2023 Year in Review

... I believe themes of technology and industry will be useful/productive to continue reading, thinking, and writing about in the year ahead.

My customary annual retrospective.

The past year has been very good on a personal level, with a growing family and increasing responsibilities at work. As far as this blog is concerned, I now have a decade under my belt! This year, I wrote 11 posts (counting this one), which is close to my goal of averaging one per month. This has been my target for the past several years (2020, 2021, 2022, and now 2023); prior to that was a different season of life when I had more time to write—I need to go back and fix a bunch of archive links so those earlier posts are more accessible when I get a chance.

Here is the list of my posts from this year:

One of my goals in 2023 was to read five books of 500+ pages: Lord of the Rings, Growth by Vaclav Smil, The Monkey and the Monk (an abridged version of Journey to the West), City of God (also abridged), and Champlain's Dream. As the year ends, I'm about 75% of the way through the final one and expect to finish it a week or two into the new year. Stay tuned for reviews (probably including another set of mini-reviews) and quotes/excerpts I'll share inspired by this reading—which was not all I read this year; in total I read 14 books.

One of my favourite posts from the past year was inspired in part by a passage from Lord of the Rings. It also relates to industry and modes of production, which I'm planning to have as a theme for some of my writing and reading in 2024 (I have some outlines in mind for at least 2 or 3 posts).

The following comment is something I wrote on Facebook back in October with my understanding on what is going on in the world. Earlier in 2023 I had written a post considering some possible scenarios for geopolitical realignment and those ideas have continued to bounce around in my mind. Even after writing this comment, events have continued to occur—notably sabre-rattling by Venezuela against Guyana and the Houthis in Yemen targetting ships sailing up the Red Sea.

Looking at the big picture, there are many regions of the world where who is in charge is more of an open question than it has been in decades. At the same time, there’s widespread expectation (which I fervently hope doesn’t turn out, to be clear) of a showdown between the US and China over Taiwan, quite possibly before the decade is out. So there’s a lot of jockeying for position—realignments of alliances and stuff like that (consider Sweden and Finland joining NATO and Italy leaving China’s Belt & Road Initiative for a couple of examples)—and possibly some desire to test out 5th Gen aircraft and cutting-edge drones. Since the last major realignment, there’s been some non-trivial shifts in the relative power of global or regional powers. Even if they go on to win at some level, the Ukraine war has shown that Russia can’t project force more than a couple of hundred km from their borders. Among other consequences, this made Azerbaijan feel it was a good time to settle scores with Armenia (and the way Ngorno-Karabakh went down, large-scale population transfers are now back on the menu) and I’ve also heard about some skirmishes between a couple of the -stans. France’s former empire in West Africa has seen a whole wave of coups. The US is still very powerful, but divided and distracted. Withdrawing from Afghanistan was a sign that (for better and for worse) going forward there’s going to be some places they won’t bother projecting power even if they can. With the balance of power thus in flux in multiple regions, various players are calculating that it’s as good a time as any to try something. Perhaps especially if they can get a head start or a favourable position for a larger geopolitical realignment 5 or 10 years down the road.

I make no pretense of knowing how all this will shake out, but the events of 2023 have increased my expectation that various players that feel ambitious or embattled could try something in the coming year(s). Buckle up, I guess.

I've really been enjoying this song since it came out. Not only is it catchy, but I feel it has a lot of relevance, especially the poignant lines "I thought to make a broadsword / for fighting on the field / much as I know the hammer is a nobler thing to wield / for though us humble tradesfolk / choose a quiet life / the gods of war come to the door / of the hammer and his wife". I suspect the relationship between industrial capacity and "politics by other means" will be a very salient trend in the year(s) ahead. Like, the US has clearly recognized that compute is a strategic resource and is trying to develop as much domestic semiconductor fab capacity as possible before an Incident occurs that would block access to (or destroy) overseas production. Munitions production lines are also being spun back up. (Canadian politics is a lot more naive, and I haven't seen much sign of strategic thinking in our industrial policy yet). Anyway, these thoughts are part of the reason (it was already a subject of interest for me anyway) I believe themes of technology and industry will be useful/productive to continue reading, thinking, and writing about in the year ahead.

Along with this theme that I intend to have as a common thread through a few posts in 2024, I have plans (and in some cases an outline or a partial draft) for a number of other posts spanning the typical range of things I like to write about. So check back monthly (he says, optimistically) or even subscribe. Happy New Year!