I started last year’s review with this, THIS:
2017, as lived in and around the United States of America,
Wow, buddy. But, also, I can forgive myself. It was hard to believe 2017 happened, and at the end, I wanted to record and confirm that it really did, and how it felt.
2018, I know that year happened. It felt like it happened twice. I’m gonna list and detail some things about it, that were important to me, to varying degrees. Here are those things.
- Awesome Buffalo
- Smart home nonsense
- Friends, beer, and making an effort
- Ugh, Twitter
- Pictures of Pets
CoworkBuffalo is closed
I rewrote the homepage for CoworkBuffalo when we had to announce the closure of the coworking space I co-founded more than 7 years ago. The whats and whys are mostly on that page. I need to, and want to, write more about what we learned, what it was like, things that could have been.
Mostly, it was just partners needing to move on in their lives that caused us to close. All of the co-founders and partners have different situations and demands now, and when our lease was up, there wasn’t enough energy to renew it. But we kept open this thing that was kind of convenient, sometimes fun, and occasionally and inadvertently business-minded. We did it mostly for the sake of the city we lived in, and because we didn’t want people, including ourselves, to sub-let sad 10-by-10 offices.
A surprising number of people said or wrote nice things to us after we announced our closure. Matt Glynn and Dan Miner, who I respect immensely, wrote about our closing for The Buffalo News and Business First. On the last day, we donated as much stuff as we could, hit the lights, and that was it.
I lost a bike, I gained a bike, I replaced that first bike, I need to finish repairing another bike. I took two really long bike rides. This section is long.
As detailed in last year’s bike section, I finished a big refurb of my 1988 Schwinn World Tour, and obtained a Peugeot mountain bike from the mid-80’s with wide tires for my winter bike. I bought studded tires for the winter bike, wore a lot of layers, and declared myself a Winter Biker.
That was a rough winter. Studs only really help with ice, and they add a lot of drag. I wore simple googles or sunglasses that fogged up constantly. Sometimes I pulled my rim brakes as hard as I could, and the ice-slicked rims just kept turning. Worst of all, I didn’t really know to wash or even wipe down my bike’s drivetrain after slushy rides, and … this was my cassette, after a week or two.
But spring eventually came. I raised more than $2,500 for the Ride for Roswell. I took Seymour on a 60-plus mile route. I got a flat halfway through, but fixed it in 10 minutes. Later on, maybe 10 miles from the finish, I hit a rough pothole. Then, the sound of rubber friction. I spent 20 minutes riding a few feet, hopping off and checking, doing that a dozen times. When I gave up trying to figure it out and put the bike in the grass at a rest stop, that’s when I saw it.
The frame had snapped, in the back, near the gears (the drive-side chainstay). Every time I put weight on the frame, it dropped onto the tire.
I sat on that grass for more than an hour, waiting for a pickup truck to get me and my bike. One of the volunteers told me that the rest stop, new that year to the Ride, was set up by a farmer’s family. The farmer was battling stage four cancer. After an hour, a pickup truck hauled me and Seymour to the finish line.
Seymour Schwinn rode this earth for nearly 30 years, and it was his time, and I just happened to be the rider when the time came.
A few months before the Ride, I thought about next winter. My wife and I share one car now. I knew I’d be working from home after CoworkBuffalo closed. Sure, I could take better care of my bike after it gets wet. But biking in the cold is enough of a challenge, without having to clean out exposed gears, cables, and chain. Or wonder at which intersections your brakes will surprise you.
I kicked around the idea of converting my mountain bike with 26-inch wheels to a fixie or single-speed to reduce maintenance. But I had just finished one big bike rebuild. And after riding a few fixies and reading up on them, I … declined. Plus, I also wanted something I could ride in a few other situations, where a thin-wheel road bike wouldn’t quite do.
I started looking for a new bike. Or at least welded and assembled this century. My ideal bike had disc brakes (preferably hydraulic), flat handlebars,decently wide tire clearance, mounts/eyelets for fenders and a rack, and, fingers crossed, some way of mitigating the impact of snow and salt on gears and chains. I ran down a lot of possibilities.
I ended up with the 2018 version of the Norco Indie IGH A11 Belt. IGH stands for “internal-gear hub.” If you’ve ridden a bikeshare bike in a city, you’ve used one. All the gear-shifting takes place inside a mostly weatherproof hub in the middle of the rear wheel. I still don’t quite understand how they work; with luck, I may never have to! “Belt” means carbon belt drive, instead of a chain. It had wide enough tires, most of the cables ran inside the frame, and lots of accessory attachment points.
I had to order from a dealer in Beamsville, Ont. I drove there one night and met the owner of Moutainview Cycle. He was initially skeptical on the phone that I knew exactly what kind of weird beast I was ordering. After hearing my story of salt and woe (or maybe just to stop me from showing him the spreadsheet), he seemed reassured and glad to help out. He showed me some tricks to disc brake maintenance, helped me fit the seat and bar positions, and showed me his in-progress electric cruiser hot rod thingy.
Norbert is cool as Hell. Sturdy, stable, easy to clean off after a slushy ride, and weirdly quiet without a chain or external gears. I threw a rack and fenders on him. I attached these mounted elastic straps to the fender. Tied one more bungee the long way around the fender for stability.
You can haul a lot of things around with a fender and a few bungees. Picture frames, 58 pounds of prescription dog food,a folding chair, and a two-person order from Sato on Elmwood, for example.
And yet: how many bikes do you need? N+1, where N is the number you have.
I wanted to replace my ligher, faster, and less expensive/theft-attractive road bike. I went back to the place where I’d gotten Seymour, the basement of Rick’s Cycle Shop. It felt like going to the shelter way too soon after losing your dog. But I found this 1983 Trek 500 series, and wanted to give it a shot at being the next bike I tear apart and ride to death:
Coming this year: new wheels (the original helicomatic hubs are historic but terrible to work on), transplanted brifters and cassette from Seymour, red cables instead of yellow, and probably a new chainring and sealed cartridge bracket.
Oh, and I need to de-rust and restore the Peugeot mountain bike I rode last winter, so someone else can do a better job with it.
I took two notable bike rides in 2018. That is, besides the officially sanctioned rides, like the Ride for Roswell, Skyride, and such.
In late September, I rode to and from Ralph Wilson Stadium to tailgate and (to a far lesser extent) watch the Bills get soundly beaten by the Chargers. This was partly the result of not having car access, but mostly a dare to myself that it could be done. There were some truly inspiring views in the morning light, at sunset, and when I whipped past a bunch of stalled cars on Southwestern Boulevard on the way back.
I shot photos as an Instagram story, which means too many of the photos have stupid text over them. Lesson learned: if it’s important, don’t use Facebook’s app to capture it.
I also rode a rental Lime bike from Cambridge to Quincy, through Boston. With everything I had packed for a 3-day weekend strapped to my back. As you can tell, I enjoy an impractical bike challenge. It was not the most comfortable ride, but it was really fun. My friend Chaz joined me, on a bike that was actually built for a long weekend ride.
I continued my journey into baking this year. The most notable projects were Momofuku Milk Bar’s Birthday Layer Cake for my wife’s birthday, and a decent shot at a Sacher/Satcher torte. And a Genoise sponge layer cake for New Year’s Eve. So, more cakes than 2017—maybe even more cakes than pies, last year. Also, more Thick & Chewy cookies than ever before.
This year, I want to get better at chocolate work, and maybe try some fondant.
Here’s a photo album. Google Photos is so creepy amazing; you can type in
baking 2018 and by God you get everything you took a photo of in that year that contained flour and encountered heat.
Once again, I only wrote for my employer, Wirecutter, last year. I researched and wrote:
- Major updates to notebooks, pens, and mechanical pencils
- Blog posts on how hard it is to recycle a mattress, why the Blue Yeti is the go-to starter mic for ASMR, and setting up a good space for video calls at home.
- A semi-guide to silicone wedding bands
- Another epic update to standing desks
- A two-part guide to antivirus apps but not really and, uh, how you actually don’t need antivirus, you need layers of security
- Cheap gaming chairs, dog gates, a list of foul-weather bike gear, external optical drives, and others.
I think I only truly injured myself once or maybe twice in 2018 lifting weights and putting them back down again. That’s progress! I hit new records in overhead press and bench press and barbell rows, whereas lower-body work has slid. That’s mostly because I’m completely uncertain of my ability to squat without hurting myself, or agitating my knee quite a bit. This year, I’m looking into knee wraps and going to work with a trainer on safe squatting.
That was a long graf, but I wanted to compress it all into one chunk, so people who don’t care can scroll past more easily.
This was the first year I actually attended TEDxBuffalo, the event I helped launch in 2011. I had a ticket, a seat, and had only glanced at the speaker roster before attending. Alex Opiel, the latest organizer, once again made me feel comletely unnecessary, and for that I cannot thank her enough.
The 2018 TEDxBuffalo talks were good. I particularly liked Dr. Ines Stuckert’s “How to deal with a populist president”.
Annie Brady’s “Blind, not broken” utterly shook me. I have rarely felt so moved to look anew at something I thought I’d undersood. Annie Brady took me into her life and asked me what I would do if I were in it. I can’t recommend it enough. It’s the reason I started TEDxBuffalo: capturing a spark of magic that exists in this area and giving it a chance to be seen by the world.
Awesome Buffalo is a small group of people who put in their own money to fund helpful, interesting, or simply good projects in and around Buffalo. Some of the projects we funded in 2018: a solar sprout garden at a rehab center,Small food pantries, much nicer trash cans, and other things.
If you want to apply for a grant, or joint the team, get in touch.
Smart home nonsense
I escalated my connected home quite a bit this year. If you believe that Wi-Fi signals are slowly causing cancer inside us, you should not step inside my domicile.
I’m not here to brag about specific equipment. But here are the quirkiest things I can do now:
- Open my garage door from my phone (or my Pebble watch)
- Get an alert if my garage door stays open for more than 10 minutes, or opens at all between 10pm and 5am.
- Know when a Kitchen timer (set on an Echo) goes off, because the lights in the living room and home office blink.
- Change the lighting temperature in my home office with a voice command (or terminal command)
- Hit a button in the kitchen and have every Echo device in the house announce, “Ding ding, dinner is ready”
Friends, beer, and making an effort
Note: This whole section could just be whining about two very common phenomenae of aging: drinking hits you harder, and making friends gets tougher. Maybe! But I wanted to put down how it felt at this moment, and how the two felt connected. If you feel like I should Just Get Over Myself, that’s fine, you’re probably right. But I question how you made it all the way through that Bikes section!
I don’t live near most of my close friends anymore. They’ve moved away over time, over 18 years of living in Buffalo. They’ve moved either a long way to Boston or New York, or they live in a suburb, have kids, and don’t have a lot of time on nights and weekends. It feels like a real trend now, after years of isolated incidents that could be written off as circumstance.
I am still friends with those who moved away, of course. And I still have friends here. And I have friends I have neglected to keep up with. That was always the case, but now it feels like something that needs fixing. Maybe that’s now how one should look at it, but hey, if you were one of my friends? You’d know that’s how I’d look at it. I have things I can definitely fix, and things I feel guilty about not fixing, and I will apologize to you constantly about it. “Ah, no, really, thanks for saying that, but I really should … it’s just … one day … anyways.”
Leaving behind TEDxBuffalo and CoworkBuffalo were necessary moves for me, but doing so also reduced my chances to meet people and show up to things. Like some men I know, I assume I need a bona fide Reason or Project to get together with people. Without those ever-present projects, the other loose reason I have to get together with someone is that “we should grab drinks sometime.” When this wasn’t just something said as a polite goodbye, I would reliably follow up on it. With gusto.
Now I’m not so sure I want to keep being good at grabbing drinks. Not the way I do it, anyways.
I’ve been drinking beer since I was 15 or 16. I drink beer way too fast. Cocktails and wine, too. I drink everything too fast, really. My wife and friends all notice. If you put down Diet Coke too fast, you’re not a real bother to anybody except those who have to experience your burps. Beer is different, though, and it’s what I drink the most. It doesn’t matter if it’s a 10% ABV double IPA or a can of rice-water macro brew, it’s gone before I even realize I’ve drank it. I’m not sure if it’s wanting something to do with my hands while talking, or having killed my senses of bitter or sweet, or some childhood thing. I’ve tried telling myself to take small sips, or ordering heavier stouts or lighter beers, alternating water with drinks—the end result is usually the same.
I weigh nearly 200 pounds, so beer doesn’t hit me very fast. Maybe that’s another reason I drink so fast. It’s easy for me to have two or three beers, when the time span or the company suggest one would have been just fine. I’m definitely capable of drinking more, and there have been many mornings where I realize I need two hands to count last night’s tally. But let’s say that my average has long been about three beers.
It’s not always a big problem, but it sometimes means my wife drives home when she had not planned to. It always adds a lot of money to the bill, and leads to some bad food choices. I think that I’m usually in control of myself, that my inhibitions are only a little bit looser. But I can’t hear what I sound like, or notice that I’m dominating the conversation. That’s one key trick to drinking, you don’t remember subtle cues or notice yourself that well.
If it sounds like I’m worried, I am, at least a bit. Alcoholism is prevalent on one side of my family. I’m not great at self-control with sugary stuff, either, and the internal reasoning sounds remarkably similar. You tell yourself you indulge only on “special occasions,” and very quickly “It’s Sunday afternoon and I’m preparing dinner” counts as a special occasion. You biked or worked out or walked a whole bunch today, you think, so you can afford the calories. Occasionally the news will cite the newest study that says something like, “These 14 Europeans drink once a day and they are very definitely healthy,” and you can pull a little assurance from that, too.
Those are temporary excuses against a long-term reality. I have to carry this nearly 38-year-old body everywhere, and I also have a budget to maintain. Hangovers are lasting longer. The empty calories are not disappearing just from hitting 10,000 steps. And the beers I like are not that cheap, especially outside the house.
My first attempt at addressing this was, after a particularly heavy couple holiday months, I decided to try a mostly Dry January, with exceptions for Actual Special Occasions. The one Special Occasion I’ve had, I went to a downtown bar for a going-away party, for someone I knew a little from my gym. I nervously put down three drinks in an hour and a half, while talking with a couple folks I had just met. I left the moment I felt unattached to any conversations, while the bar had gotten too crowded to talk, or just stand. It cost more than $50, including the Lyft rides both ways, and I woke up in the night with a dry mouth.
Other times, the challenge is pure habit. I’ll be working on a project, or finishing up work, or somehow letting my mind drift. If it’s early evening, or a weekend afternoon, I’ll think that now would be a great time for a beer. I have so, so much memory evidence that this will not actually “take the edge off” or “help me relax.” I’ll just get tired, maybe a bit irritable, and then hungry for bad food. But my brain, which can so easily pick apart consumerism, believes in these singular moments that beer commercials must be right: this is how you relax.
Back to friends. What I really liked most about my beer habit was “going drinking” or “having drinks” with friends. I liked the mild irresponsibility of meeting a friend or friends and planning to be completely useless together. Nothing else feels so like the opposite of being focused, productive, and earning money than talking about nonsense, doing nothing, and handing money to someone for something so disposable. In that moment, I felt like I was experiencing something real with somebody. If it went a bit too far, it was something we both lived through, it’s a badge.
And yet. I think it’s best that I stop making drinking the main verb of my friendships and social opportunities, new or old. It feels weird to make a point of this, because I don’t think this is alcoholism, and I know that is a separate, much harder thing. I don’t think having a (one!) beer with someone is a bad thing. I just think that I’ve been stuck in an immature relationship with beer for too long now. I want to do better at managing it. I’ll probably fail at it sometimes, or give into pressure to “let loose.” But hopefully less over time.
The thing I really have to work on, then, is staying friends with people I can’t easily meet at a bar anymore. Also, making new friends, without drinking a bunch to try and shortcut the bonding. I already have some friends who don’t drink, and we’ve covered a lot of ground together. It would be nice to save some money, lose some weight, and have fewer regrettable moments in 2019. Off we go. Thank you for reading.
Time for a big change in tone!
I continued to break the cardinal rule of Twitter in 2018. Here were the five best-received tweets, my favorite Twitter moment, and a bonus bit of character insight.
I’m using screencaps, with links to the original tweets, rather than embeds, because no way will Twitter outlast this website.
My favorite Twitter moment from this year happened the day after I went with some friends to Jay’s Artisan Pizza on a Wednesday night in summer. Right outside, in a pocket park, a band of middle-aged guys was ripping through some classic rock tracks. I said something offhand about the band being named “Dad Halen.” The next day, it popped back into my head: what if a group of dads was self-aware enough to put “Dad” in their punny cover-band name?
Click here or on the tweet below to see many, many more suggested band names. They are pun-tacular.
And this tweet, from former Wirecutter Editor in Chief Jacqui Cheng, really speaks to the experience of transitioning from knowing people online to meeting in real life. For breakfast.
I never read enough books, and I read a ton of articles.
I like Pocket a lot for saving and reading articles. But its search and sorting make it hard to understand what you read in the last year. And I often read articles or posts that were not from the year I’m in. So here are five articles I kinda remember reading in 2018.
- Everything on Amazon is Amazon!
- How I Infiltrated One of L.A.’s Most Vicious Motorcycle Gangs—and Lived to Talk About It
- How an Ex-Cop Rigged McDonald’s Monopoly Game and Stole Millions (This article was algorithmically generated to eat up my entire Sunday morning)
- Fatal accidents, off-the-books workers, a union once run by a mobster. The rogue world of one of New York’s major trash haulers.
- Made in Taiwan (This one is about bikes, but it’s also about the American perception of how everything made in certain Asian countries is “cheaply made.” It doesn’t hurt that my dearly departed Seymour Schwinn had its frame welded in Taiwan, right after Schwinn moved production there).
- How a Sneaky Furniture Expert Ripped Off the Rich and Tricked Versailles
- Blood of Elves: The Witcher #3 - Actually, I’m good with the video game. A rare moment where I see that there’s a lot more lore available, and I pass.
- Hyperion and The Fall of Hyperion - They show their age, they’ve got a lot of male gaze, and boy, if you like clean resolutions, these ain’t it. But some sections are absolutely spell-binding, some characters heart-rending, and each person is going to relate a bit differently.
- The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet - The perfect salve to Hyperion’s rougher edges. A whole book of people looking out for each other, eager to learn about one another, and imagine a greater good. Sounds boring! Is not.
- Killings - My only complaint is that there is not more. Chapters of this book, I mean! Not killings, themselves. Geez.
- Bible Adventures - Good interviews, especially for such a long-ago thing. Also, great context about what it was like to make games in the early days, when nobody really regulated what was published.
- Vacationland - The only thing that impresses me more than Hodgman’s ability to entertain with words is his brave decision to have the kind of career he wants to have, speaking to an intelligent audience he refuses to condescend to.
I feel like I read more books than this, but perhaps not! I will update this list post-publish if I recall more.
According to Remember the Milk:
I re-committed to using my task manager in 2018. I use a very light kind of Getting Things Done methodology, and I cheat a little by setting priorities. You’d have to read about GTD to understand why priority-setting is a controversial move.
Anyways! I can add tasks to RTM through the Android app or webapp, by asking Google Assistant to add something to my task list (through an IFTTT hook-up), by asking Alexa to add to my to-do list (another IFTTT thing), or, my favorite way, through a terminal app, on either my work MacBook or this Chromebook. I can also add tasks by sending a text from my Pebble watch, but … anyways.
The hardest part of using a to-do app is realizing that you’re not doing some thing because you don’t want to do them. Some things are written down too broadly, without enough granular actions. Sometimes you haven’t given something the right context, or you can’t sort by the things you can or want to do right now. But sometimes, you’re just avoiding something you are afraid to try. That’s hard, and no app exists for it.
I bought a Switch in 2018, and it’s been great. The portability, the indie games available, the Nintendo games—I was afraid I’d never play it and mostly stick to my PC, but oh, ho, just the opposite.
This is the only screenshot I have of this game, taken right at the moment I first “beat it.” It says something about this game that I’m usually so involved in it, I never think to take screenshots of the crazy tactical challenges you end up in.
Into the Breach: My favorite game of the year. I will be playing this into 2019. It’s so freaking good. If you said to me, “How would you like to play a kind of chess game, with mech suits and giant bugs, but there’s no re-loading, and there are time-travel paradoxes, and you sometimes have to think of 12 possible outcomes of each move?” I would probably first say, “That is quite a hypothetical!” and then I would say “Well, that might be good?” but then you’d say “Actually, though, I’m a strawman from a post you wrote in the future and you really, really like this game” and I might say “Wait, what?” and then you say “I can prove it, you spent like a week in Florida playing this game instead of going to the beach” and I say “Oh, right.” But I don’t really love the beach, anyways, so NICE TRY.
West of Loathing: I think it is quite hard to make a game that has solid mechanics and is also funny. This is probably my second favorite game of the year, and I hope to tell you more about that sometime this year or maybe next.
Mario Kart 8: A great game made better by becoming more friendly to newcomers. For a different way of iterating on a beloved franchise, see Super Smash Bros. Ultimate.
Zelda: Breath of the Wild: My favorite Zelda game so far. Including Link to the Past! It feels like the technology has finally caught up to the promise of what a Zelda game was always supposed to be about: exploration.
Stardew Valley: I wrote a bunch about this in Currently Digging Vol. 3.
Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle: It’s XCOM, but fun, forgiving, and with inventive, different mechanics! Even the creative director of XCOM digs it.
Overcooked & Overcooked 2: My wife and I really enjoy stressing each other out by worrying about orders, critiquing strategies, and telling each other to stick to our sides. This doesn’t sound like fun, but it is the most fun.
Death Squared: Fun multiplayer puzzle game. That’s harder than it sounds!
Hollow Knight: It took about an hour and change for this game to finally click with me, and at first it seems just unnecessarily hard and obtuse. But then you get it, and then you like it, and then you feel mastery over it.
Super Smash Bros. Ultimate: I think it’s weird that Nintendo, of all companies, would make a game that’s so obtusely hard to get into for newcomers. The tutorial video is so deeply buried that Nintendo had to post a tutorial on how to find it. You have to grind for hours and hours to unlock all the fighters you might play. The menu and interface actively fight your attempts to get to the kind of game you want. I really want to like this game, and get better at it, but along with the lag-laden online matches, it’s hard to get into. (See also: section about how a large number of my friends no longer live near me)
Death Road to Canada: A goofy, challenging shoot-em-up with permadeath and lots of weird humor. Cheap, fun, great airplane/15-minutes-free game.
DOOM: The great human ZODIAC MOTHERF***ER put it best: Metal. Satan. Ownage. This is a game where a strategic decision is whether you knock over the Revenant and stomp his head to mush for a health bonus, or tear off his left flank with a chainsaw for the ammo. Every time I was stuck in this game, not able to get past an arena full of demons, the solution was usually to move faster and use a bigger gun. I haven’t felt this teenaged in forever.
XCOM 2: Tactical Legacy Pack: More XCOM missions, for free, yes please.
Bastion: I intend to make it through every one of this company’s games someday, and this was my starting point. The soundtrack, the voice acting are so danged good.
Pictures of pets