New Year’s resolutions, most people make them around New Year’s eve and the same people tend to forget those good intentions about a week later, especially when they slightly overlooked the ‘implementation details’. I don’t consider that an absolute failure: the mere act of contemplating can be worth it.
“A secular tradition in which a person makes a promise to do an act of self-improvement or something slightly nice, such as opening doors for people beginning from New Year’s Day.” — Wikipedia
I formulate my New Year’s resolutions throughout the year — I think that’s far more efficient than the yearly variant. Efficiency certainly doesn’t imply success but at least I don’t have to wait for the year to cycle to be able to adapt or realise new aims.
This journal is the result of such a New Year’s resolution.
I am one of those people that have always had a hundred running projects and even more ideas. Bringing thoughts to fruition often required me to learn matters by diving right into them. When I was a kid I would open anything that was screwed together and I probably bolted half the city library’s books. A no-reference-and-I-must-learn type of hacker; quite common in the eighties. Nowadays I feel privileged to be able to wear a lot of different hats as a result: that of a software developer, designer, teacher, maybe even a writer’s. I usually avoid being boxed in like that: my profession simply reads “to create stuff and to teach others how to do the same”. For now it adds to the story.
Accompanied by an ever-learning nature these characteristics have served me well for many years but I often found myself wondering if I was operating very effectively. Probably not. To me the time I invest learning and creating seems not directly proportional to the amount of tracks I pull on this planet. I felt the need for a new objective: more output (visible products), burning less input (time).
I figured I should begin and shorten my list of interests — radically. Or, put differently, list the interests that I would continue to invest time in. I wrote up a shortlist considering the subjects that I really could not live without.
My effort came to a screeching halt. I got stuck going over about ten entries of equal importance! I could not get rid of typography for it was as important as animation. Get rid of 8-bit computing? Impossible! As with any New Year’s resolution, this had to be the moment were people ought to quit and try again next year. Weeding the list was quite hard.
My work and hobbies are intertwined, they always have been: a true gift but a potential time-devouring death trap nonetheless. I needed to focus less on what I was able to do and more on what I wanted to do so I rephrased the initial task: “Name the one thing to do the rest of your life.”
It turned out I had the answer all along.
My career began in 1983 when I was ten years old. During the holidays I spent a week with my uncle and aunt and wandering the house I discovered a room with an altar. The shrine consisted of a rosewood table featuring some sort of plastic carriage-less typewriter. Cables stuck out. Together with a color television set it was carefully aligned in the middle of the enormous desk. In front of the table stood an impressive office chair. No doubt… This was some sort of control room!
Shrines were not uncommon in the early eighties. Back then people treated their computer as they would a gold treasure.
The ‘typewriter’ I found out to be a Commodore VIC-20 and my uncle was happy to let me explore it. I remember loading up and play Shadowfax one afternoon. Just before diner I noticed a book with the pontifical title ‘Machine Code Monitor’ and I thought it might explain the mysterious VIC-1213 cartridge that stuck out the back of the computer.
The manual mentioned how to activate the cartridge:
SYS 24576. I was greeted by the most beautiful screen, promising riddles to solve.
I don’t know if my uncle deliberately had the manual lying around — I should ask him someday. What I do know is that opening that book shaped my life. Staring into the luring darkness, I entered a magical world and spent the rest of that week figuring out the machine, unveiling its guts bit-by-bit. It was the first time I enjoyed ‘little victories’, a process where one basicly fights the computer, eventually subduing it.1 A week later I had written my first little game in MOS 6502 machine code. I was so proud. That same year I got a computer shrine of my own and I embarked on my journey: from a ten-year-old self-taught assembly coder to a self-proclaimed software engineer thirty years later.
Early exposure to computers got me started into technology and it subsequently got me into broad- and narrowcasting, digital print, multimedia, 2D and 3D graphics, application programming, websites, and teaching classes. I wanted to go back to what I like most! So, back to the shortlist then.
Cutting down the list turned out not hard at all: I would again steer my life towards creating software. There will be plenty of potential to touch on all kinds of side-projects but I will not invest time — hobby and work alike — unless it contributes to either one of these categories.
- Create nifty software
- Write or teach about creating nifty software
This is definitely where I want to dwell the rest of my life. In hindsight I knew I wanted this ever since I emerged from my uncle’s sacred computer room. I am also pretty sure I can until the power goes out.
Furthermore, I can create all the nifty software I want but in order to leave trails I have to at least write about it, hence the birth of this journal. My public diary on the creation of software — Shifter of Bits — because that is what I am ultimately.
Last weeks I vigorously mastered Jekyll to have my pages generated, quickly read a book on SVG to execute the Shifter of Bits logo I designed, and I was about to brush up on Ruby to create a seemingly missing plugin until it hit me like a freight train – I had already spent an awful lot of time and I had not even begun writing my maiden article! New Year’s promises surely are designed to be broken. Luckily, it’s the pondering that makes them worthwhile.