Tom MacWright


This year is winding down, so this Recently departs from the format to serve as a sort of overview. I’m not sure what the narrative for this year is, for me: while 2017 was my departure from Mapbox, move to the West Coast, and getting started with a new job, 2018 has featured a little less change. I supposed it’s hard to beat 2017 in that regard.

But it’s been an active year. I’m on track to hit my running target of 500 miles, which will be more than I’ve ever recorded. I read 20 books, and listened to 5 audiobooks on Libby, which is also a record – though /reading over-reports 2016 and 2007 because of imported GoodReads data.

I’m content with some of things I’m doing less of. I’ll finish out the year with somewhere around 3.5k contributions on GitHub, far less than my highest year, 2013, when I had 6.9k. The coding I do now is much more focused, and I’ve happily abandoned the long tail of projects and focused on the few projects that make sense for me. Observable is following a similar open-core, closed-product strategy to Mapbox Studio, and I think it’s the right strategy - a good percentage of my work hours go to the public sphere and we consistently contribute back to projects we rely on.

I traveled a lot less this year. I’ll miss the frequent flier miles and the excitement of hopping across the country, but the novelty of work travel had started to fade by last year and I was happy to spend more time having new experiences in a new city.

Here are a few highlights from Recently, reading, and such.


Human Transit was the book that had the most impact on me this year. Not even because of its subject matter, which I found fascinating, but because of the way it was written. I felt like it explained decisionmaking and tradeoffs in such an interactive way that I wish other books would do the same. I want technical books about application design that do the same - instead of explaining the best way, they could review several ways of solving a problem and then explain their ramifications and side-effects over time. A lot of the work that I really enjoy, whether it’s buiding something, writing a song, or tending to plants, is understanding the interconnectedness of systems and the follow-on effects of your actions. It’s what I always loved about biology class, too, and why I liked it best. This book gave me that feeling, of the city as a system, and I really treasured that. I can’t wait to re-read it.

Bill Callahan

Small Dub from Bill Callahan was the song that affected me the most this year. It’s one of the most effective uses of a remix I’ve ever encountered: it breaks apart the original into poetic atoms and scatters them. I remember being introduced to Callahan in 2008ish - he was then recording as Smog - through I Feel Like the Mother of the World. I immediately loved the minimalism, and Callahan has progressed ever further down that road. When I write, now, it’s a constant reminder that you don’t need chord progressions or licks to drive a song.