Looking Back on 2020

Posted here on this day Monday, Dec. 28, 2020 C.E.

Last year I didn’t write a retrospective. This year I felt it was necessary, given all that’s happened.

2020 has been a rough year. Covid-19, George Floyd’s murder and the ensuing riots, and Donald Trump’s increasingly bizarre behavior are all pretty well known and covered elsewhere. My sister lost three cats this year; two to old age and one small kitten to disease. My wife’s grandfather passed away due to Covid.

Going fully remote was relatively easy for my wife and me, as we both have professions that mesh well with it. In March just after the coronavirus lockdown began in the USA I changed clients. I have never seen anyone at my current client in person; we have only ever interacted in Teams and Zoom. Video chat is definitely preferable to voice-only, but we still need spatially-aware video chat before it can get close to replicating in-person interaction. Side conversations and awareness of eye contact are sorely lacking.

My wife and I went on our first cruise together in late February and early March. This was right after the first cruise ship off East Asia got quarantined, but right before lockdown began. The ship was filled with hand sanitizer stations and we were required to wash our hands before entering the buffet restaurants, but everything was otherwise no different from normal operation. The daily email updates about the increasing number of ports that were off-limits due to Covid-19 were disconcerting, though. Thankfully, the cruise was in the Caribbean, so it was one of the last regions to be affected by Covid-19 directly, and our ship was never infected.

Work has been good to me this year. At the end of last year, I won my employer’s biggest award, the SDG Award. At the end of this year, I won it again. Throughout the year I got a few smaller awards too. That felt really good, and I’ve felt very appreciated at Solution Design Group. I joined the Employee Experience Committee and gave a presentation on roguelike development at last year’s internal SDG Presents event. The Tabletop Games company community that I lead went quiet for the most part over 2020. I regret that a bit; the events we held for it last year were a lot of fun for everyone. In hindsight, running them virtually would have been a nice change of pace from all the negative events of the year.

From a learning perspective, I dove deep into Chef this year. It went so well that not only do I no longer hate Chef, I’ve become an advocate for it in some scenarios. I also began studying Estonian history and the Estonian language. Estonia is a major focus in my personal life right now as we gear up to move there. Their history is fascinating and so much of it is unknown outside the Baltic region itself. I was blown away when I found out that Estonia is effectively the Silicon Valley of Europe, with services like Skype being born there. More on all of this will come in a future blog post.

With dramatically reduced in-person social events this year, I needed to find new ways to interact with people. The Dungeons & Dragons campaign that I played in went virtual, and I stayed with it for several months, but ultimately it was too big for me to play in virtually. For technical reasons we ended up dropping video chat in favor of voice chat, and that meant it was difficult to get attention without interrupting someone else. I ended up leaving that campaign and joining a smaller one, and that is working out much better. I also have attended a handful of virtual happy hours over the year, and those have been fun, but sporadic. An unexpected social outlet came about in the form of the tilde community that I belong to - Tilde Town. I interacted with them much more this year than in any of the previous five years I’ve been a part of it, and started to make some friends. Discord communities have also provided a social environment to a lesser degree, and I’ve become more involved in the Royal Manticoran Navy, a fan organization dedicated to David Weber’s Honorverse novels.

My personal project Iron Arachne has seen a wealth of development in 2020. Near the beginning of the year I started running into limitations of the Golang ecosystem and rewrote the entire project into a Laravel monolith. This worked much better, even if certain operations became much slower. The site expanded to the point where users had accounts and could save their generated results, and the heraldry generator grew and became more useful and complex. Unfortunately, the infrastructure costs to support the site also grew, and in the last couple months I could no longer justify their expense. So I rewrote the site again, this time as a single-page app in Vue.js that I could host for free on Netlify. The site lost a lot of functionality in the process, but it now costs nothing to maintain. In a happy turn of events, the star system generator actually became much faster in the conversion to JavaScript, going from a 3-5 second generation time to under 60ms. I will talk more about my plans for Iron Arachne in my first blog post of 2021.

The last big change of 2020 that I’ll mention here is my return to the Apple ecosystem. I replaced my Pixel 2 with an iPhone 11 Pro last year, and this year I replaced my custom Windows/Linux PC with a 2019 16" MacBook Pro, and my Fitbit Charge 3 with an Apple Watch. I don’t regret this decision at all. While there have been some periods of adjustment, it has been a positive experience overall. Gaming on the MacBook Pro is not as good as it was on my custom rig, but Bootcamp lets me play most of my PC games without issue. I wish the GPU was better but otherwise it works fine.

All in all, 2020 has been a lot better than it could have been for me personally. I am deeply grateful for being in a position to weather the storm this way. Hopefully 2021 will be better for the world in general. The vaccines and new American leadership give me hope.