Chris Alexander

On Engineering

2011 Review of the Year

31st December, 2011

At University they try and teach us that reflection is a good thing, and you should always look back at how you’ve performed to find ways to improve.

In lieu of any reflection I (haven’t) done the rest of the year, I’ve decided to be honest and sum up my year in a single blog post.

Overall, this year was actually pretty good.

Academically, Part 4 finished off well, with the robot getting a good mark and only causing minor injury to one lecturer and itself on two occasions (this must be some kind of record). The results ended up second best in the year, which is frustrating, especially when that can be attributed to a single module on which my feedback overflowed two written A4 sides (none of it good) - unfortunately said module was mandatory.

Part 5 started off pretty well, with a lot of teaching and not many lectures. The business school’s entrepreneurship module looked like it was going the same way as the aforementioned module from Part 4, but I managed to bail from that with just a couple of hours remaining before the transfer window closed, so to speak. I could do with some more time to work on the robot this coming term, so I will be ditching some paid work and all of my teaching duties (they screwed me over on payments so I’m never going near them again) to focus a bit more - progress has not been sluggish, though.

I have actually been happier this year than I have for the past few. Having finally completely settled into Reading, I have reached the point where I think my work-life balance is nearly actually right. It could do with some work, but it’s mostly there. I’m looking forward to getting a full-time job next July so that I can hopefully completely focus the line between business and pleasure - something that has been hard to do with things like the robot projects which have basically become work as well as fun things to work on (not that I’m complaining, at least I’m enjoying what I’m doing), but that inability to switch off when you get in in the evening is something that I’d like to get rid of. Other than an extremely badly timed case of severe food poisoning (thanks, Wagamamas) the three days before Christmas, my health has been good and I am constantly grateful for that - I would not accomplish half the things I do if I were any less than perfectly healthy and I am really glad that I can often rely on my body to take the absurd combination of work hours, food and drink, and environmental conditions that get thrown at it with rarely a hiccup.

Work this year has been excellent. The summer was spent at a brilliant company in London which I continued since then, and I still have some contracts in Reading. Fortunately I can work on all of these things from the comfort of my computer chair at home, but there are also offices I like to frequent to catch up with the teams.

The year benefited greatly by spending nearly 10% of it abroad (all in one go too) with a 5-week trip to China in September and early October. That was a huge amount of fun and I learnt a lot about the planet’s oldest civilisation. I certainly feel that I now regularly object to certain Western judgements and opinions on the East, which I will almost certainly vent in blog posts going forwards. China was also a photographic experience like no other, and I managed to populate 10 16gig memory cards and snap 6,500+ pics. You can see the photos improving across the trip and I look forward to publishing a few of the photos online when I get round to editing the damn things. I can tell you that I really enjoy flicking back through them, as they bring back very happy memories. I should also make a special mention to Wenni, without whom the holiday and definitely the entire year would not have been what it has been.

In terms of technology, this year has seen significant changes in what I do online and what I use. The new camera has been in consistent and regular use, and I think I may need an upgrade in 18 months rather than 2 years. We’ll see how the bank balance is! I got a new Galaxy Nexus for Christmas (thanks, me!) and there will be more to come on that - there was nothing especially wrong with the Nexus One, but after 2 years of extremely hard use it was starting to get a bit tired out I think. Nice to have something shiny to enter the New Year with. I have fallen out of love with many things online this year. Technology blogs are now rarely read - especially what are now essentially rags like TechCrunch, Mashable, ReadWriteWeb etc. The Next Web has gone up in my opinion, bucking the trend, and I find so little of anything interesting on the others that I dropped them from my feed reader and unfollow anyone who dares link to them. I’ve fallen out of love with social (Twitter, especially Facebook, and kind of Google+), not because there’s especially anything wrong with them, but probably because I just don’t like people that much. I’m now looking for interesting content to read online and I’m having a lot of problems finding it. Perhaps that’s a problem to solve another day. I’d like to build an anti-blogging engine for the site, too - no comments or stuff like that, just one user who writes things; perhaps a nice photo renderer too.

Aside from a few downsides - a couple of funerals, and a few dark days - 2011 has been a stunner, and I look forward to carrying that momentum on into 2012, finals, graduation, and then the big wide world that follows.