And I’m back in California again

This didn’t really settle into my mind until today, when I was outside the Lawrence Hall of Science in Berkeley, I looked out over the bay and saw the skyline of San Francisco partially enshrouded in fog. We got back from Alaska on New Year’s Day, and from Wednesday through Friday, I was heads down in a work project, adding some new features to a node.js project that I only started working on recently. Most of my work in the past few years has been in Ruby on Rails, and though I only have this project to judge from, my sense from it is that node.js can be messy.

People criticize Rails for its imposition of sometimes unneeded structure on projects, but I do like the automatic MVC division. It makes it easy to know where to put stuff. I suppose you could add the same kind of structure to any project, but then you’d have to think. I’m used to not thinking about that kind of design, because in my mind, it’s a solved problem.

Anyway, I was working on this project all week, and despite the fact that I was biking to work, I wasn’t really taking in the fact that I was home, so today at LHS, I had this pleasant realization that I was back in the Bay Area. Other places are nice to visit, but the San Francisco Bay Area is my home.

We had quite a lovely time in Alaska. Unfortunately, after the 28th, it got above freezing and was kind of soggy and gross outside. Nevertheless, the sidewalks and roads were still icy, and it was treacherous to go out without grippers on the soles of one’s shoes. Somehow, I managed to survive the first 18 years of my life in Minnesota and upstate New York without grippers. Nevertheless, in a week and a half in Juneau without them, I felt as though I came close to cracking my head open multiple times from slipping on the ice. Note to self: buy grippers.

My sister writes a column for the Cordova (Alaska) Times called “Alaskatarian.” Here’s her latest column, “Polly Put the Kettle On,” which describes our family’s holiday in Juneau.

I am on Douglas Island, Juneau, Alaska

We arrived here on December 23rd. We left for SFO a little later than we had intended, and there were no spaces in the regular long term parking lot. We ended up in the overflow lot in the rain, worried that we’d miss our flight. When we arrived at the ticket line, it was moving pretty slowly, and we were still worried that we might miss our flight. Nevertheless, Sara asked a ticket agent a couple of times, and he reassured us that we would make it. We breezed through security.

The flight was easy. Between the four of us, we had five iPhones, three of which have no number. The kids kept themselves occupied with screens the whole way to Alaska.

For the adults in my family, we didn’t do a lot of presents for Christmas, but we did exchange stocking presents. For my Mom, we bought a bottle of Champagne, and I got a bottle of wine for Sara. My sister, my brother-in-law, and my Dad all got bottles of Scotch.

For Christmas, my sister made Alaskan Syrian food. My mother’s side of my family is Syrian-American. Alaskan Syrian food is sort of like regular Syrian food, but instead of lamb, it’s made with caribou or salmon. We had caribou kibbee, caribou roz and yukhnee, and salmon fatayer. We also had regular taleme bread.

On Christmas Day, I went running around my sister’s Douglas neighborhood wearing ice gripper overshoes, and I think that might be how I hurt my lower back. For a few days, it was hard to get up, and my lower back hurt, just above my hip. I joked that I was experiencing “butthurt.”

Yesterday and the day before, Juneau was a winter wonderland. I went cross country skiing at Eaglecrest ski area on Douglas Island. While I was skiing, my children and their cousins took downhill skiing and snowboarding lessons. The cross country skiing was great: the snow was better than any snow I’ve experienced in upstate New York, where my parents live, in recent years.

Today it’s above freezing, and it’s raining here in Douglas. The snow that fell in the past few days is turning into a yucky mess. It’s surprising to me that it’s so warm here in Alaska. We get about 6 and a half hours of sunlight every day, so out of necessity, people go out and do daytime things here even when it’s dark.

When it was a winter wonderland, I thought I might want to live in Alaska, but now that it’s soggy and gross, I think I’m happy to keep living in California.

 

 

Blogging Juneau trip

We’re going to Juneau, Alaska, where my sister and her family live, tomorrow morning. I’m super grumpy right now, because I’m nervous about missing our 7 am flight. Fortunately, we have the whole day to pack. I’m thinking I’ll blog my Juneau trip, to rack up the points in the blogpact. Actually, that would be cheating. I think you only get credit for one post a week, anyway. You can’t stock up on blog posts, although you avoid shame by having a recent one.

The aggregator has a nice list showing how long it has been since each blogpactor’s last post. Unfortunately, it hasn’t credited me for my most recent post for some reason. I’m not sure why. Update: it looks like my RSS feed hasn’t updated yet, so it’s Posterous’s fault, not the aggregator’s. Update 2: I can see the posts on Google Reader, so I don’t know what’s up. RSS is weird.  Nevertheless, I like the auto-crediting. It basically makes cheating impossible, unless you count a crap blog post, like this one, as cheating.

Goals

I’ve been using Beeminder to track my goals lately. With Beeminder, you set a goal, then you pledge a certain amount if you fail to meet that goal. The site is a data nerd’s playground, with lots of really cool charts to show where you are in your progress towards your goal. I have goals, but I’m not going to tell you what they are. To be honest, I went a little wild with Beeminder, setting five goals just to see what would happen. I’ve long had a problem with long term motivation, often requiring some kind of external push (like, “it’s my job” or, “it’s school, and I don’t want to flunk”) to get me to do stuff.

The pressure might be social. At my office, we have a yoga class every week, and I’m often the only person who shows up. I would feel terrible if the yoga teacher came to the office and there was nobody there to take the class, so I always attend to avoid that unpleasant outcome. This social pressure has kept me going to yoga every week (except when I’m out of town) for more than a year.

With Beeminder, my suspicion that if I failed, I would be so mortified, even if I had to pay only 5 bucks, that I’ll keep up with my goals. So far, it’s worked, but it’s still early days. Nevertheless, it seems to be working. Every time I get close to the danger zone, I’m happy to commit the 25 minutes (I picked one pomodoro as my daily commitment for each goal) necessary to get myself back on the wagon.

When I fail to meet one of my goals, I sometimes tell myself that I failed because I’m too busy: because I’m a guy with a full time job and a family. In reality, that’s probably not the problem, because I still find time for Twitter and Facebook and the like. So if I blame my family for my own failure to achieve my goals, I’m just being a jerk. Also, my wife and kids have gone out of town a couple times, leaving me a temporary bachelor, and I still had trouble getting everything done that I want to get done. I guess I’m just a slacker. No, seriously, I’ve read that everyone has a limited amount of willpower every day, and if you’ve spent it all, you can’t motivate yourself to do more work. It seems to me that the key is doing the stuff you want to do early, rather than late in the day. It seems a little weird to practice guitar before work, but it’s probably the only way it’s going to happen.

One thing I’d really like to do is go to bed early every night and get up at like 5am, so I’d have a couple of hours early in the morning to get stuff done when I have a lot of will power. So far, I’m still not that much of an early riser. I keep on staying up late, decieving myself that I’ll get more stuff done by staying up later, but I don’t. Stop that, nighttime me!

Unfortunately, I’ve fallen off the wagon with regard to blogging, something I’m not using Beeminder to track. I’m supposed to have posted five blog posts by now, and I’ve only posted three. For that failure, I deserve your shame and disapprobation.

Interestingness

Continuing with the question of interestingness, I’m trying to think of the characteristics that would make a blog post interesting. Obviously, it needs to be interesting to me, but what I’ve found from years on Twitter is that what is interesting to me is not always interesting to other people.

In a blog post, it seems to me that some of the characteristics that might make a post interesting are

  • Originality: simply reposting other people’s work is boring. These days, others are likely to have already seen them anyway, so what’s the point?
  • Connection: links are good, as long as they are accompanied by original work. People are interested in ideas that are connected to the ideas they have been reading about recently.
  • Real world element: my sister posts recipes and fiber arts designs. A connection to the physical world makes the post relevant to what the reader does away from the Internet.
  • Pictures: people like to look at pictures, and they can also help with understanding of an idea.
  • Not too short: if it’s too short, it can go into a tweet.
  • Not too long: if it’s more than a page or two, people won’t read the whole thing, unless it’s truly awesome.

I’ll update this list with anything else I can think of in the next few days. Feel free to add anything else in the comments. My next task seems to me to be crafting a blog post that combines all of these elements.

Placeholder Post

This placeholder post attempts to fulfill the minimum requirements of the blogpact.

 

Update (7 December 2012): I wrote this post a few days ago, as a sort of example of what the minimum blog post could be. Then, I posted to the blogpact list, asking what the minimum sufficient blog post would be. I suggested that this post, in its original form, would not pass muster because it was shorter than a tweet. The response (there was only one) was that I should post something interesting, and make an honest effort. Try to post something that would be interesting to other people.

 

Actually, going back to the email, the writer said simply, “Write something interesting,” and I inferred the “to other people part.” I can get in line with an unaugmented interestingness directive: all I have to do is make it interesting to myself!

 

All right. Those are all good goals, but that’s also not the way I write. In fact, the pressure of having to figure out what would be interesting to other people and come up with a worthy blog post, well, that way lies writer’s block.

 

I’d rather write crap and edit it later. I think that sentiment is appropriate to the blog form. Also, I don’t have a problem with editing in public. The thing is that rather than coming up with ideas and writing about them, I write by just writing, and then ideas start flowing into my mind, so I write about them.

How do blogs work this decade?

In the mid-oughts, like everyone else, I had a blog. Actually, I had three blogs. I didn’t post to it very often, but when I did, I often posted the sorts of things one now posts to Twitter. Sometimes I posted photographs or short essays. Mostly, I posted slightly longer form writings than one posts to Twitter these days, but they were usually not essay length writings, either.

In addition to medium length writings, I used to post pictures there as well: these days I’d put them on Flickr, Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, or Instagram. So, what is the value of a blog post? I think that to be valuable, a blog post has to provide the reader with some new piece of information. If I click a link to read a post, usually I only feel satisfied if I have learned something. The blog author has to add value to Internet’s collective knowledge. Witticisms can go in Twitter, and photographs can go on Instagram and the like.

The blog as personal journal has sort of gone out of style, although I kind of like that incarnation. It has its own value: that of storytelling. Why don’t people often write journals in blog form any more, and where do they write their journals now? Have most gone back to paper diaries, or do they just not journal at all?

My sister writes creative nonfiction, which, at least in her blog, combines the personal journal with the informational style of post. As the reader, you get a story, and you learn something. I think that synthesis is a nice ideal to aspire to. As I blog, I’ll keep that ideal in mind, and I’ll try to give the reader both a story and a satisfying nugget of information.