Balance, Goals, and a List

I am struggling for balance. There is so much that I want to do and I’m realizing that I only have a short time to do everything that I’m going to do. It really brings home the importance of prioritization. I started writing this entry in an attempt to follow through on my resolve to make blogging a regular part of my life. But as I write I am thinking and what I’m learning from this introspection is that blogging is a tool for refining my thinking on various subjects. Paul Graham pointed out that the word essay means to explore. That captures a lot of the value of blogging to me.

So, I’ll talk a little bit about some of the things that I want to accomplish. In this first pass, I’ll focus on listing them without assigning priorities or time frames. I think it is important to do this in order to keep from getting bogged down in details and missing the big picture. I also want to go ahead and post what I write in this session, even though it probably won’t be comprehensive, in order to keep the flow going. Then, when I’ve listed most of the things that I want to do, I’ll start elaborating on them, prioritizing them, and trying to establish the time frame that I plan to accomplish them in. I think a bullet list will be appropriate for this first pass.

  • Write an episode of The Gentry.
  • Write and produce a short video for entry into film festivals.
  • Play and record music.
  • Write fiction.
  • Write software.
  • Experiment with my robot.
  • Build a bigger robot from scratch.
  • Put a ham station on the air.
  • Build ham gear.
  • Go for daily walks.
  • Swim occasionally.
  • Live in Great Britain for a year or two.
  • See Europe.
  • Write something every day.
  • Meet some of my You Tube friends face to face.
  • Pay attention to Pam.
  • See America.
  • Post more videos to You Tube.

That’s a start anyway. I captured a lot of my aspirations. This will give me something to think about for a while. I just need to overcome inertia. As the Nike motto says, just do it!

Observations on Writing

After all these years I’m finally learning how to write. Or maybe it’s just that I finally have something to write about. I’ve never been afraid of writing per se but I have suffered from my share of writers block when faced with a blank page and a deadline.

As far as my personal writing projects go, I’ve often written about writing, probably because that was what I was thinking about when I sat down to write. There is a kind of transparency that one strives for when writing. You want what you are thinking to flow from your mind to the page without being conscious of how it got there. I am a touch typist so the words flow quite freely from my mind to the computer. Also, when I am writing on a computer I am less likely to try to censor the stream of thought before I get it “on paper”.

When writing with a pen, I tend to think more but I am hesitant to just get something down because rewriting is such a pain. I was one of those people that tried desperately to make my first draft do double duty as my final draft when I wrote papers in high school. I never had to write papers in college. That was probably a good thing from the standpoint of keeping my grade point average up but a bad thing from the standpoint of getting practice writing.

I finally understand what makes a good sentence, not that I pay enough attention to that while I’m writing. I should probably read Strunk and White again to reinforce the criteria for good writing. I understand how to divide your piece into paragraphs. I’m told that my writing is quite readable. I guess practice is still the prescription for improving. As I said in a prior post, that’s a major reason that I keep this blog.

Eating the Dog Food

I’m sitting here working on a presentation on AspectJ and listening to Dave Slusher’s Evil Genius Chronicles. I’m trying to convert a completely awful presentation (almost all bullet slides, way too many words, no pictures) into an engaging presentation to give via Webex. It all started when I followed a link to Kathy Sierra’s essay Stop your presentation before it kills again! I gave the awful presentation to a lunch time get together with some of my colleagues last week. They kindly overlooked the deficiencies of my slides and one of them looked me up afterwards to ask me to present to a more formal technical exchange that he regularly attends. This got me motivated to rework my slides.

I’m also using Dave Winer‘s OPML Editor to organize my thoughts before I attempt to translate them into something visually appealing. The hardest part of preparing a talk like this is narrowing the topic to fit in the time allotted. The second hardest thing is structuring it so that it can become a dialog instead of a lecture. The main reason I’m creating a Powerpoint presentation is that I am giving the presentation remotely and I want to have something to talk to.

This brings me to the title of this post. I believe in the things that Kathy says about not using Powerpoint slides. I am, however, intimidated by the fact that I am presenting to people “above” me in the hierarchy that expect slides. I feel a need to meet their expectations. I hope that I can come up with something that both meets those expectations and at the same time is visually exciting. I’m not holding my breath.

Why do people write blogs?

I suppose this question is as important as why do people read them. Hopefully, there is some commonality of purpose :-). A quick list of reasons:

  • To practice writing
  • To express themselves creatively
  • To voice an opinion
  • To respond to other bloggers
  • To get attention (good or bad)
  • To make a record of what they were doing and saying at a particular time
  • To explore a topic in search of deeper understanding of it
  • To entertain
  • To inform
  • To teach
  • To be remembered
  • To make an impression
  • To get a job
  • To inspire discussion
  • To advocate action
  • To persuade
  • To woo

Blog vs Essay vs Journal vs Diary

I was reading one of Paul Graham’s essays yesterday. He was distinguishing between writing essays where you polish the ideas for several weeks and the various types of ad-hoc writing like journals, diaries and blogs. Diaries are impromptu personal impressions. Journals are a little more subjective records of daily occurences.

Blogs, on the other hand cover a bit more territory. There is the clip blog that consists of short paragraphs that contain links to cool sites that the blogger has encountered while surfing.

Then there is the episodic blog that is more like a journal or diary. The entries are usually several paragraphs long. Beyond that, there is a lot of variation in content. Some are very personal and others or more like journals.

The third type of blogs are what I’ll call essay blogs. Essay bloggers often post much less frequently than the other types of bloggers but they typically have more to say. And what they say is much better thought out and expressed. Some essay bloggers probably rip an entry off like a long email but I suspect that most work on it for several days or more.

So, what’s the point of this ramble, you ask? I have been trying to decide what kind of blog this is going to be. I have pretty much totally rejected the idea of making it a clip blog. If you want to see what I’m reading go to my page. I’m pretty good about posting the cool things I read there. I’ll even try to beef up my descriptions a little bit.

I think the posts here will vary between being episodic and essay like, probably with the emphasis on the former. I rarely take the time to work on a piece enough to call it an essay. When I spend that much time writing something, it’s usually fiction. More on that later.