The Best of 2016
This is my annual review of some of the interesting things I did, read, or discovered in 2016. This summary draws its inspiration from Michael Fogus's similar post for 2016. You might also be interested in my posts from 2015 and 2014.
Great blog posts and presentations
Keynote #4 - Ms Genevieve Bell
- Ms. Genevieve Bell is an Australian anthropologist who works as a VP at Intel directing their Corporate Sensing and Insights group. This keynote delivered at the 2016 Linux Conference in Australia brings a fresh look at how we should be building technology for the future. If you like science fiction, like Black Mirror, then you'll likely enjoy this articulate and funny presentation.
Your Brain is Hardwired to Snap
- This article from National Geographic feels a bit like a book advertisement, but it does explain some interesting ideas around the difference between how our brains are configured for survival versus our needs and behaviour in modern civilized society.
How to Deploy Software
- For software developers, this is a great introduction into how your process for getting code out into the world should work.
The New Mind Control
- Technology companies now have tremendous power over what we think. Google chooses what results you see when you search. Yelp can choose what reviews to show you. This post from February is eerily prescient writing considering that a few months later, Facebook would reveal that they were manipulating trending topics to surpress content that the engineers didn't like.
Not All Practice Makes Perfect
- If you want to get better at something, you need to practice. But in order to practice, you need to practice practice. There's a lot more to learning a new skill than just sitting down and trying something new.
Give it Five Minutes
- Often I'll be reading a post or watching a video, and have an immediate, negative response to the content. "That can't be right, I don't believe that." But if someone is taking the time to present an idea, they've probably thought more about it than I have. So give it 5 minutes, and think a little deeper about what they're saying instead of immediately dismissing it.
On the Wildness of Children
- Our education system was designed at the beginning of the 20th century to produce workers suitable for the factories of the industrial revolution. This tragic post discusses how the the needs of individual children are at odds with the needs of factory foremen, and the impact this might be having on our psychological health.
When Roman "Barbarians" Met the Asian Enlightenment
- Western history classes tend to cover the history of the Romans and Greeks, but ignore the rich history of their contemporary Middle Eastern and Asian neighbours. This article is a brief but interesting overview of the history I've been missing out on.
Half a House
- From the enlightening podcast 99% Invisible, this post discusses a clever architectural solution to building housing for refugees that dramatically decreases the cost of housing, while giving the new owners agency and a sense of ownership over their new dwelling.
Deep Work in Practice
- This fairly short article discusses one person's attempt to cut out the distraction that technology now seems to impose on our lives. There are some specific techniques that may be useful, but the idea that I should be trying to find ways to allow myself to focus on work without distraction resonated with me.
Why time management is ruining our lives
- I don't know if I completely agree with all the points in this article, but it's a refreshing counter-point to the thinking I've been doing around how to squeeze more accomplishments out of every day. We really shouldn't be just trying to do more every day, but perhaps should focus on doing the most important things, and doing them effectively.
Favourite books read
Ready Player One
- An entertaining novel in a dystopian future that mixes the future of virtual reality with 80s nostalgia. A movie version directed by Spielberg will be out in 2018, so I'd recommend reading it now.
So You've Been Publicly Shamed
- The power of the internet hate machine has scared me for years. This book by Jon Ronson digs into the events of some recent targets of the internet's wrath and looks at the effect these attacks had on their lives. It has made me even more careful about what I say in public.
- The author may be one of the world's leading experts on what drives a person to "stick with it". It doesn't provide any recipes for cultivating Grit in your own life, but instead focuses on educating you on the basics so that you can figure out a path for yourself.
- If Grit is the book that helps you figure out what to do with your life, then Deep Work is the one that tells you how to do it. Together, they've given me some powerful tools to focus more on what I really want to be doing every day.
Never Split the Difference
- The author, Chris Voss, was the lead international negotiator for the FBI between 2003 and 2007. His book is a summary of the negotiation tactics he used to save hostages, and is filled both with interesting stories and practical business advice.
The Sense of Style
- This writing style guide from renowned cognitive scientist and linguist Steven Pinker is a Strunk & White for the present day. Pinker combines his knowledge about how humans understand language with principles of grammar to produce an excellent guide to help readers understand how to write well.
- After moving into a leadership role at work in 2015, I've been searching for materials about how to manage teams. I've read a couple books about management this year, but Extreme Ownership was the first book I read about how to be a leader instead of a manager.
Favourite musicians discovered
- A country musician who ignores all the trends of terrible pop-country and focuses on quality musicianship with personal lyrics. Even if you think you don't like country, I think you could like Chuck Ragan.
- A instrumental progressive metal band from Toronto. These guys are every bit as talented as the more well-known bands in the genre, like Animals as Leaders or Liquid Tension Experiment.
Favourite games played
- This game is a huge accomplishment tech-wise. The dev team, Dice, have done an amazing job building a game that excels both visually and aurally. And it's pretty fun!
The Flame in the Flood
- A survival game set in a sci-fi southern US that has the player rafting down a flooded river in search of a new home.
- This RPG and third person shooter hybrid has both a very convincing story and excellent interface design.
- A first-person puzzle game with devious challenges, though I felt like there was supposed to be a hidden message that I didn't understand.
Online courses completed
None this year
Favourite papers read
Thinking too much: self-generated thought as the engine of neuroticism
- An opinion paper that proposes that the reason so many creative people also tend to suffer from depression is that creativity is linked to thoughts generated in the medial prefrontal cortex, which is also responsible for threat response.
Programming languages I'd like to try in 2017
State of plans from 2016
Write 10 blog posts
- Actual posts written: 1. I think I've been approaching this wrong by prioritizing the goal of writing over the goal of having something interesting to say. I never really felt that I had something worth writing about this year.
Read 20 books
- Books read: 17. I fell off the wagon a bit over summer, but managed to read 10 between October and January.
Come up with a more disciplined program for practicing guitar, bass, and mandolin, then implement it
- Success! Honestly, I could have been more disciplined about it, but I did play a lot of guitar this year.
Contribute some code to someone else's open-source project
- I didn't do this.
Plans for 2017
- Write 3 blog posts about climate change and technology.
- Read 20 books.
- Write and record an original piece of music.