Late 2014 review

  • Written by: Marko Samastur
  • Published on:
  • Category: Catchall

Another year’s over. When squinting eyes a bit it looked very similar to 2013. The world remains an awful place which is getting better in many ways, but largely not in those I find most important. Specifics are better covered in a grimly entertaining Charlie Brooker’s 2014 Wipe . A must watch is Adam Curtis’ segment on Vladislav Surkov (jump to 28:23 if it doesn’t automatically). It may be the most horrifying thing I learned last year.

I became 40 in 2014. One thing I did not fully appreciate as a child when thinking about growing old is how big of a deal it becomes that people around you are getting older too. We were lucky and new health scares remained just that, for now. They are becoming more common and a good year may just be one where they all turn out to be false alarms or, at worst, manageable afflictions.

My year was not bad. We travelled and experienced a lot. I learned a lot, mainly about programming because I worked too much. I did not find much time to read books, write or even think about non-work related things except when on vacation. More skilled, but unlikely wiser. I often need to stay still to move forward, so while it was fun and necessary in many ways I do not want to repeat last year.

Yet I am not the same person I was a year ago. For one, I stopped fancying myself a rationalist. Logic should be used often, but not to identify with [1] . Doing so would (did?) ossify my thinking and limit what I can hope to understand and solve.

Last year I realised how little does missing my goals spoil my happiness. In 2014 I did almost nothing I planned but still was mostly happy which really brings up a bunch of questions.

First what constitutes the unmeasured dark matter of my life? Mostly my relationships and the well-being of people I love. Neither are really gaugeable beyond qualitative one-sided assessments because I am not emotionally stunted enough to survey my loved ones. Even an astute observer rarely notices more than relationship’s phase shifts and has a limited ability to influence the outcomes [2] . Limited does not mean no ability and while I try to do better, measuring anything feels elusive and counter-productive.

Still, there are limits to such joy. Even domestic bliss could not make working at abattoir palatable.

I have been tracking my weight for more than a decade (and books read and…), but I am becoming suspicious of quantified self movement. Its focus on quantitative measurements works best when tracking physiological parameters like weight. Psychological ones? Not so much. There is always a danger of searching for key under a street lamp by improving measurable things instead of those that matter. Also, slicing life into trackable slivers can lead to normative behaviour even without gamified dashboards. Healthier and optimally busy automaton is still only an automaton.

If this sounds like crisis of faith from a self-improvement nut, it sort of is. Again . However, I still believe I am a co-author of what I will become and that not all outcomes are equally worthy. So I keep experimenting.

In 2014 I stopped doing digital sabbaths because of work overload. This year I definitely plan to get back to them, as I do to mentoring. I may scratch the digital part because it has the wrong focus (is reading on Kindle meaningfully different to reading on paper?), but I do want to find time again for things that get squeezed out otherwise.

I did not start any new personal projects. Instead I have”finished” mjp against my plans. What made it worse was that afterwards I stopped working on projects where I could use it. Still, reimplementing a meaningful subset of jQuery’s API is interesting, enlightening and good exercise for any web front-end developer.

My work journal, which I stopped writing when I ended up with no working computers, is currently on hold. I will continue writing it once I find a tool that makes it easier and figure out what to record (and how) so it will be useful later.

Monthly reminders of my plans were still largely intentionally ignored, but I’m keeping them even if their main effect is to instil a sense of well-earned guilt. They also help me turn down propositions more often than I would otherwise (but not often enough). To them I am adding a practice of weekly reflection (something I learned in Uganda from an ever-impressive Nodumo) which I intend to channel into very short lists of achievable plans for upcoming week. So far I wrote two of them with mixed results.

I have not read many books, but I have read a lot of which surprisingly little stayed with me. Difficult to say why, but my hypothesis is that I read too much brain candy (interesting stuff without lasting value) and do it without proper thematic focus.

I am certain that mixing reading subjects is a form of multitasking that inhibits learning. Therefore I plan to separate directed learning from reading I do for fun and general education. Tiny Tiny RSS (my feed reader) regretfully does not support such use and workarounds (multiple accounts) are too tedious to be realistic.

My approach of picking books by whatever I fancied at the moment is a questionable strategy when I can read so few of them. Instead, I will be doing semi-planned reading with a must-read list of carefully chosen books that will be short enough to leave room for few unplanned ones. I will also be keeping the freedom to decide my reading order.

I typed a lot, but wrote little. While these pages do not contain a representative selection of my thoughts, how much I publish is still directly proportional to how much of deepened thinking I do. I did not publish much in 2014. No idea on how to change this beyond hoping weekly sabbath will provide some time and focus.

It is time for me to learn a new programming language, but it will not happen before the second part of 2015. As much as Haskel is inviting for its mind-stretching abilities, I want it to be more directly useful to me. If I can’t use the language on a concrete project, than it is not likely to stay with me. With still ample time to decide I am oscillating between Rust and Go. First one looks more interesting, but is also definitely less mature and supported by local development community. Go on the other hand might be too pragmatic and timid to really learn something new.

I am not sure what to expect from this year. I ended last one even heavier than I started. Hopefully 2015 will continue with the new positively negative trend. I will continue to be too busy for a while, but wish to wrap up existing obligations and bureaucratic annoyances by spring. This year will be a definite failure if I do not start implementing “reader” as I have learned what I needed to begin and there are no valid excuses any more. My main challenge will be figuring out how to make progress without becoming an absent workaholic zombie. If I could salvage summer, which for me is a general waste of time when little gets done, then that would be a great leap towards this goal. On a lighter note, my horological impulse was also more pronounced last year, but I did not end up with many new watches. It is something to keep an eye on this year.

  1. Same goes for scientific method.
  2. While there are plenty of coping mechanisms for happier living (lowering expectations, focusing on positives…) they really are not a match for what live can throw at you (e.g early-onset dementia).