Year MMXXI in 8 minutes13 min read

Near the end of 2020, I put a lot of thought into reevaluating my business’ value proposition, strategy, and processes. It’s a good thing I did that back then, because 2021 was quite different from 2020; I had much less time to “deepthink”, and I spent a majority of 2021 on an intense work treadmill, which led to me micro-burning out three times in the process. Also, guilt about feeling like I’m not contributing to open-source enough.

In that year, I also noticed a lot of “shortened fuses” around me—a pervasive edginess throughout society—along with bully-type abuse in various places. It’s an interesting story to analyze from an experiential and psychological standpoint, but I’ll cover that in a separate blog post sometime, to keep this one simple (so it takes roughly 8 minutes to read).

For now, I’ll focus on the usual short summary of my work + personal + open-source discoveries and activities from 2021, without too much emphasis on the deeper chaos going on in that year.

Professional life year overview

  • My then accountants suddenly told me, in January of that year, that they would no longer be serving small businesses for income tax reports, and thus “We’re dropping you, good luck!” 🤯 I then spent weeks exhaustively searching and evaluating accounting firms to find a new partner, and eventually found a top-notch accounting duo to help me with income tax reports in the long term. I asked them hardball questions on their career objectives and whether/when they would drop me like a hot potato, and I told them I couldn’t go through another taxheartbreak. Now that I’ve found you, you better stay with me, nya?
  • Worked for a surprising number of clients throughout the year (including a couple NGOs, as you can see in this case study about an in-depth technical & financial feasibility study and that case study about a naming/branding consulting project). I’ll keep it at that for now, again to keep this blog post simple.
  • Throughout the year, I (re)built a lot of websites for myself, and realized again just how much time & effort this requires. Since I timed myself, I now have some quantitative insights to share with all of you wondering, “How Hard Can It Be?™”; see my “How long does it take to create a website? (and why your FLOSS project doesn’t need one)” article.
    • Publicly unveiled Regento, after having finally created its website, at the same time as I was doing some pretty intensive consulting work in April (y’know, when things happen “all at the same time”…), hence the 2nd micro-burnout of the year.
    • Reworked the idéemarque branding agency website contents entirely during the summer. Did not blog about it until now. The design isn’t especially fancy/flashy, but it’ll do, I guess.
    • Quietly created Atypica’s photo portfolio in the fall season. Did not blog about it until 2022.

Personal life year overview

  • Summer 2021, with the arrival of vaccines and nice outdoors weather in the North, felt exactly like this Tokyo-III scene:
Yes, I know, this is the scene where everything feels “normal” before shit hits the fan again. The parallels are uncanny.
  • You might remember that I tried a kratky hydroponic indoors garden in 2020, and had no luck with tomatoes. In the winter/spring of 2021 I thought, “Perhaps I need to try my luck again with a regular self-watering soil planter, and lots of artificial light”. Well, I did: since September 2021, I can confirm that even with that kind of setup and a 4′ vertical fluorescent light to supplement the winter’s natural light, the tomato plant does not flower (and thus does not fruit), and barely survives better than the previous kratky hydroponic experiment; possibly its slightly better mildew resistance this time around is due to the artificial light, but I am not sure.
  • Made my Brother multifunction printer’s scanner work again with Linux, by setting up a dedicated machine with lots of ugly hackery to make it work. Now it works, let’s not ever touch it again for the next five years.
  • German cockroaches got in (via a package I brought inside) during the summer. It creeped me the hell out. I went through some very extensive research on how to get rid of them effectively and without unintended side-effects. Long story short, I killed them all without using chemicals, but that messed up my quality of life for some months, as it definitely didn’t help my sleep quality. Spraying pesticides or using tape is harmful and pointless; the real trick is to use a very thinly sprayed fine layer of diatomaceous earth (so that it is invisible), lay a couple of boron-infused gel baits (Advion™ is impossible to find up here) in every corner of every baseboard near the nest, all while starving them from any food or water, then… waiting and having a lot of patience and trust in that method. Also, always having a vacuum cleaner on hand (I can confirm that they do not survive a cyclonic canister) and manoeuvering quickly to catch them late at night to reduce their numbers. It took two months (or 4 months if you take into account the last two months of “zero encounters”), and it was nerve-racking. I learned a lot in the process, and they are certainly never going to be an issue again.
  • I probably spent 30-60% of the year away from home because of the constant hammering most days. Did you know that a set of one 8-stories-high building and one 20-stories-high building spanning a whole street requires about 2000 piles for their foundations? It took them roughly 12 months to drive all those piles into the ground (it didn’t help that the GC was using only one or two pile drivers at a time).
Pro Tip™: this song really helps to cover it all up.

A most welcome visitor

My longtime friend Étienne suddenly came back to visit Canada again for the first time in two years. He was originally too shy to ask for my hospitality, so I insisted to have him as my honored guest and to host him for the whole 3 weeks of his stay in Montréal. Being able to spend so much time with him is a privilege I have not had since, I think, fifteen years (the previous time was probably 2006). The timing was perfect; after a whole year of stress and work that had left me eager to have some sort of change of pace in December, this was my mood in anticipation of spending time with him again:

We had fun fixing lots of stuff, and simply being care-free geeks on a vacation:

  • I helped him livestream a wedding, with some of my studio equipment and the wonder of OBS Studio. I also took a couple hundred photos of the event.
  • He brought me a bunch of VoIP deskphones for my office, originally taken from an office in Tokyo. I’m now ready to open up a call center or something.
  • He brought me a replacement Nintendo Gamecube controller, again from Japan. Now we can honestly play Super Smash Brothers Melee again!.. if only having multiple guests was still a thing nowadays.
  • He completely tore down, cleaned and reassembled my projector (that I had föked up a year prior by accidentally blowing some dust onto the projector’s DMD chip, and that I did not have the time nor courage to fix by myself until that point). I’d like to think I helped with this deep-cleaning process as an assistant, but frankly he did all the difficult work, as you can see:
  • He contaminated me with the wonder that is the “future funk” music genre, particularly Moe Shop‘s music.
  • He helped me make my other Brother printer work over the network.
  • I had never had the time and energy to mess with my router in the past year after its initial setup, so he flashed a new version of OpenWRT and finally figured out how to make multi-frequencies multi-SSD networks work seamlessly.
  • More importantly, it gave me the opportunity to have lengthy discussions with him and see what projects he’s been working on, and see how he’s been doing mentally, physically, and in terms of life trajectory. Being oceans apart for years meant that it was more difficult to check on friends’ well-being, so I welcomed the opportunity to catch up.

Open-source findings

  • Did you know that the “Gnome” icon theme still exists, and is not the same as the “Adwaita” icon theme?
  • I proposed an epic wallpaper concept for Fedora, but it went nowhere, much to my surprise.
  • I found the sudden disappearance of the GNOME Swedish Conspiracy to be an unacceptable loss to our shared cultural heritage; therefore I filed this formal inquiry into the matter, issue number 1.
  • Successfully lobbied for Planet GNOME to properly support Unicode blog posts, including emojis. You’re welcome 😇
  • Filed a couple of Jitsi UX issues from my observations, during the pandemic, of computer-illiterate users’ difficulties with this open-source WebRTC videoconferencing app. I’m happy to see now that many of them have been fixed.
  • Was pleased to see XFA PDF forms now being supported in Firefox. Look forward to my blog post on March 9th to learn about the possible implications.
  • Discovered that you can actually export addressbooks to .CSV in Evolution, but that capability is not presented in the GUI and you really need to know it exists at all.
  • Want to contribute an easy UX refinement to Evolution’s mail composer GUI? How about modernizing the hyperlinking dialog using GtkPopover? Check out the other newcomers-friendly tasks too.
  • Heads up all Evolution die-hards who would like to escape Google Calendar but still can’t because of visual info density: I’ve now re-filed my old bug report on the matter: “Upcoming weeks” / “Next 3 weeks” future events view mode. Give it a 👍 or consider contributing a patch if you’re more competent than me (as you most certainly are).
  • Suggested my amazing, revolutionary™ timeout-based search architecture for GTG. The results, as seen in GTG 0.5 and newer (such as 0.6, planned for release in the coming days) is a dramatic improvement in performance; search takes 1-3 seconds instead of 17+ seconds in heavy data sets.
    • I made the same recommendation in Simple Tab Groups for Firefox and the results were dramatic, as enthusiastically tweeted. You’re welcome.
    • As tweeted: I made the same live search method recommendation for Nautilus, the GNOME files manager. See this ticket (and please contribute a patch to the project, if you can).
    • As tweeted: I also filed a ticket to make the same suggestion—use a timeout-based search-as-you-type approach—for GTK’s FileChooser widget. I’m just wildly guessing, but this might be a reasonably easy-enough bug for a newcomer to contribute a patch for, but at the same time, this is GtkFileChooser we’re talking about, you’re certainly bound for technical surprises (but a great learning opportunity).

Miscellaneous findings

  • Realized part of why I’ve accumulated such a huge backlog of subjects to blog about here over the years, with so few actually getting published: this heat matrix of mine shows that the technical but low-impact topics are endless! High technicality = high accuracy and documentation requirements, a tremendous investment of time (each of my blog posts typically takes multiple days of work); if there is no clear impact/reward, then there is little incentive when there are so many other imperatives in life.
  • Realized that 78% of the USA’s cash (of all time) appeared out of thin air within the month of May 2021, and I still don’t understand how this stock market bubble that has been going on since 2011 keeps going without popping, with all that’s been going on in 2020-2021. Markets sure can stay irrational longer than we can stay solvent or sane.
  • Invented a method to reinforce cheap leatherette keychains with zipties.
  • Found some rusted, abandoned cast iron cookware in my building’s recycling room, and embarked on an adventure to learn all about cast iron and how to properly season and maintain it. With my eight back-to-back grapeseed oil seasoning passes in the oven, I think I did a pretty good job at seasoning them. So I guess I’m part of the Cast Iron Cult now. Considering that properly seasoned cast iron is naturally non-stick, who needs Teflon?! Besides, you can never have too many mêlée weapons. Even the Government of Canada basically says that cast iron and stainless steel are probably the only things that you can really trust (from a health/safety perspective)…
  • Discovered that you can sanitize (and endlessly reuse) N95 and surgical face masks, by using an electric pressure cooker (such as an Instant Pot) as a dry heat autoclave.
  • For all you nerds whose glasses keep slipping off your nose: binder clips! (no, not really… turns out there are silicone ear retainers out there)