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2017 (and 2018) revisited

Published: January 22, 2019

Hey. It’s been a while. I’m not even gonna try to explain myself. Writing is hard. Blogging is intimidating. I get scared and take breaks. Sometimes those breaks drag on way longer than intended. But I’m back now.

When I left, the post I had queued up was a recap of 2017. Some cool things happened in my life that year, and I wanted to remember them by writing them down. It was also the end of one year and the start of another, so it felt like the “right” thing to do. Wrap up, put a bow on everything, maybe talk about resolutions or something. It’s what everyone else was doing.

I really don’t want this website to become a diary though. Maybe a developer diary of some kind, but not a life diary. Oversharing mundane details is one of my least favorite parts of social media, so I don’t want to fall into that trap here. If I can derive something deep and universal from events in my life, then maybe I’ll feel like sharing, but otherwise I want to err on the side of keeping my mouth shut.

But this 2017 recap post has been hanging over my head for the last year, and I think the best way for me to get out from underneath it is to just post it, so that’s what I’m doing today. Pure self-indulgence. Life diary kinda stuff. Barring another unscheduled and lengthy break, more interesting posts should follow soon.

. . .

My favorite films of 2017

Two years ago I wrote a big long thing about my favorite 2016 films. It was painful. I love movies. I love talking about movies and dissecting my likes and dislikes with friends, but turning those thoughts into written words was like pulling teeth. I’m kind of insecure about my critical voice, so packaging up that voice for public consumption wasn’t particularly fun for me.

As soon as I hit publish on that post I immediately started dreading its inevitable followup: My favorite films of 2017. I had set a precedent. I work in the film industry, so of course I should blog about my movie thoughts, right?

I do want to get better at analyzing and critiquing the media I consume, but not today. Instead, here are my top picks from 2017 with zero commentary.

Honorable mentions: Coco, Detroit, Hasan Minhaj: Homecoming King, I Don’t Feel at Home in This World Anymore, Raw, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri, Thor: Ragnarok

Notable have-not-seens (still): A Ghost Story, Brigsby Bear, Call Me by Your Name, Columbus, Good Time, Loving Vincent, mother!, Personal Shopper, Phantom Thread, Professor Marston and the Wonder Women, The Big Bad Fox and Other Tales, The Killing of a Sacred Deer

My top 10:

1

2

3

4

5

6

7

8

9

10

. . .

The books I read in 2017

I set a reading a goal for myself every year and track my progress using Goodreads. I rarely actually complete these reading challenges, but somehow I managed to in 2017. I wanted to read 20 books, and I actually read 20 books! I had to squeeze a few light ones in at the end to get across the finish line, but a win’s a win.

Read these

Red Rising series (books 1-3): This is a really cool sci-fi series. It’s got some Hunger Games vibes to it, but it definitely feels more grown-up and weighty than other YA fare. I re-read this entire trilogy again in 2018, so I definitely enjoyed it.

Station Eleven: This is a novel about a nomadic group of actors that travel the post-apocalyptic countryside and perform Shakespeare for any captive audiences they can find. You know, that familiar story. Modern civilization has been destroyed by disease, but live theater endures! This is a really unique and special book.

Between the World and Me: I like to think that I’m aware of the privileged life I’ve been born into. I won the lottery. There’s no denying it. Born in the United States, white, straight, male. I check all the “right” boxes that ensure there are fewer challenges I have to contend with on a day-to-day basis. It’s an unfair advantage that’s easy to lose sight of.

I like to imagine that I’m aware of all this, but reading Between the World and Me was like a bucket of ice water on my inflated sense of “woke-ness.” Beautifully written and truly eye-opening. We still have so, so far to go.

Harry Potter series (books 4-7): Yeah, it’s good. Harry Potter deserves the hype. It took me a long time to get around to this series, but I’m a genuine fan now. These are books that I’m sure I’ll revisit on rainy days when I need a reminder that magic does exist. It’s strange and it’s all around us.

Lean In: Another eye-opening book that made me feel like a better person just for reading it. Women experience countless obstacles in life and in work that I’ll never have to think twice about. I’ll never truly understand the struggle, but awareness is a necessary step on the path to improvement. Let’s not perpetuate the policies and biases that got us into this mess.

Sheryl Sandberg is an incredible women. The Facebook controversy she’s currently wrapped up in is certainly disappointing though.

The Simple Path to Wealth: If you’re intimidated by money or investing, and if you want to learn how to be less intimidated, then I recommend this book. Let JL Collins take your hand and guide you through a world of seemingly-complex-but-actually-pretty-simple financial topics. It’s empowering to know how to make your money work for you.

Bonus points because this book slants FIRE (financial independence, retire early). Get you some of that F-You money!

Life’s Greatest Lessons: Earnest, simple, and timeless advice written by a high school teacher to his three sons. In Hal’s own words, he wrote this book “because most of us need help in discovering how good we can be.” If the lessons in this book were a Medium article, it would get so many claps.

Bird By Bird: A book about writing that spoke to me as someone who aspires to write more and write better. I’m putting this one on the shelf next to On Writing to revisit when I eventually decide to get serious about honing this hobby of mine.

Nimona: A story about an anarchic shapeshifter who insists on being the sidekick for a misunderstood super villain in a futuristic medieval world that’s hostile to things that don’t fit the established order. It’s a unique graphic novel that stars a badass and confident female protagonist, and it’s a really impressive first effort from artist and author Noelle Stevenson. The source material makes me excited about the movie we’re making. Blue Sky 2020!

Skip these

The 5th Wave: The story is better than the writing here. It’s an interesting take on an alien invasion, but this feels like the author’s first book. The prose is awkward, and there’s a romance between two characters that was hard for me to read because I was rolling my eyes so hard.

Essentialism: The ideas in this book would have made for an excellent blog post, or even an excellent series of blog posts, but there isn’t enough substance here to sustain an entire book. I recommend reading the first two or three chapters and then putting this one down. You’ll get the point pretty quickly.

Choose Yourself: I read this book for the first time back in college, and parts of it have definitely stuck with me. I credit this book for my deliberate practice of idea generation for instance. Re-reading it recently though, I wasn’t really a fan. Ideas that felt fresh in 2013 feel like common refrains now. That’s not really the book’s fault, but James Altucher’s quirky writing style doesn’t do it for me like it used to.

These were okay

Level Up Your Life: I’m a big fan of the Nerd Fitness blog. I’ve been a reader for years. If you’re brand new to Steve’s brand of fitness advice, then this book is a great place to start. If you’ve read through the blog though, then this book is more of the same.

The Life-Changing Magic of Not Giving a F*ck: This is a fun, cheeky parody of Marie Kondo’s Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up. It made me laugh. It’s kind of one-note, but it’s short, so I think it works.

The Walking Dead, Compendium 3: I don’t read a lot of comics or graphic novels, but The Walking Dead is one I try to keep up with whenever they release another one of these giant compendiums. At this point the story is a ridiculous series of increasingly unfortunate events, but it’s mostly unpredictable and still a lot of fun to consume (haha, zombies), so I’ll keep reading whenever the next compendium hits bookstores.

. . .

Memorable moments in 2017

Some cool stuff happened to me in 2017. Or, to be less passive about it, I made some cool stuff happen in 2017. This is the section where I brag about that stuff to make my life seem jam-packed with exciting moments and like I’m doing cool guy things 100% of the time. There are some pictures too. I don’t usually put pictures in my blog posts.

Travel

Backpacking on the AT: A very small section of the AT. The Appalachian Trail is probably one of the most famous hiking trails in all of the US. It runs 2200 miles from Maine to Georgia, and it basically cuts through our backyard in New York. The sections near us are incredibly well maintained, so they’re perfect spots for weekend backpacking trips.

2017 was notable because I saw my first black bear in the wild. The experience probably would have been terrifying if the bear hadn’t run away the second it saw us. We were a few miles into our second day of hiking at the time, so we probably looked pretty haggard. I don’t blame the little guy for running. It was kinda cute actually.

Backpacking Maine’s Cutler Coast: Holy shit this hike was beautiful! It’s a bit of a drive, but the drive is totally worth it. This baby has ocean views for days. We could literally see the ocean from our tent. And Nova Scotia. We could see Nova Scotia too. Start early if you want to stay overnight though because campsites are super limited. And bring bug spray! The mosquitoes in July are vicious.

Niagara Falls: It’s huge. A big wall of water. Pretty much exactly what you would expect. But it’s still totally awe-inspiring. Makes you question what we did to deserve such a pretty planet. And it’s pretty from both sides of the border in totally different ways, so don’t forget your passport.

Glacier National Park: The Going-to-the-Sun road is a manmade marvel and probably the most fun I’ve ever had riding in a car. Every bend brings something new to “ooh” and “aah” at.

There are actual glaciers in Glacier too. Not many, and they’re melting fast unfortunately, but they do still exist. We did an out-and-back hike that ended with a glacial lake, and I don’t think I’ve ever felt more rewarded for reaching the top of something.

The drive across Idaho wasn’t too shabby either.

Iceland: Visiting Iceland was actually my first time leaving the United States. It was a bit more touristy than I was expecting, but I probably should have expected it since every third person I’ve met since moving to New York has talked about the amazing time they had in Iceland. It’s touristy, but it’s worth it, and the tourists thin out the further you get from Reykjavik.

The terrain is incredibly varied and even alien in parts. People call it the land of ice and fire for a reason. My favorite hiking was in Thorsmork (or Þórsmörk), and my favorite driving was in the Westfjords. The Blue Lagoon was neat but also kind of overrated.

Bring waterproof shoes, and don’t skip the small, natural hot springs that dot the country! Jump in even if it’s cold and wet outside.

Florida: I think I’m more of a mountain guy than an ocean guy, but a sandy beach at sunset is hard to beat. Hammocks. Hot tubs. Chasing waves and then running away from them to keep your feet dry. Not a bad way to bring in the New Year.

Northern Lights

I’m just gonna quote my 30 before 30 post:

My girlfriend and I visited Iceland [in September 2017], and while most days were cloudy and overcast, a few weren’t, and one night it happened. There were lights dancing in the sky.

It was beautiful. No words will do the experience justice.

All of Iceland was amazing, but this one experience made the entire trip worth it. It was an incredible spectacle shared with my favorite person.

10/10 would be swept up by the beauty of life and the unknowable universe around me again.

We were driving around and a bit lost when it happened, but as soon as we saw some color in the sky we pulled over and turned off the headlights. We were pretty far from civilization, so we didn’t even bother turning on the car’s emergency lights. It was totally dark.

I don’t have any pictures, but I think I prefer it that way. I never even thought to grab a camera honestly. We weren’t sure how long the lights would last, so we just stood outside our rental car far from home on the side of a random road in Iceland and stared until the dancing stopped.

Spartan Trifecta

I completed a Spartan Trifecta in 2017. That’s 3 separate Spartan Races in the same year. All 3 distances: Sprint, Super, and Beast. The Sprint and Super weren’t too crazy, but the Beast was tough. It was 14+ miles and 4000+ feet of elevation gain. The race took place on a ski resort in Vermont, so we were literally running up and down mountains. There was a 1-mile stretch called the “Death March” where we had to climb like 2000 feet all at once. And the bucket carries… Yeah, I definitely felt this one in my legs long after the race ended.

If you’ve never done one of these kinds of races before, they’re a lot of fun! Especially if you do them with friends. They’re like obstacle courses for adults. They’re expensive, but they’re worth it I think. At least once.

Getting the trifecta was definitely a satisfying experience. It made me feel like a badass, which doesn’t happen very often. I still haven’t been able to land a spear throw though.

Companion Pass

In 2017 I did my first bit of “travel hacking” or “credit card churning” or whatever you want to call it. Southwest Airlines had some good credit card promotions going, and I realized that if I picked up two new cards and hit the minimum spend for both of them then I could pretty easily accrue enough points to get their Companion Pass. So that’s what I did!

If you don’t know, the Southwest Companion Pass is kind of an amazing thing. While you have one, it’s basically a buy-one-get-one-free for every flight you book through Southwest Airlines, and the benefits last for the entire calendar year that you earn the pass AND the entire next year too. Seriously. I got mine in May 2017, so I had it for more than half of 2017 and for all of 2018. It was super easy to use, and it worked every time.

In all, I think my companion and I used this magic pass to pay for seven separate flights. It saved us a lot of money, but I still wish we had used it more. The end of 2018 means the end of my Companion Pass (for now).

Speaking gigs

I did some public speaking in 2017. I know. I’m as surprised as anyone. One event wasn’t great, but the other two went pretty well actually. I talked to some middle schooler about my job, and then I talked to some college kids about my job, and then I went on a recruiting trip and talked about my job some more. In all three cases I was invited to speak (like me, Danny, specifically), which felt cool.

The recruiting trip was especially fun. Scary. Definitely scary. But fun too. I love geeking out with people about animation, and college students who want to join the industry always geek out the hardest. This trip also gave me a chance to revisit Penn, my old stomping ground. I didn’t live in Philly for long, but I did love the time I spent there. That place was good to me.

I think it’s important to seek out things that scare us and things we want to get better at. Public speaking and public teaching check both of those boxes for me. Not sure what’s next on that front. Maybe a Siggraph talk?

Anyway, here are some slides from the talk I gave at Penn:

A few other things

  • I wrote a decent number of blog posts in 2017
  • I helped get Ferdinand out the door and into theaters
  • I saw Hamilton finally
  • I practiced free writing for the whole year without missing a day (I ended up with a 564 day streak before letting this lapse)

. . .

My favorite films of 2018

Alright, let’s do this one last time. 2018 edition.

Honorable mentions: Annihilation, Black Panther, Blockers, If Beale Street Could Talk, Love Simon, Widows

Notable have-not-seens: American Animals, Bad Times at the El Royale, BlacKkKlansman, Blindspotting, Burning, Cold War, Eighth Grade, First Man, Isle of Dogs, Leave No Trace, Mid90s, Overlord, Private Life, Roma, Sharp Objects, Shoplifters, Suspiria, The Ballad of Buster Scruggs, The Old Man & the Gun, The Tale, Tully

Here’s my current unofficial list. Unofficial because my backlog of unseen films is enormous. Plus, I usually use this early part of the year before the Oscars to catch up on some of the movies I missed, so my list could change substantially between now and February 24th. I’ll post an updated list on Letterboxd sometime around then.

My top 10 films (so far):

1

2

3

4

5

6

7

8

9

10

Update 02/24/2019: I managed to watch 11 more movies from 2018 since I first hit publish on this post, and my top 10 list did change pretty substantially as a result. Here’s where I’m at now: 1. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse 2. Free Solo 3. Eighth Grade 4. The Favourite 5. Won’t You Be My Neighbor? 6. A Quiet Place 7. Blindspotting 8. Searching 9. First Man 10. Mission: Impossible – Fallout

My honorable mentions have changed pretty substantially as well. I’ve also added a few films to my notable have-not-seens: Minding the Gap, MiraiPaddington 2, The Rider

You can find these lists and others on my Letterboxd page.

. . .

The books I read in 2018

I managed to read 20 books in 2017. In 2018? Just 7. Not sure what happened honestly. It wasn’t a conscious decision, but obviously reading wasn’t really a priority for me. It’s a disappointing number made more disappointing by the fact that 4 of the books that I did end up reading were re-reads. Here’s to being more well read in 2019.

Read these

Red Rising series (books 1-3): See 2017.

Ready Player One: I’ve read this book a couple of times now, and I really like it. It’s a breezy, entertaining read that makes me feel nostalgic for the 80s even though I wasn’t born until 1991, which is impressive I think.

It’s not perfect by any means. How the author portrays fan culture for instance isn’t great. I love the passion. I hate the protectionism. Many characters ridicule and alienate others because they don’t live and breathe the lore like “true fans” should. It’s a toxic mindset that’s all too real unfortunately (e.g. Gamergate).

These were okay

Hillbilly Elegy: My expectations weren’t right going into this one. What I wanted was an academic explanation of the failing white working class. What I got was a memoir written by a self-described hillbilly who grew up poor in rural Ohio, survived, escaped, and eventually graduated from Yale Law School with some insights into the plight and problems of his friends and family back home. It’s a well-written story, it’s just not the story I wanted to read.

Artemis: A pretty good, but not great followup to The Martian. It’s a fun heist story set on the moon that contains some well-researched science-y bits, which is what we’ve all come to expect from an author like Andy Weir.

Originals: While reading, I remember thinking that a lot of the insights presented in this book were valuable and broadly applicable, but as I’m typing now I’m having a really difficult time recalling any of them off-hand. That’s what Kindle’s highlighting feature is for I guess. I do remember thinking there were a few too many examples presented to support the author’s claims. It’s an impressively researched book that drags a bit toward the end.

. . .

20 songs I listened to a lot in 2018

I use Spotify now (RIP Rdio), and since Spotify automatically compiles end-of-year playlists for its users, I thought I’d share some of my most listened to songs of 2018.

I do a weird thing while working where I pick a single song or a single album, and I just listen to it on repeat for hours at a time. The monotony helps me focus I guess. Does anyone else do this? Just me? Cool. Because of that habit, I’ve literally listened to some of these songs hundreds of times.

Here’s the Spotify playlist if you’re interested.

  • MILCK — Quiet (2018)
  • Pale Waves — One More Time (2018)
  • Post Malone, Swae Lee — Sunflower (2018)
  • Daxten — All Of Us (2017)
  • Jai Wolf, Kasbo — Indian Summer Remix (2017)
  • MUNA — I Know A Place (2017)
  • ODESZA — A Moment Apart (2017)
  • The Greatest Showman — The Greatest Show (2017)
  • Transviolet — Astronaut (2017)
  • BABYMETAL — KARATE (2016)
  • Ivory City — Affection (2016)
  • Jonathan Young, Savannah Stuckmayer — Part Of Your World (2016)
  • Ry-Lo — Grand Canyon (2016)
  • Beach Slang — Bad Art & Weird Ideas (2015)*
  • RAC, Katie Herzig — 3am (2015)
  • Ryn Weaver — Pierre (2015)
  • Tribe Society, Kiesza — Pain Told Love (2015)*
  • Turnover — Cutting My Fingers Off (2015)
  • The Midnight — Los Angeles (2014)*
  • LCD Soundsystem — All My Friends (2007)

* If you only have time for three, listen to these.

. . .

Memorable moments in 2018

This post is turning into a monster, so I’m gonna burn through the rest of 2018 pretty quickly here.

Promotion: I got promoted back in May! I’m a lead software engineer on the pipeline team now. It’s a cool position to be in because we’ve been making a lot of technology changes at Blue Sky recently, and it’s fun being on the inside of that and being able to influence the direction of things.

Siggraph: I went to Siggraph again last year. This was my second time. The conference was in Vancouver this time around, and Vancouver was awesome! Ocean and mountains in the same view. The convention center was literally on the water, so I could look out the windows and see sea planes landing. It’s a privileged life I live to get paid to travel to places like Vancouver in order to learn how other animation studios make their movies.

Yosemite: I visited Yosemite last year too. Man, that’s a place that makes you feel small. It’s a national treasure no doubt. Glacier Point at sunrise and Tunnel View after sunset were incredible sights to behold. Watching the headlamps of climbers turn on one-by-one like little fires on El Capitan was something special.

Yoga retreat: I went on a yoga retreat in 2018, and I really enjoyed it. I’ve dabbled in yoga for a few years now, but this was my first retreat experience. It was organized by a coworker, but it was legit. Our group spent a weekend at a really nice retreat center in the Catskill Mountains where actual Won Buddhism ministers practice and teach. All vegetarian meals. Locally grown vegetables. 6am meditation classes. The whole thing.

Good people, healthy food, nature, exercise, and quality reflection time. It was a perfect way to reset in the fall.

Family: Since I no longer live in the town I grew up, I usually only see my family once a year during Christmas. It sucks because I love my family, and I genuinely enjoy spending time with them, but flying is expensive and vacation days are limited. Last year I managed to see my family three times though, which was a treat. It was a treat for me at least. I can’t speak for my siblings who were subjected to literal weeks of high-definition Danny time.

NaNoWriMo: I tried and totally failed NaNoWriMo last year. But I tried, and that’s the important bit. This is one of the things on my 30 before 30 list, so it’s extra notable I guess. I wasn’t trying to write a novel this time around, but I did try to write 30 first drafts of 30 different blog posts. I got through about 6 of them before I fell on my face and watched my word count slip further and further off pace.

Lessons for next time:

  • Prep work is important. As much as possible, I want to know exactly what I’m going to write about every day. Counting on finding inspiration in the moment is a bad strategy.
  • Make a schedule, and stick to the schedule. Set aside specific time for writing. Don’t expect to squeeze 50,000 words into the dead time between other obligations.

Blue Sky tech blog: Blue Sky started an external tech blog on Medium last year that I’ve been helping out with. It’s a modest affair right now, but it has huge potential to teach and promote Blue Sky in the future.

This blog: I didn’t write very many personal blog posts in 2018, but I did redesign my website’s homepage, so that’s something. My website still looks like garbage on mobile though. Ten posts in one year is my record so far, but I’m gonna try to break that in 2019.

Making stuff: I want to spend more time making stuff. I build stuff at work, and some of that stuff is really cool, but those are work projects. They’re not my projects. Building and launching personal projects has been a goal of mine for years, but I’ve never committed enough time or energy to make something happen. I did build a few small things last year–I played around with the Toggl and Reddit APIs a bit–but I want to do more. Something bigger and more official. 2019 feels like the year.

. . .

4000 words that don’t mean anything to anyone but me? Ha! I’m back, baby. What else you got 2019?

Cheers.

***

Image credit: Jared Rice