January 16, 2023

The worst part of our kitchen has to be the kitchen hood. I think this is the year we replace it with something better. Is Zephyr the brand here? It seems to be a largely undifferentiated product space.

January 15, 2023

Listening to The Incomparable discuss the Scholomance series and I can’t help but to wish I could read it again for the first time. A Deadly Education was one of the most delightful, complete surprise books of the last decade.

January 14, 2023

“Progressive” NIMBYism makes me want to give up.

January 13, 2023

I’ve been sick a lot lately. Hoping this appointment first thing tomorrow gets me an easy diagnosis or clean bill of health so I can relax and reset this weekend. It’s hard having half the energy you normally do.

January 11, 2023

Bad brain nights stink. Just cannot shut it off long enough to sleep.

I am all in on tidyverse, no apologies, absolutely think it should be taught first. But I’m curious what the most valuable base R thing you think folks should know is.

For me, it’s probably using .[which(…)].

January 10, 2023

Last week’s letter

Good Morning Jason,

what room or project are you most proud of?

The office was my top priority (my partner had different ideas) as I spend 3-4 days a week working in there and I’m very proud of how that turned out. I built the desktop and matching shelves myself from scaffold boards because finding something in the exact size I wanted turned out to be fairly difficult. This was a project that took a few weekends of lots of sanding, glueing, and staining but the final results is something I’m very proud of. Here’s an in-progress shot and the final result in situ. I also did the faux wood-panelling in our bedroom which we’re both very pleased with.

The work I do is primarily focused on property reports for tenants (inventories, fire risk assessments, etc) so there isn’t much crossover with renovating the house but I what I did learn is that planning is key. We wish we had spent a few weeks planning what we wanted to achieve before jumping into the renovation. There were definitely things that made our life a bit more difficult because we did some work when we should have waited for another job to be finished first.

That sounds like an interesting job but it must be difficult to work with organisations like schools that can be slow and unwieldy to get new tech implemented. How long have you been doing that?

I saw you posted yesterday about being ill, hope you’re feeling a bit better today?

Speak soon,

Hi Robb,

Luckily, I am feeling better. Note to self, when you order a steak medium and it comes out just barely rare just send the damn thing back. The day of suffering that followed was not worth it.

I’ve done some more work in my office since this last photo, but this is a not-terribly-inaccurate representation of where things are. I also use the IKEA pegboard. I did not quite get as fancy on the desk itself– which is an IKEA Karlby 98" top that I had a friend cut to 80" and then added some really cool metal legs from an Etsy shop. When the pandemic hit we went 100% remote, which meant tha this room got transformed into an office. I probably have 6-10 scattered blog posts about the process that landed on the setup linked above– most of the changes by now are additional plants and things hung on the wall (plus some equipment changes).

I think it’s pretty natural for the office to be the place you’re most proud of– it’s one you get to call your own and the spot you’re probably stuck spending the most time in.

We’ve been thinking about doing a similar paneling look either behind our bed or possibly behind our TV. Maybe that’ll be a project for when we return home. It’s hard to have a big wall behind a TV– it looks bare without anything, but most things we could put there would be distracting.

A living room with a TV on a walnut stand with gray doors and two black floor standing speakers.

I’ve been working at my current company nearly 9 years. Before that, I worked at a university research center working with school districts on early warning systems, and before that, I worked for the state department of education. I think what’s most challenging is that everyone is well-established. There aren’t new school districts popping up building their systems and processes from scratch. The people, organizations, culture, and work processes are all fairly fixed. So we have to do things much more completely and better than most companies to even get in the door. Then we have to get a large set of folks on board so that we can deliver on our promise. We’re a small team and we’re supporting billions of dollars of budgeting and monitoring. There’s a lot of technical/systems and cultural debt that we have to work with to succeed.

That said, the opportunity for improvement is huge, and it’s very satisfying when someone gets it and we can make their work so much easier and more effective.

Looking forward to next week,


January 8, 2023

I have avoided COVID, but having my appendix burst and three rounds of food positioning in 3 months is enough. Sick and tired of being sick and tired.

January 7, 2023

I used to think Republicans had better solutions but focused on the wrong problems while Democrats had bad solutions but focused on the right problems. The Democrats have gotten better at policy, and Republicans have moved to focusing on non-problems and catastrophic policy.

There’s no way 15 year old me would believe that 35 year old me would have the means to own a half stack, but no interest in owning a half stack.

Last year’s theme was fun. I didn’t write a ton about it. My “annoucement” post simply said,

I’ve decided to focus on Fun in 2022. I just haven’t had enough of that these last few years.

I didn’t quite know what I would seek out for fun, but it turns out, it took me just 8 days.

I signed up for a volleyball league, and by May I escalated from one night a week to 3-4 nigths a week. By September, I was joining more intermediate play. Returning to volleyball after 17 years was a tremendous amount of fun. And although due to surgery and travel I haven’t played since early October, it’s one of the things I’m most looking forward to when we return to Baltimore in February.

In the summer of 2021, we went to Mexico and the most fun I had was our day of biking, hiking, and swimming through the jungle and in caves. In fact, all of the highlights of the last few years for me were days with strenuous physical activity. It’s not the only thing that brings me joy, but these days are sharper and clearer in my memory than any other. They’re sharper than the other good times, and they’re sharper than the other bad times. I have to keep reminding myself of this, because my base motivation is still to remain stationary. It’s hard for me to motivate myself to get up early on the weekend and go for hike. I never regret when I do.

Volleyball was great because I had to schedule it and put it on my calendar. I built a small community of friends and people I wanted to see. I hoped they were happy on the days I could make it. And because signing up was a promise of a full court, or at least enough people to play, there was just enough guilt to mean that signing up meant going. Scheduling my physical activity with limited slots and friends who are relying on me seems ot lower the activation energy just enough to make it happen. I knew this about myself– I still go to a gym that is entirely based on small group training, and my consistency there is entirely due to the same factors that lead me to showing up for volleyball. It’s scheduled, choosing a session means locking someone else out, and there’s a community there I look forward to spending time with.

Volleyball wasn’t the only source of fun. I took a desperately needed trip to Puebla and Mexico City in early March. Personally and professionally, 2021 was a rough year. And although 2022 was a year of full of healing, growth, and fun, 2021 was not quite done with me those first two months. I’m glad we had that trip planned, but I’m also proud that I used that trip to restore myself. I set solid boundaries with work before, during, and upon my return. And I don’t think it is an exaggeration to say that I came home a healthier person, more capable of moving forward than I had been in a long time.

That trip rolled into a fun weekend in Chicago in May. It was the perfect bite-sized vacation that just wasn’t possible during the peaks of COVID. It felt a lot like our trip to New Orleans in December 2019– fast, fun, restorative, and mostly, normal. It was around this time that we started to take more seriously an idea that we had while in Mexico– maybe we should spend a good chunk of winter in Mexico City.

Baltimore is dark and cold in the winter. Mexico City stays mild (50s at night, 70s during the day) pretty much year round. Because it’s further south, there’s significantly more sunlight during winter. Because both Elsa and I get time off from work for the holidays and work remotely, good wifi is pretty much all we need. Looking back, I never had work trips in December and January.

Although I had tons of anxieties about booking a long time away from home, I said yes in the interest of fun. Today, I’m writing from Mexico City, about halfway through our stay. I’m glad I said yes, and I’m glad to have had fun guide me.

All of my concerns and anxieties stemmed from an idea of what the best use of our time and money was. I am a person who has often let worry, planning, optimizing, and a host of other anxieties paralyze me into inaction. I want to do these things, but because I perceive these opportunities as rare and limited, I allow myself to be frozen, or I allow the expectations swamp any possible reality, zapping the fun from existence.

In order to have fun, I have to find ways of letting go of these anxieties and just do.

This extended to food. I have been generally eating healthier– my body is keeping score and it’s clear this year was a strong year for my healthy. At the same time, I had some of the best food of my life this year. I’m doing a better job of allowing myself to make food something I can celebrate. I make better choices for the every day mundane meals and find ways to make that still filled with joy. I know how to cook healthy food I love. I know how to get food quickly that’s still healthy when convenience is more important. But I’ve also sought out great food, sometimes expensive, often not, and let myself enjoy great meals. I’ve eaten healthier and better in every way.

But having fun wasn’t just about saying yes, it was also about boundaries and saying no. It was about doing a better job of turning off when I needed emergency surgery and not working and trusting my team. It was about going to Cuba without connectivity and being ok. It was about taking those trips and being present where I was. It was about separating the personal and professional relationships I had, even with the same person, so that each can be more healthy. It was about letting some things take longer at work so that other parts of me had time to thrive. It was about being more aggressive about putting books down I was not enjoying. Stopping things I thought would be fun but weren’t. Making easy commitments when they felt right and avoiding commitments that didn’t.

Was 2022 the most fun I’ve ever had? No. But it was a successful return to fun, or at least a year where I built better tools to find fun and to nurture the things that are fun.

It’s disappointing that MRAN and checkpoint are being shut down. They were incredibly simple ways to move toward more consistent environments.

We’ve moved on to the Posit package manager because of binary availability.

But! The right move for the R community would be to rally behind renv and lock files in general. This is much more in line with how the broader development community ensures reproducible software builds.

Things are still a little clunky in renv land, but I’m confident with increased adoption we’d see rapidly improved ergonomics.

January 6, 2023

Do GOP supporters think any of this is a good idea? Truly, I cannot figure out how anyone can support this.

January 5, 2023

This actually isn’t surprising at all, but it still needs to said over & over — the biggest barrier to more urban biking in cities is the fear of cars. “A study confirms that if we are serious about getting people on bikes, they need a safe place to ride.”

Brent Toderian, linking to Biggest Barrier to Biking Is a Fear of Cars

We don’t need a $7,500 tax credit for electric cars. We need to spend money on safe, separated bike infrastructure and e-bikes.

I have no meetings tomorrow. It’s glorious. The only problem is, I had so many meeting this week, I way overcommitted to the “things that can happen on Friday when I have no meetings.”

DayOne has turned out to be the perfect travel journal. There’s not a lot I want to write about while in Mexico, but Elsa and I did want to keep track of where we ate.

I thought about using various geotagging services, but very few are private. Those that are, well, kind of stink. But I’ve been making entries with pictures and taking advantage of DayOne’s great support for geotagging to record most of our meals here in Mexico City. When making DayOne entries, your location is recorded. This way you know where you are, the weather, and other facts while writing an entry. One killer feature is that when I add photos to my entries, DayOne will prompt to ask if I want to change the entry date and location to match the date and location of the photo. This means I can take pictures inside a restaurant, museum, park, or store I like and not worry about making a journal entry in the moment. I can come back days later and still get the correct date, time, and location for my entry.

I have a private map of all the places I’ve been. Since CDMX is likely going to continue to be a fairly regular destination, it’s easy to keep track of favorites and make sure we try new things.

When I started using DayOne I wasn’t sure what it would be for. Over the years I just keep finding new ways to use it. It’s not just one thing for me. None of my favorite tools are.

Netflix doesn’t market it’s shows well. We’re watching and really enjoying Firefly Lane. Never heard of it, totally random. At the same time, I don’t trust Netflix. They cancel so many shows, abruptly, with no satisfying ending. It’s easily my least favorite service.

It feels like in the past few years there’s been a growing wave of people talking about the power of adult friendships (and frankly, the crisis of adult friendships, at least in the United States).

Friendship Forever is another article in that vein. It’s filled with powerful quotes. This one is my favorite:

But no matter the medicinal virtues of being a true friend or sustaining a long, close relationship with another, the ultimate touchstone of friendship is not improvement, neither of the other nor of the self: the ultimate touchstone is witness, the privilege of having been seen by someone and the equal privilege of being granted the sight of the essence of another, to have walked with them and to have believed in them, and sometimes just to have accompanied them for however brief a span, on a journey impossible to accomplish alone. —David Whyte