I wanted to write something about 2022, to get it out of my head before 2023 rolls over it. An odd year - disjointed, mostly by choice, and feels better in retrospect than it did at the time. I remember having a strong sensation throughout it that it never hit a consistent rhythm.
- I’m still working in Google Research - it’ll be 5 years in my current role in May. My manager is about to become my All Time Longest Ever Boss - ssh don’t tell him, it’s going to be a surprise. We published a white paper and blog post about Private Compute Core, which might be the most important thing I’ve done? It certainly gave me a strong sense of mission; I spent 3 years setting up this and Android System Intelligence, before moving on to other things: audio and ambient sensing. I am grateful to be working in AI right now.
- I took a 3 month break from work. It was great. I wrote all about it here.
- I spent a few months volunteering for Rewiring America, helping with their Mayors for Electrification program. They’re an excellent organization and I love their work, their ethos and their people; but I didn’t feel I was actually getting much of any use done, or that I had a surfeit of time to throw into it.
- I’m still doing advisory work for Small Robot Company. They’re doing technically difficult work to solve real problems in the real world, and hit some great milestones this year.
- Overall good - I exercised on 282 days, and my resting heart rate, VO2, etc are all good (but I’d like my VO2 to be excellent).
- Highlight: thanks to the purchase of a Yuba Boda Boda e-bike last year, I beat the cycling goal I’d set myself (~3200km vs 3000km goal for the year I think - grrr Strava for not allowing a historical view of goals). E-bikes are enormously fun, mine has quickly become my main mode of transport. When they break they’re less fun. One lesson from this year: buy a proper e-bike chain!
- Midlight: I didn’t quite manage to hit my running goal of 750km (I think I made it to 620km), but I was plagued by a hip injury that I’ve had for a couple of years and only ended up fixing this year thanks to physical therapy, so don’t feel too bad about that. I’ve started doing longer runs (a 5.5km loop up and down Twin Peaks and a longer downhill 8.5km to work), and my times got better towards the end of the year, approaching what they were in my 30s.
- Lowlight: I only did 75 hours of karate (vs a goal of 150). Partly because I was away, partly a series of injuries (toe, wrist, hip, chest…). I do feel like my sparring has become much more controlled this year. I’m planning to focus more on this in 2023, it could be an exciting year.
- Notable mentions: I’ve started to spend more time walking in the countryside. I did a lot of this in Italy and back in the UK, but I’ve also gotten into the habit of taking the odd day off work, driving up to Marin or Point Reyes, and just having a wander.
- Being Near That Age, I had my first routine colonoscopy - an introduction to the indignities of your twilight years, I guess. The prep was less pleasant than the actual event, which was under a general anaesthesia. I hadn’t had that since I was 17 maybe? I started counting backwards from 10, the crew laughed and said “we don’t do that any more but you can if you like”, then a vaguely metallic taste in my mouth and I was gone.
Books; I read 37 books in total this year, thanks in part due to time off, in part due to deliberate effort. I probably won’t read as much this year. Some of the best ones, a sentence of pith for each:
- Being A Human by Charles Foster (sequel to Being a Beast, which I loved): tl;dr understand the human condition by pretending to be Neolithic
- The Mortdecai Trilogy by Kyril Bonfiglioli: a friend recommended this to me 10 years ago and I kick myself for not having listened to them. Laugh-out-loud upper-middle class English shenanigans.
- How to Take Smart Notes by Sönke Ahrens, after which I am Zettlekastening
- Hand, Head, Heart by David Goodhart : tl;dr we overprivilege cognitive ability and jobs arising from it, relative to those in the manufacturing or caring professions. Goodhart also wrote The Road To Somewhere, which really helped explain the new cross-society divisions behind Brexit.
- Lanny, by Max Porter, author of the incredible Grief Is The Thing With Feathers. Terrifying medieval England-spirit does terrifying things in English village, terrifyingly.
- Metazoa, by Peter Godfrey-Smith; tl;dr how far down the tree of life does consciousness emerge? Seems like the closer we look, the further back it goes.
- Scientific Freedom: The Elixir of Civilisation, by Donald Braben; tl;dr what’s the best way to fund foundational research? Cast the net wide, fund exceptional people without conditions, don’t have outcome-related goals. I read this, and others, to think a bit more carefully about my working life.
- Slaughterhouse 5, Kurt Vonnegut. Just sad I hadn’t read it already. So it goes.
- The Diamond Age by Neal Stephenson. Read on a whim after a tweet from Emad Mostaque saying “who wants to help build the book from this?”. Beautiful novel - nanotechnology, future Victorian nostalgia, centered around a magic book designed to teach a young girl how to be subversive.
- The Prince of the Marshes and The Marches, by Rory Stewart. I became a big fan of his in the last few years after reading The Places In Between, about his walk across Afghanistan post-9/11. The first of these concerns his time as a regional governor in post-war Iraq, the second his relationship with his father.
- The Self-Assembling Brain, by Peter Robin Hiesinger; AKA So You Thought Understanding The Brain Was Hard, Let Me Make It A Thousand Times Harder For You. Basically: brains are grown not laid out, and the process of growth - unfolding sequences, Komolgorov-style - is an efficient, wickedly hard to understand primitive for brain understanding.
- What is Life, by Addy Pross; tl;dr where does life come from? Self-replication in an environment finite enough that you’re competing for resources, leading to specialization, competition, and (once life starts harvesting energy) take-off. Really wonderful book.
- I went back to the UK for my cousin’s 50th birthday in November. It had been a decade since I was in a pub with 30+ good friends, and it left me feeling nostalgic for those days: we’ve made some good friends in the US, but there’s something about a social circle which mostly predates adulthood… having one such friend visit for 10 days was also really quite wonderful, I may never get that length of contiguous time with them again.
- I saw a lot of my dad this year - that November trip, a month working from the UK early in the year, a week in Italy, a trip for him to SF, and some sundry days passing through on work trips.
- We tried to start some construction work (a basement remodel with a side order of structural, plus some solar panels), and I have now been initiated into the ways of local government. Obscure, opaque, slow moving. I haven’t gone libertarian, but am definitely mentally looking over my spectacles when someone suggests more services be government-run.
- I’ve joined the School Site Council for my daughter’s elementary school, to start getting a feel for that side of local politics.
- I started enjoying a couple of new podcasts: The Rest is Politics (Alastair Campbell and Rory Stewart giving insider views on UK and world politics) and Brain Inspired (excellent interviews with neuroscientists and AI types, with a good Discord for supporters).
- Courtesy of James, I found Buck 65’s substack and bounced from there to a load of his music, which I’ve been loving - in particular Laundromat Boogie (a concept album about doing laundry), and two collaborations: The Last Dig and Bike for Three