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Posts tagged 'self'

  • Tension

    I don't think aimless journaling is necessarily the best thing for me; it will never be interesting to read except by my biographer. In time (= once I have more material to occupy the rest of this site) I will probably move journaling to a less visible place on the site. The nature of this digital journal is not meaningfully different than the stuff I used to write in paper journals, but I'm definitely more self-conscious about what I put up because it will be publicly viewable.

    Not about the content, necessarily—I can't fathom there being anything here that's, let's say, incriminating—but the sheer inanity is just … intense. Where am I today? What am I doing? In the past, I would journal for the handwriting exercise, or as a spiritual house-clearing; this digital version is a lot more like just obligation. I can't tell if it's what I should be writing, if it's meaningful or whatever, but I know I have a long list of "more important" topics that I could reach for if I truly wanted to bust out something else.

    I think there is a different kind of output I'm going to attempt: mini projects. The current one that's been on the tip of my tongue is "100 interview questions, and their answers." The concept would be more or less, find (or recollect) common interview questions, and answer them. These could then be collected on the site under an appropriate header, like my AppAcademy stuff. I've known that once I have two or more significant categories, I will be adding a navigation page to those items, and perhaps styling them to give readers a sense of locality; this is a definite example of a good one.

    Another thing that I've been self-conscious about is the lack of clear technical content. Where I do talk about and allude to design, I feel that the kind of cursory reading this site will gather from (say) potential employers won't really show a that I know my shit, unless there's a clear corner for "here be code blocks." Case in point: there's a multi-line ruby code block, but it's only in maybe the second week of the AA posts? In the ensuing 80+ posts, there's no more than inline code. Does that make me a worse person? Or do I simply need to mark out a specific corner where that stuff can life now?

    Regardless, writing about that stuff doesn't come naturally to me—I find that the same energies that drive my writing drive my coding, and so when I code I'm too drained/satisfied to write extensively about it, and vice versa. Furthermore, none of the stuff I "discover" while working on personal code seems particularly clever, but I know that I've benefitted from other coders' forehead slappers in the past, so I should probably get off my high horse and try to give back to the community, so to speak.

    Finally, between Bear, Notes, and random and sundry other text sources, I have more than enough fodder to provide for all sort of Hot Takes™ for the indefinite future, but given how my last politics post went (mentally, not what's on the page necessarily) I worry that unless I find a way to set boundaries I'm going to get more constipated with ideas. There aren't that many truly new ideas I've had in some time, but if I don't find a way to get them out, they tend to build up in unproductive ways. One solution is wikifying, but I think I might start trying instead to view them as mini writing exercises: how can I explain the kernel of this thought in 100 (meaningful) words?

    Writing long is easy; writing short and good is so hard.

  • Resolutions

    My goals are broadly to make big personal strides.

    I started this year by losing my list of New Years resolutions.

    This does not bode well.

    Update: After searching a half dozen places, I found them.

    One downside of trying to get your act together is that the process itself is bloody. Until your individual habits build up to the point that you do them without mental inertia, everything is fits and starts. Losing my resolutions is a side-effect of a related problem: I never know where to jot things down. The one thing that I have on me at all times is my phone, and there are a good three or four apps that I can use to save data, depending on the need. Offhand, I can

    • Create a list in Notes
    • Save a scribbling in Bear
    • Create a Reminder
    • Create a Calendar event

    And when the intent of a chunk of mental energy isn't clear, it's not clear where to start[^1].

    Regardless, I found my list, and I can see now that it was more of a brain dump (which, again, is why I had trouble finding it). Looking it over, I'm … cognizant of my goals, but I keep performing tasks that are related to one goal at a time.

    If I had to summarize, my goal this year is about "process over results." I'd like to lose 50 lbs and (ignoring the problems of weather at the beginning of the year) that means meeting my step goal more days than not, and performing fitness activities more days than not. The beginning of the year has been consumed, on the other hand, with projects that are nothing but what I call "infinite work" problems—ambitious stuff with nebulously defined endstates where the outcome is second to the process itself.

    This is fine in software development ("fine"), where you go into the office eight hours per day and work on whatever piece of the project is next, in sprints or tickets or whatever quantum you choose. In life, it's equivalent to doing nothing.

    So, for reference, the processes I want to undertake this year: * Read 12 (hard, not pulp) books * Play 10 games (to the point where I feel I have gotten as much out of them as I can) * Watch 30 classic movies * Study Chinese * Hit my step goal more often than not (9/10 days, or 329 days total for the year) * Run X miles (I still haven't set a realistic goal here)

    … and more. There's a nebulous "organization" block that sort of centers on content for this website, and a "project" block that involves things like getting this website in a state where every new feature is an addition, not a part of bootstrapping. And there are goals that are consequences of the processes I've identified: I want to stay informed, increase my depth of understanding of the world, and have my physical fitness no longer be a burden. I want to be better at some set of skills (which is why the project block is largely nebulous—there's an infinite slate of things to learn, and it doesn't pay to be a generalist, in general).

    I do have to acknowledge that none of these things will be perfect, but that's also why I've concentrated on process goals over outcome goals. Process goals offer you/me a chance to start over with each new day, and while each day can be viewed as a failure, every moment offers the chance for small successes. Instead of futzing around on the internet at any given moment, I can lace up my shoes and go out for a walk or a run, or find the next book I can read (or read a half chapter). And certainly, I've seen some of that in my day-to-day since we returned from IL, but … but. But I'm not at the point where I'm honoring my own commitments, and that's going to be the big challenge.

  • The Purpose of Journaling - Artifacts of existence

    No matter how good my memory is, I forget things.

    The things I forget tend to fit into two categories: that which I need an artifact to recall, and that which sounds foreign, even when I see evidence of it.

    Dresden Codak addressed one face of this in a poignant comic, about future memories. The upshot of it, though, is that I think I have a good memory mostly because I've forgotten things I forgot… my bias is showing.

    Some things I recall better than others, but perhaps because I obsess over them—reading and re-reading stuff from my Facebook timeline or what have you—but there's clear evidence that without pictures, documents, objects, souvenirs, and so forth, my brain prunes out or otherwise makes inaccessible whole portions of my life.

    For instance: I can recall, broadly, what I was doing in 2011 only by remembering where I lived at that time, and then thinking of the sorts of things I did in that place. But otherwise the entire year is blur.

    I don't think this problem is going to get less acute over time. Journaling is a way, then, to mitigate some of these effects.

    Bruno laughed around the stem of his pipe. “Yes, make it work. Clever lad. Alas, I fear I'm not up to the task. These old chalkboards are getting white.”


    “Chalkboards. Blackboards. Ah, what do you children know?” The cloud around him thickened with his huffing, and he waved it away. “In the tradition-heavy wilds of Catalonia, where I cut my first set of teeth, the last vestiges of the stone age lingered very nearly until the rise of the Queendom. A chalkboard was a slab of hard, dark slate onto which you would scribble with little cylinders of soft, white chalk. Really! We had one in every classroom, every kitchen. You'd erase the board with a rag, you see, and write in a new batch of lessons or chores or ingredients. But sometimes you'd misplace the rag, and you'd have to scribble around the margins of what you'd already written. If you let this go on long enough, eventually the board would get so white with scribbles that you couldn't read it anymore. And so we learned: too much knowledge is as bad as none at all. We forget how to forget."

    –Wil McCarthy, To Crush the Moon

  • A Constant State of Fear

    My mantra-in-testing right now is "Seek Pain." It's a reminder to always try to be doing something that is hard or causes you anxiety or stress, to make you better, so that the next level skills will come sooner and faster. So, do something until it becomes a habit, and then it won't be nearly as scary, and the harder thing won't appear insurmountable anymore.

    Today I realized that I've been living my life in near-constant low-level anxiety for more than a month, and I haven't felt this good in a while.

    So, to the world: You can't do anything to me that I'm not already doing to myself.

  • Weaknesses

    I've been thinking about interviews on a conceptual level a lot recently, and especially the question of what is my greatest weakness. Without exposing too many of my cards to people who might be interviewing me in the future, it's an interesting question, and one that's hard for me to nail down.

    I have a hard time coming up with traits that are not both strengths and weaknesses. It reminds me of role-playing games: every skill point invested comes with an opportunity cost. Further, I have an outstanding question about real humans: to what degree are certain traits mutually exclusive? For instance, someone who looks really sharp all the time is probably not going to be the ultimate hacker; hygiene takes a non-trivial overhead cost on your mental processes that is (probably) incompatible with being a super-hacker.

    We don't really know enough about how brains work to nail down everything there is to know about what traits are likely to manifest in a single individual. Does competitiveness relate intrinsically to violence or impulsiveness or something else? There's no way to know, yet.

    So in light of all this, some things I'm not so good at:

    • Putting down work when it's "good enough"
    • Biting off small pieces of large tasks
    • Trying to think through everything that could happen in an abstract situation instead of doing and seeing what happens
    • Getting started
    • Multi-tasking
    • Giving myself enough credit
    • Doing things whose purpose I don't understand
    • Doing things when I don't respect the desired outcome
    • Attacking a task via the sides instead of the front
    • Killing my darlings
    • Writing concisely; respecting my readers' attention
    • Accepting less than an optimal solution

    On the flipside, I am super-tenacious and will see a problem through to the bitter end, if it's possible at my level (e.g. without a PhD in Math and six years advanced study).

    These bullets seem to cluster around a couple personality traits. I'm slow to start, slow to transition, and absolutely dogged in the middle. I work very well when I am concerned with the process and not the purpose—what I refer to as "suspension of disbelief" tasks. To elaborate, when I started in the Army it was easy for me to just perform, because I was working against my former self, trying to become faster, stronger, more Army, etc. When I just started at City College, it was easy for me to give my classes everything I had, because my purpose then was to get the best GPA I could, acting as if the degree was the only thing that mattered. Later on, I saw what a clusterf*** the Army was, and how misguided leadership was; later on, I saw what a house of cards the world of higher education was, and couldn't stay in that world when there are ways of educating that are clearly better.

    The act of identifying trends and clusters gives some insight on how to attack them. For instance, when I don't respect the desired outcome of a task, try to identify something in it that will make me better. If, some day, the answer looks to be "get enough money to go home and do something that I care about", that will be a sign it's time to quit that job.

    So, the answer to the "real" interview question—"what is your greatest weakness and what have you done to compensate for it—for me would be … something like this:

    "I am not decisive when I don't have complete information. What I do to compensate is to try to identify some complete task that I can tackle, and set my mental benchmark for success in such a way that I do what needs done and move on to the next thing. By the time I've gotten my feet wet on something I understand the scope of the larger problem much better."

    It's a work in progress, obviously.

  • Learning to ask for help

    Years ago, I was having a fight with a girlfriend, and when things had settled a bit, we had a level-headed conversation about what I needed to do.

    One of the notes I wrote myself was to the effect of "Learning to ask for help, and getting it". Meaning, when I had problems, I expect(ed) to be able to deal with them myself, but that's not how being alive works. No one really get anywhere themselves.

    A couple years ago, my boss sent me a curt email saying that I needed to start asking people for help earlier on in the troubleshooting process, because it can save time. There's a balance between being helpless and always asking others to do your work for you, and never asking for any help. This is, basically, knowing the right time to ask for help even though you could solve your problems on your own.

    I was taking some pride in never asking for TA help on solo days, because there was never any problem that took longer than a couple minutes, but there were always more problems.

    I write about the future of schooling, and how teachers and TAs are education multipliers: they help lead students to good avenues of attack, and know when to step back and let them struggle a bit.

    Last night, I asked Jonathan for advice on an issue with the assets pipeline, and over the course of three quick interactions I was able to generate the behavior I wanted. (Why does every problem fix, including home DIY work, seem to require three tries? Is there some truth to fairy tales?)

    There is no intrinsic virtue to being able to do everything on your own, because the guy who doesn't have that hangup will far surpass you, even though you might feel more self-reliant.

  • Marketing; Or: The Cost of a Product

    The more your name is out there, the more interest you can get and the more you can identify your market value. It's analogous to a stock market: a low-volume symbol will likely have a large spread, which is (analogous to) the margin of error.

    I'm not intending to tip my hand too much, and worst case I can make some of these entries private in case I feel that they put me on a weaker footing in my search. But the cost of not marketing yourself, in my case, may turn out to be about $15-20k/year.

    I know who I am, but without marketing, no one else is going to know that I've got a lot to bring to the table. But the fears that I have—of being judged, of not having others see me the way I see myself—while not precisely abnormal, are doing me a disservice in this process.

    All I want to do is to work on coding projects, because I'm not my own best advocate, but I know somewhere out there is a company that really wants me, they just have no way of knowing it yet.

    In related thinking: I am not as virulently against marketing as a lot of people out there. It's nice to just be able to research the thing you want, look through objective(ish) reviews, and then make an informed decision, but I honestly believe that only works for the barest minority of products. There is some threshold, before which a product is not getting enough people using it who honestly would want to. Tracking information about consumer preference and demographics is part of a process of getting sellers in contact with buyers who would lean in their direction; I think the common (unstated) fear is that the established brands have the money to drown out more fringe companies.

    In turn, though, and especially when some fringe company is trying to generate network effects, sometimes no one wants the minority player. In the internet age there's not a ton of room for another full OS, because each one siphons off talent, and it's really hard to develop all the features people have come to expect without an existing technology base. I suspect the next major OS will supplant someone.

    Similarly, anyone could have seen the Seamless/Grubhub buyout coming. I don't want to have to figure out which company my local delivery joint uses; I just want some damned food. And there are a lot of Grubhubs out there. You haven't heard of most of them, and they'll probably die, or stay marginal for a long time.

    Which might not, after all, be such a bad thing. Most regions have at least two grocery stores, and those grocery stores have operating regions… fragmentation isn't always bad. They are a highly commodified market, though: every single one of them sells Cheerios, bananas, and Ajax, so they're not that different, whereas two different websites in a similar field might have completely different interfaces and data models, as well as corporate partners/networks.

    I don't know what an area of technology that can support true competition over a long period of time looks like, or if it can even exist. And I don't know if I really want to work for a will-have-been… but I know that engineering jobs are so transient that it probably doesn't matter in the end.

    The next two years are for straight up learning. Don't forget that.

  • Personal Advocacy

    Continuing on the idea of identity, I'm starting to think that in any practice as personal as job hunting, it's tremendously challenging to disassociate yourself from the process of searching. Meaning, largely, that you're never not looking for work for yourself, you're always thinking about what you'll be growing into in the (near) future when you're looking for work.

    Perhaps the key, especially for someone as identity-sensitive as I am, is to pretend that you're looking for the sake of someone else. I can give good advice to others, and I know what I should be doing, but thus far I've been terrible at following through.

    I can't imagine myself at a lot of these places, but I have to credit that at least partially to my lack of imagination.

    In the meantime, I think my goal until I run out of ramen is to pretend that everything is about someone else, and that I've just been employed by this person to do the legwork of a hard-core job search, and that they're the one who is living in terror.

  • Reining in perfectionism

    I have the easiest time not being a perfectionist when I'm working on something that I don't care about.

    I think this is an extension of my thinking about identity. I identify strongly with my work, more specifically my work output, and when I don't feel that my work on things that I identify with is good enough I get tetchy.

    Meanwhile, I can recognize a finished product, and get my work there much more easily, when the topic isn't something I have strong opinions about.

  • When You're Styling

    When you're styling… the whole world, styles with you…

    Today was devoted to making my app not look nearly as terrible with a whole lot of bootstrap + sass. I guess I can put those on my resume; they're easy enough to use, and (especially) .scss is nice because it's compatible with .css.

    This is kind of a last-ditch: there are so many things I need to do, want to do, with my app, and time's up—tomorrow is presentation day. I'm kind of cobbling together a spiel about what I've actually spent the last month doing, which is to say, learning a framework from end to end (two, if you consider Marionette and Backbone to be separate entities), understanding something of asynchronous calls, and getting everything to play nice.

    It's hard to believe it's been a month; there's truly never enough time to learn what you want, and everything takes many more man-hours than you think. Am I faster than others? Slower? I can see what sorts of work others have been able to produce in three months (since we started at a/A… crap, time flies) and I don't think I'm that far removed from my peers. I can certainly field a good set of questions about what I've done, but I can't say that I'm markedly better or worse than anyone.

    What other metric can I use? I know I keep coming back to my successes relative to those around me; I might be able to find more hours in the week to work, but at the end of all of this, I can't say that anyone is far superlative to anyone else. I know what I'm learning, and every day there was someone who was able to accomplish more than I was, but in a class of (now) 23, that's bound to happen. If anything, the biggest problem I have, consistently, is having expectations that are much too high…

    Does that mean that I will learn more, faster, than others? Or does that mean that I will know more esoteric knowledge, but never have as much to show for it? I've never worked with a meaningful production system, but I suspect that there will be far fewer surprises there for me than for some people… but should I have been spending more time learning things with the most marginal utility, instead of learning the details of a few things?

    More questions than answers, and I suspect I'll never truly know. What I do know is that it hasn't stopped being interesting, and that I don't have any plans to slow down in the near future.

    So, back to the topic at hand: I bootstrapped the heck out of my app, and thereby got rid of a couple major styling issues, but there are a lot of things that still need to be done. I'll really need to do triage tomorrow, especially considering that I need to do things like prepare paper copies of my resume (which looks… acceptable, at least) and, perhaps, get a domain for my heroku app.

    (20 minutes later… done)

    Well, I'm a little closer to being ready to hire. *gulp*

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