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The evolution of a musing

You may wonder what process takes a musing from my muse, to my brain, to words on paper [1], and, finally, to you [2]. Let’s consider, as an example, a recent musing on bad software. That musing had a slightly more tortured path from conception to posting than normal. Nonetheless, its story still reveals something about how musings happen [3].

My muse planted the idea in my brain late last semester. I kept saying to myself Boy, this new podium software is frustrating. Eventually, after enough times of saying that this semester, I grabbed a note card and wrote something like the following [4].

Bad software. Gets worse. Old version: Click PC -> Click On -> Wait. New version: Click PC -> Click Yes -> Click OK -> Wait -> Click OK again.

But the podium software in our main classroom has lots of problems. So some of those problems accumulated in my brain along the way. For example, I got frustrated about resolution changes, a non-working Mute Image button, screens that don’t always come on, and more. I also talked to the A/V staff about these issues a bit.

At some point, the index card miraculously appeared in my pocket while I was near my computer. I added the following notes to myself in my proto-musing journal [5].

Bad software. Is it worse to use or to support? Our projectors New UI, even worse than the old UI. Old: Click PC. Click On. New: Click PC. Click Yes. Click OK. Wait. Respond to new modal dialog Did the projector turn on? Stupid questions: Which connection do you want to use? (There is none.) But here’s the fun part: I don’t think AV chose the system and I think they even discouraged the initial choice of using ….

Then it sat in the journal for some time. I don’t date the entries, and I don’t check it in to GitHub often enough [7], so I can’t be completely sure how long it was there. But it wasn’t all that long.

Soon thereafter, I had another really bad day with the system. So I added the following comments to my notes.

Fifteen minutes before class. Neither the screen nor the projector show what’s on the computer (but it works for another computer). Reboot computer. Turn off and on projector [8]. Try it again. Class starts, and it’s still not working. Someone from ITS comes. They turn the projector off and on. It still doesn’t work. Someone else comes from ITS. They move the cart. It magically works.

So I wrote a draft. The 150 or so words in my initial notes turned into about 1000 words of a musing. I did a quick spell check using the Linux spell program [9,10]. I ran the text through Grammarly, which has become one of my common practices. In general, Grammarly catches a few of the small mistakes and also sometimes sends me silly reports on the number of unique words I use. In this case, Grammarly identified two critical issues: I’d mis-capitalized MacBook as Macbook [11] and it thought I misused the word the word connection, although I had not. It also claimed 28 advanced issues. I don’t know what those are and, after my last experience with Grammarly Pro, I’m not going to upgrade.

But the musing didn’t feel quite right, so I set it aside for what I thought would be a day or so. As is too often the case, it ended up being a few more days than I expected before I came back to it. In that time, I encountered one of the old UIs. And so I added notes about that. Then I eventually got a response to my three-week-old questions about the image mute button. So I added some notes about those questions and the response [11]. By then, the musing was up to 1250 words and, honestly, was a bit of a mess.

Somewhere in the middle, I thought about adding a really snarky comment about the classroom technology in the HSSC. But it didn’t strike me that the snarky comment added anything positive, so I left it out.

A few days later, I went back to clean up the musing. I rewrote some sentences [12]. I added more text. I added some jokes [14]. I thought about the impact of the musing on my valued colleagues in ITS and added a few more disclaimers about what it’s like to deal with me [15]. Somehow, the musing grew to about 1600 words. It also grew from eight endnotes in the prior version to fifteen or so in the final version.

It feels like I was getting close to being done, doesn’t it? I was.

Since I’d made changes, I went back to my normal quick checks. First the Linux spell utility. The first pass found one real error [16]: I had spelled ony and only. After that, I also do a quick pass through Grammarly. Grammarly caught some of my doubled words [17] and some spelling errors. I also find that running Grammarly gets me to reread the text again, which helps me catch other errors.

Grammarly reported five critical issues [18] and forty-two advanced issues [19].

  • Grammarly didn’t like the word borken. I used that word intentionally.
  • Grammarly thought I should put a comma after Eventually. I agreed.
  • Grammarly missed a comma after I said, but before some quoted material [20]. That’s strange, since it’s usually an issue it catches. As I said, using Grammarly gets me to read the text more closely.
  • Grammarly thought I should have a comma after First at the start of a sentence, as in First, you tap the screen.
  • Grammarly didn’t like the word connection in laptop connection with a Mac.
  • Grammarly didn’t like my use of a comma in a not only, but also structure. Not all such structures need commas, but I think the one I used does [21]. The Interweb appears to give inconsistent advice on the matter.

I fixed the issues I agreed with and then gave the musing to Grammarly a second time. It appears I’d added a new problem as I made the prior edits: I added the word followup when I should have used follow-up.

How long did the last set of edits take? About forty-five minutes. The musing ended up being longer than most, not only in the number of words I’d written, but also in the total time I spent. I expect I’d spent about another hour on the draft and the various additions.

But the musing seemed finished. I was almost done! What was left? I updated the general index, chose an appropriate subindex [22], added a one-sentence description [23] to the subindex, updated the RSS feed, ran a make command to rebuild the pages from the Markdown, checked that the links worked online, posted to Twitter, posted to Facebook [24], checked everything in to GitHub, and called it a night.

Postscript: How did I remember all this? At some point, I decided to log what I was doing in this particular musing. So each time I made a change to the original musing, I added a note to myself in this musing. The day after I posted the original musing, I came back and edited this musing.

Postscript: I used Grammarly to examine this musing, too. It definitely does not like me to use a musing, which it thinks should be amusing. I do find that amusing.

Postscript: Just think: If I hadn’t put the musing aside, I would have had to write one or two followup musings. Is it better as a semi-coherent whole? Probably. Am I wanting for musings? Certainly not. It seems best that I waited [25].

[1] Or words on disk.

[2] It’s also possible that you may not be wondering. If so, you can either read on or wait until the next musing.

[3] Or at least how musings sometimes happen.

[4] I’m not completely sure what I wrote, since I threw out the card. And, even if I hadn’t thrown out the card, everything except Bad Software was scrawled on the card in my normal semi-legible quick note writing.
But that quote is close.

[5] That is, my journal [6] of musings in prototype form, notes on musings, and other things that help me muse.

[6] You may be thinking of a physical journal. This one is electronic. Really just a text file that I edit in vi, to be honest.

[7] I’m also too lazy to check my Git log.

[8] My notes are not always grammatical. They probably should have said TUrn the projector off and on.

[9] Apparently, I tend to spell apparently wrong. (I use an a instead of the e.)

[10] Why don’t Macs come with Unix spell?

[11] I added enough that I’m glad I delayed the release of the musing.

[12] It may be hard to believe, but I do sometimes edit my writing.

[14] You probably can’t tell.

[15] I’d already had some. I just thought it needed more. I also already had comments on what it’s like to deal with mediocre software that you did not necessarily choose.

[16] Unix spell check has a limited dictionary. Here are words in that musing that I think I spelled correctly, but spell thinks I misspelled: borken, dongle, dongles, DT, GrinCo, HDMI, MacBook, Sedona, SelfService, and UI.

[17] I write the same word twice in a row a surprising number of times, an average of at least every-other musing.

[18] The Critical Issues are the ones it will report for non-paying customers.

[19] It appears that the question is How many critical errors did Sam have in a draft of a recent musing?

[20] I told you that Grammarly gets me to revisit my text.

[21] Probably the worst part is having to deal with people like me, who not only complain about the software, but also do so in a public fashion.

[22] Rants, of course.

[23] Something that makes it harder to teach.

[24] And got only slightly distracted, particularly by watching a YouTube video of a friend’s child singing on TV and reading their Proud Father comments.

[25] Amazingly, I still ended up with more to write. I got an interesting follow-up comment from a colleague. I had more problems with the system. I realized that I had not reported accurately enough on the old user interface.

Version 1.0 of 2018-03-16.