Greg Tyler

2016 Year in Review

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For the past few years (2015, 2014, 2013), I finished each December with a "Year in Review": an categorised list of the things I've done in the year, what I've enjoyed, and what I've seen. 2015 was, I concluded, "completely rad". 2014 was "a perfectly pleasant year". 2013, most introspectively, was "a year of development". This year I've run out of platitudes.

So I want to do this year's post a bit differently. I'm going to focus on the good things first. Then I'll take a look at some of the bad world events. Finally I'll take a look at my resolutions from last year, and set some new goals for 2017. I'll split up each section so you can read the bits that interest you.

2016: The good parts

Work was very positive and kind of unusual. I'm continuing to work at the University, with the exciting new job title of "Analyst/Developer". With that title has come some workload change, and I've spent much longer trying to figure out data strategy rather than actually building things.

More specifically, I've spent most of the year working on our Assessment and Progression tools project. This sprawling multi-year project has easily enough work to keep five of us busy full-time, and plenty more besides. Its duration and scope have given us a great opportunity to experiment with project management too, which has been an inimitable learning experience.

Away from my day-to-day work, other jobs and side projects have been going well. I'm still hosting at the Dagda Quiz, with a growing crowd, and still doing little projects both for extra pocket money and for fun. Rebuilding this very website in Node was fascinating, and I need to blog about it. More widely, I've loved experimenting more with JavaScript both server- and client-side. I've enjoyed working with Vue.js and, most recently, Svelte.

Venice skyline
2016 was a great year for travel. I finally visited the magical city of Venice, and was strangely fortunate to witness it flood. As well as beautiful architecture and incredible views, Venice offered up wonderful food and drink and provided an excellent destination for a long weekend.

I went to the USA for the first time, visiting Utah, Arizona and Las Vegas. I feel really lucky to have managed to see so many different experiences in that one trip: we toured Mormon temples, visited national parks, saw cave paintings, drove through the Wild West and lost some money in the world's best known casinos. It's a trip I'll never forget.

In August, I went with a friend on a long weekend to Denmark and Sweden, primarily to watch one of Avicii's last live shows. The show was great, and I was absolutely taken with what I saw of Scandinavia too. Copenhagen particularly is a beautiful city.

In the summer, I took part in the regular family pilgrimage to Shetland. Shetland is a lovely place, and a wonderful location to get away from it all. I also visited London, Chelmsford, Whitby, Arran, Peebles, Bristol, Oxford, The Cairngorms, Yorkshire, York (twice) and Sheffield to continue my goals of visiting more of my own country.

This was also the year that I started using Instagram, which might seem like an odd thing to highlight in this post, but it really tied in well to my travelling. I started using it because I wanted to take better photographs, and to document the things that I've been doing over the year. Looking back now, my account has a wonderful collection of pictures from around the UK and the world and I'm thrilled to be able to reminisce with them.

2016: The bad parts

Despite the travelling, and development at work, 2016 is not a year I can look back at fondly. It's a year in which my European identity was taken away from me; in which an elected official was murdered for her political views; in which hate crimes rose in the UK and the US; in which newspapers profiled Nazis and normalised their viewpoints; in which the President elect of the United States used Twitter to attempt to shame and damage business adverseries having run a campaign of bullying, lying and misogyny on an unprecedented scale.

2016 seemed like the culmination of a lot of things that have been brewing for years. EU resentment, worry for financial security in an increasing world population, and traditional racism together found a cause to get behind in Brexit. Similar intersectionality in the US gave way to Trump's election as anti-establishment movements, disenfranchised voters and sexists all found an individual campaign to get behind. And as we look on now, it's hard not to blur the lines between those groups. To all of our detriment.

Looking back over the year's events–particularly Brexit, the US election and Russian activities–it's been hard to put together a singular identification of quite what's going wrong. The media are involved, as is the rise of fascism in parts of America and Europe, and our modern news portals like Facebook and Twitter have a hand too. But there doesn't seem to be a unifying thing and I find that a bit terrifying.

To me, a huge problem has been people voting selfishly. In all recent political engagements, on both sides, voters regularly identify (both in public quotes and personal conversations) as voting for the option that provides them with the most financial or influential gain. Trump voters are able to look over his misgivings and mistakes because they believe that, as a businessman, he will help them earn and hold onto their money. Brexit voters almost without exception quoted EU membership costs (paid from taxes) as a reason for their support.

There is, of course, an argument that Trump won't help others get rich and that leaving the EU will cost more than membership fees. But my concern is with the number of people voting purely for themselves and not thinking of what's best for everyone else. In simplest terms, if everyone voted for themselves and the majority always won then we would not have seen an end to slavery, there would be no LGBT rights and UK women would just about be clinging on to suffrage.

On a more realistic level, it's phrases like "why should I pay for others to use the NHS when I don't need it myself?" that worry me. Recently I saw a discussion about whether voters should have a say on how much of their tax is spent on foreign aid. Whilst others seem to find Strictly Come Dancing being funded by their TV license the greatest affront of the year.

This constant "what's in it for me?" attitude, and lack of sight beyond one's own bubble, are at risk of dismantling the work of socialism that has taken so long to achieve. And that damage falls only onto the bottom of society, as the alternative is a world designed for those with money to continue getting it and leave the rest behind.

These programmes–the NHS, the welfare state, social security, equal rights, the EU–took years to form and could be undone in an instant. If we don't support them, they will be lost. Not (just) by politicians who seek to profit from their demise, but from our own citizens who don't see the benefit of the programme, don't emphasise with its beneficiaries, and don't see themselves in a role of supporting others.

That's why 2016 has sucked so much for me: we are marching ever further down a dangerous path in which we lose some of our country's best work.

Resolutions and looking forward

Last year, for the first time in many years, I wrote some resolutions for myself. Let's see how I got on.

  1. Write 20 blog posts or articles of at least 1000 words. I wrote 16 articles last year across three different blogs, and I'm pretty happy with that. I think, in retrospect, the target number was too high.
  2. Watch 10 silent films. I didn't do this, so I'm pushing it forward to 2017.
  3. Record at least one podcast episode. Nor this. Also for 2017.
  4. Play 24 hours of badminton. Whilst I didn't achieve this, I did join a gym and start going regularly. Considering the reason for wanting to play badminton was for fitness, I think I can consider this achieved.

Despite considering some resolutions achieved when I didn't actually meet the success criteria, I want to continue this year to set specific measurable targets for 2017. It gives me something to aim for, to track progress with, and to look back at.

1. Write 12 blog posts or articles of at least 1000 words

It's back! 12 articles this year because it's more attainable, and works out at one-per-month.

SSL 10054 is still my most popular article by far. And user retention has gone up since switching from WordPress to custom Node.js, even though features like "recommended articles" and search are now missing.

2. Record at least one podcast episode

Also back. In the past year, I've sketched out some more ideas of what I want to do and been fascinated that the idea I have hasn't been done by someone else yet. I want to get this one done early.

3. Release five games

There are a couple of reasons for this. Firstly, I like making games and game design. I really enjoy the challenge of making something fun and balanced, if only for five minutes. Secondly, making browser-based games is a great opportunity to try new libraries and frameworks. It's helped me experiment with Vue.js and Svelte, and I hope this year to use this to play with Preact and maybe Angular 2.

4. Watch 10 silent movies

I'm not sure this is important in and of itself, but I want to do it because I failed to last year and I don't like losing. Even to myself.

I also want to make a few non-measurable general goals for 2017. These are things I don't really have a way of tracking, that I just want to try work into my general attitude for the year.

  1. Identify as more than a web developer. I don't like introducing myself when meeting people as "a university web developer". I want to do much more than that. So, by the end of the year, I want to be able to rattle off a few things I do rather than just one.
  2. Take better photographs. Photos have meant a lot to me this year, and will continue to do so when I look back at them. I want to ensure they are of the highest quality.
  3. Educate more. I know a lot about technology and security that I could pass on to family and friends. I want to help them have a safe, secure and happy time on the web. I also want to talk more about my political views rather than descending into baseless arguments.