Some of the Wonderful Things I Discovered in 2019

I suppose it’s time for end of year reflections.

In many ways my year was dominated by three things – my family’s move from Utah to West Virginia, donating part of my liver to Cable, and closing down the annual Open Education Conference after fifteen years. Each of these took huge amounts of time and energy. Each took an incredibly large toll on me physically and emotionally. But these weren’t the only things I did this year. I also caught up on things others have apparently known about for quite a long time, but that were new to me. I thought I’d share some of these things so that, if you don’t know about them yet, you can find them more quickly than I did.

The best book I read this year – hands down, without question – was Ann Mei Cheng’s Lean Impact. In this book, Ann Mei revises and remixes the techniques described in The Lean Startup (another terrific book) specifically for use by organizations whose primary goal is having a positive impact on the world. She complements her excellent adaptation with numerous case studies. I think I’ve made notes on every single page I’ve read so far and, consequently, this book is taking me forever to get through. But it’s awesome. Here’s a video of Ann Mei summarizing some of the main points of the book.

The best TV I watched this year was definitely Avatar: The Last Airbender. Somehow I had never seen an episode of this show, despite it being one of my children’s favorite shows and a source of endless references in our home. We watched it as a family, two or three episodes per evening, while I recovered over the summer. I highly recommend it. As my daughter Megumi is fond of saying, Zuko’s redemption arc is some of the best storytelling around.

Characters from Avatar: The Last Airbender
Copyrighted image from

The best musician I discovered this year was Jacob Collier. As a self-respecting musician – and especially a fan of a capella multitrackers – I’m totally embarrassed that it took me until now to find him. Jacob plays almost every instrument, has beyond perfect pitch, does multitrack a capella recording, arranges for orchestra, writes original compositions, teaches workshops, and the list goes on. His #IHarmU project for Patreon supporters is one of favorite examples of remix. His arrangement of All Night Long, with Take 6 and orchestra, is a triumph of joy and enthusiasm. I leaned on it heavily this year.

I discovered Barnaby Martin’s YouTube channel Listening In while researching Jacob Collier. His harmonic analysis of Jacob’s arrangement of Moon River, and his further discussion of How Jacob Collier Uses Microtonality, Pitch and Temperament were amazing. But it was his analysis of John Williams’ work on the Star Wars movies that both moved me to tears and caused me to go to Twitter to beg Barnaby to start a Patreon.

My kids also introduced me to the Two Set Violin YouTube channel this year.¬† This is another music discovery I kind of can’t believe it took me so long to make. These guys are incredibly talented, brutally honest, and really funny. And their clear, vocal, and constantly repeated commitment to practicing makes me glad my kids are fans.

Finally, I discovered the 3Blue 1Brown YouTube channel this year, and just… wow. Yes, this is a math channel. But it approaches math in an entirely different way – one that is intensely curious, uses amazing visualizations to communicate complex concepts, and is just so clear. For me, the fun all started with the video “The most unexpected answer to a counting puzzle.” Unexpected indeed! Math is deeply, incredibly beautiful, and I don’t know anyone better at sharing and communicating that beauty than Grant Sanderson.

These are just some of the incredible, wonderful, beautiful things I discovered in 2019. I’m grateful for all the amazing and hard things that happened this year. May your new year be filled with discovery, progress, gratitude, and kindness.