2020 in Review

Holy F***!!

Wow, what a year. There’s a lot to unpack.

Before getting onto the more unique content you’re looking for, let’s address the big, hacking and coughing elephant in the room. COVID-19 threw a wrench in most people’s plans for 2020. This was one of those years that completely altered many people’s “is this worth complaining about?” decision thresholds. With the new year coming up, plenty of people are staying optimistic. After all, multiple companies are rolling out COVID-19 vaccines, many of which have shown promising clinical trial results. Take Moderna’s new RNA-based vaccine, for example.

“We reject the null hypothesis based on the ‘hot damn, check out this chart’ test.”

Of course that’s the thing about there being a light at the end of the tunnel. It implies that we’re still in the tunnel. If you’re reading this, make sure to still take precautions. There’s a more virulent strain spreading, and you don’t want your tombstone to mention that you were one of the last people to die before the mass-vaccinations were complete (or worse yet, being responsible for someone else dying before they could get vaccinated).

Observations about the year

Looking back at 2020 in the final days, here are 20 things that stand out in the current moment (the reasons for picking them are just as arbitrary as choosing the number 20):

  1. Everything from the first two months of the year feels so trivial. Wasn’t there something about Iran and Shakira’s Super Bowl performance.
  2. Elon Musk currently has 2 things going for him: The actual tangible successes of SpaceX and Tesla, and the army of easily-meme-infectable autists on r/wallstreetbets ready to apply the same HODL mentality to Tesla’s stock.
  3. Three people in a row that I dated this year turned out to have an OnlyFans. It’s a little strange how normal and commonplace it became to sell pictures of your feet to randos around the world.
  4. With everything from the BLM protests, to the wildfires in both Australia and Brazl, to the US elections, I think even the most uninvolved slacktivists are starting to feel like they could be doing more.
  5. It seemed to be right around April when the optimism about this year died down the most. I think tht was when people realized the celebrity death list might be larger than usual this year.
  6. Plenty of people were int he awkward spot of trying to stop older generations fro getting radicalized on Facebook while stopping younger people from downloading the Chinese-spyware-laden TikTok.
  7. For many of us, if we leave the house without a mask, feel like we just left the house without putting on underwear first.
  8. With all the gyms shutting down, it became much easier to spot who was on HGH and who was building muscle the honorable way (or doing neither, and just bulking without adding muscle).
  9. It’s not just international politics and economics that have sped up the pace. You have a friend that moved. You have the friends that got married and/or pregnant like one of them was going off to fight WWII or something.
  10. Everyone and their mothers was suddenly decrying ther CDC. The problem was that not many people could point to a good alternative.
  11. The “Not my president” protests are now on the other side, and a bit more vitriolic now. I’m a bit worried the pendulum is going to get more and more extreme in its swings from one election year to the next.
  12. This was a year without any major theatrical releases, but then again Hollywood has been eating its own tail for so long that most people only seemed to notice how uneventful the year was movie-wise at the very end.
  13. Poly people last year were complaining about how “oppressive” monogamy was. They were a lot more silent this year when getting addtional STDs with new partners was the least of their worries.
  14. Mitt Romney’s upward trajectory was over after his 2012 defeat. Now he criticizes Trump and voices support for UBI the Democrats like an old man that’s reached the stage where he no longer cares what others think of his opinions.
  15. All the UFO footage was far less interesting from a “extraterrestrial visitors” perspective, and more interesting from a “military doesn’t want everyone to know about its radar glitches” perspective.
  16. Greenwashing and bluewashing felt strangely more transparent this year. For examle, companies changing their logos to voice support for BLM, without actually making a dent in the collossal problem of extrajudicial execution.
  17. Everyone saying that the pandemic was just speeding up longtime trends like remote work and robotics and shifts to hard tech. Now you’re wondering which of this years unexpected events were actually a long time coming.
  18. It seems like western nations finally started to realize that the pro-free-market factions in the Chinese government haven’t really been in power for quite some time.
  19. I don’t think the current media outlets are prepared for how much more boring a Biden presidency is going to be.
  20. Most people are wishing they had done more to prepare financially or materially for this year. Most of the people that actually did so (including myself) are wishing they had done so enough to safeguard more of their friends and family, and not just themselves.

It’s not entirely clear how many of these observations are going to seem like one-offs, and which will become more pronounced as time goes on. For now, let’s refocus on the future.

4 Goal Categories for the Coming Year

With the experience with 2020, it probably seems exceedingly foolish to make any kind of resolutions for 2021 (especially if you saw my “Converse Bucket List” from around this time last year).

  • Getting in Shape: In 2019 I got into fantastic shape thanks to visiting my local crossfit gym. I originally planned to continue this in 2020, but somewhat predictably my crossfit habit was interrupted. While I didn’t exactly turn into a balloon (my weight gain has been pretty modest all things considered), I miss having a six-pack like I did in 2019. Now that I’ve assembled a proper home gym (and narrowed down a virtual coach after months of trial and error), I’m ready to get back on that horse.
  • Improving Finances: Don’t get me wrong. Compared to most people in the United States (not to mention the rest of the world), I’m doing pretty fantastic. Despite some failed attempts earlier this year at starting a company, I’m in a pretty great spot (this is probably the 3rd time that a massive cryptocurrency rally has bailed me out of a business venture gone wrong).
  • Improving this Site: With not much else to do, this has probably been one of my most prolific writing years to date. That being said, not all the content on here has been equal. Some has come in the form of research reviews, some has been actual tutorials, some has been personal news like announcements, and some has been topical. All this is getting mixed in with content from many previous years, most of which I wrote for widely varying purposes and only added to this site in order to avoid everything being lost to link rot. From the machine learning bloggers I’ve talked to, getting better really is just a matter of writing more. However, even if I’m not struggling with perfectionism, I’d like to try steering this blog in a clearer direction based on feedback I get. Moving forward, I’d like to make fewer posts of higher quality. This is not just due to the fact that I have research commitments outside the research I do as a hobby (I’m working with an amazing biotech company right now), but also due to the fact that quantity can’t always substitute for quality. Despite writing so many posts this year, none has really gained the level of traction as last year’s ‘under-investigated fields mega-post’. Who knows? Maybe posts on here will start to look more and more like the giant novel-length posts you’d see on a site like WaitButWhy.
  • Improving Relationships: I’ve gotten much better at maintaining friendships over the years. True, as I enter the latter stages of my 20s, it gets much harder to make new friend. That being said, at this stage I’ve learned enough about how to do it right that now it’s just a matter of putting in more time. Beyond this self-centered view of relationships, I also want to take more time to give back to others. For example, the most recent cohort of Thiel Fellows was just announced. Like the previous 4 years, a sizeable fraction came from my existing network. I feel like I’m in a much better position than most to help young entrepreneurs, but I’m still trying to figure out what the best way of doing that is.

…oh, and this time if someone asks me to cancel my Burning Man plans (for what would be the 4th time ever), I am NOT going to oblige.

Regardless of whether I achieve all (or any) of these goals, I wish you all a fantastic 2021 (or at least a 2021 that treats you better than 2020).


Cited as:

@article{mcateer2020underspecml,
    title = "2020 in Review",
    author = "McAteer, Matthew",
    journal = "matthewmcateer.me",
    year = "2020",
    url = "https://matthewmcateer.me/blog/ml-underspecification/"
}

If you notice mistakes and errors in this post, don’t hesitate to contact me at [contact at matthewmcateer dot me] and I will be very happy to correct them right away! Alternatily, you can follow me on Twitter and reach out to me there.

See you in the next post 😄

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