Twenty-fourteen. Over. Done. It seems like we just met you, but then it always seems like that. The years just flit by and then they are gone. Once again it’s time for fireworks. Once again it’s time to flip the calendar. Once again we quietly celebrate, give our cheers, and…
It was a year. What else can I say?
As usual for me it was filled with running and writing and trying to be a good father. I peppered it with injury and adventure, introspection and scattered frustrations.
I watched the news and pondered the efforts humanity once again makes in striving to dismantle itself, and sometimes, far too often in fact, felt like screaming “stop the world, because I want to get off…”
I felt a little lazier, but realize it is only in the vast perspective of a busier and busier world. I tried new things. I fought new battles. I lead new troops, even if that is just a generous metaphor for work and play.
And the year drizzled away with bits and pieces to show, but nothing so mind-blowing or life-changing that will make 2014 a stand-out magical sort of year that we reflect back on with fond, yearning memories. It just was what it was, and in the tenth edition of this ever-more-epic New Years List of reflections, ruminations, and prognostications, I find a few moments that defined what fourteen meant to me.
So, once again Happy New Years, welcome 2015, and let’s look back at the 2014 that was us…
First, what are you leaving behind in 2014?
I’ll start with the tough question, first: I think the biggest one for our family was the passing of Karin’s grandmother. She was a mighty force in that family, a figure around which swirled a kind of ineffable flame of culture and tradition blended with humor and a resiliency that built a solid web of relationships between every single member, through blood or through marriage. She was claimed by the simple passage of time, and though she is gone I see her spirit living on in my wife and my daughter.
How did you make money in 2014? How might you briefly describe to others what you do for a living?
I haven’t changed jobs, but my perspective on that job has changed slightly. I still do the whole information architecture thing, acting like a kind of digital librarian for (mostly) our corporate intranet system (often) our external-facing website, helping all the various lines of business efficiently sort, build, and maintain their content that helps the corporation run just a little bit smoother and more cost-effectively (I hope.) But that role has shifted into something of a standards cop, pushing a (somewhat dated) design and rules in the name of keeping our costs low and our user-satisfaction high.
I explained it to someone this way: We do our jobs by continual improvement and refinement of our design and a centrally managed approach to usability and standards. Every visit to the website represents a transaction with a customer. The website had nearly 40 million transactions last year, so even minor fluctuations make big differences. It is my experience, based on professional experience, industry best practices, studying analytics, and working with multiple users, that any “friction” to users created by jargon, redundancy, text clutter, long pages, clicks, non-uniform placement of tools, changes in style, unclear sorting or a hundred other tiny factors, reduces overall satisfaction by users of the website. Lowered satisfaction or frustration results in decreased use of the website and inversely, increased use of other providers or channels to get information or obtain services. This is a direct cost to the corporation. Self service online is vastly cheaper (by a factor of hundreds or thousands) than a transaction over the phone. (ie, a call to our call-center or an in person visit costs way more than a self-service visit to our website.) Thus we work every day to make the website better for customers directly by approaching the website as a single unified tool, and making decisions that while they seem like they are made in a vacuum or placed arbitrarily, they are not.
This means we sometimes work against what some business lines would like to do independently. Every exception to our standards and every deviation from our user interface erodes trust that it will work for a user next time, and (however marginally) increases the cost to, well… everyone. My colleagues and I, as user interface architects are reminded of this continually and are charged with aligning as many business lines to the approved standards as possible. Often this means making judgement calls and saying no to many requests. Because of this, I’m not as popular as I would often like to be.
What do you wish you’d done more of? Less of?
I always say I wish I’d done more reading (which I’ve challenged myself outright to improve on in 2015) and writing (which after a quasi-break in 2014, I am going to re-focus on, too.) I’ve started already, and Claire has already figured out that it’s fun to snuggle up on the couch with her dad, each with our books in hand, and quietly read together.
And as always, the inverse of that… I need to turn off the TV more often. It just leaves me empty at the end.
How would you describe the world from your perspective in terms of:
a) technology? Arm-banded. We went a number of years now where watches have become more of a fashion statement than a functional tool, what with our smartphones in our pockets. But it was the kind of year where smart watches were all over the place, some yet to be released but making headlines anyhow (Apple Watch… cough, cough!) And now I myself find that I’m entering the new year with my latest gadget a fitness tracker strapped to my wrist. Karin bought me the Garmin Vivofit for Christmas (it integrates nicely with my Garmin running watch) and I think I’ll be having a quantified-self sort of year as a result of something strapped to my arm.
b) culture? Broken. I’ve been sitting on the sidelines of my little bit of cultural turf here and for the last six months or so have been watching some very broken ideas gain currency and ripple through the internet. In some ways, what stands out the most for me is this little cultural niche I’ve tacked a small piece of myself onto: gaming. And the gender-equality war that has burned through that community in recent months has made me sad (because so many people are so entrenched in ideas of exclusivity and closed-approaches to something with amazing cultural potential) and hopeful (that so many more have come out in fierce opposition against the twisted ideas of those narrow few.) It’s a long road to go yet, but the conversation has begun to fix a few pieces that are still severely broken behind the scenes.
c) politics? Extreme. Perhaps it’s my distant perspective, jaded a little by the never-ending trickle of news about religious terrorism, or the reported breakdown-slash-over-reaction of the first world healthcare system in response to the ebola virus, or maybe it’s because we seem to be on the very brink of some kind of economic collapse precipitated by the economic sanctions and oil price manipulations (some would argue) are in response to what we’re told is Russian aggression in the Ukraine. Or maybe it’s because North Korea is saber-rattling (again) over a dumb comedy film release, and that the internet is quietly at war with itself, or that even locally it’s tough to make heads-or-tails of things as the right moves left, and lefts move right, and politicians do crazy things like abandon their party and do historically dumbfounding things that crumble the foundations of our democracy, whatever that means anymore. Maybe it’s just that, but it’s been an extreme sort of year that way.
d) philosophy? Extremist. In a world were every opinion seems to be at the fringes, or at least the opinions that get air time on the media and online, it also seems that moderation is in short supply. Extreme dieting. Extreme religion. Extreme political maneuvering. Extreme measures against extreme ideas. Extreme actions taken against extreme reactions. Lives unraveled in the name of preserving subcultures, privacy violated in the name of national security, quarantines enacted in the name of health, kids shot and killed by police in the name of public safety, or heads chopped off in the name of fundamentalism … it’s all pretty over the top this year.
e) prospects? I’ve been down on the world this year, I’ll admit. But it’s been a year of sad news stories: Ebola, extremist terrorism, political aggression, missing planes, broken promises, bungled economies, and lopped off heads. Part of me knows that the world has always been this way, and in many ways much worse. But it just seems like if this is the direction we’re headed… well, y’know where I’m going with this.
What three experiences will always remind you of 2014?
1) Running the Dopey Challenge – It’s tough to have perspective on something so surreal, I think. I mean, I ran it. After anticipating it, I ran it. After training for nearly a year, I ran it. I get to say forever and for the rest of my life that somehow this guy who was never much into sports or or athleticism, took his 37 year old self and ran four races totaling over seventy-eight kilometers, and walked away of his own power. It was epic and crazy and surreal. But it defined my 2013 and made my 2014.
2) Re-launching our Corporate Intranet – Work is always a touchy subject for a blog, but having spent a good part of 2013 building up to this major project, I had the pleasure of rolling out months –maybe even years– of work into reality in the opening months of 2014. It set the stage for another four months of mop-up work and follow-up communications and documentation, but the hurdle was leaped in 2014 and it was one of those career-defining and year-haunting events that will stick in my mind (and my portfolio) for a few more decades, I’m sure.
3) Photographing Iceland – I was getting tired of answering the question of “why Iceland” and with the vacation four months in the past I haven’t had to relay that story lately. But, simply, what it came down to was simply that we wanted to go. Of course, it helped that a direct flight opened up, and that we’d got a bit of momentum on a group trip that fell through and well… it just seemed completely different from year-after-year of DisneySomewhere. But we went, and I hauled along about five grand in almost new camera equipment in the form of a new camera, new lens, new tripod, and a dizzying array of other little gadgets. And I took photos. Man, did I take photos. Thousands of them. And with my mother in tow, I was able to do a bit of instructing and guiding and helping her learn some of the basics that I was working on honing for myself. I usually take lots of photos, more and more so as time passes, but that was ten days of intense shutter-happy training that has since reflected in my skill as a guy with a camera… I think.
Without asking them, what are three words your ________ would use to describe their 2014?
a) spouse Needs a Vacation.
b) kid(s) Learning to cook.
c) parent(s) Our Growing Family.
Without asking them, what are three words you think that your ________ would use to describe you in 2014?
a) spouse Spends too much.
b) kid(s) Owes me allowance.
c) parent(s) Free tech support.
What are the details (events, memories, etc) surrounding important days in your life in 2014:
a) birthday? I turned 38. It was a Sunday, so I went running with the clinic of course: 10 klicks in the cold followed by some hot tea. We had had friends over the previous evening for games, and my parents showed up on the day of for some hanging out and a pasta dinner out. Claire and Karin gave me a nice messenger bag (which has come in very handy) and a LEGO kit of the Ghostbuster’s car (which Claire “helped” assemble.)
b) anniversary? We went swimming. We went swimming in a thermal hot spring, basking in the geothermal effluent of a power plant on the Southern end of Iceland while drinking beer and having a mud mask facial, a few hours before we boarded a plane back home at the end of our vacation. We spent the rest of our anniversary on a plane, in transit back to Canada (and all the fun of international travel along with that). But mostly I’ll remember the swimming.
c) the holidays? We hosted. Well, Christmas Eve was (mostly) quiet. We do the open-gifts thing on the 24th, and we followed tradition, just the three of us an a handful of gifts. Claire went to bed, but not to sleep, and was up most of the night “waiting for Santa” and (literally) barfing with anticipation. My family arrived Christmas morning and we did more gifts and turkey and some games and worked on the jigsaw puzzle. Karin’s family arrived on Boxing Day and we did more gifts and leftover turkey and ordered pizzas and worked on the jigsaw puzzle. It was a bit of a blur, but thank goodness for a five day weekend!
d) new years? It’s shaping up to be a quiet loll around the neighborhood, local fireworks at the local park, maybe some chance encounters. I have a four day weekend, as things worked out, and we’ll be doing some gatherings and some runnings to go along with that. And of course the annual 5k resolution run on the morning of the first to kick of the year in style.
How would you describe your life from your perspective in terms of:
a) fun? Fun is so subjective, but I think when you live in the same house as a happy, healthy six-slash-seven year-old, every day has the potential for fun. Our days are filled with LEGO, video games, walking the dog, hanging out on the couch or going to the park. We travel, go camping, see plays, visit cultural events, bike through the trails or swim in spray parks. We have fun, and I think a lot of that has to do with being parents.
b) family? Bigger yet again, having incorporated my new east-coast brother-in-law and growing again with a sister with a bun-in-the-oven (as a consequence of the aforementioned new brother-in-law) and due for arrival in the first half of 2015.
c) friends? I’ve been lucky this year and continued to have the privilege of knowing and hanging out with an awesome group of running folks. We’ve more and more been doing a variety of non-running social events –dinners, parties, bowling, and there is even an ice skating night planned for the new year– and we’ve even got our own little Facebook group going on. Post-runs coffee times have become a staple (much to Karin’s chagrin at my often late returns) but it’s helped keep me sane through an otherwise busy and crazy year of work and life and injury.
d) food? Apart from that stint in Iceland where I found myself eating crazy things like fermented shark and cured puffin, whilst snacking on dried fish bits, my year has been pretty standard from a cuisine perspective. I’m just coming off a coffee sabbatical as of Christmas Day (having taken a nearly two month break) and am enjoying my caffeine delivery system once again. The interesting thing this year has been Claire’s increased interest in cooking (thanks Food Network) and my ability to actually enable that, however moderately, through letting her cook pancakes and dabble in other food prep tasks. Another goal for 2015 is to get her involved in the kitchen more, and this summer… BBQ?
e) fitness? I’m still running. Which on the eve of the end of the year is saying something… at least following the soul-crushing, side-lining, injury-filled year I’ve had. Admittedly, I’ve never been off and broken for significant stretches of time like some folks and in the grand scheme of things I’ve had it pretty easy. But had I been sooooo sore that I could do nothing at all, not even consider running say, I think part of me would have at least accepted that kind of longer-term defeat. Instead, I was always just-broken-enough that my push-through-it attitude won out… and made me a little depressed about those minor injuries. As a consequence, I’m still running here at the end of the year, races on the horizon, and faster than ever, but not exactly where I expected to be this time last year.
f) finances? Apart from spending way too much in Iceland (it’s expensive there), spending way too much on the holidays (thanks Amazon!) and this very recent drop in the markets doing a sad little drop in my portfolio value, we’re doing just fine thank-you-very-much.
g) fashion? I vastly expanded my running wardrobe thanks to those crazy Disney races (and I’ve been sporting the same for most of the running year) my wardrobe for work and home has been kind of a non-starter. No significant shopping sprees or clothing switch-ups. I did buy a new winter jacket, though. And a new tilley hat. Oh, and that viking knit cap I picked up on our Icelandic tours.
Compared to this time last year, you are:
a) happier or sadder? That’s a tough question. The world is in a bit of a slump as I write this. Bad news, as always, abounds but for some reason it seems darker and more troublesome than I remember. On the other hand I’ve got my health, a bunch of awesome friends, and I have more prosperity in my life than I probably deserve. So, it’s a toss up.
b) thinner or fatter? Sadly, a little up the scale. The body trends that way naturally, I think, especially as the 40s approach on the horizon of one’s life, and having scaled back from marathon to half training, and dealt with some side-lining injuries over the year, the whole calories-in-calories-burned equation hasn’t leaned in my favour. Of course, it’s all pretty negligible, but I notice.
c) richer or poorer? Given our travel and our renovations over the last year, I’m going to say in the grand scheme of things we’re probably down a bit. But Karin looks after the finances and she’s pretty strict so… I won’t claim I know for sure. It’s close, either way.
d) focused or distracted? If I was focused, I’d be burning through projects with some regularity. That goes back to my whole “more reading, more writing, less television…” resolution. I’m more distracted and way more distractable.
e) responsible or irresponsible? I’m feeling like I’m more responsible. Part of this is due, I think, to this quasi-leadership role I’ve stepped into (willingly, or not?) with the run club. I’m the guy with the maps. And I’m the guy who leads the clinic. And I’m the guy who kicks people’s butts to get them out on the trails. There are a few of us who do that, but in seven years of running I think I’ve been more and more moving from the role of irresponsible follower to responsible leader…. whatever that means.
What was your biggest achievement of the year? Failure?
See the next question… and that one a few pages back, too. Early in the year (after a whole lot of training through 2013) we travelled to Florida and I ran the inaugural Dopey Challenge race, a 5k + 10k + half marathon + full marathon over four days through Disney World. It was crazy-epic for me… but just a lot of crazy for everyone else who had to put up with my talking and writing about it.
Oh, and if that doesn’t impress you, there is always that eating Hákarl (cured-by-rotting Greenland shark meat) when we were in Iceland over the summer. According to Gordon Ramsay, it is the measure of a man to keep this delicacy down… and I ate a fresh piece carved by the man in this video himself, offered at the end of a knife. So, I guess that’s something.
Did you travel? Where?
In January we loaded up our running gear and met Karin’s extended family for a two-week vacation in Florida. Disney World was the main event, with most everyone logging a lot of miles through the parks and me literally running those four awesome races that made up the Dopey Challenge at a total distance of somewhere around 78 klicks in four days.
In August we switched teams and mellowed out with just my folks on a ten day driving excursion around a whole big chunk of Iceland. We rented a Land Rover, booked a self-drive tour, and took a few tens of thousands of photos as we spent the hottest part our summer in the toque-needing climate of that amazing island.
What did you want and get? Not get?
I splurged a little bit mid-year and upgraded my camera. After spending 5+ years cutting my photography teeth with a Canon 40D, I wandered over to the mall, dropped into the camera store, and bought myself a Canon 6D with lens kit (and, later, a nice tripod to go along with it.) I made sure to give myself about a month before travelling to Iceland to get the feel for the camera, and then put the poor thing through it’s paces as I took over twelve thousand photos across that little country. It braved cold, wind, rain, and even a couple volcanic vents on our first adventure… and it’s still ticking strong with barely a scratch.
Not? Well, I still haven’t got myself a new barbecue. The current version is going on eleven years old, on it’s third burner, and is literally crumbling to the tide of rust that is sweeping across it. One day it will erupt into a fountain of fire, ash and smoke, and I just hope I’m not too close by when that happens.
What ___________ will likely remind you of 2014 and why?
a) website – Strava.com has become my go-to fitness tracking site for my running over the last six months. Software comes and software goes, but I’m enjoying the idea of virtually competing (though I rarely even so much as place) with other runners in our neighborhood. Same segments, different days, how do you rank?
b) movie – Frozen. How could it not be this movie? Between listening to the music non-stop (the price of having a 7 year old daughter) and dealing with the crazy of it in Disney World, to everything that has gone along with it over the year… how could it not be this damn movie?
c) song – I Will Wait. For (hopefully) the last time I was put in charge of making a wedding video. My sister got hitched over the summer and I was sent about a million pictures of them both and then promptly ordered: make it awesome. There were days when I truly wondered if anything at all would happen, let alone awesomeness. But some elbow grease (and a bit of assistance from a few creative kids) it did happen, and yes (so I’m told) awesome emerged. But in the middle of that creative blur, I needed a song that would spin it into an epic finish. I trolled through past Facebook posts, dug through Google, rummaged my own iTunes catalog, and after weeks of listening and searching Karin happened to say, offhand: “I think Matt likes Mumford & Sons.” And that was that. Perfect song for the climax of the video… and it’s been on rotation on my playlists since, too.
d) art – Besides a million little doodles that come home as art projects from school via a certain second grader, there was this painting I really wanted. It was a Toti painting (a local artist) that went up for auction on our United Way campaign. I was running the auction (tech support, y’know) and I was bidding on this painting and no matter how much I bid, there was a certain colleague (who I shall not indict here) that kept outbidding me… until she eventually won. She told me later that she was “getting that painting, no matter what” I bid. I guess I should have made her pay more, huh?
e) game – Disney Infinity owned my soul in 2014. Claire rung in the new year, last year, playing with her pals. And over the last year we’ve acquired more characters, the upgraded version, a lot more practice… and apparently indoctrinated a few other kids along the way.
What was the best book or story that you read and what was your greatest literary discovery for 2014?
Ilium & Olympos are a pair of books comprising a science fiction duology by Dan Simmons, one of my favorite contemporary hard-sci-fi authors. My boss loaned me paperback copies of these books and they sat on my desk for a year before I finally –being short a novel for a kill-some-time-after-work kinda-evening– picked up the first and started reading. I wouldn’t call them amazing, but they were good and probably one of the few books I read cover-to-cover over the last year or so.
Describe the best picture you took — or that was taken of you — in 2014
My favorite, if I have to pick one, was a photo of Claire sitting in the shadow of an Icelandic volcano, surrounded by the Mars-like landscape while sulfur gasses spew through the air around her. She is plugging her nose and expressing the exact amount of disgust she felt at (after having long anticipated seeing the one-and-only think she was looking forward to seeing on our trip… a volcano) smelling the overwhelming waft of fart-egg-stink that came along with it.
Thinking ten years in the past: reminisce. What do you recall or what event stand out most of all from your life and beyond in 2004?
Ten years ago we quit Vancouver. That’s right. It was in early 2004 that we started that big process of making arrangements and re-organizing our life to escape the West Coast. We packed up our car with the meager contents of our little apartment –at least the stuff the little moving van wouldn’t take– and drove over the mountains. We set up shop in a little downtown Edmonton apartment, and my late November had made a down payment on a house-construction contract and were counting the days until the foundation was poured (which happened in late-December 2004, if I recall correctly.)
What dates from 2014 will remain etched upon your memory because they made you…? And why?
a) happy: July 19, watching, camera in hand of course, as my one-and-only sister got married. Cleaning up after the party that night made me a little less happy, but that’s a different story.
b) sad: March 24 was the day I received an email from my former boss, completely out of the blue, and learned that one of my former co-workers was going through hell. His young daughter was in a mysterious coma and rapidly losing a battle with an untreatable illness. She died a few days later, and we sent out sympathies, but it’s those kinds of things that shake the already fragile foundations of parenthood.
c) angry: September 13, after having scaled my way out of the neon glow of the river valley in the cool and dark, fighting for a scrap of path from a thousand other runners, I finished the first (annual?) Neon Run. The company was great, but the race just pissed me off.
d) defeated: June 1, as I watched from the sidelines as the group I’d trained with for four months ran the Calgary half marathon. I was injured and barely walking, but I strolled a couple klicks of the route with my camera.
e) victorious: January 12, as after 78.3 kilometers of running over just four days in Florida, after training for nearly a year, I cross the Walk Disney World Marathon finish line, still standing.
f) surprised: August 24, and not in a good way. Bad surprise hit me when literally both my calves seized up with an epic cramp during the Edmonton Half Marathon. I rolled on the pavement… and boy was I ever surprised.
What kind of plans or goals have you made for 2015 with regard to ___________? And why?
a) family – I want to keep up whatever effort I’ve built up this year, building on the growing father-daughter relationship I’ve kindled and try to be a better husband while I’m at it… not that I think I’m a bad husband, but… y’know… not perfect.
b) body – Once again (and having met my 2014 goal by the narrowest of margins) I’ve set a running distance goal for 2015. I might need to map out a virtual run for that, but for now it’s just a number: my 2014 goal plus. That’s 1351 km in 2015 for those playing along.
c) money – It’s mortgage renewal year, so it would be nice — and this is a biggish goal — if we could skip the whole mortgage thing entirely –kill it– and go into a HELOC situation. It’s a little thing… but not. And might take a bit of work and effort in 2015.
d) knowledge – I don’t know if it’s anything special, but I made a kind-of blog-vow to read and review 25 books by the end of 2015. That’s now striking me as very ambitious… especially if I keep picking epic tomes like my current read, “Moby Dick”. But I think it’s something I can aspire to, as simple as it seems.
e) self – I want to do a bit more writing. I don’t know what that means quite yet, but I’ve always found it an introspective process… and it’s one I neglected in 2014.
f) creativity – I’ve decided to do another video-a-day project again for 2015. Five seconds of video every day, all year. The results from 2013 still blow me away, but it’s a lot of work. I’ve had a year off, though so… prepare to be filmed.
Thinking ten years in the future: prognosticate. What do you think the world will be like in 2024?
My world will have a seventeen year old daughter in it (whose cousins, my sister-in-law routinely informs me, will be legal to drink and will probably be a bad influence!) I’ll be 48, which seemed so old ten years ago, but now is a number that is probably closer the average age of many of my running friends, and thus I can’t say much anymore. Sparkle will be long gone, of course, unless she is somehow a super-dog with extraordinarily long life. And since my confidence in the static nature of our lives has been steadily eroding over the past couple years, I doubt anything I predict about family or friends or happiness or health can be anything but naive wish-making… so I won’t and I’ll leave that as a surprise.
Technology will be smaller and smarter… neural nets and autonomous computing will probably be a thing, finally (for better or worse) and our jobs in the tech sector are going to look dramatically different. Better start thinking about management! Your phone will be your everything. Forget a computer: you’ll just have a device that hooks to a bunch of input and output mods. It’s already happening, and our carry-three-phones and use two-different computers at home world will be long gone.
The web will be more entrenched, but less free. And if big corps have their way you’ll be paying for the net more like you pay for cable today, in chunks and subscription packs, rather than the other way around.
Stuff will cost more, of course. Food security and the restoring the environment will be topics that are more than just fringe political ideas. Part of me thinks we’ve got a rough ten to 20 years ahead until we sort out a few of those things. Another part of me hopes I’m wrong.
Explain a valuable life lesson you learned in 2014:
Things go south. The body, the mind, and the world. That’s a fact of life. The world is crazy, jobs are thankless, and the body will reach a point when it just decides you’ve done enough for a while and, no, you don’t get to use that muscle anymore no matter how close the finish line is. These things happen, and it’s not THAT they happen but how you deal with them WHEN they happen that counts.
What is one thing you’d like your kid(s) to know about the year 2014?
It’s been a bumpy year, what with the fear of disease, the ignorance of politics, and the arrogance of terrorism filling the world. But we’ve made it to another flip of the calendar… and there were weeks when (honestly) I wasn’t always sure I’d get to write that.
One quote that sums up your 2014 is:
One word that sums up your theme for 2015 is:
“Roads?” (because “Where we’re going, we don’t need roads!”)