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Reaching One Thousand (#1000)

Topics/tags: Meta-musings

In the middle of April 2016, I had an idea. A whim, perhaps. I had a lot of things I wanted to write. I needed to explain to some students why I was not intervening on their behalf. I had received a variety of questions about what kind of computer prospective CS majors should buy and the benefits of studying CS at a small liberal arts college and had write a response on my to-do list. I was upset about the termination of Grinnell’s relationship with Posse and needed to get my thoughts in order. I decided that I’d put them together on a Web site. That way, I could get comments from others and could easily point to them when someone asked me a question. Why should I study CS? Oh, that’s easy, read this. Why should I take a faculty position in your department? There are so many good reasons.

At least that’s what I recall. I see that one of my early musings was on the genesis of the musings. It appears that I had been visiting some peer institutions with Middle and wanted to provide some notes to our office of admissions on things I set Grinnell apart positively. In that early musing, I claimed that the musings were a way to keep my writing in check. I see that I also wanted to provide an archive of what I think about for my kids; I know I appreciate the packet of mom’s writings that is currently lost somewhere in the house.

Like many of my projects, it seems to have spun out of control. Although I wrote I’ll admit that I have some concerns about what will happen after I get through the first thirty or so natural topics, I’ve posted one thousand essays, musings, rants, and the like [1]. And I have a few hundred more on the list of topics I might write about. I guess my estimation skills need some work [2].

Your estimation skills might suggest to you that if I were posting a musing each day, I would have reached number one thousand a bit before today. And you’d be right. But I’ve had periods in which I did not feel up to posting daily. I’ve also had some long periods in which I did not feel like posting at all. Nonetheless, I’ve continued to make progress, and here we are at number 1000.

One thousand posts represent about a half year of full-time work [3]. Was it a good use of that much time? I think so. I learn when I write. I enjoy writing. Once in a while, I seem to write something that makes a positive difference to other people or at least that resonates with other people. So yes, it seems that it’s worth my time [4].

If I’d realized that I was going to write this many musings, I would have built a better infrastructure. I’ve certainly added to it over time, including multiple indices, software for processing the endnotes [5], Bootstrap styling, annotations, a custom of adding tags to the start of musings, and other things I’ve likely forgotten. I suppose it would be better if I’d thought about all of that at the beginning, but I didn’t. These days, I’m working on incorporating Jekyll-like [6] page information that I can more easily extract when I want other features.

But I guess I wouldn’t have predicted all of those needs at the start. I should have thought about how one should organize a few thousand files. Having everything in one directory with a Makefile may not be the best strategy [7]. At some point, I’ll find a way to reorganize it all.

I’ve never really written for a particular audience. And I write about enough different things that I’m not sure that any one audience can appreciate all. Folks at Grinnell tend to appreciate [9] my thoughts on governance and other issues at Grinnell, but they are unlikely to know about the technical issues I discuss. Other computer scientists might appreciate my occasional comments on teaching CS but probably don’t care about what happens at Grinnell. My family may like my autobiographical comments; perhaps a few friends read them, too. I’m not sure who cares about my whining about my workload.

Two folks have commented on my musings from the start, more-or-less: Michelle Rebelsky and David Feldman ’71. Michelle knew me already. At least I hope she did. We’d been married nearly thirty years at that point. I knew of David Feldman, mostly through his Imponderables books [10]. He discovered me because of my now-deleted musing on the Posse program. I still haven’t figured out why he continues to read, but I appreciate it. My kids also read it but only comment to me behind the scenes [11].

Of course, I also get comments from old friends, alumni, and colleagues. So I have a variety of readers.

But I’m pretty sure that some musings have a broader readership. On occasion, a colleague who is not a Facebook friend notes that they appreciated a recent musing. Some students tell me they’ve read them [12]. Some folks share them on Everyday Class Notes, but I have no idea how people respond there. I know a few staff members read them, but I don’t know how many. Oh well. In the end, I write for myself and for my family.

At this point, I find that I’m repeating myself a bit. I complain about the changes to the Web site [15]. I complain about what was done to the book store and how it violated shared governance. I reflect on self-governance. I whine about my workload. Stuff like that.

I also find that I often forget what I’ve written. Sometimes I write about something and then discovered I’d written about it already. I even forgot that I already mused about forgetting what I’ve written.

Has musing helped improve my writing? I had hoped it would, and I like to think so. I’ve certainly developed a style or a voice. As my Theatre Professor would suggest, these musings are one of the ways I perform in public [16]. However, there are also times that I feel my writing has gotten worse. I think, for example, of the sequence of speeches I wrote for Duke TIP. The first one was the best of the three. I suppose there’s a lesson in that; something like, Stop when it’s good enough.

After this many musings, I find that I have a compulsion to write. I had never quite understood what writers meant when they said something like that. But I feel incomplete when I don’t write. More importantly, things to write about keep coming to mind. And I learn when I write about things. So I’m going to keep writing, musing, and ranting.

Thanks for reading!

Postscript: I had hoped to include some statistics about my musings here but I ran out of time. Perhaps I’ll gather some data before musing 2000.

[1] I was going to say I’ve written 1000, but I’ve written a few more than that.

[2] My students say that about my estimation skills for homework assignments.

[3] See the prior musing for an explanation of that estimate.

[4] Maybe a little less of my time.

[5] Those endnotes have certainly become a key part of my writing style.

[6] Or liquid-like.

[7] I will admit that Makefiles are my hammer for software design [8].

[8] If all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.

[9] Or object to.

[10] Those books got Michelle through residency.

[11] Dad, here’s a list of a dozen misspellings, grammatical errors, and stylistic issues in your latest musing. Oh, wait, those are just the ones from the first paragraph of your latest musing.

[12] My favorite comment: I read your musings. I saw that you linked to some of your mother’s writing. She’s a much better writer [14].

[14] Yes, she is.

[15] And, these days, an appreciative note about

[16] I tend to claim that my classroom is my primary performance space.

Version 1.0 released 2020-01-27.

Version 1.0.01 of 2020-01-27.