Tag Archives: year in review


Previously: 2018, 2017, 2016, 2015, 2014, 2013, 2012, 2011, 2010, 2009.

I started writing year-end posts at the end of 2009. They’ve always been a small but meaningful way for me to summarize for myself the feelings and accomplishments of the year, and to share those thoughts with friends. Over the last few years, it’s become increasingly hard to find a way to say something that’s true and meaningful for my own retrospective and introspective purposes, and also appropriate for public sharing. (I feel this way more generally about blogging, but it’s especially problematic for autobiographical posts.)

This year, I’m coming up dry.

As such, I think this’ll be my last of these posts, which I’m publishing mainly for the symmetry of starting and ending in a -9 year.

To my friends: I made it through 2019! Let’s catch up offline.


Previously: 2017, 2016, 2015, 2014, 2013, 2012, 2011, 2010, 2009.

Another year draws to a close, and I’m pleasantly surprised that, on reflection, this one turns out to look all right.

I get the sense – mostly from reading the newspaper – that anxiety and malaise are the zeitgeist for 2018. Always a man on the cutting edge, I felt this way myself in, say, 2016. But over these past few years, I’ve moved toward a place of peace. One of the dominant narratives in my personal life in 2018 has been a continued, purposeful disengagement from the constant connectedness and “convenience” that seems to define modern life for most folks. This means: no social media; no smart phones; no online news; online commerce only when absolutely impossible to do offline, and no Amazon at all; very little internet use, really, beyond what’s necessary for work; very little TV. As I’ve moved past the initial cleansing phase and re-identified some pre-Internet rhythms, it’s become clear to me that the anxiety of constant connection is mostly manufactured. The companies that build your intentionally addictive devices, crank out nonstop content, funnel the content you produce into their proprietary streams, sell your information and your attention and your habits to advertisers – they use FOMO, convenience-as-birthright, apocalypticism, and other forms of anxiety as a marketing tactic, to ensure your continued participation in their economy. When you begin to recognize and appreciate this fact, the associated anxiety kinda melts away.

Instead of internetting, I’ve filled my time and attention in various ways in 2018.

  • I’ve been taking drawing classes – mostly figure drawing – for the last two years or so, and have discovered lots of joy and a little bit of talent in this area. Learning to see as an artist has been a totally new experience for me, like discovering a sixth sense, and I feel like it’s caused me to engage with the world in a different way than I did before.
  • I recently started doing yoga. As a big and very unflexible person, I never figured I could or should. But it’s been a really interesting way to learn about what my body can do. Just as importantly, it’s been a much more effective strategy for engaging with meditation and purposeful breathing, something I’ve struggled to do before in isolation.
  • I had a really excellent reading year. I read quite a bit more than last year, and my hit rate for really good books was abnormally high. I read a handful of interesting biographies of historical American politicians and a stack of Pulitzer-winning novels. I was especially affected by John Updike’s Rabbit Angstrom novels, which resonated so much with me that I found it hard to pick up another novel for several months after I finished them.
  • I learned to solve a Rubik’s Cube for the first time in August, and since then, I’ve learned to solve it pretty quickly – I average under 30 seconds. This is kinda goofy, but for me it’s been a bit like learning to draw – a new way of visualizing and engaging with objects in the world.
  • For the first time in years, I took real vacations! A total of almost four weeks where I was completely AFK, no email, no work, no screens. I spent most of this time gloriously homebound, reading books, doing chores, reestablishing my house as a place of relaxation.

In terms of work, I had a pretty productive year. My participation in WordPress has been scaled way back. This is partly about me and my shifting interests and energies, and partly about the evolution of that project in directions that leave me without an obvious role. After some time away, I became more involved in BuddyPress toward the end of the year, and look forward to plowing through a couple more BP-focused projects in the beginning of 2019. I did some interesting client work and launched some meaningful projects. There was a period over the summer where I felt fairly despondent about the state of my work, but I’m catching a bit of a second (third? twelfth?) wind as I head into the new year.

As usual, the things I’ll remember most about the year are closely tied to my wife and kids. Not much I can say in a blog post to express this, aside from suggesting that the emotional energy and focus that I conserve by disengaging with Modern Life gets mostly channeled back to my home.

I have the sense that 2019 will be a bookend year for me in many ways, as I head toward a 2020 that’ll contain my fortieth birthday, my tenth wedding anniversary, my wife’s PhD graduation, my tenth year of doing professional software work. As I approach that corner, I’m looking to do another round of meaningful and interesting work, and to sink deeper into the world around me instead of the WorldWide Web. Happy new year 😀


Previously: 2016, 2015, 2014, 2013, 2012, 2011, 2010, 2009.

As 2017 began, I felt fairly despondent about what the year would bring. Looking back at the way 2017 actually turned out, it looks like the despondence forced me to shift focus in a few ways that, on balance, have been major positive changes.

A case in point. For the first half of the year, I was having problems sleeping. I struggled with feverish nightmares related to the news and the state of the world. The information consumption habits I thought so enlightened last year (no news after 6pm!) were not, it turned out, enough to release me from the power of the information flow. This summer, I started reading the physical local newspaper, and in the fall, I stopped reading news and magazines online altogether. My one engagement point with news during the day is at breakfast, over coffee. When I walk away from the table, I walk away from the manufactured anxiety of constant contact. It's been marvelously therapeutic. And I actually feel *better* informed on most subjects, since I'm able to judge them at some distance rather than succumbing to the endorphin rush of "breaking news" and the "conversation" that accompanies it. I am increasingly disconnected from memes and collective-outrage-du-jour and other aspects of the zeitgeist, but I consider this too to be an improvement in my quality of life.

In place of the online world that I'm increasingly leaving behind, I've been searching out new channels for engagement that feel more authentic. An oddly underattended college reunion and some related contact with college buddies has caused me to reflect on the communities that we move in and out of through the course of our lives, and to think about how these dormant connections might serve as the organic seed for meaningful future relationships. I've been devoting more time to music and to a new-found interest in the visual arts. I've reached out to some old friends, and after stumbling across a cache of old letters from high school and college, have started building the idea of private correspondence – letter writing for its own sake! – back into my life.

Regarding work, I had a somewhat busier year than I'd hoped, and I devoted less time to free software than I have in the past few years. (See my Hard G post for more.) My relationship with WordPress and BuddyPress is something that I have struggled with in 2017, though it's become somewhat clearer in the last few months. When I first started contributing to free software, my spirit was nourished by the personal connections I made to people who were using the software. As I became busier and more "important", I justified to myself that I had bigger things to worry about than those connections, focusing instead on some vague ideas about "leadership" and "product". Beginning this fall, I started approaching my free software work with a different attitude, starting with a dose of humility about who I am and the value I bring to the projects. I started spending much more time in the support forums. I began approaching bug reports and PRs with an amount of empathy that felt forced but eventually gave way to true feelings of kindness. And I've started thinking more about the ways that I can use my years of experience in these projects to connect the humans working in disparate areas in a spirit of actual cameraderie. I'm unsure how my time committments to these projects will or won't change in 2018 (though I have a feeling I'll be spending proportionately more time on BuddyPress, where I feel like I've got the ability to make a more direct impact), but I feel strongly that any time spent on them should be purposeful and humane.

With my career more generally, I have found some solace by being explicit with myself that I will not be doing this work forever. Thinking about an off-ramp in the next few years gives a bit more urgency and purpose to the work that I do today, and I think this is a good thing no matter what happens.

One small resolution for 2018 that I've already put in place is: more enforced time off. I've already slated a couple of weeks for the first half of the year when I will be totally AFK, no screens, no internet, maybe no newspaper. Just having this on the schedule has made the everyday load feel lighter.

Happy new year to all!


Previously: 2015, 2014, 2013, 2012, 2011, 2010, 2009.

Good bye and good riddance to 2016!

Some highs:

  • My kids and my wife are amazing. My five-year-old started kindergarten and is learning to read. My almost-two-year-old went from a baby on January 1 to a sweet, talkative, out-of-control kid on December 31. My wife is most of the way through her PhD coursework. I’m very lucky.
  • I had a pretty successful year business-wise. I made more money and did some work that I found interesting and gratifying. In the next couple weeks, I’ll kick myself into gear and write about some of the client work I did in 2016, probably over on my Hard G blog.
  • I remained pretty active in the WordPress and BuddyPress projects. I managed to scale back a bit, especially as regards WordPress, when compared to 2015, but this was mostly by design, so counts as a good thing. I wrote a separate post laying out this work in 2016.

The lows? It was a rough year in so many ways. Over the last few months, I’ve reacted to the more awful parts of 2016 with a couple of changes to my routine. I guess these are kind of like “resolutions” that are already in progress.

The main theme is the idea of reclaim. I went through a period a few years ago where I attempted to take control of my digital life by moving from proprietary, third-party services to free-as-in-speech software that’s more under my control, a process I called Project Reclaim. Today, I’m focused less on technology, and more on energy and time. There are just so many hours in a day, and I’ve only got so much emotional and intellectual energy to spare. I’ve been taking steps to make sure that these resources don’t go to waste.

  • The news – I have a reflex to read the news when I have a few minutes to spare. Under normal circumstances, this habit would be a time-waster. In 2016, it’s become actively harmful to my well-being. Reading the news is something I need to brace myself for, so I’m now doing it just two or three times per day, at times I’ve set aside for information consumption. And never after 6pm! It keeps me up at night.
  • TwitterI stopped using Twitter actively a few years ago. But in 2016, I slipped into periods where I’d waste time scrolling through once or twice a day. This, despite the fact that nearly every time, I find it emotionally devestating. So, around the beginning of October, I stopped looking at the site altogether – aside from a weekly check to see if I have any mentions to respond to.
  • Magazines etc – 2016 was a Year of Thinkpieces, and I read too many of them for my own health. I’m going to mostly cut them out in 2017. Aside from other problems with the genre, I find myself disgusted with the smug slactivism that oozes from thinkpiece culture, the idea that engaging pithily with election analysis or with apocalypse porn or with red state travelogues amounts to doing something productive with your intellectual angst. I’m going to spend this energy engaging in my community instead.
  • The phone – I ditched my smartphone in 2014. After having a second kid and moving to Chicago, I caved and decided to get another smartphone late in 2015. Mainly, I wanted a convenient camera, so that I could have more pictures of my youngest. But I slowly found myself using the smartphone for other reasons, and feeling all the old awfulness creep back. Reading the news and reading Twitter and reading email are all potentially traumatic experiences, and having all those things in my pocket – even just potentially – is emotionally crippling for me. On November 10, I switched back to my dumbphone, and it felt soooo good.
  • Books – In 2015, I read 45 or 50 books. In 2016, I read maybe 10 or 15 – mostly for the reasons described above. I need to do better in 2017.
  • Separation – All year, I teetered on the edge of work-related burnout. This is partly because I treated free software contribution as “hobby”, at least in part: I spent a fair number of evenings catching up on ticket backlogs. In 2017, I’ll be more disciplined in this area, treating free software work as part of my workweek, not as something I’ll get around to if I have “free time”.

I can’t remember a January 1 where I felt so uneasy about the upcoming year. I’m reclaiming my energies and focusing them on things like my family and my community rather than letting them be exploited by the internet, a strategy that I hope will help me to make the best of 2017.


Previously: 2014, 2013, 2012, 2011, 2010, 2009.

I wrote one year ago that 2015 would be a hard year. And so it was. Here’s the requisite Dec 31 braindump.

In January, I became a dad again. Seeing my two kids grow together and become friends has been one of the privileges of my life. But the logistics of having two kids is pretty different (and much more exhausting) than when you’ve got just one child. The process of finding balance is ongoing.

The other big event of the year is that, in July, our family moved from New York City to Chicago. Moving sucks. It’s expensive, it’s disorienting, it’s inconvenient. My possessions were in limbo with the moving company for something like 13 days. Practicalities aside, it’s hard to leave NYC. While I grew up in the Midwest, I spent my entire adult life in New York and feel like a New Yorker. There’s something about New York that features more prominently in its residents’ inner ideas about who they are than when you live in, say, Ohio. In the same way as when I left graduate school, I’ve had to face this miniature identity crisis by reevaluating those aspects of my former life that are actually (ie, not just conventionally) central to what makes me tick, and then find a way to fit them in the context of my new life. This project is also ongoing 🙂

Partly in response to my man-without-a-country malaise, and partly out of philosophical motivations, I poured myself into free software contribution in 2015. More than 50% of my working year was spent doing unpaid work on WordPress, BuddyPress, and related projects. (More details.) I’m a vocal proponent for structuring your work life in such a way that it subsidizes passion projects, though numbers like these make me wonder whether there’s a limit to how far this principle can be pushed. I guess I’ll continue to test these boundaries in 2016.

One of the things I’d like to do in 2016, as regards work balance, is to find more ways to work with cool people. I am a proud lone wolf, but sometimes I feel like there’s a big disconnect between my highly social free software work and my fairly solitary consulting work.

Happy new year!


Reflecting on 2014, a couple of themes:

  • Reclaim. In the past, I’ve written about taking back technologies from corporate entities. This year, I’ve found myself embarking on what I consider to be the natural extension of Project Reclaim: taking back my attention from technologies. In April I ditched my smartphone, and in September I stopped using Twitter. Each decision arose from a desire to devote more of my limited mental and emotional energies on things that matter most to me, like my family and my work. In each case, the pull of inertia was strong – the natural thing was to continue using the tools, just like everyone else around me was doing – but in each case, the rewards of letting go have been significant.
  • Ease. My wife and I decided over dinner tonight that 2014 felt easy. We didn’t move this year. We enjoyed satisfying jobs and financial stability. Our son transitioned from a toddler to a very nice little boy. In contrast, our family has a number of very large changes coming in 2015, changes that will be hard in many ways. So the relative and welcome easiness of 2014 is worth a moment’s pause.
  • ShippingDuring 2014, BuddyPress shipped a number of major versions. I put a huge amount of time into BP 2.0, as both a developer and a release manager, and I think it paid off – IMHO it’s one of the most important releases in BuddyPress history. BuddyPress 2.2 will come in the first weeks of 2015, and it too promises to be a really important release. In addition, I was invited to join the WordPress core team for the 4.1 release, an experience that’s been fulfilling in its own way. Considered alongside a number of successful client project launches, I’ve been involved in a happily large number of solid software releases this year.

A big year ahead, but for now, за ваше здоровье!


Another installment in my year-end reflections.

In my 2012 post, I laid out a couple of things to think about during the upcoming year. I feel like I did a pretty decent job with at least one of them: turning off. This summer, my family and I rented a cottage and vegged out for a month and a half. I intended it to be a semi-working vacation, but it ended up being a barely-working vacation, and it was awesome. I also made some changes in the second half of the year that made me more mindful of getting sucked into work while on the go: I stopped using email on my phone, I got myself an OFF Pocket, and I’ve generally stopped carrying my phone so much. I started riding bike for fun around the city, and got back into a decent running routine (about 800 miles on the year). So, I feel like things are a bit more relaxed than a year ago.

Work-wise, I haven’t branched out as much as I’d hoped. I’ve got a few big deadlines in the next month or so, after which I plan to come up with an interesting project or two to shake out some of the cobwebs. If anyone is planning to do something really cool, let me know 😀

I continue to feel less and less connected to my old academic self. This is something I don’t talk about much, either online or in person, though I was recently persuaded by a friend that others might benefit from hearing about it. In the upcoming year, I hope to write more about this issue and other more varied topics than what I allowed myself in 2013.

Out with the old. Happy new year!

2012: Don’t let the door hit you

I told my wife that this blog post was going to consist of one sentence: “2012: good riddance to bad rubbish”.

For posterity’s sake, I’ll spell it out a little more. The last half of 2012 has been particularly trying. I traveled too much and worked too much. I moved to a new apartment in a new borough. I had too many deadlines on top of each other. And my amazing wife has somehow been even busier than I’ve been, which has made ours a hectic home. So, while there’ve been some really wonderful parts of 2012 (especially watching my son turn from a baby into a toddler), I’m happy to bid it farewell – and good riddance.

In lieu of a roundup in the style of the last few years, here are a couple of thoughts I’d like to keep in mind during the upcoming year.

  • Don’t get too comfortable professionally. In 2012, I fine-tuned my professional work to be more highly focused and purpose-driven. (See this post for some related thoughts and strategy.) This process has been a success by just about every metric: I’m making better money, and I’m doing work that has a broader impact. But I’ve got to be careful not to fall too deeply into the niche I’ve chosen. As I become more and more of an expert, I find myself supervising others rather than building myself; and when I do find myself building, it’s rarely something really new and interesting. Expertise is good for your career, but, almost by definition, being an expert means being bored more of the time. I’ve got to remind myself to keep doing new things, even if (or especially if) it means leaving my comfort zone.
  • I can’t do everything. 2012 was the first year where I really felt that I was reaching the limit of how much work I can realistically do. Another side effect of expertise is that you start to think that you have an infinite capacity for taking on new projects, but the truth is that everything suffers if you allow yourself to be overextended. I’ve got to start saying no more often, and being more realistic when I schedule myself.
  • Turn it off sometimes. My schedule in 2012 has lulled me into thinking that it’s OK to check my email all the time, or to work every evening, or to work every weekend. For me, these things are decidedly not OK, and I should start acting accordingly. If it means that I’ve got to start taking on fewer professional projects, so be it.

Here’s to a bright and sane 2013!


A bunch of stuff happened in 2011.

Like 2010, 2011 was a year of transitions for me: in my relationship with academia, in the way I earn a living, in the way I present myself as a citizen-builder of the internet. Being a parent is the biggest transition of all, forcing me to put into perspective the ways I spend my energy and the ways in which I define myself and what has value to me. (This transition has been overwhelmingly a Good Thing.) Continuing to strive for the right balance in these areas will, I’m sure, be a hallmark of my 2012. (Thankfully, I have no plans to have a child or get married in 2012. A man needs a year off from major life events!)

Happy new year!

Looking back at 2010

2010 was a wild year for me, one that I’ll look back on as a turning point in my professional and personal life. For that reason I thought I might take stock of the past year. (Here’s 2009’s post.) If you are one of those snobs who think that year-end retrospectives are schlocky, feel free to get the hell out of my blog.

As 2010 opened, I was working full-time as the educational technologist by Queens College. I believed strongly (and continue to believe) in the importance of the work I was doing there, but I already knew a year ago that I wouldn’t be able to stay at the job for much longer. I identified as an ed tech, and part of the (really great) ed tech community, but it was a label that never really felt right. When people asked what I did for a living, I hesitated. I left the job near the end of May.

Since then, I have been supporting myself doing custom web development, almost exclusively using BuddyPress. In the last six months, I’ve transitioned from an uneasy edtech to a confident (though still n00bish in many ways) developer. It’s a classification that feels better in many ways. Moving into development has allowed me to be personally productive in ways that the structures of my old career simply couldn’t support. I produce a lot of software that is used by a lot of people; moreover, I am moving toward a position where I get to select only those projects that are of independent interest to me. Measured like this, 2010 was the most productive year of my life, made possible by the career move (and the new self-identification that came with it).

My move into development is not without misgivings. As an educational technologist, working in the confines of a traditional university, there were always connections (sometimes tenuous, but always discernable) between my day job and my identity as a graduate student. Granted, in the time I was at Queens – first as a graduate fellow and then as a full-timer – I made next to no progress on my dissertation. But the fact that I was in a university, and enabling teaching and learning in a hands-on way, kept me in constant communication with my inner philosopher: drawing on my teaching experience, speaking in academic tones with faculty members, engaging in debates on the goals and methods of educational technology in ways that never strayed far from the kinds of discourse I learned in the seminar room. My work as a developer, in contrast, is much less explicitly academic; while some of my projects (notably, the CUNY Academic Commons) have sustained my contact with the university, mostly I am paid to think about software and websites rather than anything else. In the short term, this will undoubtedly be a good thing – I attribute the progress I’ve made on my thesis in the semester since I left Queens College to the fact that my day job provides me with some much-needed release from the mental anguish of the university life. But the more I make a name for myself as a developer, where ‘developer’ is unqualified by ‘academic’ or any similar modifier, the more I have to make conscious decisions about how (and whether) I want my paying gigs to connect with my academic interests. It’s an issue I’ll continue to wrestle with in 2011.

Paralleling my move into a development career has been an increased participation in the WordPress world. In July I was made a moderator on the buddypress.org support forums. In October, I was brought on as a committing developer for the BuddyPress project. I spoke dozens of times through 2010 on WordPress and BuddyPress, at WordCamps, meetups, conferences, THATCamps, and various other fancy places. At the beginning of 2010 I felt like I’d staked out a position on the outskirts of the WordPress community; at the end of 2010, I feel like I’m much closer to its center. And while I could live without the occasional drama, tunnel-vision, and personality cultishness of some WordPressophiles, for the most part it has been a real treat getting to know, and getting to work with, so many of the best WP developers. It’s broken me out of that other echo chamber I come from (academia), made me a much better coder, and introduced me to some really fabulous folks.

In 2010, I also got more and more tangled up with the digital humanities community. In July, I spent a week at the Center for History and New Media for the One Week | One Tool project, where I was on a team that built Anthologize. I attended a number of THATCamps and was witness to a number of Twitter arugments of truly epic proportions. And while I could live without the occasional drama, tunnel-vision, and personality cultishness of some DigitalHumanitiesophiles, for the most part it has been a real treat getting to know, and getting to work with, so many of the best digital humanists. (Is there an echo in here?) My intellectual connection with DH is such that it is hard for me not to put scare quotes around ‘digital humanities’ every time I write it: I am an academic, and I do extensive work with digital technology, but the connection between the two is not manifest in my own work. Still, DH in 2010 has been an exciting place to locate oneself, with cool projects, smart people, and the occasional Big Idea rising to the top over the course of the year.

I continued being a dork in 2010. I came in 66th at the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament (breaking 50 in 2011! You read it here first!). I switched from QWERTY to Dvorak. I visited the Googleplex. I wrote a lot about pizza and barbecue. I made the decision to stop buying Apple products. I completed Angry Birds. I wrote 45 blog posts on Teleogistic, with a smattering of posts elsewhere. Teleogistic got 960 comments. I wrote many tens of thousands of lines of code, much of which was terrible, and much of which is sadly hidden forever on client servers, but some of which is free and helpful to many.

On June 5, 2010, I got married. I mention this last not because it is the least important event of the year but because it is the most. The process of preparing for a wedding, with the help and support of so many friends and loved ones, was something I will never forget. The wedding day was the most perfect day I can remember. And the girl I married – well, duh, she is the best part of 2010, or of any year.

The changes of 2010 were more significant for me than any year since I was in college. Nearly all of those changes have been for the better. I have some exciting plans for 2011, but for now I am happy to reflect on the year that was. For me, it was a good one.