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2017 In Review & Thoughts on 2018

note: this “annual review” covers three topics. Click on one to skip to it:


I’ve got mixed feelings on annual reviews. I steadfastly refuse to set New Years’ resolutions, and am even shying away from the whole idea of goals.

(“not being goal oriented” is a big idea to unpack, and I’ll do so eventually. I’ve historically been extremely goal oriented, but I’m changing my tune on how healthy for me this is.)

However, I find review, reflection, and planning to be valuable. Here we are.

Step 1 of “doing an annual review” is take a look at what I’ve written in past annual reviews.

I started this whole thing in 2012, but didn’t do any sort of review for 2012, 2013, or 2014. Writing that sentence confirms the value of this review - I wish I had done a review those years, if for no other reason than to remind future Josh what the heck was going on in his life then.

Further validation of this sentiment comes from Patrick McKenzie:

Patrick McKenzie makes generally great recommendations. His recommendation pushed me over the edge.

Themes from 2017

Step two is “reflect on the last year”.

Tactical Silence

Late in 2016, I embraced the concept of tactical silence. I’m glad I did, and I’ll continue. Speak less, listen more.

Social Media

Late 2016, I stepped off social media for quite a few months. Late 2017 I jumped back on to Twitter, and made very light use of Instagram. (I still don’t have Facebook).

I preferred being off social media than on it, and I’m not sure I trust myself to moderate my usage. I might just shut the whole thing down again.

Turing

I started (and finished) Turing last year. It was a fantastic experience, and a total success. I gained friends and a new network, and achieved a long-term goal of beginning a career in software development.

Wombat

After Turing, I was thrilled to join a small dev team inside a larger dev team at Wombat Security. Our team oversees maintenance and development of one of the key pieces of the platform, and I’m thrilled to have joined.

I’m back to 100% remote work, and loving it. After commuting an hour each way in and out of Denver, every day for seven months, I was ready to stop.

I’ve got tons of thoughts on being a junior developer, career development, skills acquisition, maintaining cohesion on a remote team, and much more, but… another time.

Climbing

I finally put down a 5.13 this year. A 5.13. (Well, it depends on the guidebook. By the book, I did three, but I think two of them were not 13s). Once I’ve done a dozen or so, I’ll consider myself to have broken into the grade.

I’d much prefer to break into the European 8a grade, which is 5.13b in the US. It’s generally considered to be “hard” climbing, no matter how you cut it.

So, my sport climbing didn’t see much improvement; Turing interfered with my climbing a bit, but mostly I’m not sure how to improve as a climber. I’ll expand on that another time as well.

I saw unexpected gains or improvement in my trad climbing. I’ve not trad climbed in years, and went on a trip to the Gunks. Christian Haudenschild, who kindly was my climbing partner in three states over six weeks, encouraged me to get on things that would have caused me to wet myself in fear some anxiety last time I was at the gunks.

We walked away ticking a bunch of the classic 5.11s, and I comfortably led routes far harder than I thought I could do. It was a delight.


2018

Step three of an annual review is “look forward into the coming year”.

I don’t do goals, but I do aim to cultivate good habits. If I’m not satisfied with my outcomes, I’ll examine my habits.

I also tend to “plan” about three months at a time. I’m not good at predicting the future, and value flexibility and improvisation way more than sticking to anything strict.

That all said, there’s a few themes that are rolling around my head, that I look forward to seeing how they’ll develop over the coming years.

Software development

I’m about six weeks into my first dev job, so much of my goals and thinking over the next six months will be focused on getting up to speed there, and picking the right skills to study on the side.

Community

As I’ve tried to trim down my involvement in online communities and social media, I’m trying to increase my involvement in real life communities, my family, IRL friends, etc.

Books and conversations are driving this thinking. But Kristi and I have had dear friends die recently. Watching this happen has helped clarify priorities, and I want to invite into my own life a more constant awareness of my own death.

When thinking on my death, the things that float to the top of my list of concerns and priorities are family, friends, and my relationship with Christ. All else melts away.

I’ve got lots of thoughts on this domain floating around as well, and will address that later.


Reading

Step four of doing (this) annual review is “write about books”.

I read a lot last year. (79 books!)

17 of them were fiction, 62 were non-fiction. I’ve got a longer post on books coming soon, but until then, here’s a smattering of what I’d say were the best/most influential books I read in 2017:

12 Ways Your Phone Is Changing You

I read this one just a few days ago, but it was fantastic. It’s like Deep Work, except the goal is satisfaction in Christ. Deep Work resonated with me, and prompted a lot of change in my life.

12 Ways Your Phone Is Changing You goes in the same bucket. I’m still working out the implications, and will write more on it soon.

Seeing like a State

I cannot do justice to this book, so I’ll quote extensively from Slate Star Codex’s review. (You should really just read the review, then the book.)

Seeing Like A State is the book G.K. Chesterton would have written if he had gone into economic history instead of literature. Since he didn’t, James Scott had to write it a century later. The wait was worth it.

Scott starts with the story of “scientific forestry” in 18th century Prussia. Enlightenment rationalists noticed that peasants were just cutting down whatever trees happened to grow in the forests, like a chump. They came up with a better idea: clear all the forests and replace them by planting identical copies of Norway spruce (the highest-lumber-yield-per-unit-time tree) in an evenly-spaced rectangular grid. Then you could just walk in with an axe one day and chop down like a zillion trees an hour and have more timber than you could possibly ever want.

This went poorly. The impoverished ecosystem couldn’t support the game animals and medicinal herbs that sustained the surrounding peasant villages, and they suffered an economic collapse. The endless rows of identical trees were a perfect breeding ground for plant diseases and forest fires. And the complex ecological processes that sustained the soil stopped working, so after a generation the Norway spruces grew stunted and malnourished. Yet for some reason, everyone involved got promoted, and “scientific forestry” spread across Europe and the world.

And this pattern repeats with suspicious regularity across history, not just in biological systems but also in social ones.

[…]

Suppose you’re a premodern king, maybe one of the Louises who ruled France in the Middle Ages. You want to tax people to raise money for a Crusade or something. Practically everyone in your kingdom is a peasant, and all the peasants produce is grain, so you’ll tax them in grain. Shouldn’t be too hard, right? You’ll just measure how many pints of grain everyone produces, and…

The pint in eighteenth-century Paris was equivalent to 0.93 liters, whereas in Seine-en-Montane it was 1.99 liters and in Precy-sous-Thil, an astounding 3.33 liters. The aune, a measure of length used for cloth, varied depending on the material(the unit for silk, for instance, was smaller than that for linen) and across France there were at least seventeen different aunes.

Okay, this is stupid. Just give everybody evenly-sized baskets, and tell them that baskets are the new unit of measurement.

Virtually everywhere in early modern Europe were endless micropolitics about how baskets might be adjusted through wear, bulging, tricks of weaving, moisture, the thickness of the rim, and so on. In some areas the local standards for the bushel and other units of measurement were kept in metallic form and placed in the care of a trusted official or else literally carved into the stone of a church or the town hall. Nor did it end there. How the grain was to be poured (from shoulder height, which packed it somewhat, or from waist height?), how damp it could be, whether the container could be shaken down, and finally, if and how it was to be leveled off when full were subjects of long and bitter controversy.

Huh, this medieval king business is harder than you thought. Maybe you can just leave this problem to the feudal lords?

Thus far, this account of local measurement practices risks giving the impression that, although local conceptions of distance, area, volume, and so on were different from and more varied than the unitary abstract standards a state might favor, they were nevertheless aiming at objective accuracy. This impression would be false. […]

Just read the review

The Problem of Political Authority

I cannot over-rate this book. It’s the best book I’ve read in the last two years, and the implications of reading this book will be with me for the rest of my life.

As a primer - do you think the “social contract” is a valid entity? If so - read the book. This is also the book that dragged me, kicking and screaming, into a political philosophy of “voluntarism”, or “non-coercion”. (That sounds nicer than anarchism, right?)

I leave it to others to summarize for me.

Finally something that deals with the major thorny issues of political authority, particularly the social contract. The book is incredibly well balanced and deals honestly and directly with opposing theories.

It also doesn’t pre-suppose some grand theory that anarchists and libertarians usually assert (as you’d guess by the author of Ethical Intuitionism).

For people already “sold” on anarcho-capitalism, the second half of the book (which proposes an alternative solution) is very cursory, but at the same time, the approach from the beginning of the book – of using common sense examples and intuitions to reason about moral and probable solutions and outcomes – is very enlightening.

Overall, this is a great book for on-the-fence libertarians, it’s also a great book for non-libertarians since it is so balanced (in considering opposing views), and even for anarcho-capitalists for dealing with major philosophical issues without simple flippant assumptions or remarks.

Eating Animals

This was not a particularly well-written book, nor did I identify with many of the arguments the author made, but the end result was simple. Kristi and I are skewing hard into the world of vegetarianism.

I went from eating meat in 100% of my meals to now less than 10%. I’d like to get that number closer to 1%, and will, with time.


That’s it for the annual review. I’ve got a lot rolling around my head that I look forward to digging into here soon.

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