2023: my year in review

I always feel like nothing much happened during the year. I’m not a super active person in terms of getting out and doing things so when I try to think back over the year it all feels kind of same-y. Work, eat, sleep, repeat.

But when I push myself to come up with a list of accomplishments I end up pleasantly surprised. I believe it’s helpful to take stock of how you’re doing in life and write it down. Annually is probably too infrequent but it’s better than nothing.

Let’s dive in.

2023 Goals

In last year’s review I gave myself a list of seven goals for 2023. Let’s see how I did and grade each one.

Read 5 books

I did it! Thanks to the bookclub at work, I met my reading goals, limited as they were. I relied on a mix of audiobook and ebooks as it really just depends on my mood and the context. I read:

I particularly enjoyed the Bobiverse series as it’s the sort of nerdy space stuff that pushes all the right buttons for me.

Grade: B+, I met my goal but leaned heavily on one series.

Write 5 articles

For years now I’ve written a handful of articles a year on my website (I call it Journal for whatever reason). I wanted to nudge that up to five in 2023. I got off to a good start when, in March, I realized I had written one article each month in 2023. Right then and there I amended my goal to one article per month. And I did it! Plus two extra for a total of 14 articles in 2023.

Grade: A+, goal shattered!

Make one game

In the spring I discovered Zachtronics’ Last Call BBS. True to form it’s another game about programming along with interesting mini-games. One of those was a version of solitaire with some interesting rules that made it feel more strategic than regular Klondike. I enjoyed it so much that I made my own web-based version of it. You can play my version of Sawayama Solitaire here along with the rest of me and Matt’s collection of web games.

Screenshot of my version of Sawayama Solitaire. The cards are dealt similar to Klondike but all of them are face up.
Screenshot of my version of Sawayama Solitaire.

Keep a journal

I’ve bounced around journaling solutions for years but nothing ever sticks. I tried really hard this past year but journaling (the private kind, not to be what I confusingly call Journal on this website) always feels like a chore and writing them is rarely enjoyable to me.

I managed to write 68 entries this year. It was heavier at the beginning of the year but I ran out of steam by the end.

Grade: C

Write one work of fiction

I stuck with my yearly tradition of participating in National Novel Writing Month. But like last year, I lowered my writing goal to 20k words (a novella I guess). This year I wrote my first attempt at fan fiction, The Emergent—a story that takes place in the world of the Matrix.

I’m not publishing it or anything but it was fun to write and to make my brother read it.

Grade: A, because I completed the goal. Not because the story is good.

Make (or start) a new app for profit

My main side hustle chugs along (more about that in a bit) but I wanted to branch out and start something new this year.

Unfortunately the ideas just never came to me. I spent my free time on various other side projects, home-cooked apps, and writing. I never got around to this one.

Grade: F

Be more social

I made small advancements here. The easy ones were being more active in online discussions (because I’m hopelessly extremely online). But I also mailed one personal letter (yes an actual physical letter delivered by the postal service). I didn’t manage to get out and do much. Nor did I get back into D&D or board games with friends. I’d say I made small victories but I need to do more.

Grade: C-

Final grade

I’ll give myself a B. I surprised myself in some areas while others went about as expected. On the whole I’m glad I set these goals and I did better than I thought I would.

Four years of building software for NASA

It doesn’t feel like it but I’ve been with MRI Technologies for over four years now, building web apps for NASA and Collins Aerospace. It’s been great. I’d say I had my hand in more big features and decisions this past year than I have previously. I feel more confident and I’m still having fun doing the work (well, you know, most of it).

Our frontend team grew and that trend may be continuing, so follow me if you’re interested in building web apps for NASA. I’ll share open positions when and if they become available.


Photo of me at MagnoliaJS. I’m sitting in my wheelchair at a small table by the podium. My laptop is open and off to the side behind me is my presentation slideshow. The cover slide reads "The joys of home-cooked apps. Blake Watson."

I gave a talk in October at MagnoliaJS called The joys of home-cooked apps. This was my third appearance as a speaker at MagnoliaJS and the first one in person since Magnolia’s inaugural conference in 2019. It was a good experience and I think I’m getting a little better at public speaking every time I do it.

New wheelchair

If you don’t already know, I have a condition called spinal muscular atrophy (SMA). As such, I use a power wheelchair. At the tail end of summer, the joystick on my wheelchair shorted out and for months I had to use a backup which had its own problems but worked enough for me to get by.

Fortunately, I was at my 5-year mark with my old chair. Here in the United States that is usually how often insurance will pay for a new wheelchair. I got my new chair and I’ve been using it for two weeks and while it takes an adjustment period, I’m happy to have a working joystick again.

The side hustle keeps hustling

During last year’s holiday I took some time to add an annual subscription option (in addition to the monthly one) to my new tab page browser extension, A Fine Start. Annual subs turned out to be even more popular than I thought. Most of my customers are now annual subscribers.

Speaking of which, as this year comes to a close I have more subscribers than I ever have at 44. A Fine Start has about 1,370 users across all three extensions (Chrome, Firefox, Edge). There is also a web version but because I don’t use any analytics in the app itself I don’t know how many web users I have. After hosting costs and sparse advertising, this project doesn’t really turn a profit. But it does continue to tick upward year-over-year and I’m still proud of it.

Blake: across the Fediverse

I deleted my Facebook account years ago now. I was somewhat active on Twitter until January of 2023 when Elon Musk broke third-party Twitter clients. That was enough to send me packing, and it just so happened I had recently joined a Mastodon instance when I signed up for a little service called omg.lol.

This service transformed my social media experience and brought back, for me, some of the fun and joy of the old internet. You can read all about it on my article about omg.lol that went viral on Hacker News!


I gave up on Apple Music two years ago because its macOS app kept glitching out on me and hiding scrollbars. I’ve been using Spotify ever since and it’s just better.

I also started using Last.fm this year. It’s been fun to see all the in-depth stats. You can have a look at the fancy report if you want! But for the TL;DR here’s my Spotify Wrapped.

Spotify Wrapped. Top Artists: Falling Up, Death Cab for Cutie, Band of Horses, Beach House, Tycho. Minutes Listened: 19,942. Top Songs: Levitation, FAST LAND, Sparks, Space Song, EASY PREY. Top Genre: Indietronica.

Holiday coding sprint

I had two weeks off from work this holiday and spent some time on personal projects. I thought I was going to be tackling the backlog of stuff I have on existing projects but instead I ended up building two new apps. Each of these deserves its own post but here’s a little preview.


I snatched up the write subdomain on omg.lol and decided to use it to build a writing app. I’ve had this super minimalist scratchpad on my site for several years but wanted to expand on it to allow for multiple notes. What I ended up with was a minimalist writing app built on top of omg.lol’s web infrastructure that uses its API to store and retrieve notes.

Screenshot of write.omg.lol's app interface in Safari. A sidebar lists the notes and the writing area is a minimalist textarea with generous padding an a larg font size.
My thanks to Adam for this nice callout and screenshot.

BrainWave Chat

My brother and I use Discord fairly heavily and used it to chat with each other. But we wanted something a bit more private. And we had our own little list of niceties we thought a chat app ought to have (big scrollbars for starters). We ended up building a fairly usable Discord knock-off in about a week!

Screenshot of BrainWave Chat. It looks a lot like Discord except simplified. Depicted here is a conversation between me and my brother. In said conversation we made use of replies, reactions, custom emoji, and GIF search.

It already has these features:

Miscellaneous projects

Quick updates on my other projects…


My YouTube-powered music mix site just keeps trucking along. I thought it would get more traffic than it does but it’s pretty sparse. So I’ve been neglecting the backlog of minor fixes and improvements. I continue running the update script weekly to keep content fresh. Props to 11ty for making that process easy.


My RPG dice-rolling app still works but is in an unfortunate state. I have some minor updates I’d like to push to the Mac App Store but I’ve run into technical difficulties related to code signing.

There’s also a problem of Intel vs. Apple Silicon. The only way to support both chipsets is to compile what’s called a universal app. That’s nothing fancy, it’s just an Intel app and an Apple Silicon app smushed into one. But my app, being built on Electron, is already huge. Doubling the app size is just ridiculous. So not sure how I want to proceed yet.

Goals for 2024

Phew. This was a long one. If you’re still here thanks for reading. And if you just skimmed to the end that’s cool too!

I’ll wrap this up with goals for 2024. I’m keeping most of them from last year.