It’s time for a change.
The last couple of posts - few and far between - have mostly been condensed summaries of everything I’ve done since the last post. I recently happened to re-read my first post (after someone ran into this site), and I was struck by how reflective and essayish it was, and how different it was from most of my posts since. Those have been mostly descriptive and record-keeping-ish. I think they’re decent as update posts, but I’m not terribly interested in writing update posts, nor do I expect anyone else is terribly interested in reading them.
In my first post, I argued my way into starting a blog. Naturally, this argument rested on a few assumptions, and one was that I’m naturally inclined towards logging:
In any case, I feel motivated enough to log things on a pretty regular basis, (mostly) regardless of mood. So, check for that.
Turns out this was mistaken. Looking back, I was logging remarkably often at the time I wrote that post and for a little while after.
However, it’s not a consistent thing for me. The summer preceding that first post, I wrote 54 log entries. The next summer, 22. This summer, just 15. I don’t believe it’s a matter of “I was into logging, but I guess I’m not now,” but a matter of “I’m more motivated to log when I’m more isolated or busy”. The latter motivation is demonstrated by the consistent increase in logging during semesters vs. summers and IAP: there’s just a lot of stuff to remember to do, and TODOs are a good use for logging.
As for the first motivation, I think it is mostly related to isolation, even moreso than to general happiness or well-being (though those are of course also related to isolation). With each passing summer, I have become less isolated, both for external and internal reasons. When I feel I have other people to talk to, I’m more likely to do that and less likely to talk to a text file - hence, less logging.
This summer (now past, I suppose) has been particularly idyllic, in that I have been living with someone with whom I converse easily and frequently, and I’ve been less isolated at this summer internship than prior ones.
All of this is to say - I’m not actually a consistently self-motivated logger, as my first post presumed. I’ve updated this blog pretty infrequently, and writing posts has often felt like an obligation to a past version of me that declared his intent to blog regularly, because it is. The resulting posts have been mostly hastily condensed laundry lists of “things I’ve done since writing the last post”.
So it’s time for a change. My original argument about blogging is not good enough, due to faulty self-assumptions, and a new one is needed. So, on the two-year anniversary of that intrepid post, let us reconsider:
In my first post, I divided this question into two parts: “Why logging?” and “Why do it on the web?”. In retrospect, both answers still look pretty good to me on their own, but they don’t quite connect.
In taking the latter question, I mostly wrote about the benefits of shared logging and why they should outweigh my digital shyness. This answer still resonates with me.
For “why logging”, my answer amounted to “writing reminders down is useful, and sometimes you just feel like writing longer things”.
Unfortunately, this answer is not even wrong. Those are indeed reasons why one would log. But this answer is only acceptable when coupled with the (explicitly stated) prediction that I will often feel spontaneously motivated enough to write longer things, and will simply do it at that time. This turned out to be pretty naive.
The combined answer comes across as a set of reasons why I will naturally log, plus extrinsic reasons for why I should share that logging.
Now I know that I will not naturally log (at least with any consistency), and upon consideration I’m not that interested in committing myself to a certain amount of non-shared logging.
Thus, I need to reapproach the original question without splitting it, and see if there are simply compelling reasons I should blog.
Blogs I admire
A simple, surface-level reason to blog is that there a number of blogs I enjoy and appreciate, and I admire their authors for creating them.
Offhand, a few examples include:
But this ignores the countless articles I have found useful, interesting, or insightful on other blogs that I haven’t visited enough to recall offhand. Even for those blogs listed above, I don’t subscribe via RSS or read on a regular schedule1 - I’ve just read enough quality articles on them that they come to mind pretty quickly.
Of course, I admire people for doing many other things without thinking that I should do those things too, but blogging differs in that I feel a kind of connection to the author when reading their words, and it’s fairly accessible, as activities go (read: I don’t have a good excuse for not doing it, as I might with many other admirable pursuits).
As a writing habit
Articles and essays can express viewpoints, philosophies, and techniques, and for these reasons they are kind of essential for making a lasting difference. You can get a lot done and do a good job working on your own, but it’s hard to influence anyone else’s thinking without presenting your own.
Here, I’m thinking of seminal papers, landmark essays, and time-tested tomes. I don’t expect I’ll be publishing any of those any time soon, but I will want to write papers and essays, and I expect they will be more easily written - and better written - if I have more practice at the craft.
Relatedly, writing articles and essays allows you to make known your interests in a more concrete (and maybe inspiring?) way than just listing them out. Writing can make you known within a community, and make possible connections and collaborations that never would have happened otherwise.
Okay, but how?
Yeah, this one’s tough. Even with solid motivations overall, I still have to find the more immediate motivation to actually sit down and write something. As it happens, this is the case with a lot of things that I think I should do but often would rather punt in the moment. In school and work, many such things are forced by deadlines, but outside of these contexts many worthwhile endeavors can be procrastinated indefinitely, to the point of forgetting about or giving up on them.
As it happens, I recently did some reading on this phenomenon, which is called akrasia. Attempting to fight akrasia for various tasks, with mixed results, has been a recurring theme of the last few years. I recently discovered Beeminder, a service (apparently one among several) which attempts to help in the battle against akrasia, through record-keeping and “self-binding” (if you don’t follow through on your commitments, you cough up some cash).2 It’s an interesting idea; I recently created a Beeminder task for guitar practice, and I think I’ll try one for blogging as well.
Here’s some concrete plans for future site work/posts:
- Update and maybe improve the layout of the projects page. For the purpose of beeminding, I’ll consider this work equivalent to one post.
- On Programming: a post about why programming/software appeals to me (and maybe speculation about why it appeals to others), particular areas of interest within the discipline, and comparison/contrast with other engineering disciplines and interests of mine.
- On Music: a post about why music appeals to me, and the connections between composition and programming.
- Aleatora: a post about a personal project I’ve been doing some work on this summer.
Where I am now
Or, “the obligatory life-update part but I’ll try to keep it short”.
From the last post:
I’m planning to intern this summer, and then stick around another year to do a Master’s. After that, who knows what the future holds?
Accurate. I interned at Harmonix this summer, which was a great experience and in many ways pretty different from the software internships I’d done previously. I finished undergrad (woo!), and I am indeed sticking around for a M.Eng. Finding funding was its own adventure, but things worked out and I’ll be doing a research assistantship with the Signal Kinetics group in the Media Lab, led by Fadel Adib.
The last sentence also remains accurate: truly, who does know what the future holds? Which reminds me, I really need to get cracking on grad school applications.
Slightly more short term, I reiterate my vague goal of updating this site more. Certainly, I should get around to updating some of the other pages; as of this writing, the home page claims I’m a junior, there aren’t any projects listed for 2018, and I have yet to add work on ConcertCue to the research page.
Yep, that goal was pretty vague. Well, I finally updated the research page and (for a second time) the home page. Updating the projects page will take more work, more on the order of writing and editing a post, so I’ve put that off for now in favor of writing this post.
I could now go into detail regarding last IAP, the following spring, and the many exciting events of the summer (moving off campus foremost among them), but I won’t. :-)
Until next time,