So that was 2018…

It’s 1 January 2019 as I write this, so Happy New Year!

At the changing of the years, I like to go back over the previous twelve months, and think about what I want do over the next year. I did a similar thing in 2017, and looking over it this sentence in particular struck me:

The day job may have other things to say about all of this, especially if I score the promotion I’ve been working towards and people keep departing, but we’ll see.


– me, 12 months ago

The day (and often late night) job

I got the promotion. Yay! But the other thing happened too. Boy did it ever.

Before the year’s end, all but one other person in my team of six (not counting the new hire) had been poached by another (much better paying) company across town. Two levels of management above my team had already gone the same way, and one of those managers had taken over from another poached manager. My team in particular has domain knowledge the poachy company wants and so every single one of us was approached, me included. Only one of us flat turned them down.

When they approached me, I said “not yet”. At the time I didn’t want that kind of distraction hanging over a big unfinished project when it was so very close to done.

The project’s done now. It’s an enterprise search system. People tell me it works better than Google’s did.

This year’s big project

A search engine is sort of a specialised database. You feed documents into it to create an index, then you run queries on the index to retrieve information. The way it retrieves that information is calculating lots of points in N-dimensional space representing its documents, then figuring out how close those points are to the point which represents the thing you asked for. A well-configured search engine also transforms its index and query data to allow for more intuitive results. (If you search for cat you probably want cats as well. If you search for qoull, of course you meant to type quoll.) There’s quite a lot of domain knowledge involved in information retrieval but that’s honestly a series of blog posts all on its own.

The company’s Google enterprise search hardware was due to go out of licence in July, after which it would stop working. I couldn’t spend any actual money buying a replacement, but I had to come up with something all the same.

After months of working almost entirely solo, I put together a search service based on the open source search engine Apache Solr and it’s been received extremely well. Maybe it’s because the interface also shows a cat emoji if someone’s search contains the word “cat”. Or possibly because it authenticates people invisibly and actually finds things, something the Google one had no end of trouble with.

I’m really proud of what I achieved with it, but my creative momentum and mental health definitely suffered. That’s why I mention it.

Meanwhile, in Blender…

If there’s been an overarching theme to this year creatively, it’s been stepping back from big complicated things and working simpler and smaller.

…the Sun shines brightly!

This year AMITS stopped being the focal point for my creativity. I’m no longer under any illusion that it’s possible to learn animation from the context of making an animated movie. Animation is way too complicated to figure out as I go along, and I haven’t got enough practical experience to build on. Fair enough, though: I didn’t know what I didn’t know.

As a result, “A moment in the sun” was mostly back-burnered, although it continued to simmer. Then suddenly in October, there came a burst of inspiration: a story rewrite, a scratch audio track, thumbnail sketches and a story reel! Gosh! It’s now in its best ever state story-wise – short (90 seconds), dense, unambitious, silly and fun. All I had to do was stop working on it entirely for a few months and it came good. Yay.

I’m not holding myself to a deadline or a schedule on AMITS anymore. I want to work on it as time and energy allow – a proper crafty hobby project.

Little things (for the fun of it)

I wanted to become more confident and competent with animating anyway, so back in February, I started some self-paced courses in animation over at CG Cookie. I’m a long way from where I was a year ago, although I still have a long way to go again before I’m where I want to be. I know much more of what I don’t know.

My main blocker has been learning to use reference effectively. Stepping back from animation and understanding how I use reference in general has helped there too. In short, I let the reference dictate its own ideas instead of using it to inform my own ideas. It’s something I want to work on.

Beyond finally knocking half a dozen animation exercises over, I want to do more “little things for the fun of it” in 2019. I want to do more work on visible things which I can share instead of being stuck doing invisible things for months on end.

Keyframe Tools

Friendly animator Looch badgered me into porting a couple of tools from his favourite Maya plugin animBot into Blender 2.79. This became the Keyframe Tools add-on. The tools are functional right now but neither numerous nor super-polished. It’s still in a state of “feel free to use it but don’t expect much” (pre-alpha).

I want to get it working in 2.80 but beyond that, I have no big plans. I have more than enough software to support at my day job to want to support software outside of my day job, and Blender’s API for F-Curves is still too messy to want to deal with in my spare time.

Other things

Whatever happened to the synthesiser… ?

The interest in Eurorack petered out in 2018. The last thing I bought was the mighty Intellijel Metropolis stage sequencer – a reward after completing a release milestone for the search service.

I’m happy to report I haven’t spent a cent on any new music gear since August. (Yay. I’m cured.)

I recorded some nice whooshing noises from the modular all the same and put them up on Bandcamp. I also re-released an old album of loud ambient music called Music for Open Plan Offices. I haven’t had much use for it at the day job since everyone quit.

Writing novels

I don’t really talk about my writing much either, except in the context of “I’m writing to procrastinate animation”. But since this is a recap of the year, this is what I wrote.

I got through writing most of a first draft of a novel in February. It was about a cut-throat society of vermin living in a sort of midway universe between Mundane Reality and Deep Magic, and the chaos that ensues when someone indefatigably pleasant finds their way into a scheming nest of bastards who all want him for themselves. I put it down because it was too complicated to work out the middle and I didn’t like it enough to go to the effort of finishing it.

Before the cholecystectomy in late October, I decided to bust out a novel NaNoWriMo-style for the hell of it. Two weeks and 63,000 odd words later, I’d drafted a story about a gifted magical being more concerned with lording his talents over the easily impressed than doing anything useful. This arrogance winds up getting him exiled into the human world where he has to fit in for a whole month or face a terrifying forfeit. It’s a sweet little story with some fun characters.

I mention these only to see if anyone will ask about reading them.

Japanese

I started learning Chinese in November 2017 when Duolingo released their Chinese course, but this year Japanese was coming up a lot more in my day-to-day life (following sumo, mainly). I don’t have much use for Chinese other than saying dissidenty-type things at my Chinese-made mobile phone.

Recently I’ve kicked it up a notch and got into spaced repetition systems to boost my vocab and grammar. It’s intense but it’s definitely delivering results. I feel it turning into one of those things where the challenge, frustration and reward make it fantastically addictive – except instead of having spent loads of cash and time with electronics, I spend less cash overall and understand a whole other language. Bonus!

The future of the blog

I started keeping this journal back in 2012 on Tumblr. Back when AMITS was really roaring along, I posted something every weekend as a show and tell. The idea was to represent the passing of time as the project got made so that when someone goes back and reads it, they get a sense for the tempo of the project.

AMITS’s tempo subsequently dropped and the weekly updates became monthly. I got interested in other things again and the monthly recaps got much less focussed on animation.

My engagement levels from here are pretty close to zero as well. I would love to say that I’m not fussed about engagement but even I’m at the point now where I want to re-think what purpose this blog even serves. Regular posts feel more out of habit than for having something interesting to say.

I’m going to just get on with my 2019 and if Something Happens, I’ll make a concerted effort to be interesting about it. Very possibly I’ll blog about Japanese.

For now, that’s it. Have a great 2019!