It's been a long time. I try to do a Great Big Post every year, but I basically just skipped over 2022. Here it is, the start of 2024 and I honestly can't remember much of that year so... maybe that's a good reason to persist in writing these sorts of posts?
Anna Started School
The biggest deal of 2023 wasn't even for me, but for Anna. She started school. Here in the UK you start school at 4 years old in what they call "reception". It's basically kindergarten, but with more structured learning. Like, she's learning to read already, bringing home little books with 3-letter words in them:
pat, etc. I don't remember learning to read 'til grade one (six years old in Canada), but maybe my memory is just faulty?
Regardless, Anna seems to really like it. We wrestled for a Very Long Time about which school to send her to and I think we picked a good one in the end. The teachers all seem really supporting and nurturing, and the kids all seem generally happy.
Part of the school decision involved another one: we finally went out and bought an e-bike. A Bicicapace (bitchy-ka-patchy) Justlong. The cargo box in the front is big enough to haul ~£100 of groceries, and the back can carry Anna and a friend, or even a full-grown adult... or a Great Big Dollhouse as we discovered. It's big, beautiful, fast, and relaxing... but not cheap. It came to about £4500 in total, which is the price of some cars. Of course, it costs around £14/year to power, doesn't burn the world, make noise, or kill pedestrians so... there's that.
I'm pretty sure that this was also the year that I discovered the term "solarpunk": an art form / political movement to imagine & build a world where we use technology to harness nature while living symbiotically within its limits. A post-capitalist utopia to stand against the cyberpunk feudalistic dystopian hellscape we've been trading on for decades. Think less Blade Runner and more Star Trek, but with a lot more green:
It's not easy to explain how much of a relief it was for me to discover this new movement. Just the idea that there are still people who hope for, and envision a better world has done wonders for my morale.
I'll probably get into more of this in a much more depressing future post. For now though, I offer this excellent YouTube explainer from Our Changing Climate:
I also started doing Duolingo in earnest back in July. I re-started originally without paying, but after a few days I looked into the costs and compared that to what I spend on dinner or even a Steam game. £60/year seemed like a good investment.
It actually feels like it's paying off. 6 months in and while I'm not yet able to even form a (useful) sentence, I'm understanding a lot more of what Christina & Anna are talking about. The problem for me is one of throughput: I take a really long time to translate a sentence, so long that by the time I understand what was said, 3 more sentences have passed me by. I'm getting better though and Duolingo is largely responsible.
And finally, I said goodbye to Reddit. I cut Twitter out at the end of 2021, but it took a while longer to get out of Reddit. My reasons were different though.
For Twitter, it was the way they were rage-farming. They would pit strangers against each other to make them angry, to drive up engagement, and thus sell eyeballs. In Reddit's case, I found most of the discussions informative, the news collected more accurate than what passes for such on television, and the community generally sharing my (progressive, left-leaning) ideals. Reddit however fell prey to enshittification, the process by which something is built initially for people and then made worse because some rich assholes want to extract profit from it.
When the CEO over there decided to lock out third party clients to lock users into their (ad-riddled) app, and then tried to blame app developers for the mess this created, I figured it was time to go. I didn't want to provide content to such contemptible assholes.
Late in the year, I started picking up Go, and ported my
db program from the original Python to Go. The new version is much more portable, and once I've been using it for a few more months, I may just release it for the AUR.
My professional life was super chaotic this year. I switched jobs twice (and as of January 2nd, it's 3 times).
Limejump Becomes Shell
I joined Limejump back in 2020 and it was a fantastic job. I was using Shell's money (they were the parent company) to build green energy tech and was working with some brilliant, awesome people to do it. I did some of my best work of my career, working with my team to build something that few companies have managed to do (I can think of only one) in a language that I loved, with a team of fantastic people.
Then Shell decided that they wanted to roll Limejump into Shell proper and everything fell apart immediately. Worse though, is that being integrated into the company I started talking to actual Shell people, reading what they shared both publicly and on the internal network and realising how much of a mistake I'd made. Shell is intent on burning down the world, and they were using me to do it.
Goodbye Shell, Hello Utility Warehouse
I worked there for four months, but was never really happy there for a lot of reasons I don't want to share here. So, after some spelunking through the job boards of some of my favourite companies in the UK, I found a new job at Octopus Energy.
Goodbye UW, Hello Octopus
I start at Octopus on January 2nd, so it's a good bet that by the time you're reading this, I will have already had my first day there. This job is going to be different as well. Where at Limejump I was a technical lead and at UW I was a manager, I'm dropping back into the technical saddle at Octopus as a staff engineer. Interestingly enough though, I won't be working in energy, but in water & broadband, which is fine by me. I've always been more interested in the technology than the domain.
One last thing on the professional front: I did a bunch more Linux training this year, teaching newbie Linux nerds how to Linux harder. I'm really enjoying this work, both in the curriculum creation as well as giving the actual workshops. It kind of feels like I got to go into education after all, but with more money and no children.
Alas, having children generally means that grand travel plans just don't happen. As expats, when we do leave the country, it's to go to places we've already been to see Anna's grandparents.
Anna Visits Canada
Anna got to see Canada for the first time this year, flying the full 9 hours across the Atlantic to Calgary and another hour to Kelowna with little to no screaming. Seriously, I was dreading this trip, but Anna was on point for so much of it. I'm super proud of her (and appreciative!)
The trip was basically just to see my family in the Okanagan, with a week staying at my brother's place, and another week with my parents. Both were very welcoming and thrilled to have Anna around, and Anna had a great time drawing with Grandma and bouncing on the trampoline with her cousins. We even had Violet over for a sleep over one night and the girls camped out on the pull out watching the fantastic Song of the Sea.
My takeaway from the trip though was a lot more depressing. I have never felt more isolated in my life than when I was trapped in my brother's house, on top a mountain with no car. Seriously, what the fuck is up with North American city planning? They carve a bunch of winding roads into a mountain, stack some monster trucks on it and call it "home". You can't even leave your home without climbing (and I do mean climbing) into a $50,000 beast vehicle just to drive 5minutes to a gas station. There are no sidewalks, just monster trucks! I don't get it. How is this "freedom"?
A month in Greece
The latter part of the Summer had us fly to Greece to see Anna's other grandparents. We went to sleep with the air full of smoke from fires across the valley, this at a time when Canada was also on fire. We piled into a car and drove from Athens literally through the smoke North through to Corinth (Κόρινθος) and then South all the way to Panagia (Παναγία) where we stayed at a lovely little hotel a short walk from the beach.
I relaxed on my own, writing some code in the hotel room while Christina and her parents took Anna down to the sea for a swim, I got to swim with a sea turtle, which was pretty amazing, and perhaps unsurprisingly at this point, the food was fantastic.
Extinction Rebellion's Self-neutering
Once a force to be reckoned with, XR opened 2023 with an abdication of its role as disruptor, instead opting for a more inclusive "numbers oriented" civilised protest. Not long after, everyone pretty much stopped caring about anything they had to say.
Just Stop Oil
Out of XR's rejection of civil disobedience however, Just Stop Oil was born. Currently they mainly favour "slow marches" (blocking traffic, but still moving so they can't be arrested, a loophole that no longer applies, read on) and throwing paint on everything from building doors to priceless works of art.
For the most part, they're treated like an annoyance in the media here, but they're being talked about all the time. They've had some truly exceptional media coverage, and so it would seem that their tactics are working.
There's even been a documentary made about them by Chris Packham (famous nature docs guy here in the UK) called Is it time to break the law?.
Just Stop Oil feels like a beginning. Few people blocking traffic or throwing paint actually believe that this will fix things. They're doing this out of desperation because they know that no matter how much they recycle, those with the power to keep the world from burning will still choose fire. It represents a sort of collective awakening, where we can all start talking about how this isn't up to us, and about who actually needs to change. It's the next step on the path toward real violence, and I don't think the establishment really understands this yet.
#FuckCars, #BanCars, #StrongTowns
This was also absolutely the year of the anti-car movement. The pandemic changed a lot of things, including where people live and how they work. With these changes, we're seeing an emergence of welcomed car-hate. From deflating SUV tires in London (this article is from 2022, but whatever) to banning cars parking on the sidewalk in Scotland, to Wales setting the default speed limit to just 20mph (32kph), cars are finally getting some push-back over here.
We also saw the introduction of the 15 minute city idea, which of course was immediately jumped on by poorly educated conspiracy nuts as "government control", as if requiring that everyone own and be able to operate a $50,000 vehicle is even remotely freeing.
Across the Atlantic, the Strong Towns movement is taking root in cities across the US and Canada to take space away from cars and give it back to people.
Oh, and I forgot Paris! With their fantastic activist mayor has been exploding cycling adoption across one of the most (formerly) car-dominated capitols in Western Europe.
When I need a source of optimism, this is where I look.
2023 felt very much like a tsunami of terrible news on the international scale. Fascism, oppression, and just straight-up burning down the world are all on the rise, along with profits for the rich and poverty for everyone else.
Here in Cambridge, there was a push by the sitting council for a plan called the Sustainable Travel Zone: effectively a congestion charge within the city proper which would be used to pay for improved transit and active transport infrastructure.
They later killed it, thanks to a combination of extremely vocal opposition, and straight-up cowardice of those in power. Basically, there were enough swing votes that didn't want to blow their chances at another political race later, so they came down against something they initially favoured.
So now we have insurmountable traffic, absolutely no plan to address it, and a carbrained public that'll probably still vote Conservative because they're idiots.
This country has been ruled by Tories since 2010, and in 2023 they actually had three different Prime Ministers because the quality of their options was so miserable.
Boris Johnson got the boot, not because of his racism, ineptitude, or robbery of the public purse to enrich his friends. No was kicked out of power because he had a Christmas party during COVID lockdown. It was a shit thing to do, but compared to his long long list of reasons why he never should have been permitted to hold the office in the first place, I think this says a lot about the UK public.
He was followed by Liz Truss, whose term was literally outlasted by a head of lettuce. In just 49 days, she brought in financial policy so damaging that it nearly bankrupted the pensions of the entire country. Legislation that was so toxically neoliberal that even the IMF was critical.
Finally, she was replaced by Rishi Sunak who ran unopposed. He's a billionaire parasite who appears to be making it his goal to do as much damage to the country as possible before he leaves.
- They've passed draconian laws to effectively ban protest, which have already been used to jail people for six months whose only crime was blocking traffic while walking slowly.
- They're curtailing local council powers to ensure that they can't bring in lower speed limits.
- And they're opening up new oil & gas fields in the North Sea in the middle of a climate emergency.
All this, while the Labour party has been overrun by do-nothing-change-nothing Tories in red, who when asked about what they'd do differently, overwhelmingly answer "not a thing".
The state of UK politics is dire.
Canada's reputation continues to be great, what with our RCMP attacking, arresting, and intimidating indigenous peoples at the behest of fossil fuel companies trying to kill us all.
After nearly two years, Ukraine is still fighting for survival against Putin's end-of-life crisis. They've held out much, much longer than most expected, partially due to the demonstrated ineptitude of the Russian military, but most of the world seems to agree that the steely resolve of the Ukranians is the primary factor.
They've developed a new form of warfare in this theatre, leveraging consumer-grade drones to fly both surveillance and attacking missions, even managing to strike targets on Russian soil. There are thousands of videos shared on social media filmed by drones that're being used to guide artillery to cut down tanks and infantry.
Europe and Nato have been slow to work out just what they want to do on this front, but I think there's near consensus that either you fund Ukraine, or you fund Estonia, Latvia, Moldova, and Romania once Russia moves onto them. When you're dealing with a country that lies so easily and attacks civilians so readily, aiding your neighbour is a form of self-defence.
Which I suppose, brings me to Israel's campaign of genocide.
On October 7th, Hamas broke out of the open-air prison that is Gaza, murdered 766 Israeli civilians and 373 security forces, and took 247 civilian hostages. The attacks were brutal, with some even wearing bodycams to stream the footage.
Israel was caught largely unprepared, despite having advance knowledge up to a year earlier complete with blueprints. Their response however has been methodical.
At last count, an estimated 20,000 Palestinians are dead, mostly civilians, nearly half of which are children. They're telling the civilians to evacuate to areas onto which they later drop 2000-pound bombs. I've seen video of IDF soldiers attempting to throw grenades at ambulances and journalists -- stopping short only when they realise they're on camera, and I've seen harrowing video of children burned alive.
This is genocide. It's being conducted by our "friends" with our help, our weapons and with our blessing.
We are complicit, and this will haunt us all for generations.
And I swear that if you leave a comment about how "I just don't understand", "but Hamas bad", or "Israel is just defending itself", not only will I not publish it, but I may not speak to you again.
And then there was COP 28, a climate conference so important, we decided that it'd be a good idea to put the CEO of an oil company in charge of it. The result of this conference was the weakest language they could possibly get away with, including absolutely no commitment to phase out fossil fuels.
So that's awesome. It's not like we didn't have to evacuate fucking Yellowknife this year due to wildfires. I'm sure this whole climate thing is nothing to worry about. The economic fallout from choosing not burn every last drop of oil would surely be worse than acidified oceans and desertified crop lands. It's not like any of the people making these decisions will be alive when this becomes a problem.
So yeah. I have a lot of rather existential dread of late, and I want to write about that some more later 'cause there's a lot I wanna say on that topic. Needless to say 2022 was pretty bad and 2023 was worse. I fully expect 2024 to follow the same trajectory.