Reflections on 10-ish Days of Blogging

I’ve reached day 10 of the 10 Days to a Better Blog online workshop. (Cue applause track.) The focus is reflection.

Several things come to mind when I think about the workshop. I wrote about my goals for the year, why I want to write, and thought about what I want to write about. I wrote post about my tendency to want to do everything NOW and the need to pace myself, made an About Me page, and changed my blog template to one I’m much happier with. Oh, and it’s taken me closer to 20 days and it was fun too.

One of the most useful things for me was writing down the goals for the year. I don’t think I’ve ever done that before. So I can keep track of my progress, I’m going to dump them into a Google spreadsheet. I’ve never done a personal retrospective before, so it should be interesting come 2016.

2015 Goals

Image courtesy of BOSS FIGHT.
Image courtesy of BOSS FIGHT.

As part of the 10 Days to a Better Blog workshop I wanted to revisit my goals for the year. I’ve never thought about what I wanted to accomplish in the year before. At least not concretely. A few weeks ago, I posted about what I want from 2015, but writing about the goals for this blog a few days ago has me wanting to look at my goals in more depth, not just the what, but the why.

I have four priorities for the year and several other things that I want to do. The priorities are to spend more time with my wife, intensify my practice of yoga, teach at least one public yoga class every month and a half, and write even better code at work.

Priorities

Spend more time with my wife

Spending more one-on-one time with my wife is one of the most important things that I want to do this year. Sharing our lives together has been such a beautiful experience these that I want to make sure I don’t shortchange our time together as I march towards making my goals a reality.

My wife and I do date nights sometimes, but we have a tendency to let the regularity of those taper off as our schedules fill up. I want us to do a date night every two weeks. I also want us to take a small trip at least once a year. Just us, not visiting family or friends. This is more important than usual since we’re both aiming to accomplish and do more this year than ever before.

Intensify my yoga practices

I practice for a few hours each day, which makes juggling yoga, work, play, and spending time with my wife challenging at times. Now that I’m teaching Isha Hatha Yoga, deepening my own practice is more important than ever. To that end, every three months I want to take three or four days off to focus exclusively on my own practice. It will make a big difference in all aspects of my life.

Teach at least one public yoga class each month

Practicing Isha Yoga transformed how I experience life and led me to my wife. (Rhyming is unintentional). Practicing Isha Hatha Yoga has been transforming my body and is steadily bring it to state of phenomenal ease. My body isn’t an obstacle anymore, it cooperates with me no matter what I wish to do. Since it’s worked so well for me and many others, I’m willing to share it with whomever wishes to learn. I figure that teaching a public class every six weeks is sustainable with my already working a fulltime job.

Other goals

Do something fun and challenging with Clojure

In 2013, I started working on a Clojure library for learning probabilistic graphical models (PGMs), Watershed. I’d like to work on it some more and get it to the point where it can be used for a variety of PGMs. Also, working on it was so much fun. I’ve got a list of things to add to it, including a few additional probability distributions and Bayesian Networks for a user to play with out of the box. I also want to make it easy for a user to roll their own PGM.

I also want to play with Onyx, which is a distributed computation system in Clojure. It looks interesting and powerful and could be quite useful at work.

Learn deep and shallow learning

I really want to dive into these topics but haven’t been able to make the time. It’s been very much on the back burner for the past year.

Spend more time outdoors

Mustn’t spend too much time with my computer. I’ve lost count of the number of times where I go to the office and don’t go outside until it’s time to go home. So I want to get outdoors a little more frequently.

Lastly, I want to keep in better contact with out-of-town friends, finish learning Swift, and work on my iOS app.

Now, how to track progress? Most of these goals are pass/fail. I either do these things or I don’t. I’ll keep a checklist of them all though. It will be fun to check things off as the days pass.

Blog goals for 2015

I’ve been doing the 10 Days to a Better Blog online workshop as a way to breathe new life into my blog. I’ve never given it much attention until now. I’m on Day 8, where you focus on setting goals for your blog, using the SMART goals methodology:

  • Specific – target a specific area for improvement
  • Measurable – quantify or at least suggest an indicator of progress
  • Assignable – specify who will do it
  • Realistic – state what results can realistically be achieved, given available resources
  • Time-related – specify when the result(s) can be achieved

Some people aren’t a fan of this approach, but it suits me. I especially like the metrics. By the way, the fact that I’ve made it to Day 8 is nothing short of amazing.

Specific goals

My difficulty in the past has been maintaining momentum. When other aspects of life were looming large, the blog was the first casualty. So, I want to write at least one post per week. If I do more than that, great. I also want to make sure I cover the topics I plan to write about over the course of the year. That will keep the content somewhat varied and will also make sure I devote time to those topics in my life outside of the blog. So, for 2015 I want to:

  • Write one post per week.
  • Write posts covering all of the topics I want to write about.

Progress Metrics

This is easy enough.

  • Posting frequency
  • Post topic frequency

I’m also going to track the day of the week on which I tend to write. I’m going to aim for Wednesday, since those are generally less busy days for me, but I don’t want to commit to a specific day.

Assignable

Obviously, I’m going to do the writing.

Realistic

How realistic is all of this? I should be able to write one post per week. The only thing stopping me would be me. And I don’t plan on stopping myself this time around.

Time-related

I don’t want to try ramping up to one post per week. It only works if I start now. So, this is today’s post.

If I could save time in a bottle

One of the blogs that I follow, The Cramped, focuses on “[the unique pleasures of analog writing] and a recent post featured a photo of a page from the journals of a man who hiked over half of the Pacific Crest Trail. The journal entries are incredible, and there are about 850 pages. Take a look at a few of the pages, they’re absolutely gorgeous. I imagine someone could distill the 850 pages into a remarkable data visualization, but something beautiful would be lost in translation.

Seeing the journal inspires me to be better about using a notebook. I want to use it as a record of what I did or observed. I felt a momentary pang of regret that I didn’t keep a written journal when my wife and I were in India for the hatha yoga teacher training program. Instead, I used the Day One app on my iPhone. It’s not quite the same, but that’s really okay.

Next year, I’ll try my hand at record a trek to Mt. Kailash and Lake Manasarovar in the Himalayas. My wife and I have been planning on doing it for a few years. Now’s the time. It’s a pilgrimage of sorts, so it could be interesting to keep a written journal. It’ll help me remember what we do, where we go, and how I experience things.

How I like to work

Since getting back from India and returning to work, I’ve been thinking about what I need in my work environment to work most effectively. I need three things,

  1. A relatively quiet area, with some random, unobtrusive background noise
  2. An uninterrupted block of time
  3. Plenty of scratch paper

And that’s all I need. But there are a few things I like to have as well: a Roost laptop stand, a bluetooth, backlit keyboard (don’t have this yet), a bluetooth mouse or trackpad, and a desk chair wide and deep enough for me to sit in Ardhasiddhasana.

You’ll notice that I mention a desk chair rather than a standing desk. I used a standing desk for about a year and realized that I’d rather just sit in Ardhasiddhasana instead. You might be wondering why the heck I want to sit like that. For those who don’t know, I teach classical hatha yoga and sit in that asana for the entirety of each class. It stabilizes the body and mind in such a way that you don’t need food, water, or bathroom breaks as much as everyone else does. It also increases mental alertness and focus. I’m sure you can see how that might be useful.

Why I’m blogging

Over the past decade, I’ve kept a blog at one time or another. The problem is that I never made it more than about seven posts in. Invariably I’d let other aspects of life overtake the writing. Of the posts I’ve written, my favorite was a group theoretic analysis of the Sim Sala Bim card trick. I learned that trick when I was in fifth grade and realized it was based on the symmetric group during my postdoc. I lost track of that post, otherwise I’d post it here.

So, all this has me thinking about why I wanted to blog back then and why I want to blog now (when I’m much more busy). I suppose there are few reasons:

  1. It gives me a record of things that I’ve thought about in enough depth  to write something coherent.
  2. It gives me an easy way to share something that I find interesting or worthwhile with others.
  3. When I write something technical, the writing helps me better understand the thing I’m writing about.
  4. The majority of my writing experience is with research papers, so blogging makes me a better writer.

This time, I’m determined to not let this fall by the wayside. This is due in part to my wife and I keeping a blog for our yoga studio, Adi Yoga of Nashville.

Pacing myself

As I sit in front of my laptop, I’m reminded of something one of my favorite authors, Steven Barnes said:

“You cannot run all the way to Disneyland. But you can walk there.”

I have always had a tendency to get interested in something and do it to the exclusion of all else. Sometimes it served me well, sometimes it didn’t. Whenever it happened, my mother would say that I got on a “kick”. I wish I could remember some of them. But anyway, I did the same thing throughout graduate school. My field was theoretical condensed matter physics. Instead of spending all my time learning more condensed matter theory, I spent time diving into some of the “sexier” subfields, like string theory, general relativity, and quantum gravity. It was fun, but it didn’t directly, or even tangentially, relate to my research. It was a diversion of sorts. (At least it was fun!)

As I’ve gotten older this issue has gone away. I still want to learn new and interesting things, but I have responsibilities now, at home and at work. So I mostly pick topics that relate to things that I need to focus on. For example, I develop machine learning software. So when I want to learn something new, I’m likely to pick some algorithm or numerical technique.

Looking back, part of my frenetic desire to learn as much as I can was a desire to squeeze as much as I could out of life. No telling when it might end. Now, for the same reasons, I try to spend my time more wisely. I’m not going to live forever and I can’t do everything. So I pace myself.