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Thomas Mayfield

Polyglot programmer who loves the weird beautiful chaos of humans building software together. Fitness nerd. Southern kid living in Massachusetts.

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2017 Year End Notes

Another year, another time for personal reflection and course adjustments.

Reading

I noted last year that I’d read mostly books by men (women made up only 23% of my 2016 reading list), and wanted to change that. This year, I did! 25 of the 50 books I read were by women.

Rough breakdown by genre:

  • Fantasy: 23 books
  • Other Non-Fiction: 12 books
  • Science Fiction: 7 books
  • Technical / Career: 4 books
  • Fitness: 4 books

Notable books from 2017:

  • Mistakes Were Made (But Not by Me): A book about self-justification, cognitive dissonance, and how memory works. This had more impact on how I think about human behavior than anything else I’ve read in the last few years.

  • Weapons of Math Destruction: A good, nuanced critique of how big data techniques can contribute to social ills. Far from a “big data BAD!” screed, the author lays out a thoughtful set of criteria that we can use to evaluate the impact of individual algorithms and approaches.

  • The Manager’s Path: An excellent book on tech leadership, and one that I hope individual contributors will read at least the first few chapters of as well.

  • Infomocracy: If William Gibson wrote near-future fiction about governments and elections, it might look something like this.

  • The Wheel of Time and The Dresden Files: While I’m not normally a big re-reader, this year was a year for revisiting some old favorites.

I’m generally happy with where my reading habits are right now, but I think next year it might be a good idea to start paying more attention to how many books I’m reading by people of color and publicly LGBTQ+ authors.

Updated 2017-12-31: wound up finishing two more books on New Year’s Eve!

Fitness

Spending the last year focusing on getting healthy and hypertrophy paid off. I didn’t get hurt again, and definitely got bigger: went from 182lbs to 202lbs from March to December, with relatively mild fat gains. I’ll be cutting that down starting post-vacation in January, aiming to get down to 190lbs or so before I start another muscle gain phase.

I only did 1RM testing once this year (in mid-July, I think) but I got back to my pre-injury strength levels, with a small deadlift PR. Not bad, considering strength was a secondary focus.

Good things from 2017 I want to continue doing:

  • Safety Squat Bar: I got a safety squat bar for the home gym when both my wife and I had upper body injuries, and I wound up squatting with it exclusively for about six months. Even though I’m back to regular back squats as a main lift, I’ll still be using the SSB for accessory and supplemental lifts for the foreseeable future. Great purchase.

  • Meal prep + calorie macro tracking: A flexible diet framework that still seems to work super well for me on both the physical results and mental health fronts.

  • Giant sets (for accessory work): Giant sets are stringing together 3 or more lifts in sequence, without a pause. They’re A+ for time and mild conditioning. I tried to doing them for a while with my main lifts, and got a few minor tweaks that I think were warning shots. I’ll keep doing giant sets but just for isolation-y accessories and not with the main lifts of the day.

  • Biking and walking for LISS: I feel like I have to re-learn this one every year: HIIT is fun and time-efficient, but the recovery tax is too high for what they get me. I /mostly/ stuck to biking and hiking for cardio this year, and it improved my work capacity and got me outside, without beating me all to hell.

I have one simple goal for next year: commit to running Average to Savage for the whole year. I program-hopped for the last half of the year too much, and it impacted my strength progress. I know AtS works for my goals, and I should stick to just periodically adjusting accessory work if I need variation.

Time and Attention

Even considering the psychological and emotional weight of the country turning into a flaming dumpster full of garbage fires, I’m still unhappy with the job I did spending my time and attention deliberately in 2017.

That’s reflected in this being the only post I’ve written in this whole year, the lowest number since I started it in 2011.

Last year, I said:

So 2017 will probably see less learning of new tools and more general studying of topics I lack depth in. I’m planning to start with working through The Elements of Computing Systems and we’ll see how it goes from there.

I did approximately jack shit towards that goal, or really anything related to it. I struggled to even read books about things I wanted to learn, about computers or anything, much less actually building anything. I’ve been underestimating how much of a rut I’ve fallen into here, and I’m really not ok with it. Something’s got to give.

I’ve tried a lot of things to change my habits here and almost all of it has failed. In the past, I’ve focused on trying to suppress distractions, doing stuff like setting up automated content-blocking. I think perhaps I haven’t given enough attention to the flip side: filling up that distraction free time with challenging things I want to do. I’m trying some techniques that I’m hopeful will help (chiefly, variations on time blocking), but I feel like I need a more concrete goal that’ll give me a hard push in the right direction.

So: in 2018, I’m going to try averaging one post a week here about something I’m learning, practicing or building. These can be about any subject, and any length. I’m expecting this to be tough. I think trying for a rough weekly cadence is a good start, though I expect there will be some variation. I’m also giving myself a pass for any week where I’m on vacation, which might be a good incentive to take more of it!

Onwards

Ok, 2018. Let’s do this.