2020 In Review

Fri, Dec 25, 2020 10-minute read

Even at the cost of annoying folks around me, I’d dare say that 2020 has actually been a fabulous year for me, personally. I learnt quite a bit about myself, learnt a couple of new skills, learnt what I don’t like, what I don’t want to do, fixed a couple of things about my health and more. I’ll try to chronicle these for the rest of the post. I typically consider my date of birth as the beginning of another year. And for a long time, I wrote up my aspirations for the year ahead. But a couple of years back, I found that I couldn’t keep pace with my aspirations and looking back was a tragic opportunity cost all around me. So I stopped doing this. This year, though, I’ll try and redo the aspirations for the year ahead. But I’ll also try to stay realistic.

Working From Home

I’ve always envisioned working from home as the epitome of working a job. I just happen to be in an industry that is privileged to allow this mode of working. And this year, I was able to put it to test. Even in the last couple of years, I worked from home for a couple of days every week. But predominant mode was commute to workplace. I hate commuting to work – almost inexplicably so. This year my work output has been at least comparable to all the years so far if not better. I work at the hours that am most comfortable with, I get to spend time with my kid, I get to spend time with my learning programmes and I also get to watch the shows I really feel like and when am not really doing anything better. I have a weird issue while working: if I need to focus on a problem, I need to be distracted from it. So if I have a show running on TV, I typically tend to do better. Of course, the show cannot be engaging. For instance, I have completed most home improvement, cooking and talk shows on Netflix available here in Singapore. Cooking shows are the best given that I cannot eat most of what is being cooked, so there is no engagement. But I learn a few things here and there and gives me the optimal distraction I need to complete my work! Overall, I’d call my “work from home” experiment a grand success. I’d do this a lot more going forward and maybe commute once a week to show people what I really look like.

Fixing My Health

My health wasn’t at its best. I wasn’t in a bad place, but given my age I could do a lot better. So I decided to do something about it this year. I was lurking around vegetarian keto forums and the like, until I landed on a guided transformation programme. As of writing this, I am still in the programme and I’ve come quite far from where I was earlier this year. I hope to keep this going and ensure I have a healthy decade ahead of me 🙂

That said, I am proud of what I have achieved in this space and thanks to the lean year, I was able to follow through this one without much hassles.

Learning New Stuff

This is the category where this year scores the most for me.

Common Lisp

I started learning Common Lisp a couple of years back. I mostly started because of two reasons:

  1. many reputed developers were always tweeting about the benefits of learning to write lisp code
  2. I heard about the Lisp machine, someone ported it to FPGAs and I really wanted to see if I can port my master’s thesis to the Lisp Machine.

But learning Lisp wasn’t easy. I still don’t think I have gotten there. Besides going from Python to Lisp is a tad difficult. Lispers revel in writing their stuff than in using libraries. Pythonistas use a library first – at least a good many of us do. That said, I embarked on this journey a couple of years back and I have finally gotten to a place where I can write decent code. I spent a good part of my time early this year working on exercism. Here is my profile 🙂

I managed to start one project of my own and joined another open source project as a contributor. It’s not much but its a start! I have linked them below in a different section.

Machine Learning

I, finally, managed to complete Andrew Ng’s course on Coursera for Machine Learning. It is somewhat an achievement because I’ve had more false starts on this course than anything else. I also audited most of Ramaseshan’s course on Natural Language Processing. This is still work in progress for me and I hope to complete it in the next year. My personal target for next year is to be reasonably proficient in NLP techniques. I have a long way to go and to my credit, Ramaseshan’s course is very detailed and I need to give it the time it needs to absorb all the details he presents there. I know it is detailed because I have also completed half a dozen other introduction to NLP courses that leave you nowhere near knowing what you need to know.

Content Marketing

On the non-technical side, I completed 4-5 Hubspot courses on content marketing, video creation and editing and the like. I really needed these to support our company in scaling up our inbound strategies. I am sort of proud of myself here because I was able to apply these learnings and start us off on a nice campaign that helped us connect to a good subscriber base across multiple social channels. So I did learn something. I sometimes wish I were a tad more creative with the tools. But hey, I have no regrets in this space. While I cannot create a beautiful poster myself, I can give enough feedback and specifications for a creative person to generate versions within a few hours. I guess I’ve grown quite a bit in this space as well.

Languages

I learnt a good amount of the Korean language. Don’t ask why! I really dunno why. I started watching a bunch of K-Dramas on Netflix because I liked their themes. Then I got drawn to how much importance they were giving to their cultures and traditions. At this point, I continued watching because I was keen on drawing parallels between what I know of my culture and what was being presented as their culture. Some day I’ll write my findings up and trust me, its brilliant. I use the drips app to learn more of the language. I’ve come as far as being able to understand simple sentences without subtitles. I’ve paused this for now – to reapply the experiment on Thai. For two reasons: I have a lot of respect for the Thais (after Japanese, duh!) and because we need to enter the Thai market for our product and like the French, Thai aren’t very keen on speaking in English.

Books

I started 5 very interesting books this year. I haven’t completed any at this time of writing. But I expect to finish all of them in 2021. I loved each of the topics. Some of them require a deeper reading and takes much longer to turn a page. Here is my list for 2021:

Hackers and Talking to Strangers are the lightest reads but somehow I haven’t managed to finish reading either of them this year.

While this list is open, I have three more books in the queue that I hope to finish reading in 2021 as well. These are:

Meditation

Like Machine Learning, Meditation is a space where I have had way too many false starts. A couple of years back, I started with headspace. That didn’t stick. I tried spiritual training stuff and those didn’t stick either. This year, I discovered the Medito app. I use it occasionally to help me sleep better. Recently, I came across a “heart fullness” meditation project. I sort of have signed up for it. I hope to practice this year and eventually acquire this skill.

Open Source

I am a big fan of open source. But I’ve never quite contributed myself. It is not that I couldn’t or wouldn’t, but it never quite worked out that way. This year, I submitted a couple of bug reports and patch to a python pdf library that I wanted for my work. I liked the idea so much that I started a bunch of open source projects of my own. I hope to have these into RC next year and publicise them a little to get others to take it forward or fork to build their own. I have more ideas that are going open source in the next year. Here are the significant ones.

  1. Nastafile – a Common Lisp NNTP to HTML dump tool for archiving mailing lists.
  2. Bookmarks-manager – A Common Lisp web-based pocket rival.
  3. Cows and Bulls – An android implementation of the popular cows and bulls game.
  4. Code Finder – Part of an intelligent code assistant that am trying to build as part of the build2learn initiative.

I have started a couple more – A charting library in Common Lisp to generate SVG charts from datasets, a simple BI tool in python and a couple of iOS projects too.

In Summary

While the whole world was reeling from a pandemic, it feels odd to think I actually had a very productive year. But it wasn’t all easy. I had a lot of trouble managing my anxiety at the beginning of the pandemic. I used to get overly worried and I even had eczema on my hands – probably due to excessive hand washing. It took a good 2-3 months before I could come to terms with the whole reality. Even now I’m the most paranoid fellow in the house but its cool. I don’t spiral off into anxiety and I stopped reading a whole lot of news/Twitter/Reddit relating to COVID. I just stick to headlines once a day and never the details.

I also spent a good amount of time reflecting on what I really want to achieve in my life. I always held this thought – I received education from very premier institutes. I technically am very privileged for the life I have. I know people that would gladly give me an opportunity. Making something off the opportunity is still my problem, but I know so many folks who’d shine if only someone gave them a chance! I don’t want to be an invisible person who didn’t do anything with the privilege that he got handed out on a platter. I really have to make something of myself, create a legacy while making this world a little bit better than it has been for me. And that is my wish for the next decade. If at the turn of 2030, I have achieved or on a path to achieve this legacy, I guess my privilege will be returned to the society rightfully.

Here is to 2021 that takes us all to a better place. I hope the new normal is better, healthier, less scary and more fun and I hope 2021 can usher in that normal. And if you did read this far, thank you and wish you a very happy new year.