2020 Annual Review
Article Table of Contents
- things I read this year:
- Driven by Compression Progress: A Simple Principle Explains Essential Aspects of Subjective Beauty, Novelty, Surprise, Interestingness, Attention, Curiosity, Creativity, Art, Science, Music, Jokes
please note: i’m publishing this far after it was drafted, which was in January 2021. It’s being published in June 2022 - I’m trying to back-fill ‘annual reviews’, I never finished this one or published it, until now.
Is it even possible to mention a 2020 review without somehow giving a nod to the experiences lived by all of us this year?
For a variety of reasons, we’ve all had a variety of experiences inducing sadness, despair, hopelessness, but also joy, laughter, and sweet time with friends.
So, lets have that all out of the way.
I’ve done annual reviews a few times now:
- 2017 review: 2017 In Review & Thoughts on 2018
- 2016 review: 2016 - Biggest Lesson, Most Dangerous Books
- 2015 review: 2015: The year I didn’t think much?
I normally publish my ‘year in review’ posts in January. I just checked my 2019 reivew to see when I published it vs. when I wrote it.
I published it Feb 2nd, but the last time I edited the content of the file in a meaningful way was Dec 30th, 2019.
My father-in-law passed away unexpectedly of a heart attack on January 12th. My wife and I spent almost two months back in NJ, helping pick up the pieces.
My last time on a plane before Covid hit was a work trip back to Pittsburgh, where I gave my notice, agreed to three more weeks of work.
So, I quit my job (and cancelled a climbing trip to Cuba) while the lockdowns were starting up. I was given a number of opportunities to keep the job, due to the uncertainty ahead.
A lot has changed in the last week, Josh - are you still sure you want to leave?
Me, who was quitting with no work prospects in sight (but enormously privileged to be married to a woman who makes great money and has a secure job) quit my six-figure dev job heading into the biggest recession we’ve seen in a while.
And I’d do it all over again.
I picked up contract work (at Turing!) and spent a few months doing software development work, and teaching work, at the same time.
I learned many useful lessons.
I came away disappointed, however, even more, with the state of the software development industry to “train itself”. I consistently feel like a vastly-inferior developer, who hardly earns the right to sit at a table of Real Software Developers who do Important Things At Scale!
As a counterfactual: a month or so ago, I tested the job market, to see if I could still get a job. At the time, it was looking like me working full-time might have been the best use of time to my wife and I.
Having been “on sabbatical” for the better part of a year didn’t hurt my prospects. I quickly got two job offers, both offering substantial improvements on my prior job’s total comp. More on that later.
This is a year defined by profound brokenness. I felt far more personally affected, and I felt that brokenness compounding over prior years was piling up, exacerbated in many ways by the rapid arrival of the future, Covid.
Themes I’ve spent time on this year. I could write 5,000 words on any one of these:
- Work, satisfaction, corporate pathologies
- Meaning-making, helping others, large-scale
- software development
- teaching software development
- teaching software development to others as a way of righting some wrongs around systemic issues
- democratizing the tools of software development as social change???
- Jesus Christ. Not an expletive, the man. Feels like this year I finally learned what had felt so wrong about nearly all of my experiences with Christians.
- On that note, I sorted out substantial improvements in my relationships with nearly everyone else in my life, too. (That all happened very late in 2020, I’ll get there eventually)
I wrote more substantial and important things than I’ve ever written before. Almost no one has read most of what I’ve written, by design. I spent 60+ hours on a document read by precisely four people besides myself.
I published a lot on this website, and very little of it is easily findable, by design.
things I read this year: #
Driven by Compression Progress: A Simple Principle Explains Essential Aspects of Subjective Beauty, Novelty, Surprise, Interestingness, Attention, Curiosity, Creativity, Art, Science, Music, Jokes #
I’ve been thinking of this paper a lot lately. I’ve re-read it since mid-2019, too, April and Sept, 2020.
Specifically as I’ve observed phenomena that appear to surprise other people (or, at least, they act surprised) and in doing so, gained an understanding about their view of the world, or what they desire to telegraph about their view of the world.
In short, based on the premise of The Predictioneer’s Game: Using the Logic of Brazen Self-Interest to See and Shape the Future, coupled with the gist of the above paper, I’ve got a more accurate mental model of the world than most people.1
This is a bold, bold claim.
Here’s the paper abstract, lightly reformatted by me for readability:
I argue that data becomes temporarily interesting by itself to some self-improving, but computationally limited, subjective observer once he learns to predict or compress the data in a better way, thus making it subjectively simpler and more beautiful.
Curiosity is the desire to create or discover more non-random, non-arbitrary, regular data that is novel and surprising not in the traditional sense of Boltzmann and Shannon but in the sense that it allows for compression progress because its regularity was not yet known.
This curiosity drive maximizes interestingness, the first derivative of subjective beauty or compressibility, that is, the steepness of the learning curve.
It motivates exploratory infants, mathematicians, composers, artists, dancers, comedians, yourself, and (since 1990) artificial intelligence.
I wrote more about this here: https://josh.works/driven-by-compression-progress-novelty-humor-interestingness-curiosity-creativity
We Bought A House #
My wife and I bought a house. Oh boy.
The process led to a lot of writing on the intersection of racism and modern housing policy.
Some Twitter threads, like Thoughts on Denver’s zoning and systemic racism and a few others.
This topic has been near and dear to my heart for a long time. It’s actually far more important to me than nearly anything else I’ve written about on this website, but it’s hard to express coherently.
I’m starting to figure out what I’m trying to do, and how to do it. More on that later.
We survived, and stayed married #
2020 was a profoundly difficult year for my wife and I. In December, we attended a 1-week intensive counseling process at Restoring the Soul and we’re both firmly convinced it saved our marriage, and much more.
- I wrote [https://letterstoanewdeveloper.com/2019/12/19/cultivate-the-skill-of-undivided-attention-or-deep-work/], which briefly went to the top of hacker news. Here’s the crosspost.
- I did a few different contract roles.
I read a lot of books, and a lot of papers, in 2020. More papers than in any other year. It was a difficult year, and writing about what I read didn’t make it high enough on the priority list.
For example, My Thoughts on Eric Weinstein’s Thoughts on Pia Kalani’s Thoughts. As I listened to what he said, I could generally anticipate where he was going, and I appreciated the brevity and concise conceptual expression of something I’d also tried to express. ↩