2020 Videogames

In 2020 I’m newly retired, so I’ve had free time. I think it’s fun to do reviews, so without further ado here’s every video game I played in 2020!

I recommend:

  • (4/5) Among Us – Very fun. It’s only fun with voice chat with friends, so I’ve only gotten to play once or twice. I’ve been watching it more than playing it. Also free to play for mobile gamers–I’m tired of the “everyone buys a copy” model of group gameplay.
  • (4/5) Brogue. Brogue is an ascii-art roguelike. It’s great, and it has a nice difficulty ramp. It’s a good “quick break” game. I play it in preference to other roguelikes partly because I haven’t done it to death yet, and partly because I don’t need a numpad?
  • (4/5) Cook Serve Delicious 3. One of the more fun games I played this year. You get really into it, but I had trouble relaxing and paying attention to the real world when I played too much, haha. I own but haven’t played the first two–I gather this is pretty much just a refinement.
  • (4/5) Green Hell. Price tag is a bit high for the number of hours I got out of it, but I haven’t finished the story. Great graphics, and the BEST map design I’ve seen in a 3D game in a long time. It feels like a real place, with reasonable geography instead of copy-pasted tiles. I love that as you walk along, you can just spot a cultivated area from the rest of the jungle–it feels more like it’s treating me like an adult than most survival games. Everything still gets highlighted if you can pick it up. I played the survival mode, which was okay but gets old quickly. I started the story mode–I think it would be fine, but it has some LONG unskippable scenes at the start, including a very hand-holdy tutorial, that I think they should have cut. I did start getting into the story and was having fun, but I stopped. I might finish the game some time.
  • (4/5) Hyperrogue. One of my recent favorites. The dev has made a fair number of highly experimental games, most of which are a total miss with me, but this one is fun. I do wish the early game wasn’t quite as repetitive. Failing another solution, I might actually want this not to be permadeath, or to have a save feature? I bought it on steam to support the dev and get achievements, but it’s also available a version or two behind free, which is how I tried it. Constantly getting updates and new worlds.
  • (4/5) Minecraft – Compact Claustrophobia modpack. Fun idea, nice variety. After one expansion felt a little samey, and it was hard to start with two people. I’d consider finishing this pack.
  • (4/5) Overcooked 2. Overcooked 2 is just more levels for Overcooked. The foods in the second game is more fun, and it has better controls and less bugs. If you’re considering playing Overcooked, I recommend just starting with the second game, despite very fun levels in the first. I especially appreciate that the second game didn’t just re-use foods from the first.
  • (4/5) Please Don’t Press Anything. A unique little game where you try to get all the endings. I had a lot of fun with this one, but it could have used some kind of built-in hints like Reventure. Also, it had a lot of red herrings. Got it for $2, which it was well worth.
  • (5/5) Reventure. Probably the best game new to me this year. It’s a short game where you try to get each of about 100 endings. The art and writing are cute and funny. The level design is INCREDIBLE. One thing I found interesting is the early prototype–if I had played it, I would NOT have imagined it would someday be any fun at all, let alone as amazing as it is. As a game designer I found that interesting! I did 100% complete this one–there’s a nice in-game hint system, but there were still 1-3 “huh” puzzles, especially in the post-game content, one of which I had to look up. It’s still getting updates so I’m hoping those will be swapped for something else.
  • (5/5) Rimworld. Dwarf fortress, but with good cute graphics, set in the Firefly universe. Only has 1-10 pawns instead of hundreds of dwarves. Basically Dwarf Fortress but with a good UI. I wish you could do a little more in Rimworld, but it’s a fantastic, relaxing game.
  • (5/5) Slay the Spire. Probably the game I played most this year. A deckbuilding adventure through a series of RPG fights. A bit luck-based, but relaxing and fun. I like that you can play fast or slow. Very, very well-designed UI–you can really learn how things work. My favorite part is that because it’s singleplayer, it’s really designed to let you build a game-breaking deck. That’s how it should be!
  • (4/5) Stationeers. I had a lot of fun with this one. It’s similar to Space Engineers but… fun. It has better UI by a mile too, even if it’s not perfect. I lost steam after playing with friends and then going back to being alone, as I often do for base-building games. Looks like you can genuinely make some complicated stuff using simple parts. Mining might not be ideal.
  • (5/5) Spy Party. One of my favorite games. Very fun, and an incredibly high skill ceiling. There’s finally starting to be enough people to play a game with straners sometimes. Bad support for “hot seat”–I want to play with beginners in person, and it got even harder with the introduction of an ELO equivalent and removing the manual switch to use “beginner” gameplay.
  • (4/5) Telling Lies. A storytelling game. The core mechanic is that you can use a search engine for any phrase, and it will show the top 5 survellance footage results for that. The game internally has transcripts of every video. I didn’t really finish the game, but I had a lot of fun with it. The game was well-made. I felt the video acting didn’t really add a huge amount, and they could have done a text version, but I understand it wouldn’t have had any popular appeal. The acting was decent. There’s some uncomfortable content, on purpose.
  • (4/5) Totally Accurate Battle Simulator (TABS). Delightful. Very silly, not what you’d expect from the name. What everyone should have been doing with physics engines since they were invented. Imagine that when a caveman attacks, the club moves on its own and the caveman just gets ragdolled along, glued to it. Also the caveman and club have googley eyes. Don’t try to win or it will stop being fun. Learn how to turn on slo-mo and move the camera.
  • (4/5) We Were Here Together. Lots of fun. I believe the second game out of three. Still some crashes and UI issues. MUCH better puzzles and the grpahics are gorgeous. They need to fix the crashes or improve the autosave, we ended up replaying a lot of both games from crashes. It’s possible I should be recommending the third game but I haven’t played it yet.

The Rest

  • (3/5) 5D Chess with Multiverse Time Travel. More fun that it sounds. If you play to mess around and win by accident, it’s pretty good. Definitely play with a second human player, though.
  • (1.5/5) 7 billion humans. Better than the original, still not fun. Soulless game about a soulless, beige corporation. Just play Zachtronics instead. If you’re on a phone and want to engage your brain, play Euclidea.
  • (3/5) A Dark Room. Idle game.
  • (1/5) Amazing Cultivation Simulator. A big disappointment. Bad english voice acting which can’t be turned off, and a long, unskippable tutorial. I didn’t get to actual gameplay. I like Rimworld and cultivation novels so I had high hopes.
  • (3/5) ADOM (Steam version) – Fun like the original, which I would give 5/5. Developed some major issues on Linux, but I appreciate that there’s a graphical version available, one of my friends will play it now.
  • (4/5) agar.io – Good, but used to be better. Too difficult to get into games now. Very fun and addictive gameplay.
  • (3/5) Amorous – Furry dating sim. All of the hot characters are background art you can’t interact with, and the characters you can actually talk to are a bunch of sulky nerds who for some reason came to a nightclub. I think it was free, though.
  • (0/5) Apis. Alpha game, AFAIK I was the first player. Pretty much no fun right now (to the point of not really being a game yet), but it could potentially become fun if the author puts in work.
  • (4/5) Autonauts. I played a ton of Autonauts this year, almost finished it, which is rare for me. My main complaint is that it’s fundamentally supposed to be a game about programming robots, but I can’t actually make them do more than about 3 things, even as a professional programmer. Add more programming! It can be optional, that’s fine. They’re adding some kind of tower defense waves instead, which is bullshit. Not recommended because it’s not for everyone.
  • (3/5) A-Z Inc. Points for having the guts to have a simple game. At first this looked like just the bones of Swarm Simulator, but the more you look at the UI and the ascension system, the worse it actually is. I would regularly reset because I found out an ascension “perk” actually made me worse off.
  • (5/5) Beat Saber. Great game, and my favorite way to stay in shape early this year. Oculus VR only, if you have VR you already have this game so no need to recommend. Not QUITE worth getting a VR set just to play it at current prices.
  • (1/5) Big Tall Small. Good idea, but no fun to play. Needed better controls and level design, maybe some art.
  • (0.5/5) Blush Blush. Boring.
  • (3/5) Business Shark. I had too much fun with this simple game. All you do is just eat a bunch of office workers.
  • (3/5) chess.com. Turns out I like chess while I’m high?
  • (3/5) Circle Empires Rivals. Decent, more fun than the singleplayer original. It shouldn’t really have been a separate game from Circle Empires, and I’m annoyed I couldn’t get it DRM-free like the original.
  • (3/5) Cross Virus. By Dan-box. Really interesting puzzle mechanics.
  • (4/5) Cultist Simulator. Really fun to learn how to play–I love games that drop you in with no explanation. Great art and writing, I wish I could have gotten their tarot deck. Probably the best gameplay “ambience” I’ve seen–getting a card that’s labeled “fleeting sense of radiance” that disappears in 5 seconds? Great. Also the core stats are very well thought out for “feel” and real-life accuracy–dread (depression) conquers fascination (mania), etc. It has a few gameplay gotchas, but they’re not too big–layout issues, inability to go back to skipped text, or to put your game in an unwinnable state early on). Unfortunately it’s a “roguelike”, and it’s much too slow-paced and doesn’t have enough replay value, so it becomes a horrible, un-fun grind when you want to actually win. I probably missed the 100% ending but I won’t be going back to get it. I have no idea who would want to play this repeatedly. I’m looking forward to the next game from the same studio though! I recommend playing a friend’s copy instead of buying.
  • (2/5) Darkest Dungeon. It was fine but I don’t really remember it.
  • (2/5) Dicey Dungeons. Okay deck-building roguelike gameplay (with an inventory instead of a deck). Really frustrating, unskippably slow difficulty curve at the start. I played it some more this year and liked it better because I had a savegame. I appreciate having several character classes, but they should unlock every difficulty from the start.
  • (2/5) Diner Bros. Basically just a worse Overcooked. I didn’t like the controls, and it felt too repetitive with only one diner.
  • (2/5) Don’t Eat My Mind You Stupid Monster. Okay art and idea, the gameplay wasn’t too fun for me.
  • (2/5) Don’t Starve – I’ve played Don’t Stave maybe 8 different times, and it’s never really gripped me, I always put it back down. It’s slow, a bit grindy, and there’s no bigger goal–all you can do is live.
  • (3/5) Don’t Starve Together – Confusingly, Don’t Starve Together can be played alone. It’s Don’t Starve, plus a couple of the expansions. This really could be much more clearly explained.
  • (1/5) Elemental Abyss – A deck-builder, but this time it’s grid-based tactics. Really not all that fun. Just play Into the Abyss instead or something.
  • (1/5) Else Heart.Break() – I was excited that this might be a version of “Hack N’ Slash” from doublefine that actually delivered and let you goof around with the world. I gave it up in the first ten minutes, because the writing and characters drove me crazy, without getting to hacking the world.
  • (2/5) Everything is Garbage. Pretty good for a game jam game. Not a bad use of 10 minutes. I do think it’s probably possible to make the game unwinnable, and the ending is just nothing.
  • (1/5) Evolve. Idle game, not all that fun. I take issue with the mechanic in Sharks, Kittens, and this where buying your 15th fence takes 10^15 wood for some reason.
  • (4/5) Exapunks. Zachtronics has really been killing it lately, with Exapunks and Opus Magnum. WONDERFUL art and characters during story portions, and much better writing. The gameplay is a little more varied than in TIS-100 or the little I played of ShenZen I/O. My main complaint about Zachtronics games continues to be, that I don’t want to be given a series of resource-limited puzzles (do X, but without using more than 10 programming instructions). Exapunks is the first game where it becomes harder to do something /at all/, rather than with a particular amount of resources, but it’s still not there for me. Like ShenZen, they really go for a variety of hardware, too. Can’t recommend this because it’s really only for programmers.
  • (1/5) Exception. Programming game written by some money machine mobile games company. Awful.
  • (4/5) Factorio. Factorio’s great, but for me it doesn’t have that much replay value, even with mods. I do like their recent updates, which included adding blueprints from the start of the game, improving belt sorting, and adding a research queue. We changed movement speed, made things visually always day, and adding a small number of personal construction robots from the start this run. I’m sure if you’d like factorio you’ve played it already.
  • (3/5) Fall Guys – I got this because it was decently fun to watch. Unfortunately, it’s slightly less fun to play. Overall, there’s WAY too much matchmaking waiting considering the number of players, and the skill ceiling is very low on most of the games, some of which are essentially luck (I’m looking at you, team games).
  • (3/5) Forager – Decent game. A little too much guesswork in picking upgrades–was probably a bit more fun on my second play because of that. Overall, nice graphics and a cute map, but the gameplay could use a bit of work.
  • (3/5) Getting Over It – Funny idea, executed well. Pretty sure my friends and I have only gotten through 10% of the game, and all hit about the same wall (the first tunnel)
  • (3/5) Guild of Dungeoneering – Pretty decent gameplay. I feel like it’s a bit too hard for me, but that’s fine. Overall I think it could use a little more cute/fun art, I never quite felt that motivated.
  • (1/5) Hardspace: Shipbreakers. Okay, I seriously didn’t get to play this one, but I had GAMEBREAKING issues with my controller, which is a microsoft X-box controller for PC–THE development controller.
  • (2/5) Helltaker. All right art, meh gameplay. But eh, it’s free!
  • (3/5) Hot Lava. Decent gameplay. Somehow felt like the place that made this had sucked the souls out of all the devs first–no one cared about the story or characters. It’s a game where the floor is made out of lava, with a saturday morning cartoon open, so that was a really an issue. Admirable lack of bugs, though. I’m a completionist so I played the first world a lot to get all the medals, and didn’t try the later ones.
  • (3/5) House Flipper – Weird, but I had fun. I wish the gameplay was a little more unified–it felt like a bunch of glued-together minigames.
  • (2/5) Hydroneer. Utterly uninspiring. I couldn’t care about making progress at all, looked like a terrible grind to no benefit.
  • (1/5) io. Tiny game, I got it on Steam, also available on phone. Basically a free web flash game, but for money. Not good enough to pay the $1 I paid. Just a bit of a time-killer.
  • (3/5) Islanders – All you do is place buildings and get points. Not particularly challenging, but relaxing. Overall I liked it.
  • (3/5) Jackbox – I played this online with a streamer. Jackbox has always felt a little bit soulless money grab to me, but it’s still all right. I like that I can play without having a copy–we need more games using this purchase model.
  • (3/5) Life is Feudal – Soul-crushingly depressing and grindy, which I knew going in. I thought it was… okay, but I really want an offline play mode (Yes, I know there’s an unsupported single-player game, but it’s buggier and costs money). UI was pretty buggy, and I think hunting might literally be impossible.
  • (2/5) Minecraft – Antimatter Chemistry. Not particularly fun.
  • (3/5) Minecraft – ComputerCraft. I played a pack with just ComputerCraft and really nothing else. Was a little slow, would have been more fun with more of an audience. I love the ComputerCraft mod, I just didn’t have a great experience playing my pack I made.
  • (3/5) Minecraft – Foolcraft 3. Fun, a bit buggy. Honestly I can’t remember it too well.
  • (1/5) Minecraft – Manufactio. Looked potentially fun, but huge bugs and performance issues, couldn’t play.
  • (4/5) Minecraft – Tekkit. Tekkit remains one of my favorite Minecraft modpacks.
  • (3/5) Minecraft – Valhelsia 2. I remember this being fun, but I can’t remember details as much as I’d like. I think it was mostly based around being the latest version of minecraft?
  • (4/5) Minecraft – Volcano Block. Interesting, designed around some weird mods I hadn’t used. I could have used more storage management or bulk dirt/blocks early in the game–felt quite cramped. Probably got a third of the way through the pack. I got novelty value out of it, but I wouldn’t have enjoyed it if I had ever used the plant mod before–it’s a very fixed, linear progression.
  • (5/5) Minit. This is a weird, small game. I actually had a lot of fun with it. Then I 100% completed it, which was less fun but I still had a good time overall.
  • (3/5) Monster Box. By Dan-box. One of two Dan-box games I played a lot of. Just visually appealing, the gameplay isn’t amazing. Also, Dan-box does some great programming–this is a game written in 1990 or so, and it can render hundreds of arrows in the air smoothly in a background tab.
  • (3/5) Monster Train. A relatively fun deckbuilding card game. It can’t run well on my computer, which is UNACCEPTABLE–this is a card game with 2D graphics. My MICROWAVE should run this shit in 2020. Ignoring that, the gameplay style (summon monsters, MTG style) just isn’t my cup of tea.
  • (2/5) Moonlighter. Felt like it was missing some inspiration, just didn’t have a sense of “fun”. The art was nice. The credits list is surprisingly long.
  • (2/5) Muse Dash. All right, a basic rhythm game. Not enough variety to the game play, and everything was based around perfect or near-perfect gameplay, which makes things less fun for me.
  • (3/5) NES games – various. Dr Mario, Ice Climbers. Basically, I got some Chinese handheld “gameboy” that has all the NES games preloaded on it. Overall it was a great purchase.
  • (2/5) Noita. “The Powder Game” by Dan-Box, as a procedurally generated platformer with guns. Lets you design your own battle spells. Despite the description, you really still can’t screw around as much as I’d like. I also had major performance issues
  • (3/5) Observation. I haven’t played this one as much as I’d like, I feel like it may get better. Storytelling, 3D game from the point of view of the AI computer on a space station. I think I might have read a book it’s based on, unfortunately.
  • (2/5) One Step From Eden. This is a deck-building combat tactics game. I thought it was turn-based, but it’s actually realtime. I think if it was turn-based I would have liked it. The characters were a bit uninspired.
  • (1/5) Orbt XL. Very dull. I paid $0.50 for it, it was worth that.
  • (4/5) Opus Magnum. Another great game from Zachtronics, along with Exapunks they’re really ramping up. This is the third execution of the same basic concept. I’d like to see Zachtronics treading new ground more as far as gameplay–that said, it is much improved compared to the first two iterations. The art, writing, and story were stellar on the other hand.
  • (3/5) Out of Space. Fun idea, you clean a spaceship. It’s never that challenging, and it has mechanics such that it gets easier the more you clean, rather than harder. Good but not enough replay value. Fun with friends the first few times. The controls are a little wonky.
  • (1/5) Outpost (tower defense game). I hate all tower defense.
  • (3/5) Overcooked. Overcooked is a ton of fun.
  • (4/5) Powder Game – Dan-box. I played this in reaction to not liking Noita. It’s fairly old at this point. Just a fun little toy.
  • (1/5) Prime Mover – Very cool art, the gameplay put me to sleep immediately. A “circuit builder” game but somehow missing any challenge or consistency.
  • (2/5) Quest for Glory I. Older, from 1989. Didn’t really play this much, I couldn’t get into the writing, and the pseudo-photography art was a little jarring.
  • (4/5) Raft. I played this in beta for free on itch.io, and had a lot of fun. Not enough changed that it was really worth a replay, but it has improved, and I got to play with a second player. Not a hard game, which I think was a good thing. The late game they’ve expanded, but it doesn’t really add much. The original was fun and so was this.
  • (3/5) Satisfactory. I honestly don’t know how I like this one–I didn’t get too far into it.
  • (4/5) Scrap Mechanic. I got this on a recommendation from a player who played in creative. I only tried the survival mode–that mode is not well designed, and their focuses for survival are totally wrong. I like the core game, you can actually build stuff. If I play again, I’ll try the creative mode, I think.
  • (3.5/5) Shapez.io. A weird, abstracted simplification of Factorio. If I hadn’t played factorio and half a dozen copies, I imagine this would have been fun, but it’s just more of the same. Too much waiting–blueprints are too far into the game, too.
  • (2.5/5) Simmiland. Okay, but short. Used cards for no reason. For a paid game, I wanted more gameplay out of it?
  • (0.5/5) Snakeybus. The most disappointing game I remember this year. Someone made “Snake” in 3D. There are a million game modes and worlds to play in. I didn’t find anything I tried much fun.
  • (1/5) Soda Dungeon. A “mobile” (read: not fun) style idle game. Patterned after money-grab games, although I don’t remember if paid progress was actually an option. I think so.
  • (4/5) Spelunky. The only procedurally generated platformer I’ve ever seen work. Genuinely very fun.
  • (4/5) Spelunky 2. Fun, more of an upgrade of new content than a new game. Better multiplayer. My computer can’t run later levels at full speed.
  • (1/5) Stick Ranger 2. Dan-box. Not much fun.
  • (3/5) Superliminal. Fun game. A bit short for the pricetag.
  • (3/5) Tabletop Simulator – Aether’s End: Legacy. Interesting, a “campaign” (series of challenge bosses and pre-written encounters) deckbuilding RPG. I like the whole “campaign RPG boardgame” idea. This would have worked better with paper, there were some rough edges in both the game instructions and the port to Tabletop Simulator.
  • (4/5) Tabletop Simulator – The Captain is Dead. Very fun. I’d love to play with more than 2 people. Tabletop simulator was so-so for this one.
  • (2/5) Tabletop Simulator – Tiny Epic Mechs. You give your mech a list of instructions, and it does them in order. Arena fight. Fun, but I think I could whip up something at least as good.
  • (3/5) The Council. One of the only 3D games I finished. It’s a story game, where you investigate what’s going on and make various choices. It’s set in revolutionary france, at the Secret World Council that determines the fate of the world. It had a weak ending, with less choice elements than the rest of the game so far, which was a weird decision. Also, it has an EXCRUTIATINGLY bad opening scene, which was also weird. The middle 95% of the game I enjoyed, although the ending went on a little long. The level of background knowledge expected of the player swung wildly–they seemed to expect me to know who revolutionary French generals were with no explanation, but not Daedalus and the Minotaur. The acting was generally enjoyable–there’s a lot of lying going on in the game and it’s conveyed well. The pricetag is too high to recommend.
  • (0/5) The Grandma’s Recipe (Unus Annus). This game is unplayably bad–it’s just a random pixel hunt. Maybe it would be fun if you had watched the video it’s based on.
  • (3/5) The Room. Pretty fun! I think this is really designed for a touchscreen, but I managed to play it on my PC. Played it stoned, which I think helps with popular puzzle games–it has nice visuals but it’s a little too easy.
  • (3/5) This Call May Be Recorded. Goofy experimental game.
  • (4/5) TIS-100. Zachtronics. A programming game. I finally got done with the first set of puzzles and into the second this year. I had fun, definitely not for everyone.
  • (3/5) Trine. I played this 2-player. I think the difficulty was much better 2-player, but it doesn’t manage 2 players getting separated well. Sadly we skipped the story, which seemed like simple nice low-fantasy. Could have used goofier puzzles, it took itself a little too seriously and the levels were a bit same-y.
  • (2/5) Unrailed. Co-op railroad building game. It was okay but there wasn’t base-building. Overall not my thing. I’d say I would prefer something like Overcooked if it’s going to be timed? Graphics reminded me of autonauts.
  • (2/5) Vampire Night Shift. Art game. Gameplay could have used a bit of polish. Short but interesting.
  • (4/5) Wayward. To date, the best survival crafting system I’ve seen. You can use any pointy object and stick-like object, together with glue or twine, to make an arrow. The UI is not great, and there’s a very counter-intuitive difficulty system. You need to do a little too much tutorial reading, and it could use more goals. Overall very fun. Under constant development, so how it plays a given week is a crapshoot. The steam version finally works for me (last time I played it was worse than the free online alpha, now it’s the same or better). I recomend playing the free online version unless you want to support the author.
  • (1/5) We Need to Go Deeper. Multiplayer exploration game in a sub, with sidescrolling battle. Somehow incredibly unfun, together with high pricetag. Aesthetics reminded me of Don’t Starve somehow.
  • (2/5) We Were Here. Okay 2-player puzzle game. Crashed frequently, and there were some “huh” puzzles and UI. Free.
  • (3/5) Yes, your grace. Gorgeous pixel art graphics. The story is supposed to be very player-dependent, but I started getting the feeling that it wasn’t. I didn’t quite finish the game but I think I was well past halfway. Hard to resume after a save, you forget things. I got the feeling I wouldn’t replay it, which is a shame because it’s fun to see how things go differently in a second play with something like this.

These are not all new to me, and very few came out in 2020. I removed any games I don’t remember and couldn’t google (a fair number, I play a lot of game jam games) as well as any with pornographic content.

Time log transcribed

I write down everything I do.

I transcribed my journals by hand. That is, I typed them up myself, instead of trying to use handwriting recognition or outsourcing to Mechanical Turk.

  • I started on 2019-11-02, and finished today, 2020-11-20. That’s roughly one year.
  • The 15 journals transcribed go from 2011 to 2020, 10 years. The 2011-2015 period is sparser.
  • Of the 15 journals, 13 of them them I transcribed from the physical version. Two I had thrown out, because my old scanner was feed-through, and I had to destroy the spines to scan the books.
  • That’s 1779 pages total (small ones, these are pocket journals). It’s also 32,000 lines, and 164K words. The text is 1.1MB, the scanned PNG files are 12GB (12000 MB).
  • In general, it takes me 1 hour to transcribe the last week of notes. Going farther back is harder, partly because my handwriting gets more readable as time progresses (due at least as much to my choice of pen, as my neatness), and partly because I have a harder time guessing at poor handwriting without memory to fill it in, and partly because I didn’t use standard formats back then.
  • I do have exact numbers I could check, but a lower bound based on this rate is that was overall 90 hours of work. It probably didn’t take more than twice that.

Life-logging in 2019

I’ve been keeping a time log since somewhere around 2011. A time log is a journal with a complete record of everything I do. I’ve become very consistent about it, so this seemed like a good time to write up my current habits for anyone interested.

This is going to be a mixture of information about life-logging, how I organize things, and my current schedule, because they’re not really separate things.

There’s an interesting story about how I systematically broke everyone one of my habits, and it took me 17 years to get in a daily routine after that, but that’s a story for another time.

If you’re curious, I’d guess it takes me 2 hours a week spread out to do my life-logging, 1 hour to type it up, and 1-2 hours to do my weekly review. In my mind the original life-logging doesn’t cost me anything because it’s so automatic, it’s zero-energy, and it has some psychic benefits. By psychic benefits I’m talking about the same kind of thing you get from GTD–you’re not constantly thinking about or trying to remember things that are already written down in a trusted system. Typing it up and review are not free.

Time log (2011-)

I keep a written (pen and paper) time log which I normally just call my “log book”. Each entry has the current time and what I’m doing. I typically record an entry either when I start an activity, finish one, or notice I’ve switched activities. I’m on volume 9.

Today’s page starts like this (italics are censorship or words added for clarity):

Date: 2019-12-17, Tue
12:02pm Woke up on my own slightly before alarm. Dream about […]. (7h12m sleep)
[100ml yellow rockstar recovery. (33mg caffein, 400mg taurine–from front material)]
Morning data log (see below)
Brushed teeth
12:55pmCancelled torrent verification–I already know this will fail
Responded to gnu coreutils ‘date’ thread
health stuff
2:02pmTrying qutebrowser. Feels very productive.
2:04pm[Coke Zero Vanilla, 1 can]

I’m not fastidious about what the time represents. The questions I most often ask are “when did this happen roughly” and “do I have any big portions of my day I’m not time-logging”. I’m less concerned with exactly how long I spent doing each particular activity.

There are some things I try to consistently write down every single time, including:

  • Exactly when I woke up, especially if I don’t use the computer first thing (see “Sleep Log” below)
  • Any dream if I remember it
  • Any food or drink I consume, with enough information that I could generate nutritional facts if I wanted. I omit food amounts if it’s a pain to measure. 1 package of ramen: yes, 125g chicken curry: no. I put food and drinks in hard brackets: []
  • Watching a movie, TV show, youtube, or reading a book. I used to underline these, now I’m trying putting them between underscores: _. I’m switching to write these in a computer-understandable way but it’s a work in progress.
  • Anything health-related, including symptoms, drugs I took, and bathroom visits. Drugs are a type of food [], the rest is freeform.
  • Travel from point A to B
  • Phone calls. I don’t always manage this one. While you’re picking up the phone is a really garbage time to try and write something.
  • Any time I change timezones
  • Any time I work on a project for more than a couple minutes
  • “Where did that time go”: one of the goals here is to have no huge gaps. If I spent time browsing the web or researching, some vague notes on what about. If I talk to someone in person, noting who and possibly what topics we talked about (talking in person often feels like minutes in my head but hours on the clock).

Here are things I don’t write down:

  • Information that I’ve put elsewhere. See below for specifics on what else I have! This one isn’t hard and fast, but I’m a believer in things being in “exactly one place” as much as possible–I do make some exceptions since I’m working with paper
  • General-purpose notetaking, thoughts about what’s going on, TODO lists, etc. This is just a boring ol’ record of time. I do sometimes jot down TO-DOs when out of the house since this is the only paper I carry on me, but at the rate of 1-3 a week. I also may write down where I’m at in a really long-running computer project, just to make sure I can find it later.
  • Anything a human shouldn’t have to write or read. For example, I could write down the youtube URL or the UPC code of everything I buy… but nobody has time for that, and I’d only write it down wrong.

At the front of the book I have a table with guides to abbreviations, ingredients in things I have often (ex. caffein amounts or recipes). In the back is my bookkeeping section (see below).

I am currently using the Leuchtturm1917 gridded notebook, with date labels at the top of the page. I’ve been experimenting with felt micron pens–I’m looking for something that can write easily, but won’t smear when I close the book. I’ve used Moleskins in the past–I stopped using them because 2 of 5 split at the spine for me. Leuctturm seems a bit better but more expensive–time will tell.

One a week, I type up my time log up to the last page. I’m working on my backlog slowly. This lets me search more easily. I have plans to someday cross-reference better in a computer system (for example, include nutritional info, link to youtube videos, etc).

Bookkeeping (2019-)

Fun fact: b-oo-kk-ee-ping is the only word in the English language with three consecutive double letters. Bookkeeping is keeping a record of what you earn and spend, or what you buy and sell.

For the most part, I pay for everything using a credit or debit card, which I’ve been doing since 16 so that I have a financial record for my own benefit. Most banks offer an easy export. I get paper copies, then once I download the PDFs from my bank, throw out the originals (I’ve checked one or two match the PDFs by hand). I use mint.com for the purpose of having a CSV export from my bak statements. I used to put this export online (currently broken, check back soon).

Starting a few months ago, I started keeping a weekly record by hand. Every time I spend money, I’ll put a $ symbol in my time log,

2:21am Amazon $

and add a bookkeeping entry (real thing is prettier).

2019-12-15, Sun
[ ] Amazon -29.21 -236.07
Choline citrate, 500g

The entry includes:

  • The date (2019-12-15)
  • Where I spent the money (Amazon)
  • How much money (29.21)
  • How much total I’ve spent this week (236.07)
  • What I bought (Choline citrate, 500g). If it was more than one thing, how much each item cost. I’ll try and write price-per-pound if I’m buying bulk food or meat. If I’m buying more than one of something, I’ll write how many I bought and how much each is. I’d like to consistently write down how much of something I got (ex. 16oz of cheese) but I don’t at all yet.
  • If it’s something that needs to be delivered, I’ll write a checkbox. Then when it arrives, I’ll check the box and write down the date it arrived to the right. This way I can easily scan and see if something never got delivered.

Since I use the same book for my time log and my bookkeeping, bookkeeping goes from right to left, two pages per week. At the end of the book, I keep

  • a running record of any debts I owe
  • any undelivered packages from the previous log book

During my weekly review process, I copy this information to my (digital) weekly review and add it up by category to check against my budget. I used to check it against my bank statements, but it takes forever and it’s easier to just be really good about writing down everything to start with. Checking totals and category totals is pretty time consuming the way I do it, I’ll probably automate it soon.


My current categories are:

  • taxes, bills, rent: Predictable expenses, no need to check these on a regular basis. I separate out medical bills in my summary, which are not regular.
  • travel, hard drives, moving: Big but one-off expenses. Currently I don’t have a way to budget these.
  • charity: I aim for 10% of my income after taxes (a tithe)
  • other: The main budget category, I try to keep this at $1000/month ($240/week). I actually break it down into categories like “food”, “groceries”, and “luxuries” so I know what happened, as well as pulling out any single big expenses.

Weekly Schedule (2019-)

My current schedule is weekly:

  • Monday: Do meal planning for the week, and grocery shopping for the week if needed.
  • Tuesday: Cook food for the week.
  • Thursday: Batch day.
    Do all the small chores (<1 hour) on one day. I aim for around 2-4 hours of chores, but I’m fine skipping a batch day if I don’t really have anything. I almost always clean my room and do laundry at minimum. I also have a running list of small tasks: call the doctor, clean the fridge, fix SSL certs.
  • Friday: Review day.
    I’ll do a weekly review, and a monthly one if it’s the last weekly review of the month. Then I’ll type up the timelog up to that point in time. For my weekly review, which I do on my computer, I write down
    • How much sleep I got on average
    • What I did each day of the week (summary of that day’s time log). Typically once I cut out really boring things (brush your teeth), food, movies, etc there’s not all that much left.
    • Accomplishments. Anything I got done this week. Also, any big milestones reached (finished X) even if the last step wasn’t that impressive.
    • Reflection/things learned: Did anything major happen? Did I learn any new facts? This is my time to look at the big picture and thing about how my life is going lately and where I’d like it to go. Also, if anything especially good/bad happened, I try to think about why and how to make things go well next time.
    • Finances. I copy down my expenses for the week and total them by category.
  • Saturday: Nothing planned.
  • Sunday: Nothing planned.

I haven’t done batch cooking in a while, but I’m also trying to run out my food supplies because I’m about to move, so we’ll see if it sticks around.

Daily Log (2019-)

Every morning, I record:

  • The date and time I’m recording
  • How much sleep I got (but not when I went to sleep or woke up)
  • What day it is in my schedule
  • The temperature of the room
  • My body temperature (am I running a fever?)
  • How much exercise I got yesterday, in minutes (and what type)
  • My weight

I don’t think it matters that much how you do these measurements, but it’s important to be consistent (for example, weight with clothes on/off?)

If I have a specific habit I’m trying to pick up (say, brushing my teeth twice a day or meditating) I might record that for a while too each day. I used to record a mission for the day, but I dropped the habit.

Automatic Logs

I put all my computer logs in a single combined format, and sync them to a single location, starting in 2019. The format is basically <date> [<log name>:<computer name>] <Log entry>. I don’t have a great process to view logs yet.

Sleep Log (2019-) / Keystoke Activity Log (2013-)

I log which hours I was asleep. I live alone and tend to fall asleep first thing after closing my laptop in bed, or at least with a video playing in the background, which makes this relatively easy. I keep a computer log of whether I’m using my keyboard (I almost never do anything with just the mouse) for each minute using a custom-built keylogger (it records activity but not passwords).

Then I run it through a custom script (included in link) which says which broad periods I was active. The biggest inactive period in a day is when I was asleep.

~ $ sleep?
Report period: 2019-12-17 00:00:00 – 2019-12-17 16:21:06 (16:21:06s)
Inactive: 2019-12-17 04:50:18 – 2019-12-17 12:02:58 ( 7:12:40s)

I was asleep from 4:50am to 12:02pm. I make sure to write down when I wake up into my time log in case I don’t use the computer first thing. This has been much better at guessing when I fell asleep than anything else I’ve tried.

If you don’t fall asleep at a computer, I have some ideas around using a motion sensor (cheap webcams can see in the dark)

Chromium History Log (2013-)

I use Chromium as my only web browser. I export the history and bookmarks every time I do a backup, and put it all in a standard log format (basically time + URL). Currently I only record each history entry once.

For futureproofing, I archive every webpage I go to on an irregular basis (about once a year). Archiving pages doesn’t work super well but it’s better than nothing.

Video/TV Log (2019-)

I watch my movies using noice, either directly on my television, or streamed from my media server to my laptop. When I start watching something, it automatically gets logged (including what the movie is, the path, how long it is etc). Same for when I stop, so I know if I quit early.

Youtube is included in my chromium history (see above). Sadly I’m not sure I can get ‘how much of this video did I watch’ from my format–only that I visited the video.

For futureproofing, I automatically archive every youtube video I watch.

Bash History (2011-)

This one is pretty simple. My Linux shell history (everything I run from the command line, which is basically everything I do outside a browser) is saved, forever. This one goes back to 2011 for my laptops.

Scanning (2014-)

I scan all documents I write, mail I get, etc. and generally throw out the originals. I organize everything by hand, and keep everything as image files.

I use a flat folder structure, which is to say I have a “scans” folder and then a bunch of folders in it like “taxes – 2019”. No nesting. This was my main takeaway from GTD for Hackers and I use flat folders for most digital organization.

I use the Doxie Go feed-through scanner (doesn’t need a computer, writes directly to SD which I love). I recently got a Canon Lide 400 flatbed scanner (works on linux) which I use to scan bound books like my time log.

Who else does this stuff?

As far as I know I came up with this stuff independently. I’ve read plenty of time-management resources (which tend to be good) and experimental journaling resources (which tend to be… scarce?).

  • Lion Kimbro: “Make a complete map of every thought you think”. General journaling. Inteview.
  • Fenn Lipowitz (my roommate): Time log, with an emphasis on being completely machine-readable. Being machine-readable means click for pretty graphs. I took inspiration from how machine-parsable this was recently, but I want to keep my freehand sections too.
  • Bryan Bishop (acquaintance): meetlog, a system for recording conversations and topics of conversation. Overall I didn’t find this useful because I don’t know hundreds of people. The format is so-so, largely because the author can type very fast, including real-time transcripts. I got the inspiration to write topics of conversation while talking from this. I do something similar if I spend a long time thinking or researching, too.
  • Bullet Journaling: I dunno, if you’re super lost and don’t know how to write a journal/TODO list, some guy figured it out for you! It’s just the basics that you’d figure out on your own, but it may save time. The site is better than the book. I independently invented most of their notation for TODO lists, I don’t find it too useful for a journal. Other peoples’ bullet journal pages are also useful, not just the original author’s.

New experimental blog

I’m experimenting with using Jekyll in place of wordpress. If you want you can check out [dead link] which containly my weekly review process.

If and when I do migrate, all the posts here will be magically migrated and the URLs will stay the same so links don’t break.

Edit: I discontinued this experiment. It’s too hard to migrate the old stuff and keep it looking good, and I’d rather keep everything in one system.

Storage Prices 2019-07

I did a survey of the cost of buying hard drives (of all sorts), CDs, DVDs, Blue-rays, and tape media (for tape drives).

Here are the 2019-07 results: https://za3k.com/archive/storage-2019-07.sc.txt
2018-10: https://za3k.com/archive/storage-2018-10.sc.txt
2018-06: https://za3k.com/archive/storage-2017-06.sc.txt
2018-01: https://za3k.com/archive/storage-2017-01.sc.txt

Blast Furance

We made a blast furnace, following David Gingery’s The Charcoal Foundry. Here are some pictures of the firing process. We haven’t melted or cast any metal yet.

Slow initial burn to drive out most of the water

Blast furnace in action to completely dry it

You can tell we’re trained professionals by the fan setup

Blast furnace meat is best meat

Richard looking dubiously at the furnace

DIY Hard drive carrying case

Today’s project was a hard drive carrying case. I wanted something to securely store hard drives. When I looked around on ebay and amazon, I saw some nice cases and some crappy plastic molded ones. Even the terrible ones were at least $50, so I made my own.

HDD Carrying Case Exerior

I bought a used ammo case at the rather excellent local army surplus store. Then I padded all sides. I had spare EVA foam “puzzle piece” style mats from a gym setup lying around. I cut out the pieces with scissors. That’s it.  I was expecting more steps, but nothing needed glued in place. I was planning on adding inserts for the empty slots, but it seems secure enough. If you’re making one, you could also glue the top onto the lid, so you don’t have to take it out manually.

HDD Case Interior

The life-changing magic of tidying up

Summary of “the life-changing magic of tidying up”:

Marie Kondo writes the “KonMari” method. The book ends up being as much about her mistakes in learning how to tidy as it is about how to tidy. The book conveys a certain positive energy that makes me want to recommend it, but the author also brings that energy in reaction to a kind of previous stress which accompanied tidying, which she does not seem to have completely dropped–if you are mysteriously anxious and feel you MUST discard everything after reading her book, this may be why.

The primary point she makes is meant to cure it: Decide what to keep and what to discard by physically touching each item, and asking if it brings you joy.

The rest of the method:

  • Positivity. Everything in your house loves and wants to help you. If it is time to send off some of the items on their next adventure, this is no reason to be sad or anxious. You had a great time meeting, and they and you were both happy.
  • Tidy all at once (at least by category, but preferably in a multi-day binge).
  • Physically gather the category in once place, touching everything and asking if it brings you joy.
  • Find out what you’ll keep and discard before putting things away or organizing.
  • Organizing: ??? [I didn’t get any big takeaways here].

Marie Kondo’s best advice is realizations from her past mistakes–the sort of methods which seems reasonable to try, but end up being wrong for subtle reasons. They are:

  • Tidy by category, not place. Otherwise, you won’t realize everything you have.
  • “Storage” is storing things neatly, and lets you have more and more things. This is different than tidying, which is about bringing things in harmony, and having only things you love. Becoming better at “storage” can make you unhappy.

She also has encountered her clients making mistakes. For each category of things (clothes, books, etc) there are many reasons clients may not want to throw something out. Most of the book is meant to illustrate why these things are useless, and why throwing them out is okay and will make you happier.

The fun part is that many clients were more confident and more in touch with what they valued and who they wanted once they had only possessions they loved.

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