2021

January 1, 2022

I'm still reeling from 2020 and here we are in 2022. It seems as I get older that each year feels simultaneously like the longest and shortest year of my life. 2021 was no exception. I had a particularly hard time thinking of highlights because I feel like I barely left the house. I did manage to come up with a few.

Ryan. My son turned two in January and it's been amazing to see him develop his vocabulary and his personality. I can't believe it's been almost three years since he was born. It went by so fast. It was especially fun seeing him learn and get excited about holidays like Halloween and Christmas this year. Last year it just kind of washed over him and he took it all in, but in 2021 he really got into all of the little rituals and traditions. Seeing the most ordinary things through his eyes, like popping popcorn, was so amazing.

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Leaning into online communities. Early in the year I started watching a lot of web dev streams on Twitch. One of them, Frontend Horse, has a community Discord filled with a bunch of lovely creative developers. I really felt like I found my people. I ended up being a guest on Frontend Horse, as well as Some Antics, talking about design systems. I also did a short talk on templating at the first Eleventy Meetup.

I was inspired to start my own regular Twitch stream, Fridays at 1pm Central, where I talk about and answer questions about design systems, CSS, Eleventy and other topics. It's been a lot of fun working in the open and connecting with folks in the industry.

New side projects. Twitter was especially exhausting last January and I thought about how nice it would be to have a social media site free from hot takes, faux outrage and memes. Thus Dogs of Dev was born. A site that's just a bunch of pictures of dogs of people who make websites. There's currently close to 100 dogs! If you're a designer, developer or even tangentially involved with making websites, I'd love to add your pup(s)!

I also resurrected an old project from 2007, My Fake Season, which was originally built with PHP and MySQL. I rebuilt the whole thing in Eleventy, which was an interesting challenge. Especially since I didn't have access to the original database and had to pull a lot of the rendered content from the Internet Archive.

That project got me thinking about how I could replicate some of the old features I built for various basketball projects with a static site generator. I ended up making a Chicago Bulls schedule that pulls data from the NBA API. I've been meaning to update it so that you can view any team's schedule, but in the meantime it's been useful for me to be able to check out who the Bulls are playing and the results of past games. I have a GitHub action that rebuilds the site at 1am each day to get the latest results.

I also made an Eleventy starter that's been useful for quickly spinning up new sites, as well as an attempt to abstract my CSS methodology, Cool CSS, into a small framework I can use across projects and customize via design tokens. I still have a lot to do on that one, but I think it will be pretty useful in the long run.

Health issues. This seems to be a recurring theme as I get older. For awhile I was experiencing some weird abdominal pain that several doctors dismissed as acid reflux, but I was convinced it was not that. I ended up getting an endoscopy which didn't show anything out of the ordinary.

That same week I started having really bad tachycardia, where my resting heart rate was around 130 bpm, and the slightest exertion would raise it to ~160. I ended up going to the ER and, after a bunch of tests, they weren't able to figure it out.

Within a few weeks it all resolved itself, but it's not much comfort having gone through all that testing and not finding the cause. Ever since having that AFib episode a few years ago, any time something feels off, I get really anxious and that just makes things worse. It's like a vicious feedback loop that's really hard to get back to normal.

We raised $7,815 for Extra Life. Bert, Al and I had another record-breaking year, playing video games for 24 hours to support Lurie Children's Hospital in Chicago. To celebrate Olivia's birthday, I did a 12-hour stream where I raised almost half of my personal goal of $5000 and matched the first $1000 of donations. I think I'm going to start doing this every year, in addition to the regular marathon the first Saturday in November. To date, we've raised over $32,000 in Olivia's memory to help other sick children in Chicago.

I'm so grateful to Bert and Al for doing this with me year after year, and to everyone who generously donated this year and in years past. I'm really humbled each year by the support and encouragement.

Things I loved in 2021

Movies

The pandemic made for yet another rough year for the movie business. After completely failing my goal of watching a movie a day in 2020, I did manage to watch a single movie I'd never seen from each year since the year I was born. I wrote a recap of the highs and lows and already have a list ready for 2022.

There were a number of 2021 releases I enjoyed:

Dune I went into this with high expectations, despite not having read the book or seen the Lynch version. All I knew was this was a passion project for Villeneuve, whose other films rank among my all-time favorites. Again I was blown away by his world-building and attention to detail. Dune handles exposition in clever and subtle ways, without just having characters recite everything you need to know. Loved all the performances from the ensemble cast. The biggest complaint people seem to have about this is it's abrupt ending, but it felt like a natural stopping point and had me excited for what's to come, much like the first Lord of the Rings film.

Inside An incredible work of genius. It captures what we've all been feeling over the course of the pandemic in a weird, meta fever dream. So many inventive uses of lighting, editing and sound. I was constantly in awe. I alternated between laughing and wondering if Bo is ok. The songs are on Spotify and I listened to them quite a bit this year.

A still from Bo Burnham's Inside
Filmed in a single room, Bo Burnham's special Inside features lots of inventive lighting and projection work.

The Harder They Fall Dripping with style with a fantastic cast and a banging soundtrack. Easily one of the best Westerns in years. I had a lot of fun with it.

Pig A restrained performance from Cage, maybe one of his best. He doesn't even really speak that much but when he does it's remarkable. This isn't John Wick in the Portland restaurant scene, as the trailer would have you believe. It's more of a character study where everyone is grieving something lost.

C'mon C'mon This movie really got me thinking about the fallibility of our memory and how some of the most influential periods of our lives are reduced to flashes over time, if we even remember them at all. And how our recollections of the same event can be so different. Joaquin Phoenix was excellent as always and Woody Norman is wonderful as his young nephew. I got emotional several times thinking about my relationship with my son and how cool it is to see his personality forming already at the age of two. What will the future look like for him and what will he think about it?

Others worth mentioning: Bad Trip was the hardest I laughed all year. A very loose narrative around what's basically a hidden camera show, Eric Andre, Lil Rel Howery and Tiffany Haddish do some outrageous stuff in front of unsuspecting bystanders. And Spider-Man: No Way Home was incredibly ambitious and wildly entertaining, paying off 20+ years of Spider-Man films in unexpected ways. A fitting conclusion to Marvel's Spidey trilogy, and hopefully not the last we'll see of him in the MCU.

You can find the rest of my favorite films of 2021 over on Letterboxd.

TV

Squid Game If you haven't seen this Korean show that had everyone talking, I don't want to spoil anything for you. I'll just say it was probably the best thing I watched on TV this year and I burned through it in a day. The end of the first episode is bananas and will leave you wanting more. I had a few nitpicks but overall this show is a thrill ride.

I Think You Should Leave with Tim Robinson Season two was somehow even more hilarious than the first. My only complaint is that the episodes are so short and there's only six of them. But at the same time it makes it easy to re-watch again and again. This season brought us sloppy steaks, Dan Flashes, and a guy who doesn't want to be around anymore.

Sex Education I unapologetically love this British teen sex comedy about a high school student who makes money as a sex therapist to his classmates. The cast is great and diverse and the show tackles all different aspects of sex and sexuality with earnestness that's very endearing.

What We Do in the Shadows This TV spinoff of the 2014 film really hit its stride in its third season. It's a mockumentary about a group of vampires and their familiar (who happens to be a descendant of Van Helsing), living in New Jersey. The performances and writing are fantastic. One of the funniest shows on television.

How To with John Wilson I mentioned the first season of this documentary series last year. The latest season is so good. It's such a unique format, with a narrative built around seemingly random clips of life in New York City. Every episode begins with a premise that goes on outrageously unexpected tangents.

Others worth mentioning: Invincible is an adaptation of a graphic novel that poses the question: what if Superman was evil? Incredibly dark with a great cast. I ended up buying all of the graphic novels. Curb Your Enthusiasm is having quite a run in its 11th(!) season. Outrageous scenarios played out by the usual Curb crew and some amazing guests. In and of Itself is ostensibly a live magic show, but so much more. Derek DelGaudio is captivating as he explores the idea of identity. One of the best specials I watched this year. Station Eleven is a late contender but one I'm enjoying, about a post-apocalyptic troupe of traveling performers keeping culture alive. Has some Lost vibes with flashbacks to the past of various characters.

Video Games

Returnal I absolutely loved this game about an astronaut who is stranded on a remote planet and wakes up on her crashed ship each time she dies. It's a third-person action game with elements of "bullet hell" shooters and it's absolutely gorgeous to look at. The movement and shooting feels so good, largely due to its innovative use of Sony's DualSense controller.

Astronaut Selene stands outside a portal to another biome in Returnal
Selene uses extraterrestrial portals to traverse between biomes in Returnal.

It's definitely an unforgiving game, much like Dark Souls, but if you can power through, the story and the action are great. I've been dying to talk about the end of the first act but only one person I know has made it that far. Hands down my game of the year.

Hades I briefly checked out Hades when it came out in 2020 on PC and couldn't get into it. Based on recommendations from several people and comparisons to Returnal, I decided to try it again when it was released on PS5 in 2021 and I fell in love with it. It's a beautifully-styled rougelike with fantastic gameplay and lots of interesting weapons, abilities and mechanics. A typical run takes 20-30 minutes and it's very easy to lose several hours to "just one more run."

Halo Infinite I've never been a big Halo guy, but with Halo Infinite releasing on Xbox Game Pass, all of my friends had access to it. I had so much fun jumping into matches with a full fireteam, sometimes with as many as seven or eight other people in Big Team Battle. Its longer time-to-kill compared to other shooters like Call of Duty or Destiny makes it feel much more tactical and a bit less sweaty (intense).

The campaign was a bit monotonous, but I still had a lot of fun with its open world and the new grappling hook makes traversing the world easier and adds some interesting tactics to the combat. I'm looking forward to seeing how this game evolves over time and whether it can keep people's interest among the glut of battle royales like Warzone and Fortnite.

Fights in Tight Spaces I started playing this turn-based strategy game when it released in early access and was surprised at how solid it was in such an early state. It combines the deck building of Slay the Spire with the tactical action of XCOM, and has an art style reminiscent of Superhot. So basically it was made just for me.

You play as a John Wick-type character, navigating your way through tiny maps and using a variety of cards representing different martial arts moves to take on a group of bad guys. It can be wickedly unforgiving, but extremely rewarding when you make it past a level. I don't even think I ever beat the game, but its one that I've been meaning to revisit since it recently had its official launch.

Hitman 3 I can't believe this game came out last January. It seems like ages ago that I played this. The third installment in the latest iteration of the Hitman series adds six new levels, each a gorgeous sandbox where you have to assassinate your targets in various ways while avoiding suspicion from the hundreds of characters that populate each level. The levels are incredible too, taking you from a skyscraper in Dubai to a nightclub in Berlin to a palatial estate where you play out a scenario right out of Knives Out.

There's so much replayability in Hitman, since you can complete your objective in any number of ways, and are in fact encouraged to do so through dozens of challenges. The Escalation Contracts mode has you assassinating different characters on the map with increasingly challenging modifiers, such as not being seen, killing them with a certain weapon, or without swapping outfits. There is no better murder simulator on the market.

Warzone When I wasn't playing one of the games above, I was probably playing Call of Duty's Warzone with the boys: Dave, Jose and Riz. We mostly played the smaller Rebirth Island map, where we'd usually get at least one win a night. We did have an incredible quads win in Battle Royale where we kept doing recon contracts on the train until we pinpointed where the final circle would end up. That was a thrill.

I haven't spent much time with it since the new Caldera map was released. I played exactly one match on the new map and wasn't feeling it. Maybe when the novelty of Halo wears off I'll give it another go.

Looking forward to in 2022

Updating the bathroom (finally?) I mentioned last year that we were planning on updating our upstairs bathroom in 2021 and literally nothing got done. We worked with a designer to figure out a look and got an estimate from a contractor only to be blown off month after month. I don't know why it's so hard to give people money. It seems like unless you're doing a gut rehab and spending hundreds of thousands of dollars, contractors don't even want to give you the time of day. Meanwhile I've already dropped over $10k on designs and materials and have nothing to show for it. Hopefully it'll finally get done in 2022.

Traveling (finally?) I mentioned this last year too and the furthest I made it was about an hour drive from my house. I really miss traveling. Hoping I can get in at least one trip outside of Illinois.

The next phase in my career I still have no idea what this looks like. It feels like I made some strides this year in getting some more exposure as someone who knows a fair bit about design systems and CSS. I've talked to my boss about possibly going down the management route but feel like I'd miss the work. I've also thought about doing consulting, but the thought of having to constantly find new clients stresses me out. In the meantime, I'm just going with the flow and trying to enjoy the ride.

We're having another baby Oh yeah, I buried the lede again. Allie and I are expecting a baby boy in May. Normally that would be great news and cause for celebration but I've been reluctant to share it. After we lost Olivia, we went through a lot trying to have another baby. When Allie was pregnant with Ryan we were both incredibly anxious about whether the baby would be affected by the same condition Olivia had or if Allie would give birth prematurely again. It was extremely stressful.

This time it feels a little less scary but there's still a lot of uncertainty. I won't be able to breathe easily until the baby is born. We'll be so lucky if we end up with another one as healthy and perfect as Ryan.

Happy New Year!

If you've made it this far, thanks for reading! I hope you find peace this year in spite of how messed up everything can feel these days. Take it easy on yourself and each other. We only tend to see everyone's highlights online but we're all struggling to get through this in one way or another. Always feel free to reach out if you need a friendly ear. Take care!

Ryan holding hands with Santa
Happy New Year from Ryan and the Aparicios!

I'm Mike Aparicio, Senior Design Systems Engineer at Provi. I'm interested in helping companies large and small improve collaboration between design and engineering through the use of design systems. I specialize in creating custom CSS frameworks that empower engineering teams to get from concept to production quickly, while writing little to no CSS themselves. I write about web design and development, video games, pop culture, and other things I find interesting. I live in the Chicago area with my wife, three sons, and two dogs.

You can find me on Twitter and most other places as @peruvianidol.

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