What’s Aamir Up To Right Now?

Last updated 9/14/20.

Slab Climbing and Fear

I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain.

-Muad’Dib from Frank Herbert’s Dune

When I think of outdoor rock climbing, a difficulty scale comes to mind. On the easy side: huge holes in the rock that can be climbed like a ladder. As the difficult increases, the holds become narrower, requiring proportionate technique and strength.

I recently learned that there’s another kind of difficulty expressed in the form of slab climbing. While I’ve done some mild rock climbing outdoors before, my first taste of slab climbing was in mid-August, on a trip to Tuolumne Meadows (just past Yosemite heading east) with my dad.

In slab climbing, the rock is angled less than 90 degrees, but has few indents in the rock to climb with. Instead of using your fingers and toes to push yourself up the wall, you rely entirely on the sole of your foot to provide enough friction to support your weight. In other words, you’re not held up by the force of your feet or hands on small perpendicular ledges in the granite. You’re held up by the friction your soles exert on the smoother, parallel granite surface. Your hands often just brace you, flat-palmed against the wall.

There’s nothing solid to plant your toes on. To keep yourself in the air, you have to drop your heels and push your butt out, creating more surface area between your soles and the granite wall.

Notice the angle of my feet – I’m forcing my heels to drop to increase surface area on the rock. My hands are flat against the wall.

Here’s the interesting thing about slab climbing. When you’re 50 feet in the air slip a little, it doesn’t matter that a rope will catch you. Fear shoots up within your gut, rushing adrenaline through your sinus, and you instinctively move your body closer to the wall to prevent more slipping.

With other kinds of rock climbing, this is OK. Moving your body closer to the wall means that more of your weight is centered directly above your toes or below your fingers, giving me a more secure hold (at the cost of extra muscle strain). But in slab climbing, moving your body closer to the wall raises your heels, which reduces your surface area with the wall – causing you to slip more, creating more fear, making you slip more, and so on. In other words, it’s an unstable system. You can’t let the first domino drop.

For a beginner scaling an 80 foot dome, slipping happened all the damn time. I had to quickly learn how to deal with my fear, or I’d never get up the wall. My first try resulted in failure. I tensed up each time I slipped, which eventually burned out my calf muscles before I was able to successfully ascend.

I had to overcome my fear. I found that accepting my fear and then triangulating its physical presence within my body allows it to pass through me. Initially, whenever I slipped, I involuntarily jerked towards the wall, completely out of control. I had to cut this connection by expecting the fear response, and instead of jerking back, lower my heels again, find the physical part of the fear in my body (Do I feel it in my nose? My gut? My back?), sitting with it, then watching it pass. Each time I did this, I got better at it, and on my second attempt, I successfully summited the dome.

Peering out over the top of Puppy Dome, 80 feet above my dad.

What I thought would be an exercise in finger strength and flexibility turned out to be a bootcamp in dealing with fear. The physical triangulation of negative emotion turns out to be really useful in my day-to-day life. When something bad happens, where do I feel the emotion? The anxiety, shame, or frustration? By focusing on its physical presence within my body, it often passes through me, allowing my rational mind to kick back into gear and take action.

The Beginning of a Chef’s Journey

From trying to cook pasta in a pot without water, to filling my apartment with throat-destroying ghost pepper smoke, I’ve made some pretty embarrassing mistakes in the kitchen. I always tell my friends how ironic it is that my career is making dumb machines follow simple instructions, but my super advanced human brain isn’t capable of doing the same.

After the pandemic hit and my dining dollars on campus ran out, food delivery services started taking up a larger and larger portion of my monthly budget. It just wasn’t sustainable. This pandemic will last a while and it’s high time I learned to cook properly.

After doing a little bit of research, The Four-Hour Chef proceeded to become my bible. It’s more than a cookbook – it’s a complete, holistic approach to turn a klutz like me into someone comfortable cooking healthy food in the kitchen.

  • The book starts assuming you know nothing and have nothing. Each recipe builds upon the skills you learned in the previous one, so that no recipe is overwhelming.
  • He recommends which cookware to buy and at which point in the book, so that you don’t have to worry about not having the right equipment.
  • He spends the first 80 pages discussing how to learn any skill, and explains how cooking will be the medium he’ll teach this process to you. The most effective was signing up for stickk.com, a website where if you don’t complete your commitment, a pre-determined amount of money is sent to an anti-charity of your choice. I chose the Trump campaign. Finishing my two recipes a week became not just a commitment, but my patriotic duty.
  • He inspires and encourages you to develop the trait of self-experimentation. His stories of how he became a national kickboxing champion or learned Chinese in six weeks are inspiring for sure. But when he gives you a two pager on how to create the taste of any world cuisine using a just few different spices each, you actually feel empowered to try Italian-flavored scrambled eggs for breakfast! (Spoiler – it just feels like the scrambled egg should be bread. Did it once, never again)
  • All the recipes in the book are Slow-Carb compatible, which, even if you don’t follow the diet, are generally healthy and protein-rich.

At just the right point in the book, when I felt I was gathering leftover ingredients – there you had it, a one-pager on how to deal with leftover ingredients. It truly does feel like he’s thought of it all.

Since starting the book at the start of August, I’ve finished almost all of the beginner recipes. I recently made the steak recipe, which was one of the most delicious things I’ve ever eaten, let alone created.

Rosemary, ghee, and meat deliciousness. And beans.

You can check out most of my creations on an Instagram account I created as a food journal. I’ve posted both successes and failures. I recently have been moving away from social media and internet use, however, so I’ll be making a subpage on my website for the future.

It’s a silver lining to this pandemic and a free summer for me. Otherwise, I would have continued relying on the dining hall and food delivery services. I’ve started a journey that I hope will never end.

Odds ‘n Ends

I procured new MIDI keyboard over the summer and created Twinkling Infinity, a partially-improvised song inspired by the wonder of the Hubble eXtreme Deep Field photograph. I’ve moved more towards completely live compositions recently – while it’s not as crisp around the edges, it makes each attempt completely different from any previous one and allows me to channel whatever I’m feeling at the moment into the song.

I recorded a podcast with FUSD Challenge Success and spoke at length about my experience in high school and undergrad. If you’d like a peek at young Aamir, I’d encourage you to check it out and send me your thoughts!

What’s Next?

I had originally planned to conclude my full time job search by the beginning of the school year, but I’ve recently had a shift in my outlook. After reflecting on my upcoming career choices, I’ve decided to pursue product management roles at small companies as well as developer roles. My aim is to learn more about the non-technical aspects of tech business so I can one day found my own company. It’ll be difficult to find a product-facing role at a small company with my experience, but I’d take a developer role at a small company over a product role at a larger one, so it’s worth a shot.

I’m also finishing up my last quarter at Stanford, taking CS 221 (Intro to AI), CS 144 (Intro to Computer Networking) and MS&E 271 (Intro to Marketing). It’ll be a tough quarter, but if I can manage it, I’ll come out with both a master’s degree from Stanford and a full-time job offer. Wish me luck!