AI-Free 2023 Year in Review

I timed it just right!

AI-Free 2023 Year in Review
I timed it just right on my last night in Paris!

Solstice 2023

We’ve made it past the shortest day of the year folks! This is something to celebrate regardless of your faith (or lack of it) as we approach the New Year. Many struggle with seasonal mood disorders, regardless of formal diagnosis. Some self-medicate with high doses of caffeine (I will not confirm our family budget for Death Wish Coffee in December) or exercise or morning mood light exposure before dawn, but I’m feeling optimistic as the year ends as I start my PTO.

As I told one of my peers in engineering I said Tuesday started my “soft PTO” but the real “hard PTO” starts today.

Looking back, I wrote 15 blogs here this year on a range of topics here with may more posts LinkedIn as well as maintained my page of links and learning.

Mostly Markdown Dev this year

What a rollercoaster, so let’s get this started so I can check the box and call it a year and get back to reading.

Teams & Interviewing

In late 2022 and early 2023, I was still in hiring mode and one of my post popular blogs of the year was on Detection Engineering resumes from January. I continued on this these with another (less popular) blog with an OWASP-style enumeration of Resume Vulnerabilities.

These are probably still useful for those struggling to find cybersecurity roles, even if many of us are no longer hiring for whatever reason.

When interviewing, I’ve found some companies over-engineer their hiring process to the point that only “certified interviewers” can even participate. This industrialized approach is inappropriate for many teams and companies.

As I blogged about in early 2023, interviews should be a team sport where many can and should play. I was proud to involve one of the more junior members of the team and help them grow, whether or not this is how FAANGs do it.

Being part of a significant M&A occupied most of Q4 and I blogged on team mental models and my experience with a merger of two churches and the lessons from the corporate world.

(I’ve being doing resume reviews and career coaching for folks out of work and that has been fulfilling.)


Before Generative AI became mainstream this Spring, I was spending a lot of time with Matano and DuckDB and Polars mostly based on CloudTrail logs parsed by Matano.

I also went down a CDK rabbit hole for a while, finally getting what all the fuss is/was about. Then of course “AI” happened in the Spring and I went through an intense 2–3 month phase of learning and started trying to make sense of it as usual recording my links in my cheetzsheetz site.

July was a busy month for customer issues and things heated up and then I began all my reading to prep for my Europe trip in the Fall but I did end up blogging on my home observability rig and dipping back into FreeBSD over Thanksgiving and definitely plan to spend some time over the next few week catching up on the LGTM stack, since I’m most familiar with the G. Like so many in the Cloud space we watched the Terraform licensing change and played with OpenTofu!

While I’m not “ALL IN” on GenAI I know I have to keep up and I continue to use OpenAI and GPT4ALL models through the Datasette Python LLM CLI essentially for free

Who needs ChatGPT?

I made it to Baltimore DevOps Days and the AWS Federal Summit! but NOT reInvent!

Travel & Outdoors

For work, I made it to Denver and Toronto — my first international trip since 2019, when I went to Mexico for the first time and also my last trip to Romania.

Over Spring Break, I went camping in the Shenandoah Mountains with my son and in June to Pennsylvania and with lots of hikes in between as we got him ready for his Alaska trip.

So many great trails within a couple of hours!

My wife and I also took a quick getaway for our anniversary in Boston (she lacked a passport so London was off limits) and were reminded of one the children’s books we had memorized in the early 2000s— and that my mom read to me in the 1970s!

Make way for the ducklings!

Finally, I visited France, Belgium, and Netherlands for the first time, primarily to hit WWI/WWII memorials and battlefieds but I saw some amazing castles like in Ghent on my hectic drive down to Paris from Arnhem, when I ended up missing a flight to the UK. I drove too much and trying to jam in a trip to London was a leg too far.

Lieve (Ghent)

And of course so many amazing churches, cathederals, and other monuments along the way!

Mile 16 or 17 of my last full day in Europe! Paris did not disappoint although finding restrooms was tough!
Aachen Cathederal, Day 3
Holocaust Memorial in Arnhem

Books, Film, and “TV”

Foreign police shows are our bag.

In 2023, I read the most fiction that I have in a long time, reading multiple novels by Jenny Erpenbeck and Viet Thanh Nguyen! Working backwards in time, I recently admitted to never seeing Hackers! and when someone posted they were suspicious of the file I was reminded of President Obama’s Netflix documentary that has encouraged my wife and I to start leaving tips for hotel cleaning staff.

The only film we saw in a theatre was Everything, Everywhere, All At Once. One of the best movies we saw recently was the Iranian film, There is No Evil and The Insult (Lebanese) was also very good. The Korean film Decision to Leave was not very “Korean” and it took a few nights to finish but was worth watching. For something a bit lighter (to the extent that killing Nazis is light) Blood and Gold was quite fun!

We mostly watch British TV (and mostly police procedural) so the following made our list good ones: latest season of Dalgeish, Annika, Payback (terrible title but still good), Shetland, Karen Prie and The Hunt for Raul Moat.

Probably the best documentary I saw this year was Meeting the Man: James Baldwin in Paris which I watched when I had a Mubi trial, but the film selection ended up being poor so I cancelled.

I generally don’t watch much Indian TV but Kohrra was decent. I definitely like German police shows and Sleeping Dog was solid and Bloodhounds was fun! Public Enemy (Belgian) is one of the best police TV’s shows we’ve seen but unfortunately the latest season is out. Also looking forward to another season of Rough Diamonds if there is one. We generally DON’T watch American TV, but we made an exception for BEEF.

And, yes I found the latest version of Squid Games unwatchable.


Although I have a number of unfinished blogs in draft mode (and multiple book reviews in my mind, assuming I hit my reading targets, I definitely picked up the pace on leadership/management blogging.

Near the end of the year, I wrote up some simple rules for leading remote teams and in October, I used Seth Godin’s latest book as a starting point to reflect on a number of topics. Lastly, the most serious (and sustained) piece was on “letting things fail” which is an advanced management skill.

Layoffs and Career Advice

One of the most personal blogs I wrote reflected on life in Austin in the late 90s and early 2000s before and during the last Tech Bust. This was a topic I also reflected on a borderline-toxic-positive LinkedIn Post when the layoff just started happening a year ago, but it is probably still good advice.

It was also one of my most viewed LinkedIn posts of the year:

Those that have entered the job market in the last 5 years will be equally shaped by the current turmoil and challenges we see in layoff updates this year on this site. You’ll be fine, if you are flexible and persistent. The road is long and your career is non-linear, but change is constant. You will have setbacks. There will be days and weeks when you feel stuck or directionless. I have taken multiple significant (greater than 20%) pay cuts and walked away from far more unvested equity than I would like to admit to gain new and more valuable experience — or reduce stress. Never stop growing. Never take anything for granted. Stay hungry. Live frugally. Find niches where you can add value and differentiate yourself, especially in the intersection of unique skillsets and perspectives

In November, there were the layoffs and a post on 1:1s also did very well (almost hitting 10K impressions) and I continued with the topic.

Food & Drink

For a brief period of time over the Summer and Fall I managed to get back to pre Pandemic weight and I somehow managed to avoid gaining hardly any weight in Europe (probably because I walked so much and caught COVID) but I’ve definitely need to re-establish healthy habits.

Based on my pictures, the two breweries I enjoyed the most on my Europe trip were:

You have to make your own breakfast tacos in MD.

My oldest and I travelled to Kansas in the Spring for the funeral of my last uncle on my dad’s side. We made a day of it in Wichita.

Wichita BBQ with my oldest.
Hole in wall Salvadoran breakfast near the DC Convention Center.
Way too spicy with my daughter in Towson.
Escargot in Reims. Totally burned my mouth!
Belgian toast at Le Nuts cafe in Bastogne
Desert with lemon liquor in Bastogne
Pork cutlets in Aachen
Warmup in Arnhem
Dinner in Arnhem
Yes, McD’s — a few hours outside of Paris before I got lost and missed my flight to London.
Best Ham Sandwich Ever
Cafe Le Do Re Mi, yes more Grimbergen!
Last dinner in Paris, near Opera House before taking the bus back to CDG.
How I beat COVID!