It has been four years since I started this habit of reviewing my year to myself and asking where I would like to go. As I've gotten older, life has become more fine-grained; a lot more things happen each day, but macroscopic perspective has become harder to find. Writing forces me to reflect and categorize, lend retroactive reasoning to the chaos of the year, and understand who this year has helped me become.
Quick side note - I've had to rewrite this piece twice now, after being reminded that I keep marking the first half of 2021 as 2020. Seems so far away.
I lost my dad this year - something that drove home the reality of this pandemic we need to live through. As the first real death I've experienced, it felt cruel in its velocity. Until the call that broke the news to me - thousands of miles away - I did not expect this outcome. It left me and my family in pieces, and we are still learning about who we need to be on the other side. I find myself wanting to talk about him in every conversation, mention his parts of me in everything I've written since, and I'm glad I do.
At the beginning of the year, I wished to be able to find peace in chaos, and I feared then that the only way to do that was to be inside chaos, and now I wish I hadn't been right so soon. Happiness has come in spades - thanks to the wonderful people I find myself surrounded by - but finding even ephemeral peace has taken a lot of work. It still escapes me some days, but I have become better at centering myself, feeling the chaotic indifference of the universe, and finding some peace in the certainty of change.
That's the heavy part. 2021 has also been a year of learning, of successes and failures. Strong learning highlights of the year include having some things finally click into the right circuits of my mind, where I can feel them start their journey to becoming second nature after almost a year of continuous head-banging.
Took me some time, but parametric CAD now makes sense to me. With this newfound power, I proceeded to build a rather complicated candle holder, a soap holder, and a rechargeable chaos machine I'll cover in another post.
The true test was building a bangle holder with branching bezier curves and an adjustable number of layers.
Took me a lot longer, but frontend is starting to click together in my brain. After what felt like hundreds of articles and unsatisfying projects, the basics of design, CSS and React have started to make proper sense. I can finally use Flexbox and Grid without looking up CSS-Tricks!
Last month, I was dumb enough to decide to rebuild this blog from scratch - empty editor scratch. That, and I needed to migrate off of the aging Jekyll site that wouldn't compile anymore. React makes sense now, I hope they don't change it so soon. Took me a month of learning MDX, struggling with bundlers, and working with NextJS, but if you're reading this it means I got to a release. I'd love comments. I'm particularly proud of the post recommendation engine, which can do part of its computation at build-time, and the rest on the client. I'll write something up about it soon, but for now you can check it out at the bottom of this post.
CSS and design fundamentals make sense now, I hope they don't change it soon.
I was also able to build some tools for arbitrage and price discovery in financial markets, I'll not link those in here and save my (embarrassingly more popular) pseudonym from me.
This was also the year I managed to kick chronic back pain for good, and I can confidently say that it has been the healthiest year of my life yet.
2021 has also been a year of change for Greywing. My last update spoke about the pros and cons of being a two-man company. This year, we went through YC, and raised a 2.5M round. YC was a whirlwind of experiences and wonderful people, where we slept about four hours a night for three months, getting customers and building products by day in Singapore, and attending YC by day in Eastern. Flirting close to burnout on both sides by the end, I've never been as thankful for my choice in partner as I was after YC.
As I write this, we've expanded to a team of eight, with a five-person dev team. Working with this team through the pace of a startup approaching product-market fit meant that I had to learn product and task management all over again - part of it through literature, but mostly through experience - lived and learned. I've learned from my mistakes, but I've also been fortunate to learn from the experience of those I respect.
In the meantime - thanks to the wonderful business team at Greywing - we closed more customers and released two major products to our ecosystem, to make finding information and tracking large datasets easier.
It feels like we've managed to solve the biggest and scariest of zero-to-one problems in maritime tech, and it's exciting to look at what we're planning to build.
Finally, it has also been an interesting time for the world, to say the least. This is definitely the crisis of our times, and I've lost myself trying to understand what we are becoming as a species. A few things happened this year that stand out to me.
The first is the beginning of the end for the corporation as we see it. Seems to me, that the current conflict around anti-trust and national tensions has begun the inevitable drift of corporations away from the explicit control of countries, and towards a new system we can't see yet.
The second is the rise of yield-farming in the world of crypto, something I'm amazed I predicted two years ago with the problem of dead money. Something that began - to me - with the collapse of an algorithmic stablecoin has the true potential to take over (and perhaps ruin) monetary markets for the foreseeable future. I hope to be writing about it once I've collected my thoughts.
Some small personal victories:
Got into model painting, and managed to do realistic shadows and skin tones - just once, and on different models - but still.
Got to the front page of HN with a rant about how mothers are the ultimate database engines.
Got back into gaming after a two-year hiatus, with Spiderman, Hitman, Control, Forza Horizon 5 and Warzone.
I'll wrap it up with one of my proudest accomplishments of the year. Despite the horribly isolating year this has been for so much of it, this has also been the closest year I've had to my close friends. We were in each other's lives over fiber optics, celebrating the wins and supporting each other through some pretty terrible lows. I'm also endlessly proud of their accomplishments, and I can't wait to see what 2022 brings.
Looking forward, I have a few small goals I hope to move closer to.
Foremost, I'd like to learn from the trauma around and inside me, from both the collective and the personal change I see happening. Doing so has required me to be more open and fluid about what and who I am, and it's terrifying yet enlightening. I'd like to maintain this unstable equilibrium of discomfort a little while longer.
I'd also like to understand drop shadows this year. How do they work? What are they? Are they a reflection of our need to know what lies beneath what? How do I get a shadow to look natural?
I would also like to build more functional fitness this year, focusing on rotational and transverse strength. A year of focusing on my back has freed me from serious back pain, and I'd like to learn to be athletic again. The last update had me committing to work on the simple answers in life - diet, sleep and exercise.
Finally, I'd like to write more. I say this every year, and thankfully every year I make a little more progress. Writing has a way to making you question your underlying assumptions in a way that nothing else can. It's still uncomfortable, but my attention span could use the effort. There are a few posts in the backburner that I've enjoyed exploring, and I can't wait to get those out now that the site is live.
CRDTs are some of the coolest structures I've learned about this year. Worth the effort, but you'll also develop an irresistible urge to squeeze them into everything you build - a lot like perceptrons that way.
Oh, and this picture of a cat. It's given me much joy over this year, and I hope to pass some on to you.