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That Was 2018

The highlights of what I took in and put out

A lot happened in 2018. The ruinous Trump administration continued doing its ruinous thing. I finally deleted my Facebook account. I had a stressful couple of months caused by something that rhymes with “head hugs,” which I would gladly trade the life of any loved one to avoid going through again. I visited the UK for the first time. I published 33 blog posts, including several well-received posts on design and development.

Projects

Let’s check in on my Ambitions for 2018 list from the beginning of the year to see how I did:

  • A personal concert diary website: Now known as Tinnitus Tracker. I put a ton of time and energy into this project in 2018, but I couldn’t quite get it done before the end of the year. It is so close, though; I’m expecting to launch sometime in the next two weeks or so. I’ve learned a lot of cool stuff along the way, and at this point I’m almost more excited about writing blog posts about the process than I am about actually launching the site itself.
  • Geometric animations and prints: This morphed into Incomplete Open Cubes Revisited, which expands on a Sol LeWitt work. See below.
  • A simple bar chart generator: I came back to this towards the end of the year. It’s turning out to be a perfect project to work on when I need to take a break from other things, and a great way to get better at JavaScript and to learn more about best practices in chart design. No goals or deadlines for this going forward, but I’m optimistic that it will get wherever it needs to be soon enough.
  • Windhammer: Windhammer had a good year. See below.

“We will keep on fighting for him.”

For my most interesting and substantial ProPublica project this year, reporters Jodi Cohen, Logan Jaffe, and I used annotated journal entries and family photos to tell the story of a boy with bipolar disorder and his family’s heartbreaking experience with an ill-conceived psychiatric study at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

Incomplete Open Cubes Revisited

I began the year with a somewhat vague idea of making prints and animations that experimented with isometric geometric forms. Sol LeWitt’s Incomplete Open Cubes was one of the inspirations for the idea, and as I dug deeper into that work, I became obsessed with the possibilities inherent in a broader interpretation of the concept. Though neither a print nor an animation, the result was Incomplete Open Cubes Revisited, a web-based exploration of the 4,094 possible variations of an incomplete open cube. For like-minded obsessives, I also wrote about the why and how of the project.

Windhammer

2018 was the 10th anniversary of the creation of my competitive air guitar alter-ego, and I wanted to mark the occasion by returning to competition after two years away. For awhile, it didn’t look like it was going to happen, even though the National Finals were to be held in Brooklyn, because I wasn’t able to make it to any regional competitions during the regular season. Luckily, a last-minute Brooklyn regional was announced, and I qualified for the National Finals and finished in second place overall, my best national showing ever. A few weeks before this all went down, I finally got around to spending a weekend putting together a simple one-page Windhammer website, which includes information about all (and videos of some) of my competition performances. On the design side of things, the site was a good playground for tinkering with CSS Grid, CSS custom properties, and a novel combination of monospace fonts, pseudo-elements, and ch units.

Photo by Steve Long for Sports Illustrated

Events

I attended five conferences and a film festival, publishing fairly robust notes from the first three: SND NYC, Generate New York, and Ampersand (my favorite of this year’s events, and the only one I hadn’t attended before). I wish I had done a better job of documenting the other three, but they all piled up in late August and September, and I failed to make the time. An Event Apart Chicago was characteristically rigorous, XOXO aimed for vulnerable and landed on fragile, and the Ottawa International Animation Festival contained enough gems to make the trip worth it.

I didn’t share quite as many links in 2018 as I did the year before (243 versus 299), but the hierarchy of the top 10 topics is nearly identical, showing a continued preoccupation with political and social issues in a time of political and social instability. It’s perhaps worth noting that while most topics’ numbers fell proportionally with the number of overall links, Art/Design’s and Science/Tech’s numbers were consistent with 2017, and therefore proportionally higher. Social media’s contributions to that aforementioned political and social instability, among other unpleasant things, may have played a role.

I linked to 86 distinct sites in 2018, down from 117 in 2017. As predicted, subscribing to the New Yorker gave its numbers a considerable bump. YouTube rose and the Washington Post fell. I’m ashamed there weren’t more ProPublica links; my colleagues published a ton of great stuff this year, but I had a hard time keeping up with the increased volume. Gotta work on that in 2019.

I’d love to see more small and independent sites in the top 10 next year, but their lower volume will inevitably keep them below the fold. So for next year’s review, I’m going to try keeping a more comprehensive account of everything I take in online, find a way to illuminate some of the smaller and quieter stuff, and measure the aggregate against the stuff I found noteworthy enough to link to. We’ll see how it goes.

Art

I’m ashamed to report I spent very little time engaging with art in museums or other places in 2018, with one notable exception: we celebrated Leah’s birthday with a visit to James Turrell’s Skyspace in Chestnut Hill. Staring at it (or one of the others like it around the world) for an hour as the sun comes up is a highly recommended experience.

Music

By a substantial margin, 2018 was my biggest live music year ever: 40 shows! (My forthcoming Tinnitus Tracker site will make the details of those shows browsable soon.) My intake of recorded music was less noteworthy, and the new records I spent the most time with—though very good—didn’t spark quite as much enthusiasm as last year’s crop. They were also mostly artists I’m already very familiar with.

Andrew W.K.: You’re Not Alone

As someone who came of age in an era of cynical irony, I have little patience for the sort of earnest sentimentalism that permeates pop culture, even if I’m far less cynical than I used to be. For whatever reason, Andrew W.K.’s high-octane motivational speeches—which are as corny as can be—not only get a pass, but have long been my most favored spiritual salves. He has yet to surpass 2001’s seminal I Get Wet, but You’re Not Alone is the closest he’s come, and the first proper rock record he’s made in more than a decade.

Dawn of Midi: Dysnomia

Minimalist, polyrhythmic brain food of the highest order, Dawn of Midi turns a trio of acoustic instruments (piano, bass, drums) into something resembling ambient electronic music. Dysnomia was released in 2015, but it’s new to me, and it was my most played record and favorite discovery of the year. It sounds great in the background or in the foreground. I desperately want to see this band live.

Ghost: Prequelle

Once upon a time, “pop/rock” was the dominant category among record store bins. Record stores are mostly gone now, and pop and rock don’t have much to do with each other anymore, but nobody told Ghost, who is crafting some of the finest pop/rock music of this decade. Prequelle, Ghost’s fourth LP, continues the secretive Swedish band’s travels in reliably tuneful Satanism.

Low: Double Negative

Low is one of my all-time favorite bands. Everything they make is worth listening to, though I’ll concede that their output over the last dozen years or so hasn’t had quite the replay value of their earlier work. So it remains to be seen how much time I’ll spend with Double Negative down the road, but I sure did listen to it a lot in 2018, and its willingness to sacrifice melodic legibility for the sake of all-consuming texture makes it one of the band’s more compelling outings in recent memory.

Film

I took in 167 films in 2018, one more than the year before. As usual, I spent a lot of time in theaters and on FilmStruck (before it was sadly shuttered at the end of November).

Source Film Count
Theatrical screenings 50
FilmStruck 35
Amazon 25
Netflix 25
iTunes 11
Shudder 9
Kanopy 4
Other 7

Alamo and Nitehawk continue to loom large in my NYC film life, though I may be spending less time at Nitehawk since its $5 Film Club (in which I participated monthly for about three years) had its final meeting in June.

Theater Film Count
Alamo Drafthouse 13
Nitehawk Williamsburg 9
BAM Rose Cinemas 4
Angelika Film Center 2
IFC Center 2
Metrograph 2
Quad Cinema 2
Film Forum 1
Nitehawk Prospect Park 1
Regal Battery Park 1
The Bell House 1
UA Court Street 1

I saw 44 new films, but I didn’t do much writing about film in 2018. Like in 2017, noticeable among my favorites were coming-of-age stories about young women.

Eighth Grade

A funny and compassionate movie about a painfully awkward time. Anyone who isn’t moved by Elsie Fisher’s performance must have somehow skipped over adolescence. See my original review.

First Reformed

My only other frame of reference for writer/director Paul Schrader is Taxi Driver, and First Reformed is certainly cut from the same cloth, though the latter’s austere aesthetics and forceful environmental message make its brand of intensity a better fit for me. Most people probably don’t want to see a movie like this on their birthday, but I did, and I was not disappointed.

Leave No Trace

This is at least the second time writer/director Debra Granik has invited us to spend some time with mountainfolk, and the second time I’ve really enjoyed it. Despite its ostensible thriller premise, and an underlying preoccupation with the familial effects of PTSD and social services, Leave No Trace approaches its father/daughter bond in extraordinary circumstances with gentle empathy.

This Magnificent Cake!

I don’t really know how to describe this Belgian stop-motion animated film with felted puppets except to say that its vignettes’ surreal take on French colonialism is brutal, funny, and entirely unique. It was easily my favorite thing I saw at the 2018 Ottawa International Animation Festival, even though my screening’s sound sync was off by a solid three seconds.

Ambitions for 2019: Music

I want to get serious about making music this year. I’ll go into more detail in an upcoming post, but for now, suffice it to say I’m already laying the groundwork for a somewhat academic pursuit of music theory, getting my guitar skills back on track, and making a habit of creating song sketches. This territory is too unfamiliar for me to make specific goals at the outset, but I hope to have something to show at the end of the year that I’m proud of and that feels commensurate with a sustained and committed effort. I don’t tend to share works in progress, but this seems like a good opportunity to break from that. So if it doesn’t prove too painful to do so, I’ll post semi-regular updates here. Stay tuned!