January 1, 2024
I'm so ready to turn the page on 2023. While there was a lot to be grateful for this year, it was marred by loss, grief and random health struggles.
Loss. In late 2022, our dog Geno started having swelling in his throat that became so severe he wasn't eating. The vet treated him with an injection that reduced the swelling and for a few months he was back to normal. Then in early 2023 the swelling started up again and Geno's appetite was so low that he lost a ton of weight. By March it was looking like we were going to lose him at any moment. One night I decided to go see a movie by myself, which I rarely do, and when the movie was over I checked my text messages only to learn that Geno had fallen down the stairs and died while I was gone. It gutted me that he died like that and, worse, that I wasn't there for him. We miss him so much.
Not a month later, Allie's mom passed away after a long battle with cancer. She was so funny and gregarious. The holidays were too quiet without her. When I first met Allie, both her parents had recently been diagnosed with cancer and she was worried they wouldn't be around much longer. Some 16 years later they got to see us get married and watch their grandkids grow up. I'm grateful I got to get to know her and that she had as much time with my kids as she did. She loved them so much.
Later in the year Allie's uncle also passed away and my aunt was diagnosed with cancer. And just recently we had to take our dog Emily to the emergency vet because she was peeing blood. They diagnosed her with bladder stones and prescribed some medication and some special food which should hopefully help, but who knows. Allie's dad had surgery to close out the year.
It's been a rough year and having to explain it all to Ryan has been challenging. The biggest thing I tell him is how important it is to enjoy every moment we have with each other and let people know how much they mean to us because you never know what's going to happen. When we lose our loved ones, we keep their memory and their spirit with us always.
Ryan. Despite everything, Ryan has been growing into a precocious little guy. It probably doesn't help that I let him watch YouTube. 😳 Other parents recoil in horror when I try to explain to them what a Skibidi Toilet is.
Ryan's interest in gaming has broadened to include maker games like Minecraft and Super Mario Maker 2. He also got into Sonic the Hedgehog and Mario Kart. It's pretty amazing what he's able to do on his own just over a year after picking up Super Mario Bros for the first time.
It's been heartening to see him occasionally turn the TV off voluntarily and do some drawing or crafts. He's gotten to the point where he can write his name and all of the letters, and draws things that actually look like real world things. It's pretty wild.
We got to go on a lot of adventures this year and it's always such a joy to see him experience something for the first time.
Owen. Owen is developing into his own little person. He's walking around with ease now and starting to say simple words. He's constantly babbling in his own little language. It's funny how different he is from Ryan. He's a lot more stoic than Ryan and has a voracious appetite compared to Ryan, who is much more picky unless there's sugar involved. While Ryan wants to hang out with me all the time, Owen is definitely a momma's boy, screaming any time Allie puts him down or leaves the room.
Owen also loves to play with and torment his big brother, Ryan. It's exciting to think that a year from now he'll be talking a lot more. I can't wait to hear what he and Ryan talk about.
Joe. My stepson, Joe, continues to grow into an adult — he'll be 20(!) in January. He's finishing up his sophomore year of junior college and looking at four-year schools where he can play baseball. I'm so proud of how far he's come in the past year.
Mario. In August we adopted another Boxer, who Ryan insisted we name Mario, of course. Mario is incredibly sweet, when he's not peeing and pooping in the house or chewing through my office door. Emily has enjoyed having another dog in the house and is happy that Mario is a much more willing snuggle partner than Geno was.
I started a new job. In early January I started a new role as Principal Design System's Engineer at Turquoise Health. After almost a year I'm really happy that I made the move. I love the team at Turquoise. We have an eclectic bunch of talented folks that are really good at what they do but are also very down-to-earth and fun to hang out with.
I was able to release version 1.0 of Pit Viper, our design system's CSS framework, relatively quickly. It's been great to see the team embrace it, build on it and quickly release new features with it. I worked with the marketing team to make a new site that uses the Wordpress API as a headless CMS with Eleventy. I built my first web component, which was a lot simpler than I thought it would be. I commissioned a logo for Pit Viper and Andy Carolan knocked it out of the park. I also referred my former Groupon colleague Michelle who has been absolutely crushing it on the design team.
More Traveling! In January I went to Los Angeles for our company summit, where I got to meet and hang with everyone at Turquoise. I also got to meet my gaming buddy, Jose, in person for the first time.
In July I returned to L.A. with the family and we took the boys to Universal Studios, where Ryan got to visit Super Nintendo World and see the Hogwart's Express (literally the only thing he knows about Harry Potter). Next we visited one of Allie's friends in Palm Springs, where it was 116 degrees, but also found one of the best Peruvian restaurants I've been to in America. We finished the trip in San Diego, where we visited more friends and checked out Legoland and the San Diego Zoo. Joe was happy to catch a game at all three SoCal ballparks: The Dodgers, Angels and Padres.
Later that month I went to another company summit, this time in Denver. It was pretty wild to see how much the company had grown in six short months, from ~60 people to almost 100. We checked out Meow Wolf, which is a really cool interactive art installation.
Finally, in November I went to Tampa, where my dad, stepmom and aunt traveled to from Lima to visit my other aunt. I was only there for a couple of days but I was glad to be able to reconnect with my family, even for such a short time.
I celebrated 10 years of marriage. There's not a lot of things I've done in my life for 10 years, but being married to Allie is the best one. We've been through a lot but we've also shared a lot of good times and are blessed to have three wonderful boys.
We raised $5,839 for Extra Life. This year also marked my 10th Extra Life and I was so inspired by the support we received this year. Over 10 years we've managed to raise over $44,000 for Lurie Children's Hospital in Olivia's memory. Thank you so much to everyone who generously contributed their time and money over the years.
I weaned myself off of social media (kind of). This year saw a massive decline in my use of social media, largely thanks to the ass-clown that bought Twitter and quickly turned it into a shithole. I've tried Mastodon, Bluesky and Threads but none of them have the same vibe that made Twitter special. I met a lot of great people on Twitter and it played a huge role in growing my career. It's sad to see it wither away so quickly.
I didn't write a book. One thing I mentioned in last year's recap that I wanted to work on this year was writing a book about CSS. Well, I didn't even start it and I'm not sure I'm going to. I've been thinking that maybe an online course would be a better way to go, but I don't know. I had a lot going on this year and was happy to just be focusing on my new job and my family.
Things I loved in 2023
This year I didn't do any movie challenges but somehow managed to log more movies (150) than any other year on Letterboxd since I started using the app in 2012. This year I revisited a lot of movies that I remember being good to see if they held up. Most of them did!
It was a pretty interesting year for movies. There were a lot of really good movies but not a ton of great ones. Here are a few that I loved.
Past Lives It's rare that a film evokes the same feeling of melancholy as one of my favorite films of all time, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. Past Lives explicitly mentions it, though I'm not sure how much it was inspired by it. It's the story of a 12-year-old girl who immigrates from South Korea to Canada and reconnects with her childhood sweetheart 12 and 24 years later. It's sublime.
Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse I wasn't sure they could top the first one but Across the Spider-Verse expands on the concept of a multiverse in such delightful ways and further fleshes out Miles and all of the other Spider-people. This movie has so much heart and explores parenthood in a way that really resonated with me. I literally gasped out loud at least three times in the last 10 minutes when I saw this for the first time in the theater. I'm sad that this ended on a cliffhanger but it doesn't diminish everything that this film does right.
The Killer David Fincher returns to the stylish crime-thrillers of his early career with a slow-burn assassin movie in the vein of The American. Michael Fassbender is great in the title role. I'm sure some people found this boring (it basically opens with a 20-minute monologue about being an assassin) but I loved it.
John Wick: Chapter 4 I loved the first John Wick but subsequent sequels delved far too into the whole mythology of Wick's world. The hotel, the coins, the Table. I didn't find any of that particularly interesting. Even the action leaned a little to heavy on guys getting shot in the face. While there's a lot of that in Chapter 4, the action set pieces are so wildly inventive and ambitious, the set design so stylish, and the pacing so frenetic, that I was blown away. Solidly one of the best action movies of the 21st century.
Mission: Impossible - Dead Reckoning Part One I watched all of the previous M:I movies leading up to this one and Dead Reckoning might be my favorite. This one felt more playful than Fallout and introduces Haley Atwell as a thief who reluctantly teams up with the IMF crew. She's faced with the choice — a throwaway line from the original series ("your mission, should you choose to accept it") — which takes on new meaning here. All of the women in this movie are just spectacularly badass. There's not really any single action set piece that tops previous entries, but it feels like there's just more of everything that makes an M:I movie great.
Maestro I went into this one expecting a run-of-the-mill musical biopic but was pleasantly surprised to find a movie that centered on Bernstein's relationship with his wife, Felicia. Such a complicated relationship but at its heart two people who cared deeply for each other. Love the cinematography and the long, lingering takes that were subtle enough to not feel showy but brought you into moment. Cooper and Mulligan are both in top form here.
The Creator Doesn't do anything groundbreaking with its narrative but it filled with such ambitious ideas and imagery. It seems like this one got mixed reviews but the central relationship between John David Washington's Joshua and young Madeline Yuna Voyles' Alphie really got to me.
Sancutary I don't want to say too much about this film other than that it's the horniest movie I saw all year. It's basically a two-hander that takes place in a hotel room with two actors I find incredibly compelling, Margaret Qualley and Christopher Abbott.
Others worth mentioning: I didn't see it in 2022 but Babylon is such a wildly-paced, drug-induced fever dream that is uproariously funny. As the central characters fortunes begin to shift, it does lose steam, but the first two hours are quite a ride. The Holdovers is a great throwback and sure to be a new holiday favorite. Sharp writing and strong performances from Paul Giamatti and his two co-stars. Leave the World Behind features a great ensemble cast and perfectly captures all of the anxiety of the moment around technology and our polarized political climate. Also makes a strong case for physical media. I absolutely loathed the first film but Extraction 2 delivers some of the best action of the year. Chris Hemsworth is great. Fair Play was not among the best films I saw this year, but it certainly was memorable and would make a great double feature with Sanctuary and/or Anatomy of a Fall.
There was such a wealth of great television this year. A lot of great debuts and shows wrapping up successful runs. Here are some of my favorites.
The Bear (Hulu/FX) While season 1 of The Bear felt perfectly engineered especially for me, the second season surpasses it in every way. I was a little nervous about the show (and the titular restaurant) pivoting from a beef joint to a pretentious, Michelin-rated spot, but the way it explores its characters and goes hard on the dramatic tension. The Christmas episode is filled with incredible guests and matches or surpasses the intensity of S1's best episode, while "Forks" features such a great transformation by Ebon Moss-Bachrach's cousin Richie. Two of the best episodes of television all year in a single season of a show is impressive.
I Think You Should Leave with Tim Robinson (Netflix) Holy shit, this show is so uproariously funny. Despite the short, 15-minute episodes, every season of I Think You Should Leave is packed with meme-worthy sketches. This season's most memorable sketch involved a guy paying it forward in a fast food drive-thru.
Succession (MAX, the one to watch for HBO) I was never compelled to get into a show about rich white people problems but I finally relented in the build-up to the final season and was not disappointed. Yes, the Roy family has rich white people problems, but the joy of the show comes from watching them fuck themselves and each other over at every turn. I watched all four seasons and the finale was masterful. If you had any reservations about this show, I'd encourage you to put them aside and check it out. Easily one of the best written and acted shows of the past decade.
The Last of Us (MAX, the one to watch for HBO) I was a little nervous about this one as video game adaptations don't have a great track record thus far. The Last of Us is one of the best stories of all time, video game or otherwise. I was heartened that the show would be helmed by Craig Mazin, who worked on Chernobyl, and Neil Druckmann, the creative director of the original game. Pedro Pascal and Bella Ramsey are perfectly cast as Joel and Ellie and the show matches the heights of the game's narrative without getting too video gamey. It also builds on the story and its characters, delivering an amazing flashback episode with Nick Offerman's Bill and Murray Bartlett's Frank — a character that is only mentioned in passing in the game. My wife, who is not at all into video games, was completely drawn in. I can't wait to see how they handle the polarizing sequel.
Silo (Apple TV+) Based on a series of books by Hugh Howey, Silo is a dystopian drama that takes place in an underground silo built to protect its residents from an unknown catastrophe that made the world above uninhabitable. Rebecca Ferguson plays an engineer who is suddenly thrust into the role of sheriff when a series of deaths occur and she's faced with unraveling what seems to be a conspiracy. It's pretty compelling — I love a good dystopian thriller. It feels like a sci-fi noir story.
Winning Time: The Rise of the Lakers Dynasty (MAX, the one to watch for HBO) Pretty much every NBA player featured in this series disputes its accuracy, but the drama is great and the ensemble cast is terrific. John C. Reilly plays Dr. Jerry Buss, who bought the Lakers the year they drafted Magic Johnson. Season 2 follows Pat Riley (played by Adrian Brody) and his ascension to head coach. The whole cast is great. The guys they found to play Magic, Kareem and Larry Bird are pretty convincing (and Norm Nixon is played by his actual son, DeVaughn). The show was ultimately cancelled but I had a lot of fun with it.
Picard S3/Strange New Worlds (Paramount+) I love that Star Trek is still banging out great shows. I couldn't get into the first two seasons of Picard but season 3 serves as a Next Generation reunion and it's a ton of fun. I don't think you need to have seen the previous seasons to fully enjoy it as it pretty much stands on its own. Strange New Worlds captures the humor and spirit of the original series and features the original captain of the Enterprise, Christopher Pike, along with a young Spock, Uhura, and Nurse Chapel. Season 2 includes a great crossover with the animated series Lower Decks and overall is just a ton of fun.
Reacher (Amazon Prime) The ultimate dad show. What's a dad show? Basically a show, usually featuring a cop, detective or government agent that is named after said guy (it's always a guy). Bosch, Jack Ryan, Reacher. Amazon has a monopoly on them. Reacher is based on a series of books popularized by the Tom Cruise movie, Jack Reacher. In the books Reacher is much more imposing than Cruise and Alan Ritchson is a beast of a man that's like at least a head taller than everyone on the show. In season two, Reacher is reunited with his former military unit (basically a bunch of mini-Reachers) to unravel a mystery involving the deaths of several of their former squadmates.
Others worth mentioning: Loved seeing Neighbors stars Seth Rogan and Rose Byrne reunited in Platonic (Apple TV+) as a brewmaster who reconnects with his married friend from college. Harrison Ford is fantastic in Shrinking (Apple TV+) as Jason Segel's boss. Segel plays a grieving therapist who gets a little too involved in his patient's lives. I loved the playful vibe of Keri Russell and Rufus Sewell in The Diplomat (Netflix). Say what you will about Pete Davidson but Bupkis (Peacock), loosely based on his life, is hilarious. Joe Pesci is in top form as his grandfather. Finally, I've only watched one episode of the fifth season of Fargo but it's a banger. Juno Temple is fantastic.
Baldur's Gate 3 Easily my game of the year. I had planned to write a "Why I love" post about it but I was too caught up in playing it, literally for hundreds of hours. Baldur's Gate 3 was made by the team at Larian Studios, whose previous games Divinity: Original Sin 1 and 2 were heavily inspired by Dungeons & Dragons but were not officially licensed. With BG3, they perfectly blend all of the rules and lore of D&D with a great narrative, fantastic voice acting, a superb score, and compelling turn-based strategy.
Baldur's Gate 3 is so good that other game studios complained they wouldn't be able to match the high bar set by Larian. BG3 has no microtransactions — a rarity for popular games in today's industry that rely heavily on seasonal content to keep players invested. BG3 surpassed all expectations and sold incredibly well and won numerous game of the year awards. Not to mention it brought us this song.
This game is so incredibly deep and satisfying to play. There are so many things to do and people to meet and ways to accomplish your objectives. Larian seems to have thought of everything. Surprisingly, your character's story is the least interesting. The characters you meet along the way that can join your party all have their own deeply crafted storylines. They start out as seemingly basic archetypes but by the end of the game you become so deeply invested in their stories, it's incredible.
I played through the whole game three times to get all of the trophies, which was a bit of a grind, but even after hundreds of hours I was still discovering new things, much like Elden Ring a few years ago. You also have the option of playing as any of the "origin" characters, which are the characters that you normally meet along the way that join your party. There's a bonus origin character called The Dark Urge which encourages you to be evil. I found it really difficult to constantly be evil but it's definitely entertaining!
Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty I almost forgot about this great Souls-like from the makers of Nioh that came out early in 2023. I had a lot of fun with it. The mechanics are similar to Nioh but overall it felt a bit more accessible. Nioh is the game that finally made me able to wrap my head around the Souls genre, so I'm always stoked when Team Ninja pumps out another game.
Chants of Sennaar I picked this one up on my boss' recommendation and instantly fell in love with it. At its heart it's a puzzle game about linguistics — you uncover the story by piecing together the languages of several different tribes. The art style is beautiful and some of the puzzles are quite challenging. It's a relatively short playthrough, too. I think it took me about 12 hours to beat and I nearly got all of the trophies as well.
Double Dragon Gaiden I loved this throwback to one of my favorite arcade games as a kid. It looks and feels retro but incorporates some roguelike elements that make it challenging and it pushes you to unlock different characters who each have their own unique abilities.
Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2/3 This was probably the game I spent the most time playing (regrettably). I just had a blast with the new extraction mode, DMZ, introduced in MW2. In DMZ you and two teammates drop into the large Warzone map, do missions and collect items while fending off AI soliders and other human players, who may or may not be aggressive towards you. You have about an hour to complete your objectives and extract before a toxic gas cloud begins expanding and envelops the entire map. If you die, you lose all of your gear. Because I'm a masochist, I enjoyed playing this mode solo against squads of three people.
Modern Warfare 3 came out in the fall and added a zombies mode which incorporated a lot of elements of DMZ on a new map. I kind of miss the uncertainty of whether other players on the map are hostile of friendly that happens in DMZ but zombies mode is a lot less stressful and, if you get downed, most players will come to revive you if you ask them in the chat. I also spent some time in Warzone and multiplayer, but a majority of my time was spent in these extraction modes.
Others worth mentioning: I played a fair amount of Diablo 4 but beyond the campaign (and even during the campaign, if I'm honest) it got really repetitive. I think just the mechanics of Diablo haven't evolved much over the years to keep me interested. I had a lot of fun with Star Wars: Jedi Survivor and was especially tickled that a friend who worked on the game snuck in a little easter egg with my sons names and birthdays. It probably took me a good 30 hours before I even found it! Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom felt a lot like Breath of the Wild but with a new crafting mechanic that allowed you to assemble different parts to make tools, enhance weapons and even build vehicles. There were some pretty inventive creations online but I always ended up just brute-forcing things with the simplest designs. I got bored with it pretty quickly and gave up after two or three bosses. Ryan and I had fun playing Teardown together. It's a voxel-based first person game where you're tasked with stealing and destroying stuff in creative ways. As the game progresses though, they quickly start adding time constraints that made the game a little too hard for Ryan. Fortunately it has a sandbox mode where you can just blow stuff up with tools like sledgehammers, blowtorches and pipe bombs.
Looking forward to in 2024
Looking after my health. I'm going to be 49(!) this year and, while I may not look it, my insides certainly feel like it. This year I had some random nagging ailments, including a bum shoulder that just spontaneously started hurting like hell when I moved in in certain ways. After getting some x-rays and an MRI, the doctor diagnosed me with "frozen shoulder," which mostly occurs in people who have had their shoulder immobilized for long periods of time, like in a cast or sling. In my case it was from just not doing anything at all. I'm in physical therapy right now and it's feeling much better. Hoping to be back to normal in a few months.
I really need to start taking better care of myself. After spending my whole life never topping 140 pounds (even after working with a trainer for a year), I randomly weighed myself a few months ago and my jaw dropped when the scale read 156. Unfortunately it's not evenly distributed, except around my gut. I've got a real dad bod situation going on and I'm not sure I like it. 😅
They recently build a new state-of-the-art rec center here in Oak Park and Allie and I signed up. It's only $50 for the two of us and includes on-site childcare. There's a nice gym, a track, some basketball courts, fitness classes, and even a game room for when the boys are a little older. I need to start taking advantage of it.
Fixing up the house. I think the next project we want to tackle is getting rid of all of our gas-powered appliances. We're looking at induction stoves right now and I'd also like to get one of those all-in-one, ventless washer/dryers to put upstairs. Eventually I'd like to get rid of our gas furnace and get a heat pump, but that's probably a bigger project than we have the budget for right now. I'm not sure if solar is feasible with our house, given that there's a three-story apartment building just south of us and we'd like to eventually finish the attic, which might require re-pitching the roof. It'd probably be cheaper to just build a new house at this point, rather than try and upgrade this 100+ year old house that's basically the ship of Theseus.
Returning to Peru. It's been over 10 years now since I've been to Peru and I'm past due for a visit. We had planned to take the boys down for New Years but tickets were ridiculously overpriced and I slacked on getting the boys' passports. But also traveling with two young boys was hard enough on a 4-hour flight to California. The trip to Peru is a two-leg, 12-hour ordeal in itself, much less with two toddlers and all their gear. Hopefully it'll be a little easier this year with Owen a bit older.
Even more traveling. I'm off to Austin for work in January. Looking forward to eating a lot of good food and hopefully catching up with some industry friends. We had a ton of fun in California, even though it was extremely taxing keeping the kids from going crazy. We haven't decided on a location but New York might be fun. I'll also have another work summit in July to look forward to.
Aside from all that I'm just going to keep trucking along, living with the existential dread of the upcoming U.S. election and hoping that our systems are still strong enough to keep a power-hungry, authoritarian narcissist out of the White House again.
Thanks for reading! I hope you and your family had a restful holiday and wish you all the best in 2024.