I’m working in slack for the first time; previously the company chat app was G Chat.

One thing I miss: in Chat you could schedule a “do not disturb” status that would have a little red indicator, mute notifications, and stay that way regardless of your activity. I always had it on after hours - that way I never felt any of the pressure of signalling “hustling”, and I wasn’t putting any social pressure on anyone else when I did have to work late.

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🎥🍿🎬 if anyone is looking for a new movie service to try - here’s a month free of Mubi. Selection is very good and the writeups attached to each film help. We’ve particularly enjoyed Azor and Things to Come.

Let me know if you try it out!!

People in uniform had always bothered me and when I drank I felt an absolute necessity to tell them that. I picked on anyone in uniform, even streetcar drivers, but apart from police officers my favorites were hotel doormen.

From Gianfranco Calligarich’s Last Summer in the CIty 📚

Studying trees with a new Christmas gift - the Carson PocketMicro hand held microscope 🍂🔬

🛷 satisfaction

I got out of bed four days later and, sneezing fiercely, caught a bus and went and recovered my old Alfa Romeo, feeling as if it was a part of me that had blown off in an explosion. On the way back, I stopped to buy more aspirin and a few provisions, then shut myself in at home, determined not to go out until the world had apologized to me.

It did its best, truth be told. The days were warm and the sky a disarming blue, but in a way the very beauty of the weather merely increased my anguish.

From Gianfranco Calligarich’s Last Summer in the CIty 📚

🛷 anticipation

I’ve been doing some prep reading over the last few weeks to get ready for a new job. Some of these are close reads, some of these are more for skimming, but I’ve gotten something valuable out of all of them.

Intro to Venture Capital

Refreshing Scrum / Agile Knowledge Base

Startups and Entrepreneurship

Thinking about DevOps / MLOps +

General Work Stuff

Powering down a work computer for the last time an hour before New Years feels right 🥃

“She’s beautiful, my dear, and beautiful people are always unpredictable. They know that whatever they do, they’ll be forgiven.” She picked another skirt off the floor. “ Oh, yes,” she sighed, “it’s even better than being rich, because beauty, my dear, never has a whiff of struggle or effort about it, but comes directly from God, and that’s enough to make it the only true human aristocracy, don’t you think?”

From Gianfranco Calligarich’s Last Summer in the CIty 📚

Reward after a long walk 📺

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Photos aside, most of my posts to this blog are quotes from what I’m reading at the moment. Reading has always been a pretty big part of my life. In 2021 I continued a few trends in how and what I read; I also added a few new things that I expect to continue.

I continued to use the library extensively this year. I read (at least some of) 71 books for the first time this year, and all of them came from the library. There are a few caveats in that last sentence. I didn’t finish all of the 71 books, and so it isn’t fair to say I read them all… but I did at least start them. And from now on, I’m just going to say “read”, because I did finish most books and also I’m the boss of this retrospective. I also re-read some old favourites that I own, and I’m not including them in the list. All told, though, I think that’s a pretty healthy use of the library.

What I’ve found is that now I’ll hear about a book online or in a magazine and if it sounds interesting or useful I’ll put a hold on it as soon as I can. This has worked out pretty well. Sometimes I’m late to a hot book, and there are hundreds of people ahead of me; when it’s my turn I often have forgotten the context that prompted the hold, and getting the book is a nice surprise. Other times I’m early to a hot book (because I’m reading a review just before or soon after publication) and I have the pleasure of being pretty early in a long list of folks with the same idea.

This year 60% of the books I read were non-fiction. That feels like a lot to me. I generally prefer reading fiction, and think of myself primarily as a reader of fiction rather than anything else. But the numbers don’t lie! One reason this might be the case is that I think a greater share of what I read this year came from newsletter recommendations, and I think these skew non-fiction… but that’s conjecture on top of conjecture. I also think the fiction I read is “harder” than the non-fiction, so it might occupy a larger share of mind.

Here’s my a few of my top picks from the non-fiction I read this year:

And on the fiction side of things:

  • The life of the mind by Christine Smallwood. I had something in my eye all the way through the back quarter of this book. Disorienting, often beautiful, in the end amazingly coherent.
  • The buried giant by Kazuo Ishiguro: finally followed up on a recommendation from my wife, can’t believe I slept on this one for as long as I did. A beautiful, powerful novel wrestling with memory, collective trauma, enchantment and disenchantment and what love means over a lifetime. Also, a significant data point in support of my working theory that myth is returning as a means of sense-making (cf. The Green Knight, also Marvel/DC movies are not part of this theory and in fact are antithetical to it).
  • The transit of Venus by Shirley Hazzard: a beautiful, stylish book. I had never heard of Hazzard before this year!
  • Beautiful world, where are you by Sally Rooney: Rooney is counter-cultural and an excellent writer of dialogue. Counter-cultural in this novel: traditional sensibilities throughout, treatments of faith, and more. Not her best… but maybe the most interesting from an evolutionary perspective?

Enough about books; but let’s stick with print. I’ve been a long time subscriber to The New Yorker and Harper’s: I love getting both in the mail, love having copies lying around the house, love doing the crosswords with my wife over coffee, love being able to pack one in my bag every time I’m commuting. I don’t read everything in every issue, but I’d say I generally do read all the pieces I want to read (which is more than I can say for my “read later” bookmarks folder).

This year I’ve added print subscriptions to a few other periodicals: The Point, The Paris Review, The Hedgehog Review, and The London Review of Books. Honestly I think a big reason for this is that as a family we’re feeling a little more comfortable with discretionary spending within reason, especially around the home (“Are we not in saver mode anymore?” I remember my wife asking me earlier this year). Spending money on print publications feels a little selfish (I’m really the only person benefitting from them). But the quarterly journals in particular are such a pleasure to get and read: I really appreciate the attention to detail show in the curation, the artwork, and the typesetting.

Online, 2021 was the year of Substack. I now subscribe to 55 newsletters, very few of which are paid. Gradually it has become my primary time spent reading online, edging out my RSS feed (indeed, some of the newsletters I subscribe to used to be blogs or sites in my RSS).

Lots of ink has been shed on Substack this year, and I don’t really want to add to much to that. Here are two things I think are awesome about it. First, I like being able to follow the work of particular people over time. This isn’t all that new if they used to have a blog, but many didn’t. When I come across a piece in The New Yorker or Harper’s or elsewhere online that I like, usually I’ll look for other stuff that person wrote (If it’s a book, I’ll place a hold!). With Substack, I can subscribe and get everything new. If it turns out to be not that great, it is easy to unsubscribe!

Second, the clean formatting and lack of ads make for a much more pleasant reading experience than elsewhere online. I like how simple it is. I know some digital publications put a lot of work into making their features “native” online with fancy display elements and formatting… but generally I find that stuff to be useless at best and actively damaging at worst (very infrequently, say when the piece relies on data visualization, that rich formatting and content improves the piece and even becomes essential). A Substack newsletter is reliable, familiar, and doesn’t get in the way.

This has made it very easy, in fact, to move a lot of that reading offline. I’ve had a first generation reMarkable for a few years now and over the last year I’ve started reading a lot of my Substack content on it. The workflow is as follows: open the newsletter in a browser, click the Read on reMarkable bookmarklet, and then sync the device. The formatting is almost always perfect, especially if it’s a text heavy edition. I do this with almost everything relatively long, and it works super well.

Finally, something new over the last year was I started using Literal. I don’t actually use it that much, but I do enter the books I’ve read into the platform and occasionally poke around to see what other people are reading. I’m not sure if it’s worth recommending: if you don’t track books online then I don’t think it makes a strong argument yet that you need to, and if you already use something like Goodreads I don’t know if there’s much added value to justify the switching costs. But I thought I’d try it out and so far feel pretty good about it? I don’t know, if I dropped it tomorrow I don’t think I’d notice. But it does have a cool API to GraphQL so at some point, I think it would be great to play with access and then do some analysis on top of my reading data. That, for now, is enough to keep me onboard and willing to add my activity.

So that’s it! Lot’s of library reading, more print subscriptions, a ton of Substack, and then some useful tools IRL (reMarkable) and online (Literal). It’s been a year. On to 2022!

Marble run 👍

Let me make it clear from the start that I don’t blame anyone, I was dealt my cards and I played them. That’s all.

From the opening few lines of Gianfranco Calligarich’s Last summer in the city 📚

Today on a walk my daughter looked out at the water and said “not a great day… for paddleboarding.” 🌊 ☺️

📷

It is not surprising that we should believe that our fate is primarily ordained by outside agencies.

Yet we have all experienced times when, instead of being buffeted by anonymous forces, we do feel in control of our actions, masters of our own fate. On the rare occasions that it happens, we feel a sense of exhilaration, a deep sense of enjoyment that is long cherished and that becomes a landmark in memory for what life should be like.

This is what we mean by optimal experience. It is what the sailor holding a tight course feels when the wind whips through her hair, when the boat lunges through the waves like a colt-sails, hull, wind, and sea humming a harmony that vibrates in the sailor’s veins.

Contrary to what we usually believe, moments like these, the best moments in our lives, are not the passive, receptive, relaxing times —although such experiences can also be enjoyable, if we have worked hard to attain them. The best moments usually occur when a person’s body or mind is stretched to its limits in a voluntary effort to accomplish something difficult and worthwhile. Optimal experience is thus some thing that we make happen.

The optimal state of inner experience happens when attention is invested in realistic goals, and when skills match the opportunities for action.

From Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi 📚

Honest conversation [with Dorothy’s dissertation supervisor Judith] was pointless, because a declaration of feeling (I hate you / I love you) could never account for the myriad complications that manifested as emotional, even spiritual conflict, but were rooted in something material and intractable – their positions in the game. Judith was a teacher and a foster mother and an employer, and more than that, she was a node in a large and impersonal system that had anointed her a winner and Dorothy a loser, and due to institutional and systemic factors that were bigger than either of them – not more complicated, no, because no system is more complicated than a single human being – no one of Dorothy’s generation would ever accrue the kind of power Judith had, and this was a good thing even as it was an unjust and shitty thing. Judith was old and Dorothy was young, Judith had benefits and Dorothy had debts. The idols had been false but they had served a function, and now they were all smashed and no one knew what they were working for. The problem wasn’t the fall of the old system, it was that the new system had not arisen. Dorothy was like a janitor in the temple who continued to sweep because she had nowhere else to be but who had lost her belief in the essential sanctity of the enterprise.

From Christine Smallwood’s The Life of the Mind 📚

Dorothy looked out the window. I am leaving Las Vegas, she said to herself. That was a movie she had never seen. She thought of the book Learning from Las Vegas; she owned it, of course, but she had never read it. It was just another false start, another purchase toward the identity of a person she had turned out not to be.

From Christine Smallwood’s The Life of the Mind 📚