Ben Smithgall

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Interactive News Developer at the New York Times. Previously with Spotify, U.S. Digital Service, and Code for America.





2018 and 2019

January 9, 2019

Last year, for the second time in a row, I wrote about what wanted to accomplish in 2018, and now it’s something of an annual thing. Now it’s time to do it again for 2019:

2018 Goals

Release some music: Completed

I released two tracks that served as small musical vignettes for scenes in an ongoing DND campaign (one and two). It was a lot of fun, but I hope that I can expand beyond this a bit and write a bit more and different stuff in the future.

Perform something live: Completed

I performed Philip Glass’s opening from Glassworks in mid-2018 at a Spotify employee recital. It was an okay performance! I definitely have played it better before in practice, but it went okay all things considered. I was incredibly nervous. My favorite recording of this that I took a lot of inspiration from was this one by Víkingur Ólafsson.

Track what I’m reading a bit better: Completed

I wanted to pull my books off of Goodreads and onto the blog, and write short reviews of each of them. I did that! Find it in the books section. I read 38 books this year in fits and bursts. Looking back, the ones I recommend the most are Elena Ferrante’s remarkable Neapolitan Novels. For non-fiction, I really enjoyed Ramp Hollow by Steven Stoll and The Reactionary Mind by Corey Robin.

Make some open source contributions: Not completed

I didn’t do this at all! It turns out that when I spend all my time doing this at my day job, I want to do something else at night.

Do a small refresh on the blog: Sort of completed

I fixed up some of the old CSS bugs and continued to reduce the size of the page. I also added the new books section.

Overall, 2018 was a really great year. We did some travelling and got to spend a lot of quality time with friends and family.

2019 Goals

Write and play more music

After a short burst of productivity, I haven’t really gotten much more else written. I think that I am overthinking things quite a bit and feeling a bit too focused on soundtracking. It would be better, I think, to focus more on quantity of output for awhile just to get more familiar with the tools and workflows in modern music recording and production.

I also am really enjoying playing the piano casually. It’s really relaxing, and quite enjoyable to study. Hopefully, I’ll get the chance to perform again this year. I have been working on Ambre by Nils Frahm and a Beethoven Sonata in G Major.

Improved general fitness

I spent another year focused on powerlifting and ended up with pretty good numbers, but my general fitness is pretty lacking. It is pretty easy to lose focus on general fitness by chasing numbers. I’m going to try to do more yoga and running this year.

Work more on my Spanish

I continued to work on my Spanish this past year, but I have sort of hit a wall with it. I have bought a few children’s books that I am going to work on translating this year. Look for poorly written Spanish reviews of those books later this year. I’m also going to seek out a school and see if I can take classes.

Read and do the exercises from The Structure and Interpretation of Computer Programs

The Structure and Interpretation of Computer Programs is a classic book about computer programs. I’ve gone through the first two chapters a handful of times but I’ve never gotten much further. My goal for this year is to work through the entire book and do the exercises. It will be good to work with an implementation of the “only good programming language”