The last two years I’ve written a short retrospective. Three times makes it a habit, I guess.

Pride of place goes to the arrival of Yannos Nikau in July. We didn’t think a more easygoing baby than Manu was even possible, let alone likely, but Nikau is exactly that: constantly cheerful, uses crying as a second resort when he needs something, and (most importantly) he sleeps easily and soundly through most of the night. It’s usually the parents that spoil the child, but in our case the roles are reversed.

One cheerful chappy

Thematic unity

The dominant theme of 2015 is a cliché of family life: Mum and Dad off at work, Grandma flaked out on the couch with the baby asleep on top of her, and the youngster playing on the carpet amid a chaos of toys, books and colouring pens, with hands all colours of the rainbow.

Two, it turns out, is a bit trickier to manage than one.

Especially if the second arrival narrowly precedes a job offer that is everything Mum wanted for her career, except it comes one year earlier than is entirely convenient. So Olga is teaching again (part-time so far, expected to go full-time mid-2016), and we’ve sent Manu to kindergarten three days a week and called in Grandma for babysitting. The details of this arrangement are still a work in progress; I expect we’ll have it mostly figured out by the time Olga goes fulltime, at which point of course we’ll need a new arrangement.

Last year’s plans

Again the score is somewhat mixed.

Finishing things: not really but a bit. I did indeed pass my driving exam; I drive sometimes, but still reluctantly and with stress levels approaching the ridiculous. I rewrote my iOS app in Swift: it’s more or less functionally complete (I’m using it myself and making small additions every few weeks) but the UI is deliberately pre-alpha quality. I have a willing guinea pig and intend to paper-prototype with him to figure out what the real UI should look like: this is a slow process (made slower by my lack of facility with the UI bits of iOS), but 2016 should see an app store release.

Staying home: Yannos Nikau saw to that! We had a delightful visit from my parents in May, and spent a week in the mountains (Zagorochoria) and a week by the sea (Chalkidiki). Apart from that we were in Katerini for a long baby-related visit, and Thessaloniki for the rest of the year. This also only counts as partial success, though, because the reason to wanted to stay home was to get to know our surroundings better: two children with radically different sleep schedules have rather put a damper on that plan.

Financial stability: here we’ve made some definite progress. Again Yannos Nikau deserves some credit: not dashing all over the globe helps financially, as does staying in nights. We did improve in our own right, though, at spending mindfully instead of at whim. I’m proud to say my iOS app has had some impact there!

Makam theory started (I took some lavta lessons) then stalled around the time Nikau arrived. My last lesson left me with the challenge to play a taximi in uşşâk makam. Given my lack of attention to the lavta it’s no surprise that I haven’t done this to my own satisfaction yet; when I do I’ll go back to my teacher for another lesson.

What I worried about

This year I worried a fair bit about our financial situation. Unusually for me, the worrying got results: between a pay rise for me, Olga’s part-time work, a bit more attention to our spending, and the enforced quieter lifestyle with two youngsters, I’ve stopped worrying.

I worried about the political situation in Greece: I cheered for the “όχι” vote and booed the troika, and I’m still deeply disappointed by the failure of Europe’s various political structures to see past their short-term and local interests. The situation is no better, but I’ve largely stopped following the details, and (in consequence) largely stopped worrying. There seems to be no realistic hope for serious improvement, so worrying is completely wasted effort; at the same time, we’re in the extraordinarily privileged position of living here without the political situation causing us much direct difficulty. This is what political disengagement looks like: theoretically speaking I don’t like that, but the values embodied in my day-to-day choices simply don’t prioritise politics that highly.

I worried about awards for speculative fiction. This is something else I probably won’t worry about in future: like Gamergate, it’s become just part of the background awfulness of my internet-and-social-media environment. (NB: I am fully aware of my privilege in being able to ignore this stuff.) I hope the Hugos get fixed, but if they don’t, my recommended-reading list is long enough to keep me happy for several years yet.

Last year I worried that I was giving myself too much leisure time compared to family time. That’s still a concern, and will become more of one as Olga’s work takes more of her time. I hope to solve it by quantifying and prioritising my leisure activities (making it easier to set reasonable limits on them), and by making my non-leisure activities more focused and effective. I will be assisted in this effort by the demands of practicality, since Olga will no longer be able to pick up my slack.

Last year I also worried more generally about geopolitics, global warming, patriarchy, capitalism, and the theory expounded in The Collapse of Complex Societies. I continue to worry about that lot. The specific question that is gradually (and very slowly) crystalising out of the murk is how to relate those concerns to my life. This is a work in (very early stages of) progress.

2015 saw three major changes in my work at Minddistrict: we hired EP into the iOS team, we started programming in Swift, and the company switched its internal structure to Holacracy. All three of these have been massively positive moves from my perspective.

Pairing all the way

EP joined the team as a senior iOS developer: as I’m the junior iOS dev, we spend a lot of time together. Even more time than you might expect: he defaults to pair programming (whereas I used to use it only as a last resort), which is often exhausting but also often incredibly productive. And (this is maybe the most important bit) it’s fun: we’re learning together, we joke around, we dive off on side tangents because they look interesting. We also keep each other honest, both in the code and out of it. While EP is a much more experienced iOS programmer than I am, the most important things I’m learning from him are more abstract: things like his relentless positivity and enthusiasm, his willingness to reexamine his beliefs, and his experience with various agile methodologies all add up to a colleague who would be an inspiration even if he had none of the technical knowledge that he has.

EP, if you’re reading this: thanks man! Looking forward to working with you in the new year!

Swiftly onwards

Swift suits me much, much better than Objective C. I like strong typing and type inference; I like pure functions; those likes come from liking Haskell, but I never managed to use Haskell for anything except playing-with-Haskell exercises. Turns out I like extensions too (it’s lovely to add a new feature that touches several existing classes, and to have all the code for that feature in one new file), and I confidently expect to like protocol extensions even more (we only just got our dependencies updated to Swift 2, so this is a prediction for 2016).

Although I’ve spent more than a year with Objective C and only six months or less with Swift, I already feel much more comfortable in Swift. Much of our codebase is still Objective C, but it now feels uncomfortable to modify it; even more so, it feels like failure if we’re writing new code and we fall back to Objective C for it. It will be a long time before the last .m file is gone from our repo, but I’m looking forward to it.


For about six months now Minddistrict has operated using Holacracy for our organisational structure. It hasn’t been an entirely smooth transition, but so far the benefits I see (and anticipate) outweigh the downsides, for me at least. (I’ve picked up the “rules of the game” easily, and I see how to use them to get the things I need. Others who can’t see that structure as easily, or aren’t willing to invest time in understanding it, find the rules an obstacle rather than a tool and end up fighting the structure. This is the biggest downside we’ve seen so far: if you have team members who don’t manage to adopt the holacracy structure, but you commit to using that structure, the team cohesion suffers a lot.)

In my case holacracy gave me a mechanism to try an organisational experiment: I proposed to form a Mobile Dev Circle (“circle” is holacracy jargon for “team”, roughly), and we’re trying to run it more “agile” than the dev team as a whole. The pudding is barely weeks old, so 2016 will provide the proof, but it’s massively exciting to me that I could set this in motion so easily, thanks to the way holacracy works.

I also have a substantial to-read list from Cate Huston, after she give me a more sceptical take on holacracy. By now I’m so emotionally invested in holacracy that I doubt this will make me back off from it, but I also have high hopes that there is space within the structure holacracy provides to deal with her concerns.

Leveling up

Between EP’s influence and stepping up to the holacracy challenge, I feel like my work contribution has taken a significant step forward in the second half of 2015. Swift makes me a better coder, but EP and holacracy are making me more aware of what I’m coding for. I intend to nurture this growth spurt in the year to come: here’s hoping the results are visible before the end of 2016!

Predictions for 2016

Let’s not call these “plans”: these are the things I anticipate wanting to write about in the next “year in review” post.

  • Parenting. Olga will work fulltime in late 2016, by which time Yannos will be mobile and Manu will be old enough to want to babysit, but not old enough to let him do it. What happens to our household routine to make that work is anybody’s guess. It’s gonna be big, I can promise that.
  • Finishing that iOS app. It’s all UX and UI now; I aim to get it into the app store before this time next year.
  • Retiring, then reinvigorating, this blog. I would like to represent myself professionally, as well as personally, here. That means a change of tooling (bye-bye wordpress) and a bit of attention to content, as well as a more regular posting schedule. I don’t want or need a “brand”, but what I do want (focus) might look like one from the outside.
  • Leveling up, at work and at home. Holacracy is a gateway drug: I see Getting Things Done and quantified-self notions (especially related to my health and fitness) on the horizon. Prediction (not plan): I’m guessing this year I’ll make a serious attempt at meditation of some kind.