2015 personal review

Wednesday 6 Jan 2016

I find it interesting to read others' reviews of the year and their progress and discoveries, so I thought I'd share my own. It's nice to be able to summarise everything that went on.

Things I'm proud of

  • I did one interview this year, for tech site ReadWrite. I also published my full responses on the Hello Code blog later, because I'd written a lot that wasn't used. A handy way to trick me into blogging!
  • I scratched my itch and created a lexer, parser, compiler, interpreter, and REPL for a toy language using RPython (a compiled subset of Python) and RPly (an RPython-port of Lexx and Yacc). Then I blogged about it too. I felt proud to have learned enough to get to this point, and while I didn't add a great deal of features to my language, it still feels like I've achieved something not many others have attempted.
  • I taught a lesson, Introduction to Responsive Web Design, at General Assembly Melbourne. I had wanted to do more teaching in general, and thought maybe this was a way to supplement my Hello Code income. I really liked teaching the course, and many of my students took the time to thank me for doing a good job, but GA didn't really help with promotions and I didn't have enough of a cult following to boost attendance, so I earned a measly $150 from the many days of work I put into my course materials. I'm still proud that I had the confidence to do this, and I would teach again, but probably in some other forum.
  • During the year I left my last contracting job and went full-time on Exist, growing it from a part-time earner to something that supports me (though barely). It was a really good feeling to finally be able to do this, as it had been my goal for many years now. It sucks that my co-founder Belle isn't able to do the same, but we're hoping to make the growth continue in 2016 so it becomes possible.
  • I launched Littlelogs, a site for journalling about creative progress you make. It's still small, but I'm glad I was able to follow through on getting a side project to launch, and help build a friendly, supportive community there.
  • I wrote 421 logs on Littlelogs about my progress on projects like Exist. It's a nice low-effort substitute for blogging.
  • I launched the official Android app for Exist, my second ever Android app. This didn't have as big an effect on our signup growth as I'd hoped, but I'm proud that it's out there and has an average rating of 4.1. I've managed to keep it relatively bug-free too.
  • In my journey to get further into functional programming, I read all of Real World OCaml and learned enough to start using it a little. I completed the first few days of Advent of Code in OCaml, and would like to write some more of it in 2016.
  • I started composing eight new tracks this year, and maybe two of them have actual promise. I tried to put more effort into using and mastering my home recording gear, and made good progress on getting back into the music-making mindset that I'd abandoned for many years.
  • I launched and recorded 14 episodes of our startup podcast, Hello Code Podcast, with my co-founder Belle. Recording a podcast was an idea of Belle's that I was happy to go along with, and I've enjoyed the process so far (although it's hard to keep coming up with ideas). I'm proud that I'm comfortable doing it, even though I dislike the sound of my voice and often feel like I have nothing to say.

Things to do in 2016

  • I'd like to do more interviews, if possible. Press for Exist has been quite hard to predict, and it's always when the press has the idea, never when we reach out. But if the opportunity comes to me, I'll take it.
  • More blogging in general. I find it quite boring and time-consuming when I could be building things that do stuff instead. But I like having written, so I'll try to find time to blog if I have thoughts worth sharing.
  • Build our Hello Code income to the point where it can support Belle as well. I know we can do it, but we need to push it harder.
  • Attempt to write more music. I have a low bar for this one, and really anything that sounds good but is unfinished would be fine.
  • Pick up another programming language, or make some more progress using OCaml. There are other languages like Pony and Elixir that look promising to me too, so building something with any one of these would do.
  • I've felt a bit like a shut-in this year, and would like to do more socialising. I've always had trouble feeling confident about initiating catchups and seeing people, but I'm trying to just do the thing and assume that friends do want to see me.
  • Related to the above, I've withdrawn from social media a lot in 2015, except to talk about work, which is easy, and to promote myself, which helps our startup. I've found that I feel quite timid about interacting now, like I have nothing of value to add, and I'd like to change that because I used to quite enjoy discussions on Twitter. I think this is affecting my empathy too, as I find I often respond with internal snarkiness to a lot of the opinions I read. I'd really like to change this. I don't want to approach the syrupy-sweet positivity of the Buffer account, or start writing tweets ending in "#blessed", but I would like to be able to relate more positively to other humans.

Media of 2015

Things I consumed in 2015, sorted by medium, mostly but not necessarily published this year.

Music

I tried harder to discover and support indie music (by spending my dollars) in 2015. Most of these come from my new favourite internet music destination, Bandcamp.

Articles

This year I just couldn't get enough of Nautilus. It's well worth a Prime membership just to support their good work.

Some others I enjoyed:

Books

I'm going to pilfer shamelessly from my Goodreads reviews here.

The Iceberg by Marion Coutts

This book documents the slow decline of Marion's husband, Tom, from brain cancer. The cancer starts to take away his language — his speech, his reading and writing — and later his mobility and control of his body. Its study of what it's like to lose language is quite interesting, especially as both Marion and Tom are writers and invested in this most keenly.

The inevitability of Tom's outcome loomed over the book as I journeyed towards its final pages, later manifesting as real anxiety as the situation worsened. Perhaps the reason I finished it so quickly. But the book covers both the devastating and mundane, the "seismic grief" of watching your partner slowly slip from life, and the everyday trials of raising a small child at the same time. Much of what moved me was description of little things only tangentially related. And the love. There is much love in this book.

Not for everyone, but if you can enjoy the flowery language and the subject matter, you'll find a rewarding read.

The Martian by Andy Weir

Mark Watney is a clever, resourceful guy who sure knows a lot of science stuff.

However, he's far too much of a joker to ever be offered a real job as an astronaut. Bit too much disrespect for authority, too. Smart-arse. Also, the least plausible part was how cheery he was the entire time. No break-downs about being stuck on Mars, not even once?

An excellent, fun story. Despite all the science, a very easy read. I'm still not sure how that's possible.

In my defence, I read this before I knew it would be a blockbuster movie.

The First Bad Man by Miranda July

I had a lot of different feelings about this book. The first half is poignant and funny and awkward. About the half the time when it made me laugh, it was funny; the other half it was kind of a horrified laugh. Cheryl has some very specific hangups and fantasies. But (mild spoilers ahead) about halfway through it switches, and most of the awkward weird stuff disappears and it becomes more straightforward. I still enjoyed it, but I was kind of sad at what could have been. I guess that's the problem with a book about changing and accepting things and growing up — the book is forced to document that and so it gets more straightforward and less weird just like adults do. Still, I love you Miranda July and I really liked your book.

The Fall of Hyperion by Dan Simmons

Almost as good as the first, and manages some plot twists and reveals that I didn't expect, thinking that a lot of those cards had been played already in the first book. Another compelling plot, and an extension of the excellent world building.

I'm putting this one here because although I'm more enthused about this clever sci-fi series as a whole, I read the first book in 2014.

Quicksand by Steve Toltz

"Maybe Aldo figures dying is the ultimate act of self-protection. That is, once dead, nothing further can harm him."

This is a story about Aldo Benjamin, a clever but chronically unlucky man with a death wish. It's narrated by his best friend Liam, who is failing at his dream of being a successful writer and views Aldo as his muse. Like Steve Toltz's previous book, it's very clever and meandering in its story. But what happened to Steve between then and now? This book is full of funny one-liners, but gosh, the subject matter is grim. Suicides, murders, rapes, stillbirth, disability, and much humiliation. I enjoyed the writing but I am glad to be done of this story.

Including this because even though I was conflicted about it, the story and many of the witty one-liners have stuck with me.

Non-fiction: Real World OCaml by Yaron Minsky

Does what it says on the tin — this book focuses on teaching OCaml with lots of code examples that strive to be close to things you'd really do. The first major section discusses the language itself, which is quite thorough, and the second section is about practical patterns, like concurrency and when to use certain data types. The practicality extends to its use of Core, a replacement standard library, instead of trying to teach the language without any dependencies — that's not how you're going to use it.

I read this for free online.

Film

Ex Machina

It seems like I didn't watch a lot of films this year, unless I've forgotten some — but Ex Machina definitely stuck with me. As my partner Belle points out, it would've worked exactly the same had the premise been that Caleb was told that Ava was insane, rather than an AI. Regardless, it works well as a psychological thriller.

TV

Rick and Morty

Season one was great, but season two is cleverer, snarkier, and deeper too (I know). I haven't enjoyed a show this much for ages. Wubba lubba dub dub!

Humans

Thoughtful exploration of the birth of strong AI and what it might be like for humanoid AIs learning what it means to be human — in a broader and less dark way as Ex Machina. This could so easily be cliched or full of plot holes, but mostly it isn't, and covers a lot of the angles I think would be interesting in this scenario.

The Knick

Medical dramas are an easy sell, right? In some ways The Knick is "House, but a hundred years ago" — a brilliant but flawed doctor, with a drug habit, whose faults are tolerated because he's just so damn good. It fits. It has a bit more depth than House, though, and the ensemble cast have real depth. The cinematography and score are also gorgeous. More Thack please.

Making a Murderer

If you wrote this plot for a fictional crime series, it'd seem too far-fetched. This documentary series from Netflix is about Steven Avery, accused of sexual assault in the 80s and forced to serve an 18-year prison term before being exonerated by DNA evidence — only to be charged with murder a few years later. If you buy into the story of Steven's innocence (which I do), your respect for law enforcement will plunge to new lows as you watch the whole saga play out.

Honourable mentions

Mr Robot, Fargo, Silicon Valley, Borgen, Peep Show, Orange is the New Black, Better Call Saul, The Fall

Games

My favourites of this year were mostly adventure games, probably because they had the most chance to have an emotional impact.

Undertale

A play on traditional old-school RPGs, Undertale subverts the idea of evil monsters and wanton killing. To complete the game in the way it intends, you're meant to take a pacifist route and talk/hug/flee your way out of battles. The highlight here, though, is the writing. The characters are worth caring about and the dialogue is hilarious. I haven't seen many others talking about it, but I found it really hard to complete — some of the battles are almost impossible when taking the pacifist route. I also needed to consult a walkthrough a few times to work out exactly what I needed to do to get it all right — the game felt maliciously created in later parts, as if it wanted me to give up and not finish it properly.

If you can get past the difficulty and obstinacy and repetitive battles, you'll discover a game with a big heart that will give you "all the feels".

The Dream Machine

A traditional point and click adventure with scenes made from cardboard and clay. Aside from being great to look at, it ticks all the boxes that make a good adventure game, and its story is pretty interesting. It's not complete, but the first 5 of 6 chapters are available and apparently the 6th is not far off.

Dropsy

Scary-looking clown who can't talk just wants to hug everyone. Aside from the convenient and abrupt ending, this is another pretty, well-made game that'll give you some feelings.

Technobabylon

Old-school low-res adventure game with a cyberpunk theme. Quite enjoyable.

The Fall

An adventure-slash-2D-platformer, The Fall has you playing as an AI suit, crashed on some abandoned planet, whose wearer is critically injured. Your goal is to find medical assistance for your human, but what I found most interesting was the exploration of how far an AI can bend its own rules, and how even an AI can fall into the trap of "the end justifying the means".

About the Blog

I'm a developer in Melbourne, Australia, and co-founder of Hello Code.

I am joshsharp on twitter.