  • Improve NoteGenie: Setup rich text formatting, migrate from Nodejitsu, and expand Dropbox integration.
  • Read a book, or two.
  • Go on more dates.
  • Throw a party.
  • Go shooting, maybe as part of a CrossFit workout.
  • Write one blog post every two months.
  • Spend less than half an hour on Facebook each day.



Last but not least, thank you to everyone I met in 2013 and everyone I continued to keep in contact with. There are so many of you and the year wouldn’t have been so great without you. Happy New Year. Here’s to 2014, an even better year with endless opportunities. Cheers.

When in doubt, always kiss the girl; don't stay angry, it's a waste of time, but remember facts; take more risks; be more focused when doing work, multi-tasking bogs you down; spend less time on Facebook and other time-wasting sites

About Earl

Hi, my name is Earl. I am a student who loves to analyze food and eat healthy. My careful eye for food has caused me to become interested in the science behind food and cooking, and I write about my explorations into food on my website Toastable.com. While I believe in sticking to whole, natural foods, I'm not afraid to work with avant-garde ingredients and equipment such as constant temperature water baths and sodium alginate. I also love photography, technology, and journalism.

01. January 2014 von Earl
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