Great things and people that I discovered, learned, read, met, etc. in 2018. No particular ordering is implied. Not everything is new.
Great blog-posts / articles read
- One Windows Kernel – While I’m also a sucker for all things osdev1, my practical interests have abated in recent years. That said, I love a good kernel design article and this one does not fail to satisfy.
- Notes from the Intelpocalypse – I hesitate to admit that I wasn’t terribly impressed enough by the Intel CPU security hole news earlier in the year to dive deeply into the details. Maybe I’m just jaded. That said this article does a great job of highlighting why the hole is such a big deal.
- Jenn Schiffer’s electronic email – I’m constantly impressed by Jenn’s sense of humor and cutting satire around the programming and tech “communities” and their denizens.
- A Look at the Design of Lua – I’m truly a sucker when it comes to all things langdev and this article hits all of my favorite touch points, is well written, and is about a language that I jealously admire.
- Origins of the Finger Command – At one time Usenet was the place where people posted technical articles and there are literally thousands of posts archived just like this one. Maybe 2019 can be the year where I take a month and harvest old Usenet posts and reform them in modern contexts. In any case, while this article is light on the deep tech, it’s a fun anecdote about a little bit of esoterica.
- Mr. Rogers Was My Actual Neighbor – I’m of the age that I can vividly remember watching Mr. Rogers2 on television. Though I don’t recall an active interest in learning about the man behind the character, it was fascinating to learn via this article that the public and private personas may not have been too far apart.
- The Secret Call to Andy Grove… – It was a good year for articles covering my guilty pleasures and this one covering a little known anecdote around Apple lore was fun to read. I had a difficult time following the flow of the post, but found the journey satisfying — especially if you’re into the lore.
- In Search of the Last Great Video Store – I’m old enough to have spent hours perusing the shelves of local video stores. As a kid I would scour the shelves of the horror sections3 to find something… anything that I hadn’t already rented and devoured. For a certain generation of folks this post is a nice bit of nostalgia.
- What Can Sports Tell Us About the Quality of Decision Making? – I have played baseball all of my life4 and so would consider myself a fan of the game. Indeed, as a kid growing up in Baltimore I would, more often than not, agonize over the fate of the home team Orioles. Year after year I would try to understand the seemingly nonsensical decisions that the local team made. This perplexity eventually led me to explore Sabermetrics in an attempt to find some deeper meaning. While the numbers at times pointed at hidden player value, in more cases than not they pointed at something else perhaps… maybe… just maybe… the managerial and personnel decisions were often made for reasons that had little to do with baseball at all.
- Anthony Burgess’s Boundless Curiosity – Burgess is an infinitely interesting intellect who lived a satisfyingly Renaissance-esque life. This article is a celebration of lifetime learning framed by Burgess and his habits.
- A Brand New Interview with DFW – I’ve read most of what David Foster Wallace had to say so it was nice to come across a “new” interview even if much have what was said was said in other interviews and essays.
- Personal notes on Corman Lisp 3.1 – The last post that I read in 2018 and a good one to boot. The author nicely highlights the high points of open source contribution and reminds us that when it works it’s a joy to participate in.
Most viewed blog posts by me
I’ve been trying something new this year. Mostly I’ve been posting random thoughts and bits of data coupled with a pointer to an album5 that I enjoy rather than working on long-form essays and such. All of that said, there were a few high-traffic posts on my blog.
- Soup – This is a sparsely annotated collection of of Alan Kay posts on Hacker News talking about object oriented programming, messaging, and general Alan Kay-esque topics.
- Starboy – Some notes about how I tend to read and study codebases.
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 2018 that are stellar.
- The Rust Programming Language by Steve Klabnik and Carol Nicols – A very good book by a couple of very good authors about an exciting programming language that’s relatively new. As an one time deep C programmer I have come to appreciate the space that Rust may fill for me in my programming explorations.
- Essential LISP by John Anderson – At this point in my life it’s difficult to find a Lisp book that I’ve not only never read but also find interesting. While not the most comprehensive reference on any given implementation, the language covered is an in between Lisp that existed around 1986 or so which is pretty cool from a historical perspective.
Favorite non-technical books read
- The Death of Ivan Ilych by Leo Tolstoy – An oddly compelling tale about a man who barely made a mark on the world and how his death was perceived by those near to him.
- The World’s Shortest Stories by Steve Moss – What kinds of short stories can you make in 55 words or less? In some cases the stories provided are quite compelling and often very clever.
- Discovering Scarfolk by Richard Littler – Newspaper clippings, ads, and brochures from Scarfolk, a fictional town that exists outside of time in the hills of England beset by rabies and hostile to children. This is my favorite book of the year!
- Paper Girls by Brian K. Vaughan – The best sci-fi for me is that which has 5 crazy ideas on every page and Papergirls delivers that in spades. Clearly the aegis for the creation and pseudo-1980s setting of this series seems to be Stranger Things, but the series is in no way a rip-off of that great show. Instead Papergirls is something wholly original. This is the best graphic novel I’ve read in years.
Number of books published
Number of books written
0.05 – The Joy of Clojure, 3rd edition is effectively stalled.
Favorite musicians discovered
- Religious Knives – It’s always interesting discovering the music of people whom you know but didn’t know created music. My personal idol and hero Michael Berstein once again proves that his facets are limitless with his (defunct?) band Religious Knives.
Interesting tabletop/role-playing games discovered
- Veins of the Earth – VotE is a role-playing system akin to classic (1st-2nd edition perhaps) taking place deep underground in a nihilistic world of dungeon delvers. The mechanics of adventuring in the dark is handled with care and adds a lot to the gameplay. This is loads of fun.
- A Fake Artist Goes to New York – Simply put, Fake Artist… can be pee-your-pants-funny at times. The mechanism is a sort-of blend between Werewolf and Pictionary and while that mixture seems odd the game works very well.
- Azul – My favorite mass produced board game of the year is a cool pattern building abstract game with tense moments around the push and pull of hurting others’ scoring potential while helping your own. In addition to being a great game, the beautiful clickity clacking tikes are a joy to manipulate.
- Bug – This portion of the game recommendations section seems to have become the “What has Nick Bentley created this year” segment. Nick’s abstract game inventions over the past few years has been consistently great, and Bug is no exception. The game was almost designed in the open, so I’ve found a lot in Nick’s design approach to be applicable into the programming domain as well. Nick’s design notes are worth their weight in gold so to speak.
Favorite science fiction TV series
Favorite films discovered
- A Silent Place – In a year that was pretty solid horror-wise, A Silent Place was my favorite new horror film of the year. The film straddles the line between horror and sci-fi that I love so much and it does so masterfully.
- What We Do in the Shadows – I’m not a huge fan of comedy-horror, but this take on a vampire documentary was great. The film has a great mix of mocking at vampire tropes and dark humor.
- Long Strange Trip: The Untold Story Of The Grateful Dead – I’m not a Deadhead but I occasionally enjoy listening to The Dead. That said, this documentary was fan-frickin-tastic for Dead fans and not.
Favorite programming languages (or related) I hacked on/with
- Clojure – For getting powerful hobby projects done with little fuss I’ve still not found a rival in Clojure. YMMV of course.
- Java11 – I continue to hack on my own little Prolog called Folog, inspired (loosely) by Micro-Prolog. The project started as a lark to learn the post-8 Java features but has become kinda a near working thing. I have a draft blog post around reminiscing on my Scala days and framing them in the context of a post-Java11 world that I hope to post before Java12 (or maybe 13) comes out.
Programming languages used for work-related projects
- Clojure – 2019 marks the 9th year6 as a full-time Clojure programmer.
- ClojureScript – While I don’t use CLJS directly as much as CLJ, I’ve been working on a project for almost the duration of 2018 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
- Prolog – Despite having used Prolog sporadically over the years in my career, education, and hobbies, I think that I’ve only scratched the surface. SWI-Prolog is my current Prolog of choice.
- Rust – As I mentioned above, 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 2019… fingers crossed that I can finally make that happen.
- Kernel – I have a quarter-baked tacky Lisp in JS that I would like to go whole-Kernel with, but in any case I’d like to explore the latest literature around Kernel in 2019.
- KRC – I have a weird Clojure codebase that implements a KRC-like pseudo language compiler that I’d like to get back to, but getting this working is sadly way down on my TODO list.
Favorite papers discovered (and read)
My paper reading has taken a big hit lately thanks to various reasons but here are a few that I enjoyed.
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
Clojure/Conj 2018 (Durham, NC)
Favorite code read
- Tiny Emulators – What’s not to like about a pile of old 8-bit emulators?
- Hyperfiddle – I love me some live coding environments and the inclusion of a Datalog environment to the genre is great.
- MS-DOS 1.25 & 2.0 – I’ll admit that my assembly chops have atrophied over the years, so I only selectively read through this codebase. That said, it’s always a joy to explore old systems and that this MS-DOS codebase is publicly available is an amazing thing.
- Corman Lisp – Motivated by the aforementioned article I’ve only just begun to explore, but the promise of learning from this codebase is high.
Life-changing technology “discovered”
- Apple Pencil – I’ve only scratched the surface (LOL) with this device, but I can see that my notion of taking notes is about to get turned on its head. As a perennial note-taking fanatic this is a big deal.
- MTG Arena – ‘Life-changing’ is a bit hyperbolic when it comes to a game about the old card game Magic: The Gathering but there’s some history here. I was a one-time player of the game back in the early days7 but had moved away from it in favor of role-playing games. When my mother passed away earlier this year I came across some stuff that I had from back in those days and amongst them were a few decks that I had built. Well one thing led to another and the pull of nostalgia had roped me back into this amazing game and MTG: Arena has proven an amazing way to get back into the game without dropping a ton of money on cardboard.
State of plans from 2018
- Write another little book of games to send to friends and family. – Success! I hope they enjoyed it.
- Give one talk. – Failure — but I’m not sad about this.
- Explore mentorship more seriously. – On the other hand I am quite sad about failing to do this one.
- Write 6+ blog posts. – Success!
- Create a hobby programming language. – Success! Though I haven’t released anything into the wild — I’m not sad about this.
- Read 100 books, including Don Quixote. – Partial success — DQ did not happen.
- Play more 18XX games. – Success!
- Rethink and reorganize my website. – Still thinking.
Plans for 2019
People who inspired me in 2018 (in no particular order)
Yuki, Keita, Shota, Craig Andera, Carin Meier, Justin Gehtland, Rich Hickey, Jenn Schiffer, Nick Bentley, Paula Gearon, Zeeshan Lakhani, David Nolen, Jeb Beich, Doyle Turner, Andy Looney, Chas Emerick, Paul deGrandis, Nada Amin, Alvaro Videla, Jason Morningstar, Nate Williams, Alex Miller, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Alan Kay, Alan Watts, Scott Hanselman, Warren Ellis, Naoko Hagashide, Zach Tellman, Tim Baldridge, Tim Ewald, Roger Corman, Sonia Gupta, and Michael Berstein.
Onward to 2019!