Best Things This Year (2021)

I did get a haircut a few weeks later.

Well, we’re still in year 2 of this pandemic. I feel lucky my family is vaccinated, boosted and able to fend off one covid case. But it’s still sad we haven’t returned to the world we had in 2019. I’m still hopeful we can in some ways, but things will always be different. 2021 was about adapting to new constraints and that isn’t all bad.

I never feel like I did much at the end of the year, but kind of the whole point of writing these is to remind myself I did.

2021 was a year of huge life changes. I got officially divorced on Zoom after separating in 2020 and started a new company with coworkers all over the country. I reconnected with someone and have gone on so many adventures with her already.

I feel like I’ve gotten so close with Sasha and Owen living in this small apartment and it’s been interesting to meet the people they’re becoming. They’re funny, getting straight As in school, and obsessed with anime.

These recaps are letters to my future self and I’m glad I write them every year. I wish they were more personal, but they help me remember who I was and how I got here. Here was 2021:

Carolyn Suzanne Busa

Carolyn and Ben at the One Day Smarter by Emily Winter book launch party
Carolyn and Ben at the One Day Smarter by Emily Winter book launch party

Our birthdays are just three days apart and I wrote this for her on hers:
“Happy birthday to this beautiful painter, comedian, business owner, dog owner, coffee fiend, pizza rater, subway solo artist and woman from la matcha.”
It’s hard to imagine this year without her and every entry below has a piece of her in it somewhere. We get a kick out of each other.

Vaccines were the hot item in 2021 and I got mine as soon as I was eligible. Everyone talked about their side effects like it was last night’s football. I got two doses of Moderna from Rowan and a Pfizer booster at Walgreens. Seems like boosters will be part of our lives for a few more years at least.

Yes I wear this shirt a lot.

I broke down a little after my first vaccine realizing it was the first step to this thing being over. Didn’t think we’d have this far to go.

Impossible Meat
The first time I tried Impossible Meat it was at Qdoba. It was one of the options for a burrito and I was into it. Since then at home I’ve made tacos, burritos, enchiladas, burgers, and of course my new specialty, korean beef. Trader Joe’s has the best price on it, just $5.99.

My car was destroyed
First accident I’ve been in where I wasn’t driving! The Honda Civic I bought from Jen Miller a while back was wrecked when someone plowed through a fence and drove into while it was parked. The damage totaled the 19 year old car and I got a newer model that was only 12 years old.

Common Paper
Holy crap I started a new company! I looooved my job at Betterment, but when Jake Stein asks you to start a new company what else are you going to say? We’re trying to create a seamless web of deserved trust between companies by standardizing and streamlining their legal documents and speed up the sales process. It’s been great so far and I love working with Jake and Lauren again, and getting to meet Garrett, Tiffany, and Stanley.

Focus Labs did a great job on our branding.

I’ve never been much of a plant person. I used to have one on my desk in a styrofoam cup in 2001, but it died. Now every window in my apartment is filled with plants collecting the light and I am on a strict watering schedule. So far only one has died, but I really enjoy the kitchen usable plants like the basil, mint, and green onion.

My plant highlight of the year is nursing Ricky the Snake Plant back to health. He’s thriving and recently had a baby!

I’ve always enjoyed the Studio Ghibli films, but Sasha and Owen have gotten me into some great anime such as Erased, Evangelion: Neon Genesis, Attack on Titan, and Death Note.

Ryuk is my favorite character from Death Note

Peak Secondhand
I’ve had a lot of jobs, but never worked retail until this year. It’s been so much fun helping Carolyn launch her store and get to work there as an intern on occasion. The pay is terrible but I’m gaining valuable experience. They did a write up about it in the Inquirer.

Carolyn’s secondhand clothing store, Peak

The business model of secondhand stores is fascinating, but it’s been even more enjoyable watching her build a brand and a following.

M1 Macbook
Believe the hype. The new MacBooks with the M1 processors are faster.

I played Collingswood Porchfest for the first time in years and it truly is the best day in town. I performed a bunch of newer songs that I haven’t played much.

Illinois Trip
Saw my brother’s kids for the first time in a while, the giant world of Casey, IL, and Al Bundy’s house.

Fort Mifflin
Before 2021 I never heard of Fort Mifflin and now I’ve been there twice to see Pam Selle and my new favorite DJ, Avalon Emerson.

Patco Thread
I was proud of this Patco Twitter thread twitter I wrote.

Pizza Spreadsheet
Carolyn and I visited 15 local jersey pizza places and ranked them. We still haven’t published the results but that’s coming, I promise.

Pocono Mountains
We hiked around the “trail of doom” at the top of this mountain and Owen was afraid to use a bathroom because the drop from the seat to the tank was too much for him to handle.

Collingswood Bikeshare
My mountain bike was stolen earlier this year, but I got the best bike ever from the Collingswood Bike Share. $25/year and they’ve already rebuilt major parts of it for me for nothing. (I gave an extra donation, though)

Odyssey of the Mind
My virtual Odyssey of the Mind team won the regional tournament and finished 3rd in NJ, our best finish in the 6 years i’ve been a coach.

Fear the potato army

Trash Night
Is it the east coast’s hottest new spot or is it just Thursday? Trash Night is finally over, but I even learned how to make my own Instagram filters for this.

Garvey Corp… sold
After 95 years of independence, Garvey Corporation was acquired by a public company. I spent 10 years working there (or 15 depending on how you count it) so there are a lot of feelings wrapped into it, but I think overall it’s a good thing. I’ve seen enough bottling lines to know my dad’s legacy will be the way products are buffered in transit. His innovations will become the standard.

Asbury Park
Never went to Asbury Park before, but now I’m a fan.

TV (non Anime)
Queen’s Gambit
Nathan for You
How To with John Wilson
His Dark Materials
White Lotus
The Americans
Mare of Easttown
Rewatched 5 seasons of Seinfeld with Sasha

Class Action Park
Woodstock ’99
The Many Saints of Newark
The Guilty
Matrix: Resurrections

Spotify said my number 1 song was Cotton Candy by spill tab, who we saw perform at the Fillmore Foundry.
I also really enjoyed marinelli, Palo and Pan, Jack Stauber, Midnight Sister, Avalon Emerson and Sasha got me into Surf Curse.
Live music was (somewhat) back in 2021 and I got to see Advance Base, Florry, Palo and Pan, spill tab, JAWNY and 1910 Chainsaw Company

Previous years

Impossible Korean Beef Recipe

Impossible Korean Beef with edamame
Impossible Korean beef w/ edamame

I’m still eating meat, but I’ve been experimenting with Impossible Meat and I’ve made this recipe a bunch of times now and I love it. The only tough to find ingredient is the gochujang. I got mine at HMart.
3 Tbsp gochujang
3 Tbsp soy sauce
1 tsp garlic powder
1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
1 tsp sugar
2 Tbsp water
2 Tbsp rice vinegar
3 Tbsp minced ginger
Touch of salt

Chopped green onion and sesame seeds for garnish

1/4 cup chopped white onion
12oz pack of impossible meat

Mix everything except onions and meat and garnishes in a mixing bowl

Sauté onion on medium heat til cooked down (2-4 minutes) and then add impossible meat.

Cook meat until brown.

Add gochujang and simmer on low heat for 2 minutes

Serve over rice with sesame seeds, green onion, and sri racha. I also like to serve mine with some sautéd green beans or edamame.

Best things this year (2019)

It’s hard to shake off failure.

I did a lot in 2019, but it doesn’t always feel that way. I felt lonely, but made 100+ new friends. I didn’t ship enough side projects, but I started a new job and hired a bunch of people. I didn’t travel that much, but I gave a talk in Asia and went to New York 60+ times.

I reflect on the year to counteract that feeling.

Me @ the IDG IT Roadmap conference in Seoul

Sasha turned 13 and people have always said, “oh just wait until she’s a teenager!” as if having an antagonistic relationship is a given for parents and teens. It’s clear to me now that this attitude lies in the insecurities of the parents, not the kids. We still get along great.

Sasha wrote a 30,000 word book, acted in multiple plays, and is crushing middle school. Owen grew his hair out, started a YouTube channel, and is crushing me in in Mario Kart. It’s fun to watch them grow independent identities.

Here’s my 2019:

I took a month off

I’ve never taken more than 2 consecutive weeks since I started working. I could have used another month, but having the luxury and privilege to take time off before starting at Betterment was great. I painted the inside of my house, had lunch at Mama’s Falafels, got coffee with everyone, finished The Wire, saw the Liberty Bell, hung out at Indyhall, and more.


In February I joined Betterment for Advisors as a senior engineering manager and began recruiting. We added 4 engineers and a designer, and successfully rolled all the engineers from the NY team onto other projects. By the end of 2019 we’ll have 22 people working in the sparkling new Philadelphia office.

Betterment for Advisors Team
The Betterment for Advisors engineering team. Aren’t they great?

This was what I set out to do but to look back and see that it happened is a trip. I’ve learned a lot of Ruby on Rails, leveled up my SQL, and already shipped a few features.


It’s still surreal to me that I got on a plane and flew to South Korea for 13 hours, gave a talk at a data conference, and then flew home in the same week. My first trip to Asia was successful.


I didn’t make too many new charts, but the ones I did make were fun. I gave one of my best talks this year at Data Jawn 2019 and showed some of these.

1. Network graph of HBO’s The Wire

Network graph of HBO's The Wire

2. My commute times to NY

3. Owen’s Cafeteria Expenses


I became obsessed with making pizza. Prior to this, the only pizza I’d ever made were from Boboli crusts or on top of an English Muffin. Using Joe Beddia’s, Pizza Camp, I made 15 pizzas and I think they started getting good by around #7.

Philly Dataviz Meetup

Herb Lau and I put on 5 killer data visualization meetups with speakers from the Philadelphia Inquirer,, CypherPrime, the City Controller’s Office, Vanguard, UPenn, Stitch, and more. 2020 is only going to get better.

Will Stallwood giving a talk on shaders


It might be the dumbest thing I’ve ever made. Enter a year and the name of your baby and it tells you how popular your baby’s name was that year, but it also makes it appear as though Harambe was slightly more popular. The project uses government data from 1880 – 2018 and I mostly used bash and csvkit to construct the dataset.

Finding a Hidden Album

Like hidden treasure chest under the floorboards, I found an early album by the Blow’s Khaela Maricich on Spotify and it made me happy.


My kids are way into board games now and we played a ton of Risk Legacy, One Night Ultimate Werewolf, and Ravine, but our favorite was this beautiful game called Wingspan.



Earlier this year I watched Russian Doll and assumed it would be my favorite but then I watched The Wire, Dark, Pen15, The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance, Watchmen, and Fleabag.

I might have watched too much TV.


Thanks to a couple of long flights I watched a ton of films this year, but my favorites were Booksmart, Her, and The Favourite.


Bands I saw live: Swearin, Mike Krol, Fuck You Tammy, and A Giant Dog. Not too many, but according to Spotify this was my favorite song of the year:

I also enjoyed Palehound, Nana Grizol, Mike Krol, Swearin, Best Friends Forever, Lomedla, Radiator Hospital, Anna McClellan, Mitski, Theo and the Get Down Stay Down, and Lizzo.

My top 2019 list according to Spotify.

I got another tattoo and sometimes wear glasses

I got a 2nd tattoo, this time at Fishtown’s True Hand Society which is in a beautiful old church. I also broke down and finally got glasses so I can read after 5PM. I’ve been pleasantly surprised at how much better my mood is since wearing them.

Previous years

Chili post

Doh, I am making a batch of my chili today and clicked on the link on the right to make the shopping list. The link was broken! It has since been fixed.

I also noticed I had 6 Tbsp of garlic, which I think must be a typo.? That would mean 36 cloves of garlic!? There’s no way I put in that much, so I lowered it to 2 Tbsp which is about 12 cloves of garlic.? I’m guessing I thought 1 clove of garlic equaled 1/2 of a table spoon, but in fact it’s 1/2 of a teaspoon.

If you’re a chili fan, you’ll definitely want to try the recipe out some day.

Another Rib Try

I made baby back ribs again for the game today (argh!) and they turned out great. The main difference was that I smoked them with hickory chips and I cooked two racks at a time instead of just one. A neighborhood cat tried to eat them right off the grill.

I almost screwed up the smoke, because I forgot you have to get the chips smoking before you start cooking. I put them on at the same time and the proper procedure is to start out blazing hot until the chips smoke like crazy and then turn the heat down and load the meat. Unlike the Eagles today I was able to come back from my bad start and produce something worthwhile.

Also, I tried to buy the meat yesterday at Acme but all they had were the precooked Tony Siragusa ribs, so I drove all the way to Superfresh.

In my NFL Pick’Em league I’m 12/13 so far, but I have three upsets picked for the last three games. I doubt I’ll be that lucky.

Baby Back Rib Recipe

You can count me among the fans of baby back ribs, but they’re a little intimidating to make. Here’s why:

  1. Long marinating times
  2. Long cooking times
  3. Tricky heat settings
  4. Removing that damn membrane from the bottom

My first attempt at making ribs was about two years ago and I spent all day working on them, only to have them burn to a crisp in 10 minutes. I was so distraught I ended up eating at Red Hot and Blue. It took me a while, but I made my second attempt this weekend and it was a huge success.

Baby Back Ribs

Here is my recipe:


1 package of baby back ribs
1 container of apple juice
Stubs BBQ seasoning
Sylvia’s herb seasoning
Sweet Baby Ray’s BBQ Sauce


Remove the membrane from the bottom of the ribs. This is the most annoying part of the process, but it’s not that difficult and don’t worry about getting every last bit off. A lot of crazy websites say to use a screwdriver to get under it and pull it off, but I just used a knife and wiggled it between the membrane and the bone.

Marinate the ribs in the apple juice for about two hours and flip them over half way through if they’re not fully submerged.

Set up your grill for indirect cooking, which is almost like baking. You heat up the side of the grill you aren’t going to use. Some gas grills are set up with burners on the left and right and some are front to back. Mine has three heat zones (front, middle, and back) and usually I turn the front off, set the middle to low, and the back to medium when cooking on indirect heat.

Take the ribs out of the apple juice and pat dry with paper towels. Apply the Stubs BBQ rub generously to both sides, but the bottom is really just for show. Sprinkle some of the Sylvia’s seasoning on both sides as well. Make sure the meaty top side looks evenly covered by the BBQ rub. DO NOT put on the BBQ sauce yet, because it will burn.

Now that the grill is hot, put the ribs on the cooler side and cook for at least 1.5 – 1.75 hours. Check it often to make sure it isn’t burning and that your hot side is hot enough. I like to flip it twice and that way it’s mostly cooked from the bottom up.

About 20 minutes before your time is up, apply the BBQ sauce with a basting brush to both sides. The final internal temperature should be at least 140 degrees. Enjoy!

Credit: Almost everything I’ve learned about grilling is from the amazing book, How To Grill by Steven Raichlen. My rib recipe is based on one from the book.

Doritos X-13D

Doritos has a promotion going on right now to name their new flavor. They’re selling it in a black bag with the code name X-13D and I’m here to tell you it’s gross. I bought a small bag at Wawa and my first thought was “relish” as in, “Doritos came up with relish flavored chips.” As I ate a few more I figured they must be going for a cheeseburger flavor, but nothing could overpower the relish or pickle flavor.

So thumbs down on the X-13D (or my name for it, Assburger with extra Relish), but thumbs up on the cool promotion. The power of user collaboration is spreading to the consumer culture.

Doritos has a promotion going on right now to name their new flavor. They’re selling it in a black bag with the code name X-13D and I’m here to tell you it’s gross. I bought a small bag at Wawa and my first thought was “relish” as in, “Doritos came up with relish flavored chips.” As I ate a few more I figured they must be going for a cheeseburger flavor, but nothing could overpower the relish or pickle flavor.

So thumbs down on the X-13D (or my name for it, Assburger with extra Relish), but thumbs up on the cool promotion. The power of user collaboration is spreading to the consumer culture.