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On the genesis of Sam’s Assorted Musings / Rants

What good is a site without an About page? I suppose that this essay will serve that role.

I write. A lot. (Sometimes I even write full sentences.) I write long email messages in response to questions from prospective and current students. I write diatribes to various administrators. I write the occasional set of instructions. I write notes to myself to better understand topics. (Well, I should write notes to myself to better understand topics.)

I had just finished a weekend for admitted students, which followed a visit to Macalester as the parent of an admitted student. I was about to start a series of notes to our Admissions department on what I thought set Grinnell apart from our peers. I wanted to record some of the things I was telling prospectives and their parents as they asked about Grinnell’s CS department. And I learned that people sometimes read the random text I put on the Interweb. For example, during the recent admitted students weekend, a parent came up to me and said I really enjoyed If you ask a prof a question, a silly piece I’d written more than a decade ago.

And so I decided that it was time to put some of the writings together. I initially planned to just focus on the things for prospective students: Why study at Grinnell?, Should you study CS at a small liberal arts college or a large research institution?, and so on and so forth. It also seemed time to write down some of the things I say about the department, particularly about why we value diversity and how we strive to achieve diversity.

However, I find that whenever I start any project, my ambitions for the project grow. I also found the need to write some other essays (an explanation to students about a change in policy, comments about campus decisions, etc.). And so it became a full project. Not just essays for prospectives, but essays on whatever.

As I was posting my second essay, I realized that I wanted to make this an even more extensive project - an essay a day, as it were. Why an essay a day? Michelle thinks it’s so that I can procrastinate, and that may be part of it. But it’s also to keep myself in check. As you can see from the historical list of essays, there’s a lot that for me to write about. By telling myself that I will write one essay each day, I can stop obsessing about when I’ll get to each essay. I just get to choose one each day and work on it.

I also appreciate the perspective that it’s easier to do things if you do them daily. So, daily essays. I hope to add daily exercise (which I’ve done in the past) and daily coding to my daily taks.

Returning to writing as a daily task, I also know that there are times that I really appreciate being able to pull out one of my mother’s old notes or essays to see what she thought and how she wrote. And so I hope that this site will serve as a repository for my children to remember me (although I hope it’s also a long long time until they have to remember me).

And so, there you have it. The site and project exist because some of the essays may be useful for others (and useful for me the next time I have to respond to a prospective student), because writing helps me think through issues, because a commitment to writing means that I can put off some of the writing that I plan to do, and because I want to build up a repository. I’m not sure if any of those reasons are good ones for you to write, but they seem to be good ones for me.

I’ll admit that I have some concerns about what will happen after I get through the first thirty or so natural topics. But I’m confident that things will come up. And, perhaps once I get the natural essays out of the way, I’ll find more opportunities in writing to learn and in writing to share.

Version 1.0 released 2016-04-23.

Version 1.0.1 of 2020-01-27.