01 Jan 2022

2021 Retrospective

Another year, another retrospective. This is a brief summary of interesting things that happened in 2021. Written mostly as archive content for myself. Includes broken bones and questionable wood working.

I found writing this type of post last year surprisingly therapeutic so here we are again. Compared to last year’s post this one is more eclectic. If that proves to be a continuing trend then 2022’s retro should be very unusual reading.


The 2021 Projects

Last year’s post finished on the projects I hoped to do, so let’s pick things up there.

  • The Europe 2011 Road Trip Site - My first completed project of 2021, albeit ten years in the making. I was particularly pleased to finish something that had been on the to-do list for so long.
  • SIP Dialog Creator - Perhaps the most useful tool I made last year. I reckon I have used the site every couple of weeks since putting it live in June.
  • PSION Series II. I had wanted to make a notification project with this, like a mega retro version of the LaMetric Smart Clock. Aside from a brief play, this didn't get very far as I haven't yet been able to buy the external comms module. One for another time.
  • The Boggle Solver. git log says I started fiddling with the idea in June and finally put something semi-useful live in December. An enjoyable mini project, especially the visual elements.

Hardware Tooling

There haven’t been as many changes here as last year. In my home office it’s mostly cosmetic tweaks to reduce the clutter.

To achieve a clearer desk I’ve made two helpful changes:

  1. I’ve started using an Ikea Sigfinn monitor stand. I then keep my personal laptop out of the way under the monitor, but charged and plugged in ready to go. Prior to this it never had a regular space.
  2. Moving my work laptop from an up-right stand on the desk to a mini set of shelves made from scrap wood below the desk. The shelves were built to support a speaker amp as well, but that has recently gone so now it’s just laptop storage.
Synology NAS on a shelf

Pro network gear storage

I’ve found the laptop storage under the desk particularly good as my work laptop fan tends to spin up in a noisy fashion with just the hint of real work. The new arrangement helps to keep the background noise to a minimum.

Outside of the office I also re-homed my Synology NAS. This has lived in the garage on a low shelf for years however I realised in the summer that it wasn’t as protected as I’d assumed from wood chippings/dust etc. To try and avoid an early NAS drive catastrophe I’ve moved it away from all the power tools, up to a high shelf made from (you guessed it!) scrap wood. It does the job and has the benefit of reducing the length of a number of network cable runs. Probably not good enough to offer out as low-cost server collocation any time soon.

Reading

On a recommendation I think by jes I read Masters of Doom early in the year and loved it. Almost any book about pioneering software combined with building a business from scratch is likely to be my sort of thing. I’d recommend to any developer.

I tend to also enjoy books about unusual finance, or at least, unusual to someone who doesn’t work in that world. Last year I read More Money Than God and dipped in and out of the Money Stuff newsletter. I would also recommend both.

Outside of tech/business/finance I continued working my way through the C.S. Lewis Signature classics. I’m only half way but intend to finish the last few books in 2022.

Kindle: Reviving Old Hardware

Mentioning Money Stuff reminds me of another mini-hardware change for 2021. I used to read newsletters and articles on an old Samsung tablet. It was a painful user experience, incredibly slow and prone to crashing even though I only ran the Instapaper and Gmail apps.

I was complaining about this when I had an epiphany. I have another piece of tech sitting unused, one that is made for the sole purposing of reading, a Kindle from around 2012 (a third generation model for those interested). The Kindle isn’t ‘fast’, but it’s stable. The e-ink display is of course also a vast improvement when it comes to reading text compared to a normal LCD display.

The real clincher for this new setup was discovering an automated way to get articles on to the Kindle. I am not convinced this is the best way, but it works. I am currently forwarding from my Gmail inbox to my Instapaper address (that is an email address that creates Instapaper articles from anything received), then using Instapaper’s built-in ‘send to Kindle’ feature.

It’s nearly perfect. One downside is that images in emails get dropped, which can be confusing when a newsletter uses an image for a heading. Also the ‘send to Kindle’ feature groups unread articles together, but I’d rather get them one by one and use the normal Kindle navigation to pick between them. Still, it’s a much better state of affairs than the old Samsung tablet.

Fixing Things / A Year of eBay

Partly due to my mission of saving up for a nice watch, I’ve been on a mega eBay selling binge since January 2021. I’ve always been relatively quick to sell non-unique tech items, even if I think I might need them again in the future. I find I usually don’t, and if I do I just buy them back, accepting the spread between the amount I received when I sold the item and the amount I spent to buy it back as a (usually favourably) storage fee.

B&M Fuzz Pedal

Pedal 1: B&M Fuzz Pedal

Little Big Muff Pedal

Pedal 2: Electro-Harmonix Little Big Muff

Some of the eBay items I sold in 2021 were donated electronics from family that needed fixing. The most interesting was by far the pair of broken 1970’s guitar pedals.

These pedals were fun to work on. The electronics are old-school (in a good way). As it happened, I didn’t need to replace any components on either. One had been repaired incorrectly previously, so I just had to re-route a bad piece of wiring to match the original schematic. The second pedal just had a failing solder joint on the far end of the battery leads.

In 2022 I intend to do more of the same. I get a lot of enjoyment from fixing up old hardware that would have otherwise gone to land fill or similar.

Travel & Broken Bones

The 2020 retro didn’t even have a travel section (I think we all know why). For 2021 I was fortunate enough to visit various friends and family over the UK, primarily spending time in Wiltshire, Cornwall, London, Cheltenham, Windsor, the Lakes and Winchester. It has been a welcome change after a period of very little travel. Having said that, not all the 2021 travel plans went ahead. The exceptional months were November and December…

Unexpected Lockdown

Broken Toe

Slight change to autumn plans...

At the very end of October I managed to fall up the stairs fairly dramatically. I was semi-sprinting up the stairs after work (my home office is down stairs in a small room at the back), the house was pretty dark because it was 6pm and I had no lights on (I realise how ridiculous that sounds whilst typing it). On the very first step I managed to not quite put my foot sufficiently on the edge, but still enough on the edge that as I put my full weight down I bent all my toes completely back and fell. Ouch!

A visit to the hospital and an x-ray the following day confirmed I’d managed to break my big toe. It turns out that’s the most problematic as you put all your weight through it as you walk. Not ideal.

Recovery looked like just over a week of crutches, then another four weeks of wearing some special boot before finally I was able to get back to some normality in sturdy walking shoes. Effectively I was in my own lockdown, not really able to leave the house for 6 weeks or so.

In a round about way, being stuck on crutches for a bit of time proved to be surprisingly profound. I think this is entirely due to the help and kindness received from friends and family, especially after recent periods of semi-isolation due to COVID. To all those who helped us out during the last two months of 2021 with lifts etc, thank you, it truly is appreciated.


2022 Projects

Wrapping this post up, what’s the plan for this year? On a tech front I’ve got a couple of ideas I’d like to pursue and blog about at the same time:

  • Learn a new (programming) language. Part inspired by Weird Languages and part by working in JavaScript (not a language I do loads with) to tackle the challenges building the Boggle Solver. I also think I haven’t learnt a new language in probably 3+ years. Send me your suggestions with what’s interesting to learn!

  • Refactor/Rebuild Call Stats Project. A couple of years back I wrote some middleware to take phone call information out of a Kazoo platform, enrich it, then flatten the resulting data such that it can be consumed by PowerBI. I’ve got a mk2 plan for this in 2022 that sources the data in a different way. I think I’m also going to re-work some of the processing modules that currently rely on AWS Message Queues but could probably just be done with a queue local to the VM instead.

Drumming!

Mid-drumming back in the day

Outside of tech I plan to make it a year primarily about music! The clue is on the “Who?” page of this blog, but drumming used to be the main hobby of mine outside of software development and I’m starting to make a concentrated effort to practice and play again. I’m sure other readers of this blog who play instruments will relate, but it’s surprisingly difficult to be committed to practising regularly when you’re not aiming for a particular event. In December I started to use Sunday late-afternoon as a regular practice slot and for now this carved out portion of time is doing the trick. Hopefully that’ll last throughout 2022!

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