My 2020 H1 in review
This year's been wild. We had a close call with WW3, continent-spanning forest fires, a global pandemic, murder hornets (that we've lost track of), landmark judicial rulings, and reminder after reminder that systemic racism was here all along. All that and we're only halfway through 2020.
Despite these exceptional circumstances, I was able to get a lot done. I was able to do this in large part because of the systems I've built for myself over the years. But, increasingly, I've been learning and finding that my privilege has been a significant factor in my journey and these outcomes as well.
Despite the possible first shots of WW3, I felt safe in NYC. Despite the economic hurt of the coronavirus, I've continued to receive paychecks on time and in normal amounts with no additional work duties or risk to my person. Despite the contagiousness and mortality of the virus, I feel safe because I'm not an at-risk demographic and don't have preexisting conditions. Despite the systemic discrimination, murders, and brutality against Black people and people of color, I've felt safe due to the color of my skin.
These are all priviliges that have helped insulate me from the issues of the world around me. These are all privileges that have helped me climb to the position I'm at today. These are privileges that I've been able to identify, but I'm certain there are many, many more that I haven't.
Ignoring my privilege is a disservice to the world. Ignoring my privilege is a disservice to me - it's a mental model built on false pretenses and is thus bound to make decisions based on a false reality.
As I look back on what I accomplished this half, I want to celebrate all that I was able to do. But I think it's even more important to compare what I'd plan and do today with what I planned and did then - both as a measurement of how far I've come and as a projection of how far I have to go.
To turn these learnings into meaningful action, this half I'll begin sharing my goals for the future. This isn't a completely new practice for me, but it's something I'd stopped doing in the last few years. I think part of this had to do with not spending enough time figuring out what I valued and what I wanted to do about it. I think another part is that I was scared that I'd end up changing my mind halfway through and not live up to the goals I set before me.
But I'm of a mind that it's important to sit down and figure out what's important to me, to set goals that stretch my idea of what I'm capable of, and to push myself to be what I think I can be. Life will get in the way, but that's no excuse not to not push myself to be better.
In the first half of 2020, I participated in my first art exhibitions, created music videos, served my sites to 28,930 visitors, made art for good, achieved a 50% savings rate, embarked on socially distant explorations, and set ambitious goals for the rest of 2020.
My name is Hamilton and this is my 2020 H1 in review.
My 2020 H1 goals
In H1, my theme was to 'thrive', which to me meant to live my dreams. Embarassingly, I never actually wrote down what my dreams were so 6 months later I really don't have a way to determine whether or not that was successful.
Luckily, I did write down some measurable goals to compliment that vision at the beginning of the half:
[x] (2/1) get in an art exhibition
[x] (3/1) make a music video
 make > $1000 through side projects
[x] (28/10) make > 10 yt videos
I hit all of those except the $1000 revenue goal, so I guess I'm at 3/4 of my dreams?
If you haven't read one of my reflections in 2020, one of the biggest differences you might notice is the prevalence of video content featuring yours truly. Earlier this year I got inspired (largely due to Megna's YT habits) to explore the video medium, which is how it came to be one of my half goals.
I wanted to try video for a few reasons - I thought it would allow me to tell my story in new ways, I wanted to try to reach more people through YT, and I wanted to work on my fear of public speaking. To make sure I was putting in the work, I set a goal of creating 10 videos in H1. To validate the approach and whether it was a worthwhile investment for me, I set another goal of hitting 1,000 views and 100 subs by the end of the half.
This half I created 28 videos which received 1,366 views and 12 subs which satisfies some of the goals set out but not all of them. The most important outcome for me is that I'm now far more comfortable with public speaking and I've found it to be a cathartic ritual that I enjoy doing. So I'll keep doing it with the understanding that this probably isn't a slam dunk, superstar opportunity for me. At least not yet.
If you want to check out more of my videos (and get notified when I release new ones), head over to my YouTube channel - HAMY LABS - and hit subscribe.
iamhamy traffic in 2020 H1
Though my YouTube channel has brought in a sizable amount of traffic in its first 6 months of existence, my primary method of content distribution is still through my websites right here on hamy.xyz
Those sites are:
I love having a central place to put things and direct people to when they want to find them. I personally believe that everyone should have some form of central online presence. It's a creative way to express yourself as you want, outside the boundaries (and associated rules) of any one platform or medium.
I think it's this core belief that has made my sites, in one form or another, my longest running project to date.
I like to periodically check in on how my sites are doing. Last quarter I did an analysis and found that my sites were up 2,632% year over year. Naturally, this was exciting for me and made me even more excited to check in on them at the end of H1 as I noticed a significant uptick in monthly visits.
iamhamy traffic data from 2019.01 to 2020.06
This half, I saw a significant uptick in both the number of visitors going to Labs and the number of followers I have on @hamy.art (which I currently track as 'visitors' for lack of a better method). Together these helped drive H1 2020 to a total of 28,930 visitors which is 24% higher than the total number of visitors my sites received in 2019 of 23,301. If we compare the number of visitors in H1 2020 to the number of visitors in 2019 H1 of 1,629, we find a year over year increase of 1,675%.
Labs domain authority over time from moz
As far as I can tell, the increase in traffic to Labs was largely driven by an increase in my site's page rank (Google's search ranking algorithm). This seemed to happen near the end of last year when I had 2 posts hit the front page of Hacker News which caused their links to be disseminated around the net. You can read more about the impact of those shares in my 2019 review.
As for @hamy.art, as much as I'd like to say its growth is because my art is good I think its growth is mostly due to running IG ads. For legal purposes, I'll note that I work for IG and am in no way speaking for them, just talking about my personal experiences. Looking at the stats of two of my top posts this half, one reached 18,044 people with 77% of that coming from ads and another reached 10,830 people with 79% coming from ads. So that means that almost 80% of the traffic to these high performing posts are coming from ads and we can assume that a similar proportion of my account's growth will be attributable to ads as well.
Releasing a music video
One of my goals this half was to make a music video. I like goals like this that are specific enough to know when you've accomplished it but vague enough to let you roll with life's punches. This half I actually crushed that goal - hitting 3 music videos if you're being strict and 12 if you're just looking at videos created specifically for music.
I've been into visualizers for some time, putting out my first one at the end of 2018 with mooneye and regularly pushing out new ones since then. This half I wanted to push myself beyond visuals that satisfied my creative taste to also satisfy the creative taste of someone else. To do that, I started searching for music artists to collab with. Luckliy my buddy Steve was coming out with an album and was generous, patient, and open enough to give this collab a whirl - thanks Steve!
Together we iterated on a bunch of versions of maudern for visualizations of three of his songs. It was a lot of work which culminated in some great outcomes and learnings, namely that visualizers are something I'd like to continue creating.
Here are Steve's songs, visualized by moi:
As I've been creating these visuals, I've been thinking about ways to increase the efficiency of their production and distribution. In my current paradigm, I'd create the visualizer, find a song I liked, hook up the visualzer, record the session until I liked it, upload the recording, and share it. But that's a lot of steps after 'create the visualizer' that I felt could be processed away.
Vicidual is my attempt to cut out these superfluous steps - it's what I call a visualization platform. Currently it hosts 4 of my visualizers and you can use them to visualize any audio you have through any device with a browser and working internet connection. My hope is to continue producing visualizers and populating vicidual with them as they're ready.
Want to play with my visualizers yourself? Head over to https://vicidual.xyz/ and click 'start'.
@hamy.art goes global
@hamy.art at MediaLab UnB
One of my goals this half was to get my art in an art exhibition. Similar to other goals this half, this goal had the implicit goals of forcing me to focus on my craft and to seek a larger audience for my work. I made this to get myself out of the rut of just creating for myself and mindlessly posting it to Instagram, to also take into account the quality of the work I was producing and how different methods of sharing it affected its overall reach and impact.
Despite all that happened this half - and perhaps because of it - I slayed this goal! My first ever art exhibition was international and my second took place entirely in VR! It's exciting to see these two bucketlist items get accomplished so soon after starting.
You can read more about these exhibitions:
I wasn't just packaging up my art and shopping it around this half (but don't let that stop you from perusing my selections). I built a lot of experiments and produced a lot of content from which I was able to create these selections. I won't go into these in much detail, but here are some of those public experiments and links to learn / see more:
For more art, follow me on Instagram at @hamy.art
making art with data
One piece I created this half that I'm particularly proud of is coronation. It's one of the first pieces I've created that was focused on translating non-audio data into a visual output. I think it's cool because it pushed the boundaries of what I'd created as art in the past - it's interactive and changes based on real-world happenings in pseudo real-time.
I wanted to call this out because I think it's a direction that I want to take my art in. I want my art to explore what's possible with current technology and to provide different perspectives on the state, direction, and future of the world. In fact, that's my mission for my art as of this half.
So bookmark this section because I think it's going to be an important keystone for the years to come.
At the beginning of this reflection, I talked a bit about my growing awareness of my privilege. I want to call out that this isn't the first time I've had this self awareness nor that I've had the feeling that I'm not doing enough to give back.
This isn't to say I'm 'woke' - on the contrary it's to point out that though I've had these thoughts and feelings before, I've never acted on them - or at least not in any significant capacity. It's to call myself out for my complacency and hold myself accountable for doing better.
This half I resurrected HamForGood - a portfolio of projects I create with the primary goal of making the world a better place. I seeded this resurrection by creating the covidart art series and furthered this idea by assigning a commitment of funneling 80% of the proceeds of these projects to support the causes that they were built to support (in covidart's case, it's supporting orgs fighting coronavirus).
I picked 80% because I wanted to actually help causes and giving most of the resources created through these efforts to those causes seemed like a good way to do that. I set aside 20% because I think it's a sustainable way to run an orgnanization and I felt that having some skin in the game would increase my commitment to producing quality outcomes.
Now I'd be remiss if I didn't point out a few shortcomings of this approach:
There's a lot of bias in what I choose to do - the causes I support, the orgs that the money goes to, and the projects I choose to work on. I think this is okay since it's all done in my freetime and there needs to be some compromise between what I want to spend my time on and making the world a better place, but these compromises come at the expense of how much good I can actually do.
Some people will be mad that I'm not giving 100% of proceeds to these causes and I get that. It can easily be seen as making a profit off of worldly issues which is about as stereotypically white, privileged, and evil as you can get. I'll accept that but will iterate that the hope of taking a cut is to make this a sustainable endeavor for years to come and to work as an incentive to produce the best work I can for the causes I choose to support.
This approach relies heavily on the monetary value of the goods I'm able to create. So far, that value has been pretty low - producing just $125 since the middle of 2019 when I started releasing creative outputs. That's not enough to really make an impact on the world and leaves a growing question of whether this is a worthwhile approach to producing change.
These shortcomings are by no means minor. I'm still grappling with a lot of questions - is this a good thing to do, does this just feed into my white savior conditioning, is this just performance allyship. Honestly, I don't have the answers. What I can say is that right now this is something that I think has the potential to be good and it's something that I feel motivated to do.
I realize that humans are easily swayed by emotion so I'm trying to gather some data this half to help answer these questions more objectively. I want to figure out whether this can be a force for good. I need to be prepared to find out it can't and to rethink my approach if that's the case.
To validate my approach, I'm setting 3 lofty goals for 3 causes that I care about:
- elections - $1000, reach 10k people - get people to vote and get Trump out of office
- climate change - $1000, reach 10k people - fight climate change and keep the world healthy and habitable for future generations
- social justice - $1000, reach 10k people - fight for the equal protection, treatment, and love for all people
I chose these causes because I believe they're some of the most important and urgent issues facing our world today. I grappled with how publicly I wanted to make these goals as they're, unfortunately, controversial. But then I thought if I can't stand for the things I believe in with all the privilege that I have, then I couldn't expect anyone else to do so either. I fear what could happen to the world if no one stood for these things, so I will stand.
I haven't prepared full statements on why I think these causes are so important and urgent nor why I'm taking the position I am on each of them, but I do plan on releasing these as I create projects within each cause. In the interim, you can read my post on why I support Black Lives Matter which bases its arguments around basic human rights and is similar to my arguments for my positions in each of these causes.
If I can hit these goals it'd be the most impact for good I've produced in any single half of my life. I think that's a pretty good sign for the future potential of this paradigm. I realize that this won't validate whether this is the most impactful thing I could be doing with my effort and time but I'll take that risk so that I might fully vet this approach first and come back to it when necessary.
If you want to collab or have ideas on the approach / things to build, hmu! We can make this place better, together.
ever more creations
I created more projects this half that didn't get a feature here. You can check those out here:
In H2, I wanted to continue building a solid foundation for my life with a focus on financials and fitness.
[x] (60 / 50) use full savings / 401k / ira -> 50% savings rate
[x] (v hard / hard) get a hard 6 pack
my spending and covid
To me, money is best when it doesn't need to be worried about but in order to get to a point where that can be done (responsibly), I think a fair amount of worrying is necessary. So this half, I built thevalueofmoney to help me with my worrying - it's a site with various financial calculators aimed at making my common financial calculations that much easier.
With it, I was able to evaluate potential savings opportunities worth $295,000 over 15 years. I implemented a few of these which helped me achieve the 50% savings rate I was seeking.
I wrote about some of these savings evaluations and you can find them here:
- Cooking my own meals at home is worth ~$619 / month and ~$180,000 over 15 years
- By starting a Roth IRA and investing $6,000 / year I can make ~$8,300 more over 15 years (~$550 / year) vs a taxable index fund
- The value of making my own food on weekends is ~$1,310 per year and worth ~$32,635 over 15 years
- By bringing my own mat and towel to yoga instead of renting, I can save ~$8,800 over 15 years
- Choosing New York Sports Club over Equinox is worth $50,893 to me over 15 years
- By making my own cold brew instead of buying, I can save $16,844 over 15 years - and I only buy coffee 4 times a week
I think it'd be misleading to end this half's savings story there as it wasn't just strategizing and discipline that got me to this point - covid also had a non-negligible effect on my spending. I could probably do a whole post on this but the highlights are that, on average, I spent 37% less each month during covid as opposed to before covid (16% less if we take out January and May as outliers), with a majority of those savings coming from my entertainment and travel budgets.
Spend and save breakdown
Spending by category
I think it's a good thing that I'm spending less during covid. We aren't going anywhere so it'd be a little alarming if my increased spending on at-home entertainment matched up with my decreased spending out in the world. I also think it serves as a good benchmark for how much we really spend just to go out and entertain ourselves and warrants additional investigation into whether or not that's worth it and if there are alternative ways to get the same outcomes for a lower monetary cost. The challenge then is to keep spending from ballooning whenever the pandemic starts to settle down in the states. It won't be easy, but now I know it's possible and that's a start.
I may do a deeper dive into my pre / post corona finances because I'm curious and think there's opportunity for optimization there. Lmk if this would be interesting and I'll bump its creation priority.
fitness and covid
One of my goals for this half was to 'get a hard 6 pack'. I chose this goal because I wanted to capture the new definition of what fitness means to me and to have a goal that is actually measurable. I've done a lot of running and lifting since highschool and my goals, when I had them, were definitely rooted in those experiences e.g. run a 6 minute mile, bench 225, do abs 3 days a week. The problem with these is that they captured things that I was no longer interested in IOR that didn't map to an outcome.
My current name for my fitness strategy is 'post competitive fitness'. It's fitness that doesn't have the explicit purpose of being competitive, rather is something I do to stay healthy, maintain basic athletic abilities, and that makes me look good #lookgoodfeelgoodandviceversa long into the future. It consists of a base of lifting to maintain strength and muscle mass, regular cardio for agility, stamina, and heart health, and stretching to increase range of motion and comfort in my body. Together, this can be taken as my attempt to not become the old guy who has trouble getting off the couch.
The 6 pack goal seemed like a good measurement because it would require regular training and a good diet, which would likely imply I was hitting my goals in my fitness regiment. I started off hot and quickly hit this goal around March. Then covid happened and my habits changed a bit.
exercise counts logged over time
This chart shows the number of exercises logged over time in a given workout. We can see that the datapoints are a bit more spread out starting around mid march and that the average seems to drop a bit around the same time. This means I've been lifting less frequently and performing less exercises when I do.
weight lifted logged over time
We can see this trend even more clearly if we aggregate by total weight lifted rather than exercise count. Here we see a much clearer reduction in weight and a similar reduction in data points.
All-in-all I think I'm doing pretty well without gym access. I have a workout routine that's working for me and that requires very little specialized equipment. As for whether I hit my goal or not, you can be the judge:
ham as a force for good
At the beginning of this reflection, I mentioned my growing realization that I'm not doing enough. Over the past few halves, I've found ways to do more but my overall impact is still negligible.
So this half I'm building systems to do more now and in the future. I wrote about how I'm goaling on and building things for good in my #projects section. Here I wanted to talk about the personal habits and goals I'm using to move my life towards my ideal for the world.
goaling - everything starts with a dream so I've been modifying the missions and values of my foci to better reflect the positive impact I want to have on the world. You can read more about this in my creating a mission section.
allocating resources - one of the best things I think I can do for the world is to reallocate some of the resources at my disposal to activists and experts who are already working to further a cause. This lets me start helping long before I've caught up on requisite info. I've created a section in my budget for donating to organizations and causes I care about each month.
learning - action needs to be the unit of measure by which we hold ourselves accountable. It's action that actually creates change in the world. But learning is extremely important to direct and focus that effort for the largest possible impact. I'm modifying my goals each month to include one area of focused learning so that I can continually be improving my potential for change.
These are the systems I've put into place as of today. In the end it all comes down to what things I actually do and what change occurs as a consequence of those actions. I know there are way more things that could be done. I'll be revisiting these systems regularly to add, modify, and refocus.
creating a mission
One of the books I read this half was Hello, Startup. In one section, it talks about the benefits of having a mission and core values for your company - effectively the why and how underlying how it operates. I like to think of my life as an organization and to run it as such so I reflected on how a mission and set of core values might work for me.
I found that it fits pretty well - this idea of an overarching theme is something that I'd been playing with for the past few halves. A mission and core values would provide a longer term framework for direction, while my halfly goaling would provide one for the shorter term. At the same time, I found that a single mission didn't seem to encompass the entirety or nuance of what I was trying to accomplish.
So I created a series of interlocking mission statements for the different aspects of my life:
- life: lead a happy, healthy, and impactful life
- projects: make the world a better place for everyone, grow my abilities into a world-class change maker.
- self: build a healthy, strong foundation from which to effect real change in the world.
- adventure: explore the world, its state, and possibilities to fuel my energy, outlook, and understanding
- art: explore the world and offer new perspectives on its state, direction, and future
These are all works in progress, but I've already seen benefits in having these mission statements written down. My hope is that these will help direct my efforts in the long term, providing a north star of sorts by which to navigate the future.
I'd planned to go on a lot of adventures this year. COVID changed that. But I still got around and have hope that these plans will return in the not-so-distant future.
I just hit my 1 year 'Faceversary' (what we call anniversaries at Facebook). This year has gone by so fast. I know I say that every year, but this one seems acutely so.
- 279 commits to the code base
- 5 trips to California
- too many images in tiny rooms
some cool projects I worked on:
- IGTV revenue share
- easing network strain for coronavirus
- keeping IG running during coronavirus
If I had to pull out one thing that I learned at work this year, I think it's that software is inherently a human problem, not a technological one. What I mean by this is that, in my experience, the human factor is always the problem, the solution, and the bottleneck. We're the ones with the problems to be solved, we're the ones who end up creating the solution, and at some point we're the bottleneck in that process.
It's this piece of information that has really made me feel like a better engineer than I ever have before. It's also this piece of information that has made me realize just how much farther I have to go to become the engineer I want to be.
I've been revising how I goal, organize, and execute on projects to explore this space and learn how to do better with the human component. Some ways I'm doing this include taking more time to figure out what's important, strict prioritization, maintaining a single source of truth for each project and workstream, and making better time / effort estimates as well as sticking to the deadlines I set myself.
There's a lot of work left to do, but one of my primary drives for working at a company is to challenge myself to be a better engineer and creator, to hone my skills for bringing ideas into being. So far, Instagram has been a great place to challenge myself to be better and work on cool projects along the way so I'm excited to continue my journey into my second year at IG.
My 2020 H2 Goals
This half has been a big, neon reminder that life is a journey. How we reach our destination is just as important as actually reaching it. As such, it doesn't seem fitting to end my reflection here. This isn't an end, just a rest stop with a nice view of where I came from.
Looking forward, I've got a long way to go before my next rest stop. I want to share what that journey entails so that it might inspire you to come along or embark on your own.
The theme of my 2020 H2 is lean sustainability. It's a reminder that this journey is a long one and I need to pace myself. It's also a promise that I won't stop chugging.
For projects, my vision is to cultivate lean, sustainable practices for effecting change in the world. I want to experiment with different ways to create real change with the goal of making this world a better place (as is my projects' mission). I'll be trying to do a lot of things, raise a lot of money, and reach a lot of people.
- build a better world
- elections - $1000, reach 10k people
- climate change - $1000, reach 10k people
- social justice - $1000, reach 10k people
- build a business - $1000, validate 12 ideas
- Make art
- release clothing collection
- 2 art exhibitions
- hamy.art → 10k Insta followers
- 2 collabs with artists
For self, my vision is to solidify my foundational habits to better position myself to effect change. I'm a strong believer that you have to deal with your internal issues before you can effectively make an impact externally. This isn't to say you need to be perfect, for no one is perfect, but that you must come to terms with your internal struggles if you want to be an effective change agent. This half, I'll be continuing several projects that solidify my foundation as well as taking a renewed focus on learning.
- 60% savings rate
- 10% reduction in carbon footprint
- renew passport
- renew nyc license
- register to vote
- library card
- settle in with meg
- 30s handstand
- elementary conversation skills in a language
- good code practices like architecture, tdd, functional programming
- software architectures
- activism, voting, and antiracism
- climate change
- Creative coding
For work, my vision is to grow my ability to push projects to successful outcomes through collaboration, communication, and organization. I see work as an excellent opportunity to hone my skills for bringing an idea into being. This half, I'm going to be focusing on systems to robustly and efficiently produce better outcomes.
- EE in H2
- hit all project goals
- lead a project
- 2 technical interviews
- 2 tech talks / blog posts
For adventure, my vision is to rebuild a habit of exploration and learning. The pandemic took a large toll on my adventure habit. But I know there's adventure to be had outside of risky locations and scenarios. This half I'm going to rebuild my adventure habit to allow me to continue exploring what this life has to offer, within the constraints of the pandemic.
- explore the world - travel abroad for > 5 days
- explore New York - all 5 boroughs
- join an art / maker collective
Those are my plans for the half. Life will get in the way and I'll make changes to deal with them. The journey will go on.
If you want to join me on any part of this journey, let me know. It's going to be a difficult one and I'd welcome company.
If you have a few minutes, you can help me get started:
- Follow @sir.hamy on IG and HAMY LABS on YouTube for updates from me
- Follow @hamy.art for new art releases
Before parting, I'll leave you with one last thought.
The world is in our hands. We have the power to change it. We have the power to mold it. If you do not use this power, it will be molded without your input. Use this power to make it the world you know it can be.
Let's do some good this half.