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Another month of daily musings

Topics/tags: On musing, long

It’s the end of another month of daily musings [1]. At the end of each month, I like to reflect on what I’ve mused about in the past month and what I’ve gained [2] or learned from doing those musings. When I first started musing, I noticed effects on my writing. These days, I notice fewer effects on my writing, but perhaps more effects on how I decide to arrange my writing.

I ended last month 310 musings ahead of last year. For some reason, Facebook isn’t giving me the friendly a year ago, you posted … messages that it usually does [3]. So I’ll need to look. On May 1, 2017, I posted Musing #306 on Hotel Grinnell. This musing will be musing #617. It appears that I am now 311 musings ahead of last year. Why is that? I think there was one day in which I posted two musings.

Beyond that, let’s see what’s happened this month.

I made some broad changes to the musings. Among other things, I’ve started adding a list of topics and tags at the top. I can’t quite remember why I started doing that. I had intended to muse about adding tags, but never got around to it. My best recollection is that I wanted to think a bit more broadly about the subjects and forms of the musings. For example, the ones that I intend to be short are marked short. Links to topical collections also highlight those topical collections [4], such as the collection of rants.

After attending a talk on, I decided to add annotation capabilities to the musings. I have not yet figured out how to track whether anyone annotates the musings, so I count on my annotators to email me [5].

I had planned to write a new introduction, particularly when I reached my 600th musing or my second anniversary of musing. However, although I started sketching the introduction about a month ago, I still haven’t found time to finish it. Parts of it did get put into the anniversary musing, which potentially complicates matters. I’m also not quite sure what I want to say, and it’s something that I want to get right.

I found myself experimenting a bit with process. There was a week in which I tried to plan what I would muse about for the next week [7]. But those plans quickly got disrupted. In some cases, it’s because I did not have as much time as I anticipated and found myself wanting to muse quickly. In others, I needed external approval for a musing. For example, I don’t generally post musings about living non-public figures without getting their permission [8].

Speaking of needing to muse quickly, there were a number of nights in which I planned to muse quickly. But that didn’t always happen. I’m not sure which musings they were any more, but I recall more than a few nights in which I sat down to write something short and ended up not only writing something long, but spending a lot of time looking up additional information as I wrote something wrong.

However, when lack of sleep caught up to me at the end of the month, I did manage a series of three short musings, one on lack of sleep, one on my lack of accomplishment due to sleeplessness, and one on my failure to realize it was the end of the month.

I often ponder whether I should try to post the musings earlier in the evening. Currently, I post most of them around 10 p.m. central time, which is when I tend to finish them. But I’d need to start them earlier to post them earlier and there’s usually something else that has higher priority or that requires more mental focus. For example, this evening I had to write three exam problems.

There were a few that got posted earlier, in part because I felt a particularly strong need to write them. The one I most recall is the one on children’s toys that I called mixed messages, which appeared at 7 p.m. or so. There may be others; I don’t generally keep track of a precise time of posting. My RSS feed suggests that the post on expanding the faculty and the followup comments on recycling were both posted relatively early in the evening.

Are there themes to the content? Let’s see …

I recall ending a prior month reflecting on whether I should be nicer. But I ranted a reasonable amount this month, whether it was about children’s toys, faculty meetings, recycling, and code that makes me ill.

At the same time, there were a few musings in which I had to apologize for, or at least provide an update on, prior rants. Once ITS replaced the defective hardware in my classroom, I posted what I consider an appropriate followup. And after some frustration at seeing a misleading announcement about recycling, I posted a hopeful followup musing [9].

When I reached 600 musings, I chose to restart the important but difficult to write series Grinnellians you should know (or know about). I must admit that those are some of my favorite musings. They make me feel good. I think they make other people feel good. They shouldn’t make anyone feel bad. That’s definitely a net positive. But they are hard to write and take a lot of thought and attention that seem to be in short supply. I have a few more in the soon queue, but more than two weeks have passed and I haven’t been able to write any yet.

Musing always has some effect on me. As I say too often, I write primarily for myself. I find it relieving to get a rant down in writing. I enjoy the sense of having mused. And, at times, I learn a lot. For example, writing the long rant on Getting requirements wrong ended up being a useful exercise. I explained to myself why I care about these issues. In doing the background research for the musing [10], I learned that we’ve explicitly exempted some majors from the department limit. I began to think about the issue for Math/Stats. However, learning comes at a price. When I started writing this musing, I planned for it to be a short rant. Instead, it ended up being twice the normal musing length [11].

At some point this month, I had to give an extemporaneous speech on the value of CSC 321 and CSC 322, the two primary courses in our software-design curriculum. Since I’ve written about the two courses, some aspects of course design, and even an important assignment, I am under the impression that doing the writing allowed me to speak more articulately about the courses. But I do speak about those courses a moderate amount. So maybe it’s just general practice.

And it’s not like I remember everything I write. I’m finding more and more frequently that I start to muse about a topic only to realize that I’d already written something. For example, after yet another discussion in which people disparaged double majors, I sketched a paragraph about them that was to serve as the start of a musing. A few days later, I realized that I had already mused about the subject. But I change and grow. So I have new things to say (e.g., that eight-course majors make double majors much easier). Nonetheless, I think I’ll put it off a bit longer. And, in the long run, I do think it will be valuable to return to topics I’ve mused about in the past.

I ended last month’s end-of-month musing with a summary of outstanding musings, or at least of the numbers of outstanding musing topics. For my own purposes, I think it will be useful to update that summary. The categories are still not very sensible; I can’t recall where I mused about the reasons for the names. At some point, I will rearrange the list of forthcoming musings [14,15].

I’ve added a new category, which I call for specific dates. There are a few dates that seem to call for special musings, and it seemed like I would miss those dates unless I set them apart [16]. I’ve also added a section called delayed rants. I had written those down in a place that I had stopped checking, and so they weren’t on my list of forthcoming musings. I’ve renamed next set to high priority. I’m not sure why.

Category                     Last Month      This Month      Change
--------                     ----------      ----------      ------
for specific dates               -               2             +2
musings w/substantial drafts     8               9             +1
next set                        25              36            +11
delayed rants                    -               3             +3
almost immediate (?)             7               7             
new "soon", teaching             6               6          
new "soon", other               18              18          
new "soon", short, teaching     10               9             -1
new "soon", short, other        28              28             
old "soon"                       7               8             +1
new, but no so new              29              29             
series: fun books                4               4              
series: anniversary musings      3               3              
series: addiction/organization   2               2              
old forthcoming musings          5               5             
more from csc 281                5               5             
"quick (?)"                     23              23             
general                        128             130             +2
Grinnellians you should know    65              69             +4
other people                     9               9              
topics to revisit               12              12             

More than a year’s worth of musing topics, including twenty or so new topics. If I keep going in that direction, I’ll never write about everything I’ve planned. If I keep adding new topics to the top of the stack, I’ll rarely think about the old ones. Yeah, I do need to rearrange the topics. Tagging may help. But reorganization will wait until many other tasks get done.

I’ve gone on a bit long, as is typical for these end-of-month musings. Once again, I found it fulfilling to reflect a bit and useful to gather some meaningless data. I hope you found something in this musing that you enjoyed.

I wonder what I’ll muse about and discover through musing this month. We shall see.

[1] More accurately, it’s the start of the next month. It appears that I was a day off when I planned this musing

[2] Or, in some cases, lost.

[3] I wonder if that’s a side effect of the whole Facebook (lack of) privacy fiasco.

[4] I did decide that each musing belongs in at most one topical collection.

[5] I suppose that I could check back every few days to see which ones have annotations, but that would be time-consuming. I’m tempted to write a script [6].

[6] I don’t currently have time to write a script. I’ll do that in the summer.

[7] There are also times I plan less formally about what I’ll do the next few days. Of course, that’s one of the reasons this musing is a day late; I got the plan wrong.

[8] I don’t feel like I need permission to post about public figures, like the Dean or some alumni.

[9] Unfortunately, it appears that the hope may be premature. The Grinnell Herald Register has reported that because of the costs, the city of Grinnell may be discontinuing curbside recycling. I’m not sure what the effect will be on the College. Last Friday’s Scarlet and Black has a more optimistic story, but I don’t know whether the work on that story preceded the city meeting that the Herald Register reported on.

[10] Yes, I do background research for some musings. Not a lot, and not for every musing, but for some. Unfortunately, research often sends me down a rabbit hole, which is inconvenient when I have limited time.

[11] What I consider a normal musing is about 1000 words. A typical short musing is about half that. A typical long musing is about twice a normal musing. A few musings reach 3000 or more words. A few have under a hundred.

[12] You probably notice this tendency, too. The scary part is that I do try to catch some of them.

[14] And possibly even add prospective tags.

[15] When I do rearrange the musings, I’ll muse about it.

[16] No, I won’t tell you what those are.

Version 1.0 of 2018-05-01.