Celebrate endings – for they precede new beginnings.
– Jonathan Lockwood Huie
It’s the final day of 2021 and tradition dictates that we should reflect on the year behind us. I like writing such “year in review” articles, because it’s so much fun to read them myself a few years down the road. I guess most of us will remember this year as the second year of the global COVID-19 pandemic, but it was a fairly good year for me regardless.1
I won’t touch upon my OSS work in this article, as I plan to write a separate one about it over at https://metaredux.com.
So, let’s start with the highlights of 2021.
This is definitely the most important thing that happened in 2021 from my perspective - now we have an effective way to fight the pandemic, and a path towards our old lives.
I got vaccinated as quickly as possible, which allowed me to lead a semi-normal life afterwards. Now I could spent some time with my friends again and even do a bit of traveling. Sadly, it turned out I live in the land of the free and the dumb… During the pandemic I learned a lot of things about the people around me, most of them quit disappointing.
Just a couple of days ago I got my booster shot as well. 5G signal operating at max output!
This year I finally managed to travel outside Bulgaria, after spending a record 14 consecutive months at home (Feb 2020 - June 2021). I didn’t travel much and I didn’t visit any exotic places, but I was extremely happy to be able to visit different countries again. Most of this travel happened during my sabbatical from work in the summer/autumn. Certainly this was my favorite part of the year.
Here’s a list of all the places I visited this year:
- Kyiv, Ukraine
- Rybotyn, Ukraine
- Venice, Italy
- Zakynthos, Greece
- Santorini, Greece
- Corfu, Greece
- Athens, Greece
- Marradi, Italy
- Milan, Italy
- Nice, France
- Menton, France
- Antibes, France
- Cannes, France
- Bologna, Italy
- Florence, Italy
I guess I was mostly looking for good beaches and good food this year. Southern Europe has always been one of my favorite travel destinations, so my trips this year were something like revisiting my greatest hits. Somehow I didn’t manage to get to my beloved Spain, but I hope this will change next year.
The Year of the Desktop
This was the first year where I spent more time on a desktop computer than on a laptop since 2011.2 Desktops are great! Especially if you are spending most of your time at home and you don’t have to carry them around.
|AMD RYZEN 7 3700X
|ASUS DUAL Radeon RX 5500 XT EVO OC 8G
|AORUS X570 ULTRA
|960GB M.2 2280 Corsair Force Series MP510
|32GB (2x16GB) DDR4 3200MHz Corsair Vengeance LPX
|Fractal Design Define 7
|Fractal Design Ion+ 660W Platinum
It’s cheap, powerful, quiet, never overheats, never runs out of juice and it has all the ports in the world. You can even swap parts yourself! As a bonus - it glows in the dark and it looks bad-ass! I got it in July 2020 and it has been my primary computer ever since. Get this desktop had a few interesting ramifications:
- It showed me that drivers are still a major problem with Linux
- It led me to rediscover Windows and gaming
- I’m finally using the ethernet at home
- Now that I have more ports to spare I got inspired to buy more peripherals
All in all - this was one of the best things to come out of the pandemic. I can recommend to everyone to assemble their perfect desktop. It’s a lot of fun!
The Year of Windows
This was also the first year since 2003 that I’ve spent almost exclusively on Windows! I’ve been mostly a Linux (2004-2011) and macOS (2011-2020) user in recent years.
I’m really impressed by the new direction of Microsoft as a company and the work they’ve done to make Windows 10/11 a viable option for software development (think WSL, Windows Terminal, PowerToys, etc). I think it’s safe to say that at this point Windows is a better Linux than many standalone Linux distros. The native Wayland support in Windows 11 is just epic!3
The Year of StarCraft II
This year I’ve wasted a lot of my free time playing StarCraft II multiplayer. I never got particularly good (I guess I’m too old for this), but I still managed to get to the Golden League with Protoss and I had a lot of fun (and frustration) in the process.
There are so many strategies and potential counters to them, that I really think StarCraft II is probably the ultimate RTS strategy. Perhaps we can even compare it to chess.
Revival of (think)
This year I’ve decided to revive my (original) personal site/blog:
- I updated its visuals
- I restructured heavily the auxiliary pages (e.g. About)
- I wrote 25 articles (my most productive year since 2013)
- I’ve started doing link posts.
- I’ve killed the comments on the blog.
I’ve also decided to use “Meta Redux” mostly for my OSS work and use (think) for pretty much everything else. I played a bit with HEY World, but it seems I like Markdown and Emacs way too much.
I did a lot of writing on all my blogs last year. Here are the highlights:
- A Note about Recruiters
- Your Name is Your Brand
- Why Emacs: Redux
- Firefox is the Only Alternative
- Back to Linux
I wrote only a handful of essays this year, but I wrote a lot of tutorials and “commentaries”. I’ve become a big fan of the “link post” concept (think “Daring Fireball”).
The Year in Software
This year I made a lot of changes to my basic toolbox - some of them for practical reasons, others for ideological, or some combination of both.
Firefox is once again my primary web browser. If you value the idea of open standards and online privacy you should consider making the switch as well.
After using Gmail since day 1, this year I decided to switch to Fastmail. 6 months later I’m extremely happy with this decision and I only wish I made it earlier.
Similarly, after using LastPass for a very long time, this year I got so fed up with it that I finally tested some alternatives and in the end of the day I settled on 1Password.
So many tool changes this year! There are many authenticator apps out there (I’ve been using mostly Google Authenticator), but definitely Authy is my favorite one so far (mostly for the ability to use it on multiple devices).
I’m still waiting for a better approach to 2FA in general, but for the time being Authy will do.
I’ve started using Notion for note taking. I’m a huge fan of Bear, but sadly it’s available only on iOS and macOS. I tried OneNote before Notion, but I found it too weird. Notion is a lot more than a note-taking tool, and I don’t really like this. I prefer simple laser-focused tools (except Emacs!), so I might explore other options down the road.
The artist formerly known as Wunderlist. It was the first todo app I ever used and now I’ve come full circle. For me it’s a partial replacement of the Reminders app in iOS and Trello (which I normally use for Personal Kanban).
I like Microsoft ToDo a lot for a couple of reasons:
- it’s free
- it’s available on all Platforms
- it’s super clean and simple
The total opposite of Notion.
The Year in Hardware
If there’s one thing I love doing it’s playing with computer hardware and all sorts of tech gadgets (e.g. phones, speakers, mics, ebook readers, etc). I’m always considering to buy something new, even if I don’t really need it. I’m proud that in 2021 I showed some signs of growing up and suppressed my urges to buy things spontaneously.
After considering to buy all sorts of crazy things in the end I limited myself to the three things I really needed:
Google Chromecast with Google TV to replace the (broken) built-in apps on my aging LG smart TV (I think these days Netflix is the only app that still works natively on it). I tried the Amazon Fire TV stick before, but I wasn’t happy with its performance and some features weren’t available in Bulgaria. The Chromecast is a very solid device that checks all the boxes for me. Also - I can’t believe it took Google so long to realize that people prefer to have apps on the actual streaming devices and not have to use their phone or computer to “cast” to it (which is how all older Chromecast devices were working).
- Audioengine A2+ speakers, as I wanted to enjoy better music now that I’m spending so much time at home. I totally love them and I can heartily recommend them to anyone looking for compact, yet good sounding/looking speakers.
- As mentioned earlier in the article - a new laptop (Lenovo Yoga Slim 7). Totally love it!
Right now I’m also in the market for true wireless earbuds and I’ll likely go for the Sony WF-1000XM4. Sony, I know that naming is hard, but I’m pretty sure you can do better than this!
I didn’t read much this year, especially when it comes to fiction. I challenged myself to read 36 books, ended up with only 25. I did almost no reading in the final months of the year.
This year I was mostly interested in business books and the stories of famous companies and entrepreneurs. I also revisited “Hyperion”, which was just as good as I remembered it to be.
Movies & TV Shows
This was another year that I spent mostly away from my beloved cinemas. I think I saw only 3-4 movies on the big screen, most notably “Dune”. I’m pretty sure it was the movie of the year for me, but I’m probably biased as I’m a huge fan of the books and I’ve been waiting for a very long time for a decent “Dune” movie.
I watched several TV shows throughout the year, but nothing really stood out. Perhaps “Better Call Saul” was the one I enjoyed the most. “The Wheel of Time” was definitely the biggest disappointment.
I’ve just started watching the highly acclaimed “Succession” on HBO, and I hope that it will turn out to be the great show I’ve been longing for.
7 years at Toptal
I’ve joined Toptal in Jan 2015. Before this my longest tenure in any company was around 2.5 years.
As it stands today I’m employee #12 in a team of 1000+ people. I definitely didn’t expect any of this in 2015! I’m very proud of everything we’ve achieved at Toptal and I still enjoy working there very much.
In fact - over the years I wore so many hats and my responsibilities changed so much (as did the company itself), that it often feels I worked at several different companies. Looking forward to the next batch of challenges and learning opportunities that 2022 will bring!
2021 was the 3rd year since I’ve started to invest my savings actively (mostly in individual stocks). I’ve had a good year overall and I’ve reached my primary objectives on that front.
As I get older I definitely think a lot more about savings, investments and generating some passive income. I ignored all the crypto hype for yet another year and I stuck to my guns and my simple value investing strategy.
Finance is also a fun hobby for me and I dedicate a lot of my free time to it. I’m following a lot of news feeds, blogs, and YouTube channels dedicated to investing. I even subscribed to the Wall Street Journal last year! If I didn’t like to analyze companies and industries so much, I’d certainly go for investment in some passive ETFs. That’s the way to go for most people.
Let’s just say I’m not particularly pragmatic when it comes to investing and I’m also quite picky when it comes to the businesses where I want a tiny ownership stake. Very simply put I invest only in companies:
- That I understand (at least superficially)
- That I like
- That I think are fairly valued/undervalued
- That have a long track record of growth and a strong market position (unless we’re talking about promising startups)
No year is complete without its lowlights.
Another year with no conferences in the real world. I participated in a few online events, but without the interactions with the people around the talks conferences just don’t feel the same to me. It’s also kind of hard to organize proper conference parties online. :-)
I’ve always said that my favorite track is the “hallway” track. I miss the vibe of real (classic?) conferences and all the great people I’ve met at them.
Wanted to do more sports, ended up doing none. Story of my life.
Learning (more) Spanish continues to remain a goal for me, but I’ve made very little progress on that front. I keep paying for Babbel, but I rarely find time for it.
This year I’ve started to wonder if won’t be a bad idea to learn a bit of Italian and French as well.
In general I learned very little new things this year. I didn’t explore any new programming languages, libraries, etc.
I blame StarCraft II (and my general laziness) for that.
Plans are worthless, but planning is everything.
– Dwight D. Eisenhower
So, what’s next? I don’t have any ambitious plans for 2022. All I wish for is that:
- me and my friends and family stay healthy
- we manage to find a way to end the damn pandemic and return to our normal lives
Pretty tall order, right?
No objectives, no key results.4 2022, here I come!
Update: See https://metaredux.com/posts/2022/01/01/reduce-summarize-year-2021.html for my OSS work in 2021.
Probably because I spent a good chunk of it enjoying my long overdue sabbatical from work. ↩
Around that time I sold my last custom built desktop and I started to use docked laptops as a replacement for desktops. I was also using a mac mini at home for a while, but it’s a desktop in name only. ↩