Best Things This Year (2014)

What I like about 2014 was that it was more about things I built, rather than found and enjoyed.

1. Lineage
How do you browse 250 years of genealogical data? My Aunt Peggy has been doing genealogical research for decades and I created a system to view this data and show family relationships. I demoed Lineage at the February Philly JS Dev Meetup and at the Digital Analytics Association Symposium in October.

Lineage screen shot
Lineage screen shot

2. Public Speaking
I did more public speaking this year, mostly talking about data visualization, AngularJS, and some of my projects, including Lineage and the Bulldog Budget.
Data Visualization and Expression at the Digital Analytics Association Symposium
Data Expression with D3 at the Philly Javascript Meetup
14 Slides on ng-repeat at Angular Philly
How the !@#$ and I Going to Upgrade to Angular 2.0? at Angular Philly

Digital Analytics Association Symposium
Digital Analytics Association Symposium

3. Kids Morning Adventure
I productized the morning routine I invented for getting my kids ready for school. Morning Adventure gamifies the process, motivating kids to be more independent and makes sure we get to school on time. I can’t imagine life without it now.

Kids Morning Adventure
Kids Morning Adventure

4. David Lynch
I got to see David Lynch give a talk at the opening of his art exhibit at PAFA.

David Lynch
David Lynch

4.1 More
I also got to see Biz Stone, a Peregrine Falcon, and this lady who skied to PATCO on a snowy day.

5. Books I read this year
The Design of Everyday Things by Don Norman
Thank You Eliot Rosewater by Kurt Vonnegut
Diamond Age by Neal Stephensen
Mother Night by Kurt Vonnegut
Thinking Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahnemann
Ingenius by Jason Fagone
All the World is Lost by Patrick Hipp
Eloquent Javascript by Marijn Haverbeke
A Feast for Crows by George RR Martin
A Dance with Dragons by George RR Martin

6. Movies / TV
This year I watched and enjoyed
True Detective
The Lego Movie
House of Cards
Regular Show
Wolf of Wall Street
Django Unchained

7. Space Bounce Game
A bunch of us at RJMetrics volunteer to spend time mentoring 8th graders from Philadelphia schools. We built Space Bounce with the kids during our fall session. It uses a great javascript library for making HTML5 games called Phaser.

Space Bounce
Space Bounce

8. The Report Builder
I spent 2014 at RJMetrics writing the best chart builder in the universe. I’m super proud of what we accomplished and how much we improved the experience of building charts.

RJMetrics Report Builder
RJMetrics Report Builder

9. Viz War @ Philly Tech Week
My colleague, Austin Lopez, and I participated in Philly Tech Week’s Data Viz War and we won Best Pro Team for our NCAA tournament visualization.

NCAA 2014 Dendrogram
NCAA 2014 Dendrogram

10. Monument Valley
I didn’t play too many new games this year, but I enjoyed Monument Valley with Sasha and Owen. You help guide Ida through a beautiful, Escheresque world. It reminded me a lot of Sword and Sworcery.

Monument Valley
Monument Valley

Read about my previous years
Best Things This Year (2013)
Best Things This Year (2012)
Best Things This Year (2011)

Best Things This Year (2013)

Anecdotally, it seems like a lot of people shook up their lives in 2013. I certainly did. Here are the best things that happened to me in 2013.

1. RJMetrics – In March I started working at RJMetrics, an e-commerce data analytics firm in center city Philadelphia. Leaving Garvey Corp was a difficult decision, but being a developer at of the best SaaS data visualization companies in the world has been amazing.

RJMetrics
RJMetrics

2. The Bulldog Budget – I worked with Philadelphia City Controller candidate Brett Mandel to implement his vision for the city’s open data future. We built a visualization tool using D3 and MySQL that gives both a high level view of the General Fund budget, but still allows you to drill down to individual transactions. A lot of people got excited about it and I think it made an impact in Philadelphia. It also influenced similar projects in Italy and Oakland, California.

Treemap of the Philadelphia General Budget
Treemap of the Philadelphia General Budget

3. Coffeescript – I was skeptical at first whether Coffeescript was a worthwhile abstraction from Javascript. After 9 months of using it at RJMetrics, I’m a fan. Here’s why:

  • Cleaner syntax: No parenthesis, braces, or semi colons. The time I save writing console.log instead of console.log(); has been worth the switch.
  • Improved workflow: Continuously running the Coffeescript to Javascript compiler alerts me of stupid mistakes (ie. ones that won’t even compile) faster than finding them after I’ve loaded the browser.
  • Existential operator: I can’t count the number of bugs I’ve fixed with one character are due to Coffeescript’s great ? operator, which checks to see if it’s null or undefined before proceeding. For example, if in javascript you previously did this:

    if (player != null) {
    player.levelUp();
    }

    In Coffeescript you just write:

    player?.levelUp()

  • Comprehensions: The Coffescript.org docs say you almost never have to write a multiline for loop and they can be replaced by comprehensions. For example:

    for (player in players) {
    if (player.health < 0) { player.kill(); } }

    In Coffeescript you can write:

    player.kill() for player in players when player.health < 0
  • I'm looking forward to getting better at Coffeescript in 2014.

4. AngularJS - I don't want to develop another interactive UI without AngularJS.

5. Bought this swingset from craigslist - With the help of my friend Mike and my father in law, we disassembled, packed it up and a U Haul, and reassembled it in my back yard. I'm amazed it went back together so well.

swingset
swingset

6. Read 13 Books - My morning commute afforded me more reading time. Here's what I did with it.

  • Bonfire of the Vanities by Tom Wolfe
  • Ready Player One by Ernest Cline
  • Look at the Birdie by Kurt Vonnegut
  • The Trial by Franz Kafka
  • A Beautiful Mind by Sylvia Nassar
  • Boys from Brazil by Ira Levin
  • Game of Thones (books 1-3) by George RR Martin
  • Life of Pi by Yann Martel
  • Timequake by Kurt Vonnegut
  • How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie
  • Thinking Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman

7. Public Speaking - I got way out of my comfort zone this year and did some public speaking at Ignite Philly and Technically Philly's Civic Hacking Demo Night.

8. Built the Gonginator

9. Spark Program - Some coworkers and I participated in an apprenticeship program for Philadelphia school kids where we spent 2 hours a week with 8th graders interested in programming and computers. Together we built a game!

That's as much as I could remember from 2013. Check out my lists from 2012 and 2011.

Best Things This Year (2012)

Last year I did a loosely types list of all the best things from 2011, and here’s my list for 2012. Not all are new (even to me), but they stood out in 2012.

11. Solved a Family Mystery

10. Travel – Saw some great places this year including the Alamo, Niagara Falls, a Phillies spring training game in Clearwater, Spokane, Longwood Gardens, and more.

Sasha looking out over Niagara Falls
Sasha looking out over Niagara Falls

9. Reddit.com – I’ve known about reddit for a while, but I’ve grew to appreciate it this year as a general resource for anything. It’s like an improved version of usenet.

8. Found my sunglasses after losing them for months!

sunglasses
Found my sunglasses

7. Highest Trafficked Blog PostThis post about the 8-bit Google Maps got 82,000 page views.

6. Dark Sky (iOS App) – Killer weather app for iOS that alerts you when it’s about to start raining and tells you when it will stop.

5. Nate Silver – I saw James Carville along with Dennis Miller give a talk last fall and Carville said this is the year that we’ll see who is better at predicting close elections, traditional polling or the geeks. Nate Silver of 538 predicted just about every election correctly and solidified the position of the newer statistical models.

4. Ruby – Perl was one of my first programming loves, but I’ve used Ruby for 3 or 4 projects this year and have become a convert.

3. AndyD – Hey Tina is my new favorite song. I saw these guys randomly in Jacksonville, FL and they are exactly as the appear in the video.

2. D3.js – I’ve pretty much put on hold my javascript data visualization library, evidensity.js, once I found this amazing library. Mike Bostock does some of the best data visualizations for the New York Times and he open sourced the tools he uses to create them. Amazing stuff.

1. Minecraft – I’ve been meaning to try out Minecraft since it was released as an independent project in 2009, but never got around to it until now. It’s the most innovative game I’ve seen in 20 years and Sasha and I are hooked. It’s a sim / dungeon crawler / FPS shooter / adventure game with retro graphics and high tech terrain generation. The thing that impressed me the most was that if you ventured out to the limits of each generated world it would be about 9.3 million times the surface area of Earth!

Minecraft!
Minecraft!

Am I Achieving My 2010 Goals?

Ouch. I just looked up my goals for 2010 and I am NOT doing well. Here’s my progress so far.

1. Read 12 Books – Easily completed this already. A few I listened to using Audible.com and I read the Purple Cow on my iPhone with the Kindle app.

So far I’ve read
The Visual Display of Quantitative Information by Ed Tufte
Priceless by William Poundstone
Anathem by Neal Stephenson
Nurture Shock by Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman
Daemon by Daniel Suarez
The Purple Cow by Seth Godin
Rework by Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson
Start with No by Jim Camp
Born to Run by Chris McDougall
The Road by Corman McCarthy
The Long Tail by Chris Anderson
The Wisdom of Crowds by James Surowiecki

I’m still working on Under the Dome by Stephen King and Envisioning Information by Ed Tufte. Under the Dome is so big I can’t bring it with me when traveling. I’m about halfway through Ghost War, but I don’t know if I’ll finish it. It’s great, but it will take me forever.

2. Run a sub 23 minute 5K – There is no way this is happening this year. I ran one last month and my time was 25:14. I think I can get down to 24:30 in a month and I’m ok with that.

3. Write 5 Songs – Total failure. I really thought I’d be able to do this, but song writing has escaped me this year. I haven’t written a single new song. In fact, I’ve probably only written 2 in the last three years. Sad. I’ve been getting the bug to start playing more, though.

5. Finish my House – Well, I sold it so does that count? It sold in two days, which was awesome.

6. 6 batches of beer – Fail. I have a batch brewing now, but it’s my only 2010 batch.

So I’ve completed 2/6, but really failed at 4. Better luck next year!,

Hello 2010

So for future record I’d like to post some personal goals for 2010. I was never into resolutions before, but that was because I had the time to do all the things I wanted to do. Now I have so much going on it is difficult to make time for higher altitude goals, and by higher altitude I just mean more than what I have to get done that day.

1. Read 12 books. I’m a notoriously slow reader, but I have some decent books queued up (The Long Tail, Wisdom of Crowds, Visual Display of Quantitative Information, The Confusion, Under the Dome, Ghost War, and more.)
2. Run a 5K in 23:00 minutes or less. My running has definitely slacked off now that it’s cold, but I’d like to really get my 5K time down about 2 minutes lower than it is now.
3. Write 5 songs. I shelved my music for months after having Sasha and haven’t played anywhere other than the Garvey Gong Show since Owen was born. I should use this downtime to actually write some new material.
4. Finish my house. Sounds impossible, right? There’s always something to be done, but I have a list of things of which, when completed, I’d consider the house finished. It’s part of a larger goal which is to reimplement most of my GTD practices.
5. Brew 6 batches of beer. Had a blast at this year’s BeerCamp and I have to improve my brewing skills if I want a chance at winning next time.