21 Jun 2021

The Distant Rumble of Change

Even just writing a “blog post” and calling it a “blog post” feels like a cop-out. But this is actually exactly what I signed up for: a kick in the rear to get something out of the door.

It’s fascinating to watch my brain heave and struggle with the act of writing just for the act of writing. “No, break it into topics!” the brain says. It continues: “What are you doing? You must track all of your points and group them into larger arguments! What if they’re just wasted!” Another part of my brain dutifully attempts to placate it: “Yes, yes, my precious, we will organize and publish much more, in due time. Just let this happen for now. Don’t worry about it. What could go wrong? Surely a measly blog post couldn’t hurt anyone.”

I’ll back up a tiny bit for some context.

Iron Collective Seattle

Inspired by Iron Blogger SF, a few Seattleites and I are working on getting weekly posts done by 6am Mondays, else you owe $5 to the beer pool.

For my first week, I was able to push out the rest of Every PhD is Different.

This week… I tried, I really did! I spent many more hours than I anticipated trying to get a fragment shader running on simple 2D drawings. I picked p5.js, which is generally good, but hides just enough of what’s going on under the hood that when I step out of a tutorial and shit inevitably hits the fan, it’s painful to debug.

So, while I’ve fixed a lot of problems and made some good progress, there’s nothing worth calling finished remotely close to happening.

But it felt too wrong to just give up and call it a bust for this week. I spent hours working on projects!

And so, inevitably, the true power of deadlines rears its head. The real magic isn’t just making you work more hours. It’s changing how you think about work.

What is a post, anyway?

Alex started working on Evergreen notes, kind of like an endlessly work-in-progress public zettelkasten. He was inspired Andy Matuschak’s notes, especially Work with the garage door up. I also really like this general principle.

My thoughts here aren’t fully developed yet. Let me risk some observations:

“Finished” “Artifacts”

  • I have been pushing myself to post finished artifacts on this website.

    • That this blog design posts things by date helps reinforce this concept: a key feature of an item is its date, which emphasizes when it was finished. (Another one is its title, which also reinforces that it is an artifact.)

    • That I’ll sometimes share what I make on Facebook or Twitter also reinforces the finished artifact view.

  • However, I find the idea of having sections of work grow and evolve very appealing. This subverts the ideas of date and artifact.

  • It’s actually a little odd that, especially with sketches (see the studio), I’ve been focusing so much on finished artifacts with no explanation. It’s odd because I think my strengths and interests lie more in explaining designs and technical concepts than in showcasing “art.” I’m pretty sure that I did think about this when I unconsciously made the goal to post this way, and the point was to challenge myself into creating and not explaining.1 The alternative seems so simple: why not do both?

These Evergreen Notes

  • I wonder about the raw/polished split of preliminary notes and finished collections that involve them.

    • They could be disconnected, with raw versions permanent

    • Raw versions could evolve, but would links become screwed up? (Yet another “tiny software woe”—one of a million solvable problems)

  • I’d previously undergone a great consolidation of all of my notes into one place. (To my surprise, this ended up being Apple Notes, because they easily merged physical and digital, and images and text.) Creating a new schism feels wrong: now, where would I find an idea?

    • Immediate counter point: This fear is artificial, and human memory and general thought categories would make it easy to remember where different things lived.
  • On the other hand, while a working note system may not be my personal solution for a full “personal knowledge base,” it may produce great value even if used only in particular working (thinking) areas.

  • I wonder what a topic system would look like on my website. How would the categorization work? How easy would it be to add and reorganize things? How would I indicate what’s missing? How would things get merged? Does any of this matter?

Thankfully, one thing that seems true from all of this is that things could be better. I know what my peak work output can be, and I know that right now, my whole website process (roughly, the cross product of design, content, workflow, technology, and audience) isn’t anywhere near that.

So, this is where the deadline comes into play. It’s shaken things up enough that, rather than even figuring out what working notes (my working name for the horrendous bulleted swarm above) would look like, I’ve churned out a blog post. Dumping yourself right out of your comfort zone might be exactly what you need.

The Week in Review

In the spirit of jumping into new avenues, and especially in the spirit of this post being really blog-like, I’m going to shamelessly post some things I’ve been thinking about. It’s funny, just like with “garage-like, work-in-progress, walkthrough explanations of concepts” being exactly the kind of stuff I like reading but never write, little bits at the end of blogs where someone writes what they’ve just been thinking about or discovered recently is my favorite part of people’s websites, but something I never write myself.

I’m going to (try to) explain them way less than I ordinarily would. I think they keep more magic that way.

So here goes.2

Freedom in Only Ways of Looking. I think I’ve been vaguely stressed for years about having wrong views. How wildly liberating it is to see, even just conceptually, that there are only views—and this in unfathomable depth, not just a postmodern thing. Flipped around to face the world, I think I’m going to work on opinions (you know, those things) being entertaining and delightful rather than exhausting. I’m already okay on that front, but I could be better. (Not all of this strictly new this week, but whatever.)

Tiny Software Woes. I resisted getting into this above. Tepid p5.js documentation, no way to debug shaders, even Jekyll and Liquid templates in trying to add a freaking blog post—it really is just endless. I waffle between “yes of course you should keep learning new technology forever” and “wow technology is an endless garbage generation machine of people making dumb shit, you can waste away just skimming the surface and not actually doing anything if you don’t dig in your heels sometimes.”3

General Anesthesia #1. The wildest thing was that I was really looking forward to noticing popping out and popping back in, but instead, my memory was continuous with being in the VIP chair, and then suddenly being mid-conversation in the post-op room. Like, how did I get to that other room?4

  1. I wonder if my drive to create rather than describe was because of some weird internalization of “Those who can, do; those who can’t, teach” that I never questioned. Maybe fearing that this might become true of me, I tried to steer the other way? Wow, it’s funny how long things can operate subconsciously. 

  2. I think one reason why I resisted writing random stuff out in longform is that I thought then that I couldn’t make a longer piece out of it. That an idea must appear, preciously, once, and only once, and that is the single golden source of truth. What’s funny is that I think this might be exactly—like perfectly, 100%, completely—wrong. Not only do people like seeing the same idea multiple times, they actually need to in order to understand it, and they won’t even being to absorb something until you’ve hammered it over their head several times. (Plus, it’s easy to, you know, sprinkle links in your own writing to other things you’ve written, if you need to.) File this one also under “wow, I wish I’d actually sat down and thought about that.” 

  3. Ahem, e.g., running Linux. 

  4. If you’re wondering, I now have three fewer teeth, and have consumed A LOT of ice cream this weekend. 

Monthly project and essay digest