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let's go 2020 woooo


Epistemic status: update

This year sucked! 

Programming

However, I was lucky to spend most of it learning. 

The reasons are probably worth their own post at some point, suffice to say that after a lot of thought last year, I decided to become a web developer. In March I began Harvard’s CS50 course and loved it. I finished it in May and switched to the Odin Project. Around this time, I went part-time at my job. I wanted time for this and work was slow enough (and budget concerns probably big enough) that it worked for my library as well. Over the last 10 months, I’ve gone from thinking of functions as spells you could use in Excel, to rebuilding Twitter

I think this is the main highlight of the year. I’ve luckily avoided a lot of the existential problems people have had to contend with in lockdown and I suspect it’s because I’ve been focused on learning. I cannot sufficiently recommend becoming a student of something to solve problems of aimlessness.

I’m just about finished the Odin Project (wrapping up using RESTful endpoints on the back-end, testing back-ends and databases). What comes next is either a large project I’m excited for or cleaning everything up (Fake Twitter needs, at the least, email verification…), making a portfolio, and starting the job hunt. 

Challenge Trials

In what now feels like years ago, I signed up with 1Day Sooner to express interest in participating in a human challenge trial (I “pre-volunteered”). 

But it didn’t happen! Leaders and decision-makers (Adrian Hill aside) lacked the sense of urgency. I think there are still plenty of use cases right now where we would prefer a month-long challenge trial over a longer traditional trial. 1 dose or 2 doses for the mRNA vaccines? Half > Full dose or Full > Full dose for the Oxford vaccine? Do the approved vaccines protect against transmission? Questions like these are huge, would have been useful to know a month ago, would still be useful to find out a month from now, and we probably won’t learn for a while. 

My big hope is that we’ve laid the groundwork for a faster response to future pandemics. Moderna’s vaccine was created in two days in January. Once we got the dosing right, we theoretically could have done challenge trials months ago and had results much earlier. But instead of risking a hundred or so people, the authorities decided it was more ethical to let tens of thousands of people die. Omission vs commission, babyyy. 

Anyway, I did a lot of interviews! That started out surreal but became pretty comfortable. There were only a few leading questions and when quotations were fudged it wasn’t terrible. Most of the interviews were similar enough that they were great practice by repetition. 

I played a small part (whipping citations into shape) in this paper coming out, which was very cool. 

Blogging

I wrote eight posts this year on: 

  • Life advice
  • Programming
  • Challenge trials
  • Poetry
  • Smash
  • Existential risk
  • Tribalism
  • Arguments

That sums up my interests fairly well! I made inroads against my constant feeling that I have nothing useful to say--many thanks to everybody who offered kind feedback, you helped! I hope to write a lot more next year.

Thoughts

This year has left me with two changes to my worldview:

  1. A profound hatred of bureaucracy. 

  2. A heightened suspicion of how much suffering lies just outside our awareness. Covid has exposed so much existing pain we didn’t know about or chose to not know about. The loneliness, the care homes. 

Regrets

Other than blogging, I’m not happy with the amount of writing I did. Poetry dried up, fiction didn’t happen. These will be a priority next year. 

I spent a lot of January and February learning Spanish and unfortunately it feels like it’s all floated away. I’m not sure what to do about this. My girlfriend is Honduran and I want to be able to talk to her mom in her native language. To do so I need to figure out a way to retain what I learn better. 

Fortune

Perhaps the worst thing that happened to us was getting evicted in the fall (our landlord decided to sell the house we were renting). The resulting sense of precarity kind of took over everything else and made for a very flurried Aug-Oct. My most 2020 moment was waiting in the car while our home was toured because we couldn’t go outside due to the wildfire smoke and couldn’t go to a cafe due to the pandemic. 

But that’s all resolved now and other than that, I had a tremendously lucky year. I haven’t lost anybody to Covid or to isolation. I didn’t have to attend a funeral over Zoom. Friends mostly kept their jobs or were cushioned (CERB) and didn’t have to panic. I lived with my girlfriend and her family so I was never alone. I got to play Mario Kart with her brother almost every day. I got really good at Resident Evil 5 with my best friend, four provinces away. 

Here’s to a beautiful 2021. The first few months are going to be painful. But it will get better, whether that’s by fall or by spring (A few countries are even taking it seriously enough to be done before winter is over!). And then I have a lot of hugs I owe people. Let’s hope the post-Covid world is more compassionate, more purposeful, and more prepared.