Year in Review

Derek’s 2016 Reflection Part 2: Production

While Part 1 of this 2016 reflection was a systematic review of various forms of information and art media that I enjoyed throughout the year, Part 2 will be a bit more free-form. Here I want to talk about what I have worked on in 2016 that I hope has impacted society positively, where I think I was successful and where I think I failed, and how these lessons have influenced my plans for my work in 2017. In particular, as a direct request to you, the reader, at the end, I would like to connect with more interesting people in 2017 on projects, or even receive ideas for meaningful projects to work on, and would greatly appreciate any and all such feedback.

There of course isn’t too fine of a line separating what I’m calling “consumption” and “production” in these essays. I think in the past I’ve thought about this simply as the difference between what you take in and what you put out into the world, but that distinction doesn’t take into account the gray area that is the experiences we create, the relationships we build, the ideas we refine. I’m not sure this improves on my definitions, but I’m starting to think of the difference more as what provides personal fulfillment, versus what impacts society as a whole. So perhaps “fulfillment” and “purpose” will be better labels in the future.

As quick contextual summary, before going into individual projects: Since graduating with my Master’s Degree in Structural Engineering from Stanford University, I think I can safely say that my path has been unconventional. A combination of passion for building my own personal design practice and ideology, as well as disdain for the idea of working for a big company without personal agency, has pushed me towards this tightrope juggle of multiple part-time jobs, where on any given week this year I was supervising a project-based learning class and/or participating in a meeting at Stanford, and/or teaching an architecture class at the Nueva Upper School, and/or meeting with a client for an upcoming Cloud Arch Studio project, and/or supervising construction on the Common Ground project in the Mission, and/or working at the SF Public Library just to have a convenient workspace near home. For the entire year I also made a conscious effort to not work on weekends, to put a hold on emails and social media, and to spend the time enjoying life with my girlfriend and/or friends. The significant commute time required to shuffle back and forth from all these commitments, instead of being a burden, simply blocked out reliable times for personal consumption of books, podcasts, occasional work, etc. (see Reflection Part 1).

Stanford Sustainable Urban Systems

My work at Stanford has, so far, felt the most impactful, given that the goal has been to take the concept of a holistic urban education and turn it into a formal reality as a graduate degree program with a full-fledged curriculum. I’ve been working on this more or less since 2012 when I first started prototyping my own project-based learning courses, alongside undergraduate coursework and eventually the Solar Decathlon project, because I had had a formative experience with that type of education as a sophomore and had believed that more of college curriculum should be project-based. Jump ahead to the 2014-15 academic year, after I had returned from my gap year abroad, and I was prototyping urban project-based learning with real clients like my new friend Michael Tubbs from Stockton, and the successes of that endeavor led a faculty member, who shared my advocacy for an urban curriculum, to hire me as a part-time lecturer to keep the prototype going. Essentially the last year of work since then for our Sustainable Urban Systems Initiative has been to implement another solid prototype of a graduate-level project-based learning curriculum, but now positioned as the core of a proposed program called Sustainable Urban Systems which had been around as a concept but had not yet been pushed forward by faculty in the Civil & Environmental Engineering Department, at least until our peripheral activity. And so a lot of my work in 2016, besides finishing up the prior round of student projects and gearing up for this Fall’s iteration, has been behind-the-scenes politicking and evangelizing to rally support for SUS, including putting together a series of white papers to the Dean of the School of Engineering and to the faculty leadership of CEE.

To make a long story short, we were a sideshow barrelling forth with this bold idea of a whole new graduate degree within CEE, somehow picking up the right pieces of support by contriving far more confidence than we really had, until the whole department had to acknowledge our inertia and re-commandeer the ship from us, given that ultimately we were headed for a shipwreck at our speed. In the last few weeks I have looked back at this strange journey and wondered just how precedented/unprecedented it really was for a 24-year-old recent alumni to be on the front lines of developing a program that he had absolutely no business implementing, but simply cared passionately about. Or how likely/unlikely it was that SUS would ever happen if not for the very nontraditional and long-cut path we took it through. Perhaps this is in fact a good lesson, as many of my colleagues have tried to convince me, that passion and perseverance can move mountains, and perhaps this is the lesson I should be attempting to impart to the reader, but I can’t seem to bring myself to fully believe this at the close of 2016. For this major portion of my mindshare and timeshare this year, as a lecturer/outlaw at Stanford, I think I was simply naive and lucky.

Next year I will definitely keep working in this capacity as lecturer, because I wouldn’t miss the actual first incoming graduate class of SUS students in the Fall. But I am also hoping that my role can transition away from the bureaucratic necessities to the much more fulfilling work of guiding students through exciting and impactful projects around the Bay Area, and building a skunkworks of even more ambitious incubation projects, something that I would gladly be involved with to some capacity for the rest of my professional life.

CORE Project

I worked on another major Stanford-related activity during the summer as an advisor for undergraduate students who chose to work with me on sustainable design for the developing world. I had planned to make substantial progress on my CORE side project, which dates back to the Solar Decathlon, by collaborating with a research team in the Department working on indoor air quality and other health issues in Dhaka, Bangladesh, because I wanted to see if a pilot project there would be possible (having surveyed conditions in El Salvador and Indonesia last year), and had thus set up this summer activity. Unfortunately, just a few weeks before we were scheduled to travel there, there was a gruesome terrorist attack in Dhaka targeting foreigners, and the research team decided to cancel all the trips, leaving me to work with talented students with nonoptimal resources and guidance on campus. Nonetheless they produced valuable work, and the CORE project continues to lumber along. At a point this year I also considered getting involved in a few private enterprises that would allow me to advance some of these concepts of industrialized construction, but I was never really able to commit enough time to the expected commitment of these companies, even in a consultant role, to make meaningful progress. It still remains to be seen how much time I can commit to this project in 2017, but I certainly want to, especially by repositioning the short-term goal towards designing self-sufficient homeless shelters.


Another project related directly to my SUS work brought me back to South Stockton, the site of my 2014-15 project-based learning course in partnership with Tubbs and the South Stockton nonprofit community. By coincidence or causality, the City had decided to release a Request for Interest for local developers to submit proposals for what they would do with two City-owned sites along Airport Way, where my students had done a master planning exercise a year before (and where I had strongly advocated for release of City-owned sites in a separate meeting). I lent my services as a schematic designer to produce an initial concept for the RFI, and a few months later the local nonprofit STAND was selected as the developer to enter into an Exclusive Negotiating Rights Agreement with the City for the 8th & Airport Way 1.6 acre lot which is right at the heart of the neighborhood. I have since supported them as much as I can as a consultant to help them get to the end goal of a community center with a public market, medical services, and maybe affordable housing. It’s been a joy to work with these wonderful people again, on a problem where the value of compassion and design is so apparent, and where I’ve been able to spend more of my own mindshare thinking critically about the type of urban development I care most about, that which can revitalize struggling communities and is as holistic as our tools of science, design, and engineering can realize. I had some Stanford students work on this project in the Fall and will mentor another team in the first half of next year, but all the while I will continue to personally support the Stockton group in as impactful of a way as I can, and likely focus on this as my core Cloud Arch Studio project.

Nueva Architecture

One of the hardest decisions of 2016 was to commit to teaching at Nueva a second year. In the summer of 2015 I was recommended by a few people to consider a teaching job at this new high school, and I took the opportunity mostly as an experiment, because I have been personally fascinated by the challenge of designing an effective high school curriculum in architecture, or more generally an effective curriculum in architecture for any new student, and really liked the idea of having full control of the pedagogical method. I ended up really enjoying the experience and grew as a teacher, mentor, and thinker, especially enjoying our final hands-on project of an exhibit built out of milk crates at the Maker Faire. But compared to the educational work I was doing at Stanford, I couldn’t really justify the time spent teaching, grading, and managing logistics at the high school in terms of scale of impact. Instead, the reason I ended up deciding to stick around for a second year was because I just really enjoyed working with the kids, and because Nueva was entering its 50th anniversary year and first graduating high school class, so the sentimental value tipped the balance for me. It has been incredibly fun the second time around, and certainly easier than the first time, but still not quite justifying the time spent, so I have to think seriously about how to conclude my time at Nueva while sustaining the legacy of my work.

Common Ground 3

The biggest project of the year for my personal LLC, Cloud Arch Studio, was the third iteration of my concept for revitalizing public streets in big cities, and a headliner project for the second San Francisco Market Street Prototyping Festival. Coming off of the second iteration which ended quite disastrously in the early removal of the project from the Tenderloin area due to complaints of drug dealing and undesired behavior on the installation, I was incredibly cautious of the challenges of the project and spent a lot of time just proactively working with the City to solve problems, such as ADA accessibility, community stewardship, and permitting for Common Ground’s interactive features. As an incubator project I really benefited from having a dedicated space to work and build at Gray Area in the Mission, and also benefited from having a dedicated team of supporters, including an intern from Ohio State University and a few star students from Nueva. Over the summer we started to build CG3 and basically made steady progress all the way to the festival in October, with the exception of just a few hiccups on our end (screwing up a paint job) and on the City’s end (asking us to change our handrail design literally one week before the event, as if any contractor in the history of public works has been able to deliver on that timeframe, let alone an underfunded ‘artist’). But we installed successfully, and the project succeeded my expectations for those glorious three days of the Festival, which even my parents were able to come up from LA to see. If you haven’t already seen photos from the Festival, you can see them on my Cloud website.

Unfortunately, my optimism was, yet again, much too great. A few weeks ago I received the unexpected news that Hyatt Regency and Philz Coffee, the property owner and storefront business that had signed a stewardship agreement with the City and me, wanted the project removed (which was their right as part of the agreement), citing homeless encampment as the issue. There were, of course, issues with the project itself, most significantly the crappy handrails which were constantly deforming, as well as the lack of signage to instruct the average pedestrian on how to activate the domes, but these were all problems solvable by iterative design, which of course was the point of the entire exercise. Homelessness, unfortunately, is not a problem solvable by design. It’s systemic to a city plagued by wealth inequality and, I’ve decided, the fundamental reason we can’t have make improvements in public space. I’ll be moving CG3 to a new location in the East Bay at the start of 2017, and unless the City demonstrates that it has learned its lesson from these prototyping activities and is willing to hear my recommendations as an experienced and undervalued designer, I simply do not wish to entertain them any longer.


A few final activities and thoughts on 2016 to note:

Under the Cloud brand I worked on a few smaller residential projects for friends, each stimulating in its own way, but I will have to think critically about how to manage my time better on small projects as the logistics tend to take a longer time than I expect. I worked on an RFP for a tiny home village in Santa Clara County which we didn’t win but got me thinking much more critically about homeless shelters as impactful work. I also worked on one high architecture competition this year with some colleagues for Eleven Magazine’s Tenderloin Competition, which we didn’t win but allowed me the refreshment of a direct involvement in bold design that I typically don’t have time to do, ironically.

I also wanted to note that, after watching Before the Flood, Leo DiCaprio’s spiritual sequel to An Inconvenient Truth, I was inspired to take part in the survey on and donate $200 to offset my personal carbon ‘production’ or footprint. I decided it was necessary for me to do this as part of my commitment to environmental sustainability, and highly recommend you consider paying your dues as well.

Related to sustainability and to my Stanford work: I have also gotten quite engaged in thinking about the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, particularly in relation to the Sustainable Development Solutions Network’s (SDSN) work with US cities to pilot localization of the SDGs. Because we have worked with the City of San Jose in Stanford SUS, I got connected to this network and even got to meet the SDSN team during my trip to NY. I’ve been interested in using the SDG framework as a fundamental part of the SUS pedagogy, i.e. evidence-based decision making, and by continuing to represent Stanford as an academic partner to SJ on that exercise, even got an invitation to go to Washington D.C. a few weeks ago to participate in a roundtable producing recommendations for the U.S. Department of State’s SDG Open Data Roadmap for 2017-18. The timing couldn’t have been better, in relation to the election and its impact on my thinking, as I really welcomed the opportunity to return to DC after 15 years and be up close and personal with this political machine in which I am slowly losing trust.

On the arts side, I once again severely disappointed myself, writing no short stories and only mustering a few dozen daily poems at the start of the year. For the second half of the year I started feeling the urge to write an essay about secularism, but never got around to finishing the first draft, such that when the Election happened that essay somehow morphed into an essay about political philosophy, which also never quite materialized, leaving me with scraps of difficult ideas and an existential crisis of morality and purpose at the end of this year. But despite not producing as much writing or art as I would have liked to, I do feel like year was full of valuable conversations about important ideas that will yield meaningful work in the years to come, and I am grateful to everybody who has spent time in deep discussion with me.

As a final note of emphasis, I really enjoyed the amount of time I spent this year investing in relationships, not just with Boanne but also with high school friends and college friends who could have faded away into the background of adult life. I went to three weddings this year, each of which was filled with nostalgia and joy, as well as organized many other fun adventures with friends in the Bay Area and beyond, and that type of creative work should never be undervalued.

Looking Ahead to 2017

Back in 2014, when I went on a 9-month Eurotrip with Dylan, the most memorable nights were spent wandering for hours by foot through cities like Sofia, Mostar, Istanbul, or Berlin, exploring the equally uncharted space in our heads. We came up with this concept of a Moral CV, a personal manifesto that one should write in his or her twenties in which one examines and justifies a full set of principles to live by. We both felt that a moral education was something sorely lacking in both of our undergraduate educations, and imagined that such a Moral CV, one day, would and should be more important than the professional CVs we currently value. The following year, we tried to host and facilitate a small group forum online on moral and ethical topics, but the effort slowly faded into the background behind the daily grind. Alas, even the Moral CVs we so ambitiously envisioned for society couldn’t make it past our own tests of will.

This year there has been plenty to think about, from my growing immersion in urban systems to the reality check that was our 2016 US Presidential Election. In the immediate days that followed I suppressed the urge to share any thoughts, for fear of betraying some deeper understanding I had yet to find. (The only post I shared, on Facebook the day after, was a message of sincere ambiguity.) Many of the posts I did see on my feed, in fact many of the posts I’ve seen all year, bothered me in nonobvious ways. And it wasn’t just conservative triumph; it was also liberalized martyrdom that seemed to miss the mark. It is as if our society has collectively elevated righteousness over honesty. The world has been painted in unnatural shades of left and right, the kind of flavors that leave a sickening taste in your mouth. So in the heat of political and cultural battles of which I felt no strong allegiance to either front, I felt instead the pull to think, to turn ideas over and over like a pebble in my hand, to read and to observe and to converse. I felt the yearning to achieve moral clarity, and found myself returning to that concept of a Moral CV.

Next year I want to spend a significant part of my timeshare and mindshare working on a project of intellectual honesty. I am not quite sure exactly what form it will take yet, but I will start off with more personal blogging on this site, with a focus on morality, ethics, philosophy, and politics. My first hypothesis is that if I can successfully ‘think in public’, which is to say my intellectual reasoning can withstand the test of public scrutiny, then within the span of the year the process will substantially improve my intelligence and aptitude for persuasive communication with others. My second hypothesis is that, through this process, I will have produced a series of rigorously rational and empirical views on important policy issues (of which I suspect there will be no shortage of in 2017) which will be readily accessible and useful for my readers. I would eventually like to engage as many intelligent people as I can in this activity, growing it perhaps to a community blog or a think tank or someday a political movement. If you are interested in this endeavor, the best place to start is by following this blog so you can receive my blog posts as they are published, and to reach out to me for discussion (I’m always up for deep talks over beer in SF).

This existential crisis has led me to rethink my overall timeshare. I am certain I will spend 50% of my time on Stanford in 2017, continuing to develop the SUS curriculum and working with students. After this last semester at Nueva I will document my curriculum and find somebody to pass the baton to, perhaps spending a little bit of time supervising their work in the Fall; I will put the time commitment overall at about 25%. I will set aside 25% on the Stockton project, 25% of my time on this Intellectual Honesty project (yes, I know I’m going over 100%, which corresponds to 40 hours/week), and 25% on miscellaneous Cloud or other projects, including possibly the formation of a nonprofit entity to formalize some community development work. With the rest of my time, of course, I will maintain my own health and wellbeing and maintain meaningful relationships with people I care about. One idea I’m going to try, as a sort of life hack, is to set up a shortlist of about 25 people I care about, and to use a weekly Google Calender invite to remind myself to stay in touch with each of them.

I would also like to actively seek out new and interesting people to collaborate with in 2017. Perhaps this is in fact the most important reason I’m writing this, to enlist your help, as a reader, to connect me with (you perhaps, or) people you know who share the same values as I do, and who are open to collaborating on meaningful work.

  • I’m looking for people who are aspiring young designers and engineers who are tired of being a cog in the wheel and want to work on improving sustainable urban systems, possibly as a student, researcher, or lecturer at Stanford.
  • I’m looking for people who are knowledgeable about and interested in working on reducing homelessness or generally community development in the Bay Area, or in developing countries.
  • I’m looking for people who have recently finished a degree in architecture and are interested in refining and teaching a high school architecture curriculum as opposed to working in a traditional architectural practice. I’d like to work with them immediately to see if they are a good fit for Nueva.
  • I’m looking for people who aspire to intellectual honesty and would like to work on something to change the dangerous course of politics and policy in our country.
  • I’m looking for people who are just as passionate as I am about books, podcasts, film, music, or all of the above, and would like to just meet up to talk about these topics more, and maybe even want to work on art projects together.

And finally, if you have followed me for this long, I hope you will give me honest feedback on how you think I should spend my time and think about 2017.

The year that has passed has been fraught with disappointment for many of us who believed in liberal values and common sense in our nation. The temptation may be to shrink even deeper into our enclaves and to stick to the personal lives we have so much more agency over. I hope you will join me in rejecting that choice, and coming out with compassion, reason, and honesty in 2017.

Year in Review

Derek’s 2016 Reflection, Part 1: Consumption

2016 was rough by most accounts, but you cannot say the same for its art. In the same vein, select pieces of journalism excelled in bringing forth truth and insight amidst the many debasements of its field. And if all else in 2016 fails, the beauty of books, films, etc. is that they far outpace our own lives, and there is always a never-ending trove of treats to consume from years past, meaning the quality of any one year’s experience is in fact what you make of it.

I care deeply about what I “consume”, by which I mean stories, ideas, information, and designed experiences (in other words, food for the mind and soul), because we are living in a world which is becoming increasingly saturated by mediocre, poor, or sometimes even malicious content. Our consumptions guide our morality and intellect, but are often guided by institutions that only care about our bank accounts or our votes. Creative content should be valued not by the dollars of ad revenue it can lure eyeballs to, but by its intrinsic value, measured in knowledge, honesty, or feeling. I am passionate about curating and communicating that value because we only have so much time in our lives to let anything we do be aimless or misguided. And for my own life, I consume so that I may have inspiration to produce my own stories and ideas which, someday I hope, will be worth consuming as well.

The types of content I would like to reflect on here are the following:

  1. Books
  2. Podcasts
  3. Film and Television
  4. Music
  5. Live Performances

Of course there are many more categories I could write about, and many more beyond that I simply did not have the time or privilege to consume. I certainly hope this work inspires some of you to not just seek out these meaningful experiences, but to share some of your own, so that we may all benefit from the essential work of curation.

One last note before I begin: another way to frame this entire exercise, if I were writing much more philosophically, is that as automation takes over a lot of the manual and technical labor that humans once had to do, then what is left is not suffering as some political pundits would like to claim, but a beautiful chance for us all to produce and consume the types of content that are fundamentally human. I hope the most popular careers in 2040 will be storytelling and art. And I hope that we can reconfigure our economy by then so that those works can be traded at their true value, can sustain our livelihoods. So in other words, perhaps if more of us think critically about the value of what we consume, and aspire to produce content whose value will far outlast our own lives, we will be the true vanguards of tomorrow.


I begin with books because I think they are the most endangered species on my list. It’s not just that the time needed to read long books feels more and more like a luxury, but that our brains may be losing their ability to focus long enough on books, given all the toxic distractions they are bombarded with every moment. For the last few years I have made it a priority in my life to read and have been able to consistently increase my productivity (2013: 24; 2014: 26; 2015: 30; 2016: 44). I suspect I can realistically maintain around 40 books per year with my public transit life, especially if I start replacing late night Facebook time with Kindle time. This year and last I’ve finally gotten deeply into nonfiction, and I’m almost at the point where I’m a more avid nonfiction reader than fiction reader. Perhaps I’m starting to feel the unbearable weight of what I don’t know.

I’ll note here that I am personally not enough of a reader to be able to keep up with books that are released in the given year, so pretty much all of the books I’ll talk about were from years past. I guess that just means I have much to aspire to when it comes to bibliophilia.


In the beginning of 2016 I made a concerted effort to read the Pulitzer Prize winners and runners up in nonfiction from 2015: The Sixth Extinction by Elizabeth Kolbert, tales of biodiversity and evolution, Age of Ambition by Evan Osnos, an incisive study of the Chinese psyche, and No Good Men Among the Living by Anand Gopal, an equally incisive study of America’s mistakes in Afghanistan. All three deeply impressed me, although I’d recommend Osnos’s work the highest.

From there I was inspired by Sam Harris’s podcast to tackle Steven Pinker’s massive The Better Angels of Our Nature, which demonstrates unequivocally that human violence has massively declined throughout history. I was especially intrigued by the idea that literature itself — the first fiction to be mass manufactured off the printing press — may have actually led to a cultural wave of empathy for the “other” whose stories had never been told so intimately, and an actual societal shift away from torture, slavery, etc. I really welcomed historical evidence of stories and knowledge actually rewiring our moral values, as I argued for in the introduction.

From there my nonfiction reading jumped back and forth between evolutionary biology, climate science, design and urban planning, politics, and secularism. Of particular note, The Language of Architecture by Andrea Simitch was a major influence on my curriculum design for my high school architecture course, and The Big Sort by Bill Bishop reminded me of the insight of Bob Putnam’s Bowling Alone but even more directly explained the political polarization that surprised us all in 2016.


Fiction, of course, will always be the cornerstone of my library. While the title of favorite novel was not usurped in 2016 (held by, in order for the last decade: the current Anthony Doerr’s All the Light We Cannot See; Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch; Jonathan Safran Foer’s Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close; Nicole Krauss’s The History of Love; Audrey Niffenegger’s The Time Traveler’s Wife), many excellent novels entered my shelf of all-time favorites.

I read two Kate Atkinson novels this year after falling in love with Life After Life last year. A God in Ruins was a (sort of) sequel to Life After Life in an incredible way; where LAL used the plot device of the main character starting her life over after every death to demonstrate the poetic power of narrative fiction, AGIR took the same universe and told just a single timeline in a nonlinear format, to the same powerful effect if not more. It’s as if Atkinson is playing both sides of the literary chessboard and showing off that she’s simply a Grandmaster of storytelling. If you like WWII novels and want to experience a really innovative pair of stories, I highly recommend these two.

I went back in time for the Pulitzer Prizes in fiction and greatly enjoyed The Orphan Master’s Son by Adam Johnson, as well as Tinkers by Paul Harding although it was significantly more enigmatic. The Light Between Oceans by M.L. Stedman, which yielded a beautiful film with Michael Fassbender and Alicia Vikander of the same name, was poignant yet forgettable among others. I really enjoyed Andy Weir’s The Martian and found it to be the most intellectually rigorous space sci-fi I’ve ever read, feeling essentially more like its own genre of “fiction about science”, if that makes any sense. Ready Player One was another surprisingly fun read, more YA than the others, but exploring a really entertaining fantasy world that rewards you with a satisfying journey.

Now, Murakami. In 2013 I somehow picked up After Dark as my very first Murakami work, and that led me to binge-read his Trilogy of the Rat and other early works in 2014. Then in 2015 I jumped ahead to his latest Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage, leaving a gaping hole from The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle to 1Q84 that I finally finished off this year. Those two in particular really cemented my love for Murakami and his unique metaphysical view of the human condition. In 1Q84 especially I found myself reading almost the entire third act in one sitting, and I consider this strange and delightful novel his masterpiece.

Three more novels I want to highlight. First, the only new release I actively anticipated this year (having finally gotten deep enough into literature to actually have authors I am following) was my favorite author Jonathan Safran Foer’s Here I Am, which definitely met my expectations as a beautifully realized and rich novel, though the subject matter did not resonate with me as strongly as his last novel. What I especially enjoyed was getting to see him at the San Francisco City Arts & Lectures Series talking about his work. I have always suspected that JSF awoke the writer within me in my freshman year, and that I largely based my first and second NaNoWriMo novels off of this writing style. It was incredible to hear him speak directly about his process and feel like I really had developed much of the same approach — letting the work evolve without too rigid of a plan, using the fictional character as a study of reality, using the fictional story as a form of personal therapy. I’ve now seen two role models at the Nourse Theater, just blocks away from my apartment, JSF and Richard Dawkins, and I’m so grateful for this intellectual sanctuary in my neighborhood.

Second, in anticipation of seeing Les Miserables for the first time on Broadway this Fall, I decided to finally dive into Victor Hugo’s massive novel, starting on the flight. While I didn’t get anywhere close to finishing in time for the musical, a few weeks later I reached the end and felt deeply alive. I’d underestimated a lot about classical literature, especially that these writers could depict humanity and history with such grand and ambitious strokes, without the modern conveniences of technology. I regret that I did not open this book earlier in life, and now will commit to reading at least one great work of classical literature per year.

Third, the beast that I’ve been wrestling for basically the last quarter of the year has been David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest. To be honest, I’m still not done with a week left to go in the year, but I intend to finish. There’s so much to say about this work that I simply cannot do it justice. First and foremost, it is absolutely worth the read, but perhaps with the caveat that you may need to be reading at the volume I read to be able to tackle it with sufficient momentum and perseverance (I had to take multiple breaks of other books to get the weight of this book off my chest). It’s the first novel I’ve ever read that truly felt superhuman in its scope and complexity. DWF is above all a master of language, as if he has somehow unlocked its secret and can make it bend to any purpose, especially through complete control of grammar. There is literally no narrative structure here, footnotes inside of footnotes that are longer than some entire novels, single sentences that are longer than some entire chapters, multiple interlocking storylines, and a complete universe of WebMD-level detail into multiple areas of nonfictional interest, including but not limited to professional tennis, hard drugs, AA, avant-garde film, international relations, and climate science. And I feel like everything works, and has gotten under my skin in strange and wondrous ways. It is a definitive account of addiction and psychosis in all its forms.

My top ten books read in 2016, starting with fiction:

  1. Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace
  2. Here I Am by Jonathan Safran Foer (2016)
  3. Les Miserables by Victor Hugo
  4. A God in Ruins by Kate Atkinson
  5. 1Q84 by Haruki Murakami
  6. The Orphan Master’s Son by Adam Johnson
  7. The Martian by Andy Weir
  8. Ready Player One by Ernest Cline
  9. The Light Between Oceans by M.L. Stedman
  10. The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami

And nonfiction:

  1. Age of Ambition: Chasing Fortune, Truth, and Fortune in China by Evan Osnos
  2. The Better Angels of Our Nature by Steven Pinker
  3. The Sixth Extinction by Elizabeth Kolbert
  4. The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins
  5. The Big Sort by Bill Bishop
  6. No Good Men Among the Living by Anand Gopal
  7. The Extended Phenotype by Richard Dawkins
  8. Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain
  9. Smart Cities by Anthony Townsend
  10. More Human: Designing a World Where People Come First by Steve Hilton (and my friend Jason Bade and his brother Scott Bade) (2016)

I’d love recommendations for what 40 books I should read in 2017!


For the same reason I had so much time to read books in 2016, my week-daily commute from San Francisco to Stanford and back, outside of sitting in my Caltrain seat I listened to podcasts on the bus or on my feet. I also listened to podcasts on my walks to Trader Joe’s, or while cooking, or basically any time besides when I was reading or concentrating on work. That made for a lot of time with my favorite new medium, one that often seemed to mirror my life in uncanny ways, and one I think will only pick up in popularity.

There are so many different types of podcasts, and so many of each, that it may seem daunting to get into them. I suspect for many of you that this the one category I’m writing about that you haven’t tried yet, and you would find recommendations quite valuable. I subscribe to about 40 podcasts, and will go ahead and introduce them in categories.


Given This American Life is still the most popular podcast, I’ll start by sharing my favorite podcasts that are similar in format, namely journalism focused on ideas and stories through the lens of everyday people. It’s also critical to note here that these types of podcasts are fully produced with excessive editing and music, and that if you don’t like that style there are other styles below to suit your needs. On TAL I particularly enjoyed the following stories this year:

I personally like Radiolab better than TAL because of the science angle, and an overall stronger production style, and I particularly liked the More Perfect side project by Jad Abumrad about the Supreme Court. In fact, in 2016 the best Radiolab work all-around was about political science and law. Best episodes out of Radiolab:

  • I Don’t Have to Answer That”, a valuable history lesson on politics.
  • K-poparazzi”, in which I learned a lot about Koreans.
  • Debatable”, my personal favorite Radiolab episode of 2016, an incredible story about high school debate culture.
  • 23 Weeks 6 Days”, a story that helped clarify my own views on abortion.
  • Cellmates”, Good old evolutionary biology, writ large by Radiolab.
  • The Buried Bodies Case”, a dark case about ethics in law.
  • Object Anyway”, from More Perfect, the incredible story of the Batson Rule.
  • Seneca, Nebraska”, a haunting look at the power of voting.
  • One Vote”, an inspiring look at the power of voting.

However, for the average millennial I would actually recommend you start with Reply All, which focuses on stories related to the internet and has two entertaining hosts and plenty of fun features (including Yes Yes No, which, when I showed it to a friend a few days ago, basically inspired him to want to binge listen to the whole podcast). The stories are not as essential as those in TAL or Radiolab, but they certainly matter to our generation. My favorites:

  • The Cathedral”, perhaps the best podcast story of 2016. If you’ve never listened to a podcast before, start here.
  • Dead is Paul”, the Yes Yes No I mentioned above which will blow your mind and is the best way to get into Yes Yes Nos.
  • Making Friends”, about a strange but strangely relatable disorder.
  • The Grand Tapestry of Pepe”, their first essential coverage of the alt-right.
  • Very Quickly to the Drill”, which will change the way you think about advertising.
  • Voyage into Pizzagate”, their second essential coverage of the alt-right, demonstrating why Reply All is so important in our new political landscape.

If you enjoy all of the above, then there are many other great story-driven podcasts. I particularly like Strangers by Lea Thau whose voice is like chicken noodle soup for your ears. Her stories are reliably more challenging and painful portraits of humanity, but if you’re willing to take the plunge, try the entire kidney donor series, “Elizabeth and Mary”, and then try to stomach “The Truth” and “Lex” if you dare. StartUp has been doing a really interesting story about the infamous Dov Charney of American Apparel which is worth listening to if you’re interested in studying a modern Icarus. And finally, I’ll highlight Jonathan Goldstein’s Heavyweight which is a quality project of personal therapy (though I really miss Mystery Show by Starlee Kine).

Other podcasts I listen to in this vein, roughly in order of what you should try: Twice Removed (which just started but is promising), Serial Season Two (a letdown compared to Season One), Millennial, Invisibilia (a huge letdown compared to Season One) and Crimetown.


Another style of podcasts may use a story-driven or interview format but is really about presenting ideas in economics, technology, politics, ethics, etc. Besides the episodes above that entered this realm, the following are my go-to places for ideas.

  • Waking Up With Sam Harris has changed my life. Sam Harris is one of the smartest and most intellectually honest people I know, and over the course of many hours listening to him think in public, I consider him a role model for my own moral and intellectual reasoning. The warning I must give is that his podcasts average 2 hours long and require serious concentration, but if you are willing to truly grow as an intellectual, I’d recommend starting with the following:
    • An Evening with Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris (1)”, and nice comprehensive interview to start with two of my favorite public intellectuals.
    • Thinking in Public”, the first episode I listened to, with Neil degrasse Tyson.
    • What Do Jihadists Really Want?”, a definitive podcast on how to think honestly about Islamic extremism.
    • Abusing Dolores”, a really entertaining conversation with his best guest Paul Bloom touching on the problem with empathy and artificial intelligence. If you like this one, then go back immediately and listen to his past two conversations with Bloom.
    • Racism and Violence in America”, which helped me think honestly about Black Lives Matter vs. Blue Lives Matter.
    • Meat Without Misery”, a great application of moral reasoning to a great upcoming technology.
    • Evolving Minds”, a wonderful conversation with Jonathan Haidt (whose book The Righteous Mind was a great read last year), demonstrating the proper way to debate different perspectives, concluding with a great takedown of our new illiberal campus culture.
    • The Best Podcast Ever”, which you should tackle once you’re fully comfortable with Harris, because this is three hours of torture but essential to experience if you want to see the dishonesty of the illiberal left.
  • The Weeds by Vox is an excellent nourishment for the mind on policy and economics, a chance to sit in on a conversation among three intelligent and well-informed journalists. Every single episode is high quality and worth listening to, but given its positioning as relevant to current events, I would just recommend you start now and never miss an episode. I particularly like that they discuss an economics white paper at the end of every episode. BTW, for general news, though I don’t read as much as I would like to, I generally look to Vox for my preferred coverage, based on my satisfying experience with this podcast.
  • Revisionist History by Malcolm Gladwell is, like his books, big ideas packaged a little bit too convincingly, but is a really successful debut in this new medium which I prefer to his books. Especially notable episodes are “Food Fight”, “The Big Man Can’t Shoot”, “Hallelujah”, and “Blame Game”.
  • Planet Money has emerged as my favorite economics podcast. I especially liked their series on Oil and their analysis of the Wells Fargo scandal, and would generally recommend this podcast for its brevity and concision to the first-timer interested in ideas.
  • Freakonomics is still very much worth listening to for the talented production of Stephen Dubner, and for a breadth and depth of behavioral economics ideas. I found the following particularly useful: the Bad Medicine series, “Ten Ideas to Make Politics Less Rotten”, “The Longest Long Shot”, and “The True Story of the Gender Pay Gap”.
  • 99% Invisible started it all for me, and is still creating great pieces about design (I now happily own a challenge coin though I don’t carry it with me). My favorite episode this year was “Mojave Phone Booth”.
  • The Theory of Everything by Benjamin Walker has not delivered anything as great as last year’s “New York After Rent” series, but is still a fresh dose of intrigue throughout the year. I particularly liked the miniature story “pass (r)” about self-driving cars.

Other podcasts in this category: Song Exploder, TED Radio Hour (increasingly less interesting to me), TEDTalks (audio) (which I’m starting to prefer to Guy Raz’s product), StarTalk Radio, Science Vs, Surprisingly Awesome, The Allusionist, Undone, and Generation Anthropocene.

News, Interviews, Criticism, Etc.

For news, I really appreciated NPR Politics Podcast coverage throughout the year, and would recommend you try it out if you want to be informed about the first year of Trump in a light-hearted way (but for more technical analysis, go for The Weeds). I also listen to KQED’s The California Report which has been somewhat valuable.

For great interviews, I still enjoy WTF with Marc Maron when I know the person he’s talking to (great guests this year include Ethan Hawke, Louis CK, Sam Quinones, author of Dreamland, and Lin-Manuel Miranda), and have also enjoyed some episodes from The Nerdist. There were some great interviews on The New York Public Library Podcast, largely thanks to great interviewing by Paul Holdengraber; check out the episodes with Junot Diaz and Robert A. Caro. I’ve just started listening to The Ezra Klein Show and suspect I will have glowing praise for it this time next year.

Miscellaneously, I’ve started listening to criticism in film and music, specifically Filmspotting and All Songs Considered. Homecoming, a fictional radio drama by Gimlet, was worth the listen, and has convinced me that the medium can be successful for storytelling. Finally, when all else failed, I enjoyed good old comedy. So far I’m just enjoying 2 Dope Queens and have just started the British satire The Bugle.

I would love recommendations for anything great I missed in 2016, and what new podcasts I should subscribe to in 2017!

Film and Television

As you probably know, I’m now officially a cinephile, having passed through the gauntlet of freezing cold waiting lines at two Sundances and one Berlinale, the less painful trial of a B-movie horror film and wine festival in the countryside of Slovenia, and an average of about 90 movies watched per year over the last two years. I’ve been able to afford this excessive movie-watching through a wonderful product called Moviepass, which, if you haven’t already heard me go on about it, is a debit card + app that lets you watch one movie in theaters per day for $35-45/month. Basically I found in the first half of 2015 that Boanne and I were essentially spending that much in movies already, so we got the Moviepass in August 2015, and, according to my careful accounting, since then I’ve paid $600 through the service but have watched nearly $1500 worth of movies in theaters (not to mention the perks through AMC Stubs). It’s basically the only reason I’ve been able to fully become a film junkie, and I seriously recommend it for anybody who wants to enjoy film without worrying about the cost.

I tried to do a Top 25 Movies list on Facebook but ran into trouble with a dozen or so films I expected to be contenders but hadn’t watched yet; alas the problem with film is that so many great ones come out right at the end of the year in limited release. But as best as I can do, I will highlight my favorite films that came out in 2016. Basically I rate films on a scale of 5, and would recommend anything I give a 4 or above.

Early in the year, besides watching the excellent ones I missed from 2015 (The Revenant, The Hateful Eight, Anomalisa, and the Oscar nominated shorts), there were some excellent early arrivals like Hail, Caesar (with a hilarious performance by Alden Ehrenreich which should not be forgotten as we gear up for his next role as a young Han Solo), Deadpool (Ryan Reynolds fully redeeming himself), Where to Invade Next (a really solid, optimistic documentary by Michael Moore), The Witch (with a breakthrough performance by Anya Taylor-Joy, an actress to watch), 10 Cloverfield Lane, and Eye in the Sky. But the standout from the first quarter was Zootopia, which is my favorite animated film of the year.

In the spring, I fell in love with Everybody Wants Some!!, a perfect little film by Richard Linklater following the much-deserved success of Boyhood, Green Room, my personal favorite of 2016 as a study of pain, and Sing Street, a joyful little punk musical. Civil War definitely satisfied my superhero needs, while Batman v. Superman and X-Men Apocalypse really disappointed. Hardcore Henry was actually a pleasant surprise; it reminded me of District 9 in its daring concept and perfect casting of Sharlto Copley, and made me an instant fanboy of Haley Bennett. Other good films from that season: Jungle Book (not interesting enough for me in plot but certainly a visual effects masterpiece), The Nice Guys, Finding Dory, and The Shallows. The Lobster was highly anticipated, but just didn’t work for me overall, although there are some great deadpan moments of comedy.

Summer brought the absolute trash of 2016 to sweep out, specifically Suicide Squad and Snowden, but otherwise delivered with excellent films like Our Kind of Traitor, Hunt for the Wilderpeople (cementing my love for Taika Waititi) and all things New Zealand, The Infiltrator, Captain Fantastic (with breakthrough actress Annalise Basso), Sausage Party (a potential pinnacle of achievement for Seth Rogen and friends), Don’t Breathe, Light Between Oceans, Pete’s Dragon (which worked beautifully for me in the climax), Hell or High Water (a perfect modern western), Sully, War Dogs (with impressive performances by Miles Teller and Jonah Hill), and the entertaining Magnificent Seven. I also got a chance to catch a documentary I missed in 2014, The Look of Silence, which is an incredible follow-up to one of the best documentaries ever made, The Act of Killing.

In the last quarter of the year, the gems started to show up, like the masterpieces Handmaiden, Moonlight, Arrival, Manchester by the Sea, and La La Land (see my Facebook wall for my profusion of love for these). Other excellent films around these included Don’t Think Twice (which has put Gillian Jacobs on my watchlist), Girl on the Train (again, Haley Bennett stuns, and Emily Blunt pulls off a really convincing drunk), A Man Called Ove, Hacksaw Ridge (with the most intense war scene I’ve ever seen), Moana (the future of Disney ‘princess’ films), Nocturnal Animals, Edge of Seventeen (the best film about being a teenager I’ve ever seen, with an outstanding performance by Hailee Steinfeld), and Your Name (an excellent new anime). I’ve got quite a few films left which I’m excited to see in theaters, especially Jackie, Fences, and 20th Century Women, and quite a few I missed throughout the year which I’ll have to catch up with, like Krisha, The Fits, Certain Women, Neon Demon, Born to Be Blue, Love & Friendship, Weiner, and April and the Extraordinary World.

My top 25 list, as of now:

  • Moonlight
  • Green Room
  • The Handmaiden
  • Everybody Wants Some!!
  • Arrival
  • La La Land
  • Manchester By the Sea
  • Sing Street
  • Hell or High Water
  • Hunt for the Wilderpeople
  • Don’t Think Twice
  • Captain Fantastic
  • Zootopia
  • Little Men
  • Moana
  • Finding Dory
  • Ove
  • Sully
  • Nocturnal Animals
  • Edge of Seventeen
  • Your Name
  • Hacksaw Ridge
  • Our Kind of Traitor
  • The Infiltrator
  • Pete’s Dragon

Just like last year, I simply could not make the time for television that I would like to. I’m generally really cautious of television because of its incredibly slow pace compared to film, but I can’t deny that we are in a golden era of television. In 2015 I finished up Breaking Bad and basically decided that I didn’t need to watch any other television for the rest of my life. Early this year I retracted that view after watching Louis CK’s mini-series Horace and Pete, which unfolded like a classic American stage play and was just perfect all around (I’m happy to share the episodes if you haven’t seen them). Otherwise, I succumbed to my guilty obsession with The Great British Bake Off, once again, with Boanne, and can happily flaunt that I guessed the season winner correctly from Episode 1. We also binged Stranger Things recently, which had a nice overall design but was much too uneventful to me, and watched a few Black Mirror episodes. Based on recommendations, I think next year I will try to finish off Black Mirror, binge Westworld, and then maybe make a dent in Mad Men. Any other recommendations will have to directly compete for my timeshare, but are very much welcomed.


The medium that is nearest and dearest to my heart is music, based on an entire childhood of musical training and the degree to which music has shaped my emotional growth. As I have written before, music has the added bonus of placing me in the past unlike any other stimuli (although podcasts have been doing this recently as well). I’ve already written quite excessively about my 25 favorite songs of 2016, as summarized below (with an extra 5 for good measure):

  1. Whitney – Follow
  2. Blood Orange – Best to You
  3. Bon Iver – 715 – CRΣΣKS
  4. Lambchop – In Care of 8675309
  5. Frank Ocean – Self Control
  6. Drake – Fire & Desire
  7. Kevin Morby – Black Flowers
  8. dvsn – Another One
  9. Francis and the Lights – Friends (feat. Bon Iver)
  10. Kanye West – Famous (feat. Rihanna & Swizz Beatz)
  11. Flume – Say It feat. Tove Lo
  12. Tegan & Sara – Boyfriend
  13. Mutual Benefit – Getting Gone
  14. The 1975 – Somebody Else
  15. Regina Spektor – Bleeding Heart
  16. M83 – Atlantique Sud
  17. James Blake – I Need a Forest Fire (ft. Bon Iver)
  18. How To Dress Well – Can’t You Tell
  19. Rihanna – Kiss It Better
  20. Radiohead – True Love Waits
  21. Angel Olsen – Sister
  22. Ra Ra Riot – Call Me Out
  23. Kendrick Lamar – untitled 03 | 05.28.2013.
  24. Jimmy Eat World – Integrity Blues
  25. American Football – Give Me the Gun
  26. Hamilton Leithauser + Rostam – Peaceful Morning
  27. Solange – Where Do We Go
  28. NxWorries – Scared Money
  29. Leonard Cohen – You Want It Darker
  30. La La Land Soundtrack – Audition (The Fools Who Dream)

(Let me know if you want this as a playlist and I’ll be happy to share.)

I have a top 15 albums list, but I’ll start by talking more broadly about the music that moved me throughout the year.

At the start of 2016, I was still listening to some favorites from 2015, like Joanna Newsom’s Divers, Adele’s 25, Grimes’s Art Angels, Majical Cloudz’s Are You Alone?, and Julia Holter’s Have You In My Wilderness.

The first exciting new albums to be released, in February, were the hip hop stunners ANTI by Rihanna and The Life of Pablo by Kanye West. TLOP in particular amazed me with its seemingly arbitrary design, getting revised and added to all the way to the last moment. We also got the much awaited sophomore album of The 1975, I like it when you sleep, for you are so beautiful yet so unaware of it, which didn’t produce any single incredible tracks like their debut but delivered an impressive soundscape. I also got recommended the 2013 Pulitzer Prize-winning Partita for 8 Voices by Caroline Shaw and Roomful of Teeth, which was a wonderful classical addition to my playlist.

In March I got mildly obsessed with The Microphones’ “I Want Wind to Blow” thanks to an episode of Song Exploder, as well as Nick Drake’s Bryter Layter thanks to a feature on 99% Invisible. I totally fell in love with that Nick Drake album which evoked (or perhaps inspired) the essential bucolic sound of Belle & Sebastian. Other songs I discovered from past years included “I Decline” by Perfume Genius and “Run Away From Me” by Carly Rae Jepsen, which fully convinced me of her talents (far above the likes of Taylor Swift). Kendrick Lamar came out with untitled unmastered. which was like an effortless encore to last year’s huge To Pimp a Butterfly. Ra Ra Riot also came out with their new album Need Your Light which did not meet my expectations from Beta Love but was still a fun listen.

In April, still riding the Yeezy wave, I decided to go back to some old albums I hadn’t really gotten into (having ‘come to Yeezus’ on My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy) and got pretty obsessed with 808s & Heartbreak, especially “Paranoid (feat. Mr. Hudson)” and “RoboCop”. I fell in love with newcomer dvsn and his sensual songs on SEPT. 5TH, as well as the retro sound of M83’s new album Junk. While I didn’t get deeply into Andrew Bird’s new Are You Serious, I did particularly enjoy “The New Saint Jude”. Beyonce’s Lemonade came out this month, but I just did not find anything exciting about it, compared to all this other great music. Perhaps I just reacted poorly to a lot of the negative energy inside of it, which I didn’t want my music to exude.

May was a huge month for music, with Drake’s Views, Chance the Rapper’s Coloring Book, James Blake’s The Colour in Anything, Radiohead’s A Moon Shaped Pool, and Mutual Benefit’s Skip a Sinking Stone on repeat. Chance has definitely moved into my radar but I still can’t quite love his work the same way I do Kanye’s or Drake’s; I think it may just be his voice and a fairly monotonous style. I did particularly like the sound in “Summertime Friends”, which introduced me to Francis and the Lights as well.

In June, I found my favorite new artist of 2016, Whitney, and my second favorite new artist of 2016, Kevin Morby. Blood Orange’s Devonte Hynes delivered with his new Freetown Sound which, above all, showed him moving towards Michael Jackson in style. I’ll also note that his music videos have been some of the best all year. Tegan & Sara came out with Love You to Death which was just as solid as their last album, while Flume mostly disappointed with his sophomore effort Skin.

In July I didn’t discover much new music besides a new concept album by Bat For Lashes, The Bride. It wasn’t nearly as good as A Haunted Man, but the last few songs on the album were some of the most beautiful I’ve heard from her.

August brought the long-awaited return of Frank Ocean, in this case more than enough music in two complete albums, Endless and Blonde. I particularly liked “Rushes” from the visual album, and then pretty much everything off of Blonde. I got into a little bit of Mitski, though I’m not a fan of her overall rock sound, as well as a little bit of the new Metronomy which does not live up to the excellent songs from The English Riviera or Love Letters. Boanne and I got pretty obsessed with “Friends” this month, and for some reason I found myself digging through old Fleetwood Mac and listening a lot to “Second Hand News” and “Never Going Back Again” from Rumours.

In September, I got into the rest of Francis and the Lights’ Farewell, Starlite! as well Kishi Bashi’s new Sonderlust. But mostly I fell in love with Angel Olsen and the second half of My Woman.

In October I mainly listened to Bon Iver’s 22, A Million, but also found time for new albums from Regina Spektor and How to Dress Well. I also got into Hamilton Leithauser + Rostam, which presented a nice derivative of Vampire Weekend’s sound.

November was time for catch-up on great albums I had missed, like Solange’s A Seat at the Table, NxWorries’ Yes Lawd!, American Football’s second eponymous album, and Carly Rae Jepsen’s EMOTION Side B (especially the last three songs). I also got semi-obsessed with “Gemini Feed” by Banks, though the rest of her album is much too basic for me. The big new releases for me were Conor Oberst’s simple Ruminations, Jimmy Eat World’s epic Integrity Blues, and Leonard Cohen’s dark swansong You Want it Darker. But mostly I fell in love with the new Lambchop album FLOTUS and the Hamilton soundtrack.

Coming into the last stretch, I’ve mainly been reviewing these favorites throughout the year to create my Top 30 list, as well as checking in on critical acclaimed or friend-recommended albums I missed, like Wilco’s Schmilco, Kid Cudi’s Passion, Pain & Demon Slayin’, The Weeknd’s Starboy, Crystal Fighter’s Everything is My Family, Car Seat Headrest’s Teens of Denial, David Bowie’s Blackstar, ANOHNI’s Hopelessness, Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds’ Skeleton Tree, and Nicolas Jaar’s Sirens. On Christmas Day my favorite rap group Run The Jewels put out their much anticipated RTJ3 which has been sounding pretty good so far. I also fell in love with the La La Land soundtrack, one of the highlights of a film I’m still overall struggling with, and its showstopper “Audition (The Fools Who Dream)” is the last song to sneak into my Top 30 list.

Top 15 albums of 2016:

  1. Bon Iver – 22, A Million
  2. Frank Ocean – Blonde
  3. Whitney – A Light Upon the Lake
  4. Lambchop – FLOTUS
  5. Blood Orange – Freetown Sound
  6. Kanye West – The Life of Pablo
  7. Hamilton Leithauser + Rostam – I Had a Dream That You Were Mine
  8. Solange – A Seat At the Table
  9. Drake – Views
  10. James Blake – The Colour in Anything
  11. Kevin Morby – Singing Saw
  12. The 1975 – I like it when you sleep, for you are so beautiful yet so unaware of it
  13. Radiohead – A Moon Shaped Pool
  14. Angel Olsen – My Woman
  15. American Football – American Football

I’d love to know what other music you liked in 2016, and what you’re looking forward to in 2017!

Live Performances

As I mentioned in the intro, the future of automation may lead us all inevitably to careers in creativity and art. Within that space, live experiences may be the most valuable and essential content we create. I have consciously tried to invest more in performances, immersive experiences, and gatherings for ideas, and will share some of the most valuable ones below.

Building off of my musical journey this year were some wonderful concerts, particularly:

  • Majical Cloudz at The Chapel, SF. Devon Welsh is enigmatic in his music but wears his awkwardness out in the open when he performs live. It was really incredible to see his endearment towards his own music. I basically was holding out for his performance of my favorite song “Downtown”, and he absolutely nailed it.
  • Cyndi Lauper at Hardly Strictly, SF. What a joyful performance from an older woman who still has all the energy in the world. I honestly hadn’t known that she was the original writer of “True Colours” and absolutely loved her performance of that song, as well as, of course, “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun.” Yo La Tengo was also wonderful right ahead of Cyndi Lauper on that stage in Golden Gate Park.
  • The Tallest Man on Earth at The Greek Theater, SF. Kristian Matsson was actually just opening for The Head and the Heart, who I’ve now seen four times and was mediocre, but Matsson totally impressed me with his stage presence and fluidity with his instrument. I’m definitely going to catch him every chance I can now.
  • Bon Iver at Fox Theater, Oakland, my third time seeing him live. I’ve already praised Justin Vernon’s new sound, and you rarely come across a concert in which the artist simply plays the album exactly as you love it, top to bottom. I particularly loved seeing him use the Messina live, and his huge fleet of saxophonists. While he didn’t pull out the classic “Re: Stacks” or “Skinny Love”, I really liked his performance of the single “Heavenly Father”. Opener Francis and the Lights, unfortunately, was a huge disappointment.
  • Peter Silberman of the Antlers at Swedish American Hall, SF. When I saw him I wasn’t aware of his bout with hearing loss and the bare record he had put together as a result, but I thoroughly enjoyed his expansive solo set and the quaint venue.

In 2016 I got to see a bit of contemporary dance by Tanya Chianese’s wonderful dance company ka·nei·see | collective, which reinvigorated my personal love for dance that grew out of some social dance classes in freshman year of college. I also got to see my favorite author Jonathan Safran Foer at the San Francisco City Arts & Lectures series. Next year I’m looking forward to seeing a broadcast conversation with Edward Snowden there.

I can’t really talk about live performances without praising Broadway musicals. I got into musicals with Wicked in high school and actually saw it for the fourth time this spring. I also happily supported a Heathers independent production by some wildly talented and motivated students at the high school I teach at. When I went to New York for a week in August, I had to re-experience my favorite ‘theatrical’ experience, the enigmatic Sleep No More by Punchdrunk, which is quite simply my #1 recommendation for how to spend $100 in New York. And I finally got to see Les Miserables, a musical I performed in field show form in high school marching band and have always loved. The stage production itself may have shot up and beat Wicked as my favorite musical, though I suspect it will be quickly usurped by Hamilton which I am super excited to see in 2017 in SF. I rounded out the year’s musicals with Hedwig and the Angry Inch, a really exhilarating, fourth-wall breaking musical experience right at home in liberal SF, and a second viewing of The Lion King.

I want to highlight stage comedy, which I have learned a lot about through episodes on the WTF Podcast and the excellent film Don’t Think Twice but have never really had a chance to experience until this year’s NY trip when I got to see cheap shows at The Comedy Cellar and the Upright Citizen’s Brigade Theater. I definitely think the interactivity of live comedy is a nourishing and valuable experience to take advantage of and to invest in if you have good comedy venues in your city (does anybody know of any in SF?).

I’ll highlight some new museums I visited in 2016. In the Bay Area, I enjoyed the new Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive (though I hate the overall architectural concept by Diller Scofidio + Renfro), the new SFMOMA (which had a much more successful architectural solution by Snohetta), and the Academy of Art & Science which I finally got to experience on one of its Nightlife events. In NY, I visited the American Museum of Natural History for the first time, as well as the new Whitney at the southern end of the High Line which I think is Renzo Piano’s most successful public building. I also really enjoyed the observation deck at the top of the One World Trade Center, which holds a special place in my heart because I had been at the top of one of the original towers one month before 9/11, and had watched this new tower be built over a summer internship in NY. On my brief trip to Washington D.C I didn’t have a chance to see David Adjaye’s new Smithsonian Museum, but really enjoyed touring the Capitol Building and Library of Congress, as well as walking around Tidal Basin and viewing all of the national memorials in the empty stillness of midnight.

In terms of natural environments, I didn’t get to explore as much as I would have liked, but did enjoy new hikes in Yosemite, Muir Woods, and Lake Tahoe, adding to my love for the Bay Area as a whole. On a trip to China over Thanksgiving I got to see Zhangjiajie National Park, which has unbelievable geological formations which inspired environmental design in the Avatar film. I think those natural canyons are some of the most incredible places I’ve ever seen on this planet.

Mostly I found experiential nourishment this year by exploring my new hometown, San Francisco, in all of its urban and natural beauty, for many weekends with my girlfriend, racking up those Fitbit badges.

I really don’t have the energy to get into food, which could be its entire own chapter of consumption, except to list my ten favorite establishments in the Bay Area:

  • El Farolito in the Mission, for the best Mexican I’ve ever had, especially the Super Suiza. I had this a lot over the summer when I was working at Gray Area.
  • Good Mong Kok Bakery in Chinatown, for dim sum at proper price point and bluntness of service.
  • Yamo in the Mission, for delicious house noodles and the smell of cooking oil all over your clothes.
  • The House of Prime Rib on Van Ness, for the kind of carnivore’s delight I feel is actively worth building up a carbon budget for.
  • Arizmendi Bakery in the Mission, for excellent cheese wheels and fresh pizzas.
  • San Tung in Inner Sunset, for delectable chicken wings.
  • Saigon Sandwich in the Tenderloin, for solid $4 bahn mi’s.
  • Golden Boy Pizza in North Beach, for clam and garlic pizzas and a convenient excuse to visit City Lights Bookstore as well.
  • Pedro’s Brazil Cafe in Berkeley, for heavenly tri-tip approved by your favorite President.
  • Momoyama Sushi in Pleasant Hill, for a perfectly sized dinner special for two.

Coffee enthusiasts: I simply will drink nothing but Philz Tesoras and Coupa drip unless you can show me something better.

On the personal cooking front, I’ve made it a regular habit to buy fresh baby bok choy from the U.N. Plaza Farmer’s Market and all other regular groceries from my local Trader Joe’s, though every once in a while I need to replenish something from 99 Ranch or succumb to the guilty pleasure of a Costco whole combo pizza in the freezer. I have tried consciously to reduce my meat consumption or to switch mostly to chicken, though have not done useful tracking of this. Next year I will try to limit red meat consumption to two meals per week and have at least two vegetarian lunches and dinners per week, for starters.

That concludes all I have to share of my essential consumptions of 2016. If you’ve made it this far, I hope you’ve found something worth agreeing with or trying out for yourself here, and definitely would welcome any additions or feedback you’d like to share. As I said, I do this because I love the things I love, and want to spread that experiential wealth in as effective of a way as I can, multiplying the value of my own time spent looking for gold in soil that is increasingly toxic. Perhaps I’m posting the kind of content I hope to see more of on social media, the kind of value that is not mined by advertisers, but reaped and shared with friends.

Here’s to what moved us in 2016, and what will move us further in 2017.