2019 in Retrospect
2019 has been an interesting year for me and it allowed me to better understand myself, the world and people around me and my future plans. Here is the list of things that moved me the most during this year:
Table of Contents
I started working on a new project and had a pleasure to work with a few exciting new tools and technologies. I also had a couple of car trips across Thailand, visited a few Russian cities and spent a week in Spain. Spain, I must say, was the nicest destination of all previously mentioned. I completely switched to Linux and most of the software I use is now open source. I also made a significant effort to cut Google and Apple from my life. It wasn’t easy but it’s totally worth it. My thoughts were mostly occupied with the ideas of individual sovereignty and the tools we can use to increase it. Those are global issues of course and our thoughts do not change the reality so I guess it makes sense to concentrate on small and clearly solvable things that are parts of those bigger problems and that’s what I’ll continue to do during the next year.
This year, I had an opportunity to work on a few exciting new projects using a huge set of technologies which made my work much more enjoyable. During the recent years, I was focused on making Android apps because focusing on a single thing makes a lot of sense when you have a full time job with a specific, clearly defined scope. You have to be the guy who knows the most about a single thing, especially if you work in a small team, which I prefer.
This year was different becase I’ve been busy with a few relatively small projects, some are for hire and others are personal. Isn’t it one of the joys of remote work to be able to do many things and never get bored? As a remote workforce, we’re more in control, we can pick contracts of any length or a tech stack so why limit our choice to something too specific? It was a bit scary at first but, leveraging my old connections, I was able to get a few contracts that require some of the skills I didn’t have and I’ve been able to complete them without any problems. That was a nice and challenging experience, couldn’t recommend it more.
Easy Portfolio is my new side project that I started with a friend of mine this summer. As usual, it all started from my rants caused by me not being able to find a decent asset tracking app that doesn’t use any dark patterns and that also respects user’s privacy. Not a lot of things to ask, actually, so we’ve decided to make our own app and offer it to people who might have similar requirements.
The problem is, having an Android app is not enough so I’ve been busy learning how to set up an infractructure for our new project, how to make modern websites and so on. Plenty of new things to learn but I’m satisfied with our progress so far.
Hugo is a static site generator that I’ve been using for this blog and a few other websites. It’s probably the best thing that happened to web front-ends, ever: it’s fast, it’s flexible and it’s pleasure to work with. I just can’t imagine going back to WordPress or any managed CMS, they seem like dinosaurs. Did I mention that Hugo is open source?
Also, many web apps, including the apps built using Angular and ReactJS are not uncommon on desktop platforms nowadays. As you may guess, they have a huge overhead but desktops have plenty of computing power to spare and I use a few of those web apps and they work pretty well on my machines. Unfortunately, the idea that the web stack is a good choice for mobile is still in the air. I guess, it can make sense if you try to cut costs by all means necessary and you can afford to compromise on user experience. Not that I have something against it, it reminds me of the times when PhoneGap was all the rage. Personally, I wouldn’t do such a thing, it just feels like a good old sabotage. There are plenty of ways to create mobile apps that your users won’t hate from the day one.
I don’t get all of that hype about travelling but it’s nice to go somewhere a couple of times a year. Interestingly, remote lifestyle allows people to travel much more often but I just feel that I need to “recharge” every time I come back home from a trip. Sometimes it feels better to work on some exciting new feature than to plan for a new trip and then move between hotels and hostels and spend countless hours in airports.
Thailand Car Trip
We’ve had a nice car trip from Phuket to north of Thailand and back. That’s kind of a new format to me and I liked it. Going somewhere by car is pretty convenient and you can spot a lot of hidden gems that are not as overcrowded as most of the places with close proximity to an airport.
Samui and Pha Ngan
Second car trip in my life, this time much shorter: just a few days. It turned out to be enough to check both of those islands. I wouldn’t say that I liked them but those places are fine for a few days. It’s not that they are bad, there is just nothing to do there. I guess they are fine for a weed loving hippies or the people who enjoy nature and don’t mind the lack of infrastructure.
Here is more on that trip.
I visit Moscow every year and 2019 wasn’t an exception. I always have mixed feelings about this city and Russia in general, there are still a lot of things that keep me connected to this country such as friends and family but I’m glad that I don’t have to live there and that my work is not connected with this country in any way.
Moscow is a good city and it keeps getting better every year. The problem is, the rest of Russia doesn’t and the long term outlook is rather pessimistic for the whole country. Russian economy is a dumpster fire and there is a growing sense of uneasiness among people, who knows how and when it’ll end but it won’t end well.
Barcelona and Girona
I’m already in love with Spain although I had only a few days at my disposal. Will definately go there again.
Open source software played a huge role in my professional life this year and it was undoubtfully a change for the better.
Ironically, one of the best things that happened to me during this year is my MacBook drowning in a cup of coffee. Totally my fault, but broken arrow key wasn’t. It turns out, official service center won’t change that key unless you order a full repair for $2,000. Well, fuck Apple, I’ve found a local unofficial repair shop and fixed it for a fraction of the price, but it left me thinking about the fact that with MacBooks, I’m not in control of my own hardware and software.
A couple of days later, I’ve decided that I shouldn’t encourage such a shitty behavior and I should probably get a better laptop. In fact, more conscious consumption is one of the main things I was thinking about during 2019. The thing is, by tolerating crappy features inside the products we use, we pressure our peers to do the same and we also encourage nasty companies to do a lot of shady stuff such as stealing our data (yes, everyone is after our activity data and every piece of software is a spying tool until proven otherwise).
My choice fell on Dell XPS 13 and I’ve been using this laptop exclusively for the last six months since the summer of 2019. This means Linux, so I’m finally Apple-free, but what about its partner in crime, Google?
Google is an interesting beast. It doesn’t sell crappy hardware while blindly denying it’s defects and it once had a motto which said “Don’t be evil”, although they changed their mind and ditched it a few years ago. Their way to make money is quite clever and also insidious. They seem to be everywhere, giving away free stuff like Santa Claus. Do you need email? Searching for something? Maybe you want to use maps? Where would you go to do most of your tasks online? Google controls a huge chunk of the modern web and it follows and tracks you everywhere in order to sell targeted ads to their clients. And who’s the target? Right…
The problem is, it’s not that easy to remove Google from our lives. It’s pretty easy to switch from an iPhone to a hyped new Pixel but its just choosing between two evils. Unfortunately, ~80% of mobile phones are controlled by Google and the rest of them are controlled by Apple. There are no alternative mainstream options.
So I thought. I mean, it’s true, but I work in tech so it don’t have to be mainstream and I can tolerate a bit of complexity and read a guide or two. The obvious non-mainstream alternative is LineageOS, the successor to CyanogenMod, so I tried it and I’ve never came back to Google ROMs so it looks like I managed to ditch both Google and Apple this year, what a great year it was!
LineageOS team is doing a great job and they would probably appreciate any financial contributions. I don’t have time to write code for this project so I started supporting them on Patreon.
Hugo is a poster child of a modern open source project. Seriously, it’s everything one can dream of and far, far beyound. Easy to use? Checked. Free? Of course. Well maintained and constantly evolving? No doubt about that. Their changelogs and documentation is a pleasure to read, a rare property for a piece of software, unfortunately.
So, I’ve decided to support it too.
Self Hosting: Own Your Data
Taking control of our personal data was one of the key things I was thinking about during 2019. The rise of cloud computing and centralization of web are big threats to our economy and our personal security. We have to remember that other people will always try to better their lives instead of ours, sometimes it’s just a zero-sum game (although honest business is definetely not and some “bad apples” actually hurt every other business to, casting a shadow of doubt on other market participants). All of that marketing bullshit like “we need your data for your own good” is one of the biggest lies in history. We can clearly see that there is a huge demand for the idea of giving people control over their data and times are changing. I’m talking about GDPR, California Consumer Privacy Act and other legislative efforts to limit the damage that data-hungry tech companies do to their users without their clear consent (“it’s in a 100-pages user agreement” is a bullshit excuse).
I believe that things will get better in the future but there is actually no need to wait: it’s entirely possible to take back control of most of our data now, thanks to cheap hardware and entirely free and verifiable software.
Raspberry Pi 4
This beast sells for $35 and it can do a lot of stuff, including storing our personal data. It can also be a great learning tool for anyone with an intrest in Linux but who isn’t ready to install it on their main PC. Raspberry Pi allows anyone to play with Linux computer without worrying about driver compatibility, lacking documentation and other typical Linux issues.
Nextcloud is a great platform for hosting your own data. There is no need to give your contacts to Google, Nextcloud can store it for you. Also, there is no need to use Dropbox or Google Drive, the same things can be done using Nextcloud for a fraction of a price and you’ll stay in control of your data. It has a gallery app, an RSS reader, an instant messeger and many other things that can come handy and that usually require leaking your data to third parties. It’s a very cool project, and it can easily replace most of the Google services without compromising your privacy and security.
It’s hard to underestimate EFF’s role in making web a better place. Their most popular project, HTTPS Everywhere, is used by millions of independent websites, including this one, and it’s free. Those guys know what they’re doing and they also accept bitcoin donations which is pretty nice.
Wishes for 2020
I don’t like plans and commitments, especially public ones, so I’ll refrain from them but I have a few wishes. I have no power to make them true but I’ll do my part, where possible:
- It would be nice to see a cleaner and faster web without countless trackers and ads.
- More visa-free countries and more ways to stay in different countries for longer than a usual vacation, please.
- Woldn’t it be great for people to be less dependent on nasty intermediaries? Our financial system is too centralized and I hope that we’ll see some traction on the cryptocurrency front. In the ideal world, our financial data should be private and in our total control and we should be able to authorize our transactions by ourselves. It’s not the case now, unfortunately, and I have to rely on my bank and my broker. I consider such a developent a logical next step in order to take back control of our data.
- More progress on efficient tools that respect both programmers and machines.
- Less Google Service dependencies in Android apps. Google Play isn’t the only store around!