2013 in Review

Last year, inspired by Joe Kissell, I wrote a summary of the enormity of what 2012 had encompassed. It was freaking huge. Joe enumerated for years all the words, books, articles, and such like he worked on. This year, I'm inspired again by Joe: he decided to stop the extensive documentation of his year, having felt he'd proven his productivity. I'm somewhere in between: less documentation than last year, but still quite a bit to share.

In June, I bought The Magazine from Marco Arment. It's been one of the greatest things I've worked on in my life, and it's a constant joy of collaboration with contributors both before and after the purchase. We just put out Issue #33 — we produced 26 issues during 2013, and now have some subscribers who are paid up though the end of 2015. We'd better deliver.

I launched the weekly podcast The New Disruptors in December 2012. With the help first of Mule Radio, and then my brother in law, Michael, we put out 51 episodes in 2013. (We skipped a New Year's episode last year, but had one for 2014, so we'll probably hit 52.)

I've been writing for the Economist since 2005, but 2013 was probably one of my biggest years as a contributor:

  • I crossed 300 blog posts for Economist.com, most of them, but not all, for the Babbage blog.
  • I had my first cover story (cover of the American edition, and the inside Technology Quarterly section) about the sharing economy.
  • While I often have one or two TQ articles a year in the print edition, this year I not only had the three-page sharing economy article in first quarter, but a long piece on keeping probes and landers working throughout the solar system and beyond (co-written with my long-time editor and friend Tom Standage), and then a two-page look at Bitcoin's technological pressures in the fourth quarter.

I wrote fewer articles in 2013 for other publications between my devotion to The Magazine and my gig at the Economist's blogs, but I did write a few long items for Boing Boing, my home away from home:

As has been true for a few years, one of the most fun things I do during the year is be a panelist on The Incomparable, a geeky radio show developed by friend Jason Snell. This year, I wasn't able to be on as many episodes, but I did make sure to be part of two very special ones. Friend of the podcast (and now regular panelist) and playwright David Loehr wrote radio plays we performed—two of them—as The Incomparable Radio Theater of the Air! The first aired April 1 and the second over the December holidays. (Then we spent almost two hours talking about how we made the Christmas spectacular!)

David combined a true love and deep knowledge of old-timey radio theater and serials (shared by many of us in our 20s, 30s, and 40s, surprisingly, on the podcast!) with mild parody and great writing. Jason did most of the editing, with an assist from David in the latest production. Serenity Caldwell, who studied radio-play directing in college (!!), did a fabulous job directing us mostly amateur actors. I played Tesla in a sort of Doctor Who tribute/parody in both shows, and did a plummy New England stuffed shirt as a minor character in the first one. (What's that?)

After years of not traveling much, I was on the road quite a bit for both personal and professional reasons in 2013. I went to Los Angeles in January to visit Jet Propulsion Lab for the Economist story and several Babbage posts, and dropped in to watch a taping of Jeopardy's Tournament of Champions in which two contestants were people I had met during my stint on the show in 2012.

In February, I flew to D.C. to help a friend move to New York, and we wound up driving a moving truck into the biggest blizzard of the year. It was very entertaining, the roads were fine, and we had quite a story to tell. I met up with three of my oldest friends there, too, for a mini-reunion, our second. In March, I was back in New York for a quick visit with a dear friend and some meetings.

I stayed home a bit, then our family, my brother-in-law's family, and my father- and mother-in-law all went to Kauai for nearly a week! Which was great, except I was feeling a bit crummy during the trip. We came back, I saw my doctor, he ordered some tests, and I wound up getting a stent put into one of my main arteries. Turns out the radiation therapy I had had in 1998 to help cure me of Hodgkin's Disease caused some early onset of cloggage. The stent took, I feel terrific, and my heart is in great shape.

I went to the XOXO festival in September, which was another wonderful meeting of so many creative people: finding old friends and online acquaintances, and making piles of new friends. November, I flew back to New York again to record a podcast live at a conference, and then to San Francisco and Los Angeles in December for meetings, meetups, and renewals of friendship.

The year ended with a bang. I had long planned to stage a Kickstarter campaign to underwrite production of a book drawn from The Magazine's first full year in publication (October 2012 to October 2013), and we raised over $56,000 in 29 days, with over 1,000 hardcover books and even more electronic versions that we'll be shipping off in the next two months.

I finally got a Fitbit in 2013, and have been quantifying myself. I started using a treadmill that fits under my standing desk in earnest, and spend about 3 hours a day walking and the rest standing. Fitbit's stats tell me that from May to December 2013, I walked 1,025 miles (2.4 million steps), and climbed the equivalent of 2,424 stairs. I lost about 25 pounds after my heart stent was put in place, and while I've gained a few back over the holidays, I'll be pushing for 50 more off  in 2014 and into 2015 to reach a goal weight my doctors are happy with.

I made a lot of new friends in 2013. Because of the travel many "Twitter buddies" became real buddies. (I may have tweeted 50,000 times in 2013. Sorry.) I turned some people from acquaintances into some of my closest friends, and encountered and gave a lot of love, which is what it's all about. I'm hoping for a little bit less of a hectic pace in 2014, but more fulfilling work, collaboration, love, and happiness, which I wish for you all as well.

Incomparable Hugo Book Club Podcast

On the latest episode of The Incomparable podcast, we talk about the five Hugo Award nominated novels from 2012. It's a mixed bag, and nothing that stands out as a novel that we'll be reading 5, 20, or 50 years from now. You can't have a Dune or a 2001 or American Gods every year. But there are great books being written, and these five don't seem like the best five of 2012.

Every contest is based on popularity, but I fear the Hugo process is way too biased towards the partisans of given authors, especially the most popular ones. You have to pay to get a ballot (which also includes free electronic copies of all the stories and novels and other material). Some people read broadly and vote on personal preferences. Others pony up $65 in order to vote for their favorites without having formed opinions of the others.

We had an enjoyable hour, however, talking about the five that were nominated, one nominated for the Nebula Awards, and several other novels. You can also listen to our off-topic and slightly insane mutterings in the After Dark segment.

What where the books, you ask?  In the order of how I liked them:

Captain Vorpatril's Alliance by Lois McMaster Bujold: I had never read any Bujold before — she has a crazy number of Vorkosigan saga books — and I quite liked this as a breezy read.

Redshirts by John Scalzi: It's a good read, but it has a central conceit and then three codas after the main plot. Scattered, enjoyable, but not the heft of a novel.

Throne of the Crescent Moon by Saladin Ahmed: I like the universe this guy has created, and it's an interesting story with some well-delineated characters. But it lacks the sweep of a novel. It's a short story told at length. It also has some terrible red herrings and loose ends.

2312 by Kim Stanley Robinson: I am a huge "KSR" fan. I've read most of what he's written and loved it. This is so bad, I thought I had a stroke. (I wrote about my reaction to about the first half of the book and worrying something was wrong with me for The Economist .) I was bitterly disappointed by the lack of rigor in science, the terrible characters, the stupidity of the plot's resolution. This was a book of KSR's many ideas stuck together with nothing compelling. I read the second half for the podcast, and found it less awful because I had already gotten over my disappointment.

Blackout by Mira Grant: Please don't read this book.

One Million Dollars!

My friend/colleague/employer/foil Marco Arment was employee #1 at Tumblr, and it thus is no surprise that people have been curious as to the number and total value of the bags of cash that will thrown out of helicopters onto his palatial Hastings-on-Hudson estate soon. His boss, David Karp, reportedly received from Yahoo's $1.1 billion offer about $220 million or $250 million, depending on the source.

Marco wrote a blog post about his time working for David from 2006 to 2010, which began as a collaborator on consulting work and morphed into Tumblr. It's a lovely bit of writing about how two people (even in an unequal power relationship) can produce sums greater than their parts through productive agreement and disagreement.

But on the Accidental Tech Podcast ATP, Marco and his two co-hosts, John Siracusa and Casey Liss, go into the issue of money much further and in a rather interesting way.

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