2018 in Reading: January – March

The year started with a couple of winners and at least one unfortunate loser. I’m a big fan of John Hodgman’s incredible trio of fake almanacs, so I was excited about “Vacationland: True Stories from Painful Beaches.” Hodgman is a master of the kind of melancholy humor that scratches my itch, and “Vacationland” is a funny and sad little book about a vacation home in Maine, family, performing live and buying a boat. He is responsible for one of my absolute favorite TED Talks, and if you like that, you’ll like this book.

Dan Brown’s “Inferno” is Dan Brown at his Dan Browniest. It’s absolutely absurd, with a ludicrous plot and wafer-thin characters, but with Brown you know what you’re getting. It’s difficult to put down, which qualifies it as a page-turner. It’s hard to take seriously, but if you find yourself sitting next to a pool, you could do worse.

Michael Wolff’s “Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House” is already out-of-date, but it’s impact was definitely felt throughout the year. Wolff, who clearly spent a lot of time interviewing Steve Bannon, gives an insider’s view of the Trump White House, though he has a tendency to play fast and loose with sourcing. It’s an important book, and an easy read, but it has a short shelf-life just because of the nature of the topic. If you’re looking for juicy Trump dirt, you’ve probably already read it.

What to say about Andy Weir’s “Artemis”? Truly one of the most disappointing books I think I’ve ever read. Nothing against Weir, who wrote the absolutely fantastic The Martian, but Artemis just doesn’t work. Ostensibly a murder mystery set on the moon, it’s full of characters that don’t work, a clunky plot, a main character who is intensely difficult to like and a clunkiness that makes the whole affair feel rushed and unfinished. Maybe it’s just a sophomore slump. I’ve read “The Martian” four times, so I’m totally going to read Weir’s next book on day-one, but “Artemis” just doesn’t work. At all.

Last in this timeframe was Dan Moody’s “Hotels of North America,” a peculiar, funny series of modern male adulthood told through a series of fake Yelp-style reviews of American hotels. This book was right in my wheelhouse, with a nonlinear story told through fragments of experience framed through the aforementioned reviews. It’s genuinely hilarious, sometime cringe-inducing, and completely original. Loved it.

First Draft is in the book(s)!

I’ve been deficient in keeping the blog up to date through 2018, but, happily, I’ve been able to complete was is almost certainly my most critical goal for the year: I finished a first draft of my novel! It needs a lot of work, but I’m going to have a second draft completed by Thanksgiving, if not sooner.

I’d really like to have it polished up by the end of 2018 and… then I don’t know exactly. Send out some query letters, maybe self-publish? I’m not quite there yet but it’s been many, many hours of work. It’s a struggle right now because all I can see are the flaws, but I’m hoping there’s some fruit inside the rind.

Two Books: Vacationland and Inferno

Highly recommended!

I’ve read my first two books of the new year, both very different. John Hodgman’s (@hodgman) “Vacationland” is a funny, smart and melancholy rumination on adulthood, childhood and special places that define our lives. I envy him deeply as a writer.

Second book, which I just finished a few minutes ago, is Dan Brown’s “Inferno.” It’s absurdly goofy, but I’d also be lying if I didn’t admit to spending three hours of my Sunday burning through the second half. As guilty pleasures go, you could do worse, but if you’ve read “The Da Vinci Code,” you pretty much know what you’re getting here. It’s fine, but it’s seriously ridiculous.

Next up is finishing Michael Wolff’s “Fire and Fury.”

Kneel Before Zod archived podcasts

The Kneel Before Zod podcast (which I have a goal to resume in some form in 2018) ran for a few months in late 2016 into early 2017. My co-conspirator, Adam, and I had fun but lost the thread. I have archived the old episodes below since SoundCloud deactivates your older episodes when you stop paying them. If you’re made uncomfortable by the fact that the episode naming convention went awry in episode 9, this is a good chance to work on that.


Comprehensive Goals List

23593660_10101875299845897_74091043714745818_oI’ve broken my 2018 goals into six areas — running, writing, working, personal, development and extracurricular — where I believe that I can make focused, tactical improvements over the coming months. My focus, as much as possible, is on specific areas where I find myself wanting to grow and modify my behaviors, either by doing more or doing less. A broad overview of the goals I’ll be tracking is below, but I’ll be writing more specifically about them in the days to come. I’m not sure I can pull off all of this, but why not aim high?


  • Train steadily throughout the year
  • Stay injury-free
  • Run the Snickers Albany Marathon on March 3 (hard)
  • Run the Georgia Publix Marathon on March 18 (easy)
  • Train for and run a fall marathon TBD
  • Run 1,600 miles throughout the year
  • Qualify for Boston with a 3:22 in Albany


  • Write something every day, minimum of 250 words
  • Complete first draft of novel
  • Find accountability opportunities (writing group?)


  • Dress better
  • Take meeting management course
  • Run better meetings
  • “Eat the Frog” — do the hard things first
  • Become a better planner
  • Be a better mentor
  • Be more engaged and proactive
  • Review budget every two weeks
  • Work on memory
  • Listen harder
  • No social media at work


  • Do 20,000 pushups over the year (about 50/day average)
  • Get to 60 pushup set
  • Get to 10 pullup set
  • Read 25 books
  • Biweekly nice thing for Melissa
  • Make a practice of meditation
  • Focus on keeping my cool
  • Let my kids be themselves, not smaller me’s
  • Don’t argue politics on Facebook
  • Again, listen harder
  • Be a more actively engaged friend

Personal Development

  • Take a course in Unity
  • Take a calculus course
  • Take another Python course
  • Take another AWS course
  • Build a new Alexa skill
  • Relaunch personal site (yay!)
  • 10 tweets per week
  • Learn to play two songs competently on guitar
  • Build a serverless Web app
  • Relaunch podcast


  • Publish a piece of writing somewhere
  • Invoice monthly for freelance work
  • Regular status reports for freelance work



Setting Goals for 2018

I’ve had this blog in various permutations now for the past 20 years. I started clontzville.com back when I was in graduate school as an early experiment in personal Web publishing and have come in and out of it ever since. As for the name, an email broker had, unbelievably, already bought the domain name clontz.com to sell email address to what must be an unbelievably small number of Clontzes who wanted to be [theirname]@clontz.com. That said, I have rented the lee@clontz.com email address from said email brokers for the past two decades, so maybe I’m the idiot here.

AvantGo, The Phantom Menace, REM’s first post-Bill Berry album, cheesy askew photo: this was peak 90s for me.

Anyway, this blog has been various things for me over the years. The first version was built on the jankiest imaginable content management system that I built to learn Perl, wherein I posted stupid quotes and pictures and hot-takes on movies I’d seen. Y’know, blog stuff. Then it was for posting links to various Web crap I was working on, and, later, it became a WordPress-backed baby picture resource back in the days before social media made that irrelevant. Most recently it was an ill-tended marathon training blog that was read by users numbering in the single digits. Two years ago I just repointed it to my @clontz Twitter feed and let the blog go.

So why restart it now?

In short, it seems like the time. I’m not as young as I used to be and I have some goals I want to hit in 2018 and beyond. I need goals and metrics to strive toward, and if I’m not open about them, I’ll just let them lapse and die, and I really don’t want to do that. I want to write more, to run better, to talk less and build more, to be a more open manager at work and to be more in touch with myself and my family. I want to learn things — to meditate, to finish the things I begin, to keep in better touch with friends and family. I want to qualify for the Boston Marathon.

I’m going to fail at some things (I’m looking at you, Boston), but I’d like to be open about what I’m working toward. I’ve made a list of 2018 goals that I’ll post subsequently, the tracking of which is really what this blog is all about. I want to do better, to be better and to fail better, and I think that this is the right place to do it, here where I started 20 years ago. I’m aiming for what Ray Dalio calls “Radical Openness,” which may be interesting to no one else but me, which is fine. If someone else finds it useful, so much the better.