Well, that could have gone better.
Seriously now, it wasn’t a great year. Although some kind of innate optimism has taken over the past few weeks (very much driven by the fact that I’m on holiday break), overall it surpassed all my expectations and managed to be even worse than last year.
Work and Industry
The technology industry stumbled on during 2023, and even if the AI hype is front and center, the truth is that it has yet to make a full recovery from the pre-Ukraine War days. The feeling of decline and economic turmoil that has been piling on since the pandemic seems slow to settle down as shareholders start grasping at straws to get companies to “show commitment” to making a profit (which is where all the opportunistic layoffs came from). And when the venture capital business also slows down, things start getting really ugly.
And, of course, the emotional roller coaster associated with the layoffs took a big toll that impacted several aspects of my work–from end customers to slow bids to organizational hedge trimming, there was plenty to endure, and by Summertime I was just tired. Then I burned out to a fair degree, and am still trying to find the motivation to either keep going or go off and do something else entirely (a very hard trick to pull when you’re over 50).
Fortunately, I did more and more investment advisory, and that ticks all the right boxes–it poses new, exciting and unsolved problems to tackle, requires canvasing the technical expertise and industry experience I accumulated over decades, and gets me away from the drudgery of program management.
But I still miss hands-on engineering and day-to-day product discussions, so maybe one day I’ll go off to ride the coattails of the LLM hype–although I’m much more interested in smaller LLMs and closely scoped vertical applications than in the broad “knowledge assistant” space, which is fraught with unrealistic expectations and full of drama.
Home Office and Personal Gear
There were quite a few upgrades this year, but the most substantial (and honestly, the cheapest) was getting a third desk (besides my big one and my standing one) where I can do some soldering and electronics tinkering near the window. It’s tiny, a bit wobbly and with the bare minimum of storage, but these days you can go a long way with an USB-C powered soldering iron and a little patience.
Hardware-wise I had the good fortune of catching some timely deals, so I went back to a Mac mini desktop setup with an amazing second monitor (the LG Dual Up) that, with the right wallpaper, sometimes feels like a window looking out onto lovely landscapes.
On a more personal level, I finally upgraded my iPhone (and Watch), and am quite happy with the experience so far–Apple has finally added things like optimized charging to both devices, either is more than speedy enough for my needs, and they should last me a long time.
This is a field where there’s been plenty of activity. It’s taken a year to consolidate things around Proxmox and I still have quite a few things under my desk, but the amount of compute and storage at my disposal has been steadily increasing, and there are a few ideas I’d like to try out–especially in the
All that hardware has been put to moderately good use. For instance, something that I’ve been doing quietly with some success is to play with locally hosted AI models–I still lack the hardware to do local training of any consequence, but what I have is plenty enough for inference, and what interests me the most is using small machines to run models. I just wish the tooling wasn’t such a mess.
Another thing I’ve been doing is building small services to lessen my cognitive load–from my news summarizer to various bits and bobs that search through our local data. I don’t really like any of them yet (again, largely because of the tooling), but perhaps something useful will emerge next year.
I managed to read a surprising amount of books this year, which went a long way towards restoring my good mood. But that was not all.
Nothing much happened, really. The machinery is well-oiled to the point where I don’t really need to tinker with either infrastructure (which is pretty much non-existing, since it’s all served from Azure Storage via Cloudflare) or code (I’ve updated some dependencies, fixed some deprecations, etc., but only the bare minimum to ensure things keep working on updated systems).
I do feel there’s a shift towards deeper notes and “reviews” of things I get (especially long term), and I think there is value (and useful notes) to be had of those.
Tears of the Kingdom came out and promptly obliterated several hours of otherwise free time–and, of course, at the expense of most other forms of gaming. I spent a good amount of time replaying Breath of the Wild in an emulator (running it on a huge widescreen display off my Mac mini is just… wild), but managed to finish neither–but as they say the journey is the destination, and I enjoyed every minute spent traipsing through either version of Hyrule.
My kids are still enjoying the Xbox, but I have mixed feelings about it these days and quietly made sure I have the ability to dual boot
borg and have it temporarily become a Steam streaming server. There’s been no actual need for it yet (and to be honest, I just don’t enjoy most of the kinds of games that make headlines in PC gaming), but it’s there if we need it.
This is still the thing I wish I could devote more time to. My one gift to myself this holiday season was a new cheap, fun, portable synthesizer (that I will eventually write about) to see if I can nudge myself into at least jamming a bit on the couch.
Even though I could probably do most of my tinkering with Drambo, I think a physical device might be a better excuse to step away from the computer for a bit, or at the very least a different experience to have.
As the cold weather started to set in, I turned back to tinkering1. I can confidently say that 3D printing has become my most “successful” hobby, in the sense that both of my printers are now running Klipper and rare is the week when I haven’t used at least one of them–and not just for printing more Gridfinity storage boxes.
Electronics and Assorted Hardware
I’ve started putting my stock of ESP MCUs to good use, and although I haven’t had the need to connect them to Azure anymore and would prefer Zigbee over Wi-Fi, things like automating my heat pumps and even helping my kids build mini sythesizers have become semi-regular events–which is now much easier thanks to the new desk I mentioned.
It’s actually fun to realize that ten years ago I bought the first MicroPython board to sponsor that project, and that now my kids can reap the benefits from that–and myself too, for it’s trivial to hack simple prototypes in either MicroPython or CircuitPython, even if I later switch to C++ for finer control.
Python, taking over the world one
MCU at a time. Who would have thought?
Health and Work-Life Balance
That was a big miss this year, for sure.
I still blame it on my US-centric work schedule, but there’s certainly an element of passion (or lack thereof), since the few times I’ve gone out systematically to meet people (or even run chores) I’ve felt noticeably better2.
But I have to try and be optimistic towards 2024. Every year, little by little, I get better at grounding myself by doing the stuff that I like and disengaging from the rest, and I’m hoping that next year I’ll be able to do more of what I like and less of what I don’t.
In the meantime, I’m going to enjoy the rest of my holiday break and try to get some more reading done.
Happy New Year!
And of course there was an exponential increase in doing so over the holiday break, up until one of my 3D printers’ belts broke and another’s ancient RepRap Z-axis finally wore down. So I’m now waiting for parts to arrive and will have to do some maintenance before I can get back to printing… ↩︎
Climbing the stairs to the flat is my latest fitness hack. ↩︎