2010: My Year In Review

What a year!

My first instinct is to call the Year of our Lord 2010 a “disastrous” year, but I suspect that’s largely because my hopes, desires, ambitions, and dreams for once reached up out of the muck of mediocrity-at-best, trying to stretch my wings rather than just muddling along, and (more importantly) tried to keep track of my successes and failures.

For a while I was making good progress every week, and even a few weeks ahead on some things. How things have changed; my thoughts assembled in this post will be somewhat scattered because I’m more than a bit behind and my deadline is looming. But don’t let that stop you from reading, commenting on any bit that strikes your fancy, or linking (or the Facebook equivalent, “sharing” or “liking”) to anything you think worth sharing, from this post or anything in my archive. (Readers on Facebook, my blog proper is much easier to browse than the Facebook Notes it gets turned into.)

This year has been, among other apt adjectives, long, so I have much to cover in this retrospective and little time to waste.

I’ve had lengthening, moldering to-do lists for all of my various projects for years and years. But I never did anything about them. Finally, late last year, I started using Pivotal Tracker to track my progress on my writing background, and for a long time that was enough to keep me motivated. My writing is hardly my only project, so this summer I switched from the hour-by-hour daily to-do lists (roundly ignored) that I’d been trying to use since my junior or senior year of college to a week-by-week “quota” of tasks in the various categories, coupled with Tracker projects for some of the major projects plus one for “Personal Misc.” (I’m still looking for something that’ll tell me my “velocity,” handle dependencies between tasks, and not break when I give it the several hundred tasks in my backlog.) The backlog on my weekly quota is growing—lately mostly because I’m postponing anything that I’d normally shove into my Delicious bookmarks until I find a suitable replacement service—but at least I’m making some progress in absolute terms.

Case in point: My room used to be an absolute mess, nearly at “disaster area” levels, simply from clutter. It’s badly designed to start with—a built-in faux-four-poster bed with only a foot and a half of floor on each side takes up most of the floor space in the room—but most of what floor space remained used to be taken up by scattered books, papers, tubs full of papers, and computer equipment. Most of that is now more neatly corralled, and I can walk from the door to the window or my bedside without having to walk on the bed.

While I was at college, my parents saved newspapers for me. When I got home, I clipped columns I found interesting. My intention has always been to digitize what’s truly worth keeping, but I was just piling up clutter. Now I’m somewhat behind on the recently-clipped papers, but I’m making steady progress through the tub of old newspapers. I got through a lot more this year than in previous years, though that’s largely because I got almost nothing done last year; I hope to finish this, except for weekly maintenance (i.e. the week’s clippings each week), by mid-2013 or so, but to make that goal I’ll need to increase this year’s average rate by about half.

the one area where I have a feeling of real accomplishment is the “writing background” category. I had started going through the fantasy worldbuilding questions by Patricia C. Wrede a few years ago. Last year, or perhaps the year before, I started systematically if slowly working my way through them, and last fall I began to make consistent progress, and finished (!) my first pass through them in May. (I skipped anything I need a map to answer, since I still don’t have a suitable mapping program or the talent to make up for or work around that lack—any budding cartographers want to help out?) I also started working more seriously on the characters, which eventually made the character profiles possible. And when I finished my pass through the Wrede questions, I went on to outlining my planned novels. (In other words, “coming up with what I want to write at the most general level.”) I may have written more about my writing habits (to which that is but the most concise allusion) in this space already; if not, I’ll do so sometime in the coming year. But while I started with only a couple of planned novels outlined to what I thought of as the “sequence” level (actually a level or two above that), now I have most of the meta-outline outlined to what I think actually is the sequence level. This has slowed way down recently, largely because I finally got to the point where I couldn’t put off speculating about Earth’s future history any longer, but I accomplished more in this project this year (by expected long-term utility, not word counts) than any two (if not three or four) years in the last decade and a half.

I’ve long had a tendency toward loneliness and melancholy, and introversion doesn’t help. While melancholy, at least, can contribute to poetry (to some extent), this all is not beneficial. Late this year I finally decided to do something about this beyond just sitting on Facebook all day (more on that below) and letting time roll absently by: to start habits of correspondence and journaling. So far I have some sort of entry in my journal for every day since I started it (not necessarily written that day, but I usually get to it within a couple of days), and I have one hopefully-robust correspondence (along with one where I keep putting off writing the first letter … why, I don’t know). I hope that what I’ve begun will, with God’s help, help me stave off despair (which may be one of my besetting sins); in any case, as I’ve said before, feel free to ping me.

Early last year, I bought a new laptop, largely using Christmas money from relatives. It’s a Dell Vostro 1320; I paid extra to get a bigger hard drive and to get the memory as one chip rather than two because I had two (smaller) memory chips already. In retrospect, I did not put nearly as much thought into the purchase as I should have; I should have done a great deal more comparison shopping, and maybe even tried to find a kit of some kind. While I haven’t yet run into hardware problems of the sort that plagued my last laptop (a Latitude 400, if I remember correctly, bought used for too much at $200) and my desktop (randomly shutting off due to insufficient cooling), this laptop isn’t really a good fit for what I need in a computer. I probably should have bought a Mac. And I can’t afford to replace it, or my desktop (I try to only use one at a time, to save on electric bills), for another year or two yet—it’ll be a wince-worthy splurge to upgrade the memory in the laptop, but that’s probably necessary.

Another project that “I’ve made more progress on recently than in years, but that’s not saying much” is my ongoing attempt to create a (readable) copy of the Bible in my own hand. I originally got the idea (from the verse in Deuteronomy commanding the king to write out a copy of the Law in his own hand) my senior year of high school, started at the beginning in the King James, and got into Leviticus (with too much of too many of the pages not legible) before my attempt petered out. A second attempt sometime in college, again starting at the beginning and again in the King James, didn’t get even that far. This time, I’m copying from a somewhat more recent version (though still not anywhere near “new”), and I’m working a book at a time but in no particular order, so as to not get bogged down in one lengthy, dry book after another.

[My strategy game, Strategic Primer]((https://shinecycle.wordpress.com/archives/strategic-primer), includes two facets at present that I should talk about. First is the campaign. I originally intended it to be a one-turn-a-day campaign during January 2009, but we didn’t get started until February 2009, and we only finished two turns that year. The five turns we’ve completed this year are a distinct improvement. I’ve also learned a great deal about game design in general and the design of Strategic Primer in specific, which I will apply to the next campaign, whenever that is. (The current campaign still needs more players, and if a dozen or so are interested enough I’ll start a new campaign—if you’re interested in either, please let me know!)

Early this year, I began writing a map viewer application (which much later turned into a planned suite of “assistive programs”) and restarted my Strategic Primer computer version project. All this has stalled over and over, partly because I’m not a very good software engineer yet, and partly because Strategic Primer is such a massively complex project, but also partly because I’ve been writing it in Java using the Eclipse IDE, which has succumbed to creeping featurism and in my experience has only run at anything approaching usable speed on computers well outside my price range. I suspect trying a new language might help, and a lighter-weight IDE would almost certainly help, but none that I’ve tried feels right. (I want standard IDE features—code completion, to start with—and either an extension framework, preferably with lots of third-party extensions already, or very, very robust static analysis and refactoring tools. For what it’s worth, the programming IDEs I’ve used extensively were Microsoft Edit for DOS with Microsoft QBasic, Microsoft Visual Studio with Visual Basic 6, and Eclipse. I’m a committed Vim user for most word-processing and other text-heavy tasks, and even for a lot of C/C++ programming, but I could never figure out how to turn it into a proper IDE.) Any ideas?

This year I also again came to the conclusion that the computer version of Strategic Primer (and the assistive programs, and some other planned projects) are design and programming tasks really beyond my capabilities; I’d love to trade collaboration with someone. (I haven’t decided on a license for my code yet for three reasons: first, I’m behind on just about everything; second, picking a license narrows what free software projects I can borrow code from in the future; and third, I still have some hopes of taking it semi-commercial and earning some money.)

In the absence of gainful and paying employment (not that I’ve been looking hard enough), I’ve been looking (again, not nearly hard or often enough) into the possibilities of grad school. I took the GRE and the Computer Science Subject GRE early this year, and did commendably well for the vanishingly little preparation I did but not nearly as well as I should have. Since then, I’ve been (rather absently) looking into possible schools, and compiling a list of the pros and cons of each.

Part of why my progress this year has slowed as of late is the sheer volume of data I wade through each day. I subscribe to 256 blogs or equivalent and am on dozens of (admittedly, mostly defunct) mailing lists … and then there’s what all of you post on Facebook, Google Buzz, etc., each day. I manage, it just … takes time. Which I can hardly spare, except that I tend to waste even more anyway in frivoling, constantly checking for updates, etc. Does anyone know of any good programs to help manage this? (I’ll write an “unwritten program” post about this someday.)

That’s what I think about this year, now almost over. What do you think?

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