- Books read
- Movies and TV
- Daily routine
- Most petty personal vindication
- Blogging and other content
- Most popular tweet
- Best twitter reply
Thinking about the things I liked and some really fun career changes from the last 12 months.
Since moving to the USA in 2017, I've logged every book I read on my Goodreads.
- Foundation (Isaac Asimov)
- If This Book Exists, You're In The Wrong Universe (Jason Pargin)
- A Memory Called Empire and A Desolation Called Peace (Arkady Martine)
- Sabriel, Lirael and Abhorsen (Garth Nix)
- A Visit from the Goon Squad (Jennifer Egan)
- Fever Dream (Samantha Schweblin)
- Heir to the Empire and Dark Force Rising (Timothy Zahn)
- There Is No Antimemetics Division (qntm)
- Project Hail Mary (Andy Weir)
- Salem's Lot (Stephen King)
- Dark Mode (Ashley Kalagian-Blunt)
- The Marigold (Andrew F. Sullivan)
- Titanium Noir (Nick Harkaway)
- The Scourge Between Stars (Ness Brown)
- Interior Chinatown (Charles Yu)
- Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow (Gabrielle Zevin)
- Children of Time, Children of Ruin and Children of Memory (Adrian Tchaikovsky)
- Caeser's Women (Colleen McCullough)
- Across the Nightingale Floor, Grass For His Pillow, Brilliance of the Moon and The Harsh Cry of the Heron (Lian Hearn)
- Alien: Into Charybdis (Alex White)
- The Poisonwood Bible (Barbara Kingsolver)
- The Shortest History of China (Linda Jaivin)
- The Chinese Question: The Gold Rushes and Global Politics (Mae M. Ngai)
- No Rules Rules: Netflix and the Culture of Reinvention (Reed Hastings, Erin Meyer)
- Losing the Signal: The Untold Story Behind the Extraordinary Rise and Spectacular Fall of BlackBerry (Jacquie McNish, Sean Silcoff)
- Practical Vim (Drew Neil)
- Chip War (Chris Miller)
- Bringing Up Bebe (Pamela Druckerman)
- The Secret History of Star Wars (Michael Kaminski)
Favourite fiction: Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow. A great novel that really captures the joy of working on creative tech, but also the complex, ambivalent relationships and conflicts that we all have. Really incredible. I can't wait for her next novel. Runners up: Children of Time, Project Hail Mary. These were both great sci-fi that kept me turning pages all night long. Surprisingly good: Alien Into Charybdis. Licensed novels from 80s sci-fi shouldn't be this good. I read the author's previous Alien licensed novel and really disliked it, but while trying and failing to get to sleep last week I decided to open this one, which was on my Kindle. Surprisingly good characters, relationships, and Iranian/American inter-cultural negotiations. Non-genre: Because I mostly read sci-fi, historical or other "genre" literature, I have to highlight The Poisonwood Bible. We read it in highschool and I still love it. Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow also falls into this category. Also, A Visit From The Goon Squad, which is a loosely-related collection of vignettes from loosely-related people. Some chapters I loved, others left me bored. From my childhood: I read Lian Hearn's Tales of the Otori when I was a kid, and wow they definitely hold up. Epics set in feudal Japan, with brave warriors, women who defy their station, tricky assassins, holy monks -- really well written and very engaging books. Good for children and adults alike. Colleen: Every year I read another Colleen McCullough book -- her Masters of Rome is probably my favourite series of books of all time -- so I can't choose them as my favourite fiction each year. But they always come with my recommendation. Favourite non-fiction: Surprisingly, I loved The Secret History of Star Wars. It's the complete story of George Lucas, from childhood until he finished the prequel trilogy. It's completely unauthorized and points out all the times Lucas changed his story, or was contradicted by other people on set, or his ex-wife. The story behind Star Wars is honestly fascinating. It's probably the biggest, most popular, most profitable story of our time. Learning about all the little accidents and tiny decisions that caused huge consequences for its story was really enthralling. Strongly recommend for anyone interested in either Star Wars or in creative fiction, filmmaking or storytelling.
Movies and TV
I think Oppenheimer was my favourite thing I watched this year. It completely held my attention for all three hours. I know a lot of STEM people didn't like the last hour (Oppenheimer dealing with political skulduggery) but in my opinion, it tied the whole movie together, because it was really an investigation of Oppenheimer's hypocrisy: did he know full well how terrible the consequences of his program would be, and simply ignore it because it was inconvenient, waiting until the atom bomb was finished to paint himself as an opponent of nuclear war? Or did he genuinely believe his research would have an overall positive effect, and spend the rest of his career advocating for a careful prudent use of a necessary, but inherently dangerous technology?
Favourite TV of the year is tied between:
- "Beef": What an incredibly well-written show. It's so tense, the relationships and characters are all compelling and realistic. I think I'm going to watch it all again soon.
- "Deadloch": Two of the funniest people in Australia, Kate McCartney and Kate McLennan of The Katering Show, made an incredible comedy-drama. In a small town in rural Australia, a man washes up dead on the beach, there's two cops (and you guessed it, they have very different personalities) and a Dark Mofo-style arts festival. It's such a side-splittingly funny show. Funniest show I've watched since 30 Rock or Parks & Rec.
- "Blue Eyed Samurai": Animated drama set in feudal Japan about a half-white girl searching for her father to take revenge. Straightforward story with many tropes of the genre, but elevated by its really good characters and their complex relationships with each other. Better character and emotional work makes this show stand out among other stories in the same genre.
- "Veep": It's very good, I don't think it's as good as everyone hyped it up to be. But it's still worth watching.
- "For All Mankind": Excellent. Why does almost nobody I know watch it? It's amazing alt-history focused on the space race. Each season spans 5-10 years, so by its current 4th season there's a permanent Mars colony, but it's still firmly grounded in the 20th century.
I've been listening to fewer podcasts this year, but I still really enjoyed and listened to most episodes of The Ezra Klein Show, and Oxide and Friends.
This year I started drinking green tea every morning, because I switched from a hybrid office/remote job to fully remote, and I need to go to a coffee shop and see human beings every day. But I don't want to drink coffee every day. So, matcha it is. I walk Leo to a coffee shop every morning, and to the dog park every day after work.
I started putting DJ sets on YouTube on my second monitor, which makes work feel more fun. Basically every day I listen to one or more of these sets:
I've never listened to a live DJ set on YouTube before, so I'd say that's the main change to my music taste this year. Apart from that it's been pretty similar, a lot of bluegrass, synthy-droney-electropop and rock. I discovered Amyl and the Sniffers in October and I've been sort of obsessed with them ever since. Angry Australian rock with female vocals is a really niche subgenre but it describes a lot of my favourite music. I hope I get to see them live someday!
I really liked this interview with Ezra Klein about how he gets good work done. He advises us: stop trying to "optimize" your day and routine and habits. Just focus on the fundamentals. What lets you show up every day as a good partner, parent, and coworker. I've been trying to apply that.
Most petty personal vindication
I have no idea who Alex Guzey is, but I've twice seen articles from him shared around my Austin social group that pissed me off, one about how meditation is bad and another about claiming the book "Why We Sleep" is totally wrong. I argued against both those articles at some meetups in Austin. So, I was happy this year to see an article from him retracting both previous complaints. He now believes both sleep and meditation are now awesome. Chalmers 2. Guzey 0. Thank you for writing the retractions Mr. Guzey, I hope people read it, get more sleep, and consider meditation.
This year I cooked a lot of Szechuan-inspired food, which has generally been better than getting Szechuan food at general-purpose pan-China restaurants (but nowhere near as good as dedicated Szechuan restaurants). I think next year is the year I learn how to cook Thai food at home. As always, Yeung Man Cooking has been a huge inspiration. This year I found Made With Lau and have been really enjoying their vegetarian recipes.
I spent a week in Mexico at the start of this year, which was a great chance to practice Spanish. I felt totally comfortable speaking Spanish the entire trip! I even felt fine explaining to a pissed-off security guard at the airport that I'd left my luggage unattended somewhere half an hour ago, and had to describe its contents. Speaking Spanish fine in a stressful situation like that made me really feel like I've become conversational, which is a nice achievement considering I started learning Spanish 4 years ago and never took formal classes, only Duolingo and occasional 1:1 conversation lessons via Zoom.
Emboldened by my success with Spanish, I decided to try learning Mandarin, because it's the #2 most spoken language and I already know #1 and #3 (English and Spanish). Mandarin was really fun and captivating. The HelloChinese app is way better than Duolingo's Mandarin course, and it got me through some basics, but I found it really hard to actually memorize anything. So I took a summer semester of Mandarin 101 at the Austin Community College. That was a lot of fun, and made me WAY more comfortable talking in Mandarin than a little teaching app. But wow, it took so many hours of homework to get those results. I basically spent all weekend doing the homework (I found traditional Mandarin characters easier to learn, but they take way longer to write -- it's a tricky tradeoff). So I probably won't take Mandarin 102 in Spring semester because I'd like to have my weekends for relaxing. But maybe I'll find a 1:1 conversation tutor online. That really accelerated my Spanish, hopefully it could do the same for Mandarin.
I started Hollow Knight in 2017 but I found it a bit too hard. Especially on the Nintendo Switch, with no D-pad. This year I went back and replayed it on my Steam Deck -- wow, what an incredible game. One of the all-time greats.
Other notables were Satisfactory (which my wife Jordan and I played co-op and LOVED), Breath of the Wild (Jordan and I took turns playing -- she makes the vehicles, I kill the bosses), and Lords of the Fallen (a great Soulslike). I also got every achievement in Sekiro -- I won't be taking any questions about how many hours I spent playing that game. Jordan and I also played Chants of Sennaar, a great game about learning foreign languages in the Tower of Babel. STRONGLY recommend it.
Blogging and other content
This year I wrote 6 articles. Two of them did well on Hackers News: HTTP Multipart and Why Rust on the Backend. The latter got turned into a P99CONF talk, which was my first time presenting at a conference! As a big fan of tech conferences in general and P99CONF in particular, I was really thrilled to give my first talk there. I was really happy with my HTTP Multipart article, because it's a topic that comes up in my work maybe once or twice a year. That's an infuriating time interval because it's just rare enough for me to forget everything I learned about it the last time it came up. So, the first time it came up, I wrote down notes in private. The second time it came up, I shared those notes within my team. The third time it came up, I blogged about it. I think that's a good heuristic, I hope it'll produce more articles that can help other programmers.
My article recapping Rustconf 2023 got a surprising amount of attention! I probably should have anticipated that anything mentioning Rust drama would draw in a lot of readers, but, I didn't. I was very surprised to find Niko Matsakis and Armin Ronacher linking to that blog post in their reflections on EuroRust 2023. But then it made sense -- Florian Gilcher quoted my blog post in his EuroRust talk. I'm excited for Rustconf 2024 (apparently in Montreal) and I hope next year sees fewer controversial decisions from the Rust foundation/project which distract from how great Rust and its community are.
This year I also started making videos! Every week at Zoo (FKA KittyCAD) I run an hour called Rust Club where we walk through some Rust concept and learn it together. We started recording these for employees to watch later (we're a fully remote company with employees scattered across timezones). Then I realized other people might find it helpful, so we started putting them on YouTube. You can find all the episodes here.
I don't know if there's much of an audience for hour-long videos about programming, but hey, I'm already spending an hour each week teaching stuff to my coworkers, so we may as well put it on YouTube too. It doesn't take much extra effort from me, and hopefully people find them useful.
I loved my time at Cloudflare. I got to work with incredibly talented engineers who taught me a lot about software engineering -- actual engineering, yes, not just software development. I learned so much about how to be a professional, how to create and operate software at scale, how the internet and private networks function -- wow, what an experience. I strongly recommend Cloudflare as an employer, and I hope some day I get to work with Cloudflare again in some capacity.
So, why did I leave? Well in 2022 we started a new team at Cloudflare, the Data Loss Prevention product. It was me (first engineer), Andy Martin (manager) and Noelle Kagan (product manager). Over 15 months, we built a team and product from nothing into something. We got actual paying users, we slowly hired 4 more engineers, we ran most of Cloudflare's employee internal traffic through our service, and I'd say we were pretty successful. Starting a team on top of Cloudflare's already solid infrastructure is a dream come true. I wanted to take everything I'd learned at 5 years of Cloudflare and use it to help grow something new from the ground up. I kept seeing photos of the early years of Cloudflare, like Sri hauling servers into the company's first data center, and I wanted to try something like that.
I've always been interested in startups, but none that I'd come across seemed like the right fit. They were either working on a problem I didn't believe in (another unnecessary consumer app, or a way to increase return on financial investments by some marginal 0.1%) or didn't have leadership I could trust. But in January of this year, I came across a tweet from Jess Frazelle, saying she wanted to hire someone to build Rust HTTP services at KittyCAD. I'd been a fan of KittyCAD for several months, since I read Jess's blog post about the company's mission. And that job description sounded perfect for me! I wasn't sure if I wanted to join, but I figured I should at least investigate it.
Moving to KittyCAD (now Zoo) was a bit of a risk -- Cloudflare was a stable, great job that I'd built up a good reputation at, and Zoo was a tiny startup that hadn't even raised their seed round. We were also in the middle of the worst tech layoffs in decades. But I wanted to give it a try, and I'm glad I did, because it's been a blast! I've been doing things I've never done before, such as:
- Learning about computer graphics
- Installing and managing NVIDIA drivers
- Designing and implementing a programming language
- Thinking through its type system and syntax
- Building a lexer
- Building a parser
- Building an intermediate representation and execution model
- Writing its docs
- Parsing it at compile-time via proc macros
- Generating entire Rust crates via macros
- Writing my first proc-macro
- Going deep into WebSockets
- Using WebRTC
- Designing latency-sensitive systems with UDP
- GitHub actions
- Teaching Rust to coworkers
- Writing my first C++
- Rust/C++ interop
- Plenty more
I've learned a lot about computer graphics and manufacturing, I'm working with a really different set of people on a different set of problems. I'll always love working on networks and internet projects, but it's great to learn more about real-world manufacturing and hardware. Both Zoo and Cloudflare are companies I believe in, run by people I trust, and I think the work they're doing is good and necessary.
It's also been a blast to work with our CEO Jess -- she's a truly inspiring engineer and coworker. Whenever there's a problem that needs to be solved, Jess dives right in, regardless of whether she's worked in that language, or library, or framework, or technology ever before. I want to develop that sort of confidence and can-do attitude for myself! Pair programming with her on nasty bugs and crazy code-generation macros has been a real highlight of my year! I've learned a lot from everyone at Zoo so far, because everyone here is an expert at something I'm not -- machine learning, computer graphics, CAD and manufacturing, C++, rocket science. I'm glad that both Cloudflare and Zoo have coworkers who are so generous with their time, because I've got a lot to learn.
We're also hiring -- we only have a few roles open at any time, because we're still tiny and growing slowly. But as we open up more roles, I'll advertise them here on my blog and across social media.
Most popular tweet
I think this was tweeted during/after one of post-Elon twitter's big outages.
Best twitter reply
Folks, Jesse Li is a natural-born poster. Incredible talent in the field of Reply Guy.
Next year I might not have as much time to blog, because I have a daughter on the way! Jordan and I are expecting her in April. I'm so excited to meet her and start teaching her about the world.
Jordan finished her dissertation, so she's one step closer to finishing her PhD. Next year she'll be matched to an internship location, so it's possible we'll move away from Austin for a year (to Houston, New York or New Orleans). We'll see -- I hope we can stay in Austin because moving with a 2-month-old will be tough. But either way it'll be fine, and if we move, we'll be back in Austin within 12 months.