CW: Like I wrote in 2020’s Retrospective, it’s self-indulgent to write this. It’s once again a year where a lot of people suffered and died. I guess that’s actually been true of every year, it’s just much closer right now.

Music 💚

I’ve stuck with listening to CDs and MP3s, honestly. I bought a little less from totally new (to me) artists and hit more of a groove of rebuying albums I used to like or buying newer albums from bands I had lost track of. Sometimes streaming something a few times lead to buying the album, but just as often an impulse buy from the second hand music store around the corner or a thrift store.

Alongside just amassing CDs, I’ve done a better job of listening to them, mostly because I fixed up a 6 CD changer car stereo unit with a new power supply and (mono) speaker, so I’ve had easy access to tape, CD and FM radio. FM radio mostly sucks, but I’ve listened to a bit of CKDJ which is the local college radio station.

I even listened to more cassettes this year. Vinyl is mostly something I listen to when hanging out in my parlour on no-meetings-Wednesday or in the evenings. There’s no other tech in there (unless I bring in my laptop to work) so it’s a nice space for album listening and upgrading to a slightly better turn-table with an automatic needle-drop (and a less-bad cartridge) has made a difference, too.

Books 💚

It’s been a good year for me and books. I read 16 fiction books (of which 6 were from the Murderbot Diaries series, and quite short, but still – probably the most I’ve read since owning a smartphone).

Faves: Termination Shock, Stand on Zanzibar, Schismatrix

I can confidently say that having personal reading on Kindle (and therefore also synced to my iPad) encourages me to pick it up and not get distracted by work or work-related reading. This has meant all work-related reading either happens on my Macbook or on paper copies. Given that $WORK pays for the paper copies, and I have them for easy reference, I think this works out okay. I usually only read a fiction book once, so it either sits on a bookshelf until I convince someone to read it or it gets donated.

“Social” “Media”

Mastodon/ActivityPub and the Tildeverse 💔

This hasn’t been great. I’ve barely been present on ttw despite being the admin of it. I sometimes check the local timeline and barely take part in the diverse and non-commercial wonder that is Fedi. I’ve rarely taken part in anything on tilde.town beyond updating finger/gemini. Even idling on IRC is too much work. I can’t keep my plant alive without help.

Twitter 💔

Even worse: I’ve started using Twitter a lot more. I don’t want to quit because there’s some great stuff in the niche electronics community that only really happens on Twitter. And I have to admit I like interacting with colleagues and former colleagues on there – it’s not like much out-of-work socializing is happening right now otherwise. However, it’s still a pit and I find myself hate-reading the replies to posts I agree with.

I’ve purged so much US politics from my feeds, but now I get to subject myself to getting angry at NFTs, cryptocurrency and COVID misinformation. Also, just about anything to do with work’s employer brand or execs. As many of the people I follow are ex-colleagues who used to work here, their (sometimes justified) replies do make a dent in my feelings about my job. Not about the work that I do, which I am mostly proud of, but my identity as it relates to my job: being Shopifolk. (Yes, that is a word we unironically use).

It’s probably time to throw the good out with the bad and leave Twitter again for a bit.

The Little Web 💚

I’ve really enjoyed reading Gemini and Gopher this year. It’s a little circle and people simply write differently when you can’t easily stuff a post full of links or view the analytics or even serve ads. The writing seems lower stakes. Someone Googling your name might find your blog but probably won’t find your Gemini Capsule.

I’ve updated my finger [email protected] (which feeds into my Gemini gemini://tilde.town/~insom and Gopher etc.) about every two weeks, and I’ve been consistent on this all year long.

Generally these are /now style posts: just documenting my current obsessions or what I’m currently working on, rather than trying to have a topic. This is another habit that’s worked.

Even though posting to this blog (that you’re reading now) is super low friction (I have a git pipeline at DigitalOcean which rebuilds the Jekyll site and publishes it) – it’s not as low-stakes as updating tilde.town is, so I do it much less.

Blogging 💔

Oh yeah, speaking of blogging! I have a list of posts to write in my to-do app, but I just … haven’t. It seems like a lot of work to both do something and also to write about it. I generally take photos or screenshots (where appropriate) so that these things could be written later. But then I don’t.

I find it easy to tweet (which mostly involves posting a picture or a gist and saying “I did this”), but my own personal mental block is that a blog post should be marginally useful and either explain the process or actually document it thoroughly.

I should write the post I wish I had read when I built my PXE boot + network-block-device Raspberry Pi 400 set up. It was a bunch of debugging I could save someone else (or future me). Meh. Maybe in 2022.

YouTube 😐

I watch a lot of YouTube, but tbh, there’s some great content being created by independents on there. Just don’t follow recommendations, and you’re fine. I have removed it from my phone, though, and I’m ruthless at unsubscribing.

Smartphone Use 💚

Around September my wife broke her phone and I gave her mine to use while hers was sent away for repair. She runs a non-profit and “lives” on her phone for work, and I barely use mine as I work from home. I used “the potato phone” instead – a Moto G4 running LineageOS that didn’t have much installed and even if I put more on it, would have worked badly. It was a pleasant experience to be forced to use an almost-dumb smartphone – it had a web browser, but I had to sideload commercial apps or use the FLOSS ones (which, sorry, are generally poor).

Once I got my phone back I thought about putting LineageOS on there, but there’s a small number of commercial apps I really appreciate (Fastmail, Google Maps) that I didn’t want to have to fight to sideload. I’ve installed almost nothing and I’ve disabled and hidden many of the built-in Google bloatware apps (YouTube, Play Movies, Drive, etc.)

About the only entertaining thing my phone can do is run a web browser. Because I don’t have 1Password on there I can’t really log into things, so all I actually do is check the BBC, CBC and Hacker News headlines.

It’s been a few months and I think this improvement has stuck. I’ve also removed all work-related apps and chat apps from my phone, and even switched by to SMS + Phone notification for PagerDuty instead of their app.

Work 🤷

There’s really two things here: actual work and my relationship to it.

First order 💚

Work has been great: I enjoy what I do and I like my colleagues. I think we get on well. I got to meet a whole bunch of them this year, some of them for the first time. I’m getting to work on a new and interesting problem which I will be able to see (and measure) the impact of. I’ve gotten to see the team and tech from the last project I worked on flourish and find its fit.

The company I work for is growing, the pay is good, and I think I’m reasonably happy with the ethics. (There is no ethical consumption under capitalism etc. but I think e-commerce can be environmentally better than traditional commerce despite the unavoidable fact that it’s causing a whole load of stuff to be shipped a very long way. But so is buying things from Walmart.)

Second order 😣

The feelsy stuff is more difficult. I still struggle with impostor syndrome. It makes sense that the more senior that I get the stronger that would be, I suppose.

I’m in the process from switching from a “mentor/grow/support others and help improve technical standards” kind of role back to a “create an actual plan and execute it” one. I’m finding the transition hard. I always feel in debt and behind. 🤷

Third order 😔

This might be the pandemic talking, but what do I want to do with my life? Even if I scope it down to “within the confines of working in technology” these thoughts are intrusive.

The kind of programming I enjoy and the kind of work that I do are quite far apart. I love systems programming, usually in compiled languages, and generally in the scope of a single machine. That kind of work can have very fast feedback cycles and the debugging is difficult (low level) but usually tractable.

But what I’m good at, and what pays well, is nailing YAML and high-level languages together and using my hard-won experience with distributed systems and databases. The feedback cycles are comparatively huge if you need to put something into production to really test it, and debugging is context full and sometimes you just hit a proprietary wall. That said, there is sometimes a great pleasure in being good at wrangling the complexity.

Fourth order 🧓

I’m not even sure that my world still exists.

Going off Hacker News comments (yes, I know) it seems like my experience is the usual one: a forest of devops tools and Kubernetes, Docker builds, CI run times, integration hell and enormous dependencies – and a huge cloud provider so that when something fundamentally goes wrong you can’t even solve the problems yourself.

Perhaps I just have nostalgia for racking servers, fast SSDs and having mechanical sympathy.

Tools 💚

Whew that was heavy. Tree Style Tabs are still good though! Also Todoist.

Chrome’s tab groups are differently good: I wish they also existed in Firefox, to give me options, but I don’t miss them enough to use Chrome on a personal device ✊

Visual Studio Code is inevitable. I’m really leaning on it while learning Rust. We’re all going to end up in the IE6 hole again some day, though, when VSC is the only editor that mainstream programmers use.