[supplied title]

what I didn't do in 2020

This year I'm going to take advantage of the low stakes of having an obscure blog that even I rarely read and set an arbitrary goal for quantity rather than quality: I'm going to write a post every week. It might be a "real" post, a diaristic entry, or just a title and a few words, but it will be a post.

If this leads to me finally doing some of the more formal writing I've been wanting to do for years, great. If it doesn't, that's fine too. I used to write a lot, sporadically; I spent many years studying history and other humanistic pursuits. I've largely stopped writing over the past few years, and I think my ability to write has suffered because of it.

I kept a blog or two on and off from about 2004-2009, and something that's stuck with me from the transition period when so many bloggers moved to twitter is how many people praised twitter for improving their ability to write, mostly because the character limit in those days forced a certain degree of conciseness. I felt the opposite way about my own writing: twitter gave me the opportunity to express a point quickly but not very well. This didn't stop me from tweeting upwards of 10,000 times before I cut way back after archiving and deleting my tweets at the end of 2016, when I also deleted everything on my Facebook account.

What struck me during the deleting process was how I would often pause to re-read a Facebook post, while the vast majority of my tweets felt dull, stale, and pointless. I didn't even want to look at them. I don't think character limits explain everything, but Facebook always had a higher limit when it had a limit and I felt like I could do much more with \~400 characters than with 140.

Why I still have a twitter account but deleted my Facbook account is a topic for another day. The point is just this: I'm tired of writing things that are short, poorly expressed, and barely worth saving. I don't have illusions about what I'll do with blogging this year, but at least it won't be a few words tossed into a void that are later deleted. Or it won't just be that. Over here, I have my very own void all to myself.


In the spirit of writing about things I haven't been doing, here's a partial list of things I didn't do in 2020:

  • Spend more than four consecutive days at home in my apartment after March 9th. My parents visited me and my sister in the Bay Area in mid-February; they got sick with what was probably the flu after they got back home to southern California. It seems too early in the pandemic to have been Covid, though it was the most severe respiratory illnesses either of them had had for a few years. My dad did notice a change in taste and had a bad cough, but both of those happen also to be known side effects of one of his cancer treatments.

    In any case, by early March they were in poor enough shape that I started to make plans to visit them. Meanwhile, starting around March 4th my workplace sent an escalating series of emails about Covid and distancing policies: hand wash!, cover your face if coughing and sneezing, limit meeting size, meet in larger rooms and sit in every other seat, cancel all public events, cancel travel, reduce staff on-site to 50%. Some policies that seemed unrealistic when first announced were pulled back a day later, then superseded by events.

    On March 9th, I was officially made remote for two weeks. I drove down to see my parents that night. I packed for a week, but was prepared to stay the full two weeks. I didn't go back home until April, when I cleaned up the dishes I'd left in the dishwasher rinsed and undone, grabbed a personal computer, an external monitor, and a keyboard and mouse, and came back down. I went back in May and got more stuff, then took a couple days off in July for a short vacation at home. Since Labor Day weekend, I've gone back roughly every two weeks for no more than three days at a time. Since the Santa Clara county travel quarantine went in place after Thanksgiving, I've gone back twice without even spending the night, since the quarantine only applies if you stay. I still plan to live there again one day, and it would be quite difficult and risky to move out and then move back.

  • Go more than four consecutive weeks without visiting a hospital. My dad was diagnosed with cancer in the fall of 2019; it was serious enough that treatment began immediately. When the pandemic began, he was still being treated every two weeks, but was about to move to a four-week schedule. There was never a question of pausing the treatments. To reduce contacts, I started taking him while my mom stayed home. The first time, in mid-March, they took my temperature and let me in. Ever since then, I've stayed outside and worked while waiting during the routine visits.

    Sometimes the hospital visits have been much more frequent. In the summer there was a week with four visits in a six-day period, culminating in an ER visit, follow-up surgery, and a second cancer diagnosis, which then led to a period of weekly visits to a larger, more comprehensive hospital about 45 miles away. We are incredibly fortunate that the most intense periods of hospital visits coincided with relatively low local Covid case counts, and that the treatments have so far been effective.

  • Read books regularly. I started my current job in mid-2019. Unlike my previous job, which had a hellish commute through slurban America my current job had a transit commute (and even a transit benefit). I started reading books again almost immediately. I haven't done much of that since I stopped having a commute.

  • Make much progress on personal digitization projects. I was in a history Ph.D. program for many years, mostly during the printout and photocopy era. I've been carrying around boxes of copies of primary sources through years of moves. Last fall, I finally started making progress digitizing my stuff in preparation for throwing out the paper. It helped that I could use the public access scanners in the library. I tried to pick times when the library wasn't busy, and since I had been a student at the university where I now work when I gathered the sources in the first place, I felt somewhat justified in scanning them there. I haven't done any of this since February.

  • Make progress on writing projects. Topics I've thought about discussing, mostly in blog posts: fakes, deepfakes, records, and evidence; digital preservation systems and technical metadata; software preservation and the rights we need to actually do it; whether I care enough about the OAIS reference model; a personal take on whatever happened to blogging; deleting my Facebook account but keeping my twitter account; the Bay Area Rapid Transit system and its early plans; a recent biography of Leland Stanford I read last fall.

  • Finish this blog post. I actually wanted to finish this in 2020, but I fell asleep. Better late than never.