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Another month of (mostly) daily musings (#972)

Topics/tags: End-of-month musings

I have finished another month of what I call daily musings, even though they are not always musings and they certainly aren’t always daily. Since it’s the end of the year, I’ve also finished another year of musings. It’s even harder to call them daily musings when I look at the year, since I did not muse for about half of the year. Let’s just stick with the month. At the end of most months, I like to look back at what I’ve mused [1] about, what I’ve learned about writing, and what might be coming in the next month. I also try to explore some simple data about the musings.

While most musings are likely to be of broader interest, I assume that most of my end-of-month musings are mostly of interest to myself. But perhaps others learn something from them. This month, I’ve decided to explicitly break up the sections in this musing.

On my writing

As far as I can tell, I seem to have settled into a particular authorial voice. Is it different than the voice I had when I first started musing? I’m not sure. I could go back and look, but I’m not always good at exploring such issues. I wonder what criteria I would use?

Toward the end of January, I’ll start attending Ralph Savarese’s Craft of Creative Nonfiction. Will my authorial voice change as a result of attending that course? It seems that it should, but I’m not sure how it will. Or perhaps I’m set enough in my ways that the primary change we’ll see relates to my use [2] of the English language. I expect to muse about those issues in the months to come.

On posting frequency

I finished last month with some inconsistency in posting. I had hoped to be more on top of things at the start of this month, but I still managed to miss posting on the first three days of the month. I don’t recall why.

Once I started posting, often found that I wanted to post multiple things each day. That includes one day when I posted three short musings. Maybe I should learn to pace myself. Certainly, it seemed that some readers had trouble figuring out which musings were new when I posted more than one on a single day. I’ve decided to stick to daily (or nearly daily) musing.

On the days in which I am tempted to post multiple musings, I am instead setting the extras aside as mostly finished drafts. However, I have found that the further I get from mostly finishing a draft, the more editing I have to do when I eventually post it [3].

Follow-ups on individual musings

I had written what I thought was a light musing on misnaming. But I got a lot of commentary on Facebook. Clearly, names and misnaming are things that many people care about, particularly those who are frequently misnamed. That commentary led me to plan a follow-up musing. Surprisingly, it took me three weeks to finish writing the follow-up; I had planned to post it a day or two after the original.

My musing about a bad day got a variety of follow-up comments on Facebook. In that musing, I commented on some frustrations with students and some frustrations with administrative processes regarding major declarations. Some who wrote had also had frustrating experiences with students signing up for things and then not going [4]. Some who commented use an advising process similar to mine, and often have their students rewrite declaration essays to ensure that they have thought carefully about their liberal arts education. And some posters were worried about my health [5].

A few days later, I had calmed down, and I realized that I was likely overreacting. You can read about the reasons I should not have been so upset in a followup musing. I considered taking down the original, but decided it served a purpose, if only to remind myself that some days can feel really bad, and that I need to take a step back and reflect when they do.

After writing about workload, I asked a variety of administrators about how they interpret the requirement that (approximately) a four-credit course should require a minimum of twelve hours of work each week. Many said it was a pointless measure, since there are so many variables at play. But I did have one particularly scary followup conversation, approximately If it says minimum, that means that there should be enough work that every student in the course should be spending at least twelve hours on the class. That does not bode well for the students who work less efficiently or face other barriers. It also doesn’t make sense to me; we transfer four-credit classes from much weaker institutions, so shouldn’t we accept that it’s twelve hours for students at those institutions, not at Grinnell? I think I agree with the administrators who suggest that it’s a pointless metric.

Broader issues

A colleague who I respect greatly told me that they view my musings as a form of leadership because they get people talking about important issues on campus [6]. I hadn’t realized that my musings had that kind of impact. I suppose it’s good to hear. And since I provide leadership in that way, I hope it means that people won’t vote for me as Chair of the Faculty [7] or Chair of the Science Division [9].

I also discovered additional people who are reading my musings, including some alums who provided helpful feedback on some musings, such as the bad day rant I mentioned earlier.

I like to rant. Some people also seem to appreciate my rants, but others dislike them, even now that I’ve worked to moderate my writing. In respect to the latter group, particularly my colleagues on campus, I’ve tried to do avoid posting rants since the annual College holiday party. The drawback I’ve found is that non-rants are currently either autobiographical, which may limit my readership [10], or long and complex to write (e.g., discussions of registration), which means that I can’t always find the time to finish them. I realize that there are other kinds of non-rants to write: discussions of teaching, programming, and teaching programming [11]; historical reports on Grinnell; comments on interesting articles and books; and so on and so forth. However, my muse has not asked me to write those. For whatever reason, she’s been focusing my attention on topics I want to rant about and autobiographical topics. We’ll see what happens in the new year. We’ll see how often I end up ranting.

This musing should be number 972. Since there are 31 days in January [12], I should post my thousandth musing toward the end of January. I assume that I reflect back on the broader endeavor in this musing, but I can also see myself riffing on the title of the musing. Perhaps that’s a day that I’ll end up posting two.

Of course, if I fail to post daily, I may not get into musing 1000 until March. That should give me an incentive to post daily!

This was also a month in which I found myself realizing that I have clearly forgotten many things I’ve written in the past. For example, in musing about fixing things, I discovered at least one prior musing about failing to fix things. [14] In musing about a salary review, I was tempted to write a follow up musing commenting on the strange choice to move the post review debrief from the Dean, who has resources and should view faculty holistically, to the director of the CTLA, who does not have ready access to resources and who focuses primarily on our teaching. But then I realized that is written about the issue already [15]. I wonder how many faculty under review actually meet with the CTLA. I also wonder how many people who write regularly have similar experiences of forgetting what they’ve already written.

Behind the scenes

Every few months, I make some changes that are likely not obvious to my readers, but affect the way I write or think about writing. Here are a few that happened this month.

As I mentioned above, I’ve started to explicitly set aside musings when I’ve already written one musing that day. There are also a variety of other musings that I started but never finished. Many of the latter represent rants that I wasn’t sure I wanted to post or musings that needed more information. Some of those get lost in the morass that is my musings folder. There are about 1159 .md files in that folder, excluding the indices, and this is musing 972. That’s nearly 200 files that I’ve started and not finished. I suppose cataloging those is a task for the near future. For now, I’ve made some lists of a few of the easy-to-identify ones that I can turn to when I need a mostly-written musing or a long musing that needs editing. You can find the counts in the data section below.

Over time, I’ve started to build a variety of indices to collect groups of somewhat related musings. During this month, I decided that I had done enough musings about my family that it was worth separating out musings about Those Wacky Rebelskys from my autobiographical musings. My traditional list of musings is from oldest to newest. I’ve now added one that is organized newest-to-oldest as well as a simple script to build that list.

At some point a year or two ago, I considered switching over to Jekyll. But I have enough custom steps along the way that I’m not sure that it’s a good idea. Still, there’s a benefit to putting a Liquid-style header at the top of each Markdown file and, once I have those in place, I can start writing scripts to automate other parts of the site. I’ve already added a simple solidify script to my workflow that strips out a predefined set of Liquid settings from the top of a file and builds a new headers. We’ll see how the rest of my software writing goes. You can be sure I’ll report on it.


I’m a data junkie. I wouldn’t feel comfortable writing an end-of-month musings without some kind of data.

How many musings did I write in December? Let’s see. This one is number 972. The last musing in November was 939. That means that I posted thirty-three musings this month [16]. My average is back to a musing each day, even though I missed at least four days in December.

What does my sketchbook look like?

  • I have five (5) musings that I’ve marked as written, need minor revisions
  • I have another four (4) musings that I’ve marked as written, need major revisions. Three are rants, or rant-like musings. One is a reflection on a long-planned artistic project.
  • I have forty-three (43) planned musings marked as Short. That’s up three from last month.
  • I have twenty-six (26) planned musings marked as Long. That’s the same number I had last month. I don’t think it’s exactly the same list, but I’m not positive.

Since I’m about to start a new year, I’m also starting a new sketchbook. I’ll copy over the written, need revisions musings. For the time being, I plan to start the other sections (mostly) anew. I have copied over three topics that I expect to write about in early January: a post-prereg report, a memo about the anniversary of Tutorial and the open curriculum, and a discussion for a friend about how one might approach teaching CS. If I run out of topics, I can always look back to the sketchbook for 2019 or to the even older sketchbook.

Looking ahead

What will happen in the next month? I’m still trying to figure out when I’m going to start ranting again. I expect it will be within the first week of the new year. But we shall see.

As I mentioned in a previous section, I’ve started to work on restructuring parts of the system I use to build pages. I anticipate writing some more software in January.

I have no other topics that I plan to cover in January. Once I start taking classes, I may add notes on those.

I also expect to build up my sketchbook of potential topics and notes on those topics.

Final thoughts

As I look ahead to January, I look forward to musing #1000. I also look forward to working on the software that supports my musings. I’ll be interested to see how quickly [17] the list of prospective musing topics grows.

[1] Or ranted.

[2] And abuse.

[3] Believe it or not, but even something as simple as the musing on pineapple required editing, and I’d written it only two weeks earlier. In the past, when I’ve let a musing sit for a month or more, I would find that it took nearly as long to edit the musing as it would to write a new short musing.

[4] That wasn’t really one of the main points of the musing, but it’s clearly a significant issue on campus, particularly when we’ve paid for students to participate in the event.

[5] It turns out that I hurt my leg more than my back when slipping on the ice.

[6] Or something like that.

[7] No, I am not conducting a campaign. However, I’ve decided that good citizenship means that I leave my name on the list of eligible candidates [8].

[8] The initial list we received had 68 names on it. Once I removed SFS faculty, Council members, people entering or leaving Deanships and other administrative positions, and people I know to be on leave next year, there are still about 44 remaining. That’s a good sign. I see lots of folks who would make good chairs of the faculty; I should write to some of them to see if they’d be willing to serve. However, it seems best to wait until the official list is ready.

[9] I’ve served that role once already.

[10] Or leadership.

[11] That reminds me: A high-school friend asked me to give them tips on teaching programming. I should plan that musing. However, I’m pretty sure that it will take a non-trivial amount of time to write.

[12] At least the last time I checked.

[14] I remembered the incident, just not musing about it.

[15] I also previously acknowledged that the old process put a significant burden on the Dean. If I count correctly, it required a full week of the Dean’s time to read the appropriate materials and meet with all of the faculty under salary review.

[16] I was going to say that I wrote 33 musings or rants this month. However, as I noted earlier, I wrote some musings that I have not yet posted. However, I anticipate editing them before posting.

[17] Or slowly.

Version 1.0 released 2019-12-31.

Version 1.0.1 of 2020-01-03.