Retrospective: 2013

With each new year comes the inevitable look back at the past one. Was it a good year? Did we get everything accomplished that we set out to do? Am I a better person than I was last January 1st? 2013 was an interesting year for Jenny and I–a big one, sure–and we have much to be proud of, and happy about. Looking forward to 2014, we have a few things planned that will hopefully give us fond memories of the twelve months that will mark the year. But let’s take a look back at the past twelve months, and what 2013 entailed.

World Events

While 2013 had many memorable events, some tragic, others merely noteworthy, here are a few that stuck out in my mind:

  • On January 21st, President Barack Obama was inaugurated to his second term. Whether you like him or not, agree with his policies or not, he’s still the president, and an historic one.
  • On February 15th, the world experienced a very close call with an asteroid, when an approximately 17-foot diameter meteor exploded over Chelyabinsk Oblast, Russia, injuring over 1,500 people, and causing widespread damage to buildings. The object was completely undetected, and so came as a complete shock to the entire world–including the scientific community charged with monitoring near-Earth asteroids, in order to warn of events such as this. The event heightened global awareness of the threat these asteroids pose to Earth, as well as how much work is still needed to protect us from further such close-calls.
  • On April 16th, domestic terrorism struck the United States once again during the Boston Marathon. Three people were killed, and over 200 others injured when two bombs exploded during the race. The story immediately captured the nation’s attention, and over the ensuing days, a manhunt like no other was carried out in Boston, resulting in the city effectively shutting down while authorities tracked down the perpetrators.
  • In the weeks leading up to October 1st, the news could only talk about one thing: a government shutdown. Sadly, the government did shutdown on the 1st, and did not re-open until October 16th, when a short-term deal was made that would see funding available until January 15th, 2014. Fortunately, a new deal was struck (without much argument) that should see the government continue to function for the time being.
  • On December 5th, South African leader and visionary Nelson Mandela succumbed to a prolonged respiratory infection. He was 95 years old.

Of course there were many other global events of significance, including possible chemical weapons use in Syria, a new Pope being elected, mother nature unleashing her fury in the form of earthquakes, tornadoes and typhoons, but none of these stuck in my mind like those listed above.

Our New Home

We got the keys!

We got the keys!

When 2012 came to a close, we were watching construction of our new home closely, hoping that everything would come together. On February 22nd, the house was completed, and we signed off on the construction. On February 25th, we closed on the house, after some last-minute hand-wringing, then moved into the house fully on March 3rd. Jenny and I both took time off work to settle into the house, though on alternating weeks. I was off March 4th through the 8th, while Jenny took the following week, March 11th through the 15th off. During this time, we were able to get a lot of unpacking done, and worked on getting things in our new home settled.

Our House

Our House

On May 15th, we had our home security system installed, and have been quite happy with it. If nothing else, we feel much more secure, and feel that our home is well-protected. Shortly after that, my mom & dad came to visit for my 34th birthday over the long Memorial Day weekend, and saw our house for the first time. It was a nice visit though, if all too brief.

In preparation for hosting Christmas at our house this year for the Brown family, I finished painting the living room on November 23rd, which led to us changing the furnitureLiving-Room orientation, but resulted in something we like very much. It really feels like home now.

I also hosted a poker party on December 7th at our house. Everyone that attended seemed to have a lot of fun, and we ended the night playing some Rock Band in the living room. It’s been fun reuniting with friends this year, some of whom I haven’t really seen in years.

Considering this was our first Christmas in our new home, I wanted to host the holiday in our home with my family. My brother and sister-in-law flew in from Michigan, Mom and Dad came down from Hawkins, and we spent a full week together. We began with a short trip to San Antonio to visit family, including my 93-year-old grandmother, then spent the rest of the time back in Houston, eating, eating, and eating (Houston really has amazing restaurants). Sadly, Jenny was ill for most of the week, so didn’t get to spend as much time as she wanted with everyone. It seems like at the holidays someone’s always sick. In all though, it was a busy, fun-filled week, and I’m so thankful that I got to spend quality time with my entire family.

Progress at Work

Work in 2013 was more than interesting, but also extremely challenging in many ways. On January 10th, my best friend and co-worker Matt was let go. In the end it’s the best thing that could have happened to him, since he was immensely unhappy there, but at the time, it felt pretty terrible. Of course, we both moved on, and have done exceptionally well for ourselves. On March 27th, I got my best-ever performance review, and on June 2nd, celebrated my 5-year anniversary with the company. Not only do I still enjoy my job, but I’ve been here longer than at any other job in my life.

Things became quite interesting in August, as the company consolidated two of our offices into a single building, which entailed LOTS of planning, preparation, and hard work. Due to various circumstances, I essentially took over the project from my boss, and took on the responsibilities myself. This turned out to be a huge boon, not only for myself and my Project Management aspirations, but also in helping the other team members of the project. By the end, I had building management people, outside vendors, and countless others relying on my opinion and responses to get the project done. My career and status within the company took a huge step forward because of it. This project also made me realize even more how much I appreciate new challenges, and that project management is definitely something I want to explore further. I believe it’s a talent I’m uniquely suited for.

Unfortunately, work took a lot of time, especially in August. One particular week saw me work nearly 100 hours, and as a result, I got sick, then better, then sick again, so it was early September before I felt truly normal again. Fortunately, things at work have slowed down quite a bit since, and for the first time in a long time, we’re actually in a proactive mode, rather than fighting lingering problems. Of course, 2014 already appears to have some challenges ahead, but that’s the nature of life.

My Writing, Or Lack Thereof

It’s been a long time since I’ve written anything worth sharing. Even my website has been strangely quiet most of the year. I just haven’t been able to concentrate long enough to get anything written. On October 28th, I revamped the outline for the novel I started back in 2010, during National Novel Writing Month. I had every intention of participating again this year during November, and was even rather excited about it. But when November 1st arrived, I couldn’t get down more than a few words, and I was already stuck, and I quickly abandoned the entire effort. I’m having to come to terms with the fact that I’m likely through writing–at least anything of significance. I still enjoy putting together the occasional book review, or some rant about things that bother me, but essentially, I think I’m through. Few people bother reading the things I write anyway, so it’s not like I’m abandoning a huge audience.

Miscellaneous Happenings

These items are those that don’t really fit into any particular category; they just kind of happened:

  • February 15th – I finally finished paying off my knee surgery, from when I injured it over 2 years ago. It was nice to have it completely paid off, and to be able to put the whole affair completely behind me–not that Jenny will ever let me forget that it happened.
  • July – We decided to try getting healthier.
    Our new treadmill

    Our new treadmill

    We bought new bikes and a treadmill, and then sort of abandoned both of them for a while. With the new year, we’ll try to get back to using these regularly, and to get into better shape.

  • March 23rd – I managed to talk Jenny into going with me to College Station, TX to attend AggieCon 44, a small science-fiction/fantasy convention. I’d actually never been to a SF convention, so it was interesting; the whole premise for me going was that George R.R. Martin would be there, and he’s rarely in Texas for anything, let alone just a couple hours from us. I took my copy of A Game of Thrones and got it autographed. I have to say though, while I’m admittedly a nerd, the people there made me look absolutely normal
    Signed by the author, George R.R. Martin

    Signed by the author, George R.R. Martin

    .

  • November 28-30th – We went to my parents’ house for Thanksgiving this year, and enjoyed some time with them. We watched movies, and went to Tyler to watch the latest Hunger Games movie with Mom & Dad. On the way home, however, I was pulled over, and received a speeding ticket. Ironically, I’d been watching my speed the entire trip, but for some reason, this was a brief moment where I was actually speeding, and got busted for it. Oh well, live and learn. I’ll take my defensive driving, and all should be well.
  • December 6-10th – Jenny took time off work for her 34th birthday, as well as dentist’s appointments, and just to relax, in general. It was a well-deserved vacation from work for her.

Notable Entertainment

In any given year, movies, television, and even video games occasionally rise to the top as some notable entertainment. 2013 was no exception, and there were some intriguing titles this year:

Movies

  • “Gravity” was a film I’d been waiting a long time for, and it didn’t disappoint. A film best experienced in IMAX and 3D, this was a movie I really need to watch again.
  • “Elysium” was another film I’d been eagerly anticipating, but failed to live up to expectations. A solid film, it just didn’t have the same ‘blown-away’ feeling I got from the director’s previous film, “District 9”. Still one worth watching, but I probably could have waited for DVD.
  • “The Hunger Games: Catching Fire”, the 2nd film in the Hunger Games series was even better than the (already excellent) first movie. I ended up seeing this one twice in theaters, which is rather unusual for me.
  • “Star Trek Into Darkness”, the sequel to 2009’s reboot of the franchise, left lots of fans disappointed, but I was not one of them. I thought it was a good movie that countered the first, and flipped things just enough to be fun to watch. Definitely darker than the first movie, the ending has me intrigued by the possibilities that a third movie could explore.

Television

  • Dexter‘s final season aired this year, and it was a huge disappointment to practically everyone. A lackluster plot, not particularly good acting by seasoned regulars, and a terrible and un-fulfilling series finale led to lots of people yelling at their TV’s. For a show that started out so fantastic, it really just went downhill. The show lasted 8 seasons, but Season 5 was probably the last good one.
  • A newcomer to my favorites, Almost Human is a brand-new J.J. Abrams-involved show, which is about a future cop and his android partner. It’s only a few episodes old, but already I’m completely hooked, and I hope that the show succeeds, and thrives. I’d like to continue watching it for a long time.

Video Games

  • The Last of Us – This game, exclusively for the Playstation 3, was one of the most amazing games I’ve played in a long time. Not only was the story immensely engrossing, but the characters were worthy of their own television show or film (in fact, recent reports indicate that a movie is already in development). I’m not usually one for “zombie” games, but this was a title that transcended the genre, and really gives an experience like no other. I cannot recommend this game more highly.
  • Grand Theft Auto V – This, of course, was the biggest game release of the year, and it did not disappoint. An immense game world, fantastic new gameplay mechanics, and a truly good story made this game one that I enjoy going back to again and again.
  • Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag – A big departure for AC games, AC4 actually moved backward in time from the previous game, and changed up the direction of the series significantly. While not exactly negating the previous AC games, it definitely charts a new approach to how this series will continue; I suppose that’s due to the fact that this has become an annual franchise now. The game isn’t bad, and is actually a nice step up from AC3, but I can’t help missing the protagonist from the AC2-series games, Ezio.
  • NBA 2k14 (for PlayStation 4) – After getting a PS4 for Christmas, I downloaded NBA 2k14, and have to say that it’s the most realistic-looking video game I’ve ever played. It truly shows what the next-gen consoles are going to be capable of, and I’m very excited about it. I’m not a huge basketball fan, but this game is enjoyable, and challenging enough to make it well worth playing. It’s made me even more excited for the new MLB: The Show game to come out.

Technology

Of course, it wouldn’t be much of a retrospective for myself if I didn’t discuss the technology I used or discovered during the year. I’ve purposely put it toward the bottom of the list, since most people will find it boring, or uninteresting.

  • January 5th – I consolidated my e-book library, including Jenny’s, and converted all of our books to .epub and .mobi format. Essentially, I wanted to ensure that our libraries are safe for the future, and that regardless of device we use to read them (though I can’t really see us abandoning the Kindle anytime soon), that we’d have the ability to take our books with us. This was a pretty massive undertaking, as between the two of us, we have over 1,000 e-books.
  • January 20th – I decided to try YNAB (a personal finance application) once again, continuing my attempt to abandon Quicken entirely. It didn’t take me very long to realize it just wasn’t going to work out though, and on January 25th, I switched back to Quicken. I made other attempts throughout the year to find a new solution, but none of them have met my requirements. As of now, I’m still stuck with Quicken.
  • April 6th – In need of a computer upgrade, I broke down and bought a new Mac Mini to replace my 2010 MacBook Pro. The new Mini has so far been an absolutely perfect computer, offering powerful performance, along with the stability that I’ve come to expect from Apple computers. I sold my MacBook Pro almost immediately, and it pretty much paid for my new computer alone.
  • June 1st – Jenny finally upgraded from the iPhone 4, which was growing long-in-the-tooth, to the iPhone 5, and has been pretty much entirely happy with it. The only downside to this is that we had to change to a shared data plan, which means we have to monitor our usage much more closely.
  • July 30th – Google released the Chromecast device, and mine finally arrived. Read my review of the device here.
  • August 28th – I conceived of an app that I felt might truly be useful, and started the path to learning to code, in order to program an app. I lost steam a little bit, and haven’t really returned to this just yet, but plan to do so again.
  • September 24th – Upgraded my cellphone (once again) and got the Moto X, which is hands-down one of my favorites phones to date. It’s billed as the “iPhone of Android phones” and it delivers entirely on that promise. It’s easy to use, not filled with all the bloatware that other phones come with, and is genuinely useful. I can’t praise the phone enough, really, though I’m sure that’ll change as the next great phones come out and grab my interest.
  • Christmas – Jenny got me a PlayStation 4 for Christmas. I had debated which next-gen console to buy, but knowing that the only next-gen baseball game would be on the PS4, and almost every game I am interested in for 2014 will be out for both new consoles, the choice was easier. Jenny was very lucky to track one down, considering it was one of the hottest gifts this year, and extraordinarily difficult to find in stock anywhere.
  • All year long – My website went through several different layouts and looks, but the content essentially remained the same. The latest layout went live on November 25th, and will hopefully keep me satisfied for quite some time. I did nothing to change my book or movie library resources from the previous year, and am still happy with the tools I’m using currently.

Day-to-Day Changes

In the past, I kept a paper journal, and used various methods to keep track of things that were important to me. 2013 saw some huge and major changes to my daily workflows.

  • January 1st – No longer entering journal entries into a paper journal, I now keep my entries 100% digital. This has helped me be a little more fluid with my writing, as well as affording me more flexibility for when I’m not at home. Along with my journal entry, I take a self-portrait every day (or mostly every day) to keep with the journal. My goal is to eventually put together a “video” of all these pictures, to see my age progression. It’s one of those projects that takes a really long time to see the results of.
  • January 30th – Wrote my 2,000th journal entry.
  • March 13th – Finally started using Evernote on a day-to-day basis. I’d tried the application a couple times before, but never found its usefulness. Thanks to an article on Lifehacker which did a great job of explaining why Evernote was so useful, I’ve used it every single day since, and never looked back. It’s truly a digital notebook, and has resulted in my going almost 100% paperless, everywhere in life. It’s really a life-changing tool.
  • July 25th – 29th – I’ve been using the Kindle for a long time to read my e-books, and have been mostly happy. I generally listen to Kindle books in the car to and from work, but have always been irked by some of the quirks of the way it reads back the books. Google’s read aloud feature is much better by comparison, but until Google made their Play Books app allow books not bought through Google Play, it wasn’t something I could use. They finally allowed other e-books to work with their software, so I was ready to give it a try. Unfortunately, after just a few days, it was clear that the Google Play implementation just doesn’t work as well for my particular scenario, and I switched back to using the Kindle as my daily reader. Until I’m forced to get a new Kindle that doesn’t do the audio-playback of the book, I’m staying put.
  • August 20th – I discovered and immediately fell in love with a system for organization called Bullet Journal. I rushed out and bought a Moleskine notebook, and started using this system right away. It immediately made an impact in the way I get things done. Sadly, after just a couple of months, the downfalls to this system also appeared: it’s easy to leave behind your Bullet Journal (which becomes a panic-inducing event), and it’s rather inconvenient to have to carry it around with you all the time. This led me to seek out alternatives, which led to:
  • October 17th – I started using the Any.do app. After trying a few similar apps, like Wunderlist, and even Google Tasks, this app appealed to me for its simplicity, while remaining quite powerful. Among my favorite features are the “Planning” features, and the way it handles snoozing events, and organizing your day. It’s a really useful app, and has replaced nearly everything that I was doing with Bullet Journal. Between Evernote and Any.do, my organization is much better than it was in the past, and has made a huge difference.
  • October 19th – I resumed my (mostly) daily journal entries, after tailing off almost entirely at the end of August. This of course means there’s also a gap in my daily self-portraits as well. Another gap near the end of the year has re-thinking the whole journal idea, but I’m not sure I want to abandon it entirely, considering how long I’ve been keeping one.

Summary

In reality, 2013 wasn’t a particularly busy year, though it certainly felt busy enough. Between work, home, hanging out with friends, and just enjoying life in general, there wasn’t a lot of spare time for hobbies, but that gives us something to do this year, I suppose.

We’ve got some home improvements we hope to make, and some vacations we’d like to go on, but ultimately, that all depends on factors out of our control right now; hopefully we’ll have more answers to those questions in the near future. If everything works out as we hope that it does, however, 2014 looks to be a very memorable year, and I look forward to recounting its events again in twelve months.

Happy New Year!