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An introduction to SamR’s Assorted Musings and Rants

Topics/tags: writing, meta, rambly

It appears that I have some new readers. And it’s pretty clear that even some of my old readers want to know more about SamR’s Assorted Musings and Rants. So I’ve decided to write a new introduction. Here goes!

Hi. I’m Samuel A. Rebelsky (more typically, Sam and SamR). I teach Computer Science [1] at Grinnell College, a small and excellent liberal arts college in the middle of Iowa [5]. I’ve been there more than twenty years and I’m old enough and care enough that I sometimes identify as a curmudgeon. A few years ago [6], I decided to take some of the things that I was writing as part of my professional life, gather them, and post them to a public Web site [7]. At some point, I decided to post something new every day, even if it I was writing something that wasn’t something that I needed to write as part of my professional life.

These days, I write about a variety of topics, most of which are tied to my academic life or my personal life. Different readers (or different groups of readers) appear to appreciate different kinds of writing. Let’s see … I rant about many issues, from campus policies to broader issues about software and non-inclusive practices. I regularly reflect on the experience and practice of teaching, particularly teaching computer science. Those reflections include drafts of teaching materials and comments on assessment practices. I write regularly about people I know. Once a month I write meta-musings about [the experience of writing daily] (index-on-writing). I tend to overcommit, so I sometimes whine about my workload. You’ll find the occasional autobiographical note, most typically on days in which I’m just trying to write something. I also write regularly about academic life. Although I lean left, my writing is generally not political.

You’ll find that these musings, as I call them, have some common characteristics: They are often off the cuff rather than planned; many contain bad jokes [8]; most make excessive use of endnotes [9]; many refer to other musings or to common themes, such as my curmudgeonly personality, my love of computer science and my students (or vice versa), my writing style and quality, and, of, course, the endnotes and bad jokes. I generally intend to write about 1000 words, but you’ll see regular exceptions to that length.

Why do I keep writing? A lot of reasons, primarily that I enjoy it. Really. It’s something I generally look forward to. I like getting ideas down in tangible form [10], turning the jumble of thoughts in my head to slightly more coherent prose. I benefit from the thinking that happens while I muse. I appreciate being able to reflect on the writing I do. I revel in making bad jokes, playing with language (once in a while), and adding endnotes (almost all the time). Of course, I must admit that there are a few days in which my primary enjoyment is simply that I have written something; there’s still an odd pleasure to breaking through the barrier of It’s hard to write today or even though I have a list of a few hundred potential topics, none of them appeals to me.

I also learn by writing. While I reflect on many of these issues as part of my everyday life [11], I find that I think very differently when I have to put words to paper and think about the flow of ideas. Having a record also lets me go back and edit and refine the ideas.

There are, of course, other reasons. The musings provide a model for my students: One can write for fun and one can write to learn, even as an old professional. What I write provides some information about the current me for the future me and for my kids to reflect back on when I’m no longer around [12]. The musings communicate to non-faculty about what faculty work life is like (or at least what one faculty member’s work life is like). Once in a while, a few may even make some people happy. And, once in a while, the musings serve as a drafting space for things that I’m going to write anyway, such as talks and speeches, homework assignments, memos to the Dean, and so on and so forth.

There you have it. The musings are a series of short pieces [14] written by a curmudgeonly faculty member in CS about whatever he finds of interest that day. They may carry the occasional insight. They may make you laugh once in a while. Read them as you will.

I guess I should also include a few tips for new readers. Let’s see. The index by number lists every musing in chronological order. Some folks seem to enjoy skimming the list for topics that are of interest. The index by topic groups them together and adds a one-sentence blurb about each topic. You can also see separate indices for each topic.

You can keep up with the musings through the RSS Feed, by following me on Twitter, or by checking the [front door] daily. If you have some connection to me and are not a Grinnell student, you can also friend me on Facebook.

Postscript: Stay tuned. I expect that in the near future I will post a list of recommended musings, along with explanations for their selection. I may eventually write a glossary.

[1] And, from time to time, a few other subjects [2].

[2] Let’s see … I’ve taught Tutorials [3] on hypertext, intellectual property, and online communities. I’ve taught introductory statistics. I’ve taught our introductory course in technology studies [4]. I’ve taught a Studio Art course that used computer code as the medium. Most recently, I took over two sessions of an English class when a colleague was unable to be there.

[3] Tutorial is Grinnell’s small seminar-style class for first-year students. Faculty members teach twelve or so students about a topic while helping them develop the broader skills to succeed in college.

[4] I realize that most people think of computers when they think about technology, but we cover technologies from stone tools to the present.

[5] Some might say the middle of nowhere or the middle of flyover country.

[6] Some time in April 2016, more or less.

[7] I’ll explain more about those at the end of the musing.

[8] Or, more precisely, dad jokes.

[9] You will discover that I generally avoid endnote 13. The software I wrote for working with the endnotes helps me remember to skip that unlucky endnote.

[10] Are electrons, or whatever is used for this digital work, tangible? Well, it’s close enough.

[11] I sometimes worry that I think and reflect too much.

[12] Yeah, sometimes I’m maudlin.

[14] essays seems overstated.

Version 1.0 of 2018-05-26.