My father once said to me: "Life has a way of getting away from you. One day you blink, and 30 years have passed." I think that I'm finally starting to understand what he meant. 2019 doesn't really feel like a year I lived through so much as a year that was done to me. People I thought integral to my life disappeared suddenly, and a whole new human was added to my immediate family, all this while the world is literally on fire. Everything is changing and for my part, it feels like my role is more that of a passenger than driver.
2019 was a bumpy year for me personally.
My daughter was born in the early days of the year. She's now already a full-year old and what they say really is true: they grow up so fast. When we met, she was roughly the size of a small pumpkin, now she's a walking, talking (well, babbling), screaming, grabby mobile monster.
Parenthood is a crazy process: you're constantly monitoring a tiny creature to make sure that she doesn't kill herself reaching for a pen or eating plastic. I mean, we watched her lick a bar of soap, make a face, then lick it again as if she hadn't learnt her lesson the first time. This process of constant vigilance is... exhausting. There's really no other word for it. It's a good thing she's cute.
There's also not a lot of sleep in my day-to-day anymore.
Around when Anna reached the 4-month mark, she lost her great grandmother -- my last remaining grandparent. To be honest, I'm still pretty broken up about it -- still processing. Unlike my other grandparents, I wasn't prepared to lose Grandma Lidia and it still hurts to think about. I miss her every day, and the thought of returning home to visit my family feels eerily wrong without her there.
I really feel like my Free Software career has taken a big hit this past year. Whereas in 2018 I was releasing Aletheia and speaking at PyCon about it while handing-off Paperless to the broader community, 2019 has seen very little Free stuff from me. There were a couple bits worth mentioning though:
It's a very simple server that lets you spin up branch deploys automatically by plugging into GitLab's WebHooks system and linking that to a docker-compose. It made development of some of our stuff at Workfinder a lot simpler, and I'm hoping we can make more use of it in 2020.
I realised that Aletheia has a lot of dependencies to get going -- too many perhaps for most to make use of it in any reasonable architecture. So with that in mind, I decided to hack together a dockerised microservice that does the signing & verification for you. This way, you could theoretically deploy Aletheia to a project simply by adding it to your running services rather than trying to integrate a 3rd-party module and all of the dependencies that come with.
The project works, but as I built it using FastAPI, getting the tests to play nice is proving problematic for a Django nerd like me. I'm hoping to have the kinks worked out in early 2020.
Workfinder: Last Man Standing
Most of the code I wrote in 2019 was for my full-time employer, but the face of the dev team changed a lot over the year. I started out working in of the Cambridge office with 3 other developers, and one-by-one they all left the company. Now I'm the only one in this town, with most of the rest of the company based out of London. Thankfully, the CEO has promised that she's not going to make me commute to London on a daily basis (honestly that just wouldn't happen), but it does mean that I don't have anyone to bounce ideas off of on a regular basis and that sucks.
On the plus side though, before he left, Richard and I wrote what I think might be some of my Best Code Ever: a system that handles multiple data sources of varying trustworthiness and merges it into a single derived model that performs even with tens of millions of records in the system. Now it's just a matter of getting that code into the main product...
It turns out that babies seriously cramp your travel plans. For the most part, Christina and I have been Cambridge-bound this past year. I'm hoping that once Anna reaches the age where we can hand her a phone and say: "shut up and watch Peppa Pig", we'll be able to consider then 9-hour flight to Vancouver.
The one trip we made was to Athens & Siros (Σιρος). Anna was just young enough that she wasn't bothered (too much) by the flight (even though it was RyanAir), and she slept through the majority of the trip. We spent a few days in Athens, and then continued onto Siros where we rented a little house with a pretty remarkable view of both the island and the sea.
We took Anna for her very first swim in the Agean, ate a lot of delicious food, and I came face-to-face with my paralysing fear of crickets & grasshoppers. The trip was lovely... except for that last part.
Not long after the trip to Greece, Christina's parents came out to Cambridge to live with us for 2 months. The plan was that they would help ease Christina's transition back into the workforce, help Anna get used to her day care, and help out around the house as we all get used to having a baby around. Now I'm not going to come out and say that living with my in-laws for 2 months was super-fun and friction-free, but I really appreciated the help. Having someone around to talk to for advice, or to help with putting the kid to sleep when you're at the end of your tether is invaluable to say the least.
Not long after the in-laws left, my parents came for a few weeks, though their stay was interrupted by their own (apparently abysmal: screw you Norwegian Cruiselines) detour through the European North. It's always nice when my parents visit and I get to show them the life I'm helping to build, though this time around my mom was having a really hard time. Still, I think they enjoyed their trip, and they're talking about coming back for a visit before (in their words) they're too old to make the trip.
I got to vote in two national elections this year, though in both cases first-past-the-post ensured that my vote didn't really mean anything.
The Liberals squeaked out a minority government, campaigning on the idea that they gave a shit about climate change and a history of actions that prove that they don't. I suppose I could be happy that at least Canada didn't elect outright climate deniers, but like everything else they do, the Liberals are even more infuriating: they play up their green rhetoric, but demonstrably aren't willing to do what's necessary to combat the climate crisis. To my mind, they're just as bad as the Conservatives, just more duplicitous.
The UK had its 3rd election in 5 years in a desperate attempt to get a strong majority that would lend some stability to their position in managing Brexit with the rest of the EU. Thanks to first-past-the-post, even though the majority of the country voted against the Conservatives, we all got a crushing Conservative majority. Jeremy Corbyn, the first political leader that's inspired me in the UK, and only the fourth politician to inspire me in my lifetime, somehow is being blamed for the failings of his own party-unfaithful, that of the Lib-Dems, and of the Greens, whose platform was objectively less-green than Labour's. The country's fourth estate is in shambles, and we're now on-track for a disasterous brexit: upwards of 5-years helmed by a government & prime minister with a record of xenophobia, homophobia, flat-out racism, climate denial, and Trump ass-kissing.
So yeah. This is where I live.
On the world stage, 2019 was a year of hope and horrors. Every week, you'd read a story about how the world is literally on fire, but you'd also hear about how lab-grown or plant-based "meat" was getting a foothold in the market, that coal and oil were losing share to renewables, and a little girl was sailing across the Atlantic to lecture our do-nothing leaders.
More than inspiration, Thunburg has been a voice for my (and future) generation's rage:
"The eyes of all future generations are upon you. And if you choose to fail us, I say: We will never forgive you."
- Greta Thunburg, address to the UN Climate Action Summit
Personally, I'm impressed with the futility: the people she was speaking to demonstrably have no interest in fixing this mess they and their parents have created. Some of them are even straight-up climate deniers. She's 17. This is the limit of her power and she's shaming them into action. They won't act of course, but at least she's now part of the historical record: the voice of a generation enraged by how the boomers have fucked us all.
It may seem small, but I'm still elated with the results. The #TeamTrees campaign started by a bunch of YouTubers accomplished its goal of funding the planting of 20,000,000 trees. With the vast majority of donations in the area between $1 and $10, people all over the planet scratched together what they could to show our leaders that we're willing to step up and do what we can to save the world. Every donation streamed onto the site in real-time, but my favourite was from a bunch of 8th-graders who crowdfunded $1,111 from 200 of their classmates -- all to save the world they're going to inherit from a generation that's done everything it can to use everything up before they die.
It's not hyperbole anymore. The world is literally on fire. Australia, home to thousands of unique and fascinating species, has lost approximately one billion animals to the fires. The amount of CO₂ is being measured in the millions of tonnes, and this is just the beginning. When summer comes in the Northern Hemisphere, it's entirely likely that the forests in Canada, Europe, and Russia will see the same. If you think that any of this is going to change the minds of those with the power to fix it, think again. The Prime Minister of Australia is a climate denier. Australians elected a climate denier, even after decades of flooding was laying out the truth in front of them.
We are so. very. fucked.
I did however draw some hope & inspiration from one group though: Extinction Rebellion. They're the next step I've been expecting for a while now. When diplomacy fails, the next step is violence. Now to be clear: to my knowledge, XR hasn't taken any violent action against any people, but their actions against the machine that's destroying the planet are most definitely violent. They obstruct traffic, shut down transit infrastructure, and effectively cripple economies. They're the living embodiment of Mario Savio's words:
“There's a time when the operation of the machine becomes so odious, makes you so sick at heart, that you can't take part. You can't even passively take part. And you've got to put your bodies upon the gears and upon the wheels, upon the levers, upon all the apparatus, and you've got to make it stop. And you've got to indicate to the people who run it, to the people who own it that unless you're free, the machine will be prevented from working at all.”
-- Mario Savio
Those destroying the planet don't care about people, animals, or even breatheable air. They do however care a great deal about profits. XR is hitting them where it hurts: they're fucking with capitalism and this is just the beginning. As people get more desperate, I expect XR to play a bigger role.
Leaders that Get It
I've also been inspired by some of the leaders we're seeing gain traction like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Bernie Sanders. They're both the right people with the principled positions to guide the US through to doing the right thing by the climate and their people. My only concern is that of timing: AOC is too young to run for president, and the Democrats still have it in their head that a milquetoast "moderate" like Biden is their best bet at beating Trump. If Bernie doesn't win the Democratic primary, it's entirely likely that Trump will take the White House again, and if that happens, the US will be entirely lost to us with regard to its impact on the climate. We can't wait another four years for them to get their act together.
There's also The Green New Deal for Europe, which was released in 2019, and appears to have heavily influenced the European Green New Deal -- ramping up to be official EU policy. If the EU can get this right, they can dictate terms to the big polluters like India, China, and the US. They might actually save us all.
Maybe I'm still a little too hopeful.
So that's it for 2019. With the exception of Anna's birth, I don't feel particularly good about this year, but I have hope -- not you know, a lot, but some. Maybe 2020 will be the magical year that Trump is deposed, that all of Johnson's bluster about Brexit turns out to be smoke & mirrors for the softest of Brexits, that the EU finally starts to throw around its weight on the environmental file, that Canada's Liberals are forced to do the Right Thing through alliances with the NDP & Greens.
And maybe Anna will learn enough words to actually tell me why she's screaming at 0400h.
A guy can dream.