At the end of 2021, I realized I was carrying a decade of burnout, but my professional ambition wasn't wavering anytime soon. I hit a ceiling imposed by myself. I came to the conclusion that in order to unlock the next chapter of my personal and professional life, I needed to take drastic measures into improving myself, better my health, and achieve clarity.
So yeah, it's been a pretty kick-ass year. I've had to step out of my comfort zone a number of times, and every time, I've achieved more and more clarity. In the process, I've discovered things about myself, and I've been inspired by different domains of knowledge, some more random than others. Here are the things that most inspired me in 2022, in case any can benefit you or can spark a new interest.
Koji: knobs and dials, sake, and experimentation
I'm known to go into weird rabbit holes, but koji is the most mysterious and deepest I'm exploring, and it gets deeper every week. Koji, also known as Aspergillus oryzae, is a filamentous fungus that grows on starch. This mold was domesticated hundreds of years ago somewhere in Asia – evidence points to China and Japan – and not only isn't toxic, but it segregates enzymes such as amylases, peptidases, lipases, and more.
This means that koji can break down rice and other grains, proteins, and fat, and turn them into other byproducts. Koji is the mold used to make sake, miso, soy sauce, and much more. It started with amazake. I can't remember how I found out about it, but my guess is that having played with kombucha and other ferments before, I was looking for an interesting dessert to make.
The way to make amazake is very simple. You cook rice, let it cool down, mix it with koji and some water, and let it culture at high temperature for some time. At decent temperatures, Aspergillus oryzae mycelial activity is optimal, segregating large amounts of enzymes. Amylase breaks down the starch (polysaccharides) of the rice into glucose (monosaccharides) and smaller amounts of peptidases break down the proteins in the outer layer of the rice, rendering amino acids. The result is a sweet, and slightly acidic, fantastic rice porridge/drink. Please try it. It's so easy. There's no flavor like it that I know of. The closest I can think of is arroz con leche, minus the slightly acidic/sour tones.
What I didn't know when I made amazake is that I had unlocked only a small, small branch of the koji world. There was a lot more waiting for me.
Since then, I've gone down the theoretical and applied rabbit hole of koji. On the theoretical side, I've gotten more and more interested in the enzymatic properties of koji and its variants and their potential uses. Breaking down starches is just the beginning: imagine using this enzymatic powerhouse to break down other organic and non-organic compounds to make supply chains more sustainable.
On the practical side... I made my own sake.
Koji is something I'm going to continue to explore on all fronts. I think I've only unlocked a very small subset of what you can do with it and I'm looking forward to discovering more. I think the reason it has inspired me so much is the same as coffee: you have dozens of knobs and dials at your disposal to create something amazing with little equipment.
I've known exercise was part of the toolkit to improve my health for a very long time, I just never took it seriously. Sadel had been pushing me to go to fitness classes with her for a long time, but I found them too intimidating. While she went to class, I'd just use the treadmill, which is the most boring machine ever created.
Well, I lost a bet with her in March and I had to go to Bodypump class with her for a month. The month built a habit and here we are.
Later in the year, I started tennis classes regularly. No sport makes me as happy as tennis, and along with cycling, it's one of the types of exercise where it's hard for me to get tired because I enjoy it so much.
Regular exercise is a fantastic booster of mental health. Don't take my word for it. There's absolutely no better, cheaper, and simpler way to better yourself than exercising.
I wrote a full post on it, "Can I say I made this with a straight face?". Having worked on AI products before, I can tell you the future of AI is to enable humans, not replace them. Specifically, I've always been interested in using AI for entertainment and creative expression. Generative AI is it, and I think it's only the beginning.
Very few technologies have excited me enough to fundamentally change my career and what I wish to do with my life. The Internet convinced me at age 7 that I'd work on software for the rest of my life. Blogs and content networks enamored me in my teens. React renewed my interest in front-end engineering at 24. Well, I can say without a doubt that generative AI is infrastructure for unlimited creativity, and I intend to make good use of it.
Mental health is and should be just health. I'm convinced the greatest crisis we're living in this decade won't be economic but related to our mental balance and health. If not addressed, it will significantly hinder our progress as a society and it will damage our values and moral standards.
The issue with mental health is that 1) it's unquantifiable and it doesn't show up in an income statement, and 2) the same way it creeps up on individuals, it creeps up on entire societies.
We don't talk enough about mental health and it is, to this day, still taboo, especially in professional settings. Issues in mental health are considered stains in our productive output and in our self-worth when they should be nothing of the sort. Companies, governments, and their leaders should take active steps to ensure we build communities with high performance and high psychological safety.
2022, in retrospective
What an amazing year and a great journey. Experiencing true happiness, in the company of my family and friends, is the single greatest gift I received. I've met new people on the way and learned tons of new things.
2023 is already underway and like time, never stopping. I have big plans for this year. I'm excited.