In my review of 2022, I gave a whole section to the downtime that I spent "scrolling on algorithmically-generated feeds", kicking myself gently for wasting time. I think I called it "futzing". Late in the year, though, my main algorithmically-generated feed (viz Twitter) got nuked and I stopped using it. I joined Mastodon and I enjoy catching up with the meta at intervals, but my interest in the latest & greatest in web browser technology seems to have evaporated with my Twitter usage.
The result being that 2023 has been a very busy year.
Let's start off with this blog itself. I wrote 117 entries—posts, book reports, walks/runs. I struggled, last year, with the direction to take this blog; did I want to be a poster of tech takes? Did I have anything worthwhile to say about design? Did I just want to share fun stuff I found on the web (and with whom)?
I decided that I was mostly writing for myself and resolved to write down just what's going on with me. I'm egregiously forgetful, so I've turned this website into a sort of light public journal, jotting down things that I've done, things I've thought about more than a couple times, things too good to forget.
I dropped the monthly review format early in the year in favour of shorter, more frequent posts—if I'd have included an event in a monthly or weekly review, I write an independent post instead. The beginning of the year was also a bit lighter on writing, mostly because...
I broke my hand
...on Collier Law, early in March, on some ice. This was a pain. I do a very poor job of appreciating quite how well by body works most of the time, but I hope that I do a slightly less poor job now that I've been deprived of my right hand for a month. I wrote about the nitty-gritty, picking at the keys with my free index finger, back in March.
After the cast came off, I had quite a bit of pain and stiffness in my hand, but I was told I'd healed well and could get back to regular activities with a bit of care and regular stretching. Other than a couple of ill-advised handshakes, the rest of the year has passed without incident.
Hand newly freed, I laced my running shoes back up and Got Serious. After reading What I Talk About When I Talk About Running by Murakami at the end of last year, I started running with purpose, which is to say, more frequently. Something about it clicked with me this time (as opposed to all of the other times I tried to start running Seriously), and I've been running pretty consistently ever since.
I joined a running club midsummer to help meet other folks who run, and it's been a pretty much unalloyed success. Running with others is tremendously motivating. The performance boost you get while running a race is present, to a degree, when you're just running at a track with 20 other people.
It's not all track sessions and group headtorch runs, though: being involved in a club has encouraged me to get out for races a little bit more often, as well. I'm still solidly midpack, but my position at the North East Harrier League cross-country fixtures has been slowly improving. I'm faster than I was this time last year, which is progress.
Beyond running, I completed two sprint triathlons, which sorta counts towards this year's goal of completing an Olympic-length one. I hadn't been properly swimming in years before training, but I got up to speed with open water quickly enough and finished both in respectable, if not stellar, times.
I also spent plenty of time on my bicycle, buying a secondhand touring bike to ride the C2C from Whitehaven on the west coast to Tynemouth on the east with a buddy of mine. Not much riding in the latter part of the year, though, which feels like a shame. I'll have to turn that around in 2024.
Triathlon training was punctuated by a short trip back to the United States for a good friend's wedding in South Carolina, and Sam and I took the opportunity to do a bit of a tour of the southeast and to visit family in Florida. The wedding was beautiful and it was fantastic to spend time with old friends; I'm always heartened by how quickly we can fall back into step with people we haven't seen for years. What a gift to be able to see family twice in one year, as well—although I'd forgotten quite how hot it can get over there, even in May. As a bonus, Sam and I got to see big stretches of the Georgian interior, staying at a couple of campsites and driving miles and miles of old highways. What a funky part of the world.
Other highlights from earlier in the year: a couple of weekends spent with Ghyll and friends up at Polmood, finally climbing down into the Devil's Beef Tub wherein we found a rusty old overturned VW van from a road incident years and years ago; a visit to Alton Towers on a slightly damp day off work in September.
After I'd gotten the triathlons over & done with, we thought it was time for a bit of a break, so we took advantage of cheap flights after school got back underway for a trip to Stockholm. I wrote plenty about it elsewhere on the blog, but my takeaway is that Sweden's just a terrific country. I'd like to go back.
On return our return from Sweden, we brought Ghyll in for his appointment to be fixed, and in the veterinarian's waiting room he clipped his tail on something and split it open. Blood everywhere. The vets informed us that, being the cheery, tail-waggy kind of dog that he is, it was unlikely to heal; the advised procedure was to amputate the injured bit and stitch up the remaining like 85% of his tail.
This worked well—until it didn't: Ghyll tore off the bandage and pulled out his sutures, and had to be brought back to the vet to amputate most of the rest of his tail.
Having most of your tail removed is a traumatising experience for a dog, and Ghyll didn't take it very well. He kept tearing his bandages off and trying to get at it; he'd tear it up, spinning and spinning for hours trying to reach it. He was put on a pretty tough course of medication to help it heal and ease the pain; meanwhile, Sam and I (mostly Sam) traded off sleeping downstairs to prevent him from chewing on it through the night. It was an exhausting ordeal.
By and by, though, it got better; he's generally back to his old self now. He sleeps through the night without us, he doesn't chase his tail (too much), he bounds about and gets into mischief. He still makes fast friends at doggy daycare. He's maybe a bit too free with climbing on people for affection and attention, and his recall is gone: calling his name prompts him to look up, take note, and wander off. But he's a good dog.
Ghyll's recovery coincided with the boiler conking out just as the weather started to turn cold. Given that it's the time of year when boilers conk out across the country, we could only get someone in to mend the situation after a week or so. The country conveniently suffered a cold snap during that very week—so we were chilly indeed, overcoming only by sheer grit and the combined warmth of three or four sweaters worn simultaneously.
We'd originally wanted to have an electric boiler installed, but the cost of electricity is still prohibitive. It feels quaintly backwards to have a new gas boiler installed instead—but it heats up water and it doesn't break the bank, and we try to use it judiciously.
Elsewhere in the house, we had new oak doors installed, and we've torn out the downstairs bathroom for a proper DIY makeover. That's, uh, a work in progress.
Late in the year, Sam's grandma Alwyn died. She'd been ill for for some time, and at nearly 94 years old had seen more of the world go by than almost anyone who ever lived. She was the head of the family and a pillar of the church at St. Luke's, and she's missed every day.
Here's a handful of other things that happened this year but that don't deserve their own sections:
- Vroom vroom | Cars came & went: we traded our Volvo C30 for a much more practical Skoda Fabia station wagon in February: it's been great but it needs a brake service. Midyear Sam decided that it was becoming impractical to keep her Renault Clio around any longer, as rust ate it from various corners; this was an emotional one as it was her first car and a source of solace in difficult times. She'd wanted a classic car for a while, so late in the year we bought an old Porsche 924 for a reasonable price; it's been an exciting car to drive but requires a certain amount of finessing given its age.
- Sleep | In my 20s, I could get by on six or seven hours of sleep a night. I'd yawn through the day but I'd be fundamentally OK. Since the pandemic, though, I've struggled to get myself out of bed after less than 8 uninterrupted hours, ideally closer to 9. I don't know how much of this is attributable to age, how much to overextending myself, how much to general malaise. I'm trying not to think too much about it, but the concept of missing like an extra 8 hours of wakefulness each week weighs on me a tiny bit.
- The year of AI | In 2023 people got very into the idea of AI, and some people even got it to do useful stuff. I did neither, though I'm dimly interested in how it all works. I watched a couple of Andrej Karpathy videos about gradient descent, I followed half a guide to turning your iMessage history into a group chatbot, I installed Whisper locally and had it transcribe a couple of voice memos. The problems I have regularly, unfortunately, don't seem to overlap with the problems that AI purports to solve.
- Spending | We've been unreasonably spendy since Sam got a job in the last third of the year. I think it's probably the giddiness of having bigger numbers in our current account—but it's still something we'd like to rein in.
- Chess | I am, somewhat famously, remarkably bad at chess. But I've always been interested in it; I like how the game demands total focus. Watching Sebastian Lague's chess programming tournament at the end of the year rekindled my desire to actually play, so I've got a Lichess account and an ELO that can, in very literal sense, only go up.
I'm three for three in achieving reading goals: 20 in 2021, 26 in 2022, and 36 in 2023. I started tracking my reading on Goodreads this year in an undirected attempt to introduce a social aspect to reading, but I'm not sure whether I've gotten anything out of it. Probably not going to post over there in 2024. It's just overhead.
After discovering that my reading list for 2022 was egregiously weighted in favour of men, I tried to do a better job balancing things out this year. Of this year's 36 books, 19 were written by women—which is better! Not best, but better than last year. 11 were nonfiction, 26 fiction. I don't know if I'm bothered too much about that balance.
Some standouts, in no particular order:
- The Idiot and Either/Or by Elif Batuman | A fantastic look into the head of the terminally self-aware as she discovers what kind of person she wants to be during her first couple years at Harvard University.
- JR by William Gaddis | Dense and experimental but never uninteresting, life and information coming at you hard and fast, unpredictably apt in the age of the internet.
- Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow by Gabrielle Zevin | A book about video games for people who don't play video games, about love in a nontraditional sense, about work and play and making stuff.
- U.S.A. by John Dos Passos | Maybe the longest book I've ever read, a tremendously dense and politically charged account of the state of the USA in the years leading up to, during, and after WWI. Too bad about Dos Passos's politics later in life.
- Ducks by Kate Beaton | An account of Kate Beaton's stint of work in the oilfields of central Canada, about the toll that working on the sands takes on people—especially women. Soul-crushing but leavened with Beaton's characteristic awkward humour. Probably the best book I read all year.
I used to write a lot about work, but I don't anymore. Partly it's because I feel a duty not to reveal too much about the infrastructure underpinning public health in the UK, and partly it's because it's a job, and the changes it effects in the world are nearly-imperceptible, and there are countless other people doing the same thing, and there's just not that much to say.
And partly it's because I've sort of gone off the constant grind, gone off trying to keep up with the latest developments in the browser. In retrospect, getting up to speed with programming was exhausting: constantly listening to podcasts or running tutorials or lurking on Twitter or sifting through repositories on GitHub was a lot. Leaving Twitter helped make a clean break, and if there's one thing that I've learned about trends on the web, it's that long-term, responsible approaches to building for the web don't leave people behind. I can catch up once a year and still build performant, accessible websites.
So here we are
It's the last day of the year. It's dark outside; it's been dark outside for hours. We spent the day tiling in the kitchen; tomorrow we'll apply grout and caulk. Sam's been downstairs working on the bathroom. The rain's stopped briefly; it rains pretty much constantly at this time of year.
I've decided not to set any goals or resolutions this year. I'll come up with goals as I go, and I'll probably write about them proudly at the end of next year. Ghyll needs to be taken for a walk so I'm going to go get my headlamp and my jacket and Sam and I will go take him down the beach or something. See you in 2024.