Andrew Cunningham is the Senior Products Specialist at Ars Technica and the co-host of Overdue, a podcast about the books you've been meaning to read.


Setting up, and taking stock of 2013

I’ve had this domain registered for almost a year and I’ve had this empty Tumblr sitting here for even longer, but my Personal Brand deserves better! So I’m going through my Ars posts over the last year and picking out some clips, and it seems like as good a time as any to break down my 2013.

This year I’ve written 399 articles, of which 36 were full-on hardware or software reviews. This doesn’t include articles that were started then scrapped, or some pieces that I’ve got a co-byline on or contributed to in some lesser way. Our Wordpress CMS doesn’t give me an easy way to look at the word count across all of those posts, but it’s easily up in the hundreds of thousands.

My work at Ars consumes most of the mental cycles I have to devote to side-projects, but I managed to start a podcast called Overdue with my good pal Craig Getting that has me podcasting again and reading more regularly. That second thing had been an informal new year’s resolution for… several years running, which makes the show worthwhile regardless of the size our listenership. We’ve done 42 episodes at this point, totaling 33 hours, 56 minutes, and 43 seconds of audio. The show hasn’t exactly taken off but I keep hearing nice things about it from people who are no way obliged to tell me nice things about it, and we did a short interview with Geekadelphia about it that I thought turned out nicely (even though they published it months and months after we gave it, and without telling us it had gone up).

The sheer amount I’ve written this year eclipses what I’ve done in any prior year (2013 being my first full year as a full-time, professional writer, it’s unsurprising that it has been more productive than the four-or-so years of part-time freelancing gigs that preceded it). I’d like to think that the good stuff outnumbers the bad stuff, but there are some pieces that have gone up with my byline attached that I’ve been less-than-proud of.

The one that comes to mind is actually this massive iOS 7 review, which is long but still feels incomplete to me. It’s a huge piece that covers a lot of ground, but what separates it from a John Siracusa review (the target I’ve aspired to in every software review I’ve ever done) is a lack of discussion about the software’s underpinnings. I didn’t leave myself enough time to dive into the APIs or the under-the-hood changes in most circumstances, so there’s not a lot in there about them. It feels like two-thirds of the review it should have been, which is my fault—either because I didn’t have the time or didn’t make the time, I ended up cutting that stuff from my outline to get the thing in on time.

I’m also not enormously happy with my review of the iPhone 5S, though this situation is complicated. Apple reviews can be frustrating when different reviewers are given different starting points, and I didn’t get a pre-release iPhone like some of my peers did. I was left between a deadline and a hard place; other sites had covered the phone from pretty much every possible angle, but I still needed to get something up while the hardware was still new and of interest to the easily-bored early adopter set. The result is something that isn’t bad (I thought the interview with Geekbench’s John Poole added some great texture), but felt rushed and perfunctory compared to some of our other reviews. The fact that I was still trying to figure out how to take halfway-decent pictures in our new place at the time doesn’t make me feel any better about it. 

I’m pretty proud of a few of the pieces I did, though. The NES retrospective. The pair of articles that Cyrus Farivar and I co-wrote on the rise and fall of AMD. Most of my hardware reviews, but the ones on the 2013 Nexus 7 and 2013 MacBook Air in particular. The one I like the most is something a little smaller, a piece on a building-sized Pong installation that went up in Philadelphia. I had a great phone interview with the folks responsible for it, and actually took the train down to see them in person and play the game myself. Doing more original reporting (as opposed to sit-in-a-room-with-a-tablet-and-write-how-it-makes-me-feel) is high up on my list of priorities for 2014, and articles like this one encourage me to ignore my introverted tendencies and pick up the phone a little more often; there’s an alternate, less-interesting version of this piece I could have written without the input of the creators, but I’m very glad I didn’t take it in that direction.

It was also a busy year for me personally: I got engaged. We moved much closer (but not into) New York City, cementing my status as a New Jerseyan for better or worse. I made my first homebrew, which feels like it’s going to become a pretty fun and all-encompassing hobby. I’ve made some great new friends, and kept great old ones. We’ve kept the cat alive for another year. All things to celebrate!

I don’t bring any of this stuff up because I want to brag about it, but because there’s still a nagging voice inside my head that says I should be doing more, or that I should be doing it better, or that my current efforts are in some way insufficient. It’s good to listen to that voice every once in a while, because that voice keeps me motivated and driven and self-aware. That voice keeps me from getting complacent. That voice has gotten me where I am. But listening to it all of the time also makes it hard to relax, and letting it drive me all the time is going to be a great way to flame out. 

I’ve had an amazing 2013. Thanks to all of you who had any part of it! My goals for 2014 are to do better work, but to keep work from being as all-consuming as it has sometimes been this year. We’ll see how that goes.