2022: In Review

2022 felt like a return to some normalcy from the previous two years, despite the world still working its way through a pandemic-upended existence. I look back at the previous two years and see that this year’s ‘Travel’ list below has grown substantially (to something like 15 roundtrip flights and a few driving trips). All of this just meant we got to see more family & friends this year which Maya and I cherished; and it was wonderful to flip back through all the year’s photos in preparation for writing this.

We got to spend a few weeks out west with friends in the Bay Area, got back to Chicago four times (three weddings!), got to visit my sister on campus on St. Louis, and made it back to Europe for the first time in three years (London, Cardiff, Amsterdam for me, Maya did 2 weeks just in Amsterdam).

This was the first full year of Maya and my marriage. We planned to head back to our wedding venue (a restaurant) for our anniversary only to not be able to make it because Maya was feeling the effects of her pregnancy. A good reason to skip out! So we’re looking to 2023 as the next big step in our lives as we’ll (hopefully) welcome our healthy baby boy into this world.

We had already added another member of our family this year when we brought home a new kitten in January. See (lots) more about Rizzo below! I changed jobs in April for what was a great opportunity then and has been, well, not as great as promised but still the right move for me. Working at Coinbase (and in crypto) has not been the sunniest place to be in 2022, but hoping for better days ahead. And I really like my job and my team (more below on that too).

What else? We’re ending our year with a bit of a staycation in NYC and have made the most out of what is actually a great time to be here—going into the city for shows and museum visits, spending cold days in movie theaters, and walking around on cold, empty winter streets (though we did just walk by Oscar Issac just the other day!). 

I have a lot to be grateful for in 2022. Thank you to everyone that was part of it. I have no doubt that 2023 will be a world-changing year for me and I can’t wait!


Travel – Phoenix, San Francisco/Bay Area, Chicago, New Hampshire, Cleveland, Austin, Austin (again), Poughkeepsie, Chicago, Maine, London, Wales, Amsterdam, St. Louis, St. Louis (again), San Antonio, Chicago, Pinehurst, Washington D.C., Chicago

Writing – This is the first year on ericryangrant.com that a ‘Year in Review’ post follows another ‘Year In Review’ post which should tell you how much writing I got done this year. It wasn’t much. I managed a few LinkedIn posts and a few other odds & ends in the written word but it was low, low volume. I’ve found that when doing my Masters program (in Analytics), I’m so far on one side of my brain (the left, analytical side if you want to see it through that framework) that it’s hard to crack into the creative side even for bits of time. So I’m leaning into that—being left-brained for a few years and exploring what’s there (a whole lot). I’ll return back to a balance or lean the other way in some years in the future. Of that, I am quite sure.

Reading – You can see the full list of books I read this year here.

Professional –  I made a big career move this year in April, moving from LinkedIn to Coinbase. It was a move not just in company, but also in focus/role. In 2021, I had moved to a data/Insights/analyst role at LinkedIn which I loved, but got a great offer from Coinbase in early ‘22 to lead a Learning & Development team. Part of the appeal (on both sides) was that the role overlapped almost exactly to my work at Uber (2015-18)—at a more senior position. I took the risk with the jump into Crypto and back into L&D and leading a team of 16 people. While I love my team and the work I’m doing there—especially where I can bring in my new Data background into the corporate learning world—working in crypto in 2022 has not been without its stress and I’ve felt that heavily at times. Hoping that we have some bounce back in the years to come.

Pearl Jam – Finally got some shows in this year (first ones since 2016!). Saw Eddie solo in February at the Beacon Theater, and Pearl Jam play Madison Square Garden and a week later in St. Louis with my sister. Great to see the guys back at what they do best—two great shows and a reminder why they’re one of the best live bands out there.


Favorite New Thing of 2022 

Rizzo the cat!

On a cold day in January, Maya and I rented a car and drove to an animal shelter in Soho to see about adopting a kitten. They had just gotten six or seven kittens in and asked if we could come back after a few hours. We walked off to see (the great) The Tragedy of Macbeth at the (great) Angelika theater and sauntered back to find that the kittens were ready to be adopted (if we wanted).

We went in to their holding room and one kitten, a small black girl, reached her paw out to Maya (she was still heavily sedated from being spayed just a day or two prior) and it was love at first touch. We brought that cat home, whom we named Rizzo after my favorite Chicago Cub. As we were driving across the Brooklyn Bridge, she popped her head out of the carrier for the first time since the shelter to fully take in her new borough. Now she’s a Brooklyn cat for life.

Since then, Rizzo has brought us immense joy and has quickly become my constant companion (to Maya’s dismay) as I work from home. Some pics below and a video of her playing her favorite game (jumping and chasing hair ties around our apartment).

Other Favorites: What Makes This Song Stink Youtube series, Maine blueberries, getting back into weightlifting

Favorite Book Read in 2022

Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow by Gabrielle Zevin

Maya and I both really enjoyed this one and heard back from several folks we recommended it to that they felt the same. Gabrielle Zevin’s story of two video game makers (and their producer) is a trip through time, a lesson on video game design, and a study in characters who commit everything to their art form, especially when that makes them contrarians or outcasts.

It’s a really enjoyable, fairly quick read that has plenty of humor in it, emotional connectivity, and ups and downs through the characters’ lifetime. If you’re put off at all by a plot revolving around video games (and video game culture), I assure you that’s where it takes its base but it goes far beyond there (the title, for instance, is from Macbeth!).

Other Favorites: Station Eleven (Emily St. John Mandel), Why Fish Don’t Exist (Lulu Miller), Red Notice (Bill Browder)

Favorite 2022 Movie

Everything Everywhere All At Once

There’ve been a few theater-going experiences I remember vividly over the last ten years or so. This is the third—the others being Whiplash and Arrival. The theme with these three specific experiences—amongst dozens of other cinema trips—is an utter ignorance of what is about to be unspooled in front of me over the next two or so hours. That feeling, that total surrender to whatever’s coming while realizing that it’s the work of utter talent makes those trips so memorable, the films all the more captivating. 

EEAAO was just like this, though the warning signs were there. The Internet was already on this one (“unlike anything you’ve seen”, “hard to describe”, etc…) and I think if I had to have waited any longer to see it, it may have been spoiled. But I was lucky to see it early on—on a random Monday morning in April in between jobs—and it wow’d me something big.

The totally unknowning-ness of what the next scene(s) would bring (action? family drama? comedy?). The Daniels really put together a movie with everything and did so cohesively. Can’t wait to see what they do next.

Other Favorites: Vengeance, Tàr, Armageddon Time

Favorite 2022 TV Show


For all the critics’ takes of the last decade that TV is now as good as movies are/were, I haven’t quite bought in. I still prefer the tightness of movies to the hours-long slog of most TV series (and each season being something like a sequel). But Severance (Season 1) managed to be not only tight (not a lot of wasted moments), but suspenseful, well acted, and exceptionally well directed. And it never seemed to drag on.

I’m probably in the minority here of not wanting another season (though I feel that way about most shows), but I’m sure I’ll be excited when it’s back. Hopefully they can keep the great shots of the workplace (the colors!) and the pace of season 1. If not, the idea behind the show is as interesting of a premise as we’ve seen and worthy of the central question—is severing yourself worth it? What’s the fallout? What does that tell us about the future to come?

Other favorites: Bad Sisters, Severance, The Rehearsal, The Bear

Favorite 2022 Article 

Did the FBI Steal Nine Tons of Civil War Gold? (Chris Heath, The Atlantic)

This one is both fun and infuriating, but an all-around good read. It’s got treasure hunters, state and national land ownership rights, the FBI, and, at the end of it, the great question that the title begs. 

This may spoil the article just a bit (probably not though), but there isn’t a resolution in this case. What we do know—what we get from the article—is that several people are/were very sure that there was buried gold in a specific cave in Pennsylvania, and the FBI took this seriously enough to plan a whole dig there. 

What happened during and after that dig, however, is not just unknown but rather suspicious. So much in fact that the treasure hunters who began the journey are still on the case. 

Read this one for a great old-time thriller, I really enjoyed it. And I thoroughly enjoyed all the other ones here. I read or listened to (mostly listened to, through the Audm app) hundreds of these long articles this year and saved each of the ones below to my file immediately after finishing. 

Other favorites:It Was Just a Kayaking Trip. Until It Upended Our Lives’ (Jon Mooallem, New York Times), ‘Is Selling Shares in Yourself the Way of the Future?’ (Nathan Heller, New Yorker), ‘True Grit’ (J.B. Mackinnon, Atavist), Stone Skipping Is a Lost Art. Kurt Steiner Wants the World to Find It’ (Sean

Favorite 2022 Album

(tie) Gang of Youths – angel in realtime  // Black Country, New Road – Ants From Up Here

I get to make the rules around here so I’m making this a tie. If I really, really had to pick, I think the BCNR album was a bigger deal for me (more plays, more awe of them making this album) but this year was another one where Gang of Youths was the most played artist and getting to see them in Brooklyn was a major highlight. AND I think their ‘angel in realtime’ album is spectacular. Both these albums had 3 tracks in my Spotify top 10 this year and it looks like the entirety of the GoY album is in my top 100.

I had never heard of Black Country, New Road before this year and happened to catch a positive review of their album before checking it out. I was floored. It sounds like nothing I’ve heard before—part jazz, part monotonous singer/lyrical wizard, part eclectic rock, part a whole bunch of other musical experimentation (read: lots of instruments). Some of the songs somehow come together in a poppy way, others remain esoteric enough to be less accessible but still really, really good. Give it a listen (start with the songs below).

On the Gang of Youths side, this album may not be as good as their last (which is a 10/10 album for me) but after hundreds of listens, I’m confident it’s a great step forward for them. They’re proving they should be a band for many years to come and Dave, the lead singer, is just getting more and more creative in his approach, his lyrics, and the band is surrounding him with richer music. Their live shows prove just how much juice this band has and how big they can be!

Other favorites: Wet Leg – Wet Leg, and that might be it. Man I really don’t listen to much new music anymore!

Favorite 2022 Song

Black Country, New Road – ‘Concorde’

Hard to pick a favorite from the two albums above but ‘Concorde’ feels like the winner—and was the most played in my Spotify this year. It’s the most accessible song from the ‘Ants From Up Here’ album and carries through the lyrical theme of airplanes as romance, and the musical theme of jazz-y exploration. And the music video is about as weird as you might expect if you listen to the full album.

Other favorites: Black Country, New Road – ‘Good Will Hunting’, Gang of Youths – ‘goal of the century’, Angel Olsen – ‘Big Time’, Porridge Radio – ‘Back To the Radio’

Favorite 2022 Podcast Episode

‘Third Eye Blind’ (Bandsplain)

Look, this may be a surprise pick for anyone who hasn’t paid attention to Third Eye Blind since the 90s (I wouldn’t expect most to). But here are two truths: (1) their debut album is a perfect album and (2) that this Bandsplain episode captures this truth.

It’d be more accurate to say not that this is necessarily my favorite full podcast episode but the time where that first album is discussed (59:00-1:57:17) is my favorite hour of podcast content this year. 

Typically, Yasi (the host) will play 1-3 songs per album when doing an artist on Bandsplain, and yet she—rightfully—plays six songs from their debut, including the final four tracks which are just excellent. 

The best moment of all? That shriek of “The background!?! The f*cking Background!” at 1:36:48. It’s just the exact right reaction at that point of getting all the way through this album only to find that the last few tracks are better than anything that has already come. The fact that the album is so much better than anything else the band did, well, makes it all worth the expletives and incredulity this episode is riddled with. And that moment is before she even gets to ‘Motorcycle Drive By’ or ‘God of Wine’ to fully close things out!

Other favorites: In Triplicate (Revisionist History), Madame G (Episode 1, Persona: The French Deception), ‘Radiohead’ (Bandsplain, 2 parts), ‘Weather Conditions above Mount Fuji’ (Memory Palace)

Favorite 2022 Place Visited 

Cardiff, Wales

I believe this was the only new place I visited all year! But I have to say, Cardiff was a delight. I got to venture to Wales from London with my cousin Rob for a few days. We got an Airbnb just outside the main part of town but an easy walk and right around the town’s main castle and big park. The city was abuzz for the weekend which we found out later was because it was Pride weekend. We caught a bit of the parade and spent our nights out at bars with excellent cover bands (of which there were many).

We did a short hike one day and a stop at a pub outside the city (getting only a little bit lost). We visited a seaside town where Rob’s dad hailed from and overall just got a small glimpse of what looks to be a beautiful country (Wales). Would recommend anyone who makes it to the UK to try and get to Wales if they can. 

Of course, visiting some of the more familiar places were great too! Amsterdam came right after Cardiff and was definitely a highlight as Maya and I got to enjoy summer there—biking around, eating great cheese, and drinking good beer!


2021: In Review

General Commentary

It’s year NINE doing these reviews and, as usual, it’s been a reward going back to previous years to check on my musings, favorites, and photos. Combining this write-up and the “meditations” exercise I’ve done for the same span of time can actually be a fair amount of work, so I really do mean “reward” in the previous sentence. 

2021 in some ways is ending similarly to 2020—I’m out near the eastern tip of Long Island while the city feels choked by COVID and there’s questions of what normalcy may ever return or how we adjust to understand the very definition of that word.

And yet we have had vaccines and boosters and things are more understood this year—people around the world are still dying and we are not done with grief by a long shot but some mysteries have evaporated. We have, with some luck, seen family in 2021 and friends and are learning to live within an era of health as a public matter.

And that’s the world. Personally, 2021 was a BIG year and there’s so much to be grateful for what I got to personally experience in the span of it all.

I proposed to Maya just 15 days into 2021. (She said yes).

We waited until she finished her MBA to start wedding planning in earnest but we knew we wanted to move quickly given uncertainties around us. So we did. She finished school in late March and we started looking at venues and paying close attention to COVID restrictions in NYC. 

We found a venue that would help us put on an outdoor wedding, though it’d be smaller than we likely would have done in a non-COVID world. That meant we weren’t able to celebrate with everyone we would have liked but given how things went, we made the best of the cards dealt to us.

Fast forward to October (though I’d be remiss not to mention a bachelor party in pulchritudinous Pittsburgh with some great friends) – and we got an absolutely perfect weekend for a wedding. We had the time of our lives celebrating with family and friends – pictures were great, parties were had, and everyone was safe. We talk often of just how perfect it all really went.

We honeymooned shortly after (and after Jesse’s wedding in Atlanta) in the desert near Palm Springs and enjoyed both the luxury of our resort and the out-of-worldness of nearby Joshua Tree. 

We got to see both Maya’s and my family several times this year. We welcomed a new addition to Maya’s sister’s family (baby Elie in August). My sister Lindsey went off to college. My sister Sammi moved back into Chicago and started a job at Depaul. I moved jobs at Linkedin (more below) and finished up my first full year of grad school (in Analytics). 

In all, lots happened for us. And despite 2021 being still-too-much inside and not enough exploring the playground that is New York City — we were able to get vaccinated and boosted and get back out in the world and that’s worth treasuring even if it wasn’t the year we had hoped for all around.


Travel – Because of the lockdown (and a quick trip to Mexico City in pre-pandemic 2020), 2021 was the first year since (I think0 2012 that I did not leave the country. It was likely 2006 before that. Maya and I talked about going to Greece for our honeymoon but with so many unknowns we couldn’t make it work. Instead, we honeymooned in the Palm Springs area – soaking up the desert sun and hiking through Joshua Tree. Truly amazing – pics down below! Otherwise, we got in some trips to D.C., a few to Chicago (including most of July), and a couple other short trips after we finished getting vaccinated in April.

Writing – In my vows, I wrote that the 600-odd words that made up those vows were worth a million otherwise-written words and I meant it. Those were about the only “creative” writing I did this year — my mind consumed with other things: work, grad school, and planning the wedding. The grad school in particular is so focused on logic and mathematics that it makes it hard to switch to the “other side” of my brain to write. So it goes—I know there will be years of writing ahead, and for now I’m loving the learning I get to do in the world of data and analytics.

Reading – You can see the full list of books I read this year here.

Professional – I switched roles at LinkedIn in September, to our Insights team, working on how we use our data at LinkedIn Learning to tell the story of customer value. So far, it’s a great fit of what I’m learning in grad school (Analytics) and my 10+ years of career experience now (in the Learning & Development space) and it was a goal of mine to move onto this team from 2020. I feel like I was just able to get my feet set in the role in 2021, but really looking forward to some great work and strategic thinking ahead in 2022.

Pearl Jam – None this year, despite PJ playing not-so-far away in New Jersey. Plans are in the works to see Eddie in 2022 if that happens and maybe the full roster next summer.


Favorite New Thing 

Solo Biking with Headphones

Likely not the most groundbreaking of “new” things here. Expanding on my favorite thing of last year (biking) – this year I bought a new road bike and set a goal to ride almost double my 2020 miles.

I didn’t get there because of some back issues during the year but I did get in some great rides around NYC with friends (and a very near contender for my favorite thing of both 2020 and 2021 is the NYC sites I’ve gotten to see by biking all over) and a bunch of solo ones around Prospect Park where I felt comfortable enough (a feeling not given on the Brooklyn streets) to put headphones in, cancel noise out, and listen to music or, more likely, a podcast or narrated article. 

It’s this last one in particular, audio versions of longform articles (narrated by professionals) that probably fits this “favorite thing of mine”. Taking some laps around the Park (about a 3-3.5 mile loop) while listening to a great article is a great reset, learning opportunity, and breath of fresh air (literally).

A lot of this is done with the Audm App, which could itself be a contender for my “favorite new thing” this year if the app itself weren’t so frustratingly lacking of features. While it’s loaded with dozens of new audio-articles a day, there’s no way to filter, the search barely works, and there’s so few ways to customize it. Luckily, it’s bailed out by hosting the best journalistic writing narrated by amazing voice actors.

Other Favorites: John Wilson, DAOs, mRNA vaccines, James Webb Space Telescope

Favorite Book Read in 2021

The Overstory by Richard Powers

When I told Maya I was embarking on a 612 page book about trees, I did so with a huge smile on my face. What could be better, right? 

Alas, the book wasn’t only about trees—it had people in it too. And Powers really delivered on both fronts. An epic tale intertwining a half-dozen characters who share little in common other than a deep rooted (intended) connection with a select species of trees. 

Later, their lives take on disparate (but in some cases connecting) paths, including their adult relationship with trees. Some are intense enough to dedicate their lives to their saving, others are more reserved. But no matter, Powers’ characters are deep, complicated, and a joy to read. The first sections of the book – where the author does short story introductions of each character — were some of the best 200 or so pages of reading I’ve done in a long time

Other Favorites: The Hard Crowd (Rachel Kushner), Lincoln Highway (Amor Towles), The Professor and The Madman (Simon Winchester)

Favorite 2021 Movie

Bo Burnham: Inside

A contender for 2021’s Favorite ‘Thing’ and Favorite Album, Bo Burnham’s Inside was the best thing I saw this year — and seeing was both hearing and taking in our lives in a pandemic: shut-in, closed-off, and sometimes quite sad. But in all of that—the limitations brought on by being shut “inside”—there’s an artistic opportunity to play with and Bo outdid the rest. 

I’ve really enjoyed Bo’s previous specials (especially this) – but Inside took it maybe fifteen steps further. Part musical, part diary, the special is a vulnerable, confessional Bo wavering between the struggles of pandemic life and the artistic breakthrough that he can muster by having all the time in the world (oh, and the pains of editing in near infinite time). The special will always be tied to COVID and this time in my life, but it’s the piece de resistance of the whole of it. And even beyond that I’ll listen to “That Funny Feeling” AND laugh every time he hits the chorus in the first Bezos song.

Other Favorites: The Velvet Underground, In & Of Itself, Plan B

Favorite 2021 TV Show (new category)

The Beatles: Get Back

This is the first year I’m putting the TV show category in and probably the year I’ve watched the most TV in more than a decade. That’s both with the pandemic keeping us inside as well as grad school shrinking my free time to a more TV-appropriate slot at the end of the night rather than a movie. 

But, 2021’s TV watching was pretty good and this was a competitive category for me. All the other favorites below could have been the winner for me but Peter Jackson’s Beatles “documentary about a documentary” was truly something else.

Eight hours with one of my favorite bands would have been enough but what the documentary (or, as Jackson put it “a documentary about a documentary”) really showed is just how their magic worked in the studio, and even in the sort of project planning sessions that ultimately determined their concert on the roof (and not in Libya).

To see the young Beatles (all under 30-years-old) in hours of new footage would have been a gift. But Jackson’s restoration did it in high-def, did a remarkable job of making sure the audio was commiserate with the visuals, and gave enough diversity in the footage to make seven hours pass like nothing. Those clips where Paul is having the eureka moments of ‘Get Back’ and ‘Let It Be’ blew us away, even coming in knowing that he’s one of the greatest songwriters ever to live.

Other favorites: The Great (Season 2), I Think You Should Leave (Season 2), How To With John Wilson (Season 2), Hacks (Season 1)

Favorite 2021 Article 

What Bobby McIlvaine Left Behind’ by Jennifer Senior (The Atlantic)

The hands-down pick for me this year was Jennifer Senior’s study of one family’s grief in losing its 26-year-old in 9/11. The story of Bobby McIlvaine (whom the author knew and the personal connection here strengthens the story) is a tragedy from the start: he was young, on the verge of proposing to his girlfriend, and not even supposed to be in/near the World Trade Center on 9/11. But that’s just the beginning.

The actual story is how the family (and girlfriend) spent the last 20 years in the spin-out from that day, and each takes a substantially different direction. What we get in totality from the article is the diversity of grief, a study in marriage, in relationships, in keepsakes from those who have past – and cameos from Kobe Bryant, Toni Morrison, the 9/11 truther movement, and the author’s search for a quote that may or may not exist. 

Other favorites: They Hacked McDonald’s Ice Cream Machines—and Started a Cold War by Andy Greenberg (Wired), The Hard Crowd by Rachel Kushner (New Yorker), I Had a Chance to Travel Anywhere. Why Did I Pick Spokane? by Jon Mooallem (NYT Magazine), The Girl In The Picture by Nile Cappello (Atavist) 

See even more on my Longform list here.

Favorite 2021 Album

An Overview On Phenomenal Nature (Cassandra Jenkins)

I can’t say for sure that this pick will hold up as a favorite or if the album felt 2021-y enough to warrant dozens of re-listens. Only time will tell.

The album is unlike much else that came my way this year (like those other favorites below) but from the first words and chords it seemed to stick. It’s somewhat spoken word, somewhat jazz, and somewhat indie rock wrapped into one. It feels both warm in her soft voice and utterly cold as she speaks of the water in Norway and the grief she felt at the death of friend and collaborator David Berman.

“Hard Drive’ is the strongest track on the album (see below) but ‘Michelangelo’ kicks it off with a….well, not bang per se, but something like that. I found that Jenkins album, played beginning to end, conjured up just the right space of ambiguity to sit within and that her words were poetic and specific enough to be in the throngs of a great storyteller while also combining my personal experience in empathy.

Other Favorites: Open Door Policy (The Hold Steady, Daddy’s Home (St. Vincent), total serene ep (Gang of Youths)

Favorite 2021 Song

Cassandra Jenkins – ‘Hard Drive’

The jewel of the album, ‘Hard Drive’ takes on real quotations from an oversharing museum security guard, mentions of a faraway inn, and the double meaning of “hard drive” that at first one probably takes to mean the technical noun instead of a difficult journey. Either way, Jenkins, who spends much of the album talk-singing (my favorite), builds an unforgettable tune behind the lyrics on this one.

Form certainly equals function here – the tune itself is kind of a long, slow-mountain-twisting drive itself and when the song wraps, it’s hard to tell whether it was a two or twenty minutes long (preference would have been for the latter). 

In a year of not much moving around, the tune gave me the headspace of wide, open places and the roads that get swallowed up the landscape around it — the lives we live in big cities that too can be swallowed, especially when we’re stuck at home and see it only through the windows. This year was a hard drive for many — but there’s a joy in Jenkins’ voice that lifts it all up to an ending in a kind of heavenly place, looking down on us, sharing its wisdom as benevolence. 

Other favorites: Gangs of Youth – ‘asleep in the back’  , The Hold Steady – ‘Heavy Covenant; Weather Station – ‘Parking Lot’, Weather Station – ‘Tried to Tell You’, Bleachers ft. Bruce Springsteen – ‘Chinatown’, Bleachers – ‘45’

Favorite 2021 Podcast Episode

The Woods (The Memory Palace)

In college, I took a course called “history through commodity” where we picked a consumer item and wrote an essay on how its journey was part of a larger historical story. I did mine on the VW Beetle and the emergency of German-friendly buying in the United States by the 1960s. 

But one article we read was about the Singer Sewing Machine, one of the most popular consumer items in the early 20th century. This podcast episode, done by Nate Dimeo on his amazing Memory Palace, starts with that machine and its need for a large cabinet made from a certain type of wood. Cue the mass planting of trees, then the decline of the machine’s popularity, an eventual new need for the tree, and on and on the story of history goes. The tree becomes part of a wider history and then by proxy so too do the birds that populate those trees. 

And by 2021, those birds—the once-famous Ivory-Billed Woodpecker—are now critically endangered. So goes the story. A “natural history through humanity” kind of story. It’s a short episode (14 minutes) and worth a listen for anyone to think back of just how much our own story influences the natural world—trees, birds, and everything that’s part of that ecosystem. 

Other favorites: Daniel Lanois (WTF with Marc Maron), Day X: Part 1 (New York Times), The Daily: Jan 24, 2021* (New York Times), Ramit Sethi (Tim Ferriss Podcast), The Lost Password (Exit Scam)

Favorite 2021 Place Visited 

Joshua Tree National Park

So great to be back at a National Park, and what a dream this place was. Literally, it felt like you were exploring some kind of twisted, burnt-up dreamland. From the Joshua Trees themselves—producing a million green sparks praying to some celestial being—to the glow of the Cholla cacti there, everything is a bit peculiar and a whole lot beautiful.

Maya and I honeymooned nearby in Rancho Mirage and got out to Joshua Tree for two full days, getting to explore the desert towns nearby and on the last visit doing a late night stargazing which was amazing in its own right. 

Joshua Tree was certainly the most unique landscape we saw this year and though hiking through it gives you miles of much-of-the-same, it’s so out of the ordinary to see what you’re seeing that it really doesn’t get old. Plus getting to see all the trees in their aggregate was something special, and the bright milky way that was visible once the sun went down (we booked a wonderful two hour stargazing “tour”).

Other favorites: Arsenal Bowl (Pittsburgh), The Art Institute of Chicago, Wrigley Field (3x), Greenwood Cemetery


Wedding Pictures


In part of my “returning back to normal” process that many of us are entertaining at the moment, I booked a float for today. It’s my first time floating in at least three years—since I left Chicago—and even before I left I was probably doing so only a few times a year.

This, in contrast to when I first start floating (in Vancouver) when I’d go weekly. I was hooked and today reminded me why that happened.

For the uninitiated, floating is putting your body in a small pool or pod of heavily salted water, so heavily salted, in fact, that you float completely. The water is room temperature and the floating is easy. Once you lay back, it happens at once.

But that’s not all. To fully offer a unique experience, the pod you go in turns all dark and is soundproof. Many will use earplugs as well to dampen even the quietest sounds and the effect is what’s known as sensory deprivation.

And you do this for an hour. Or so.

It is claustrophobic. Yes. But you can get out whenever you’d like.

Many have asked me, what did you do in there?

The answer is not easy: I think. I stretch. I meditate. Sometimes I sleep. I count breaths. I move my body. I try to avoid touching my face because my salted hands will burn through my pores. I do so much and yet so little. But the world is locked out, as is my phone, email, whatever.

It’s serene and wonderful and every time I do it I come out feeling refreshed. Actually, it’s not quite refreshed. What is that feeling?

It’s hard to describe the feeling. It’s something akin to refreshed and renewed (or rejuvenated). I come out with more energy, a clearer head, a more limber body (being able to lay in this sort of zero-gravity is the best thing for my back when it’s feeling jammed).

Some in the floating “world” say that it can be a replacement for sleep or rest. But even that isn’t quite an approximate of the life in me when I leave. It’s something like having a filter cleared. Having some moss removed, or extra muons or atoms that are clinging to my body being unmoored from me. It reminds me of how Michael Pollan talks about our “modes” in his How to Change Your Mind book.

Today was no different. I can’t wait to go back. I’m so grateful we’ve recovered enough from this pandemic for me to be able to do things again like float.

2020: In Review

General Commentary

Okay, 2020 In Review. How to start? How to organize this year’s post as though it’s just like the ones before it?

This was a tough year, the kind of tough year that I—and the collective we—will remember for decades to come. We rarely get the kind of foresight of meaning, or the knowledge of a fork in the road. But 2020 will likely be that in some way—a given yardstick to measure things from.

I wrote in another reflection exercise that I felt humbled about this year. Humbled by the reminding this year gave that there are many things bigger than us (singularly and the small existence and network that we encounter close enough to be daily)—and that those bigger things will come and go and leave their yield on us in ways we won’t control.

Many, many people have anthologized this year in existence far better than I can, so I won’t dwell too much on the macro-experience of 2020. Instead, I’ll focus on what I have all to myself.

And that thing I have that is unique is these reviews themselves, dating back to 2013. Years from now, I’ll be able to come back to this post and see if I can decipher how 2020’s changes in living may have influenced my categorical favorites below. That and the pictures full of masks, the new gear bought for a home office, and the emails from family and friends setting up Zoom calls instead of times that I’m arriving at O’Hare.

I’m happy, then, to be posting my year in review blogpost now for the 8th straight year and look forward to the next eight from here.

There were some highlights that this year brought that I want to share too: I got to move in with Maya to a wonderful apartment in Brooklyn, friends and family stayed healthy (more important than the real bummer it was not see my family at all in 2020), I was wrong in my February article that Trump had already won the election, I got into grad school, took up new hobbies (see below), and so much more. I’m grateful for all of these things just as I’m grateful for the sun-coming-out-of-the-clouds optimism that 2021 brings and the years beyond—as I and we return to what we call “normal” with a hangover of the months living in the unknown.

Is that all I have to say looking back on these twelve months? Surely not—more words will come as they always do. But I think I’ll leave it there for brevity and get to some 2020 lists & favorites!

Random Categories

Travel – I usually list out all the places I’ve been throughout the year but I’ll skip that this year – I wrote a little about two places I did get to visit near the end of this post.

Writing – Didn’t get a lot of writing done this year other than some sporadic journal and random jots about the year and coping with it all. It was a year that inspired my creative juices in other ways (problem-solving with data, for instance) – though I do have a writing goal for 2021 that I hope to continue. I did manage to publish nine posts on this blog though (prior to this one), so thats something. 

ReadingInstead of listing that my books here which makes for a long post, I put this year (and some previous years’) finished book list on a live page on my blog. I finished 36 books this year, one less than last. See my favorites below!

ProfessionallyThis was my first full year with LinkedIn Learning and I felt more comfortable in my role in enabling customer success. That would be saying enough but we, like most businesses, found ourselves having to adjust in March as the world stayed home to work. Fortunately, our product is made for that transition and our biggest challenge this year (perhaps) was keeping up with the demand and supporting our clients through the changes using our tool. Usage doubled in the span of a few weeks and has remained strong, challenging me to think about value and engagement beyond expectations, and thinking deeply about how professionals learn and grow their skillsets in a new decade.

Pearl Jam – Will have to wait on this one – with the hopes of a 2021 show or two (especially if that means Madison Square Garden).


Favorite New Thing 

(tie) Data Science and Cycling

Couldn’t make a decision between these and since this is my own blog, I don’t have to.

Data Science really took a hold of me this year and I wonder if that interest will be tied to the absolute flood of important public information we got this year that different channels were challenged to visualize for the massers (examples: COVID spread, poll/election returns).

For me it was a bit more personal as I expanded my use of data at my job as well as extra-curricular. I started my first full “class” online in data science (detailed here) after doing some self-learning on SQL. Long story short, the journey continued (see other posts) and applied to a grad school program at Georgia Tech in Analytics…..and I’m starting in January. Read more on that here. 

And on to cycling—my exercise routine for the COVID summer and a great way to see New York City (see more below in the ‘book’ section). Getting a bike this year was probably one of the best purchases I’ve made (even though I’m due for an upgrade on that). It got me moving outdoors as the city had to shut down, but even more than that it allowed me to see so much of Brooklyn, Queens, Manhattan and the Bronx. I even made trips into Jersey and Westchester.

I’m already looking forward to spring to get back on the bike for long rides through the boroughs, across bridges, and to new neighborhoods and parks in this amazing American city. 

Other favorites: Monarch butterfly hibernation (albeit briefly), public health, SPACs

Favorite Book Read in 2020

The Power Broker by Robert Caro

The behemoth of many a-bookshelf, The Power Broker took me about 10 months to get through (clocks in about 1300 pages, in small type) but the pay off was worth it. No book encapsulates you in a life nor asks you to be the judge of a man the way Caro does when it comes to Robert Moses.

For me, finishing this book—about the man who singularly made the most impact on the geography of New York City (from bridges, to tunnels, to highways, parks and more)—went alongside one of newest hobbies in 2020: cycling. 

And specifically cycling around Brooklyn and the rest of NYC. Seeing the extent of what this city offers is absolutely unimaginable and each ride (when I could go further or somewhere new) offered its own amazement of discovery. And, having finished the Power Broker months before I started cycling, in my mind it comes back to that people who made the decision to shape these very places. Many of those decisions came back to Moses himself, over the span of four or five decades. 

Other landmarks, like Tavern on the Green, the Verrazano bridge, and the BQE – have pages and pages in Caro’s book about the brokerage Moses undertook to get things done, but always those things were done in his way. 

A fascinating read that gets into the nefarious parts of the man and leaves the reader suspended in both awe and frustration constantly.

Other favorites: A Gentleman in Moscow, The Right Stuff, How Not To Be Wrong, House of Leaves

Favorite 2020 Movie

Boys State

2020 was a political year. So there may not have been a better year for this documentary to come out, even if just to remind you that the frustrations of the “game” of politics may be unavoidably natural. Or perhaps you’d come away from this thinking that it’s gotten so pervasive that even wide-eyed youths are using underhanded tactics.

The documentary—which follows a handful of high school boys on a weeklong convention to form a proto-government—is as suspenseful as any election you’ve followed. Along the way it uplifts you, frustrates you, and gives you a glimpse into how the youth (at least in Texas) approaches age-old political issues. And, I think, that would go for wherever you sit along the political spectrum, a feat becoming rarer by the day.

Admittedly, I still have quite a few 2020 movies on my list to see (all of the Small Axe, for instance), so just as the movie slates were pushed back this year so too is my viewing of them. This section may be edited.

Other favorites: The Vast of Night, Palm Springs, The Trial of the Chicago Seven, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, Sound of Metal

Favorite 2020 Article 

The Confessions of Marcus Hutchins, the Hacker Who Saved the Internet (Wired)

Andy Greenberg’s longform article on Marcus Hutchins will make for a terrific coming-of-age-in-the-age-of-hacking movie or book someday (or inspire as much). It has all the hallmarks: a prodigy, a misdirected kid who uses his talents for wrong, and then that same kid who grows up to reverse the wrongs he’s made. It’s as Campbell-ian of a hero’s journey as it gets.

And it’s all true. And told in a way that helps non-tech readers like myself understand why Hutchin’s work (on both the evil and hero side) is so effective. The article is a wild ride of a story, told in a thoughtful and suspenseful way, that ultimately ends with….well, just read it!

Other favorites: Look at my full list of longform article favorites here

Favorite 2020 Album

Local Honey (Brian Fallon)

In a year with album releases from Pearl Jam, Bruce Springsteen, and Bob Dylan, it was never likely to be an eight-song Americana album that became my most listened to album, but that’s the way it was.

Not like Brian Fallon was a longshot, his solo stuff has been on my lists before, and if my list of my favorite songs of the last decade was able to include 2009’s The ‘59 Sound, then Fallon’s main band would have made the list for at least half the songs on that album. 

In Spotify’s review of my year, three of the eight songs on Local Honey are in my top 10, and occupy the first and third spot (the highest songs released in 2020 for that matter), so the album makes sense.

But front to back, this album is a gem. It’s got an easy and laid back sound to it (the first time he’s gone full folk on his albums) and yet the storytelling is full and the lyrics are deep and unique. He’s either a master of his craft or just someone who fits squarely in my tastes, I suspect it’s a bit of both though leaning on that latter. No matter – this one will be listened to for years to come I’m sure. 

Other favorites: Gigaton (Pearl Jam), Saint Cloud (Waxahatchee), Fetch The Bolt Cutters (Fiona Apple), Rough & Rowdy Ways (Bob Dylan)

Favorite 2020 Song

Phoebe Bridgers – ‘Kyoto’

Bridgers had her well-deserved big blow up this year and her newest album did not disappoint. This song, in particular, has stuck with me since it came out. It’s catchy, that’s for sure, but I think what I enjoy most (and stays true version to version online now that she’s done) is the sort of meandering story she tells in the lyrics.

It reminds me of a poet, not necessarily in the depth of language, but in the transition from story to abstract to story to emotional reckoning. It has something of a Frank O’Hara quality in that way, particularly the second verse….or for a more apt comparison it reminds me a lot of my favorite song from 2015, Courtney Barnett’s ‘Depreston’. Seems like a pattern!

Not to mention Bridgers re-worked the song in this incredible piano version.

Other favorites: Fiona Apple – ‘I Want You to Love Me’, Brian Fallon – ‘Hard Feelings’, Pearl Jam – ‘Comes Then Goes’, Waxahatchee – ‘Arkadelphia, Waxahatchee – ‘Fire’

Want more music? I made a list of my 100 favorite songs of the last decade at the end of last year. You can check that out here

Favorite 2020 Podcast Episode

The Case of the Missing Hit (Reply All)

I listened to a good deal of podcasts this year — on my metro commute in the mornings before March and then while exercising or playing video games at home. I think next year I’d like to keep a list of my favorite episodes (the way that 2019 introduced the category below of my favorite longform article).

As for this episode, it’s just pure fun. Reply All was hit or miss this year, though still one of my favorite podcasts and the hosts have a unique ability to make some episodes really, really fun. This is one of those—and the effort and length that the host goes to solve this mystery shows why they can’t be putting out this episodes all that often.

Not intrigued to listen to it yet? How about The Guardian calling it potentially the best podcast episode ever? Give it a listen!

Favorite Place Visited 

(tie) Piedra Herrada Monarch Butterfly Sanctuary and Maine

I only really went one new place this year and I’m grateful or even that. In August, Maya and I went to Portland, Maine for a week and day-tripped around the area. Maine was lovely in the summer – some crowds in some places and certainly different because of the pandemic (many restaurants in Portland were closed, for instance, though the breweries had wide open areas to sit outside. 

Maine itself though is the perfect combination of beaches (for the short months anyway) and hills and mountains for hiking and may be one of the few places on the East coast where you can do both so easily in the same day. We took advantage.

And then we added to that with delicious lobster rolls, fresh blueberry pie, and local beers & spirits. 

In February, before the lockdown, after a great bachelor party in Mexico City, I stayed for a few extra days with a friend. My biggest regret from 2019’s months in Mexico City was not getting to see the massive monarch butterfly migration to a town near CDMX in the early winter. So this time I wasn’t going to miss it!

It ended up being one of my favorite travel days in some time. We booked a guided tour and a driver picked us up from Mexico City for a three hour drive (or so) to the sanctuary. Despite being warned we were on the later end of the season (end of Feb.) there were still hundreds of thousands of butterflies up in the trees and swirling around (often times looking for sun). The guide talked through the whole migration pattern and the generations that die off in that journey (just think for a second that the butterflies that make it to Mexico have never been there, likely born somewhere in the middle of the States, so how do they know where to go?).


Data Science Learning Journey – Months 4 and 5

A little behind on the updates here, so I’ll combine the last two months of this journey together. This will also likely be the last of these longer updates, as the journey has solidified its own long-term path. I’ll probably utilize LinkedIn going forward for mini updates.

The big update is this: next month I’ll start my first (official) classes as part of the Online Masters in Analytics (OMSA) through Georgia Tech.

I put official in parentheses above since I did take an audited class from this program this fall – Intro to Analytics Modeling – done through edX as a MOOC. I did homework, took tests, and was graded just as a student was, all of which I described in previous posts. I ended up getting a 90% in that class which I’m proud of and should mean that I can get “advanced standing” on that class (which is a required course for the masters). It gives me an extra slot to take an elective of my choice while doing the full program.

The class was a good introduction to the Masters at large (or at least from what I’ve read) and I enjoyed learning all about different types of models one can build from data sets (regressions, exponential smoothing, different categorization and classification models, etc..). The tests were tricky at times but manageable and made sure to gage understanding of using the correct model given a desired outcome or starting set of data.

As part of a course, I wrote a five page paper on bike sharing systems in large cities and what models could be used to make individual stations more effective (read: not run out of bikes or be full when someone wants to return one). I enjoyed putting some practicality behind the theoretical in the class and think of it terms of a popular program I see everyday (there’s a Citibike dock less than a block from my apartment).

It looks like, as part of the program, I’ll be starting a class in January called Computing for Data Analysis which is entirely in Python. My Analytics Modeling course was in R and I started this year’s learning adventure by self-teaching SQL, so this will be the third language to get exposed to.

I’ve really enjoyed learning from DataCamp before so I’m taking its Python Skill track (started just a few days ago) from the beginning, in hopes that I can grasp the language enough to understand the class (the timeline is about four weeks and I’m sure I’ll continue to learn after it starts).

What started as a journey of exploring a burgeoning interest of mine (moving past what I could do with an Excel file, for instance) has now become a commitment to a Masters of Science which will likely take two to three years to complete. So the journey will go on for some time and it’s really become something I’ve loved learning more about.

I don’t know where it will take my career but based on both data on the changing world of work and my own qualitative perspective, the analytics and data science skillsets are not going anywhere for a long time. It should provide some interesting and challenging work opportunities in the future.

how biden won – a letter

Dear Lindsey,

Four years ago I wrote you a letter answering a question: how did Donald Trump win the 2016 election? To do so, I scraped together everything I could figure out at the time to provide some kind of rationale. As much as I was writing for you, I was writing for myself. I needed explanation too. I had spent several months insisting it couldn’t and wouldn’t happen and was stung in the days after by an anxiety of what was to come.

Now we’re in 2020, just after the next Presidential election. This time Trump lost. The tides of the country had changed enough in the ballot box to say he wasn’t wanted anymore. I thought I’d write another letter—because I find myself wanting an explanation again.

Of course, so much else has changed in four years, particularly in just the last eight months. But, even more than that, you have changed. You’re seventeen now and aware enough to know what’s going on. You’re taking government in school and you’ve now met folks who voted for Trump.

You don’t need my rationale anymore. There’s less for me to teach you now. And yet it still feels like a gift to be able to write out a letter. Because Joe Biden did in fact win the presidency, but not in a way that we might have expected. Questions still abound.

I do think that when things settle Biden will have won this race by a large margin, but that’s relative. No one really wins these things by an enormous margin and, anyway, more than 70 million people voted for four more years of Trump (many of them voted for him again), despite our own incredulity at the idea of wanting him to continue.

I do see a future where close elections are common (as they have been). With micro-targeted messaging on platforms like Facebook and the model of spatial consumption entrenched in political thought, the country will increasingly be divided into (two) camps and those camps will evolve to bring in the maximum number of voters. Said another way, both parties are likely guaranteed to get at least 45% of the vote each election. That explains some of it.

The rest is a game—where sides can and will denigrate the incredible necessity of our free press (as Trump has done and is continuing to do) and politicians stretch laws in voter registration and gerrymandering (neither of which, due to state elections this year, is unfortunately going to get much better).

That all sums up to where we’ve gotten to, and in some ways tells the story of the inextricably consistent support Trump had through this tenure as President—a metric that stayed almost stuck around 43% in polling, not wavering during COVID failures, or summits with Kim Jong-Un (neither when these seemed to be going well or not).

People stayed stuck in their bubbles over the last four years and the system seems designed to keep us there, infuriated with the other side who we understand, and are exposed to, less and less. The difference in the election was a sway of independent voters, who manage to either not sit in a bubble or vote against it, and the larger turnout of those bubbles (on both sides actually).

I could go over an analysis of the election for a long time. I’m fascinated by how we vote, how we make these decisions, and how the system takes advantage of some of these things. It’s the perfect combination of psychology, sociology, and government—and yet it’s maddening, isn’t it?

So where do we go from here?

That’s the question. New leaders bring new policies and strategies. As much as Trump worked to reverse Obama’s policies (with very mixed results), Biden will too work to undo what Trump put in place. This back-and-forth gives American politics a certain see-saw that can both hurt the population and also maintain a status quo. It takes a lot to break it—but new generations like mine and yours are moving toward being a larger force in the economy, politics, business, and more. What direction will we take it?

The short-term is to help those that are hurting. Right now, that’s all of us, prevented from living our normal lives as they were before. But some are hurting more than others. Millions are unemployed. Millions are at risk of falling below the poverty line and into the pains of hunger. Those in power seem to not care they way we would like them to—hinging on the hope of a vaccine coming quickly.

And then what? We enter a new age. The post COVID world. Much will change. Public Health will be a prominent force. We’ll have a large force of the American population that will not like what they are told. Public Health may well require a small sacrifice of personal liberty. The balance of which may be the great struggle of the next generations, because if it’s not the health of our society in a viral disease, it’s likelier going to be in the grave threat of climate change.

And so we have work ahead of us as a nation. Where we are angrier than ever at those who disagree with us, and yet we need cooperation so badly to surmount our greatest challenges.

Four years ago I wrote:

In those years and the ones after, there will be many times you want to fight with great vengeance. And fight you will. And so will I. But our fighting is not done with brutality, or hate, or shaming. It is done with discourse, with wisdom, with trust and empathy and love and hope and optimism. We will not revert to any level lower than that. And on the days you find it too hard to do that and so much easier to cut someone down, to debase a group of people, to hate…..you call me. And we’ll talk through it, kid. 

Well we made it four years and I think we did what we set out to do. Fought by learning, by growing wiser and smarter and more tactical about securing a brighter future ahead. But the fight doesn’t stop. To achieve that which we want—a world of peace, grace, equality, wisdom, and more—the journey has miles more until we sleep.

There’s been a hint of what’s to come from President-elect Biden in his recent speeches. I expect he’ll continue a theme in his inaugural message in January—to reflect and echo a sentiment from 160 years ago. It was then when a different new President addressed the nation.

I expect that Biden will take words from Lincoln, in Lincoln’s first inaugural address, where he looked out a nation divided—where half of it would not accept him as its leader. He knew his greatest challenge was to unite the states once more. With that burden on him, he spoke with grace, ending his speech with this:

In your hands, my dissatisfied fellow-countrymen, and not in mine, is the momentous issue of civil war. The Government will not assail you. You can have no conflict without being yourselves the aggressors. You have no oath registered in heaven to destroy the Government, while I shall have the most solemn one to “preserve, protect, and defend it.”

I am loath to close. We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battlefield and patriot grave to every living heart and hearthstone all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.


Data Science Learning Journey – Month #3

Trying to keep some standard to updating these – so this will be the October update. You can find the past two updates by scrolling on the main page of my site here.

The last six weeks have definitely had their own learning experience – including my first real “test”, in the form of the first midterm for the class I’m auditing. That class is Introduction to Analytics Modeling, through Georgia Tech’s online masters in analytics (more on that later).

It was the first academic test I’ve taken since 2010 and I was more than a little rusty preparing and studying for it – likely overdoing my focus on some parts and wasting some time. Oh well – it wasn’t for naught, I got a 90% on the first test which made me quite happy.

The test for this class was quite different. While the weekly homework assignments are almost exclusively done in R—forcing me to learn that language and how to run tests in it, code “for loops” and the like for cross-fold validations and sum square errors (as just another example)—the test was much more analytical. There was no math and no coding on the test – but rather practical questions on applying certain types of models on data sets.

That test also covered a lot of ground—regression, exponential smoothing, SVM, KNN, validation, and more. So it was a lot to take in. And to add that analytical thinking on to the skillset I’m building in learning how to analyze data in R Studio.

I say that because I’m pleased I was able to get some practice in on that latter point in the last six weeks too. I took some more LinkedIn Learning courses in prep for the midterm like Artificial Intelligence Foundations: Machine Learning which has several crossover videos on algorithms from class. Another was the third Statistics Foundation class which filled in some blanks in modeling I’ve had from now taking a stats class in over a decade.

On top of this, I continued using DataCamp for coding learning and practice. I didn’t want my newly learned (this summer) SQL skills to wither away so I finished the Introduction to SQL course on DataCamp, and started the Intermediate SQL course (as well as the course specific to Joining Data), but mostly I’ve been using their daily practice (in-app and online to brush up on this).

And then I continued to push my R language skills, in class specifically, and on DataCamp. nicely, DataCamp has courses that teach R specifics as well as explaining concepts—so it was really nice to take part of the Correlation and Regression course in R while studying these concepts….and the same goes for Exploratory Data Analysis.

It was a solid month (and a half) since my last post and I learned a lot and had some of that learning validated with the positive midterm score.

But the other big event in this span was getting into the full Georgia Tech Online Masters in Analytics program (after applying in August) and deciding now if I want to pursue that (it’s a part-time program, I say “full” above because I’m essentially auditing once class from it now). It’s looking very likely that I’m going to go through with the program, which would continue this Data Science Learning Journey for years to come!

On my next update I’ll go into that program more and targets of some classes I’ll be taking. I’ll also mix in some work I’m doing in my day job (these are more reminders for myself!)

october lucidity: a letter

dear future october reader,

it’s me – in this october. 2020. i’m sitting on my couch in brooklyn. i just took a test for an online class. maya went apple picking. tomorrow i’ll ride my bike far – maybe 70 miles. it may rain.

long bike rides give me time and space to think. it’s a sorting activity.

I think about about i’ll write when dylan dies. i’ll have to write something. it’s certain. i think about crispr. about maps carving out identities. i think about the weather and the sky and the great particles of mist that float past the rockaways out to the sea, hoping they glide peacefully by the airport. i think about which version of kyoto is better—how the song is like a poem, full of a few short stories. how stories, the good ones anyway, proffer feelings. it makes me think of a jack gilbert poem and the many times i adjusted my hold on some box not knowing that it could be something else entirely.

i’ve thought about writing so much.. on here, on scraps of paper. i’ve thought about essays on politics, the election is so close and the closer we get the more myopic it all becomes — all about it. science journals are choosing a candidate. voices warn you of gloom constantly. but they are not wrong. we need certain voices elevated that don’t have a voice necessarily. take science. we need it for our species, for the earth, for the future generations who will look upon our regression as incalculably baffling.

i think i should write more letters. there are more months aside from october which gets this one. ill find a project and write for it. in between, i live and read the news, and watch shows with maya, and observe what i can about our time (these months) while so badly wishing we could get to a point of embracing one another again.

– me, in october

Adieu to Normal, Bon Jour To Frank

Frank O’Hara is my favorite poet and now that I live in New York City I think about him all the time and sometimes in my head I try to write like him and ignore punctuation or moderation completely.

To me, no poet encapsulates the true wonder of New York City like he did. Because the city’s beauty is its frenetic energy, the want (need?) to get up, walk around, observe, laugh, moan, and whatever else. There’s enough going on in one city block for your own personal run through of a dozen emotions. Minimum.

One of my favorite poems by O’Hara is titled ‘Adieu to Norman, Bon Jour to Joan and John Paul‘ which starts headlong and right into his lunch break at just past noon in New York City. The narrator is struck in the first stanza by the immediate need to figure out whether he can make lunch on time while almost simultaneously fretting about leaving the city for the weekend and not working on his poems. It’s the classic trap of summertime productivity, where one must think about the dismissal of creative duty in order to enjoy the fruits of metropolitan and coastal living.

It’s classic O’Hara and he made a living out of writing poems that explore this very quandary and the life that exists in the short-lived panic of wondering if you’ll be punctual. That mixed with the larger, more existential panic of what parts of life are worth living and when. It’s just one reason I love his writing so much—he can blow a minute up to a lifetime or make a minute as meaningless as any other.

The rest of the poem is a departure though. The narrator speaks of looking up a street in Paris and then rumbles into a set of stanzas about the nature of change—what exists always as is and what has changed. He himself has changed and is exploring the possibilities of where he could be or what he might be doing.

But then he arrives at a simple mandate:

the only thing to do is simply continue
is that simple
yes, it is simple because it is the only thing to do
can you do it
yes, you can because it is the only thing to do
The simplest way forward? To just continue to move forward. No deeper thought needed. No reckoning or doubt or thought experimentation. Be and see tomorrow. And then:
and surely we shall not continue to be unhappy
we shall be happy
but we shall continue to be ourselves everything
But now, in May of 2020, these lines mean something else entirely. The very poem in which O’Hara explores whether change is even worth it now seems like an archaic, vintage sentiment. It no longer fits.
Because now nothing feels like it must continue as is. In fact, we know that it won’t. Those that had bene existing as is, even those that O’Hara mentions like the Seine, the Louvre, the Parisian streets, they are shut down. Just the same with his beloved New York art museums (the Met, the Frick) and the famed Manhattan avenues here. We hope they will be back. We don’t know. And we hope we will not have to continue on as we are right now—locked in and uncertain.
I love this poem so it’s not something I want or care to dismiss. And I won’t have to. O’Hara’s words may not fit right now (and no one mistook Frank O’Hara for a deterministic philosopher anyway)—but instead they make me ache for a time more wonderful, where New York exists one day the same as it did the day before, with the map of Manhattan set in place and the trains running on their own schedule. What continues is not the storefronts or the bars or restaurants, but our capacity to find the beauty of life amongst it all.
After all, he ends his poem like this:
                                                                         continues to be possible
René Char, Pierre Reverdy, Samuel Beckett it is possible isn’t it
I love Reverdy for saying yes, though I don’t believe it
I’m not sure Frank would know what to say now. He seemed so positive despite his own setbacks—even the hard times begat beauty. But these are no ordinary hard times and the very idea of freely walking around and observing is now an act of calculated risk.
Everything has changed and as we look ahead all we know is that everything will continue to change, some all at once and some slowly in a crawl. In that, we’re saying goodbye to our normal, no longer for now having to worry about making lunch on time. I love O’Hara for writing what he did—that we can be happy in the continuation of the things we love AND move forward freely into the times that break our world so suddenly, though I don’t believe it.

The 2020 Election Is (Probably) Over Already

Barring any paradigm-shifting event in the 2020 presidential race (of which there are still months of possibility), I believe the election is already so far tilted that it could be called over and that Donald Trump will win. I’ll explain this below—and why this is sour conclusion has implications well beyond this year.

There have been two very good pieces of political journalism that I’ve read recently that have brought me to this conclusion. First and foremost is an article from The Atlantic titled “The Billion-Dollar Disinformation Campaign to Reelect the President“, which has the secondary tab title of “The 2020 Election Will Be A War Of Disinformation”. The second is from Politico and is titled “An Unsettling New Theory: There Is No Swing Voter“.

Please read both.

I’ll be doing some summarization here but both are deeper and better written than anything I could muster. My goal is to ty these two pieces together, in addition to some other observations, and get to my thesis here that the 2020 election is likely over due to circumstances allowed for in micro-targeted “advertising” and the budget and large-scale strategy that the Trump campaign will deploy utilizing it.

The ‘No Swing Voter’ Theory

We’ll start with electoral politics and voter turnout. The theory laid out in the Politico article is that actual voter turnout matters more to winning elections than moving blocs of swing voters one way or the other. The election is decided by WHO VOTES rather than who voters VOTE FOR. Now, this is based on one polling analyst (which is a stretch to call it truth), but has some profundity. And it might help explain why one Trump campaign goal, voter suppression, is a target.

As the article says,

“Bitecofer’s theory, when you boil it down, is that modern American elections are rarely shaped by voters changing their minds, but rather by shifts in who decides to vote in the first place.”

Turnout here is the name of the game. That there are no swing voters I think is untrue and the headline here is misleading. People will move from party to party, but the article’s thesis (or the political scientist herself) is that it won’t matter. Getting people to vote will move numbers.

Have we seen this play out accordingly? Well, comparing the 2016 election to the 2012, Michigan, Wisconsin, and Ohio all had less total votes casted in the more recent election. Florida had nearly a million more votes, but added more than 1.3 residents in that time.

It’s an interesting theory and one I would have likely just kept in the back of my head as the 2020 election nears. But then I read the Atlantic article and it doubled on top of it.

Because as that article, written by McKay Coppins, describes in incredible detail, the Trump campaign is going to be waging an all-out disinformation campaign for this election designed not only at swinging voters, but also at suppression. And it’s not happening with the hope of working, it’s happening with a trove of micro-targeted data and analytics at the very people who have the best chance at being suppressed. Oh, and it’s already happening.

Let’s dive in.

Political Advertising? No. Micro-Targeting!

The Trump campaign plans to spend $1 billion dollars on its re-election campaign.

Read that again.

The legal limit on campaign spend in 1984 for a presidential campaign was $20.2 million. The Reagan re-election campaign said it had every intention on spending that. We’ve come a long way.

This raises a bunch of interesting points like how an incoming candidate will compete with that, the sheer size of a presidential campaign budget, the enormous avalanche and bombardment of targeted ads that swing states will likely see, and the profit windfall for those that get that money (see: Facebook).

I’ll spend a good deal of this piece talking about those swing states. Consider that Clinton could have won the 2016 election by flipping the three states with the smallest margin of victory , and most of these margins were under 2%.

She didn’t win these, of course, and there’ve been a cadre of reasons for it. But I think the real reason came down to targeted ad spent on individuals in those states by Trump and his digital team. With such a small number needed, the budget can be directed intensely on that population and maneuvers that may turn a person into a swing voter, or a non-voter entirely, can be magnified and mega-personalized.

Indeed, what the Atlantic article focuses on is the campaign strategy from the Trump side; and since “disinformation” is in the title, you probably know where this is going. Because they weren’t (and won’t be in 2020) targeted with ideas of what they’re passionate about, they were targeted with ads meant to confuse, obfuscate, and anger.

And we’ve heard a lot about that. But what we should be hearing more on is where those triggering ads WENT, WHO received them, and WHAT DATA informed the campaign that they were the right people to target. Those three caps-locked points above, taken into a totality and strategy, is called micro-targeting and boy is it getting big.

Here’s the way McKay Coppins, the author of the Atlantic article puts it:

“An ad that calls for defunding Planned Parenthood might get a mixed response from a large national audience, but serve it directly via Facebook to 800 Roman Catholic women in Dubuque, Iowa, and its reception will be much more positive.”

Trump’s political advertising operation was run as ‘Project Alamo’ in 2016 and the same people are back for more in 2020. I don’t know if the name has stuck but you can sense how strongly Trump believes in this from his comments during the most recent State Of The Union. He praised the “beautiful Alamo” which threw everyone who has ever seen the actual Alamo off (proof—and others went a totally different direction). The disappointingly small Alamo isn’t really all that beautiful; but a large operation that got him elected by targeting the “persuadable” mass is certainly worth praising in Trump’s book.

The War On Truth

What is disinformation anyway? That’s a definition a bit above my paygrade but I can say that it’s an attack on truth. Meaning both that it can be a variety (stretching truth, omitting truth, or just straight lying or deceiving). It’s not necessarily propaganda but it certainly can be. And sometimes it can be done without attribution, so that a person isn’t exactly sure where something came from. Picture a hyperlink that someone (even myself) might use that is linked to words that ostensibly the link would source, and yet when you click the link it’s something different or a slant of what the original author wrote. That’s an example of disinformation.

The purpose of it though is meant to obscure some kind of truth through deceptiopn. But as I’m struggling to explain even, this is something more vague and more complicated than we’re used to. Disinformation has been around for centuries, as long as we’ve been using perception to tell stories of what we believe is true; but the internet, weighed down by trillions of pieces of content is the first place where you can be showered (or bubbled in) completely by disinformation.

This is  a point made in Coppin’s article where he describes the goal as “jamming the signals, sowing confusion”. I align this to something like DDOS attack on one’s own mental sensibility—your brain so overloaded by noise its attacked to the point of submission. And you start to change your mind. It’s been used now by several high profile politicians and leaders around the world.

Disinformation campaigns, like micro-targeting, are not new. In fact, for the former it was actually Obama’s first campaign in 2008 that began this on a Presidential election scale—though his data set and capabilities were inarguably more nascent. It’s the crossroads of these—where voters can be targeted to a micro and specific degree and then fed disinformation of all disorienting types—that’s new and concerning. It’s now been used in elections across the globe and will continue to be. Trump’s 2020 campaign like his 2016, is simply the biggest stage of them all and the the one with potentially the most profound effects.

And that, the stage and stakes being the biggest, means it’s worth spending the $1 billion on for an election budget and those who want a Trump win (large-pocketed conservatives with now-untaxed offshore bank accounts, foreign nationals sowing discontent,  the Peter Thiels of the world (or CEOs of companies he’s invested in, etc… etc…) want a completely exercised and maximized campaign of disinformation to go down.

Where exactly will it go down? Mostly on Facebook and other visited internet sites. But that’s not the only place.

All Politics Is Local, So ‘Buy Local’ Indeed

One of the scariest parts of Coppins’ foreboding story comes nearer to the end—after paragraphs of the Trump campaign’s plans. It has to do with the purchasing and/or creation of local “news” sources popping up in key places; usually representing a titled point of view.

He describes the birth of registers like the Arizona Monitor which have come and gone with little proof other than cached sites and a trail of endorsements. Following the Breitbart model, they take a conservative point of view and often feature bombastic titles, ostensibly aimed at the part of the population truly concerned by a liberal bias in the media. As Coppins found, several of these online-only publications come from a company called Locality Labs.

If micro-targeting doesn’t work (for maybe a group of folks that aren’t tech-abled enough to actually see Facebook ads), they may just be drawn in by the new newspaper in town which probably lets them know that every single candidate on the left will take their guns away on the first day of office. That’s just old-fashioned targeting, really, and with online content being cheaper than ever, it’s easy to pull off.

This is concerning, surely, but I think it may be peanuts in a way (or a small-scale way of supporting a much larger, more concerning operation). And that bigger threat is the data-focused threats repeating from 2016. I’ll go into these below so you can see what elections are not up against. And when you think about how these tactics can tip the scale, remember to consider just how sensitive the scale is. Because, as the Washington Post explained, the 2016 election was “effectively decided by 107,000 people in these three states. Trump won the popular vote there by that combined amount.”

Cambridge Analytica

I know, I know, you’ve heard all about Cambridge Analytics. Maybe you watched The Great Hack. Maybe you binged a whole slew of articles about the company in 2016 after the election where they worked with the Trump campaign or in 2018 when they shut down and transformed into Emerdata.

And the outrage was deserved. The firm had access to 87 million Americans Facebook data, enough to make “profiles” about them and extrapolate out to their friends and connections. They said they had up to 5,000 pieces of data on every voter in the U.S. And they sought to weaponize it. Because the data was just used anonymously for aggregation purposes, it was divided into groups with those that they felt they could evolve put into a bucket called “persuadables” and then they went after those with tactics. They presented the data to their clients (Trump, Brexit, etc…) and then “won” by targeting those in that bucket.

Here’s one fact about that operation that’s stuck with me since the 2016 election. We know now that in addition to data pieces, Cambridge had access to private messages sent on Facebook. And that if you took part of the “quiz” that allowed them to collect this, it also allowed them to scrape data on 1,500 of your friends, uninvited I may add.

So if you’re someone who is friends of friends with someone who happens to be a little bit racist, they would know that. And indeed, one could imagine a scenario where they would find “persuadables” around those who may hold such prejudices and then feed you ads that stoke that little bit you may have inside you (even if you knew or didn’t). So you may see ads like these. Or if someone you knew put up something about Hilary’s political record you may see ads like these; this essentially leveraging the power of a Facebook-built network. And if you didn’t want to vote for Trump, these may have had you think twice about voting for Hilary (by the way, Cambridge folks take credit for the “crooked Hillary” meme from that campaign) and convince you not to vote at all (back to The No Swing Voter theory above).

Think about the level of marketing this allows for and the number of “swing” people that could be persuaded by fear to make action (vote one way for instance). And then think about the narrow margins that Trump won some states by….

Wisconsin hadn’t gone Republican in a presidential election since 1984. Trump didn’t even win the primary there—Cruz did, handedly actually. In the 2016 election, Trump got 1.405 million votes to Clinton’s 1.382. Less than a percentage point difference. It’s quite a turnaround in the difference points, the winning party, AND the voter turnout from 2012. In ’12, Obama carried the state with 1.620 million votes and Romney ended with more votes than Trump with 1.407. Total votes in 2012 topped 3 million which 2016 did not. 3rd parties carried much more in the ’16 election; Gary Johnson received over 3% of the vote himself.

Wisconsin changed its voting laws (like many states, specifically swing states, hint hint) between the elections which could account for the lower turnout but it’s not hard to see the voter suppression efforts in effect here. The difference in Democrat votes was almost 250,000—the size of Madison. And the Gary Johnson effect doesn’t quite explain it, he was the Libertarian, theoretically taking votes from the extreme right (though I can imagine some Sanders votes going to him).

Going back to Cambridge, I included this here to show both the horizontal (total number of data points) and vertical penetration (specificity and ability to micro-target) of what a firm can do with data. Once they have that plan, it’s just a matter of finding the place to do it. And luckily, they didn’t have to look far. There was one platform, Facebook, that reached nearly everyone in America in 2016 and though it’s main platform has taken a bit of a reputation hit, still reaches just about everyone in 2020 with the additions of Instagram and Whatsapp. Moreover, with Twitter and others banning political ads, it just gives a campaign more budget to go all-in on Facebook.

The Role Of Facebook

I think more than ever that Facebook will have a soured legacy—something not far from the tobacco industry but not so directly misunderstood. Put simply, it’s a powerhouse that acts recklessly, apologies minimally, and has a huge stake in how its perceived. It’s also massively wealthy and tied to some very important people.

Here’s Coppins on Zuckerberg’s captain-ing of how to move Facebook on after being implicated in the Cambridge stuff from 2016. (Keep in mind here that Zuckerberg alleges no wrong doing in the massive trove of data and access Cambridge got in 2016).

“After the Cambridge Analytica scandal broke, Facebook was excoriated for its mishandling of user data and complicity in the viral spread of fake news. Mark Zuckerberg promised to do better, and rolled out a flurry of reforms. But then, last fall, he handed a major victory to lying politicians: Candidates, he said, would be allowed to continue running false ads on Facebook.

The bolding of the last line is mine but it needs bolding. Yes, Mark Zuckerberg did say that false ads could run. Not just political ads, ads that were paid for by now deep-pocketed political campaigns (POCs with unrevealed intentions even) and that those ads could be demonstrably false.

How could he allow this? Easy. The journalists will save us!

Coppins on Zuck again:

“In a speech at Georgetown University, the CEO argued that his company shouldn’t be responsible for arbitrating political speech, and that because political ads already receive so much scrutiny, candidates who choose to lie will be held accountable by journalists and watchdogs.”

Ahh, yes. Journalist and watchdogs! We love them. We love them to patrol the truth running around our company. And we trust them, with their small salaries to save the sanity, the trust, the very integrity of a platform run by a company with a market capitalization of $610 billion dollars ($100 billion more than the GDP of Argentina) and a  median employee salary of $240,000.

But why should they be responsibly for someone lying on their platform. The press can help! The press will show who is being false and who isn’t. Except that our press is also being bought by those with a stake in politics (see above) AND the very way people GET to journalism is through social networks like Facebook where the LINK that would get them to the article is being micro-targeted to them based on their already-existing conditions.

Moreover, the press is the very institution that Trump’s warred with the most, and with struggling revenue numbers and both the consolidation of local news AND new “publications” popping up to spread disinformation (see above) the American press may well be at its weakest point in centuries. As it tries to be this arbiter of truth that Zuckerberg says it can and should be, it’s under threat from other public institutions.

And then you remember what I said above that the very mechanisms that one could and would use to reach the masses (a social network for instance) are the very ones bombarded with alternate press and disinformation. And, oh yeah, they’re making an insane amount of money off of this because they advertise TO you instead of printing journalism for you.

The short answers is that Facebook does not want to admit that its advertising is compromised in any way at all. This is the bread & butter of Facebook—where advertising in just last quarter brought in $16.6 billion in revenue.

All of that money comes BECAUSE the platform is able to micro-target. This is the whole point. And just as Cambridge used this to persuade people to vote or not in 2016, Facebook uses this to help businesses sell their product. They need to toe a line where they cannot say that micro-targeting changes elections entirely because they risk exposing the power (and potentially evil-ness) of their platform, but they have to say advertising is effective because it’s how they make money.

So they just say they’re not responsible and move on. Yikes.

Meanwhile, there’s a billion dollars from Trump (and untold billions more thanks to Citizens United) that is ready to promote disinformation on the most powerful of platforms exactly as that platform says it doesn’t care.

Door open.

So Why Is The Election Over?

The question then is what this all means for November 2020. Because the Democrats can utilize these same tools, right? Absolutely, and they will. They already are in the primary—the cat is out of the bag and this the future of political campaigning.

But Trump will have the distinct opportunity of being the incumbent. That means a few things: (1) a headstart — so while the Democrats need to micro-target in primary states (and none have been remotely a swing state yet), Trump can focus on either flipping voters to his side in Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, or Florida or just simply suppressing those who may not be exciting about the battling field of Democrats. And then (2) the incumbent has an advantage in politics simply by being known and not a mystery. This is part of the incumbent advantage phenomenon and it’s likely why the last four of five Presidents have served two terms.

I find these arguments to be, well, less arguable than what others have pointed out (things like Trump’s propensity for stretching the truth or playing on the fear of voters rather than presenting his actual record on events). But I won’t go into that further. I think the points above, and the focus of the entire Coppins article on ‘disinformation’ combined with the two points above show why this election may be over before we really even get started (or a Democratic candidate does).

Of course, as I qualified, there’s months for disaster to happen for the Trump administration that changes, swiftly, the minds of millions. So we’ll see on that.

For now, we’re looking at an Electoral College that rests on the back of what is likely less than a third of a thousandth of our country’s population, so a “war” of the kind described here represents a complete and existential threat.