I mean, it wasn't an altogether terrible year.
This was my second full year at Chalkbeat, and it remains one of the best career decisions I've ever made. I don't think we tell young people in this industry nearly often enough that you will be much happier working closer to a local level, in an organization with good values that treats people sustainably, than you ever will in the largest newsrooms in the country.
I did not have a background in education reporting, so the last two years have been a learning experience, but I feel like I'm on more solid ground now. It's also been in interesting change: the high-profile visual and interactive storytelling that I did most often at NPR or the Seattle Times is the exception at Chalkbeat, and more often I'm doing data analysis and processing. I miss the flashier work, but I try to keep my hand in via personal projects, and there is a certain satisfaction in really embracing my inner spreadsheet pervert.
Blogging's back, baby! I love that it feels like this is being revitalized as Twitter collapses. I really enjoyed writing more on technical topics in the latter half of the year, and I still have a series I'd like to do on my experiences writing templating libraries. Technically, I never really stopped, but in recent years it's been more likely to be on work outlets than here on Mile Zero.
Next year this blog will be twenty years old, if I've done my math right. That's a long time. A little while back, I cleared out a bunch of the really old posts, since I was a little nervous about the attack surface from things I wrote in my twenties, especially post-Gamergate. But the underlying tech has mostly stayed the same, and if I'm going to be writing here more often, I've been wondering if I should upgrade.
When I first converted this from a band site to a blog, I went with a publishing tool called Blosxom, which basically reads files in chronological order to generate the feed. I rewrote it in PHP a few years later, and that's still what it's using now. The good news is that I know it scales — I got linked by Boing Boing a few times back in the day, and never had a reliability problem — but it's still a pretty primitive approach. I'm basically writing HTML by hand, there's no support for things like syntax highlighting, and I haven't run a backup in a while.
That said, if it's not broke, why fix it? I don't actually mind the authoring experience — my pickiness about markup means using something like Pandoc to generate post markup makes me a little queasy. I may instead aim for some low-effort improvements, like building a process for generating a post index file that the template can use instead of recursing through the folder heirarchy on every load.
Splatoon 3 ate up a huge amount of time this year, but I burned out on it pretty hard over the summer. The networking code is bad, and the matchmaking is wildly unpredictable, so it felt like I was often either getting steamrolled or cruising to victory, and never getting the former when I really needed it to rank up. I still have a preorder for the single-player DLC, and I'm looking forward to that: Nintendo isn't much for multiplayer, but the bones of the game are still great.
Starting in September (more on that in a bit), I picked up Street Fighter 6 and now have almost 400 hours logged in it, almost all of it in the ranked mode. I'd never been very good at fighting games, and I'm still not particularly skilled, but I've gotten to the point where I'd almost like to try a local tournament at some point. SF6 strikes a great balance between a fairly minimal set of mechanics and a surprisingly deep mental stack during play. It also has an incredibly polished and well-crafted training mode and solid networking code — it's really easy to "one more round" until early in the morning. I've tried a few other fighting games, but this is the only one that's really stuck so far.
The big release of the year was Tears of the Kingdom, which was... fine. It's a technical marvel, but I didn't enjoy it as a game nearly as much, and for all its systemic freedom it's still very narratively-constrained — I ended up several times in places where I wasn't supposed to be yet, and had to go back to resume the intended path instead of being able to sequence break. ToTK mainly just made me want to replay Dragon's Dogma, which gets better every time I go through it, including beating the Bitterblack Isle DLC for the first time this year.
What did I read in 2023? I barely remember, and I didn't keep a spreadsheet this time around. I did record my Shocktober, as usual, so at least I have a record of that. My theme was "the VHS racks at the front of the Food Lion in Lexington, Kentucky," meaning all the box art six-year-old me stared at when my parents were being rung up.
Some of these were actually pretty good: Critters is surprisingly funny and well-made, Monkey Shines is not at all what was promised, and The Stuff holds up despite its bizarre insistence that Michael Moriarty is a leading man. On the other hand, Nightmare on Elm Street 3 doesn't really survive Heather Langenkamp's acting, and C.H.U.D. has actually gotten worse since the last time I watched it.
Outside of the theme, the strongest recommendation I can make is for When Evil Lurks, a little post-pandemic gem from Argentina about a plague of demon possession. Eschewing the traditional trappings of exorcism movies (no priests, no crosses, and no projectile vomiting), it alternates between pitch-black comedy and gruesome violence. I love it, and really hope it sees a wider release (I think it's currently only on Shudder).
Belle's been studying Spanish for a few years now, and headed to Spain in September to work on her Catalan and get certified as an English teacher there. I joined her in November, and we took a grand tour of the southeast side of the country. We saw Barcelona, Sevilla, Granada, Valencia, and Madrid. My own Spanish is serviceable at best, but I skated by.
They say that when you travel, mostly what you learn are the things you've taken for granted in your own culture. On this trip, the thing that really stood out was the degree to which Spanish cities prioritize people over cars. This varies, of course — the older cities are obviously much more pedestrian friendly, because they were never planned around automobile travel — but even in Madrid and Barcelona, it still feels so much safer and less aggressive than the car-first culture of Chicago and other American metro areas.
Given the experience, we've started thinking about whether Spain might be a good place to relocate, at least for a little while. While I'm cautiously optimistic about the 2024 election cycle, I wouldn't mind watching it on European time, just in case.