A Word or Two Before I Call It a Day

Today was a busy day. I was on my own and I got most of the things on my TODO list done. I am so tired I can barely think but I made a commitment to blog every day so I’m going to write something.

It has been a while since I so single-mindedly worked on a project like this. I organized the stuff that we have stashed in our spare bedroom so that I could vacuum the carpet and then shampoo it. When I finished that, I assembled two plant shelf units for my wife to use in her plant business. I also made lunch for myself and went to the store for dog food.

It doesn’t sound like I did much but it filled my day. I was planning to spend some time building a radio kit that has been riding around in my pocket for several weeks now. I don’t think I could keep my eyes open to read the instructions much less solder. At least you can’t burn yourself while writing a blog.

Electron is Awesome

I finally got the current version of Netlog, my program to help me create logs of the ARES Training Net, moved over from being a web app to being a desktop app in the electron framework. I had to require jquery and schedule the init function to be run 100 microseconds in the future instead of depending on the apparently non-existent onReady event of the document. Figuring this out took me several minutes but it really wasn’t that difficult at all. I suspect that getting it to run as an app on windows and linux will be even easier. I wouldn’t be surprised if getting it to run on Android and iOS wasn’t fairly easy as well.

I suspect there will be a bunch of applications that work this way in the near future. I might even get them to let me write an app in Coffeescript at work. I doubt it. It’s a little bit too free wheeling for the corporate environment. I guess that’s my main problem. I’m too much of a rebel to excel in the corporate environment.

I spent all of my time yesterday learning about photon and electron and forgot about writing my blog post. Well, in the spirit of moving on, here is my blog post for today. Tomorrow is another day. I hope I can get my momentum back and post again tomorrow.

Pondering Blogs and Blogging

I have missed a couple of days posting here but I am not going to let that discourage me. I am determined to continue making blog posts as frequently as possible. I am writing them for two reasons. First, I am posting to become more proficient at expressing myself in writing. I find that when I write my thoughts down, I can more easily examine them and evaluate them.

The second reason I am writing is to share my thoughts with others. I have noticed that there are a few people that have subscribed to my blog. They get notified when I make a new post. I can only assume that at least some of them read what I’ve written. I’ve also set up a utility that copies my blog posts to Facebook. I’m sure that I get a few readers there on occasion.

Which brings me to the point of this post. If you have read this far, take a moment to make a comment, whether here or on Facebook. Let me know what you like about my blog. Let me know what you don’t like. I don’t guarantee to change what I post but I’m certainly interested in what you think.

If you’ve got something you’d like to discuss at length, set up your own blog, make a post, and share the link in the comments here. Establishing a conversation is another goal of my blog. I know, I said there was only two reasons but now we’ve both learned something.

A New Writing Process

I wrote a blog post last summer about discovering a process for writing that worked for me. It was lengthy and a little bit rambling but the essence of it is reproduced here.

Fargo changes the game. Instead of writing from the outline, I expand the outline until it becomes the piece. This is a much more transparent way to proceed from ideas to end product. In fact, I can’t imagine writing any other way now.

Like Fargo itself, the new process is simpler and more effective. The self similarity is in itself pleasing to me. I think I’ll stop now while this post is still simple and to the point.

A Day Without Fargo

I survived. I got quite a bit accomplished. I also found a bunch of times that I wanted to jot something down and I had to use some other tool besides Fargo. I guess that’s when you realize that you really have embraced a tool, when you miss it when you don’t have access to it.

I came home for lunch but I didn’t have time to do anything more than eat and visit with Pam for a minute before it was time to go back to work. I wanted to keep up my pattern of blogging every day. I am approaching this blog post the way that I approach writing my morning words. That is, I start writing about the first thing on my mind and I keep writing until some arbitrary criteria has been met. For my morning words, it is having written 750 words. For a blog post I don’t know yet.

I need to start thinking about things to blog about and spend some time organizing my thoughts on a given topic before I just dive in and start writing. At least that’s how I think it ought to be done. I seem to be doing fairly well writing a draft this way. Maybe I’m demanding too much of myself. Maybe I just need to write and see what happens. I’m not saying I shouldn’t revise what I’ve written and make sure that it is what I intended to say, just that there is nothing wrong with the way I’ve been doing things.

Here’s Another Post

I like the way that the New Post organizes posts in the reverse chronological order that they should be organized in. The more I use this tool, the more I like it. It allows me to keep a draft post in the outline and work on it until it’s ready to post and then publish it at my discretion.

I just wish I could use Fargo from behind the firewall at work. I understand the concern of our security team about allowing open access to Dropbox. It is too easy for people to think that things that they save to their Dropbox is actually secure. That would be naive but I’m sure that there are those that believe that.

Because of Fargo, I just fixed an incorrect setting in my blog configuration. I had the timezone wrong. This is great. I will have to remember to go tag my blog posts every now and then but other than that, I like blogging this way.

I Discovered the New Post Button in Fargo

Since I am trying to blog more regularly, I am using Fargo more than I would imagine. I might write something major using it, who knows. For that matter, who knows what I mean by major. Anyway, I hovered over the + button and it popped up a label that said “New Post” so I pressed it. I’m not sure how it will be different from the posts that I have been making but I do know that it helped me to get started writing a blog post for today. That is good, no matter how well I like the New Post button. So, let’s give this a try and publish it.

How I Discovered AngularJS

The other day, I decided that it was time to update my home page. It hadn’t been updated in years and many of the links on it were stale. On a technical level, it was implemented in PHP and was ugly. I felt like it was time to update the underlying technology to something a little more in line with modern ideas about development.

My first thought was to use Rails. I had done some Rails work several years ago and had found the philosophy of configuration by convention a great improvement from the tons of XML I had to write to do a Java Server Pages site. I started investigating and discovered that I was so far behind in the Rails world that it was going to take a major effort to bring myself up to speed on all the new features. It made me question my decision to use Rails for such a “small” application.

Then I found AngularJS. What an elegant way to implement a dynamic web site. I especially liked the fact that the bulk of the compute load was shifted to the browser. The server only provided the data to feed the dynamic behavior. At last someone had implemented a framework where there was a clean separation of concerns between Model, View, and Controller. What is more, the View was implemented with carefully crafted, minimal extensions to html.

And, the most important feature of all, it was fun. I haven’t had this much fun developing in years. I also discovered the Cloud9 IDE but I’ll leave a discussion of it’s goodness for another blog post.

Blogging from Fargo

Today I connected Fargo to my WordPress blog and I am testing the connection. This is the first post made using this interface.

I am trying to figure out how to embed a link into a blog post. I haven’t figured it out yet. I suspect that it may involve using Markdown but I haven’t found a description of how to do it yet.

I just figured it out. Notice that Fargo in the first paragraph is a link to the Fargo site. The way that I did it is to put an html anchor markup in the outline and then with the entire node selected type clover-`. Doing it again exposes the html for editing. Pretty slick.

I could get used to this. It gives me an easy way to write my blog posts in a tool that is far more capable than anything else I’ve used. I have to admit, I am a fan of outline processors but this one sets the bar high for a new generation of outliners.

A Process, at Last

When I started looking at tumblr, one of the first people that I followed was therealkatiewest. Katie West is a lovely young woman from Toronto that teaches English in college and takes incredible nude photos of herself and posts them on the internet. I had noticed that she hadn’t been posting much lately and wondered why. Today, she posted a short text post to tumblr and pointed to her blog. It is just what I needed to read.

She has been spending time on a Teacher and Trainer of Adults graduate certificate program and had been very busy. She was also licking her wounds from an unfortunate run in with a narrow minded and vindictive person in authority but I’ll let her tell her own story. I was inspired with her attitude toward the whole experience and the way she threw herself into becoming a better teacher and rekindling her muse.

Earlier this week I watched a YouTube video of Ron Carter, the famous jazz bassist, giving a master’s class. He said a lot of things that have affected me profoundly but the most important thing he said was to practice honestly. He further clarified that when you practice, you aren’t making art, you are refining the skills that you use to make art. When you sit down to practice you should have an objective and you should keep practicing until you have mastered the skill that was your objective.

I realized that the whole morning words exercise was practice. The missing thing was having a clear objective. At first, just writing seven hundred and fifty words a day was objective enough. Then I started refining the objective. I wanted to write the words without spending most of the time talking about how many words I had written or how many I had left to go. I sketched from life. I made lists of things that I had to do. I observed what was going on around me.

Then I decided that I wanted to earn badges. The most prominent badges revolved around how many days in a row you had written or how many words you had written since you had started. One of the badges was for not getting distracted. Another, that I am still actively pursuing, was for writing your words in under twenty minutes ten days in a row. Now that I have acquired many of the badges, I realize that I need to focus on goals that are too specific and in some cases too personal for there to be badges awarded for them. I need to set my own goals and award my own personal badges when I achieve them. I also need to start making art outside of my practice sessions.

I remember the point where I realized that I could actually play the violin. All the practice that I had done had finally paid off. I need to practice the things I love to do more so that I can hone my skills at them. But, I don’t need to practice at the expense of not creating anything.

Another spin on the whole practice thing is to practice until you get to some level of competence and then give yourself permission to fail when you attempt a piece. Keep attempting things until you succeed but don’t let the interim failures get you down. Sucking at something is a necessary step on the path to mastery.

I also thought a little bit about the process of creating. I thought about it in the context of writing but it is equally valid in other creative contexts. The origin of this line of thought was the assertion that writing (or more generally, doing) and thinking (about doing) are not necessarily the same thing. You don’t necessarily have to do them at the same time.

In fact, a little bit of thinking beforehand actually enhances the process of creation. It lets you decide what you want to say, where you are going with a piece. It’s not that doing and thinking are necessarily mutually exclusive, i.e. you can take notes (sketch) while you are thinking and you can think while you are creating. The important epiphany was that when you thought about what you were doing first it was easier to achieve the elusive state of “flow” while you’re actually creating.

I think I have discovered an artistic process that works for me. I sketch my writing with an outliner. Then, I sit down and write what I’ve sketched. The amount of effort that I put into the sketch depends on the size of the work that I am sketching. At some point though, you’ve got to quit sketching and just do it.