20 Years of Blogging and Wrapping Up the Year 2020
Happy New Year (the 307th day of March in the Year of Covid). As of December 31, 2020 this blog is 20 years old. It started sort of on a whim in Blogger. I find a lot of things that stick start on a whim around here, either as a quick experiment (there are a lot always running) or just fed-up to the point of just do something. Curiosity strikes hard, but it does for most of the people who I spend time with and who do well around tech and digital systems.
There are now 2,103 blog posts. All but a handful are still around. The first one is gone, as it was a “Hello Squirrel!” post (20 years ago I was already insanely tired of hello world and switched some where in 1999 or 2000 and it stuck. I’ve thought about running stats to look at years of activity (in 2004 or 2005 I started Personal InfoCloud as my more work focussed blog and vanderwal.net stayed as my random thoughts and rarely edited brain dump. The top 5 used categories for this blog since its start are Personal, Information Architecture, Web, User-Centered Design, and Apple / Mac. The whole list can be found at vanderwal Off the Top Categories List - By Use. I really need to get a sparkline placed next to each as that would be really helpful to see what is popular when and something I’ve wanted to do for 15 or so years, but never got around to.
I haven’t really kept track of analytics. I would look at analytics on a weekly or monthly basis, but I really haven’t done that in a long while. I do know some of the folksonomy posts drew a lot of attention (the main defining folksonomy post was moved to a static HTML page at the strong urging of academics who needed that for citation purposes. I know a few posts drew a lot of attention inside some companies which were posted here and cross-posted at Personal InfoCloud.
I’ve used blogging to think out loud so to make sense of things, but also for refinding for myself, but also to connect with others who have insights or similar interests.
Wrapping Up 2020
This also is sort of Best of 2020, or things that I spent enjoyable time on or changed me in some good way. I don’t think I’ve ever done a year end wrap as I always feel I’m in the middle of things and a wrap isn’t really fitting when in the midst of things.
Postlight / Track Changes podcast over the last two or three years has become the conversation I’m missing. It is the conversations I miss having and sort of work I’ve been missing at times (I’ve had good stretches of moving things forward to help organization avoid the missing manhole covers or recover through helping understand need, gaps, and pain points to create vastly improved paths forward. Paul and Rich, as well as when Gina gets to play along have been great moments of agreement and a handful of, “ooh, that is good!” as well.
Dear Hank and John from brothers (vlog brothers) Hank Green and John Green, was one of the Year of Covid’s great find as refinding the vlog brothers YouTube channel and their books was comforting and grounding during this odd and rough year. In 2007 time frame with Hank and John were starting out I saw them as Ze Frank copycats, which admittedly they were, and I was a big fan of Ze (particularly after meeting him and having some great winding down rabbits holes of philosophy around content, community, and connection). I was entertained with the vlog brothers 2007 to around 2009, but didn’t overly seek them out and they fell off my radar. This year during the start of lock down they came back into to focus and stayed.
99% Invisible is a weekly breath of fresh air that digs into just one more subject from beautiful Downtown Oakland California. I am continually learning from it and go digging for more information after their podcast.
Matt Mullenweg’s Distributed isn’t quite regular, but I make room for it. Matt has had some really insightful podcasts that also have me digging for more and really am happy to see all that Matt has built so far. It is great that Matt is largely open with his sharing insights and information about they do things at Automattic, but also the guests from outside are really good.
Dave Chang Podcast seems like has a ton of content coming out and I can’t keep up. My favorites are when he is talking with other chefs and restaurant owners. The podcast was really good to listen to during the pandmic as Dave and guests dug deep into the challenges and economics around the effects of the shutdowns.
No Such Thing as a Fish is often my weekend morning listen. Last winter I caught their live DC show, which was great to see after many years. A show where you can get informed and laugh like crazy is always a win in my book.
Newsletters are a love / hate thing for me. The hate mostly is that they are in mail apps where doing useful things with content in them in my information capture for refinding, connecting with other similar things, giving attribution, and coalescing into something new or an anchor point for exploration is tough when in any mail app or service. But, I love a lot of the content. The best newsletters have HTML pages that are easy to search, find things, and interconnect ideas in. The Tiny Newsletter newsletters do this fairly well, Substack does this quite well (and can be RSS feeds), some custom solutions (like Stratechery) do this insanely well, while Mailchimp is miserable with this in so many ways (sadly none of my favorite sources is in Mailchimp, which is ironic and also frustrating).
The perennial favorite for years is Stratechery and keeping up with Ben Thompson’s take and really well thought through explanations are one of the few things I intentionally track down and at least skim (some of the subjects I know really well and look to see where Ben has a different take or a better framing for understanding).
This year perennial favorite New York Times columnist David Leonhardtt (whom I in only recently in the past year or two realized I know and see regularly) took over the daily news summary, New York Times Morning newsletter and it has become what I read as I’m getting up. The insights and framing are really good. But, also pulling things into focus in the NT Times that I may have missed is an invaluable resource with an incredibly smart take no it all.
One added midway this year is the daily MIT Technology Review’s own MIT TR Download that is edited by Charlotte Jee. The intro section and daily focussed editorial is always good, but equally as good are the daily links as I always find something that was well off my radar that I feel should be drawn closer.
My guilty pleasure that I read each morning on my coffee walk (I walk to get coffee every morning as working remotely I may not make it out the front door that day) is the Monocle Minute and Weekend Edition newsletter. Which during the week is quick, informative, breezy in a familiar tone, that cover international business, politics, global focus, travel, and more. I’ve long had a soft spot for Monocle since the started. The Weekend Edition newsletters are longer and have a highlight of someone, which I deeply enjoy, and focus on food, travel, media, the good things in life. The recipes on Sunday are also something I look out for.
The non-regular Craig Mod newsletters, Ridgeline, Explorer, and general newsletter are a good dose of calm and insight.
One of my favorite voices on systems, design, and information architecture is Jorge Arango and his biweekly Jorge Arango Newsletter is a gem of great links. I’m always finding smart and well considered content from this newsletter.
I changed up my listening setup for headphones a bit swapping some things around and now enjoying things quite a bit.
I’ve been writing a bit about music in my weeknotes, but Lianne I don’t think has made the write-ups as I seem to be listening to her music during work wind down as it draws my attention and focus.
2020 was a year of picking up books, but given the state of things reading wasn’t fully functional.
There are two books, which I am still working through, or more akin to meditating through that really struck me in 2020.
The first is Violet Moller’s The Map of Knowledge about a stretch of about 1,000 years and how classical books and knowledge were lost and found. She focusses on nine different periods. The background for how books were copied to stay alive (with far more frequency than I imagined), how the big libraries of the world were kept, whom they served, and how they went away and their collections lost or destroyed. This book deeply challenged a lot of underlying beliefs and, looking back, silly assumptions about keeping knowledge and the vast knowledge we have (which is only a tiny slice of what has gone before us). Reading this book, sometimes just a few pages at a time, causes long walks and deep consideration. It has been a while since I have reworked a lot of foundations for beliefs and understandings so profoundly. A lot of this book also reminds me of my time at the Centre for Medieval and Renaissance Studies that also challenged me and pushed me in similar ways, but that was more of setting foundations and extending them than reworking them.
The other book, which I’m still working through is Eddie S. Glaude, Jr.’s Begin Again: James Baldwin’s America and its Urgent Lessons for Our Own that I had been looking forward to it since I heard about it late in 2019. As we hit summer in 2020 and the murder of George Floyd sparked a deep reawakening of the realities of race issues in the United States it brought back memories of the 1980s and 1990s and thinking and working through similar ideas. That deep caring and belief that things were better and had improved were shattered as reality reared its head. I had stumbled onto James Baldwin after returning from living in England and France for the last semester of undergrad and a little bit more. I returned to the U.S. with really bad reverse culture shock and one of those challenging understandings I had was around race and very little in the U.S. felt right nor on inline with a united anything. This bothered me deeply for a lot of reasons, but part was being threatened just by hanging out with good friends who were running errands and they were verbally abused (and I feared worse was coming) by just walking in a store and I was a target of the same because I was with him. There were many times like this. After living in England and France this was clear it was mostly an American thing, particularly in educated circles where skin color wasn’t the first consideration it was who you are and what you believe and do. Baldwin echoed these vibrations of reality that trembled through me, it made me feel not alone in this, but he also gave urgings to stand up and be a different way. Over the years this faded, until the torch march on Charlottesville, Virginia and then the long series of murders at the hands of people who should be protecting not wrongly dishing out their perverted mis-understanding of justice. Begin Again has had me thinking again, believing again, and acting again, but taking it in small meditative steps and also reworking my foundation.
William Gibson’s Agency was a good romp and included a handful of places I know quite well, which really help me see it. I hadn’t finished reading Peripheral, but have it on the list to do.
John Green’s Paper Towns was a wonderful read and his view on the world and use of language is one I find comforting, insightful, and delightful. I have The Fault in Our Stars queued up. I also picked up his brother Hank Green’s An Absolutely Remarkable Thing and made it about a third to half way through and it was reminding me a lot of 2005 to 2010 or so and things I hadn’t fully unpacked, so set it aside for a bit. I really enjoyed the characters and storyline, but I needed something that was a little more calm for me.
Lawrence Levy’s To Pixar and Beyond which was an interesting take on one person’s interactions with Steve Jobs and Pixar, which I found incredibly insightful and enjoyable. I’ve read a lot of books on Steve Jobs, Apple, and Pixar over the last 20 to 25 years and this added new insights.
James and Deborah Fallows’ Our Towns: A 100,000-Mile Journey into the Heart of America has been a really good read to help understand and get insights into where America is today with what are the thinking and beliefs.
The Monocle Book of Japan is really enjoyable as it is beautifully make. It is part picture book with the great photography that is in Monocle(https://monocle.com) as well as brief well written insights into many different facets of Japan and life in Japan.
Ghost of Tsushima is one of the best games I’ve run across in a long time. It is utterly beautiful, the transitions are quick, and the game play (while quite bloody) is fun and not over taxing nor complicated. I’ve really enjoyed prior Sucker Punch Production’s games, I the Infamous series has been a real favorite (although hearing a slow moving empty garbage truck with rumbling diesel engine still puts me on edge as it sounds like the Dustmen from the first Infamous game). The storyline in Ghosts is really good as well and has kept me moving through the game after taking a break. I love the open map as well, which sizable and insanely beautiful.
MLB the Show is continually one of my favorite sport sim games as the game play is quite good, the visuals are amazing, and the team management and different ways to play through a season are really enjoyable. It gets so many things right that most other sport simulations don’t. I quite like sport sims as they have a fixed time, which makes it easy to stop or at least consider how long you have been playing and then get back to other things.
Fifa 20 and 21 continued to be really fun and enjoyable. The graphics and game play improves quite a bit each iterations and this last entry was no different. Much like the Show I find Fifa really relaxing to play and fun to manage teams and work through improving them.
Others I’ve enjoyed and played Death Stranding, No Man Sky, Journey, and Grand Tourismo. Death Stranding I didn’t finish even though I was enjoying it, the theme wasn’t really working well with the Covid–19 pandemic, but I know I will return to it. I’ve sunk a fair amount of time exploring in No Man Sky again and really enjoy it. I’m still playing Journey after all these years and still like it a lot as it is calming, familiar, and time limited. Grand Tourimso is still one of the most gorgeous games and fun to just drive around in.
The big shift has been Obsidian, which has become the layer over my existing notes that are in markdown and already in directories. I looked at Roam Research, but quickly realized it is most everything I try to stay far from, which is the content isn’t in my possession (if anything goes south I’m stuck), there are no APIs to extend use, the subscription is expensive for something not fully built and not well thought through, and a whole lot of arrogance from the developers (this is something to steer very far from, particularly if things aren’t well thought through).
Obsidian has me not only finding things in my existing notes, but allowing for interconnecting them and adding structure to them. The ability to have block level linking is really nice to have as well, but I haven’t really made use of that yet. I have been writing a lot more notes and pulling notes and highlights out of books. In the past I have used VooDoo Pad wiki on Mac and loved it and Obsidian gives me that capability and with storing the notes on Dropbox I can search, edit, and add from mobile as well.
Obsidian may be my one of my favorite things from 2020 and one that will keep giving for years to come.