Rick Carlino

Co-founder at FarmBot and Fox.Build Makerspace,

software historian, Open Source tinkerer.

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2019 Year in Review

2019 was a reset year. Although I intentionally avoided high-involvement tasks like public speaking or long-term side projects, I did complete a number of personal interest projects.

My personal projects were made “public by default”. I was amazed to see them bring fulfilment on both a personal level and to outside observers. Seemingly trivial projects, such as my article on the history of CGI scripting were able to garner positive attention from hundreds of thousands of developers. I am thankful to all the people who shared feedback and helped me along the way. Looking forward, I hope to use my renewed energy to pursue larger, longer-term projects that help a wider audience.

A note about my yearly review articles: The 2019 Year in Review summarizes my experiences in 2019 and sets plans for 2020. It is a commitment device that I use to set my aims for the year ahead as well as gauge the progress of goals I have set.

Noteworthy Events in 2019

  • Attended All Things Open in North Carolina
  • Ran the Fox Valley Half Marathon
  • Nominated for the Fourth Revolution Awards
  • Finished 11 of 15 personal interest projects
  • Attended a weekend long Nerves Framework workshop in Chicago
  • Recorded a pilot episode of a Fox.Build podcast and appeared on the Downtown Saint Charles Partnership Podcast
  • Created a float for the 2019 Saint Charles Holiday Parade
  • Publicly spoke to a group of students from NIU‘s Collegiate Entrepreneurs Organization on behalf of Fox.Build
  • 2,516 commit activity in Github
  • Enjoyed a nice week-long vacation in the Dominican Republic

Books

I read less than previous years. This was consistent with my intent to relax more in 2019. Below is a non-exhaustive list of books I’ve read in 2019:

How Did My Plan Work Out?

I came close to meeting my initial goal of sharing 15 project completions, finishing 11 total.

The biggest lesson I learned from this experiment was that the world is more interested in listening than I had initially realized. Many of my projects were so trivial in nature that I would often question the usefulness of sharing my progress publicly. I felt that many of my accomplishments were too small or too specific to my own interests. Public responses to my projects varied on a project-by-project basis, but ultimately all of them received a positive response when they were shared. More importantly, every project received at least one note from a stranger telling me that they found the work useful to their needs or interests. To put this into perspective, my most popular post on Lobste.rs this year was a dog collar that converts barks to emails! While not a world-changing endeavor, it did generate a positive response and help others explore technologies they were interested in. I also was exposed to new ideas that I would not have been exposed to had I not shared the work publicly. For instance, did you know that the ESP32 has wakeword detection? I did not know that and probably never would have learned that if I hadn’t taken the time to share my work publicly.

The world is listening if you are willing to share your work. Even niche interests can have large followings. Writing things down and sharing them generates value for others in unexpected ways. You don’t know how your work will help people until you share it. Conversely, the Wisdom Of The Crowd has exposed me to the things I “didn’t know I didn’t know”.

In 2020, I hope to share my work more frequently and candidly. I also hope to squelch that inner voice that says my pursuits are not worth sharing.

Another big takeaway for 2019 is the power of taking responsibility. Although many of us are educated from a young age to value responsibility, there are subtle nuances between fault, responsibility and the perception of fairness that are often overlooked. Two of my favorite reads this year (The Subtle Art and Principles) talk about the importance of responsibility over ones circumstances and the difference between responsibility and fault. Both are thoroughly explained in either of the works listed. If you are struggling with longstanding personal or professional issues, I highly recommend giving either of those articles a read- they changed my outlook on 2019 profoundly.

Looking Ahead

My intent for the year ahead can be categorized into three themes:

  1. Sustain
  2. Focus
  3. Connect

Sustain

I am grateful to have good health, a rewarding career mission and a positive work / life balance. I will strive to appreciate the positive things in my life and not have a “growth at any cost” mindset. Below are some areas that fall under the umbrella of sustainment:

Make time for hobbies and intellectual exploration. 2019 was the year I acknowledged my endless interest for all things related to computer science history. It brings me great enjoyment to learn about the history of computers and to restore historic devices. The same can be said of drawing, fishing, and gardening. It is all too easy to fall in the trap of working and helping others while neglecting to make time for personal interest pursuits. In 2020, I will set aside time to explore the activities that bring me enjoyment for their own sake.

Stay healthy and continue long-distance running. Running is an especially fun hobby for me and has provided me substantial physical and mental health benefits. I will sustain this habbit by running the Frozen Gnome 50k and the Fox Valley Marathon, and possibly others if my schedule allows.

Make time for intentional professional development. I am solely responsible for my career outcomes. I intend to grow professionally by:

  • Enrolling in at least one professional skills training course.
  • Continue my yearly tradition of taking a “Think Week”.
  • Start a local Mastermind Group at Fox.Build.

Focus

Focus can be more valuable than intelligence when distractions are plentiful. I will work on a smaller number of projects this year and make focus and intentionality a part of my daily life.

Review plans more regularly and frequently. Although I stuck with my 2019 plan for the whole year, I did a poor job of regularly checking in on myself to gauge my progress. As a result, some of my goals received more attention than others and my effort was not consistent throughout the year.

Find ways to fill “marginal time” in a way that is more fruitful than checking email or reading news articles. I gave up Twitter in 2019. Now that I am back on the platform, I can see how detrimental algorithmic feeds and endless scroll can be to a person’s attention. In 2020, I will put systems in place so that my “marginal time” is not spent on fruitless tasks like scrolling through a Twitter feed or reading pointless news articles.

Take on a smaller number of projects. My projects in 2019 were intentionally bite-sized. I’d like to reduce the number of projects I take on in favor of taking on larger projects that require a higher level of involvement and collaboration with others. This means that I will only work on one big side project this year, as opposed to the whimsical juggling act of 2019. I will interface with outside collaborators as much as possible.

Connect

Connect with others on everything I do. 2019 taught me the importance of providing and receiving knowledge from others. I intend to make all the plans in this document public by default. In keeping with this intention, I will teach a new set of courses to Fox.Build members, engage in public speaking and attend at least one professional conference in 2020 (details below). When working on personal projects, I will invite others to collaborate, a practice which resulted in great outcomes in 2019.

2020 Goal List

CONNECT: Public Speaking Engagement
Give a presentation on any topic to an audience larger than 100 people. Post the results on this blog. I am currently scheduled to speak at the Batavia Pecha Kucha on January 30th.


SUSTAIN: Run the Frozen Gnome 50k
Completed on January 11th. Race results here. Every January, I run a 50k trail run. Training for an ultra marathon has positive effects for my physical and mental well being, as well as providing a sense of accomplishment. On January 11th 2020 I completed the race in 7 hours and 17 minutes. This is a personal record and I hope to do even better in 2021.

CONNECT: Organize a Local Mastermind Group (In Progress, ends June 2020)
Form a mastermind group with no more than 8 members. Meetings will take place at Fox.Build Makerspace at least twice a month for six months (or longer, if deemed appropriate). The goal is to have a support group and a sense of accountability to my goals and to avoid working in a vacuum.

SUSTAIN: Run the Fox Valley Marathon
My goal is to surpass my 2018 score of 4 hours, 12 minutes.

FOCUS: Attend a “Think Week”
Spend at least 4 days focusing on “big ideas” without interruption. The goal is to expose myself to new perspectives and perform intense research by eliminating the distractions of day-to-day life. I hope to finish at least two non-fiction books and finish one published work (blog, vlog, book, etc) during this time. The publication will most likely be related to my “big project” for the year. The week will take place in June or September, most likely. The goal is to improve my technical abilities and familiarize myself with upcoming trends. The main activity will be pure research on topics of interest, so I will not place too many specifics on the goal beyond the quota previously listed.

FOCUS: Professional Skills Training
In keeping with the 2020 theme of “sustainment”, I will enroll in a professional skills course of some sort to enhance my inventory of professional skills. The course itself has not yet been decided, but it can be either in person or online. It must be led by a human instructor (no MOOCs or self-paced courses).

My ideal level of involvement is 30 hours and I will probably choose a course that is technical in nature, although this is not a requirement. I will mark this item a success if I am able to complete an instructor-led class that is longer than 25 hours and which teaches a professional skill I did not have in 2019.


FOCUS, CONNECT: “One Big Project”
Work at my day job has exposed me to problems that the Open Source community has either not solved, or which have room for improvement. The two big problems I see are:

  • Data storage solutions for resource and connectivity constrained systems. Examples include tools like SQLite, GunDB, Palm OS HotSync, CouchLite, etc.
  • Emendable tools for “End User Programming”. Examples include spreadsheets, query builders, visual programming languages, HyperCard, etc.

I am still in the research phase of this project and have not set too many specifics. I intend to solve my own problems with this tool, but will consider the project a success only if I can create a tool that is deployed to a real-world application beyond my own use case.


CONNECT: Attend a Professional Conference
I don’t make as much time for networking and industry observation as I would like. In 2020, I will attend a professional conference. My goal is to get a wide (but not necessarily deep) view of industry trends as well as connect with future collaborators. The conference may coincide with my Think Week.

CONNECT: More Courses at Fox.Build
Our makerspace is growing. In the early days, equipment training was handled on a face-to-face basis. New members would ask for training on equipment and senior members would volunteer their time to help others. The face-to-face training model was great for education and community building, but it has hit scalability issues as our membership grows.

In 2020, I will teach the following classes at Fox.Build and I will record the resulting training for posterity either as a Wiki entry or as a video:

  • 2D Modeling
  • 3D Modeling
  • Milling with the X-Carve
  • 3D Printing with the Prusa MKII
  • 2D Milling with the Maslow
  • Laser Cutter Basics
  • ESP32 Basics