Welcome to my 2021 Year in Review blog post. This has become a bit of a tradition now, since this is the third year running. (See 2020 and 2019.) It’s the one post a year where I allow myself to start every sentence with the word “I”.
At the beginning of the year, I thought it wasn’t possible for background conditions to get worse than 2020. I’m not sure this was entirely correct. For one, there’s a kind of wearing-on-you that two years of semi-isolation does that one year can’t quite accomplish by itself. I was kind of in a limbo for a big chunk of this year, for many reasons.
However, a few things happened that led to e.g. reconnecting with some old high school friends in person a bit, which was great. I was able to visit many different people I hadn’t seen in person in over a year. I also had a couple job changes, which led to more teaching (and more creativity) each time. For me, that’s an excellent thing; I’ve really loved the several opportunities I’ve had to teach Haskell to people one-on-one since the start of this summer.
I cleared every yearly goal I had by late summer. I’m not sure whether I wasn’t ambitious enough within goals, or failed to set enough of them across categories. However, I generally feel I have a tendency to spread myself too thinly across a variety of goals, so maybe my 2022 goals should simply have more depth. It would be interesting to have an entire year of extreme focus, but picking what to focus on up front (and what I’d have to ignore) is super hard for me. Years are long, and interests ebb and flow, so I try to leave things a bit more free-form.
Overall, I think this year was spent even more on the “little dabblings” side of things than ever before. I stayed at home a lot and didn’t do much that was astoundingly awesome, but I did get to try out a lot of little hobbies I’d never tried before, and fix up some little things that bugged me about last year. There’s not much “output” from that sort of thing, but I found it personally valuable regardless.
I feel most of my writing this year was a bit under-creative, if that makes sense. I liked writing the “explain Haskell” stuff, but felt a bit of pressure to write better that I hadn’t really felt before. This imagined pressure led to not writing as much (or as creatively) as I otherwise might have.
My post about which selected passages of the Bible I recommend was a pretty crazy project. However, I’d probably most recommend Tuple Prelude, Haskell’s Type System Standing Alone, and my description of Building a Robin Hood HashMap in Haskell.
I didn’t do as much visual art this year. However, I did manage a few digital paintings. I really liked doing a landscape of the American west (based on a photo of mine), as well as painting a penguin Harbinger of Doom looming over a cyberpunk cityscape.
Digital painting is a super fun medium. I got one of those Wacom drawing tablets at the end of last year, and I managed to learn a bit more about the technical aspects of drawing this year. The main issue with digital painting is that it takes a super long time and (to me) seems very high-skill to get interesting things done. I’d rather get across the main point of an absurd idea, however sloppily, with a quick photoshop.
I also skimmed the basics of 3D animation for the first time in a very long while, but again without public projects to show off (yet).
I’m a lot prouder of much of the music I was able to produce this year than what I was able to produce last year. The start of year three of that hobby seems to maybe correspond to “early intermediate”, where I hopefully know enough to take my rough ideas and turn them into tunes. However, I can’t claim to have excellent ideas yet, or the skill to make things that are truly remarkable. Back in April, I managed a week of making a song every single day, which was fun.
As far as piano playing goes, it still feels like progress is super slow, but when I look back across broad stretches of time I’m definitely making huge progress. The first piece I recorded in 2021 was the simple Minuet in G Major (BWV Anh. 114) by Christian Petzold, and the last piece I recorded was One Summer’s Day by Joe Hisaishi, which is quite a bit more complex (although I still can’t play it perfectly). I’m still glad I’m taking lessons, although I probably don’t practice enough. I tried recording a couple bits of piano improv and thought they turned out shockingly well, but my main love of piano is still in playing pieces I know and love and can share with others who know them already.
I found noodling around on random instruments to be a pretty fun recurring hobby this year. Besides piano, I messed around on electric guitar, tenor sax, violin, ukulele, and drum kit. I’m terrible at all of them, but it’s great fun to see what sounds come out.
My favorite songs I listened to for the first time this year were “Into the Waters” by Floret Loret and “Screening” by Mr. Bill. In general this year, I found myself drawn more and more to intricate rhythm and unusual sound design than danceability or chord structure.
Besides those artists, I also really liked Deathpact, phonon, and Underbelly. Electronic stuff still dominates, just leaning more strongly to the rhythmic side of what makes music interesting. I watched a bunch of Mr. Bill’s electronic music production tutorials, and would recommend them.
I played a lot fewer hours of games this year than last year. However, 2021 was the year I finally got into VR. I got every achievement in Beat Saber, which is pretty rare for me—normally I find achievements to be relatively full of busywork, and not worth doing vs. picking up a new game. Either Beat Saber or It Takes Two would be my game of the year.
Most games I tried this year didn’t wow me, which was unfortunate. I didn’t really pick up many weird indie games, which years ago used to be what I loved the most. The most recent Microsoft Flight Simulator is really beautiful though—maybe the most realistic-looking game I’ve seen to date. I’m glad I had a joystick so I could just casually fly around a bit.
Heave Ho, Overcooked, Far Cry 5, It Takes Two, Unrailed!, Trine 4, and a few others were played through as local co-op games, which was super fun. To me it seems there’s a noticeable lack of online multiplayer on my list though.
I replayed a few old favorites (usually in remastered form), including Dark Souls 1 and 3, GTA V, and Mass Effect.
I also worked on a few hobbyist game projects. I find games are an excellent way to really exercise creativity across many hobby-type skills like programming, music, both 2d and 3d art, writing, etc.
My favorite book I read this year was Behave by Robert Sapolsky, which I read back in March. It’s an examination of how human behavior arises biologically. The structure of tracing a behavior backwards in time (from the millisecond before, to the day before, to millions of years before) was strikingly effective. I even liked the parts where “scientist waxes philosophical”, which is something I usually find pretty off-putting. I did a bit of writing about the book right after finishing it, which is pretty rare for me, so I guess I felt it was worth thinking about a bit more.
Because of a goal coming from a coworker, I ended up reading a bigger number of books this year than I expected. The goal was 35, and I managed 58, breezing past 35 back in August. However, I probably liked the average book I read this year less than I liked the average book from 2020. It was interesting to me how merely tracking the number led to enacting those differences.
The most common subject matter was still programming. I also tried intentionally reading a few extra more-opinionated things about subjects like history or economics, but found I didn’t really like doing it that much (I still like less-opinionated material on these subjects). For me, it adds a lot of friction to have to disagree with the author (or at least examine where the author is coming from) so much more often. I still prefer the kind of texts where, although I’m hopefully not entirely uncritical (at least not intentionally), I can roughly accept the facts as presented. While authors will have their own opinions in any field, there are ways of writing that strive to minimize the influence of background ideology. However, this relative lack of engaging with “messier” opinionated material is still a bit of a weakness of mine, I think. It’s easier for me to engage with something like straight-up philosophy, where authors usually try (certainly not always successfully) to hide their biases a bit more and present the arguments more plainly. Having well-reasoned opinions is hard, and like most people, I probably say too much while understanding far too little.
I also read slightly more fiction than in most recent years, including a tiny foray into French existentialism. My most fun foray this year was a brief one into ontology, although some other subjects (the anatomy behind playing the piano, why conscious experience can’t be trusted, how to play guitar, a mostly geometrical look at how gravity works) were fascinating too. I’m very much a dabbler at heart.
I started learning three new languages and stuck with one of them (so far).
I saw live music for the first time since 2019.
I watched around three times as many movies as last year.
I tuned a piano for the first time. It went better than expected.
I drove to Texas.