Personal Picks of 2020

At the end of the year I look forward to Michael Fogus's "best things and stuff" posts. I never fail to find interesting items in each year's posts.

I've wanted to produce my own posts of that sort, but I haven't been organized to really do so. However in recent years I have become more intentional and attentive about the media I "consume". I now have enough notes from last year that I thought I would produce my own end of year post.

So without further ado, below you will find my picks from the things that were new to me in 2020 that I decided to share.1

Books

Blog Posts and Articles

Audio

Music

Theater

I've always had a soft spot for audio theater. Not audio books, but something that takes full advantage of the sonic medium to tell a story. There's something I very much enjoy about sitting in a dimly lit room while intently listening to aural theater.

(Also if audio theater is your thing. Check out what ZBS has made over the years.)

Podcasts

I have been fortunate not to have to commute much this year, which means I don't have as much time to listen to podcasts as I did before. Despite this I did come across one new podcast this year.

Videos

Projects

Just some projects that I found interesting or notable.

Reverse Engineering

I don't do reverse engineering much, but I enjoy reading about what others get up to.

People

History

Quotes

Privacy

I need privacy. Not because my actions are questionable, but because your judgement and intentions are.

One person's response to "if you have nothing to hide you have nothing to fear." Source.

Don't Yuck My Yum

A friend of mine who teaches elementary school, taught her class, “don’t yuck my yum”

It was like a class mantra, all the kids knew and understood the phrase. So, if a kid brought a bean burrito for lunch, and another kid said “gross! I hate beans” burrito-kid could just say “don’t yuck my yum”

It became the perfect phrase when one student liked something another student hated it. Quickly, it moved from the tangible (food, smells, textures) to the intangible (music, religion, quality)

By the end of the year “don’t tuck my yum” was woven into the culture of the class. They actually used the phrase LESS by then, because yuckers would check themselves before tearing anyone down.

And that class of second graders moved to third, secure in the knowledge that it’s ok to love the things you love, even if other people don’t.

@RobinHood

The Internet Economy

Pretty much our whole Internet economy runs on spreading false information on the Internet for money.

It's worked great! It's built trillions of US dollars of shareholder value. It's a very legit and sustainable business model.

But suddenly now we seem to have a completely unrelated and very bad problem, which came up right out of nowhere, which is that some bad people are now apparently spreading false information on the Internet for money.

Nate Cull

In the Battle with Proprietary Software

In the battle with proprietary software open source eventually won, but it wasn't quite the victory which its early proponents had imagined. In the late 1990s the idea was that open source enabled companies to hire consultants to tailor publicly licensed software to their exact needs. What we eventually ended up with were giant monopoly companies delivering generic SaaS, mostly with OSI licenses.

By switching from the personal computer to the cloud data center the proprietarians managed to capture the digital commons and wield it to their own ends, resulting in giant profits. Very much the opposite of the small bespoke software companies of the 1990s. Today it doesn't really matter whether Facebook is running proprietary or public software. The problem is that they became infrastructural, and that's not something which open source ever had the ability to challenge.

Bob Mottram

Modern Development Tools

“Modern development tools” is code for “hot shit at time of posting”, and won’t become the default. We don’t need “modern” tools, we need lasting tools.
Maiki

We are not Immune to Propaganda

Do you remember when the iPhone came out and everyone said “wow this is amazing it’s so easy to use” and never once thought to themselves, “I’ve been bombarded with training videos for this disguised as commercials for the last six months, of course I know how to use it?” That's what Github has done to discussions about version control.
@mhoye

On Digital Circuits

A digital circuit is like a tame animal, the analog circuit is like a wild animal. Every so often the tame animal reverts to the wild.
Maurice Wilkes

Programming in 2020

Can't wait to boot up my APPLE to open up my MICROSOFT text editor and GOOGLE for solutions to FACEBOOK's technical debt in my MICROSOFT repository so I can deploy to AMAZON and I'll pay GOOGLE and FACEBOOK for the privilege of getting site traffic to show my visitors ads.
@TyChi

If Programming has a Signature ... Disease

If programming has a signature occupational disease, it's not carpal tunnel or social awkwardness. It's our uncritical belief that building complex systems automatically entitles us to also understand them.
@bueno

Poems

The Goose and the Common

They hang the man and flog the woman
That steal the goose from off the common,
But let the greater villain loose
that steal the common from the goose.

The law demands that we atone
When we take things we do not own,
But leaves the lords and ladies fine
Who take things that are yours and mine.

-- Unknown (and there are various versions)

You start dying slowly (A Morte Devagar)

You start dying slowly,
If you do not travel,
if you do not read,
If you do not listen to the sounds of life,
If you do not appreciate yourself.

You start dying slowly
When you kill your self-esteem;
When you do not let others help you.

You start dying slowly
If you become a slave of your habits,
Walking everyday on the same paths…
If you do not change your routine,
If you do not wear different colours
Or you do not speak to those you don’t know.

You start dying slowly
If you avoid to feel passion
And their turbulent emotions;
Those which make your eyes glisten
And your heart beat fast.

You start dying slowly
If you do not change your life when you are not satisfied with your job, or with your love,
If you do not risk what is safe for the uncertain,
If you do not go after a dream,
If you do not allow yourself,
At least once in your lifetime,
To run away from sensible advice.

-- Martha Medeiros2

The Star Gauge (Chinese: 璇玑圖)

I can't actually read this poem. But it sounds like an amazing work of art. From Wikipedia:

The Star Gauge (Chinese: 璇玑圖), also known as Xuanji Tu ("Picture of the Turning Sphere") is a Chinese poem written in the 4th century AD. It was written by the poet Su Hui to her husband. It consists of a 29 by 29 grid of characters, which can be read in different ways to form roughly 3,000 smaller rhyming poems. The outer border forms a single circular poem, thought to be both the first and the longest of its kind.
The outer border is meant to be read in a circle. The grid is known as a palindrome poem, and can be read in different ways to generate over 3,000 shorter poems, in which the second line of every couplet rhymes with that of the next.

A POEM

An old CRT computer screen, black background, white text. The following poem, in all caps:

A Poem

Several commands several commands it is obvious
User society may be ignored a program is made it is obvious
Replace old programs replace old programs it is obvious the order of priorities replace old programs may be ignored it is obvious
Replace old programs
The order of priorities replace old programs replace old programs
The order of priorities it is obvious user society a program is made
User society must have an end
There are times when its primary function

It is obvious may be ignored there are times when several commands
Several commands must have an end
A program is made its primary function
The order of priorities must have an end
Several commands its primary function
A program is made there are times when it is obvious must have an end
Several commands the order of priorities

READY -- A PDP-8 inspired to write poetry by Darius Kazemi.3

Words

Memes

The official GIF of 2020

Via @mwlucas.

Hey, everybody! He's trying to learn a new skill...

Via various.

Galaxy brain meme about projects

This is embarrassingly relatable.

Via @venko.

Emma better understood...

Emma better understood her apparent inability to enjoy her days off when she realized that the space they occupied and the recuperation they demanded was just another mandate from work.

Via @BunnyHearted.

Insisting on your rights without...

Man wearing covid mask: Insisting on your rights without acknowledging your responsibilities isn't freedom, it's adolescence.

Via various.


  1. Going through my notes was an interesting exrecise and jogged my memory about things. But now that I've done one of these, I'm not sure I'll do another one unless I streamline my process some. This took a little more time than I thought it would. I admit that part of the time was fussing with CSS. Anyway...
  2. This poem is often attributed to Pablo Neruda. I did a little digging, and couldn't find this poem in the Neruda translations I had available, and then I eventually stumbled on this article which attributes the poem to Martha Medeiros.
  3. I attempted to recreate the poem with just text, but it just didn't have the same impact. So I ended up copying the photo.
  4. Okay. It was just one word. But "Word" as a heading felt weird.