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The best things and stuff of 2023

Dec 18, 2023

Great things and people that I discovered, learned, read, met, etc. in 2023. No particular ordering is implied. Not everything is new.

also: see the lists from 2022, 2021, 2020, 2019, 2018, 2017, 2016, 2015, 2014, 2013, 2012, 2011 and 2010

I’m releasing this year’s post early due to upcoming travel, so please hold off creating great works for me to discover until the new year!

Great posts | articles | talks read/watched

  • Atari 2600 Hardware Design: Making Something out of (Almost) NothingExplains the operation and programability of the Atari 2600 and the amazing feats of efficiency required to make games for the platform.
  • Zen-Gun and The Zen GunBarrington Bayley’s The Zen Gun is a personal favorite work of science fiction that I see very little chatter about. This post nicely captures what drew me to it and continues to inspire love in me.
  • My secret life as an 11-year-old BBS sysopAs a child of the BBS era I recall fondly the pre-ubiquitous-WWW days. There was something special about the cozy confines of local BBS systems. I can clearly remember sneaking into the kitchen to disable the phone ringer so that friends could call into my small BBS (TriBBS 4ever!) to chat and play a few games.1
  • The History of Wordstar by Bradford Morgan White – Wordstar was the first word processing applications that I ever used. My friend and neighbor had a Commodore 128 and his father had a version that ran on the alternate Z80 mode that my friend used for writing projects. We also used Wordstar to make D&D character sheets and other role-playing ephemera and I remember loving it. I’ve never found word processing that I liked better.
  • Whole Earth IndexI was born too late to get the full Whole Earth Catalog experience, but dusty copies made their way amongst me and my friends in high school. I loved the aesthetics and the entire project was a revelation to an impressionable younger me.
  • Unsolved Problems in Playing-Card ResearchIt’s unclear to me how comprehensive this list is or even if the problems listed are still unsolved. That said, as a fan of playing cards and tangentially the history of the pasteboard lovelies so tracing these trails was a weekend well spent for me.
  • What Happens When a QAnon Cult Leader Moves Into TownWherever the self-proclaimed queen of Canada goes, chaos follows.
  • The Origins of the Steam Engine by Anton Howes and Matt Brown – In another life I could imagine myself working with or in association with steam engines of some sort or another.

Most viewed blog posts by me

  • Code RiffsWhereby I describe the idea of a code riff — a fragment of code that illustrates a singular notion beautifully and, if possible, amusingly.
  • Languages ZooDescribes the programming languages projects that I’m perpetually hacking on for fun.
  • Pyramid Game DesignsDescriptions of little tabletop games design for Looney Pyramids.
  • RIP, Prince Joli Quentin KansilJoli Quentin Kansil was an anachronistic tabletop game designer who passed away in 2023 and shall be missed by a fervent handful of gaming freaks like myself.

Favorite technical (and technical-adjacent) books discovered (and read)

  • The Socratic Method: A Practitioner’s Handbook by Ward Farnsworth – A great book on thinking about thinking centered around the Socratic Method of inquiry. This books spread like wild fire through my work team and I’m glad that I eventually read it as well.2

Favorite non-technical books read

  • Copsford by Walter J.C. Murray – If you liked Walden by Thoreau then you may like Copsford. The book is a memoir of Murray attempting to life a rustic life selling wild herbs and waging war on a rat infestation. I couldn’t put it down.
  • Hadrian the Seventh by Baron Corvo – Frederic Rolfe, aka Baron Corvo, was a troubled author who, in-between his limitless bouts of drama, created some beautiful works of fiction. Chief among his books is this tale of an unknown Catholic priest who suddenly rises to Pope. Rolfe was a fallen priest who used the narrative to invoke revenge on the Catholics and institutions that spurned him.
  • The Book of Jade by David Park Barnitz – This is a book of decadent poetry that takes highlights the depths of morbid beauty that fin de siècle was famous for. There was a time in my youth when I discovered Baudelaire’s Les Fleurs Du Mal and it struck a chord in me, but it took me decades to find another work that rose to that level.
  • The Wall by Marlen Haushofer – The book follows an unnamed chracter who finds herself trapped behind an invisible barrier surrounding a tract of land at the same moment that (seemingly) the world outside dies. The story follows her day to day trials of survival and goes deep into her self-realization as possibly the last human on earth. Fair warning. When I say it follows her activities I really mean it. It often goes moment to moment tracing her daily routines and thoughts. I personally enjoyed that depth view but others waiting for “something to happen” may not. The book is a masterclass of exploration of motherhood and my book of the year.

Number of books written or published


Number of programming languages designed

½ a language + ½ of another language, both being concatenative, one being imperative and the other functional. I’d like to hack on these over the holiday break. See more about these below.

Favorite music discovered

  • Krautrocksampler: One Head’s Guide to the Great Kosmische Musik by Julian Cope – Cope’s exploration of Kosmische Musik was a much welcomed survey of the depths of this somewhat obscure 1970s branch of progressive rock that incorporated elements of Jazz, drone, and ambient. I’ve come to love too many bands from this book to list individually.

Favorite show about a disheveled detective


Favorite films discovered

  • Possession directed by Andrzej Żuławski – A twisted tale of the effects of the gnarled finger of the cosmos reaching down and touching the lives of two people in love.
  • A Quiet Place in the Country by Elio Petri – If you’re a fan of Italian giallo films then this one may be for you. This is a somewhat more artistic take on the genre, but it works!
  • The Green Knight directed by David Lowery – This is one of those films that I’ve felt compelled to watch numerous times in an attempt to find more depth in its intricacies. This one has stuck with me many months later. I found an excellent Green Knight deep-dive on YouTube that has enhanced the experience of the film for me.
  • The Ninth Gate by Roman Polanski – This film follows the occult happenings of a rare book dealer and while quite slow, I found it riveting. The Ninth Gate pushes so many of my hot-topic buttons, but chiefly: esoterica, the supernatural, and bibliomania.

Favorite podcasts

  • The Art of DarknessKevin Kautzman and Brad Kelly look at the underbelly of the creative process and what it takes, and takes out of the creators, to create something significant and lasting.
  • Trickster: The Many Lives of Carlos CastanedaA multi-episode look into the life, works, and controversies of Carlos Castaneda. Like many other, I discovered his Don Juan books at an impressionable age and was instantly enraptured.

Favorite games discovered

  • Iberian Gauge designed by Amabel Holland – My weekly game group reformed after a mutli-year COVID-initiated hiatus and while we’ve only met a few times since, I did find a new train game to love. Iberian Gauge is an interesting investment game with non-obvious tactics that needs many more plays to clarify in my mind.

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

  • ForthI mostly spent my time going through the 79 and 83 standards in for the purpose of noodling about kernel-forths and the like. I’ve started on a basic implementation of my own version but have gotten side-tracked by interesting meta considerations.
  • JoyConcurrent to the Forth studies I’ve gone back to looking at its more functional cousin Joy. Much of the same meta-considerations have gotten in the way but I found it much easier to spike a PoC for Joy. I’ve been playing around with the idea of local binding via some sort of stack destructuring but haven’t fleshed out the edge-cases yet. More to come (hopefully).

Programming languages used for work-related projects

  • JavaMost of my programming in 2023 has been in Java while working deep in the Clojure compiler.
  • Clojure2023 marks the 14th year4 as a full-time Clojure programmer and the 1st year as a full-time Clojure core developer.
  • ClojureScriptLess-so now than when I was consulting full-time but I occasionally dig into explore the implications of changes to Clojure on CLJS.
  • DatalogThe Datomic flavor of Datalog is the flavor of choice for database access, be it in-process or in the cloud. Again, my day-to-day usage is limited, but I have my share of personal databases hosted on Datomic.
  • BabashkaI’ve used it a few times to throw together a few useful Clojure scripts like data generation and the like. It’s good fun and now a part of my programming utility belt. I hope to find more uses in 2024.

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

  • ZigThe promise of using Zig for kernel development is alluring!

Favorite papers discovered (and read)

  • Behavior, Purpose and Teleology by Rosenblueth, Wiener, & Bigelow – An early paper that helped outline a set of general techniques applicable to using negative feedback in the sciences. I would like to dive deeper into Cybernetics in 2024 and this paper was a good start in that direction.

Still haven’t read…

I Ching, A Fire upon the Deep, Don Quixote, and a boat-load of sci-fi

Favorite technical conference attended

  • Clojure/conj 2023I was wonderful to be back amongst old and new Clojure friends!

Favorite code read

  • Elite for EmacsI was a big fan of Elite 1-million years ago and so this Emacs mode providing a playable ASCII-based version was a fun read.
  • Doug Lenat’s source code for AM and possibly EURISKOHistorically relevant and inscrutable. EURISKO is written in Interlisp
  • MicroTCPI’m a sucker for mini networking stacks and here is yet another that grabbed my attention.
  • New language features since Java 8 to 21Trying to up my game in understanding the features and their motivating forces introduced into Java since version 8.
  • ECMAchineAn in-browser Scheme REPL that is also a toy operating system — wonderfully bonkers!
  • milliForthA truly beautiful and minimalist Forth.

Life-changing technology “discovered”

  • DiscordI’ve run a small Discord server for most of the year and have participated in a few others. These have completely replaced the interactions that I used to get from Twitter.
  • Dip pensTaking my fountain pen game to the next (lower) level.

State of plans from 2023

  • Help get 1-2 Clojure releases out the door – Clojure 1.12.0 has been a long process, but it stands to be the biggest releases in years. We’re very excited to share with the world.
  • Write a gigantic post about cyberpunk. – Research continues and it’s grown into a massive effort. Fun stuff!
  • Post more about REPLs – This one was technically a fail, but on the other hand the Clojure team did release Morse, which I call a win!
  • Reboot the effort of writing and publishing a paper – No traction on this at all, but as it stands my writing motivations have been pointed more toward non-technical topics lately.
  • Play more baseball – I trained over the winter to play in the summer but didn’t have time to get onto the field. :(

Plans for 2024

  • Clojure 1.12 – This will happen soon.
  • Go much deeper down the concatenative rabbit-hole – With two languages in the works and excitement in a WiP Pi-based Forth OS, this can’t possibly fail to succeed.
  • Publish even more non-technical writing – I plan to spend a couple of days at the Georgetown University library researching some manuscripts and letters from Baron Corvo which will sow the seeds for some work in this direction.

2023 Tech Radar

  • try: Zig – I’ve been reading a bit of Zig lately and have enjoyed it so far.
  • adopt: ChatGPT – There are ways to leverage this technology in more interesting ways than I have so far, I just need to find them.
  • assess: Light Phone 2 – I would like to scale back my phone usage.
  • hold: Joy of Clojure 3rd edition – Indefinitely.
  • stop: X – I will occasionally check it because there are some interesting people whom I admire still interacting, but I plan to not interacting myself.

People who inspired me in 2023 (in no particular order)

Yuki, Keita, Shota, Craig Andera, Carin Meier, Justin Gehtland, Rich Hickey, Nick Bentley, Paula Gearon, Zeeshan Lakhani, Brian Goetz, David Nolen, Jeb Beich, Paul Greenhill, Kristin Looney, Andy Looney, Kurt Christensen, Samm Deighan, David Chelimsky, Chas Emerick, Stacey Abrams, Paul deGrandis, Nada Amin, Michiel Borkent, Alvaro Videla, Slava Pestov, Yoko Harada, Mike Fikes, Dan De Aguiar, Christian Romney, Russ Olsen, Alex Miller, Adam Friedman, Tracie Harris, Alan Kay, Janet A. Carr, Wayne Applewhite, Naoko Higashide, Zach Tellman, Nate Prawdzik, JF Martel, Phil Ford, Nate Hayden, Sean Ross, Tim Good, Chris Redinger, Steve Jensen, Jordan Miller, Tim Ewald, Stu Halloway, Jack Rusher, Michael Berstein, Benoît Fleury, Rafael Ferreira, Robert Randolph, Joe Lane, Lisa Monaghan, Renee Lee, Pedro Matiello, Jarrod Taylor, Jaret Binford, John Cooper, Conrad Barski, Amabel Holland, Ben Kamphaus.

Onward to 2024!


  1. tangentially related to my old BBS adventures, check out the archived Fazuul fan site — this was my favorite BBS game and on multi-node BBSes provided a backdoor for chatting with friends via the say command. Good times. 


  3. however, i did have a brainstorming session with a friend about an outline and early chapters that we did a dozen years or so ago. 

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

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