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Another month of (almost) daily musings

Topics/tags: Meta-musings, long

Once again, it’s the end of another month of daily musings. More accurately, it’s slightly after the end of another month of approximately daily musings. Why slightly after? On August 31, I was busy working on SIGCSE papers and panels and did not have time to muse. On September 1, I was recovering from a much-too-late night working on SIGCSE and could not undertake this musing. Why approximately daily musings? This month, more than most, seemed to involve periods in which I took a day or two off and then tried to catch up thereafter. I count at least two two-day or three-day absences, as well as a few one-day absences. August seems to be a bad month for musing.

Plans and reality

At the end of last month, I set myself various goals for the month. I said I’d rant more [1]. I said that I would to continue to attempt the Sisyphean task of keeping my inbox empty. I planned to write about my first few days in my new visiting position at the Obermann center [2]. I also said I might muse more about the code camps.

I did, in fact, rant more. That wasn’t hard, since I was trying not to rant in the previous month [5]. This month, I complained about the ways people gender programmers when speaking, Grinnell policies that I think detract from student wellness [6], sliding doors, Grinnell’s new business cards [7], taking vegetarian friends out to eat in Iowa, people who email me when they intend to reach one of my sons, or vice versa, Apple’s policies on equipment support, advertisements for ghostwriters [8], FedEx signatures, Purdue Global University contracts, and misuse of the term cyberattack [9]. So, about a third of my musings and rants were, in fact, rants.

Rants seem to generate more discussion on Facebook than do other musings. I don’t take that as a reason to rant; it’s just an observation. I expect that some of the issue is that I raise issues others find of concern. But it’s also clear that some folks feel I go overboard.

My family worries that when I write more rants, I get less happy. That’s probably true when I rant about issues at the College. But there’s a bit of a chicken-and-egg problem; am I more upset because I’m ranting or am I ranting because I’m upset? I didn’t rant about my latest frustrations at the College [10,11,12].

But rants weren’t my only goal for this month. As I noted above, there were many others.

Although I worked on keeping my inbox small, I did not return to inbox zero. And, although I started writing the next episode in the story of inbox zero on multiple occasions, I never finished that episode. If I ever complete it, it will almost certainly e a series of vignettes rather than a coherent story [14].

I wrote exactly one musing about my new position as Digital Bridges Fellow. But I a mused a lot about related issues, particularly about the course whose design is the core of my fellowship [15]. I have a few more musings planned on the Oberman center; we’ll see how soon I get them done.

My quick glance over the list suggests that the remaining musings were the normal assortment of comments on language, autobiographical reflections, and, at times the random thoughts that my muse inserts into the series.

Writing about writing

I attempt to accomplish a variety of goals by musing daily, including improving my writing. While the daily task of writing affects how I write, I also muse regularly about issues of writing. This month was no exception.

In a few instances, I wrote about my experiences editing my writing. I started with a discussion of the effort involved in writing a blurb for the new CSC 151. Afterwards, I realized that I’d written something similar for the data science 151 about a year-and-a-half earlier. In both instances, Grammarly told me to hyphenate problem solving. In both instances, I decided Grammarly was wrong. However, in the earlier one, I went and looked for evidence. It appears that I’ve either gotten lazier or more confident in my own opinions.

The second musing about editing explored my process in writing three abstracts for SIGCSE 2019. That musing clocked in at 6,500+ words, which likely made it too long for any reasonable person to read. Admittedly, some of the length was due to repetition; I included three or four versions of each of the three abstracts.

Surprisingly, it was not my longest musing. Although the musing on abstracts appears to be only the second one I’ve written with more than 4,000 words, my musing on work-life balance (or, as I ended up phrasing it toward the end, personal-professional harmony), is a few hundred words longer [16].

Unfortunately, it appears that the long musing broke my brain. For the next three-and-a-half days, I suffered from fairly significant writer’s block. Fortunately, I was able to recover from that block by the SIGCSE deadline and was able to spew [17] about 14,000 words of draft text and then edit them down into something relatively comprehensible [18]. I don’t expect that both panels and all three papers will be accepted, but I find a benefit to getting things into a coherent form and the writing in all five is up to snuff for preliminary submissions.

Incorporating images

I’ve traditionally written text-only musings. Once in a while, I include an image that seems particularly appropriate. This month, I included images in at four musings: a rant on sliding glass doors, a reflection on rides at the Iowa State Fair, a rant about Grinnell’s new business cards, and an introduction to my new digs at the Obermann Center. If I count correctly, only six other musings have included images [19]. So this month was an exception. Will I continue to include images? I’m not sure. As in many cases, I’ll let my muse be my guide.

Strange link requests

I only received one strange link request this month. What was it? Oh, that’s right. It went something like the following.

Hi Samuel,

Quick question for you. With more and more people working as freelancers, consultants or independent contractors, I think your website readers and community would benefit from our new guide, Top Freelance Gigs for Computer Science Professionals. Would you be willing to review it and possibly link it on your site? Here’s the link: elided.

This guide gives a balanced overview of computer science freelancing, including the pros and cons. There’s information (including salary info) about 5 top computer science freelance jobs. A great section helps students get started while still in school (with information that’s definitely applicable across the board). There’s also in-depth tips for finding and using freelance job sites for computer science, and answers to the most common questions people have about this subject.

Would you include this new guide as a resource on your page to help people better understand what computer science freelancing is and how they can do it?


First Last
Communications & Outreach
Computer Science Online

I’m not sure what led them to that page. Why would a document about freelance jobs belong on a page that reflects on open educational resources? Am I getting a high PageRank for some term they care about? And why would they use that URL? I didn’t know anyone still used [20]. The page explicitly indicates that its canonical URL is

Oh well, it’s one of those amusing aspects of the InterWeb.

And a bit more

I’m glad to see that Middle Son has started his own set of daily musings [22]. I’d like to claim that I inspired him, but I’m pretty sure that he’s doing it primarily because he’s in a course in diaries which requires a daily journal and, while that course requires a physical journal, he also wants to experiment with electronic diaries [23].

When I started musing, I posted my daily writing to Facebook and Twitter. After a month or so, I added the index by number so that people didn’t have to check in each day. I added an [RSS feed] at the start of 2018 to help those who prefer to get their distractions from a feed. This month, I’ve added LinkedIn as a place to post. I don’t post every musing. But I post some, including rants. Yeah, I guess that’s another reason I’m not going to get many job offers from LinkedIn [24].

Planning for the next month of musings

What are my goals for this month? Well, with SIGCSE out of the way [25], I should be able to settle down into a more regular work mode. On almost every day, I will reflect on, design, write, or edit a lab or reading for CSC 151.

Since I plan to write regularly, it’s almost certainly time to reread Joe Williams’ Style and to practice applying its principles to my daily musings. That’s less of a subject goal than a process goal, but I may also reflect on Williams.

A friend going on sabbatical told me that they plan to read a book chapter or article each day. I should try to do the same. I won’t muse on each thing I read, but I may do weekly summaries. I also have a backlog of articles that I planned to muse about. That’s another pair of goals [28].

My work environment is very different this fall. Not only am I not teaching, I’m also spending a few days a week at a different institution. I should reflect on some of those differences and on my progress on my project. I may also reflect on institutional differences. We’ll see.

Oh, I still need to get back to inbox zero. Writing about that issue regularly should help me get closer, even if it seems that I can’t quite achieve that goal.

Four sets of goals for the musings for the month seems fair. I’ll stop there.

Will I achieve those goals? We’ll see. Oh, I do have one other goal. I hope to avoid gaps in the musings. That may not be possible, but I’ll try.

Postscript: I’ve been making it a practice to end the end-of-month musings with a data dump about potential topics for future musings. I except that most of my readers ignore it. But creating the dump gives me an excuse to review my notes on future a bit and, on occasion, to rearrange them and to move a few more to the tagged section. I also like generating pointless data.

Category                     Last Month      This Month      Change
--------                     ----------      ----------      ------
for specific dates               8               7             -1
tagged topics                   64             111            +47
"high priority"                 22              15             -7
added recently                   8               6             -2
gathered from elsewhere          5               5             
almost immediate (?)             7               7             
new "soon", teaching             5               5             
new "soon", other               18              18          
new "soon", short, teaching      8               7             -1
new "soon", short, other        26              22             -4
old "soon"                       8               8             
new, but no so new              29              29             
series: fun books                4               0             -4
reviews                          7               0             -7
series: anniversary musings      3               3              
series: addiction/organization   2               0             -2
old forthcoming musings          5               0             -5
more from csc 281                5               0             -5
"quick (?)"                     23              23            
general                        124             123             -1
Grinnellians you should know    69              69             
other people                     6               6             
topics to revisit               14              14             +8

Whoo! I’ve only added eight new topics. I’m still moving in the wrong direction, but I’m doing so at a reasonable rate. What about the big drops? I’m pretty sure that the changes to high priority, added recently, and new soon only represent movements to the tagged topic area. But I moved some of them to the top of the stack today, so I may get to them this month. I also know that the loss of topics from fun books, reviews, old forthcoming musings, and CSC 281 represents only a movement to the main list [29]. I’m not sure when I’ll get to those; maybe some of the fun book musings will rise to the top as I muse about more articles.

Moving topics to the tagged section was a relatively painless process; there were even times that I found it fun. However, I did discover that I suddenly had way too many topics that I feel compelled to want to write about now. I think I can put them off and stick at the one-musing-per-day model. We shall see.

Postscript: I also like to see how far I am from a year ago. The last musing of August 2017 was entitled one year of mostly daily musings. It was musing #433. This musing is #738.
Given that this musing is two days late, I appear to have written 303 musings in the past year. When did I miss musings? I thought it was August, but that’s not the case. Let’s see … if musing #433 was the last musing of August 2017, musing #463 should have been the last musing of September 2017. Was it? No! It’s dated October 21. It appears that September contributed a bit to my non-quite daily record. I wonder what the last musing I wrote in September was. Let me see. Musing #454 is dated September 25. Musing #455 is dated October 3, and is little more than a note that I was overwhelmed enough that I could not muse. That’s not surprising I was effectively teaching five courses at that time [30]. So I mused only 19 times in September. I should be able to muse more this year.

[1] Smile less.

[2] In looking for the link to the first Obermann musing, I realized that I’d misnumbered at least one other musing [3], causing the link to Obermann to disappear from the index of musings by number.

[3] Maybe I need some automatic tests to check my ability to number [4].

[4] Or perhaps not; I looked back 100 musings. That appears to be the only mistake I’ve made in three or more months.

[5] I failed. But I did rant less than normal.

[6] That one was implicitly the assignment for a workshop.

[7] Some say I went overboard in that rant. Others say I didn’t go far enough. Perhaps I should return to it again.

[8] I don’t mind ghostwriting, per se. But they should write better advertisements.

[9] Aren’t you impressed by my ability to copy from the list of rants?

[10] It relates to the continuing tendency of this administration to treat representative governance as an appropriate proxy for shared governance. Representation is necessary, but not sufficient.

[11] Then there’s the whole matter of the updates to MathLAN. I know they were done in a positive spirit, but they’ve made my work much more difficult.

[12] I got very frustrated by some comments on the Grinnell Parents Facebook page. However, I consider it inappropriate to rant about that page in public.

[14] Perhaps that’s the norm for those musings.

[15] My notes say that the course occupied musings #712, #713, and #714.

[16] I never edited that musing. It may be worthwhile to return to the various portions as individual musings. We shall see.

[17] Yes, spew is definitely the right word.

[18] Admittedly, in one case, Janet Davis did the bulk of the editing. Thanks Janet!

[19] I did link to images in a rant about issues of race in GoldieBlox. That’s not quite the same thing.

[20] I understand links to It was the first name for our Web server and some places, including Google, seem to remember that. But I’m pretty sure that we created that alternative name at about the time Grinnell went from [21] to

[21] I still think that Personalized education that makes you smile would be a fun tagline for

[22] Although it’s currently at, it may soon move to

[23] Middle Son reports that he is musing not because of the class, but because friends wanted regular reports on his time abroad. He also tell me that I did inspire him a bit. I had assumed that his tagline was a joke.

[24] I don’t want a new job. But I know that job seekers often use LinkedIn to promote themselves and that prospective employers sometimes use LinkedIn to find employees.

[25] SIGCSE isn’t quite out of the way. I still have to review papers [26]. I may have to contribute to the SIGCAS pre-conference proposal. And I likely have to work on the student volunteer software. Nonetheless, my primary writing for SIGCSE is out of the way for now [27].

[26] Or, more precisely, meta-review papers.

[27] I’ll have more editing and writing to do if the papers are accepted. But that won’t be for more than a month.

[28] In case you didn’t catch it: One goal is to read something relevant each weekday; the other goal is to muse about some of the things I read. Perhaps there is also a third goal, which is to muse about some of the articles that have accumulated.

[29] In fact, I moved them when writing this musing.

[30] It’s good to realize that although I feel a bit stressed right now, it’s nothing close to how I felt at that time.

Version 1.0 released 2018-09-02.

Version 1.1 of 2018-09-03.