2019 in Review

January 01, 2020

Reading time ~16 minutes

Another cycle around the sun draws to an end, and a new one begins.

As my annual letters seem to get longer and longer each year, I will summarize the content of it here.

  • Holiday Message
  • 2019 Timeline
  • Accomplishments for 2019 and goals for 2020
  • Reading Updates

Holiday message

So much of my life is centered around the idea of 'becoming more' that it is difficult for me to encapsulate a message looking back and looking forward without discussing ways of self improvement, but I will try.

I find, with great humor, that these themes were the same in my mid-year status update. I had forgotten about that, though the fact that they replicated with no reference is a pretty positive indicator to me.

Since the last time around our star, I have become much more who I want to become. My childhood vision of the man I could become, and the goals that began to emerge in my college years like the steps ascending a tower have finally brought me to a point where I can survey the world outside from the world within and say that I have reached a major milestone. Experiences, relationships, and challenges have built a sturdy foundation and a world on that foundation.

It is the milestone of feeling stable in who I am—who Colin Popell is, both face to face and under various sobriquets. I know what I had to do to reach this point (trivial tasks, simply because they were accomplished) and I have some vision of the steps that will take me to the next landing (nigh impossible as a whole, since they have yet to be accomplished, yet doable one at a time).

I am young, still, though the scattered silver hair on my head tells tale of the inevitable passing of time. I have not experienced all the joys and tragedies of life, but I have done what I can to listen to the tales of men and women from across history, and so hopefully the advice and thoughts I give have a depth to them beyond what I might have accomplished through observation of my life alone.

2019 was a year where I thought about love. The love of family, the love of friends, the love of life. I recognize that love is an incredibly stereotypical thing to talk about around the holidays, but all the same it was something that I spent much of my year dwelling on.

Sami Jacobs and I are incredibly lucky to have the people to love that we do. True friendships of a deep and virtuous kind, relationships with people that motivate us, strengthen us, and bring out more of our capabilities than we knew existed. Not everyone, but most people have these in one form or another, and I think they need more attention.

For various reasons, we live in an era where people feel like they have less connections to those around them. I can't fix that on a policy level with a snap of my fingers, but I can say: If you have the energy to do so, reach out to those around you. Old roommates, friends, clubmembers. People that you shared things in common with until you moved away, and new acquaintances you've met through work or your daily life.

Reach out to one more, two more, three more people than you were planning on for the holidays and ask them how their year has been. They might seriously appreciate it.

In the next year, seek to live well. As we choose to live, choose to live skillfully. The past is passed, and the future not yet written but perhaps in the impractically computable heart of existence. We should seek the point where at every moment we lack regrets and are subsumed instead with a passion for the chance to live more. Even regrets can be turned into the structure of a life well lived, if you reach the point where you are glad you are there and only want more life, more love, more existence.

Live well, be joyous, never stop growing, and seek the point where you can agree that, in that moment, you have no regrets. May your next year be more than you imagined.

2019 Timeline

January - I was offered the opportunity to take the Dale Carnegie training at work. I did well enough at it that I won one of the three 'best in class' awards, and was one of the few people invited to give feedback. I would say, having taken it, there's absolutely no point to taking it. Read his books, they're the best part of the training. The more modern stuff is generic corporate waste.

February through April - I turned 28. I had some high stress at work from increased responsibilities in semester planning, etc., and Sami dealt with a lot of work stress that contributed to her starting the job hunting process, followed by the stress of preparing for the job hunting process.

May - I spoke at Microsoft Build (video below).

June - Sami turned 29, started her new job on Power BI, and went to Vegas for a bachelorette party. I spoke at Microsoft's Business Application Summit.

July - We attended Jaime Huffman and Sherry Huffman’s wedding in Victoria. Sami and I decided that we were interested in picking up marksmanship as a hobby, and started pursuing it. We joined Samuel Henly at his condo for a lovely 4th of July party. I was also able to see Paul William Bragulla, my brother in all but name, for the first time in years—he was in town to look at the area and see about some job opportunities (that unfortunately fell through).

August - Unfortunately, in August tragedy struck. Sami's mother, Shawna Jacobs, passed away. We spent a few weeks in Georgia taking care of her affairs, as well as scattering some of her ashes at Clearwater Beach in Florida. During this trip, I also got to see my dad again. I learned more about family history, his library, and his furniture.

September - Sami and I attended PAX West, and had a fantastic time. We also hit the range for a bit. Finally, she attended a concert with a local friend to see Chevelle, Breaking Benjamin, and Three Days Grace. Something about nostalgia?

October - We visited a friend's farm for a large get together and met a number of fantastic people who had very different ways of existing effectively--we also got to hang out with Scott Fowler , Sonya Mann, and a number of others in person. I think this was a great experience to meet people who are as driven as we are but execute it in very different ways. We also had the opportunity to see Karl John Fischer for the first time in a while. Karl, remarkably, lives in San Francisco area and doesn't have any weird friends so I'm hoping that I can help fix that in the next year.

November - In November, Mackenzie moved in with her boyfriend (at the time—they have since become engaged!) Samuel Henly. We celebrated the Thanksgiving season, her going away, and her birthday with a lovely party at our apartment with delicious cheesecakes provided by Matthias Shapiro. My parents were also in town for a few days in November, and we got to spend some time together (Sami and I plus my parents) as a family, something that isn't so easy with us scattered across the country.

December - We spent the first week or so of December relaxing as an intermission between two bursts of intense socializing, before participating in a number of holiday parties, events, etc. Over the holidays we were lucky enough to be joined for a New Years Eve party by friends, ending the decade the way it should be—with conversation and joy.

Accomplishments and Goals

I have accomplished a number of things in the last year. Like I said above, it seems like the easiest way for me to frame my growth as a person is in terms of acts of self improvement.

When I think about self improvement, but also when I think about living a quality life, I break things up into categories—I'll have more on that soon. This lets me try to make sure I'm not missing anything in terms of proper coverage over a well rounded lifestyle.



  • Returned (with greater volume) to a 530 deadlift, 440 squat, maintained bench at 300-310
  • Nearly hit my goal of a 20 minute 3 mile on the treadmill—a 17:20 2.6 miles. Just need to add a little less than half a mile on at the same pace.
  • I started dancing again, a little, with Sami
  • I improved my vegetable intake while dropping my daily food budget in the second half of the year with a mixture of changing where I ate and bringing healthier things to work, as well as using a green juice more regularly on days I didn't get enough vegetables


  • Reading
    • Read an additional 5,000 pages or so of the Great Books of the Western World
    • Read a number of unaffiliated books on top of that
    • Began reviewing my physical and mathematical knowledge (though not necessarily technical execution) by watching lectures by Feynman, 3Blue1Brown, etc. while running—this has been a healthy thing for me to do. I both remember more and less than I anticipated.
    • I have read through (and did the exercises) most of Pawel Sobocinski's Graphical Linear Algebra. This has been a fascinating exercise—while the specific mathematical capabilities it introduced me to aren't new, by giving me a system that was isomorphic to matrices, I was able to understand a lot more about transforms between systems, categories, and given inspiration about the encoding of complex systems in diagrammatic languages.
  • Writing
  • Speaking
    • I gave two talks on behalf of Microsoft - Both about building connectors
  • Social
    • We held, I believe, four or five small parties this year—predominantly in the second half.
    • I tried to reach out to more people on a regular basis and fulfill the same suggestions that I made above, and I hope I succeeded.
    • I successfully committed myself to be more willing to leave my cocoon of information consumption and go out and socialize in general.
    • I tried to make time to tell those absolutely closest to me exactly why and how I loved them, and what they brought in to my life, because there is not enough appreciation in the world.
    • We traveled a little bit more to attend events (New Hampshire)



  • Deadlift 540 lbs
  • Compete at a powerlifting competition
  • Go rock climbing 4x
  • Hit a 20 minute 5k on the treadmill, participate in * an actual 5k
  • Practice dance more than 1 hour a month
  • Attend at least one yoga class
  • Increase my fat and vegetable intake, vary my evening meals, cook a 'full' multi-course meal with paired dishes at least 12 times


  • High level: Read 30 'book equivalents' of a quality between ‘high quality genre fiction’ and ‘literary and philosophical classics’
  • Read an additional 5k pages of the Great Books of the Western World
  • Read the collected works of HP Lovecraft
  • Read the collected works of Robert E Howard
  • Tackle at least 3-6 high value non-fiction books not covered by my Great Books reading


  • Improve knowledge of Category Theory
    • David Spivak's 'Category Theory for Scientists'
    • Baez's 'Applied Category Theory' class (leveraging Spivak's 'Seven Sketches in Compositionality')
  • Controls Theory, Python, ML
  • Finally, I'd like to begin learning about quantum computing as well as increase my breadth of knowledge of finance. I am lucky to know the author of "Learn Quantum Computing with Python and Q#".


  • I will be launching a website to publish writing this next year, as I seem unable to stop giving my opinions on why, how, and what a life well lived looks like—as well as having a number of opinions around both systems and product management (although much easier to call my bluff on those, so perhaps I'll be more constrained!)
  • I'll be hopefully giving a review of Graphical Linear Algebra and what I learned from it in greater depth early in the year.
  • I have at least one project I hope to launch in February but am not yet ready to talk about.
  • Finally, I may be interested in collaborating with someone on writing fiction.


  • We'd like to host at least 3 non-wedding events
  • I have a publicly unannounced project that will take quite a bit of coordination
  • I'd like to hang out 1-1 and have a good, long conversation with at least 6 new people

Life Events

  • Have the wedding ceremony
  • Buy a house
  • Prepare to start a family
  • Travel overseas for our honeymoon
  • Travel at least one other place in the year

Reading Updates

If you're only reading this to find out what I've read in the last few months, or if you're very kindly trying to keep up with my life but are tired of the fact I appear to have written an entire novella, this is the final section!

Aside from the Great Books, I did do some side reading this year

  • "Master Switch" by Tim Wu (highly recommended, initially on the prompt of Anastasia Mackert)
  • The first three chapters of Holmes' "The Common Law"
  • "Economics in One Lesson" by Henry Hazlitt
  • "Aristillus" books 1 and 2 by Travis Corcoran (no longer on Facebook)
  • "Emily Post's Etiquette, 18th Edition"
  • "How to Bake Pi" by Eugenia Cheng
  • Innumerable essays

And now for the big list! Great Books reading. This is since my last list, so will only cover July through end of December. In July, I wrote that I was wrapping up Year 2 Week 1, and I can say with great pleasure that I am finishing up Year 2 Week 27 (a couple days late due to the holidays).

As always, trying to identify the pieces I think stand out the most is difficult in such a large list. There are items I consider important to read, items I'd like to reread for depth or because part of it slipped my grasp, and items that struck my very clearly, even if I don't consider them important to read or reread. To try to identify these:

Bold will be things I believe are the most important to read.

The asterisk symbol * I will mark things I wish to reread.

The dagger symbol † (ironically Unicode symbol 2020!) I will mark things that struck me, stuck with me, left an impression—even if I neither consider them highest priority for you or for me to review. This is not quite a superset of the preceding classes.

Reviewing the last six months, it appear I have a great fondness for the Greek and Roman classical authors, enjoy the philosophical musings of mathematicians and physicists, and have little memory for Francis Bacon as well as various poets.

Shakespeare, Darwin, and Mark Twain are among the most strikingly excellent writers I have ever read. Darwin, perhaps, not usually included on that list.

Since 7/1/2019

  1. Moby Dick (completed) by Herman Melville†
  2. Of Repentance by Michel de Montaigne
  3. **Rules for the Direction of the Mind by Rene Descartes***
  4. Of Seditions and Troubles by Francis Bacon
  5. Probability by Pierre Simon de Laplace*
  6. *The Politics of Aristotle (completed)†**
  7. Great Men and Their Environment by William James†
  8. Antigone by Sophocles
  9. On the Conservation of Force by H.L.F. von Helmholtz
  10. I'm a Fool by Sherwood Anderson
  11. *History of the Peloponnesian War by Thucydides†**
  12. Of Beauty by Francis Bacon
  13. **First Inaugural Address by Thomas Jefferson***
  14. *What is Life? by Erwin Schrodinger†**
  15. The City of God by St. Augustine†
  16. The Aeneid of Virgil*
  17. Experience and Education by John Dewey†
  18. On Some Forms of Literature by Arthur Schopenhauer*
  19. My First Acquaintance with Poets by William Hazlitt
  20. *Measurement by Norman Robert Campbell (Chapter VI of What is Science?)†**
  21. Riders to the Sea by John M. Synge†
  22. Numerical Laws and the Use of Mathematics in Science (Chapter VII of What is Science?)*†
  23. Of Studies by Francis Bacon
  24. The Classification of Human Ability by Sir Francis Galton (Chapters I and II of Hereditary Genius)*†
  25. Micromegas by Voltaire†
  26. On Airs, Waters, and Places by Hippocrates†
  27. Chance by Henri Poincare*
  28. Sweetness and Light by Matthew Arnold
  29. Of Parents and Children by Francis Bacon
  30. On the Artificial Production of Urea by Friedrich Wohler
  31. An Essay on Modern Education by Jonathan Swift*
  32. **What is a Classic? by Charles Augustin Sainte-Beuve***
  33. Dialogues Concerning the Two New Sciences by Galileo Galilei*†
  34. The Art of Biography by Virginia Woolf†
  35. Macbeth by William Shakespeare†
  36. Of the Inconstancy of Our Actions by Michel de Montaigne†
  37. *The Nicomachean Ethics of Aristotle†**
  38. Of Marriage and Single Life by Francis Bacon
  39. A Proposal for Promoting Useful Knowledge among the British Plantations in America by Benjamin Franklin
  40. Of Giving the Lie by Michel de Montaigne
  41. The Hero as King by Thomas Carlyle*†
  42. Manifesto of the Communist Party by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels†
  43. The Queen of Spades by Alexander Pushkin†
  44. Arguments for and against Galileo by Tommaso Campanella†
  45. Alcestis by Euripides
  46. The Charter of the United Nations
  47. On the Knocking at the Gate in Macbeth by Thomas de Quincey
  48. The Seven Bridges of Koenigsberg by Leonard Euler†
  49. Aucassin and Nicolette by Anonymous
  50. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights
  51. The Darling by Anton Chekhov†
  52. **The Origin of Species by Charles Darwin (WIP)***
  53. Preface to Leaves of Grass by Walt Whitman
  54. *Childhood and Youth by John Stuart Mill (Chapters 1-3 of Mill's Autobiography)†**
  55. Of Custom and Education by Francis Bacon
  56. The Apple Tree by John Galsworthy
  57. *Proposals Relating to the Education of Youth in Pennsylvania by Benjamin Franklin†**
  58. *The Red and the Black by Charles Sanders Peirce†**
  59. Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain†
  60. Of Great Place by Francis Bacon
  61. Cupid and Psyche by Lucius Apuleius
  62. *Alexander by Plutarch†**
  63. Literature of Knowledge and Literature of Power by Thomas DeQuincey†
  64. *Caesar by Plutarch†**
  65. Of Followers and Friends by Francis Bacon
  66. By Diverse Means We Arrive at the Same End by Michel de Montaigne
  67. The Discourses of Epictetus (WIP)*†
  68. Civilization by Francois Guizot*
  69. The Social Contract by Jean-Jacques Rousseau (WIP)†
  70. *Of Usury by Francis Bacon†**
  71. Hamlet by William Shakespeare†
  72. *The Poetics of Aristotle†**
  73. The Cherry Orchard by Anton Chekhov
  74. Of Riches by Francis Bacon
  75. And Introduction to Metaphysics by Henri Bergson
  76. The Study of Poetry by Matthew Arnold
  77. *Demosthenes by Plutarch†**
  78. *The Rise of the Mechanical View by Albert Einstein and Leopold Infeld†**
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