Rick Carlino

Personal blog of Rick Carlino, senior software engineer at Qualia Labs, co-founder of Fox.Build Makerspace. Former co-founder of FarmBot.

2023 Year in Review

Happy New Year! Welcome to the 6th annual RickCarlino.com Year in Review. Despite currently recovering from a mild COVID infection and writing this post from bed rest, I’m excited to share the highlights of the past year with you.

Professionally, it’s almost two years since I joined Qualia, and I recently transitioned to a new team, marking a fresh chapter in my career. Marathon running has always been a passion, and I’m thrilled to report that this year surpassed the last, making it one of my best years for running yet.

My children are growing up fast, each day bringing new joys and challenges. However, it’s not without its difficulties. My mother’s battle with Alzheimer’s has intensified, demanding more of my time and attention outside work.

As I reflect on the past year, I’m grateful for the experiences as they shape the journey ahead. Let’s take a look at what happened in 2023.

Notable Events

  • I ran my first 50 mile (~80km) ultramarathon this year. I ran the race conservatively and finished in 9 hours. It was an amazing experience.
  • I presented a talk on GPT function calling during the “AI Night” meetup at Fox.Build. The talk explores how you can handle structured data when building LLM-powered applications.
  • I conducted an OpenSCAD class at Fox.Build, continuing my passion for both using and teaching OpenSCAD. The codebase has seen significant improvements in 2023, sparking considerable interest among makerspace members.
  • I had the opportunity to discuss my “Cosmic Conquest” historical research project from last year at the Forth2020 remote meetup. This presentation was an extension of a blog post I published in 2022. The event was well-organized, and a special thanks goes out to everyone involved. Watch the talk here.
  • (project fully finished in 2023) I served as the technical editor for Chris Minnick’s book “Javascript All in One.” Proud to report it has earned 4.6 stars on Amazon. After thoroughly reviewing each page, I can attest to its quality and usefulness. Check out the book here.
  • At Fox.Build Makerspace, it’s been a thriving year. We managed to paint and upgrade our historic 130-year-old building, welcomed an increasing number of members, and even garnered some publicity when the mayor of Saint Charles paid us a visit.
  • I did a weekend trip to Baltimore for a friend’s wedding.
  • I visited my in-laws in Thailand and took some time off to do vacation-y things.
  • While my contributions to Open Source were limited this year, it’s due to the development of a new OSS project of my own. More on that in the next section.

KoalaSRS, My New OSS Project

In 2019, I wrote an article discussing the challenges with existing spaced repetition software. My vision for an ideal spaced repetition system dates back to my university days and I’ve been holding some ideas in my brain for quite a while. The concept I envisioned, which would have required human-assisted grading, was inefficient and largely unfeasible.

The emergence of large language models in 2023 opened the door to realizing this idea. In January, I began developing a command-line prototype of an interactive, LLM-graded spaced repetition system. This system focuses on listening and speaking drills, uniquely capable of marking responses as “correct” or “close enough” based on linguistic context. This CLI version evolved into a web application, now in a usable public beta, with the source code available on Github.

As of December 31st, 2023, I have used KoalaSRS to review over 1,200 Korean phrases daily. It has become my primary study tool for the upcoming TOPIK exam.

KoalaSRS will celebrate its first anniversary on January 3rd, and I am excited to continue developing the app throughout 2024.

Races and Running

A collage of my running in 2023

2023 marked my best year ever for running! I completed 221 runs, covering 1,388 miles (2,233 km) over 224 hours. This achievement nearly doubles my mileage from 2022. Joining the Fox River Trail Runners was a game-changer, and I made many new friends who motivated me to reach new heights.

A significant highlight of the year was accomplishing my “big goal”: completing a 50-mile ultra-marathon. The extensive training and preparation paid off, allowing me to finish the longest run of my life in 9 hours. I enjoyed every moment training on the trails and am grateful for the fantastic people I met along the way.

Event Division Rank Overall Rank Time Notes
Great Western Half Marathon 2/28 32/323 1:40 Second place in division
Fox Valley Marathon 11/54 48/326 3:26 Marathon distance personal record
Frozen Gnome 28/75 30/89 6:29 Personal record for course
Des Plaines River Trail 50 Mile Ultra 20/50 23/66 9:02 First 50 mile ultra, a personal record
Daruna Naree Mini Marathon 4/?? ??/?? 1:45 Got lost and added extra 0.8km. Hottest race ever run. Missing overall results

Reading and Learning

  • Art of Agile - A great read if you want a refresher on agile methodologies. If you read it, make sure you have a good understanding of “why” you want to read it and be ready to skip sections if needed. It’s a big book with a wide audience.
  • Prometheus up and running - It was very informative and I use things I learned from this book quite often. I feel like the writing style could have been improved, as the author would sometime drop advanced topics and vocabulary without diving in deep enough and moving too quickly.
  • Identity and Data Security for Web Development - a nice fast overview of some web development concepts.
  • I attended a once weekly online TOPIK test prep class hosted by one of my favorite TOPIK YouTubers

2024 TOPIK II Exam Prep

Each year around New Year’s, I set a hobby goal for myself. This year, I’ve chosen to focus on passing the Test of Proficiency in Korean (TOPIK II). Although I’ve always been interested in studying Korean, I haven’t dedicated much time to it since university. My aim is to take the exam around mid-year. While taking the TOPIK exam isn’t strictly necessary for my needs, setting a test date provides a specific and actionable goal for my Korean language studies. Additionally, preparing for the TOPIK serves a dual purpose, allowing me to be my own test subject as I continue enhancing KoalaSRS.

Looking Ahead

Caring for a family member with a disability is a significant commitment, requiring me to be realistic about my achievable goals for the year. While ambitious targets are appealing, it’s also important to acknowledge some goals might be beyond reach at this time. I will try my best!

Done

  • Do a think week this year.
  • Pass the TOPIK exam. I scored a “3”. Not the score I was hoping for, but it’s a pass! I will re-take for a better score early next year.
  • Revisit my favorite productivity tools to make sure I am getting the most out of them. Did a deep dive on Osidian.md. I now prefer it over Logseq.

TODO

  • Aim to publish at least 4 blog posts in 2024.
  • Create a Gemini mirror of this blog.
  • Learn OBS and produce one or two videos.
  • Attract some actual users or contributors for KoalaSRS (currently, I’m the only user).

Hand Waving

  • Focus on minimizing time spent on unproductive online activities.
  • Streamline the mundane aspects of life to focus on what truly matters. This includes finding quicker ways to complete routine tasks, honing my prioritization skills, and distinguishing between what’s important and what’s not.

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