We’re now two years into a (still) evolving pandemic with entirely too many plot twists, but life goes on and I’ve been trying to push that into the background. And given the season, I think I should put together another list of noteworthy things that came to pass in much the same vein as last year.
Work and Industry
After six years at Microsoft, this was the year I moved back into the telco industry full-time by joining Azure for Operators–which was recently, and somewhat serendipitously placed under a broader strategic missions organization.
So I guess I’m in the “right” place given my telecommunications background, my longtime interest in embedded hardware and the current wave of 5G hype spreading throughout the industry, but (and yes, there’s a but) I’ve been so inured by the various waves of 3G/4G hype that I’m still trying to figure out exactly where, when and how I can make a difference.
The Tricky Bits
The biggest change for me is that after years of being a very experienced technology generalist with business acumen, I’m now a bit further away from the business itself but in a more focused context. It’s still not engineering, but it does afford me more insights (and a degree of control) over product and services delivery, but it’s now moved beyond effectively practice management and into people development.
I must say that so far, work-wise and process-wise, it feels much more focused than the strategic consulting business I was embedded in, both scope-wise and from a time management perspective1.
There are still not enough hours in the day, but at least I’m diving deeper into things (and there is a huge cloud transformation angle, since the telco business is dogmatic to the point of obsolescence in many regards).
The weird part is that I sort of got my wish (which is rather typical at Microsoft): I’m in that “smaller”, more focused context I wanted last year, except that it just happens to be a corporate priority.
No pressure, right?
The Remote Bits
My new role is worldwide rather than just EMEA (although there is a natural alignment with my timezone), which affords me some extra focus time in the mornings at the expense of more late meetings–but I’m still happy about working remotely, and extra happy that the company culture accounts for fully remote work throughout my organization.
But whereas the pandemic curtailed consulting trips last year, this year it is making it hard for team and management meetings to take place normally–I’m not keen on traveling either way, but the issue keeps coming up enough to be a concern.
There’s still a gap that needs filling here (I’m not feeling especially accomplished just yet), but things are looking up. And given the way my career is going, I really shouldn’t complain, right?
Home Office and Personal Gear
Both my new monitor and my switch from a desktop setup to a new laptop have had a definite effect in my work habits in that I’ve used my standing desk a lot less after Summer, so I have been feeling antsy and with a pressing need to do some changes around the office.
The biggest is surely going to be getting a single, big combo sit/stand desk, but I’ve held off on it until I could simplify my computer setup (done) and get rid of a lot of extra clutter in the office (still nowhere near done).
But there just aren’t any pre-built desks I can use (they’re all too small), so I’ll need to build my own. That will take time (and space) I don’t have readily handy, and another change in my personal habits has also contributed to the delay: I now spend a lot less time in my office on weekends and prefer to hack on my personal projects from a dedicated laptop, or fiddle with my various hobbies anywhere from the couch to the dinner table.
But it’s worthwhile to note that we’ve kept using an NVIDIA Shield to play on xCloud throughout the year, culminating on a weekend spent playing Halo Infinite–although that’s been put on hold for the moment as I prefer exploring No Man’s Sky or the creepy corridors of Control to getting stuck on frustrating boss battles (which I think is the weakest point of the Halo campaign altogether, and a major put-off for me).
I don’t think getting a (physical) Xbox is on the cards, but I wouldn’t be surprised if one popped up next year.
What did pop up this year (as a Christmas present) is an Ambernic RG351MP, which is a pretty decent portable retro console emulator where I’ve already loaded PICO-8 and They Started It to great effect.
I’ve been meaning to do a write-up of the “private cloud” setup I’ve mentioned last year (and it will eventually pop up one rainy afternoon), but it bears noting that my Raspberry Pi cluster is now gone.
There is only so much you can do with Pi 2 boards these days, and I might rebuild it with newer hardware next year, but right now I can do so much more (and faster) with
LXD on a Pi 4) that it just isn’t worthwhile to have standalone nodes.
It’s been an interesting year in that I’m still deep in the throes of “gear acquisition syndrome”, but not just for myself–I’m also trying to get my kids excited about music.
So besides the OP-1 and Reface DX I got last year and the Arturia KeyLab Essential I have on my desk, we now also have a Reface CS, a Novation Circuit Tracks, an Arturia MicroFreak, a PO-20 Arcade and a Norns Shield in the house, as well as entirely too many
MIDI controllers – most of which I’ve yet to write about because they’re either my kids’ or I haven’t spent enough time with them (or both).
I think I’m done with buying new gear for a while, especially given that everything we have available right now affords me more opportunity to fiddle and explore than I could possibly have time for.
So my priorities for personal gear are essentially getting rid of old stuff, and I still have to either repair, sell or give away my wonky iMac (which, if it worked, would make for a great standalone DAW)2.
I’ve made a conscious effort to spend more time relaxing, and it’s fortunately become a family thing to watch some awesome TV series like Ted Lasso and The Expanse after dinner, as my kids are now old enough to watch and enjoy classic TV and movies. That’s something that has eaten into my hobby time–but which I don’t regret in the least.
I’ve also gone back to my usual pace of reading 30+ books a year. As usually that’s mostly Sci-Fi to wolf down and tune out from the world before bed, but it’s time well spent.
I’m not keeping track of technical books (of which there were something between 5-10) because I sometimes just skim them and usually don’t read them cover to cover, but I probably should write about one or two of them sometime.
The site is now effectively twenty years old any way you look at it (although a few chunks of the early content are gone), and has been running completely off Azure storage for nine months now, in what I hope will be one of its last engine/architecture changes (it’s been six or seven already, ever since I set up the first
PHPWiki instance back in 2002).
The next milestone is converting all the site content to Markdown, and right now I’m pretty much halfway there but it’s going to be a long stretch even with semi-automated conversions, and I might well do a new redesign to simplify the markup even further while I’m at it.
The end goal is to make sure it can last essentially forever (to a degree) and that I can, if necessary, simply archive it away for a few years with zero maintenance.
Over the past couple of years, my kids have been getting into Unity and PICO-8 (which is a terrific standalone environment to teach programming concepts, by the way), and I’ve been keeping tabs on things myself to the extent where we’ve all got PICO-8, Blender and now Godot installed.
I can’t spare the time to do more than help out and test their projects, but I like the occasional dip into 3D graphics and the idea of spending time in a more satisfying, resource-constrained (and let’s face it, more creative) form of coding, so here’s to hoping this plays a bigger role in my hobbies next year.
I’ve also been trying to rationalize what tech I use for my personal projects, and spent a good portion of the year doing various small experiments in Clojure, Fennel, Janet Rust, .NET, and Go in search of my next “forever language” (besides Python, which is still the first thing I reach for).
Since I want to focus on performance, maintainability and tight memory footprints, I have a feeling I will end up going with either Go or C++, because those are now likely to be around forever regardless of what happens.
Health and Work-Life Balance
Regarding the stuff I can control, and thanks to my recent role change, I now have a new daily routine that has improved my mood and stamina but which is still not enough to match the times when I was out and about constantly and walked everywhere–which is the only thing I miss regarding my current occupation.
All things considered, the latter half of this year was indeed an improvement over 2020, so I hope things keep improving.
i.e., I’m still storming castles, but the moat is deeper instead of merely crocodile-infested and with turbulent rapids. ↩︎
Still no decent songs, though. Maybe next year. ↩︎
I now realize that I’ve been to a restaurant a grand total of one time this year and can’t remember the last time before that, even if we did visit a few malls earlier in the year, and that I really miss walking about on a regular basis, although daily school runs and short neighborhood shopping runs help considerably. ↩︎