Benjamin @ 25

Another year, many more events in my life. The biggest change of course is that I'm now a dad. Other big things happened such as (sort of) moving back to Australia, renting a place in Queensland and getting into cycling.

What's Been Happening

I'm now a dad!

Penelope was born 2 days after my birthday last year on the 28th of May 2020, weighing in at exactly 7 lbs. She's grown up a lot, and been around for all the events of the last year, so there's plenty of photos of her in this post! She's now almost 1 year old and we're prepping for her 1st birthday party this weekend.

She was born in a hospital in Seattle while COVID was still raging, there was no family around for the birth (since travel outside Australia was not allowed). Joelle was made to take a COVID test on the way into the hospital, and she was only allowed to bring one other person in with her, crazy times!

Driving home from the hospital as a family

Family Life

Here's a couple photos to give a glimpse into our family life over the last year.

Realizing that Wendy's "Frostys" are closer to (AU) Maccas thickshakes than (US) Maccas thickshakes
Returning to work after paternity leave, now with a buddy
Many car-park pizza dates during COVID
Watching Hillsong Church online
Twin Peaks with twin masks
Watching The Wiggles in business class, what a dream!
Never thought we'd get to fly in a private jet! Thanks (Joelle's) dad!
Christmas with the family
Morning walks @ Surfers Paradise
Family bike rides
Still got to have a few date nights as parents

Work

It sure has been a big year for changes at work. I highlighted in last year's post that I moved from SharePoint to the Azure.com team. Well in October last year I moved back to SharePoint.

A bunch of factors led to shifting back to the old team, but ultimately it probably came down to opportunity and people. I really missed the connections I had built on the SharePoint team, and now due to COVID remote work was now a real possibility. They also had a great position available for partnering with the Microsoft Edge team to develop the future of Chromium-based web browsers that I am super interested in.

In other news on the job, I also got promoted again in March (whilst in SharePoint). My title is still the same "Senior Software Engineer", but now I'm "level 64", here's a link to a salary website which is probably the best way to visualize the promotion levels at Microsoft. I'm not really anticipating another promotion anytime soon, changing title from "Senior" to "Principal" is a big jump.

If you're curious what products I've been working on in SharePoint, I can't give specifics on the feature (we ship to production later this month), but it's roughly web performance on the Microsoft Lists product.

Travels

Here's a rough summary of our travels over the last year:

  • We were in Seattle until September 2020.
  • We travelled to San Francisco to get Penelope's passport.
Quick stop off the highway for a feed and a nappy change
  • From San Francisco we flew to Sydney (to quarantine for 2 weeks).
Family video games in quarantine
  • After completing quarantine we arrived in Geelong at the end of September.
Visiting Lorne and Apollo Bay
  • We stayed with family in Victoria until the end of 2020.
  • In 2021 we moved to the Gold Coast and rented an apartment.
Family selfie in the new apartment
20 minute bike ride gets me to Main Beach for a Slurpee with a view

Hopefully that's it for travelling for a bit. We might do a holiday or two, visit Geelong a few more times in 2021-22. I might do a trip back to the US at some point to finalize things there and sell the house, but it looks like it could be quite some time before the Australian quarantine border comes down.

Cars

Well, we sold our cars in the US. I was sad to see my Scion FR-S go. But hey, we bought a Porsche in Australia! We only really need one car as a couple now, so it was nice to buy a nicer car to share.

Other Random Things

Exercise

This has been a huge year for fitness. I got super into running whilst we were in the US, I cracked a few milestones. I ran a 25 minute 5km, my first 10km and my first 15km.

Since moving to the Gold Coast, I purchased a new road bike, and also convinced Joelle to buy a bike too. I went for a massive 80km ride up and down the Gold Coast. Joelle told me it was easy and that she could do the same ride no problems. So a couple weeks later she rode the same distance on her cruiser bike!

I've been going on early morning rides with a group called "Caffene Riders" on the Gold Coast. They meet at 5:50am at a coffee shop that is 2.5km from my house, so I get up at 5:20am and go join them. It's been a lot of fun, and very odd for me getting up so early.

I don't have any explicit goals for the next 12 months exercise-wise. Maybe join the cycling group for one of their longer and harder rides. I would love to try to do a (small) triathlon, but I really need to improve my swimming ability before that becomes possible.

As with last year, here are my Strava stats. Slashing 7.5 minutes off my 5k PR and adding a whopping 846km to my all time ride distance. If I keep it up with the ride group I'll probably add another couple thousand kilometers to those totals.  

Church

This year has been all over the place for church since it was all online! We jumped around between churches online, we were watching Churchome. Then we switched it up and watched Vous Church for a couple weeks before finally landing on Hillsong.

It worked well watching Hillsong online from the US with a newborn because our sleep schedule was unpredictable and because it aired the day before (thanks timezones) we could just watch the recording on Youtube. We also ended up attending Hillsong on the Gold Coast, so it kind of already felt like home even before stepping in the door.

We've had a great time getting to know people at Hillsong Gold Coast, attending their young professionals group and going on "cafe crawls" (not sure if that's a church thing, or Gold Coast thing, or both).

Interests

Through this part of the blog post, the oldest tradition, I'll list my different interests and how they've changed since last year.

Music

Nothing too crazy, the Triple J Hottest 100 had a few songs that were outside my typical genre that I liked. From artists such as Skegss, Spacey Jane and Hockey Dad. Here is a link to all the songs I added to my library in the last 12 months (popup has instructions for installing the extension to get the songs to play). Some of the songs are old songs I just didn't have in my library, so it's not all new to me, but most of it is.

Movies and TV

Nothing of note this year, Joelle and I re-watched (second time for me, first time for Joelle) a bunch of shows like Breaking Bad, House of Cards and now Silicon Valley. We also watched Wandavision which was a bit different for the both of us. Shows I'm looking forward to this year are probably Mandalorian season 3, Westworld season 4, Witcher season 2 and Dexter season 9. Some new ones that could be interesting are Foundation and The Book of Boba Fett.

This year we also watched another season of Married at First Sight Australia, and I would not recommend it to people. It's just a garbage drama, but it was quite fun to watch. I even made a website as part of one of the "challenges" on the show.

Books

COVID and lack of driving has been horrible for my reading progress.

I read parts of a couple of books, "The Power of Habit", "Range", "Algorithms to Live By" and "Building a Better Vocabulary" (you can tell how bad I applied this one). I'm now reading "Soft Skills - The software developers life manual". I wouldn't give a big recommendation on any of them so far.

Gaming

Call of Duty Warzone has actually been awesome. Specifically the "Rebirth Resurgence" game mode. When we moved to Australia I initially played it on PC just because I was waiting to buy an xbox (and it's free to play), but once I got my hands on an Xbox I just continued playing it!

Tech

Operating Systems

Big changes this year. As much as I love Arch Linux and i3, I've barely booted into Linux on my desktop in months. I wanted to purchase a new laptop and was deciding between a Dell XPS 13 and the M1 Macbook Air. I went with the Macbook and it's been the absolute best decision so far. This laptop CPU is unbelievable and even outstrips it's Intel counterparts, all without a fan! Because of the low wattage of the M1 chip, the battery life is also insanely good, one of the primary reasons I bought the Mac. Apple seriously has something good going for them here with the new chip line. I hope they keep it up and put some real pressure on Intel and AMD.

My work machines are all windows these days, and that's working just fine. I got an 8 core Intel CPU for my new desktop I purchased in Australia, and it gets the job done nicely.

Personal Projects

Big year for personal projects. Having the new laptop has given me a new-found flexibility to work on side-projects without needing to be glued to my desktop in the office. So here's a big list of projects I've worked on!

Stretto - Music Player

I made some big changes to Stretto over the last year. The mobile app being separate from the desktop app was kind of annoying, so I combined the two into a Progressive Web App (PWA). There were a few big challenges, the main one being able to make API calls to any service from the browser (to increase the resilience to rate limits on the server). For this I ended up opting to write a chrome extension for Stretto that essentially disables CORs and allows Stretto to directly download Youtube and SoundCloud songs.

Combining the chrome extension, service workers and PWA support, Stretto on mobile now works completely offline, and allows you to download songs for listening offline. My dream was to have songs automatically offline whilst you listen to them, and this is now a reality.

One caveat for the Android support, since it requires a chrome extension, is that you have to use a fork of Chrome for Android that allows extensions. For this I used Kiwi browser.

Stretto PWA

Youtube to MP3

Staying in the music arena, I made a hackathon project to add a mp3 download button to youtube videos via a chrome extension. This is probably broken by now since I haven't been maintaining it. I entered it in the Sia SkyDB hackathon, and managed to win a whopping $80 in Siacoin as a participation award.

Under the hood, the chrome extension uses react-native-ytdl and ffmpeg.js to download and convert the youtube video all within the browser.

Earnings Tracker

There are a couple websites already out there that let you see how stock prices move around earnings in the past. The only downside to these websites is they charge for the privilege. Since the past price movements and earnings releases are all public information I decided to write an open source project to show this information. Users of the website can even trigger the addition of new stock tickers to the site.

Cheap Coke

Although the title may initially confuse some as a darknet website, this website helps you decide which supermarket to shop at in Australia based on the price of Coca Cola. I wrote it after returning to Australia as a fun project to decide between the two major supermarket chains for my grocery shopping. It turned out to be rather difficult to scrape the information from the supermarket websites themselves, so I ended up having to scrape a third-party and correlate all the store locations with prices, then match those to the user's geoip without hogging too much network bandwidth. This scraper then runs on an interval in GitHub Actions.

Web Share Images

I wrote a separate blog post on this project. Basically I realized it was possible to use the web sharing API to share arbitrary HTML, canvas elements and image tags via the native OS sharing integrations. It works on Android, iOS and Chrome/Edge on Windows (Linux and Mac support there, at least in Chrome). There wasn't really any other documentation from other developers on the internet using the API for this usage so I decided to test it out, apply it to MAFSRater.com and write a blog post on it.

GitHub Dynamic Sites

I created a GitHub App that allows developers to turn their static GitHub Pages websites into dynamic websites. This is done by allowing users to modify data on the site via an XHR call that triggers a GitHub Action. This was also a new pattern that I wasn't seeing utilized in the wild so I wrote another blog post about that one too.

With this new tech stack I decided to create two proof of concept websites, one a pastebin clone, and the other an imgur clone. Both are absolutely horrible websites, but they show the proof of concept.

I didn't receive much traction on this, likely because the implementation is too technical, or maybe people just don't care about the limits of what is possible on the free GitHub tech stack as much as I do.

Software I Use (changes)

Mobile

  • Stretto as a Progressive Web App via Kiwi Browser + Stretto Chrome Extension.
  • Focus Todo (Pomodoro Timer) - I use this occasionally to help with focus at work.
  • Random Bibleizer - Open source tool to jump to a random chapter in the bible. It's even open source so I submitted a pull request to add the Bible app auto-open feature.
  • White Noise - Such a blessing, sends Penelope to sleep every single night.
  • Speed Overlay - To see my current moving speed when riding.
  • Superdisplay - To use my tablet as an external monitor whilst travelling in San Francisco / Sydney quarantine.
  • DroidCam - To use my phone as a webcam for my work video calls to increase the quality dramatically over the built-in laptop webcam.

Desktop

Really a bunch of Mac software since I'm now back on the Mac platform with the new M1 Macbook Air:

  • AltTab - Making command+tab behavior a bit more natural (for me).
  • Jumpcut - Open source clipboard history manager.
  • Rectangle - Open source basic window manager. Nothing is as good as i3, but for a device I use as a laptop 95% of the time, it works fantastic.

Web

  • Monica CRM - somewhat controversial, but the idea really appeals to me. I have it hosted on it's own VPS (since it is open source after all).
  • Voip.ms - Used to keep our US numbers but converting them to virtual-only numbers.
  • Zoho Mail for custom domain email management. I use this for kaiser.lol, kaiserapps.com, joellejae.com and joellekaiser.com.au.
  • 7-Eleven and Nandos membership programs because well... I love slurpees and Nandos chicken.

Hardware I Use

As already mentioned above, there were a couple of changes this year. Purchasing a new desktop computer for gaming + my work from Australia, the purchase of a new M1 MacBook Air and most recently an Xbox Series X console.

My entire desk is new since moving to the Gold Coast, so here's a snapshot of what my desk looks like now:

The new desk is complete with Edifier R1700BTS speakers, my old subwoofer underneath, LG 34" 5k monitor and (photo is slightly old) my desktop mounted underneath.

A couple other neat additions in the peripheral space:

On the gaming hardware front:

  • Xbox Elite Series 2 Controller - Awesome customizable Xbox Controller.
  • Xbox Wireless Headset - Great headset for Xbox gaming when needing to talk to teammates. It also supports multi-device pairing, so I can play games and then listen to music on my phone/laptop in the breaks between matches.
  • Xbox Series X - took a while to find stock of it, but this console has been awesome. Playing Call of Duty at 120fps on the tv is fantastic.

To Come!

So that's my life at the quarter century mark. Here are my rough goals for the next year:

  • Continue being a good family man, spending time with Joelle and Penelope.
  • Continue to deliver customer value at work, taking steps towards becoming a "Principal Software Engineer".
  • Keep it up with the cycling, sensible goal would probably be to ride 2000km in the next 12 months and ride at least 100km in a single ride.
  • Keep my weight in check, this is challenging with all the slurpees, goal is still <85kgs and I'm sitting around 87kgs.
  • Keep going on the side projects, writing fun code that interests me.
  • Make lots of good friends and a couple of great friends on the Gold Coast.

Benjamin Kaiser

Benjamin Kaiser

Hi, I'm Ben. I work as a Software Engineer at Microsoft on the SharePoint team. My passions are web dev and open source. I drink a lot of Slurpees.
Gold Coast, Australia