That was the year that was

Dec 31, 2009 22:21 · 1278 words · 6 minute read

2009 has been a interesting year, mostly in the Chinese sense.  It started with big changes personally (isn’t moving house supposed to be the second most stressful life event?) and it’s ending with big changes professionally.   There’s been a lot of stuff that’s happened that I’m really proud of, a lot of stuff that I’d rather forget.

January is always a bit of a weird month, mainly because of the family ritual of disappearing off to the Lake District for the third week.  It’s not as mad as it sounds - the period immediately after Christmas and New Year is a pretty depressing one, so having a holiday to look forward to makes the dull, dark period a bit more bearable.  Workwise, it seems to have been spent on a project for a Major UK Broadcaster, relaunching their blogs network - a huge undertaking given the sheer number of blogs that they have.

February was the mensis horribilis of the year - two days before we moved house, I was laid out with what turned out to be a gallstone attack.   It’s by far the most painful thing I’ve ever experienced, although so far seems to have been a one-off.  Then pretty much everything that could have gone wrong with the house move did, and we moved in to discover all the things that the useless of a surveyor had missed. Oh, and other little surprises like chunks of 15 amp cable in place of what should have been 15 amp fusewire. And so on.  I’m not sure what happened at work.  Something must have done, but my calendar’s not telling.

March seems to have been a blur of dealing with the consequences of moving, and starting the process of undoing 40 years-worth of bodged DIY in the house.   It’s been less renovation and more archaeology - peeling back the layers of wallpaper has been a trip through the fashions of the decade.

April was pretty much taken up with working on what was the biggest project I was involved in during my time at Headshift - building a networking and collaboration platform for a public sector client.  They seemed to embody most of the frustrations of working in the public sector, but with some key individuals who really get it - it’s been fascinating to watch the gradual evolution of the service to become something that’s going to have the potential to be really groundbreaking.

The highlight of May was Howduino in Liverpool - a gathering at FACT of assorted geeks and hackers loosely themed around what you can do with a soldering iron, some innocent toys and a few Arduino controllers.   My contribution was Market Bear, a plush panda with a moving coil meter transplant.  He’s still waiting to be finished off, but there are plans for that - see December…

In June, I got to do something that I’d been wanting to do for a while - take a train across Europe.  The excuse was the Reboot conference in Copenhagen, which meant a journey through  France, Belgium, Germany and Denmark by Eurostar, TGV and Deutsche Bahn sleeper.   I went to bed in Cologne and woke up in Copenhagen, which was an incredibly civilised - and not significantly slower or more expensive - way of travelling compared with the alternative of flying.   It was my second Reboot, having missed 2008 because of work commitments, and made all the better for meeting up with friends that I’d met for the first time in 2007.  Copenhagen is definitely my favourite European city - what do the Danes do with their ugly people?  Headshift sent a delegation which included most of the design team, so I got a tour of the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art guided by people who knew about these things.

In July we played host to a group of Hungarian students who were over on an exchange visit.  Workwise, it was the start of what turned into something of a waking nightmare of a project.

August was also pretty grim.  The project turned into a deathmarch, which meant a series of 70-hour weeks trying to bend a content management system to fit ever-changing client requirements.   The end results actually look pretty good, but at the cost of some horrendously complicated back-end mechanisms, and a object lesson in escalation of commitments. Looking back with hindsight, either dumping the original platform or even the project itself would have been far less costly in the long run.

September was conference month.  It started with dConstruct and an excuse to spend a long weekend in Brighton, and continued with Interesting.   This was the third annual Interesting outing, with the difference that this time I was talking as well as listening.   I had the wildly ambitious idea that I could teach the 350 people in Conway Hall Morse Code in 20 minutes using mnemonics - it didn’t quite work, party because I’d completely overlooked the fact that Russell tweaked the format of the day slightly and gave everyone 10 minutes slots; and partly because it was a pretty daft idea to start with.

I don’t actually remember anything about being onstage thanks to the adrenalin rush, but some people who saw it have said kind things (or at least not told me that I sucked too badly).  There are a couple of videos which are almost too embarrassing to watch as I hurl myself about the stage windmilling arms to the accompaniment of 200 party hooters played by the audience.  Originally I’d planned on using chocolates as a communication medium (think Maltesters as dots, and Twixes as dashes), but ran out of time for that.  The chocolate got eaten by the audience anyway - apologies to anyone who was hit by a flying sweet, and to Russell and Anne for being responsible for Arthur’s sugar rush after he helped me finish the kilogram or so of spare Maltesers.

October was another conference, but this time in the audience - Playful 09, again at the Conway Hall.  Billed as a day of “interdisciplinary frolicking”, the loose theme was games and the way we play them - which really doesn’t sum up the delightful eccentricity of the whole thing.  Workwise, October seems to have been pretty miscellaneous - nothing jumps out from my calendar as being particularly high profile.

November was recruitment month.  Rails developers who want full time positions in central London rather than contracts seem to be rarer than hens’ teeth.  On the upside, recruiting new staff also meant buying truckloads of new Apple kit, which is always a pleasure even if it isn’t for yourself.  It’s a great excuse to open the box and inhale a lungful of the “new macbook” smell :-)

December was pretty momentous, because that’s the point when I decided that it was time for a change after two-and-a-half years and to leave Headshift.   While I’m definitely going to miss the people at Headshift - and their clients - and I’m probably going to miss the nicer side of working fulltime in London, it’s going to be fantastic to be able to spend more time with my family in Sheffield.  Professionally, I’ve got various irons in the fire, but regardless of what happens workwise, they’ve put up with me spending great chunks of time away from them for far too long so I’m looking forward to a chance to put them first while getting the chance to spend some time working on some personal projects which have been sitting on the back burner.

Whatever 2010 brings, have a good one.   To quote Steve Jobs (thanks to Aral Balkan for the pointer!) “Stay hungry, stay foolish!”