How do I manage to do it? I really don't know. Warning: long, hickledly-pickledy post.
At the moment I'm backing up all my data. It seems like the right thing to do at this time of year. I'm still hugely paranoid about data. In addition to the dropcopy script I use to deposit my photos on my home computer via Dropbox, the home computer runs a RAID-1 array, and I've purchased the Crashplan family plan which backs everything up to their servers as well. My latest peak in paranoia is that today I've started backing up my Twitter account and my Facebook account. I've never treated either account as important because I've never trusted either party with my data, but over the years I've actually accumulated a lot of stuff on there, and it would annoy me if I ever lost it. Once the offline backup is complete I'll have my social accounts' data on Dropbox, Crashplan and the RAID-1 array, and then perhaps my manic backup urges will be satisfied.
I've learned a lot of new things over the past year. Shockingly, none of the things I learned were shocking. They were all a variation or an extension of something I already knew from before. I guess that's what happens when you get older, or more boring.
In the field of software development I've learned a bunch of technical things (Google Appengine, EC2, various Django libraries) that are absolutely not worth mentioning. It's almost like 'learning' to drive a new car. Stuff might be in different places but the fundamental technology is the same, and it only takes little time to become proficient in something new.
What this year (and half of last year) did offer me was the chance to work with incredible developers. No offense to my colleagues and best friends who shared the Japan experience with me at Asahi Kasei, but during our time there software development was not the main focus. At Potato London it's all about software development, and the people working there reflect that. They're all brilliant people, and each one has their own skillset. Working with them provided me with more insight into myself, and how I am different from other developers; which things I do better than them, which things I do worse, and which things I do different.
This distinction naturally drove me to a role that involves a lot of high-level things, mostly designing and deciding the architecture of whatever it is we are about to build. I also tend to devote a lot of my time on developer infrastructure (deployment bots, continuous integration, group chats) and communication between developers, acting as a go-to point for technical information about the project. In terms of technical skills there is always someone around who knows how to do something better or faster than me, but I seem to have a knack for keeping the overview and anticipating what problems might pop up in the future.
So no, I don't think I've become massively better at anything this year. Rather than improving skills, the thing I've gained is awareness.
There's a reason I posted Maslow's hourglass of needs the other day. I seem to lack a need for some of the items mentioned in the hierarchy. Perhaps it's because I'm introvert by nature, but back in Japan, I didn't often feel that I was missing something by not being in a relationship, or by having to set my own professional goals because my supervisors didn't really care about what I did. Motivation tends to come from within for me, which is probably reflected by me quitting my job and going on a massive cycling trip. That event is almost three years ago now. That winter was spent preparing equipment, fantasizing, ending my Japan life. It was the most memorable time of my life.
I've been living in the UK for one and a half years now. Life for me has stabilized. I've found the things I did not have (or were lacking) in Japan: a stable relationship and professional achievement and respect. But that's just filling in the last bits of a puzzle that was nearly complete already. Living a perfectly happy life every single day gets boring just as eating steak (or even Japanese curry!) every day gets boring. Something always needs to change to stimulate that feeling of being alive. Perfection that lasts forever is boring. I left the perfection of my life in Japan and found a new intellectually stimulating job that has so many things for me to work on that I would still feel intellectually satisfied many years into the future. If the project lasts that long. But I've adapted to the situation,so it's time to stir things up again. So I began a startup with my friend Brian.
I can't comment on the startup much, yet. My technical skills haven't been tested, and they won't be any time in the near future. My assumptions have been tested a lot, mostly by Brian who is trying to instill a sense of marketing in me. Can't say I've caught the marketing bug yet. But I feel very happy to finally make a serious attempt at getting something off the ground. I've 'launched' several hobby projects in the past that were technically finished, but they all ended after the initial announcement. I've never bothered to give a project a chance to become big enough to be successful.
Back to non-work life. I've traveled a lot since I came to be in London, mostly thanks to my girlfriend. She loves to go abroad, which makes it all the more shit that her passport got stolen when we were in Lisbon. Being stuck in the UK is not a great experience, and I have no problem at all exclaiming here that I do not like the UK. When I first came here I was very glad to be away from the Netherlands (for completely subjective reasons), but I'm starting to feel that the Netherlands is actually a lot better to live in than in the UK. I've even reached the point that, if I had to choose to spend the rest of my life in the Netherlands or in the UK, I would choose the Netherlands. Fortunately there's plenty of other countries to choose from.
Two things I will always remember 2012 by are both bad. The first was that my girlfriend's backpack got stolen in Portugal while I was with her. That was the first time I experienced something like that. Still pissed off about it. Still feel I want to kill whoever did it, not even (entirely) out of punishment, just to remove him from society. Permanently. We're still waiting for the UK government to approve my girlfriend's visa, even though she's lived here almost her whole life. Both Portugal and the UK can go to hell for all I care.
The other thing is not the theft of my old friend the touring bicycle. For some reason I never felt that emotional about it. It just happened, it was gone, and that's it. I do feel that whoever stole it should receive a quick shot to the head, but in terms of emotional attachment to the bike, it was just a lot less than you would expect. A couple of months after the theft I bought a new bicycle, which is better in every way than the old one (except the compassbell; it just seems impossible to order a working one from anywhere). It doesn't feel like an old friend yet, and I don't think it will until I take it out for a nice touring trip. Spring, perhaps. Maslow's hourglass says it should happen.
The real event that caused me major psychological trauma was dealing with my estate agent at my old apartment. I can't count how many times that evil woman lied to me or tried to cheat me in some way. And because I had signed the contract there was no way I could get out of it either. When I finally did get out of it she pulled up a nasty clause that said I had to quit at either exactly 6 months or exactly 12 months, otherwise I'd have to pay extra. And that's just an example of the evil shit she did. Never before in my life have I had to have direct dealings with a person so obviously out to hurt me. I felt trapped and unable to run away, partly because of London. My usual method of dealing with things is to take a nice long walk and sit down in a park somewhere until I've calmed down. But I've had moments where I was just unable to do that and had to return to my shitty apartment while still frustrated and angry. It just didn't go away, for weeks, even months on end. I was so happy when I finally managed to cancel my contract, it was like a new world was opening up for me and everything just looked a lot brighter. I didn't even care about getting back my 1500GBP deposit at that stage, although I did get it back many months later after several insistent phone calls. This experience has really taught me that you can't trust anyone, and it's ok to be a dick about it, because there are evil people out there that will screw you over. It's something I will never forget.
This post is getting too long. 2013 is coming. I don't know what to say about 2013, except that it will be my last year in the UK. Everything else will be a surprise.