Merlin Mann has written his year-end review in the form of a great essay about what he has learned from a year of using David Allen’s Getting Things Done.
Well, another year is behind us and with its passing we all tend to stand back and evaluate its contents. This was a watershed year for me where I made great strides in my interpersonal relationships, my career, in my personal work and interests. Thanks to all of my friends, family and coworkers who were with me through it all.
After this I'll probably be posting very intermittently until the 3rd. I'll be partying with my pals on New Year's Eve and then I'll be hosting a two day open house where I'll be watching all the football games and cooking a great New Year's Day meal of Corned Beef, Cabbage and Hoppin' John. Stop by and have a bite to eat with us as we watch LSU and the Saints tear it up.
Without further ado, here are my top 5 personal achievements and experiences of 2004:
This year Shanna and I made the long awaited jump from a 10 year suspended cohabitation to the full fledged state of Marriage. It was the biggest thing I’ve ever done in my life. Standing there, in front of our friends and family and proclaiming my love and intentions for her made me so happy I felt like fire would start shooting out of my ears as I spoke the words. The changes so far have been subtle but something incomprehensible has happened between us. Something permanent and something that will help hold us together no matter what happens in the future. I’m so happy that we finally got married because we are accepting what works in our lives, because it was the right time, because she is the right woman, because we deserve each other, and because of the deep happiness that we give to each other over and over again, each and every day.
2. Understanding Content
This year I finally “GOT IT” about content. It’s the glue, the cash and the currency that holds the web together. This site, more than anything is evidence of that. Nothing that I’ve ever created, on a personal level, has ever generated as much attention as this blog. And why? Because I write about my life and what interests me on a regular basis and the content just sort of finds its way out there. I don’t promote it or plug it anywhere else but all of a sudden people just start to find it. That’s the real power of the web.
3. Torch Awards, San Juan, Puerto Rico
I won the Cox Communications Torch Award for top Ecommerce performance this year. As a reward the company flew Shanna and I down to San Juan for four days of tropical pleasure. Accepting the award was one of my proudest professional achievements to date.
4. Election 2004 and its Discontents
Let’s face it, the election dominated 2004. Nearly every moment someone was talking about something related to it. We had primaries, conventions, debates, protests, documentaries, bizarre media moments and bizarre media phenomenon all as a result of the election. I learned a lot about myself and a lot about our country. Mostly, that we’re severely divided and that the other half of you are a bunch of fascist, bible thumping, homophobic, war mongering, tobacco chewing, gun enthusiasts. Kidding! Well, sort of.
5. NYC in July
This July I got to take a trip to New York with a gang of my closest friends, whereupon we met up with other close friends and had a great long weekend of drinking, eating and art seeing. I especially enjoyed catching up with the ex-New Orleanian New Yorkers, the shows at PS 1 and the great Ana Mendieta, Lot/ek and Ed Ruscha exhibitions at the Whitney.
1. The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou
I don’t know what the critics who gave this movie poor reviews were thinking. The Life Aquatic is one of Wes Anderson’s best pictures to date. I thought it was at least better than The Royal Tennenbaums but maybe not quite as good as Rushmore or Bottle Rocket. It’s up there with the best of them though.
Maybe the reason that I appreciate this film more than most professional critics do is because I hold Wes Anderson to a different standard than the one I use for other filmmakers. I expect to see something from him that I won’t see from any other director. I expect to see unique, geeky and dysfunctional characters, which were abundant to the extreme in this film, from Bill Murray’s washed up oceanographer Steve Zissou, to Air Kentucky Pilot Ned Plimpton to Willem Defoe’s ultra-hilarious Klaus Zimmler. I expect to hear great soundtrack choices, which this film was full of, most notably in the Bossa Nova style David Bowie covers sung in Portuguese by Seu Jorge. I also expect to see tediously detailed sets that are covered in beautiful shots. The production design in this film as usual was beautifully executed. The set design for the Belafonte, which allowed for the camera to follow the actors through the ship from a cross section perspective, was especially amazing. The cinematography was similarly well crafted from the scratchy Super 8 documentary shots to the beautiful wide-angle tracking shots to the quasi-experimental climax scene. Lastly, I expect to hear hilariously absurd comedy which this film was full of. If all of those criteria are met, no matter what else is happening in the film, a Wes Anderson movie, even a lackluster one like The Royal Tennenbaums, will always be better than anything any other working filmmaker can produce.
Most of the negative reviews circle around the notion that Anderson just isn’t telling good or interesting stories anymore but I think that’s a big load of bullshit. The story here about dysfunctional families and fathers, is familiar stuff to Anderson fans but familiar doesn’t make it bad or uninteresting at all. Most importantly, this film is great because it is a work of singular vision. No one else, even when they try, can come close to copying or reproducing Anderson’s style. It can’t be done because Anderson makes obsessive films that are driven by his unique and specific interests and ideas and that is exactly why they are so great.
Paul Giamatti gives the performance of the year as Miles Raymond, a down on his luck wine geek who takes an eventful road trip through wine country with his best friend from college. This movie takes many clichés we’ve seen a million times and brings them to life with honest and hilarious depiction. The mid-life crisis, the buddy movie, the bachelor party romance that we think we know so well are all turned upside down here and are delivered in such a smart, realistic and warm way that you can’t help but deeply identify with the characters and their various situations.
3. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
Michel Gondry comes to life! This was the Michel Gondry film everyone was expecting with Human Nature. A stunning, complex mish-mash of cognitive dissonance, visual freakouts and simple, elegant Gondry tricks. The real surprise of the film though is Jim Carrey’s brilliant straight-laced portrayal of Joel Barish. Even at the most manic points in the film, when you would expect the old “crazy Jim Carrey” to break out into one of his moronic “In Living Color” gesticulations, he maintains his cool and keeps it straight.
I'm just getting back home from a whirlwind 3 day Holiday tour of Plaquemines and St. Tammany parishes. We spent our time visiting our loved ones, drinking eggnog with Cognac and Nutmeg, hanging out with old friends at Don's on the lake and just soaking up general Yuletide goodness. The craziest thing about Xmas this year though was the SNOW! Yes, it snowed in Louisiana on Christmas Day, something I never thought I'd live to see. It was both shockingly beautiful and horrific at the same time. Something about snow in SE Louisiana on Christmas morning makes you feel like you are not really awake yet, which quickly turns to a feeling of all out doom, like the world is going to end any minute, then a feeling of great appreciation for this crazy world and all of the amazing things in it.
1. The Pixies - Voodoo Fest, October 16th, 2004
As we were leaving this performance the day after our wedding, Shanna and I were way beyond the realm of normal happiness. This was one of the best shows I've ever seen, the culmination of over 15 years of fandom. It was an ecstatic, visceral experience that left me very out of it, in a good way of course, and I forgot to look for the booth selling CDs of the show. Luckily Jude was in a better frame of mind and managed to grab one. The live recording, while nowhere nearly good enough to reproduce the magical event, still allows me to recapture the feeling I had as I stood in City Park that day rejoicing in the splendor of it all.
2. Brian Wilson – Smile
Brian Wilson finally released Smile this year. It may have been 30 years too late but the result is the epic concept album of the century, the 20th century that is. Smile is an American prayer; somehow it wraps all of our hopes and fears for America into one comprehensive musical exertion. Wilson somehow also manages to capture an essence or encapsulation of the 60's here, something no other artist from that period has been able to accomplish. This work deserves to be recognized as one the greatest pieces of 20th century music. Oh and Jude Matthews says, "This album is the only reason I'm still proud to be an American."
3. Arcade Fire - Funeral
A long form rumination on family, death and rebirth, Funeral burns with hyper-emotional hellfire in some parts then lulls us with dreamy suburban atmospheres in others. Arcade Fire is, as Dennis Cooper says, "Yet another reason that Canada is the new England".
My Best of 2004 continues today with a list of the best books I read all year long. Some are new, others were published prior to this year, but all of them are great.
1. The Baroque Cycle (Quicksilver, The Confusion, The System of the World) by Neal Stephenson
The Baroque Cycle is nothing short of a masterpiece. Stephenson places the ancestors of the main characters from his seminal novel Cryptonomicon in late 17th and early 18th century Europe. They participate n a myriad of landmark historical events including the writing of Newton's Principia Mathematica, the formulation of Leibniz's Calculus, The Popish Plot, The Glorious Revolution, The War of Spanish Succession, the invention of Newcomen's steam engine and the foundation of modern science and currency.
The historical detail elucidated in these 2,700 pages is mind-boggling. Stephenson goes into hyper-detailed, geekish depictions of such diverse subjects as piracy, alchemy, enlightenment-era scientific exploration, the structure of 18th century London's prison system, Protestant political dissent, the social behaviors of the court at Versailles under Louis XIV, and the invention of currency, trade and free market systems. In his acknowledgements at the end of The System of the World Stephenson notes his indebtedness to Ferdinand Braudel's Capitalism and Civilization, which really comes through in these depictions. This may be the first historical novel to ever utilize Braudel's "bottom up" approach in narrative form. These books are not only the best that I read this year, they are quite possibly my favorites of all time.
2. Getting Things Done by David Allen
Getting things done launched a movement this year. Geeks everywhere are figuring out that the systems laid out in this book are applicable to their everyday lives. I've been using the GTD system for a few months and my work productivity has shot through the roof.
3. Designing with Web Standards by Jeffrey Zeldman
2004 was the year that I finally got the importance of web standards and it came to me right when I finally started to get it about content. Those two elements, standards & content, are the cornerstones of the web's present and future. This book makes the absolute importance of web standards even more clear and also lays down some really awesome strategies for designing sites with CSS/XHTML. Now if I can only make 2005 the year that I implement standards into all of my projects...
As an obsessive list maker I often find myself compelled to sum up each year with concise and brief "best of" lists. I usually limit my lists to movies, music and one other category, maybe live performances or books. Over the next week I'm going to list my Best of 2004 in 5 categories; The Web, Books, Music, Film and Personal Best. Today I'm kicking it of with Best of 2004: The Web.
1. Firefox 1.0
My deepest thanks and appreciation goes out to all the contributors at Mozilla who made this browser happen. Firefox is the standards compliant, customizable, open source browser the world has been waiting for. Hopefully its release will make the fools over at Microsoft realize how far behind they are with IE and soon all browsers will be standards compliant.
Typepad didn't launch this year but I first started using it in March. Typepad's super-intuitive CMS, robust assortment of backend features and low price combine to create an easy and affordable way for people to express themselves on the web.
Google's email service, which launched to massive hype then praise this year, trumps the competition. The 1GB of storage is worth registering for alone but the threaded message format is also a thing of beauty.
Wikipedia really came to fruition in 2004. I use it anytime that I want to find out about anything that isn't easily or definitively represented within the results of a Google search. History and Science subjects are especially concise and well written.
BitTorrent established itself as the preminent P2P application this year. It's pretty much the only thing I use these days for filesharing. Plus "swarmstreaming" just sounds cool.
boingboing reigns over the blogosphere with absolute supremacy. Year after year boingboing has proven to be THE place for discerning geeks to gather and disseminate information. I also had the unique pleasure of having my own blog mentioned on it this year, which was rather thrilling.
2. Eyebeam re:blog
This perennially guest-blogged site is a fascinating treasure trove of tech-heavy art, innovative graffiti, and other general geekz0r wankery.
When Jason Kottke isn't busy obsessing over Ken Jennings or getting nastygrams from Sony lawyers he produces one of the finest design-centric blogs out there.
4. Airbag Industries
I like the self-reflexive ruminations about design on this site. It's sort of vanilla but that's okay, sometimes I like vanilla.
5. V-2 Organisation
Adam Greenfield's design blog / essay machine is a consistently great and engaging read.
Best Site Design
1. Coudal Partners
This was the best redesign of the year. Part blog, part agency site, and part webzine, Coudal have crafted the definitive CSS/XHTML multi-column layout.
2. Delicious Monster
A beautiful example of what can be done with a well executed balance of Flash and CSS.
4. No Pattern
This isn't exactly the slickest site around but Chuck Anderson's design & illustration work is so nice that it deserves a mention.
Everything a personal site should be. If more people, myself included, had the dedication of this guy the personal web would be so much more interesting.
What more is there to say about Google? There's the search utility which has permeated our daily lives, the best webmail service available, Google Local to find phone numbers and locations, Google News to peruse thousands of news sites at a time, and coming soon, books on demand. The Microsoft of the naughties, mark my word.
2. A List Apart
Everything you need to know about standards compliant web design.
3. 43 Folders
Merlin Mann presents effective tips and tools for life hacking. Central among these are moleskine notebooks, .txt files and Getting Things Done by David Allen. This and Danny O'Brien's "Life Hacks" showed us why plain text files are the new Rock and Roll.
4. New York Times
Even though the NYT's standards have fallen to previously unseen lows (i.e. Jonathan Kandell's slimeball Derrida obituary) it is still the best and most interesting newspaper in America. This site is the first place I go when I get to work and the last I visit before I get up from the computer every day.
My favorite place to read food articles and gather recipes. I also love that they have James Beard and Julia Child recipes going back to the 50's.
I've probably seen more movies this year than in the three previous years combined. I've also cut down to only about 4 or 5 hours of cable per week. Netflix makes this pleasing dichotomy possible.
A wealth of product information, great prices and an amazing network of used booksellers had me jumping for joy this holiday season and the rest of the year as well. My wallet thanks you Mr. Bezos.
The price, quality and great selection of the iTunes Music Store compels me to buy music here instead of just downloading them for free from somewhere else. Of course, if I can't find it on here there is a 95% chance that I'm going to look for it via a P2P application. Record execs, are you listening?
This web-based project management application is a godsend for creative teams. It's a great way to keep track of milestones, share files and generate dialouge. A must for any creative manager.
Although Google Local is turning out to be almost good enough to replace Mapquest, they still provide the best mapping service on the web. Using this when I'm out of town or in unfamiliar parts of the New Orleans metro area makes the unfamiliar easily navigable.
Agnes Martin, a pioneer of Geometric Abstract painting, died at the ripe old age of 92 this weekend. Her structured grid paintings were very influential to me as a young art student and I'm grateful for her contribution to art history.