Personal Picks of 2021

Previous installments: 2020.

This year flew by, which is a disturbing behavior years seem to exhibit more and more. But I'm back with my personal picks for thing that were new to me in 2021 that I decided to share. I managed to streamline my process from last year by working on this page as the year progressed. I was tempted at the end of the year to review, trim, add, and edit these entries, but I decided to let stand my initial gut reactions throughout the year that I wanted something included here and not worry about things that didn't make it.3

(I got the idea for a post like this from Michael Fogus. You might enjoy his The best things and stuff of 2021.)

Table of Contents

Books

Blog Posts and Articles

Audio

Theater

I just haven't been able to block out the kind of time required for me to enjoy audio theater, but I did manage to catch one thing.

Podcasts

Music

Videos

Projects

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.

Things I Learned

People

History

Quotes

Computing is pop culture

Computing is pop culture. [...] Pop culture holds a disdain for history. Pop culture is all about identity and feeling like you're participating. It has nothing to do with cooperation, the past or the future - it's living in the present. I think the same is true of most people who write code for money. They have no idea where [their culture came from].

— Alan Kay from an interview in July 2012 issue of Dr. Dobb's Journal.

The best copy of the interview I've been able to find is this pdf, which appears to be an appendix from the book The Web Was Done by Amateurs. Thanks to @djsundog for surfacing this quote.

Lateral thinking with seasoned technology

The Nintendo way of adapting technology is not to look for the state of the art but to utilize mature technology that can be mass-produced cheaply.

Gunpei Yokoi

I came across the quote from this post. Yokoi would distill the idea as "Lateral thinking with seasoned technology". From the outside looking in, I had indepenedently come to that conclusion about Nintendo's approach to products a long time ago, but I wasn't aware it was so clearly articulated. But of course it had to be for it to be executed consistently over time. If you're not a one person team, you have to be able to articulate ideas like this in order to propagate the idea to others for them to carry forward.

Old Programmer Wisdom

Fix someone's program, they're happy for a day. Teach someone to program and they're never happy again.

Via @socketwench

On Monopolies

When the CEOs of two companies conspire to set prices, it's illegal. When they merge their companies and engage in the same conspiracy, it's not. Collective bargaining is out, monopolization is in. That's why the Big Six publishers are now the Big Four.

Cory Doctorow

Always the Product

People used to say “when you don’t pay for a service, you’re the product”, but now you always are the product and sometimes you even have to pay for the privilege.

Loris Cro

On RAM

"So how much ram are we talking, on a scale from going to the moon to displaying a web page"

@dragon

Cattle vs. Pets vs. Boats

I've always found the whole "cattle-versus-pets" debate about computers to be amusing. Mainly because I've never compared computers to animals.

Rather, my analogy for them has always been naval vessels. Sure they can range from small transports and destroyers all the way to battleships & aircraft carriers and I may have some emotional attachment, but in the end they're all inanimate objects to be used for something. The good ones get a good send-off when I decommission them, but I still do it.

@ND3JR

On Computing Industry Cycles

first we leased time on the computer at the computer company, then they sold us computers, then they sold us so many that we had companies come into existence to take them back and run them for us as managed hosting and then we took them back as colocation and then we gave them back as cloud servers and someday we will take them back again and then we will give them back because ultimately it comes down to one simple fact: no one wants to run computers more than they have to.

@djsundog

On Captain Planet Villians

Cryptocurrency is literally like an eight-year-old's concept of an evil businessman. He just plugs his pollution machine in and gets money for it. It doesn't make anything, it just. Pollutes. And makes money. Like a fucking Captain Planet villain

@WKDart 7

A Computer Can Never Be Held Accountable

A computer can never be held accountable. Therefore a computer must never make a management decision.

— 1979 IBM Presentation (apparently anyway)8

Machine Learning is Amazing

machine learning is amazing because you take a bunch of data you don't have permission to use and a few million matrix multiplications later you can generate the wrong answer to any question

@ben

We build our computers...

We build our computers the way we build our cities -- over time, without a plan, on top of ruins.

Ellen Ullman

Using a modern computer on the internet...

using a modern computer on the internet is like you've got this amazing studio workshop library full of tools and stuff, workbench space all over the place, and you're gonna put it all to use any minute now - except you just can't stop staring out out one dingy window at these people screaming at each other in the street

@brennen

My Self Driving Car

my self driving car just announced that my freeway exit is premium drm content that requires a software update, and it is waiting for wifi. i tried to play a cd i burned and the car gave me a copyright strike and replaced it with royalty-free elevator music. every time i want to check the speedometer i have to watch a commercial for liberty mutual. i'm eating cheetos from the racetrac and now the fingerprint reader doesn't recognize my input so the car has put me in guest user mode, adjusting the side mirrors and seat for a much shorter person. it keeps driving away in the middle of the night and coming back with lipstick stains on its side mirror

@PhoebeWallerPalladino

Programming is an Art

Programming by starting with a big block of 0xFF and carving away everything that isn't your program

@phooky

What Makes Programmers Mad

nothing makes programmers madder than having to use the shit that programmers make for a living.

@brennen

A QA engineer walks into a bar

A QA engineer walks into a bar. Orders a beer. Orders 0 beers. Orders 99999999999 beers. Orders a lizard. Orders -1 beers. Orders a ueicbksjdhd.

First real customer walks in and asks where the bathrooms is. The bar bursts into flames, killing everyone.

@brenankeller

If worse is better...

worse is better, so clearly worst is best

@cwebber 6

Poems

Every day is my birthday

Every day is my birthday
Each new rising of the sun
Is an anniversary of my birth

Every day is my birthday
It's a new day that's begun
A new possibility on this Earth

Every day is my birthday
Each opening of my eyes
Is an opportunity to take flight

Every day is my birthday
It's a new life under skies
And our serendipity come to light

@Downes

The Orange

At lunchtime I bought a huge orange—
The size of it made us all laugh.
I peeled it and shared it with Robert and Dave—
They got quarters and I had a half.

And that orange, it made me so happy,
As ordinary things often do
Just lately. The shopping. A walk in the park.
This is peace and contentment. It’s new.

The rest of the day was quite easy.
I did all the jobs on my list
And enjoyed them and had some time over.
I love you. I’m glad I exist.

Wendy Cope

Do not ask your children to strive

Do not ask your children
to strive for extraordinary lives.
Such striving may seem admirable,
but it is the way of foolishness.
Help them instead to find the wonder
and the marvel of an ordinary life.
Show them the joy of tasting
tomatoes, apples and pears.
Show them how to cry
when pets and people die.
Show them the infinite pleasure
in the touch of a hand.
And make the ordinary come alive for them.
The extraordinary will take care of itself.

— William Martin

Via @ArachnoCommunist.

Words

Agnotology
Wikipedia says is "the study of deliberate, culturally-induced ignorance or doubt, typically to sell a product or win favor, particularly through the publicaion of inaccurate or misleading scientific data." Examples: The invention of jaywalking and convincing people plastics were recyclable. This conversation between Peter Galison and Robert Proctor is also enlightening. (Thanks to @vortex_egg for introducing this term to me.)

Memes

'It was a nice break from everything'

Not really a meme in the internet sense. It is a quote from a man who had been lost at sea for 29 days. It was an expression of something that a lot of people apparently felt they could relate to after the past two years, and it was shared repeatedly through original posts (i.e. not just boosting or retweeting etc.). Source.

David Revoy Learns About Yak Shaving

By @davidrevoy (CC BY 4.0). See also his website for more.

Billionaire Space Race

Via @jacethechicken

This isn't really a meme. It's life imitating a meme.

Impossible Weiner Dog

Via @June (bonus link: impossible tridents).

Cyberpunk

"Nobody remembers what cyberpunk started out as."

Via @readsteven.

Whatever, man

Via @kingu_platypus_gidora

Upgrade Your Browsing

Via @julienxx

The Future Used to be Cool

Via @groovestomp

The Cursed Computer Iceberg Meme

By Blackle Mori (@suricrasia)

Stop Calling Yourself Trash...

Via various.

I was a gifted student

Via @dthompson

TIL about himbos

Not to brag, but I am apparently 1/3 himbo.

Via @clowdersiege

Cyber Wanderer above the sea of fog

Source: @alexandria. (Original painting.)

Also not a meme, but a nice way to end this post. See you, fellow cyber wanderer!


  1. Don't get me wrong. I also enjoy demos where some sort of technique is obviously being shown off. But the best demos are those where the techniques are in service to the composition. Here is an all time favorite of mine, a 64K PC demo: Seven Heaven. You can try it yourself if you like (it even works on Wine): scene.org.
  2. While I know the author's name, I used the author's forum handle instead of their name because, other than the AtariAge post, their article is written anonymously. I figure this is on purpose, and so I honor that decision here.
  3. This list is mostly an exercise for myself to be more mindful about what I am "consuming", so spending more time editing and refining would not necessarily be useful to me. I already got out of it what I wanted. To anybody who wanders into this list and experiences disappointment at its lack of quality or focus, you have my sympathies.
  4. This also a source of annoyance in our digital age if you aren't listening to the original record or CD. Most of the players I've used introduce noticeable gaps between ripped tracks (with the Roku media player being one of the worst I've experienced with stuttering along with gaps).
  5. And if you're feeling in a fun mood, Lake Street Dive has produced a series of covers in costume over the years right around Halloween that can be found on their YouTube channel. This year's cover is Hall and Oates' You Make My Dreams Come True and last year's was Beatles' Don't Let Me Down.
  6. See the The Rise of Worse is Better essay by Richard P. Gabriel that @cwebber is referring to. Plus a little more backstory about Gabriel's history with the "worse is better" concept.
  7. In case you think that is hyperbole, it is not. See also: But the Envinronemtal Issues With Cryptoart Will Be Solved Soon, Right?.
  8. How times have changed. Now the lack of accountability is a feature being being used to sell biased decision making software.