A look back at my 2022
A friend challenged me to describe 2022 in a single word and – true to my nature – I bristled at the mere idea. How could I summarise 365 full days around the sun with a single word?
Despite my reluctance, I think there is a single word to describe it: fragmented. 2022 was much more fragmented, bitty, piecemeal than the last few. I read less, wrote less, sent fewer newsletters, did fewer personal coding projects and – to cap it off – I failed to run a marathon in October.
But fragmented works as there were a few wins. I ran a half marathon earlier in the year, ramped up to some significant mileage over summer before pivoting to alternative gym exercising in the past few months of the year as a result of injury. I read a respectable number of books, partially aided by audiobooks (love you, Libby). I wrote (a bit) more about each book I finished and poured a lot of time into my blog. I picked up a new (old) camera and enjoyed rekindling my eye for photos.
It was fragmented because I was all over the place. My travel has picked up since the pandemic and I spent a lot more time with family in the UK and back in Ontario. I returned to my UK company HQ in Cambridge twice and was lucky enough to take a long week’s holiday in Japan in November.
I figured there’s a lot to reflect on this year. Here’s my attempt to digest and share what went well and what might happen to me now I find myself in the early days of 2023.
Slow newsletter year
Around the beginning of the pandemic I started a newsletter, ostensibly about network graph analytics and data visualization. In the last year, it morphed into more personal-adjacent writing about graphs and networks in the real world. In hindsight I had more time to devote to this side project during the pandemic and struggled to do it justice in 2022.
I never managed to define my target audience, real and ideal, and didn’t quite land the takeaways. It wasn’t clear to me why I was holding myself to strict publishing timelines of every other week.
I was also blithe in my unawareness of other, “real”, data visualization newsletters that have found and grown a strong audience for years.
I suspect the more personal writing alienated more of the original technical readers. But I learned not to care too much about this. I was writing what I wanted to be writing about. If it’s not for me then what’s the point?
After seven editions at the beginning of the year, I announced I was taking the summer off and made the mistake of closing my June edition with
I’ll see you again in September.
This… didn’t happen. And it’s not like readers are vocal or demanding, but the fact that I wasn’t able to polish and publish anything in the latter half of the year has weighed on my mind.
I have a draft almost, kinda ready to go, and I’m committed to getting it out. But is this something I want to dedicate more time to in 2023? I’m not certain.
Part of me thinks I was writing to aid my career, but three years later I’m comfortable with my progression and I’m not sure that’s necessary any more. There was always dissonance and conflict writing around the same sort of topics commercialized in my day job. Should I make an effort to write and learn more about things that aren’t graphs and data visualization? I’m not certain.
I read 56 (!) books in 2021 and 37 in 2022.
Prompted by reading “The Penguin Book of Japanese Short Stories” in 2021, I read a disproportionate amount of Japanese fiction this year. Particular highlights were two quirky novellas from Yoko Tawada and a magnetic little book called “Kokoro” by Natsume Sōseki. It took me a long time to get through the Makioka Sisters by Jun’ichirō Tanizaki – as I wrote in September, “glad I stuck with it but it was a slog at times.”
Looking back at the full list, “fragmented” is a good way to describe my reading. I struggled with a lot of books this year, leading me to add a new category to my reading log for “did not finish.” I have a few books I’m meaning to go back to and shelves of novels stacked in a silent prayer, waiting to be read. I like to think 2023 is looking bright for that.
The proportion of books read as audiobooks was up this year thanks to time spent at the gym or travelling. I listened to Bob Odenkirk’s memoir which was pleasant but uninspired, and followed it up with Steve Martin’s which was much more impactful.
Recording my reading publicly is a net benefit for the feeling of accomplishment and sharpening my critiquing pencil. I find it hard to have novel opinions but I’m slowly getting better. It does sometimes get in the way of choosing and taking time when reading books as my mind will drift to what I’ll say about it on my blog. The reduction in number of books finished this year and (gasp!) not including some books on my site helps with this.
I was lucky to read three fantastic non-fiction books this year: User Friendly, Living in Data and “Mistakes Were Made (but Not by Me)”. I can’t say I was as lucky with fiction. But Looking back, I didn’t try very hard. 2023 will be a year for more interesting, meaty fiction.
My podcast consumption shrunk in favour of audiobooks. Apart from listening to standalone episodes of podcasts with interesting guests, I mainly spend my podcast time with lighthearted comedy podcasts from the UK and Canada.
I still read Private Eye every two weeks (thanks Dad!) but I let my Economist subscription lapse. I always find it rewarding but couldn’t carve out the time required for such a dense “newspaper.” I try to pick one up every once in a while as a little treat.
There’s been a shake-up in my newsletter consumption. I read Money Stuff and Today in Tabs religiously and have picked up nothing here as an horrifyingly essential summary of news around technology, climate and social issues. I’m finding other old favorites to be… less essential. I still like hearing of Duncan Geere’s updates although there’s a lot of “viral intellectual content of the week” filler. Daniel Miessler’s cybersecurity-skewed news update has become less interesting to me and I subscribe to Sentiers but find it aloof and aspirational rather than realistic and actionable. It takes a lot for me to swipe “mark as read” but I’m learning to do it more and it’s strangely liberating.
Albums of my year
More fragmentation. I’ve always prided myself on having an eclectic taste but find myself skewing towards accessible indie-pop/rock/folk instead of anything challenging. This is fine, here are some highlights!
- Labyrinthitis by Destroyer is probably my Album of the Year. June is transcendent.
- Actually, scratch that, the Deluxe version of Remi Wolf’s Juno album came out in May and it’s incredible. I’ve almost certainly listened to much more of that this year than any other album. Infectious vocals, fresh approach to music production and so. many. ear worms.
- Blue Rev by Alvvays blew me away, Expert in a Dying Field by The Beths is another winner but has made me aware of their even-better earlier album, the hooky Future Me Hates Me.
- I have a real soft spot for Bleed Out by the Mountain Goats. It’s the best Mountain Goats album in years – and that’s coming from someone who loves latter-day Darnielle. Only the clanger “Need More Bandages” with the uninspired chorus chant of “We’re going to need more bandages!” distracts from an album of perceptive lyrics and sinewy melodies. Don’t skip on “Hostages” – for some reason that eludes me, the line
Good luck to the guys.
makes me laugh out loud every single time.
- I spent a lot of time with 4 Guitars by Bill Orcutt – deliciously dissonant.
- Asphalt Meadows by Death Cab was my official “album to listen to while on a plane”
- The horrifically-titled d E A T h ~ b U g by ORANGEPURPLEBEACH (a new moniker for John Vanderslice) was a sleeper hit for me.
- Other strong contenders: Painless by Nilufer Yanya, Turn it On! by Romero, Vulture Prince, Bartees Strange, Indigo De Souza, oh my.
- I don’t know Wilco that well, although I suspect I saw them live once. Their older, less popular album, “Sky Blue Sky” was on heavy rotation for me this year.
- Over in the guilty pleasures department, I listened a lot to Hotel TV by Lawrence and In These Silent Days by Brandi Carlisle.
One new ritual this year is putting on Iggy Pop’s Confidential on a Sunday morning. It’s a fantastic mix of music and I always find at least 5 new artists or records I want to spend more time with.
None of these music choices are unique but this unwieldy section makes me think I should enthuse more about music on this here blog in the future.
I can’t say I moved the needle on my guitar playing this year. I want to play more music in 2023 and even try to record and release a selection of original music.
I’ve always wanted to be a person who is proficient editing text with vim, my lack of vim skills has irritated me for decades but this year I made a concerted effort and learned to use vim and am actually okay using it and: I’m not sure it was worth it?
It’s weird to cross off an aspiration as half-complete but actually complete but that’s what I’m going to do. I know enough vim to be dangerous and can extend my knowledge more over time. But this isn’t hanging over my head like it was before. How stupid of me.
After falling for the hype of “tools for thought” as procrastination for true intellectual and creative output, I’ve pared my use of productivity tools down to Things, Readwise w/Reader and Obsidian and I’m not sure about Obsidian.
I’m particular about the tools I use and have been a Workflowy maximalist for a few years. I used it to track lists and todos in it’s unique infinite list capability.
I’m more interested in battle-tested native macOS and iOS apps in 2023. I want to support small teams that have a laser-focus on good UI and UX. The broadening of the capability for both Workflowy and Obsidian gives me pause and, ultimately, their “wizzyness” and novelty is a distraction from getting shit done.
Projects and shipping
I had two large projects this year: tweaking my blog site and thinking about all the source/target newsletters I wanted to write.
I adore the layout of my blog. The thin, responsive column format is unusual but has a density and personality to it. There’s scope for a re-style but I think it will last in it’s current form for a while. I streamlined the ability to add photos this year and added automated Twitter Social Share image generation but, on balance, I’ve spent more time on writing and publishing than on site tweaks. I’d like to post more “notes” and longer-form “posts” in 2023.
Hit by COVID and self-isolating in July, I did something totally reasonable and made a new website. I forked a repository for a site that documented book review scores from a productivity podcast and rebuilt it to track reviews from one of my low-key favourite podcasts, Evil Men. This was a lot of fun although I the low-level Eleventy configuration and my still-poor CSS skills bogged me down.
I spent a lot of time on three other projects: one semi-secret, one barely released and a third set to be mothballed.
The semi-secret one was something I’ve been proud to be a part of. I’ve long been a lone coding coyote pup, rattling around a git repo on my own. Collaborating with a small team on something I like to think I know something about has been eye opening. I don’t see many chances for this in the future so it’s been a nice change.
For part of the year, I worked on a tiny little project that made me smile. The idea came to me earlier in the year and I couldn’t stop thinking about it until I cobbled something together. I worked out how to host a website from the Raspberry Pi in the corner of my office and kickstarted leaving.live back in September.
What is leaving.live? It’s a website that tells you when other people leave the website.
I had big, small plans for leaving.live but couldn’t find the time to enact them. And then something funny happened, I linked to it as a work in progress earlier this week and it resonated with others, to my surprise!
Thousands of people have shared and marvelled at it since then and I’m so pleased. All my planning and anguish over not finding the time for improvements melted away. It was perfect as it was.
The final project is a public labour of love: many people use Send to Workflowy to quickly add text and links to their Workflowy account. It’s bizarre that this capability is missing in an otherwise feature-rich product. I released it in May of 2021 but I never truly “launched” it. I was hesitant to be fully responsible for a live service and aware of the shaky foundations I was building a pseudo-SaaS product on. I spent a fair amount of time this year hacking on new infrastructure using fancy low-cost tooling like fly.io and CloudFlare Workers. In the end a low key announcement that first-party API support for quick capture is on the way means that it’s just not worth my time any more. I’m proud that one of my repos on Github has accrued a (small) number of stars and I learned a fair bit.
Both leaving.live and Send to Workflowy teach me something for 2023: ship and share your projects early! Everything is a draft! Oh and: kill your projects early too!
After six years in the same role, my company promoted me at the tail end of 2022. I’ll face some new challenges as a manager as we continue to grow the business. I suspect this will fill my winter long work days but I prefer that to twiddling my thumbs and stagnating.
I do want to carve out the time away from work to keep happy and healthy. This means recovering from my injury enough to get back to running. It means making time for fun projects and not letting the less-fun bits drag me down. It means making time for my wonderful partner and family.
In short: more of the good stuff, less of the bad stuff. A bit less fragmented, a bit more joined up.