2009 retrospective

2009 was a year of highs and lows for me. It was a year of wonderfully-received keynote speeches, a year of learning and growing, of launching new projects, and a year marked in its closing with a profound change in my personal life.

I entered 2008 on a mixed high. On the one hand, I'd successfully staged the world's first fully-virtual web conference, <head> and, on the other, it hadn't been a huge financial succcess. If I learned anything in 2008, it was that organizing a conference with 70 speakers by yourself, while also learning Python and Google App Engine (and creating the web site for the conference with these newly-learned technologies) was too much for one person to take on. It meant that I couldn't concentrate as much on marketing the conference and it meant that I was burnt out by the end of it. I was, however, very happy to see that <head> directly inspired at least two new conferences in 2009.

Coming out of 2008, I decided to spend 2009 concentrating on what I love: designing and developing apps.

My first blog post of the year (on January 1st, 2009) was apparently about Xcode, the IDE I spent the most time in in 2009 as I learned Objective-C and Cocoa Touch while working on my first iPhone application, Evolutio. What I didn't know at the time was that Evolutio wouldn't be my first iPhone application (it's still not out; although I haven't abandoned it). That honor was apparently reserved for 'Avit: a nifty little iPhone app for Safari Books Online subscribers that lets you scan the barcode from a real book and read it on your iPhone (if they have it, that is; if they don't, you can do a price comparison to find the lowest price for the book instead). Needless to say, I've learned heaps this year and I'm very excited about applying that knowledge to develop new apps for the iPhone in 2009.

In January, I also suggested that my business bank should calculate and file my taxes automatically. The complexity of taxes for small businesses in the UK is something that has inconvenienced me quite a bit this year. Everyone's talking about the economic downturn and how to stimulate the economy. One way of stimulating the economy is to cut down the tax burden on small businesses. I don't mean lower taxes, I mean lower the paperwork involved. As a one-man company, I shouldn't be paying thousands of pounds every year to my accountants. My taxes shouldn't be that complex. Make taxes simple enough so that small companies don't need accountants and you'll have your economic incentive without lowering taxes. This is also an area of huge potential for banks: the first bank to handle a small business's taxes transparently and automatically will gain an Apple-like lead over the competition.

I spent part of 2009 working on an AIR-based Twitter client that I eventually abandoned. I might go back to it in 2010, however, since I still feel that it fills a niche and might be a good platform for implementing some Twitterformats. My blog posts from February reflect my work on the Twitter client: Fonts not embedding in Gumbo, Code Behind Gotcha in Flex Builder for AIR apps, A lovely little framework called Swiz.

In March, I presented a new talk, The Future's So Bright I Gotta Wear Shades, first at FITC Amsterdam and then as the opening keynote at the PHP UK Conference in London. The feedback from the talk was overwhelming. Here are just two quotes that made my smile:

I was completely taken by surprise by Aral Balkan's "The Future's So Bright, I Gotta Wear Shades" talk. I mean, put a trendy guy with a cool name who claims to be a flash developer together with a cheesy talk title and make it the first talk of the day ... I mean, meh. However, I was very happily surprised to find it was a great talk, the audience loved it and I was completely inspired! (LornaJane)

Aral did a very polished presentation and is obviously a very experienced speaker striving for perfection. It was very energetic, fun and enjoyable. (Marc Gear)

I love presenting and – having a background in theatre and performing arts – I see it as a performance. It's true that I put a lot of time and effort into preparing for my talks and it gives me a special high to hear that someone was inspired by one of my talks. It's probably the best praise anyone can hope to receive. To know that you've touched someone's life and you've (hopefully) made it better is the greatest reward I can think of.

Also in March, I flew to Austin, Texas, to present a book reading at SXSW for the Essential Guide to Open Source Flash Development book – a book I was delighted to see published and that was very close to my heart as it was written by prominent members of the Open Source Flash community. Also at SXSW, I sponsored, along with my friends at ClearLeft and Boagworld, The Great British Booze-up. It was a lovely evening with lots of booze and great conversations.

March also saw the start of an unfortunate chapter of libel and abuse directed towards me by a company called Sys-Con. I'd rather not relive the rather unbelievable series of events in this ridiculous saga but if you want to read about it, here are the related posts: Sys-Con goes from bad to worse, launches Ulitzer, attacks community and content creators, And Sys-Con defames me, And Sys-Con libels me *again*.

In April, I started working on Evolutio in ernest and spending most of my time with Apple's iPhone development tools and technologies. Most of my posts in April 2009 and May 2009 are thus about Xcode, Objective-C, and Cocoa Touch. (I did release two small AIR apps in May/June: a utility for entering Turkish characters and one that made it easy to sign into T-Mobile hotspots.)

Also in May, I presented a keynote at the Visuelt 2009 design conference in Oslo and I was the invited keynote speaker at the annual conference of the multimedia teachers association in Denmark.

In June, I gave the opening keynote at the wonderful Kings of Code conference in Amsterdam. I also gave the opening keynote at the Flash at the Lake conference in Zurich. I was ecstatic that both my talks were very enthusiastically received. In June, I also realized that I needed to focus, focus, focus (among other things, this eventually led me to finally redesign this blog).

In July, Sys-Con attacked me once more and my Sys-Con nightmare continued. At this point, I decided it was actually time to fight back. I started by publishing a full list of Sys-Con's Ulitzer authors, and exposed the duplicate content Sys-Con were publishing on their sites. We won a minor victory when Ulitzer was removed from Google's index (Sys-Con.com continues to remain Google's index and is still syndicated through Google News despite their use of duplicate content).

In August, I started being represented in the Netherlands by The Next Speaker. Throughout August and September, I continued working on Evolutio and upgraded my Mac to Snow Leopard.

September also saw me returning to Denmark to give a new talk (iFocus: a story of iPhones and user experience) and to teach a one-day iPhone workshop at the NoMA Nordic Multimedia Academy.

In October, I announced 'Avit, my first iPhone app, which I naively thought would be released about a week or so following the announcement. Due to reasons beyond my control, however, it took about a month-and-a-half for that dream to be realized. I chronicled the issues in my post titled How Apple’s App Store review process hurt Occipital’s RedLaser SDK and my very own ‘avit iPhone app.

My experiences with the App Store approval process left me with a renewed appreciation for the open web and open technologies and led me to comment on Apple's policies in various posts here, here, here, here, and here.

In November, I released a little open source Ad Hoc App Packager script for iPhone apps, raved about the Star Trek movie being released on USB, and blogged on Importing YouTube comments into your Wordpress blog

To wrap the year up, December was an exciting month as it saw the release of 'Avit and a new project called Twitterformats (read the introductory post, here). I also presented a very well-received talk at Reed Elsevier in Amsterdam, titled: Reed 2.0: A User Experience Story. More recently, I caused some lively end-of-year debate in the Flash world with my post on Why Adobe's Mobile Strategy is Fundamentally Flawed and its follow-up. Finally, I was honored to be the only foreign expert asked to contribute 10 trends and thoughts on 2010 for a Belgian publication called Online Trendrapport 2010.

The end of the year has also been a sad time for me, however, as it included a rather profound change in my personal life: the end of my relationship with my dear, wonderful, sweet Stephanie.

For a while I simply didn't want to accept that it was over. In fact, I think this is the first time I'm publicly mentioning it. I guess that's a step in the right direction.

It's so hard to put into words the loss of someone you love. That loss is made all the worse when you're asked to forget that person; when you're told that they're completely and irrevocably out of your life. If only feelings ended that easily on command. Needless to say, the last few weeks of 2009 were not the greatest I've had and it's no coincidence that I spent the last few weeks feeling rather under the weather. (I don't know if it's the same with everyone but whenever I get really depressed – and thankfully, it's a rare occurrence – I get ill.) Thankfully, time heals all and I'm on the mend; both in body and soul.

Looking back, so much has happened in my life in 2009 and it has been such a very mixed year. On the one hand, I'm ecstatic to finally be presenting keynotes at such an eclectic mix of conferences. I'm also proud to have learned yet another new language, framework, and a new set of tools and to have published my first iPhone app on the App Store. And, I'm hugely excited about the potential that Twitterformats have for allowing the community to expand Twitter add new verbs to its vocabulary. On the other hand, I mourn the passing of a wonderful relationship and the loss of an irreplaceable friend and companion.

2009 was full of wonderful experiences, wonderful friends, and the support of so many people around the world. I can't possibly begin to thank everyone who stood by me during the Sys-Con affair, who offered me a shoulder to lean on when times got though, and who gave of their time and love (not least of all my parents; you are my rock!)

I know that I am unbelievably lucky to have the friends that I have here in Brighton and around the world and to have the recognition that I have in my field. Believe me, I don't take these for granted. Sometimes we get so caught up in our own little worries that we fail to see the big picture. There is so much suffering in this world that, chances are, if you're reading this on your laptop, somewhere warm, in good health and quite possibly surrounded by your family or loved ones: you already have so much more than so many people in the world today. There's so much to be happy about and thankful for; we just have to keep reminding ourselves of it and to see past some of our first-world issues.

It shouldn't take the latest electronic gadget or computer game to make us happy. Health, love, friendship, our families, a warm home to come back to... there is so much that's so easy to take for granted but within which are planted the seeds of true happiness.

As such, on the last day of 2009, I bid a teary-eyed farewell to love shared and love lost but resolve to limit my mourning to the 12th strike of the bell on this New Year's Eve.

For just around the corner is a new year of new beginnings and new experiences where anything is possible. I've already started working on my next iPhone app and I have a slew of other things that I want to achieve in 2010. And already I'm excited about my trip to California in the middle of January for dinner with Tim O'Reilly to celebrate 'Avit winning the Safari Books Online Super Techie Achievement Challenge.

May you all have a wonderful 2010 full of health, love, and the little joys that make life wonderful. May you be doing what you're passionate about while surrounded by the people who love and support you. May you achieve great things and share them with the world.

To quote Steve Jobs's 2005 graduation speech at Stanford: "Stay hungry, stay foolish!"

Here's to 2010… Happy New Year!