It’s fun to reflect on the year. Here’s what I wrote at the end of 2014.
2015 was marked by two major events: Leaving Rochester in January to move to Germany; and then leaving Philly in October to move to San Francisco.
I studied abroad in Germany from January until May. Home base was Freiburg im Breisgau, Baden-Württemberg. Freiburg is close to Frankfurt and Stuttgart on the German side; Basel, Bern, and Zurich on the Swiss side; as well as Colmar and Strasbourg on the French side. It’s a fantastic place. You can find pictures of Freiburg and other areas I visited on my Instagram.
Here are some scattered thoughts on that experience: The Black Forest and the Swiss Alps make for vivid drives. I still can’t bring myself to love German food. It was amazing to be able to go to the opera nearly every week; I saw plenty of Verdi, was glad to be introduced Strauss, and didn’t find it hard to sit through two whole Wagner performances (Tristan and Götterdämmerung). Study abroad is an expensive way to live overseas, but it’s probably your best excuse for it. Freiburg is a nice place to spend a few months, but when I move to Germany again I’d like to live in Berlin. Berlin is vibrant, cheap, and interesting.
I returned home to Philly in May, just in time for graduation. I like to say that I dropped out twice: once when I went to work for Shopify for a year; the second when I left for Germany. It is a massive relief to have earned a college diploma; sometimes I still marvel that I managed to finish it at all. This was a terrific time to get out, by the way: Tuition has been getting higher and campus politics have been getting weirder.
I spent the summer looking for something new to do. I wasn’t sure what: I’ve worked previously in an art museum, at a tech company, at a telecom, and as an investigative reporter. I wanted to continue doing different things. Something that Susan Sontag said has always resonated: “What I really wanted was every kind of life, and the writer’s life seemed the most inclusive.” I felt a terrible urge to move to New Zealand, because as a young Canadian it’s quite easy to obtain an open-ended work visa there. Here’s a romantic idea: Perhaps I would work for a few months in an orchard before finding surer footing as a writer.
I never had the courage to pack my bags and move. Instead I took another opportunity. First Round Capital introduced me to Ryan Petersen of Flexport. I signed on to write about global trade and logistics. I’ll link to some of these articles at the end of this post.
So I moved to northern Oakland, at the southern edge of Berkeley, in October. It was more or less random for me to have moved to the East Bay—housing was hard to find, and I basically took the first opening I found.
The Bay Area is mostly pretty great. There are some very nice drives outside the city; the weather is never humid, always hoodie-friendly; and I find it possible to get meetings with people I’d previously never hoped to encounter. On the other hand, I think this area to be overhyped in so many ways. Perhaps more in a later post.
A few notes on this blog:
I enjoy every one of these essays, and writing all of them forced me to understand topics I wanted to know more about. That said, all of them were far too research-intensive. I abandoned that approach in favor of shorter essays instead.
My favorites this year have been the following:
- What does Peter Thiel mean when he talks about thinking for yourself?
- A Girardian analysis of Game of Thrones
- Data on police officers killed since 1961
- Two months of Soylent
- Thoughts on Zurich; thoughts on Berlin
- How people talked about the future up to the ‘70s
- An intellectual history of Germany
I’m glad that some of these were widely shared. Soylent got unexpected pickup, eventually getting featured on the sites of the BBC and the FT. My data analysis ended up on the site of the Washington Post, twice. Noah Smith was very nice to link to my piece on civil asset forfeiture for Bloomberg. And I’m very flattered that my favorite blogger picked up a few of these pieces.
Alas I don’t see that I’ll have much more time to post many more essays here. I focus most of my time now on writing about trade and logistics for Flexport. Let me take the chance then, to showcase my favorite posts published so far this year:
- Why Dole owns container ships
- When America dreamed of a nuclear-powered cargo fleet
- The supply chain of the banana (favorite section was the one detailing the mischief caused by the United Fruit company)
- Economics of drone deliveries
- Guide to largest ocean carriers
In a delightful twist, my piece on bananas was tweeted by Tom Watson, Deputy Leader of the Labour Party. This was so unexpected; in a follow-up he wrote: “thanks Dan. Fascinating journalism.” In addition, just as unexpectedly, I was syndicated to a digital magazine for the IEEE. If you told me a few months ago that…
Overall this was not a fantastic reading year, due more to a lack of time than anything else.
I started and didn’t finish Judt’s Postwar. I just got started reading Girard when logistics took over my life. I bought both Buddenbrooks and The Golden Bowl but never got to them. I’m so eager to do more Proust, Bleak House, Ferrante and Knausgaard, The German War, more Neal Stephenson, and the biographies Genghis Khan and Napoleon.
Here’s what I did enjoy reading this year:
- The Diamond Age; Stephenson is so fun to read, although the ending baffled me.
- René Girard’s Mimetic Theory, Wolfgang Palaver
- Ninety Percent of Everything, Rose George
- The German Genius, Peter Watson
- The Threepenny Opera, Bertolt Brecht
- Memory Chalet, Tony Judt
- The Magic Mountain, Thomas Mann. I hesitated putting this on here, because I didn’t enjoy this initially. But I’m really glad to have read it after all.
Perhaps the single best thing I read this year was Larissa MacFarquhar’s New Yorker article on the couple that adopted 22 children. It’s such a moving piece. George Packer on Merkel is also really good. And I loved Peter Hessler on the Chinese lingerie entrepreneurs in Egypt.
I’m glad to have finally done some travel in Europe. And I’m also pleased to be here in the Bay Area.
Please reach out if anything here was interesting to you. I love correspondence, and I’ll grab coffee with anyone. I travel around the country occasionally for conferences, and will usually tweet out if I have free time.