I’m writing this on a (very) early morning flight. Having already watched Bohemian Rhapsody (it was great!), I still have over two and a half hours to go, so we’re going to do another year-in-review post. While blog posts like these have become something of a cliché, they’re useful for me to take stock of another year on earth. So if you liked 2018… here comes the sequel! Let’s do 2019.
2019 was our first full year in the new home in North Carolina, having moved back from two years in NYC in the spring of 2018. Being a homeowner in a quiet exurban development is… well, pretty great. We’ve gotten to know a bunch of our neighbors, almost all of whom are around our age and have/are having kids. Being in a place where most everyone else is in a similar phase of life is really cool. Penny is also thriving here, and continues to be the best part of every day.
In late summer, I left my job at SAS for a new gig at Salesforce. My experience there has been truly terrific. I am a part of a totally distributed team and work from home with occasional travel. (Like now!) My new team is a lot of fun, the product we’re working on is both new and important, and it’s really a whole new area for me to grow in. I couldn’t be happier with it.
(Laura, my wife, saw how well this worked out and said, heck… I could do that, too! So she quit her job shortly thereafter and is now building her own consulting business, with remarkable success. She makes as much as she did before in half the time. Respect that.)
I got LASIK this year and no longer wear contacts/glasses. Some of the best money I’ve ever spent.
I wrote a lot of stuff
In 2018, Ben and I published our book, Building Products for the Enterprise with O’Reilly Media. I am now pleased to support that it has become something of a reliable seller! It doesn’t fly off the shelves, but steadily moves about a few dozen books a month, give or take. People seem to like it.
Earlier this year, I finished my second fiction novel. The title is “Exaltation,” and it’s classified as an adult speculative fiction novel. (That’s “adult” in the sense of audience genre, not porn.) I got some great feedback on it after requesting beta readers on twitter, edited and workshopped it some (/a lot) more, and finally took a plunge into the world of querying traditional publishers. I think Exaltation could be good enough to publish. What I’ve learned is that the fiction publishing market is super idiosyncratic, subjective and quirky. Just goes with the territory. I’ve gotten some very promising nibbles thus far (which you’re not supposed to talk about publicly), so that’s kinda encouraging.
If nothing pans out, I’ll probably self-publish it. There’s nothing wrong with self-publishing – it just means your book’s audience is almost definitely going to be extremely small. Readers liked my first novel, The Second Transit, which was self-published last year, though… so that remains a possibility.
And, yes, there’s a third novel in the works. My first draft is actually about 85% done right now. I have a pretty traditional process: I’ll finish a first draft, step away from it for about 6-7 weeks, and then come back with fresh eyes to start rounds of edits. I’m really excited about this one. And I’ve got a pretty good idea of what my fourth project is gonna look like, too.
One product of working so much on these writing projects is that I’ve written less on this blog. Honestly, dear reader, I think you and I both are better off for that bargain. I write much better when I have something clear that I want to say. I get a lot of ideas for blog posts. Then I think about them some more, and I realize that the nugget of what I want to say is really better expressed as a tweet or three. So up on Twitter it goes, for better or worse.
That said, I still wrote some stuff that got reasonably popular.
Top posts of the year
Back in August (during some downtime after leaving SAS), I wrote The Browser Monopoly, which went to #1 on Hacker News. From there, it ricocheted around the web and wound up being my post-read post all year by a fair margin.
Then there was AI is not coming for you, my somewhat frustrated attempt to dismiss as so much nonsense most of how we talk about “AI.” That one was a lot of fun to write, and in many ways was indicative of a theme I’ve been thinking about a lot: the “tech-washing” of deliberate choices made by engineers and product managers hidden behind the wizard’s curtain of complicated-sounding words.
Interestingly, one of my most-read posts is – still – this one on how I built my garage gym. It gets tens of thousands of search impressions a month. Something about that post goosed the Google algo, and while its ranking has since slipped, it’s still pretty high.
My garage gym, by the way, is still amazing. I use it at least 5x every week, including deadlift Saturdays after Penny goes down for naptime. It’s one of the best investments I’ve ever made.
I am a heavy Audible user. In addition, Laura got me a Kindle this fall which I’ve put to great use. Between both of those, I read some amazing books this year.
Among the best fiction I read was, in order:
- Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi
- Seveneves by Neal Stephenson
- American War by Omar El Akkad
- The Yiddish Policeman’s Union by Michael Chabon
I’ve continued to think about all of these books long after they’re finished. Each one was a journey that never really ends, and inspires me in my own writing.
I also read a lot of non-fiction. Distilling down the best of them is hard, let alone in order. But among my favorites:
- The Republic For Which It Stands: The United States During Reconstruction and the Gilded Age by Richard White
- The World Beyond Your Head: On Becoming an Individual in an Age of Distraction by Matthew Crawford
- How to Change Your Mind: What the New Science of Psychedelics Teaches Us About Consciousness, Dying, Addiction, Depression, and Transcendence by Michael Pollan
- Kids These Days: Human Capital and the Making of Millennials by Malcolm Harris
- The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration by Isabel Wilkerson – I’m close to finishing this one right now, but it definitely belongs on this list.
I still keep a running log of all the stuff I read on this blog. It’s helpful not just for posts like these, but to go back and review occasionally to see how my feelings about a particular work have changed.
My email update
I haven’t put as much effort into keeping up my let’s-not-call-it-a-newsletter-but-we-both-know-what-we’re-doing-here email update. That said, I’ve kept up sending them close to monthly, and subscribers still grew by about a third this year.
And that’s it. Things seem to be going really well. If you’re still reading, thanks for your support. 2020 is gonna be a wild year for lots of reasons, so make sure you take care of yourself. I read something lately wishing the reader “the bravery to suck at doing something new.” That sentiment has begun to make a lot of sense to me now, as I work on stuff – parenting, writing, lifting, whatever – that I’m still getting better at. So whatever that thing is, go ahead and try it! Don’t worry if you suck at it. You won’t forever. Don’t be a stranger.