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The Best Things and Stuff of 2019

Dec 30, 2019

Great things and people that I discovered, learned, read, met, etc. in 2019. No particular ordering is implied. Not everything is new.

also: see the lists from 2018, 2017, 2016, 2015, 2014, 2013, 2012, 2011 and 2010

Great blog-posts / articles read

Most viewed blog posts by me

I’ve been trying something new over the past couple of years. That is, I’ve been posting threads and such on my Twitter with a small handful of posts here That said, there were a few high-traffic posts on my blog.

  • Notes on Interactive Programming EnvironmentsPrompted by the book of the same name, I wrote some rough notes on programming environments past, present, and future. Many people have thought the same thoughts and so it was a surprisingly popular post.
  • Privacy LostA list of the books taken from Ola Bini during his unwarranted arrest earlier in the year. These books were offered up by authorities as evidence of some kind of sinister nature, so naturally they should be more widely read.

Favorite technical books discovered (and read)

I’ve intentionally reduced the number of technical books that I consume, but there are a few that I “found” in 2019 that are stellar.

  • The Architecture Machine: Toward a More Human Environment by Nicholas Negroponte – A look into a possible future where human/computer collaboration is more finely tuned. The future proposed should have been our present, but has fallen far short.
  • Literary Machines by Ted Nelson – A deeper look into Ted Nelson’s ideas beyond those found in Computer Lib including some of the deeper ideas attempted in Project Xanadu.
  • A Software Tools SamplerA very dated but fascinating look at the components of a programming system built from the ground up including: search facilities, build tooling, and even a full-screen text editor.

Favorite non-technical books read

  • Stalking the Wild Asparagus by Euell Gibbons – Gibbons is little known these days, but his home-spun, worldly wisdom can be sampled on YouTube in the form of 60s-era Grape Nuts commercials. Gibbons’ shtick back then was on natural foods and return to nature pop movements and this book is a great window into the culinary fringe of his time.
  • Annihilation by Jeff VanderMeer – I was motivated to read the book after watching the fantastic film of the same name. Truth be told, the book is nothing like the film and that fact was a pleasant surprise even though I adored the film. There are just enough creepy moments in this book to keep you on your toes and the book has gotten me fascinated in the little-explored science fiction sub-genre I like to call “Biosystem Horror.”
  • Rites of the Renouncer by Ben Kamphaus – It’s always fun to discover the first work from a new author and it was a joy to read Kamphaus’ “Rites of the Renouncer.” The sub-genre of science fiction that the book falls under is difficult to pin down and indeed seems to draw from a variety of disparate influences. It’s almost as if AE Van Vogt was thrust forward in time, developed a sleep phase disorder, passed the early morning hours listening to Ambient/Drone and wrote this novel on a Kaypro II found whilst dumpster-diving. The story itself is straight-forward, but the themes explored are nuanced and handled well. From notions of consciousness, to mind hacks, to isolation, to even friendship — there’s a lot to explore in the pages of this svelte novella. It left me wanting more.
  • Night Film by Marisha Pessl — Exactly the kind of book that fits right into my wheelhouse – that is, a well-written thriller that blurs the lines between fiction, world-building, and multimedia. I couldn’t put the book down and was completely drawn in to the mystery described in the story.
  • Understanding Media by Marshall McLuhan – As a kid I used to re-read books very often but as I’ve gotten older I tend not to do so. However, the nature of this book has compelled me to take another swing at it. McLuhan was a James Joyce scholar and Finnegan’s Wake must’ve influenced his writing style. To say the least this book was a challenge to read and process and even after two reads I can’t say that I’ve fully grasped its content. McLuhan’s style is rich with references and coloring from innumerable sources. Indeed, to really get this book requires a near fluent understanding of literature, architecture, film, music, and 50-60s era pop-culture. The many forking paths of influence on this work, while daunting, are worth traversing.

Number of books published

0

Number of books written

0

Number of books read

105

Favorite musicians discovered

  • Neptune by Higher Authorities – Reminiscent of Can with a dash of Drone and Animal Collective.
  • Tombs of the Blind Dead by Zoltan – You have to be into old horror film soundtracks to really get this, but it’s one of the few of that kind that may have a somewhat general appeal.

Favorite gritty mystery TV series set in Iceland

Trapped

Favorite films discovered

  • True GritI discovered this 9+ years after its release, but sometimes good things are worth waiting for. Mattie Ross and Cogburn are truly memorable characters executed perfectly by the actors. This is my favorite Western since Unforgiven.
  • It FollowsOne of the best horror films of the decade with perhaps the best exposition that I’ve ever seen in any film.

Favorite programming languages (or related) I hacked on/with

  • KernelI finally had a chance to read the associated papers more closely and explore a couple of the extant implementations. I look forward to going deeper here (see below).
  • RI explored some Project Jupyter notebooks to get a feel for the medium and enjoyed the experience very much.

Programming languages used for work-related projects

  • Clojure – 2020 marks the 10th year1 as a full-time Clojure programmer.
  • ClojureScript – While I don’t use CLJS directly as much as CLJ, I worked on a project for half of 2020 that uses it extensively.
  • Datalog – The Datomic flavor of Datalog is the flavor of choice for database access, be it in-process, in the cloud, or even in the browser.

Programming languages (and related) that I hope to explore more deeply

  • LuaLong overdue. Though I’m familiar with the language from a theoretical aspect, I want to finally write some for my personal projects.
  • RustAs I mentioned before, Rust scratches a “systems-level” itch that I get from time to time. I really hope to take an old C codebase and convert it to Rust in 2020… fingers crossed that I can finally make that happen.
  • KernelI have a quarter-baked janky Lisp in JS that I would like to go whole-Kernel with.

Favorite papers discovered (and read)

Here are a few that I enjoyed in 2019.

  • A City is Not a Tree by Christopher Alexander –A book about software, that’s not actual about software.
  • Man-computer SymbiosisI’ve gotten more interested in Augmented Intelligence over the past few years and this paper is a classic in the field.

Still haven’t read…

Snow Crash, A Fire upon the Deep, Don Quixote, The Contortionists Handbook and a boat-load of scifi

Favorite/Only technical conference attended

None

Favorite code read

  • Write Your Own VMA nice codebase coupled with a very good writeup on the design thinking.
  • sciMichiel Borkent’s Small Clojure Interpreter.
  • Microsoft CalculatorThe source code to the ubiquitous Windows Calculator application.

Life-changing technology “discovered”

  • Nothing this year.

State of plans from 2019

Plans for 2020

  • Explore the depths of the train game genreThere are a couple of train gaming groups in my area that I’ve been invited to, so this is a real possibility.
  • Rethink and reorganize my website. — With a basis in Markdown and org-mode to try and reclaim control over my content.
  • At least one installment of Read-Eval-Print-λove in 2020 — I have the code and outline drawn up for a minimal text editor.
  • Resuscitate my old Clojure projects. — Aside from those already in Contrib, my personal projects could use some love.
  • Write a paperMake something of that outline.
  • Explore more deeply the fields of Augmented Intelligence and Cybernetics.
  • Explore vintage computing systems. — Starting with the TRS-80 Model 100 and the 6502 CPU.

2019 Tech Radar

  • try: R
  • adopt: KAMAS
  • keep: Datalog
  • hold: Prolog
  • stop: BASIC

People who inspired me in 2019 (in no particular order)

Yuki, Keita, Shota, Craig I Andera, Carin Meier, Justin Gehtland, Rich Hickey, Jenn Schiffer, Nick Bentley, Paula Gearon, Zeeshan Lakhani, Brian Goetz, David Nolen, Jeb Beich, Paul Greenhill, Kristin Looney, Andy Looney, Chas Emerick, Paul deGrandis, Nada Amin, Alvaro Videla, Slava Pestov, Mike Fikes, Alex Miller, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Alan Kay, Alan Watts, Elizabeth Warren, Warren Ellis, Naoko Hagashide, Zach Tellman, Nate Prawdzik, Tim Good, Tim Ewald, Stu Halloway, and Michael Berstein.

Onward to 2020!

:F


  1. This is strictly my work-life time. My total use of Clojure has been longer. 

5 Comments, Comment or Ping

  1. Jon

    105 books in 52 weeks, impressive! How many hours a day do you read?

  2. @Jon 1-2, 3 if I’m lucky.

  3. Do you read using actual books or ebooks (Kindle or iPad) or audiobooks?

  4. @itgeek I rarely use audiobooks as I don’t have a good time to listen to them — last year was zero. The rest are a combination of physical books and Kindle books.

  5. Chris K

    I can’t recommend train games enough. This is a golden era of 18xx titles being published (All Aboard Games, GMT, Orgler) and it has a great community around it. It is important to keep in mind that there is essentially three categories, cube/small rails (Winsome), 18xx, and Age of Steam or its derivatives. Good luck exploring the category, it is rewarding to those who pursuit it!

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