Looking back on this blog

Looking back on this blog

In this post, I will look back on how this blog has changed since I first published it in early 2017. These changes, mostly described in the website design perspective, have resulted both from me gaining a better understanding of what I want to do with this blog and also from plain practical experience. At the end of the post, I will also discuss future plans for this blog. Note that this is a personal blog with a modest audience and, at this time, no commercial aspirations. Consequently, any design approaches mentioned here are likely counterintuitive on commercial blogs.

History

My first blog was a WordPress.com blog on video game reviews, which I wrote as part of my gaming marathon project (more about this on a future post). I then created another website on WordPress.org and wrote about technology trends, food, and various other subjects. After some time of keeping two sites, I closed the gaming blog. I was now focusing on the new website, and felt the need to post often and share the posts to strangers on social media. This continued for a while until I eventually realised that I didn't have a real plan or, after starting my studies, even the time to write actively.

Besides, my perspective had changed. It was now about me. I would graduate in less than three years and wanted to establish an online presence in the professional sense. I had my LinkedIn profile but also wanted to tell a little bit more about myself. Before ditching anonymity, I found that I disliked the content I had written so far and deleted nearly all the posts. I migrated the blog to a new domain, and started to simplify the blog's design. It was no longer a "website" but only a simple blog about stuff going on in my life. Eventually, I had the courage to migrate the blog to a domain that had my real name in it.

Fluff

When I was getting started with WordPress, I loved spending hours fiddling with its features. This hobby left me with skills that I was able to put into use in working life. Indeed, I ended up working as a part-time web designer during my studies and even built a website for a local company. However, I failed to use discretion on my own blog about which features to use. Thus, in the first phase of changes, I removed all the stuff that were there mainly for the appearance's sake. These included contact forms, social media plugins, and various other features that a few people were likely ever going to use.

While writing this post I also remembered that I used to have ads on my blog. I briefly tried both Amazon's affiliate marketing program (now Amazon Associates) and Google AdWords (now Google Ads). The first couple of posts on my blog were articles about technology trends (not available anymore since they were written in Finnish), which offered good opportunities to place relevant ads. However, I eventually turned the blog into more of a personal diary and took out the ads. This did not make much of a difference financially and also relieved me of the discomfort of sharing posts with ads.

Pictures

One thing that I have always disliked about blogging is dealing with pictures. I love writing, but I hate dealing with pictures! Naturally, the next change was to remove pictures included in the blog posts and instead linking to my Instagram profile. Thus, I avoided the process of choosing pictures, editing pictures, optimising pictures for the web, uploading pictures on the site, and finally, nicely arranging pictures on the post. I transitioned the blog from a blue theme to a white one, and less pictures made the remaining ones look more powerful as they stood out from the plain background.

Removing the pictures lowered the mental threshold to post and also made the site faster. However, each blog post still had one picture left – the header picture. After posting a couple of blog posts with a generic stock photo, I came to terms with the fact that I couldn't sleep with stock photos on my blog. Eventually, I removed the header pictures from all posts. I also removed the Instagram plugin to further speed up the site. At the time of writing this, the site has only three pictures: two pictures of me plus the beautiful picture taken in Tagaytay, Philippines.

Future

And what's in store for the future? I want to start writing more seriously again. I want to write about productivity, technology trends, and discuss my views on them. I have considered starting to write in Finnish, since the English blogosphere is saturated with content about these subjects while the Finnish blogosphere is not. In this case, I would no longer write mainly for myself as a creative outlet and for keeping up my English. One option would be to have a bilingual blog. Anyways, these are the considerations. In the meanwhile, my goal for 2021 is to simply write more actively.


My 2020 Annual Review

My 2020 Annual Review

...Aaand 2020 is a wrap. Despite all the craziness, 2020 is the first year that I'm going to break down in an Annual Review blog post. I adopted the habit of making Annual Reviews in 2019 while listening to James Clear's audiobook Atomic Habits. Annual Review is when you look back at the year and review the various aspects of life that are important to you. In my earlier blog post How I Plan My Year, I go into more detail and explain what tools I'm currently using in my process.

This post follows the format laid out in James Clear's blog, which you can find here. Anyways, let's get started!

What went well this year?

Graduated. I finished my bachelor's degree in business administration at the Kajaani University of Applied Sciences. I graduated with a degree in game development, and I specialized in game production in the role of a producer. A bachelor's degree in Finland usually takes around 3.5 years to complete, but I managed to wrap up the studies in 3 semesters. By making use of all the right opportunities it became an adventure that changed my life for the better.

Found a good job after graduation. I started my UAS studies at the age of 25 with a background in low-skilled work. Knowing the realities of the job market, I placed the highest regard on making myself more employable after graduation. You can never predict the future, though. When I graduated in May, COVID-19 had become a pandemic. With determination, I sent almost 200 job applications in the spring, and eventually got hired in a Finnish software company.

Got accepted to a new study program. My new and challenging job has taught me as much in six months as I learned on the school bench. Despite that, I want to keep learning and dwell into new and exiting subjects. I suppose you could call me a generalist! On the day of my graduation, I received news that I got accepted to the Highway 2 Code programme. H2C is a half a year study programme for improving one's skills in programming and software development at large.

Finished 25 books. My goal for 2020 was to finish 24 books, which I achieved almost effortlessly thanks to audiobooks. According to Audible, I spent 227 hours listening to books, 201 hours of which was spent listening to nonfiction and 26 hours listening to fiction. My goals for 2021 include finishing 36 books, increasing the percentage of fiction, and reading more in my mother language. Check out my recent blog post where I introduce my 2020 reading list with the top 10 picks of the year.

Improved my VO2max considerably. I have been traditionally more interesting in strength training rather than aerobic exercise. However, COVID-19 closed the gyms and I was slow to buy any home workout equipment. I had to find alternative means to exercise, and I eventually resorted to running. The progress I made in 2020 simply blew my mind. Indeed, I improved my VO2max by 10 units (ml/kg/min) in a half a year period. Not a bad time to have healthy lungs!

Started meditation. I first tried meditating in 2019 but couldn't incorporate it into my daily routines. Maybe it was the wrong headphones, the wrong app, or simply the wrong time in my life. In 2020, however, I started using the Headspace app, and things just clicked. By the end of the year, my meditation sessions had grown from 5 minutes per session to 15 minutes per session. During the last months of December, I eventually reached the goal of meditating on 100 days in a row.

Started investing and saving for a house. In 2020, I made my first investments. I also opened an ASP account, which is an account type in Finland meant for young home savers. Making the first investment was a big threshold and required lots of research. Luckily, my wife is also interested in investing. We still have a long way to go, but the first step is now taken. In 2021, we will work on our budget, and try find realistic monthly amounts for investing and saving.

What didn't go so well this year?

Journaled inconsistently. Having kept a diary on and off for almost a decade, I have noticed a pattern in my journaling habits. Whenever there's a lot of things going on in my life and days seem too short, that's when I write the least. However, when things are more quiet and there's less interesting stuff to write about, that's when I write the most. Next year, I want to unpack my mind more consistently; not necessarily daily, but more than once a week.

Social life took a hit. From the middle of 2018 to early 2020, I spent more than one year abroad. I visited several countries, met lots of new people, and made new friends. This almost became the new normal for me. My return to Finland, however, was followed by the quarantine measures, my graduation, the start of remote work, and being in a long-distance relationship. To switch gears like that was not easy, and I often felt a sense of isolation.

Did some hasty purchases. After spending close to three years as a student and traveling around the world, I wanted to finally set up the apartment. I had slept the past years on the floor on a mattress, on the nights I was at home anyways, and judged it was about time to upgrade. Fast forward to the end of the year, and I found myself with various items, some of which were bought with emotion and in a haste. Next year, I will have to remind myself to take my time and plan my purchases.

Did not experience a live graduation ceremony. This might seem like something rather minor. However, I feel that attending a live graduation ceremony would have given a better sense of closure for finishing the studies. I actually watched the graduation ceremony live streamed on YouTube while at my workplace. Did not expect that! Many students around the world have missed essential school experiences due to the quarantine measures, and that's a real pity.

What did I learn this year?

Being in a long-distance relationship. I met my future wife while studying abroad, and eventually married her in early 2020. Shortly afterwards I had to return to my home country, and because of the COVID-19 pandemic, we were unable to see each other for most of the year. Being apart has highlighted the importance of communication in a relationship, especially in a long-distance relationship where face to face communication is not possible.

The importance of budgeting properly. It's one thing to keep a log of your income and expenses, but a whole another matter to actually budget. I do keep an Excel file, which is named "The Budget", and have spent tens of hours fine-tuning it. However, I did not make the corrections that I had deemed necessary in order to make the budgeting more accurate. In 2021, the budget file will see a total revamp, and I will be sure to remind myself of the definition of budgeting.

Removing negative people from my life. Having friends of all kinds, and from all walks of life, can be a richness. Sometimes, however, the personalities, the lifestyles, or just overall differences can be too great. This is something that I woke up to this year, and I had to make the decision to cut ties with a friend who I recognized was having a negative influence on me. It was difficult and I initially avoided it, but once done, it gave me a sense of relief.

Being selfish in a healthy way. Sometimes our plans involve other people, and compromises are required to make things happen. It's up to you, however, to decide how much you are ready to compromise. While saying no to something can feel difficult for fear of hurting the other person, I find that it clears the air and ends up feeling much better than agreeing to something that I don't want to do. This year, I learned how to be selfish in a healthy way.

Many things in life are negotiable. I'm a rule follower personality, at least intuitively. Sometimes, though, we have interests that collide with the rules and structures, whether those of school, work, or something else. This is when you have to decide how much you want something and whether you are prepared to take the initiative and open negotiations to make it a reality. I had a couple of experiences in 2020 that really drove this lesson home for me.


How I Plan My Year

How I Plan My Year

In 2019, I was spending a tropical Christmas in the Philippines, a stark contrast to Finland where Christmas time is the darkest time of the year. I was in the middle of listening to James Clear’s audiobook Atomic Habits, which introduced me to the concept of an Annual Review. To put it in a nutshell, an Annual Review is when you look back at the year and review the various aspects of life that are important to you. As 2019 was coming to a close, I found it an opportune time to try out this new habit.

Divide and conquer

I went to work, and divided my life into 7 aspects:

  1. Professional life
  2. Education
  3. Teemu (incl. hobbies, productivity, etc.)
  4. Social life
  5. Relationship
  6. Health
  7. Financials.

Next, I needed a template that would help me to review my progress. I did some research online, and finally came up with a standard template in the form of a simple table on a Word document. I put the 7 aspects of life, which I had determined earlier, as headings on the Word document, and copy-pasted the template under each heading. Now with the ground workdone, it was simply the matter of answering to the questions that I had presented myself with.

The template covers a dozen items, and the idea is for it ask me the right questions to provoke insightful answers. The questions include the following items: my successes, gratitude, daringness, altruism, things finished, things unfinished, influential people, big surprises, recognition, satisfaction score, and a summary of the year in one sentence. I wish I remembered the sources where I got these questions from so that I could provide due credit.

Setting up goals and measuring progress

I also created another document called Annual Goals. This document is somewhat similar; the 7 aspects of life work as headings, and each has a table underneath. The questions are different, however, and cover subjects such as what I expect my biggest successes of the year to be, advice I need to hear every now and then, the completion of things that would make me happier, and so on. Once again, I did not write down the source for this template.

So how do I use these tools then? At the end of the year, I first conduct an Annual Review by answering to the questions in the template. Simple as that. I then compare my answers with my Annual Goals for that year. What is the difference between reality and expectations? I also look back at my Annual Review of last year to review my progress in a bigger picture. What were my triumphs and tribulations back then, and how does the present compare with the past?

One year is long time, though. While you set your goals at the end of one year and review the progress at the end of the next year, what happens in between? In his book Atomic Habits, James Clear also introduces the idea of an Integrity Report. You can check out his blog for a more comprehensive description. Personally, I am currently using a more simplified version of the Integrity Report where I go through and adjust my Annual Goals document around mid-year to stay on track.

Work in progress

Please note, however, that the documents and the process described above is a work in progress and subject to changes. A productivity tool works best when it is customized for the individual using it. I would like to underline that I am not marketing or selling, or taking credit for any of the ideas discussed. Instead, I want to describe them with a motive of better clarifying them in my own mind. These are the reasons why I do not provide any templates but rather encourage you to draft something that works for you.

What could be improved or done differently? It really depends on the subjective circumstances of each individual. Some people might want to include areas such as religion and spirituality or expand relationship to also cover family life, in case that applies to them. Others might want to break down the aspects of life even further by differentiating between areas such as mental, emotional and social well-being. This article gave me lots of ideas and inspiration, and I will be sure to reference it in the future.

In case you are interested in other book recommendations, do check out the previous blog post about my 2020 reading list. I have also written a post about my quest for increased productivity, which you can find here.


My 2020 Reading List

My 2020 Reading List

In 2020, I reached my goal of finishing 24 books by finishing a total of 25 books. This makes around two books a month, which is a pretty good number compared to the past couple of years. In 2018 and 2019, I spent a lot of time abroad, which affected my reading since books make up lots of luggage. My reading habits changed in late 2019 when I finally started listening to audiobooks. Indeed, 21 of the books that I finished in 2020 were audiobooks, and three were physical books.

My Audible stats for 2020:

  • I spent 227 hours listening to books
  • I spent 201 hours listening to nonfiction and 26 hours listening to fiction
  • I did 44% of my listening in midday, 39% in the morning, and 16% at night

In addition to finishing 24 books in 2020, my other reading goal was to read more fiction. I have read the Song of Ice and Fire and Harry Potter series, and also some Tolkien in the past, but generally I have inclined heavily towards nonfiction. My little brother convinced me to check out the Discworld and the Witcher series, and I did finish the first book from each of the series. So far so good, and I intend to continue dwelling deeper into these series.

My reading habit mostly consists of:

  • Listening to an audiobook while exercising or doing chores
  • Reading a physical book in the evening before going to sleep
  • Reading a magazine when I need a break from staring a screen

This is the first time I'm compiling such a reading list. My wife told me about the power of summarization, which is a relevant skill in this context. Being able to summarize what you have learned helps you to better internalize and remember the message. I still have a lot to learn in this regard. When I have lots of time on my hands, I use it to consume books as if they were coming on a conveyor belt. Maybe I should start summarizing them on my blog?

Anyways, let's see how well I can summarize!

The best

  1. Atomic Habits: An Easy & Proven Way to Build Good Habits & Break Bad Ones, by James Clear – A book on personal productivity, which discusses habits and how they can be engineered by utilizing various methods, such as habit stacking. My biggest takeaway from the book was the idea of an Annual Review. I discuss the Annual Review on my recent blog post about personal productivity. These ideas are also discussed on the author's official website. Definitely worth a re-read.
  2. Rich Dad Poor Dad, by Robert T. Kiyosaki – This book talks about money! Kiyosaki reflects on his upbringing, where he had the opportunity to witness two very different approaches to handling money. Kiyosaki himself became a successful businessman, and in this book shares the principles that guided him along the way. Kiyosaki underlines the importance of investing in one's financial literacy, and reading this book is a great way to get started.
  3. Total Recall: My Unbelievably True Life Story, by Arnold Schwarzenegger – It's a hefty autobiography, and the audiobook lasts over 20 hours. Having watched Arnold's movies as a child and later becoming interested in following bodybuilding and strongman, it was an obvious and inevitable book choice. The book tells Arnold's story of becoming an iconic bodybuilder, and also describes his transformation to an actor and a politician.
  4. Outliers: The Story of Success, by Malcom Gladwell – This book describes outliers, or people who, due to various circumstances independent of their choosing, have better chances of success in various aspects of life. For example, being born earlier in the year can give a child an advantage in sports over their peers at an age of rapid growth. This book opened a new perspective to my own childhood. Worth a recommendation.
  5. Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow, by Yuval Noah Harari – Not for those with a vivid imagination! This book describes challenges that the mankind is likely to face in the 21st century. Most of the challenges are the result of technological advancement in STEM fields such as biotechnology and artificial intelligence. If you're writing a dystopian novel based in the near future and suffer from a writer's block, this book might give you some inspiration.
  6. Brave New World, by Aldous Huxley – Some fiction for a change. I'm a big fan of dystopian entertainment, whether video games, movies, or books. Brave New World is set in a dystopian future where people are produced on a conveyor belt and bred into different castes by subjecting them to various prenatal conditions. The gloomy future is contrasted by the humorous writing style and the melodramatic characters.
  7. Unequal Childhoods, by Anette Lareau – This book describes the author's research, which studied how social class in the United States affects parents' styles of child rearing. While the language in the book is quite dense, the numerous case studies of children make it an interesting read. It was a personal eye-opener for me, and helped me better understand how my own childhood circumstances have affected my life.
  8. The Coddling of the American Mind: How Good Intentions and Bad Ideas Are Setting Up a Generation for Failure, by Jonathan Heidt, Greg Lukianoff – The 2010s was a tumultuous decade in the United States. This was especially so in the college and university campuses, where many of the societal phenomena discussed in the book first manifested. The book discusses the the apparent fragility of students who entered the campuses in early 2010s, and promotes the idea of anti-fragility.
  9. Breath: The New Science of a Lost Art, by James Nestor – My biggest takeaway from this book is the fact that humans are supposed breathe through their nostrils instead of breathing through their mouths. While this was admittedly the first time I ever heard this, the arguments presented in the book make sense. After finishing the book I started thinking back and realized that I have always been an unconscious nose breather. What a relief. Phew!
  10. The Immortality Key: The Secret History of the Religion with No Name, by Brian C. Muraresku, Graham Hancock – And finally, this fascinating book that I heard of on the author's interview on Joe Rogan's podcast. The book delves into the forgotten origins of Christianity and the so-called forgotten religion that preceded it. A highly recommended read. It is also a subject that I am curious to read more about in the future.

The rest

  • Permanent Record, by Edward Snowden
  • 21 Lessons for the 21st Century, by Yuval Noah Harari
  • Can't Hurt Me: Master Your Mind and Defy the Odds, by David Goggins
  • Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less, by Greg McKeown
  • Meditations, by Marcus Aurelius
  • The Everything Store: Jeff Bezos and the Age of Amazon, by Brad Stone
  • Alibaba: The House that Jack Ma Built, by Duncan Clark
  • The Big Nine: How the Tech Titans and Their Thinking Machines Could Warp Humanity, by Amy Webb
  • I Can't Make This Up: Life Lessons, by Kevin Heart, Neil Strauss
  • 1984, by George Orwell
  • iGen: Why Today's Super-Connected Kids Are Growing Up Less Rebellious, More Tolerant, Less Happy--and Completely Unprepared for Adulthood--and What That Means for the Rest of Us, by Jean M. Twenge
  • The Color of Magic, by Terry Pratchett
  • The Last Wish, by Andrzej Sapkowski
  • Fahrenheit 451, by Ray Bradbury
  • Extreme Ownership: How U.S. Navy SEALs Lead and Win, by Jocko Willink, Leif Babin

Goals for 2021

My goal for 2021 is to finish 36 books – two audiobooks per month and one physical book per month. But I do have another goal this time as well. Something that you might have missed while reading this blog post is the fact that all the books are in English. But English is not my mother language! Indeed, my goal is to start reading more in my own language, which would be Finnish. More specifically, I want to start reading Finnish fiction, which has received some critical acclaim in the recent years.

On my 2021 reading list

  • The Gulag Archipelago, by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn
  • Uskollinen lukija, by Max Seeck
  • 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos, by Jordan B. Peterson
  • The Power of Now: A Guide to Spiritual Enlightenment, by Eckhart Tolle
  • A Promised Land, by Barack Obama
  • Chaos: Charles Manson, the CIA, and the Secret History of the Sixties, by Tom O'Neill, Dan Piepenbring
  • Ulysses, by James Joyce
  • Foundation, by Isaac Asimov
  • The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, by Douglas Adams
  • The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change, by Stephen R. Covey
  • Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance, by Angela Duckworth
  • Do What You Are: Discover the Perfect Career for You Through the Secrets of Personality Type, by Paul D. Tieger, Barbara Barron, Kelly Tieger

Highway 2 Code

Highway 2 Code

Back in May, I graduated from the Kajaani UAS with a Bachelor's degree in Business Administration. My education and hard work during the studies helped me to land a good job after graduation, despite these difficult times. I now work as the Quality Assurance Manager at NetBaron Solutions, a Finnish B2B software company. Work is good, and I like where my career is going. Despite this, however, I want to stay hungry, and I want to keep on learning.

On the day of my graduation, I received the information that I had been accepted to the Highway 2 Code program. H2C is a six months continuing education program organised by many Finnish UASs, including the Kajaani UAS. Subjects covered during the module include Linux OS, C-programming, DevOps Basic, Embedded Python Programming, databases and data sources in IoT system, Full Stack Web Development with Vue.js and Node.js, and an IoT project.

My BBA studies revolved around project management in software development, and my current job continues on the same trajectory. While I do have a basic understanding of a few of the technical subjects mentioned above, most are very much new to me. I do not want to become a programmer, but I do want to have a wide understanding of all the various areas of software development. This was my motivation for enrolling in the H2C program.

Hopefully, in half a year or so, I will be writing my thoughts on the program, and also my next plans. In the meanwhile, it's back working and studying.


Reflections on Personal Productivity

Origins

I find myself fortunate to have grown up in the 1990s and 2000s. While computers came to my life in Mid-2000s and pulled me to the digital world of games and forums, I still got to have a taste of an analog childhood. Unfortunately, I got addicted to video games in my early teens, and this bad and unproductive lifestyle continued to my Mid-20s. Eventually, I happened to chance on a way to kickstart my life. In this post, I will talk about the tools and methods that I have picked up along the way to increased productivity. I have learned about many of these by reading, which is why I will also talk about books that have influenced me and taught me lessons about productivity.

Open Loops

Having organised my life with a to-do list for a couple of years now, I would find it difficult to live without one. It's the core of my personal productivity system. My first taste of a to-do list goes back to 2013 when I was planning a holiday trip with my brother to Nice in the French Riviera. There arose a need to keep track of all the preparations, but I didn't have a system to capture all the 'open loops'. As a solution, I plotted a rough to-do list on a random piece of paper, and ticked the boxes as the preparations proceeded. The holiday was a success, and while the paper was lost somewhere amidst the chaos, the positive experience of using a to-do list stayed in the back of my mind.

In early 2018, I read Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity‎ by David Allen. In the book, Allen describes the GTD productivity method. Essentially, the method focuses on creating a system that helps you to keep track of your commitments without having to recall everything by yourself, thus releasing cognitive capacity and creativity. My biggest takeaway from the book was the to-do list, which can be divided into smaller lists to capture different aspects of your life. The GTD method is not, however, limited to to-do lists, and it is recommended to read the book regularly to find new perspectives that you might have missed during your previous reads.

Tracking

Since I was already using a physical planner at the time of learning about GTD, I made my first to-do list on its back cover. Despite being a student in an IT field, I was initially more comfortable with writing all the tasks and commitments down with my own hand. Ticking a box with a check mark after completing a task is always satisfying. Indeed, for around a year and a half, I tracked all my doings on physical to-do lists. It was only in late 2019 when the macOS Catalina update was released that I transitioned to digital productivity tools. Being an Apple user, I could now use the Reminders app as my to-do list, and it would sync all the tasks with my phone and even with my smart watch.

In around 9 months that I have used the Reminders app, I have completed 700 tasks, which would be around 2.5 tasks per day. I have four types of lists in my configuration, and each type consists of several lists: Projects (Personal, Professional), Action Steps (Personal, Professional, Relationship, Education Repeated), Waiting for (Personal, Others), and Others (One Day, Acute Purchases). A good aspect of using a digital tool is being able to change the configuration easily. Anyways, the number of 'Uncompleted' tasks usually hovers above 40, since I use the app to store long-term items. By the way, one day it would be cool to get some graphs for the app and also make it more gamified like the Todoist app.

Clarifying

One tool that I have never considered making digital is my diary. I have kept a diary on and off since early 2010s, and I have accumulated a big stack of old diaries. So what are the benefits of keeping a diary? Whereas a to-do list captures 'open loops' that are actionable, a diary captures and clarifies emotions. Both tools complement each other and help increase one's mental clarity. In my experience, the secret to keeping a diary consistently is keeping the diary somewhere you can see it, and also making the writing habit a regular one but short in duration. In addition to writing in a diary, I also enjoy writing on this blog, which serves as my creative outlet.

Atomic Habits by James Clear is another influential book that I have read recently. Maintaining a productive lifestyle requires productive habits. Habits can be engineered to an extent by using various methods introduced in the book. This is an area where I still have lots of room to improve. One important takeaway from the book was the idea of an Annual Review. At the end of the year, you estimate how well you did in different areas of your life. I started using an adapted version of the Annual Review, and I also make Annual Goals in the beginning of the year plus an Integrity Report in the middle of the year. This is my first year using these tools, so I am curious to see what effect they will have.

Organising

Since I work in IT, it is easy for me to take advantage of various digital tools. Personally, I love making Excel spreadsheets. I track my personal budget and my 10 Year Plan on an Excel, I have Excels for interesting books and entertainment, and more. My friend once told me: "Teemu, you have an Excel for everything!". I'm particularly proud about my budget spreadsheet that I have probably spent more than 100 hours working on. I can now easily plan my finances several years ahead with a great degree of accuracy. I'm also in the process of making an Excel inventory of my book and game collection, so I will know where everything is stored.

I'm a fanatic when it comes to storing digital files and backing them up. I have my full digital history backed up on encrypted external storages, which I store in multiple locations. It might seem like an overkill for an average person to have, but I see the value in preservering my digital footprint in this digital age. I also keep all my physical documents and letters, and store them in yearly folders. One project for the future would be to scan all the documents and make a digital backup of them. Maybe this would give me a peace of mind about them? In my opinion, being organised both in your physical life and digital life is an important aspect of being productive.

Experimenting

In early 2019, I was juggling my studies, a job, and other commitments. I had to spend more than twelve hours a day on my laptop each day of the week, and I was on the verge of a burnout. However, I had an idea. On Saturday evening, I would unplug all my electronics and hide all the clocks in the apartment. When I woke up on Sunday morning, I would have no idea what time it was, and I would go to sleep when it was dark. I would spend the day reading newspapers and doing other hobbies that didn't require me to have an internet connection. While this extreme habit only lasted a couple of months amidst a busy part of my life, I still remember the increased sense of presence it gave me.

Right now, I'm looking into meditation. Meditation is another way to increase your sense of presence, and it also includes healthy breathing exercises. I recently downloaded the Headspace meditation app, and my plan is to meditate a couple of minutes each day before going to bed. Hopefully, this will result in a better quality of sleep and better productiveness the next day. I'm also experimenting with a new concept for Sundays. Instead of unplugging, I spend some time by chatting with my friends from all over the world. I call it the Social Sunday. Anyways, experimenting with new habits is a great way to find something that can work for you, and this open-minded attitude has brought me where I am now.

Learning

Being productive also requires finding a balance between being productive and being unproductive. In my opinion, both extremes are bad. Something that I would like to learn is to relax without feeling guilt. Sometimes you just want to do something, even while knowing that what you actually need is rest. When I feel tired but still want to use my time well, I usually like to learn something. Sometimes I end up on YouTube where I am subscribed to a ton of documentary channels, my favourites talking about big tech companies. Sometimes I open Steam and play a game, my current choice being Civilization VI: Gathering Storm. A little procrastination is not the end of the world, I think.


Studying Game Development at the Kajaani UAS

Origins

On a winter morning in early 2017, I was sitting on the couch with a game controller on my lap. I was taking a break from gaming and browsing the Pelaaja magazine. It's a popular gaming magazine in Finland. On the back cover of the magazine, I saw an ad that would later change my life. It was an ad for the Game Development Studies program at the Kajaani University of Applied Sciences in Kajaani, Northern Finland. I remember looking at the ad for a while and pondering. At the time, I had a low self-esteem and no direction in my life, so something cool like making gaming felt out of my reach. So I threw the magazine on the table and reached for the controller.

Later in the winter, I moved to my own place. It was my late grandmother's cabin in the countryside of Eastern Finland, hundreds of kilometres from my family back in Southern Finland. When I wasn't shoving logs into the oven, I spent most of my time gaming. Every now and then I was also doing a little studying for the entrance exam, since I had decided to apply after all. In the spring, my father took me to the entrance exam in Kajaani. The letter came in the early summer, and I was nervous since I had already been refused from a university some years earlier – twice, actually. The letter said yes, however, and in my mind, a world of opportunities presented itself.

In August, I left the beautiful nature of North Karelia behind and moved with my little possessions to Kajaani. Kajaani is a small town in Kainuu, a province in Northern Finland. Before my visit in Kajaani for the entrance exam, my knowledge about the town was limited to the fact that it existed. Indeed, I only knew the town by name, and that was it. But it didn't bother me, because after spending the past half a year in a cabin in the countryside, entering the student life in Kajaani felt like a fresh change. At the end of the month, I was standing in a circle with other freshmen at the parking lot, doing goofy orientation games and getting to know the other students.

Back at School

Up to the point when I started my studies at the KUAS, I had spent most of my adult life feeling guilt over not having much if anything going on in my life. After graduating from high school, I spent around five years jumping back and forth from doing various odd jobs and traveling in Europe with my younger brother. It was pretty cool to not be tied to anything and to get to visit all the places we went to. However, deep inside I knew that chasing highs wasn't really going to change where I was in life. Now, after going back to school, I finally had a place to channel all the ambition and energy that had accumulated inside me, and I decided to fully embrace it.

The first year autumn semester consisted of general ICT studies such as cyber security in organisations and other mandatory courses such as Swedish. After the autumn semester, it was time to specialise in one of three areas of game development taught at the school: programming, art, or finally, production and design. While I had studied some C++ on my own time a couple of years earlier, I did not really have a passion to become a programmer. Also, since I couldn't even draw a frog, art was out of question as well. I wasn't sure about the design part since it sounded quite abstract, but production seemed interesting, so I ended up specialising in production.

The Game Development program at the Kajaani UAS consistsed mostly of game projects with some related courses here and there. In the beginning of a game project, the students were given by the teachers a rough criteria for what kind of game they would need to make for that course – e.g. a 2D game for mobile or a 3D game for PC. The students would then scatter around and form their own project teams consisting of programmers, artists, a designer, and a producer. The last two roles sometimes overlapped in that one person would take care of both, which was, of course, discouraged, and sometimes teams would have to survive without one or the other.

Distractions

Despite all my excitement for my new chance, I noticed during the first autumn semester that I was becoming increasingly withdrawn and had hard time socialising with the other students. This presented a major problem, because producing is essentially project management and requires excellent interpersonal skills. What I did not know about myself at that point was that I am in fact an introvert. An introvert has only a limited amount of social energy, and after it has been consumed, they become drained and feel the need to withdraw and recharge. I felt like I did not have what it would take to be successful at producing, and started regretting putting myself in that position.

Thinking back, the negative mentality that I had about my own capabilities closely resembles what has been described as the "impostor syndrome". Those who experience this phenomenon, quoting Wikipedia, attribute their success to luck or interpret it as having resulted from deceiving others. Looking at my fellow students who were, on average, several years younger than me, expressed themselves more easily, and even seemed to have a passion for making games, I certainly felt like a hoax. At the end of the first autumn semester, I had almost had enough, and was looking for other study programs where I could just keep my head down.

In the end, I ended up sticking around. I did not really have a plan B and besides, I recognised that I had a major opportunity to change my life for the better. Since I didn't find enjoyment in socialising, I kept myself busy and distracted in other ways, including by volunteering in organising my school's student-run events such as Nordic eSports Academy and Northern Game Summit. I also started an app project with students from the School of Tourism and Sports, and even ended up talking about it on Finnish television. These projects kept me busy even during evenings and weekends, and I did not really mind since I was having something productive to do.

Hong Kong and Japan

During the spring semester, an opportunity represented itself for me to get a fresh change of environment. I received news that I was accepted for a student exchange in Japan. The exchange would be at the beginning of the second year's autumn semester. At my school, students had the opportunity to go on a student exchange twice during their studies. The study program also consisted of a five month internship, which could be completed abroad. Since I exchanged twice and ended up interning at two different companies, both abroad, I went abroad for a total of four times during my studies. However, before my exchange in Japan, I had to find work for the summer.

Through a stroke of good luck, I got accepted for an internship in Hong Kong. I now had around four weeks to prepare for my first trip in Asia. The three month internship revolved around digital marketing of Japanese kawaii products. It did not have much to do with games, but I didn't mind since I had a chance to see the world and prepare for my exchange in Japan. I spent the weekends hiking, exploring the city, participating in events and meetups, and also visited Macau and Shenzhen. Three months went by super fast, and I'm glad that I got to experience Hong Kong before the recent events. Hopefully, peace will one day return to the city.

From Hong Kong, I flew straight to Nagoya in Japan. Japan is a major player in the global video game industry, and naturally, many gamedev students make a pilgrimage there. The two and a half month exchange program took place at the Trident College of Information Technology. I produced a team of Finnish, Japanese, and Singaporean students. We worked on a VR game, which was displayed at the Tokyo Game Show the next year. On my free time, I explored the businesslike city of Nagoya and its surroundings, including Gifu, Korankei Gorge, and Kyoto. After the exchange was over, I took a Shinkansen to Tokyo and spent the Christmas exploring the megacity.

Interim

After almost half a year abroad, I flew back to Finland to spend the New Year with my family. While in Japan, I had received two pieces of good news. First news was that I got a part-time job in a construction and software company back in Kajaani. I could now earn some extra money, and I could even work remotely on my laptop. The second news was that I was accepted on another exchange program, this time to Singapore in the next summer. I was now back in Kajaani for half a year, and I spent my days studying, working, and exercising. I remember that half a year period as one of the busiest but also as one of the most productive periods in my life.

Back at the school, I noticed that my experience abroad had helped me to grow as a person. Of course, it did not magically change me to a new person. However, it did result in new friends and myself becoming more confident in expressing myself. I still had a lot to improve in many aspects, but noticing this change certainly gave me hope. In my opinion, going on a student exchange gives you the opportunity to experience and find your own place in a new social setting with new people. Putting yourself in new situations will likely result in finding new aspects of yourself. For me, this kind of repetition was important. As they say, repetition is the key to learning.

Before going to Singapore, I had some loose ends that I wanted to tie up. The app project that I had started in my first year was still in progress, but only namely. The original goal was to launch an online platform where people could connect locally and set up their organic hobbyist groups. Reflecting on my own experience, I wanted to reduce social exclusion among young and elderly people. In the end, we did not have the time that was needed to finish the app, as I was now working and the other students were about to graduate. Recognising this, we decided to put the idea back to the drawing board and step back with a year and a half worth of great experiences together.

Singapore and Portugal

In the middle of June in 2019, I landed at Changi Airport for my three month exchange in Singapore. Due to the small land area of the city-state, the campuses, including that of my school, Nanyang Polytechnic, were huge and housed tens of thousands of students. In Singapore, I reunited with my Singaporean friends whom I had met while in Japan, and also had a friend come over from Hong Kong. At the school, I produced as many as three game projects simultaneously. Outside of school, I went out with a Filipino woman and explored the small island with her, and we even visited Malaysia and Indonesia. When it was time to leave, I was reluctant, since I knew that I had met my future wife.

From Singapore, I flew to straight to Portugal. I was accepted for a two and a half month internship in a Lisbon-based startup called Doppio Games. I worked as a Production Coordinator, and got to be part of the launch of Doppio's latest voice-guided game, The 3% Challenge. In Lisbon, I had less time for exploring – spending the nights out while in Singapore had left me with a backlog of uncompleted school assignments. The highlight of my internship was representing Doppio at Web Summit, the largest tech event in the world. After the internship was over, I flew back to Finland for 10 days, and then flew to the Philippines for a well-deserved two and a half month holiday.

Finishing the Studies

I finally returned to Finland in Mid-February to finish my studies. I was well ahead of schedule since I only had to finish my thesis to graduate. Normally, it takes around three and a half years to complete BBA studies in Finland, but I completed the mandatory internships early on and also took advantage of my job to complete some courses. My return coincided with the start of the coronavirus pandemic, which caused the school to switch to remote teaching. Luckily, the special arrangements did not affect me, since I would have written the thesis at home anyways. I wrote the thesis about voice game, and the thesis was commissioned by the game company I interned at.

Looking back, the highlights of my studies were the student exchanges I made to Japan and Singapore, and the internships I completed in Hong Kong and Portugal. I also fondly remember the RYE Connect conference at the Levi Ski Resort in Lapland in early 2018, the Young Entrepreneurs' finals in Helsinki in the spring of 2018, Nordic eSports Academy in Kajaani in the summer of 2018, and the Nordic Health Hackathon competition in Helsinki in early 2019. All these experiences were voluntary, and required me to use my own time and resources to make them happen. I could have stayed in the comfort of my own home, but instead, I left my comfort zone and did not regret it.

Lessons Learned

One of the first assignments given to us at the beginning of our studies was to create a LinkedIn profile. I was initially reluctant, but then realised the professional value of having one. The opportunities that I enjoyed during my studies were partly due to the fact that I spent time building a strong LinkedIn profile and networking with people. However, I recognise that it has sometimes been difficult to find a balance between focusing on the depth of learning and experiences as opposed to constantly seeking what one would call "good resume material". My advise would be to try to find a good balance between the two while not forgetting either, because I have seen people do both.

I am an avid reader, and there are a few books that influenced me and contributed to my personal growth during my studies. The most influential books that I read during my studies were Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity by David Allen, which introduced me to the GTD productivity method, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking by Susan Cain, which helped me to better understand myself, and Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less by Greg McKeown, which helped me to achieve a better focus in my professional life. For anyone out there looking for personal growth, I would suggest looking into these books.

During my studies, I developed a habit of utilising three productivity tools that I rely on a daily basis. These tools are a to-do list, a calendar, and a diary. The to-do list and calendar help me to keep track of my commitments without me having to remember everything by myself, and I use them in accordance with the GTD method. The calendar helps me to keep track of what is going on inside my own head, and thus supplements the other two tools. For anyone who would like to look into improving their productivity, I would suggest looking into the GTD method described in David Allen's book. I might want to write about productivity on my blog in the future, so be sure to be on the lookout for that.

Final Words

Enrolling in the Game Development studies at the Kajaani UAS has been the single best decision of my life. After 2 years and 9 months of studying, I graduated to a new life full of opportunities and optimism, and also challenges to overcome. It all goes back to the ad I saw by chance at the back of that gaming magazine. I was at one point tempted thank that ad for changing the course of my life. However, I realised that it would have meant crediting everything to luck and ignoring all my hard work. That ad was an opportunity, which I, myself decided to take, and it lead to other opportunities, some of which I also decided to take. And those decisions lead me to where I am today.

Wow, this turned out to be a long post!


Done With My Bachelor's Thesis - It's About Voice Games

I Wrote a Thesis About Voice Games

In late 2019, I spent two and a half months interning at Doppio Games in Portugal. For a brief introduction, Doppio Games is a Lisbon-based startup game studio that makes voice games that can be played on virtual assistants. Doppio's previous work include The Vortex (2018) and The 3% Challenge (2019), the latter on which I also worked on during my internship. After the internship, I was commissioned to write a thesis about voice games. Despite studying video games full-time, I did not know much about this new frontier of voice-guided games, and since I saw the thesis as a good learning opportunity, I said yes.

I began writing in late February, just after returning to Finland after two and a half months in the Philippines. Unfortunately, my return coincided with the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic. To comply with social distancing, I stayed inside while having many distractions but no excuses on not focusing on writing. In the end, it took me around four to five weeks of full-time writing to finish the thesis, though the writing project itself was spread on a period of around eight weeks. I finally returned the thesis at the end of April. The thesis is publicly available for free, and is available on the Theseus platform.

So remind me again, what was the thesis about? Sure, it's about voice games – games that you can interact with by using your own voice. Some games do this by using speech recognition, so the game appears to understand what you are saying. In case you are curious about what kinds of games actually have these kinds of voice interaction features, I included in the final pages a table of 114 games that I covered in the thesis. There are actually I couple I would like to try myself, including Seaman and Alien: Isolation. Anyways, my studies are now almost wrapped up, and I can expect graduating later this month!


Two and a Half Months in the Philippines

Background

2019 was the busiest year of my life, and also the most productive one – but with a cost. After returning to Finland in late November after exchanging in Singapore in the summer and interning in Portugal in the autumn, I decided that I needed a break. Despite having usually been healthy and rarely sick, I was now feeling stressed out and was constantly sick. Luckily, my game development studies were progressing smoothly and were well ahead of schedule, which is why I had an opportunity to take some time off and fly to the Philippines.

Philippines in a nutshell

With a population of almost 20 times bigger and a cheerful and collectivistic culture that encourages self-expression and socialising, Philippines is quite unlike Finland. Filipinos are very outgoing and friendly, and speak good English due to the country's history. Philippines also spent 333 years under Spanish rule, which left the country a hispanic heritage in culture, language, and ethnicity. Philippines is a religious country with a catholic majority, and as the only Christian nation in Asia, Philippines' geographical location in South-East Asia is indeed curious against this backdrop.

Philippines is a beautiful country that consists of thousands of islands. The biggest one is Luzon, which is located in the northern part of the archipelago with the capital region of Metro Manila. In the south is the second-largest island, Mindanao, with the Metro Davao region. Between Luzon and Mindanao lies the third primary geographical region of the Philippines, the Visayas archipelago, which has the Metro Cebu region. Philippines is located on the Pacific Ring of Fire, and there are over 20 active volcanoes in the country.

Stopover in Hong Kong

My flight from Finland to Manila flew through Hong Kong, which was in the middle of protests. Since the airport had also been affected by the protests during autumn, I was concerned that my flight might get cancelled. In the end, everything went fine, even though it felt a little eery to look outside through the terminal's windows during the stopover and reflect on how much had changed since my stay in 2018. The flight from Hong Kong to the Ninoy Aquino International Airport in Manila was only around 2 hours, though there was a little turbulence when approaching the islands.

Greeted by a typhoon

When I was in the passport control, my smartwatch started beeping because of a typhoon alert. After having slept only a little over 1 hour during the previous night, I was too tired to pay too much attention to it. Travelling between NAIA's terminals was a little challenging, and I had to take a 15-minute taxi ride to go around the runways from Terminal 2 to Terminal 3. Since it was early afternoon and still within the office hours, the infamous Manila Traffic was not yet at its peak. After meeting my girlfriend at the other terminal, we booked a Grab to take us quickly to Tagaytay.

Tagaytay, located around 60 km south of Manila, is a popular tourist destination known for its altitude, cooler climate, and the Taal Volcano. On our escape from Manila, we managed to avoid the traffic, but the sky was looking grim because of the approaching typhoon. After checking in at our Airbnb condominium, I made the mistake of choosing comfort over safety, and thus decided to get some sleep instead of buying food supplies. The typhoon, named as Tisoy, got stronger during the night. In the morning, the wind was howling strongly and the visibility outside was close to zero.

Our condominium was high up in the tallest building in the area. Because our balcony faced north, the direction from where the wind and water was coming, the window insulations gave up quickly and water started pouring inside. The morning was spent in miserable conditions since there was little food and the water seemed to find its way everywhere. However, the maintenance supplied us with dry towels, and I managed to sneak outside at one point to buy some food. Luckily, the typhoon only lasted a couple of days and, after that, we had an opportunity to start exploring.

Gallery

The pictures can now be found on my Instagram profile.

Exploring Tagaytay

After the typhoon was over, things got back to normal fairly quickly. Because Philippines experiences over 20 typhoons per year, Filipinos see lots of them in their lifetime. However, the typhoon was not the only natural calamity in storage for the people of Tagaytay. Because the Taal Volcano is such a prominent part of the landscape, I made the stupid suggestion that we should visit the volcano island and possibly even swim in its crater lake. However, my girlfriend opposed to this. Only a month later, in Jan 2020, the Taal Volcano erupted, and the little lake was evaporated.

Because of the beautiful and ethereal scenery, Tagaytay has many Starbucks overlooking the lake and the volcano. In my opinion, the one next to the SMDC Wind Residences condominium buildings has the best view. Another place with a good view of the area is the Tagaytay Picnic Grove, where there are lots of snacks and seats available. Our visit to Tagaytay coincided with the 2019 Southeast Asian Games, or SEA Games, which had a couple of venues in Tagaytay. We didn't feel like joining the crowds, which were causing traffic jams on the streets, and followed the competition on television.

One interesting place in the Tagaytay area was the mysterious and unfinished Fantasy World theme park. However, because of the recent typhoon, the condition of the road became a concern, and we decided to abandon the idea of going there. There were still many other places to see in Tagaytay proper. For example, as a Finnish person, I was surprised to find a cafe named Kuuma Kaakao. "Kuuma kaakao" is Finnish and means "Hot chocolate". The origin of the name never became clear despite our visit there, but we bought some coffee mugs as proof of our discovery.

Travelling on Philippine roads

After spending a full week in Tagaytay, we headed north to meet my girlfriend's family in Bambang, which is located in the Nueva Vizcaya province. By road, the trip is only around 350 km, which might lead people to miscalculate the travel time to 4–5 hours. For us, it took around 12 hours on a bus. First of all, going through Manila is never a piece of cake because of the traffic. Also, while the area around Manila is relatively flat, the northern part of the Luzon island is covered by the Cordillera Central mountain range, which has to be crossed many times on a windy road.

There are 4 common types of public transportation in the Philippines: tricycles, jeepneys, vans, and buses. Tricycles, which are popular in the rural areas, are basically motorcycles with covered sidecars, and are for-hire on short distances. Jeepneys, on the other hand, are colourfully decorated buses that travel longer distances on set routes. Vans are minivans that, like jeepneys, travel on set long-distance routes, but with fewer people, fewer stops, and pricier tickets. Bus is the most comfortable way of traveling, but the lack of timetables makes stopping the correct one a process of trial & error.

Baler and Dipaculao

After settling down in Bambang and establishing it as our base of operations, we headed in Mid-December to have a short beach holiday in the east coast of the island. Our first stop was Baler, which is the capital of the Aurora province. Baler is known for its high waves, which makes it a popular surfing destination. To get there, we had to take one bus, two thricycles, and a van. Since we weren't interested in surfing, we only stayed in Baler for one night, during which we checked the beach and walked around the town. For surfing enthusiasts, Baler might be an interesting place to check out.

We, however, were more interested in checking out the Dinadiawan Beach in Dipaculao. On the next morning, we headed out towards Dipaculao, which is a smaller town about a two hour car ride north of Baler. The road between Baler and Dipaculao follows the Sierra Madre mountain range, which again follows the eastern coast of Luzon. The scenery alongside the road is very impressive with the sea and the tall waves visible every now and then. On steeper parts of the road, the engine of our van sounded like it was about to fail but then always just made it.

We dropped off the van around 1 km before Dipaculao, and walked to a beach resort called Sand and Stars, which rents affordable and pre-erected tents for glamorous camping, or glamping. Luckily, Sand and Stars had one more tent left, which we happily accepted. The Dinadiawan Beach is a beautiful and long beach with white sand and big waves. The resort also lived up to its reputation with a beautiful starry sky, the best one I have seen so far. The town of Dipaculao itself is very small, but had a couple of eateries and a market. After a couple of nights, we headed back to Bambang.

Gallery

The pictures can now be found on my Instagram profile.

Baguio City and Atok

In the end of January, we left Bambang to make a visit to the mountainous Baguio City. Baguio, which is located at an altitude of around 1,5 km, is also known as the Summer Capital of the Philippines due to its cooler climate, and the City of Pines because of the many pine trees growing there. The road between Bambang and Baguio has to cross the Cordillera Central mountain range, which makes the road long, winding, and uncomfortable. The distance of little over 110 km can take around 3–5 hours to complete, depending on the length of the driver's coffee break and the time of the day.

Among the places we visited in Baguio were the Wright Park and The Mansion House, which is the president's summer residence, Mines View Observation Deck, the colourful Valley of Colors housing area, the SM City Baguio shopping mall, and Burnham Park just in the city center. The multi-storied Good Taste Café & Restaurant surprised us with its big and affordable meals. The Korean Place Restaurant, a little outside of the city center, offered some variety. In total, we spent 3 nights in Baguio, and I enjoyed our stay to the extent that I would be interested to revisit it.

After Baguio, we made a one night visit to Atok to the north to visit the Northern Blossom Flower Farm. Located at an altitude of over 2 km, the flower farm is located on a mountain slope surrounded by a beautiful and mountainous scenery. I didn't understand much about the flowers except thay they were beautiful and complemented the picturesque view. From the flower farm you could see Mount Pulag, Luzon's highest peak at 2,926 m, around 15 km to the east. We also visited the nearby Sakura Park, although the trees were not yet in bloom.

Gallery

The pictures can now be found on my Instagram profile.

On a honeymoon in Banaue and Batad

In the beginning of February, me and my girlfriend, Rowena, got married in the Philippines. After the ceremony, we went on a honeymoon to see the rice terraces of Banaue and Batad, which were featured in the Avengers movies. Batad Rice Terraces are part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site that also includes other clusters of nearby rice terraces, which is referred to in the World Heritage List as the Rice Terraces of the Philippine Cordilleras. The jeepney ride from Bambang to Banaue included a change in Solano, and took in total around 3–4 hours.

Banaue is the biggest town in the area, and located at an altitude of over 1 km. When we arrived there, it was raining and the visibility was a poor due to fog over the mountain slopes. The town is divided by geography into several parts, each lying at a different altitude and connected by a downwards winding road. We spent 1 night in Uyami's Green View Lodge and Restaurant, which had an amazing view over the parts below. While the Rice Terraces of Banaue were beautiful, the surroundings were more developed compared to the other rice terraces in the area.

After Banaue, we took a tricycle to Batad. To actually get the, however, we had to take a hike of around 20 minutes over difficult terrain. We spent 1 night in Ramon's Guesthouse Batad, which had a good view over the terraces and a restaurant downstairs. A guide from the guesthouse took us walking around the terraces, which were much bigger than I thought. We also visited the Tappiya Falls, which is a beautiful waterfall around 30 minute hike from the terraces. On the next day, before returning to Bambang, the guide drove us to a place overlooking the nearby Bangaan Rice Terraces.

Summary

During our stay, we stayed exclusively on the main island of Luzon. As mentioned above, we visited Tagaytay next to the Taal Volcano, the surfing town of Baler, the Dinadiawan Beach in Dipaculao, the mountainous Baguio City, the Northern Blossom Flower Farm in Atok, and the rice terraces of Banaue and Batad. Places that I would still like to see in Luzon include the mountainous municipality of Sagada, the Spanish colonial town of Vigan, The Hundred Islands National Park, the Mt. Pinatubo volcano, Bataan Nuclear Power Plant, Masungi Georeserve, and a few other other places.

On our next trip to the Philippines, which is probably some time in the future, we are planning to go outside of Luzon to visit places like El Nido and Palawan, and explore the Visayas area. The beautiful nature and the beautiful people make me eager to recommend Philippines as a travel destination, but safety should be taken into consideration if planning a visit. If you are going to the Philippines for the first time, it might be a good idea to consider staying on the main island and/or going to select places in the Visayas. As for me, I got the rest I needed to the face the challenges of the coming year!


Representing at Slush with Lieke

At Slush with Lieke

For the past year, I have been working as a software developer at Lieke Suunnittelu in Kajaani, Northern Finland. My job has revolved around Lieke, which is an app designed to digitalise the distribution of documents at construction sites. My jobs assignment have included designing and beta testing new features on Android and iOS, designing and implementing company websites and blogs, taking backups of the app's data, writing user manuals, terms of service, and other documentation, working independently and remotely, and of late, representing at Slush.

Slush is a tech/startup event that is well-known and anticipated both in Finland and abroad. This year, thanks to Lieke, I had the opportunity to attend the event while representing Lieke. However, since I returned to Finland on Wednesday, I missed the video game related Press Start event on Tuesday. The main event was on Thursday and Friday. We had a booth on Thursday, and we arrived to the venue at around 7:30 a.m. We were quite lucky with the location, since we were right next to the aisle, and had a steady stream of people visiting our booth until at around 6 p.m.

Personally, I think that events like Slush offer startups good opportunities to get out there, even without a clear goal. Conversations with visitors and other professionals can result in interesting and unanticipated realisations, or even partnerships and investments. As the website states, Slush is a student-driven, not-for-profit movement. Accordingly, I was happy to see tons of young volunteers, who will surely appreciate the experience. Anyways, since I had Friday for myself, I had plenty of time to roam around freely and experience the event from a visitor's perspective.

Slush vs. Web Summit

Earlier in November, I had the opportunity to represent Doppio Games at Web Summit in Lisbon, Portugal. To be honest, I hadn't heard about Web Summit before the event. I was even more surprised to hear that Web Summit is the bigger event. While Slush 2019 in Helsinki had around 25 000 attendees, Web Summit 2019 had around 70 000 attendees. Also, Web Summit had four days of scheduled program while Slush ran for two days. Anyways, I promised to give my friends back in Portugal a brief comparison of the two events, so let's see what I can do.

Regarding the venues, Slush comprised most of the Messukeskus convention centre, which is located in Pasila, Helsinki. At Web Summit, you first had to walk through the four big halls of the Feira Internacional de Lisboa convention centre before arriving in front of Altice Arena, which housed the main stage. While Messukeskus is way bigger than any of FIL's individual halls, together with Altice Arena there appeared to be more floor space in use at Web Summit. Personally, I liked how Web summit was divided into separate halls, which made the space feel well used and organised.

In Finland, November is cold, windy, and grey, and Slush makes sure to be the first to call this out in their marketing. Indeed, after returning to Finland, I had to blink my eyes to make sure I hadn't lost my colour vision! Web Summit had a cool mobile app, but the web application of Slush felt a little clunky and unfocused. Anyways, as a Finnish person, I'm glad we have an event like Slush. I also think that the festival mentality (I feel Web Summit was a little more serious, though they also had some night events) of Slush provides a nice boost of energy at this time of the year.