I just sit down and make words appear

Substack posts are queued up until Friday, March 24, 2023. That means the next 3 Friday nights will receive a post. This morning as I sat down here to begin the day pretty much everything except something productive got done. I was checking emails, looking at websites, and generally just not engaging in the act of writing. It took about 19 minutes of that brand of nonsense to complete before this Google Doc was opened full screen and the writing process took hold. I tried to use both Microsoft Word the desktop edition and the online version for my daily writing exercises. It’s really one of those things where I strongly prefer to write in the Google Doc’s interface. All of my editing and manuscript preparation happens over in Microsoft Word for books and articles that are not LaTeX based. Anything that falls into the LaTeX required camp of writing is being formatted in Overleaf online. It’s not being written in that editor, but the formatting happens post content creation for publication using that platform. 

The interesting part about the whole Overleaf thing is that I pay them every month. The rate just went from $5.00 to $5.50 to have an online collaboration friendly LaTeX editor. Intellectually I know that I could install a LaTeX editor on this Windows desktop and not pay that subscription fee, but in practice it seems like that is unlikely to happen. I move around between Chromebooks, Ubuntu, and Windows depending on where I’m working at the time. That makes having the LaTeX related content accessible from a browser pretty darn helpful. We will see what happens if they keep raising the prices. We may find out at what price I’m not willing to keep paying them for their services. I’m sure the body of academics they have using the platform are mostly using the sharing functionalities that Overleaf has created. If you were working on a paper with a collaborator or several, then it would be very convenient to share it this way. Learning how to be a copy editor for my own work using LaTeX was an interesting experience. It’s a steep initial curve and then you sort of get used to it. 

Writing in a browser like this is a much easier experience. I just sit down and make words appear on the screen with the keyboard while moving along with my day. Having to sit back and think about commands and formatting while that happens breaks my concentration and is disruptive. That is probably why I edit and create my content in a normal word processing document. I have been doing much better in the last 30 days in terms of focusing on creating some words for the blog at the start of the day. Part of my routine is to focus my energy for a few minutes and collect my thoughts at the start of the day. It really is a significant part of starting the day off right. Being focused at the start of the day helps me use my most productive time and golden hours on the right things instead of the easy things. That might seem trivial, but it is really pivotal to getting things done. Productivity for me during those few hours where no interruptions occur and work can progress unabated is higher and perhaps a deeper kind of work. 

We are at a time where things are changing very rapidly. That change may end up being truly disruptive to civil society and the way we interact with each other. We have already seen a tremendous change to the way news is consumed, created, and shared. A study of information exchange and civil society would be an interesting way to spend some time. That is probably just adjacent to my research interests, but could perhaps be a part of some of my upcoming research. We will see what happens on that front as we move forward. It’s certainly something that is front of mind for me and could get included at some point. 

Illusively succinct

Focusing today on the topic at hand seems to be illusive. My thoughts are wandering from thing to thing without really locking into anything specific. It seemed like a good idea to turn up the music this morning and really try to lean into the practice of daily writing to start and organize the day. We will see where things go today, but at the moment things seem to just be stacking up a little bit instead of progressing forward. Maybe a bit of organizing things into the possible and things that might need to marinate a little bit longer will help clear things up this morning. Earlier this month I started to refocus on the notion of working on academic papers and really focusing my energy and efforts into that enterprise. The topic that I have spent the most time researching is the rise of open source MLOps enterprises on GitHub. Formalizing that into a research paper would be pretty easy to achieve. It might be a 10 to 12 page effort or it could end up being a much longer project if the right amount of literature review is included. 

Getting going on that is going to be about picking the right right template and setting out to complete a final product. Alternatively, I’m thinking about becoming a reviewer at a few journals to give back to the academic community in a way beyond just writing articles. Later today I’m going to pick a few academic journals that I like reading and start that process of becoming a reviewer. Ok, I stopped writing and started working on that this morning.

Thinking about 2020

This has been a truly strange year for a multitude of reasons. Things appear to be trending upward in terms of the pandemic and people are about to enter another period of increased isolation. Generally I think people are are of that dynamic, but are trying to figure out how to function well enough to manage things. One of the things about writing in this functional journal in the past was trying to discuss complex things in a very direct way. Things just go so sideways this year that even trying to write about complex emotions was not working. It was not enough to communicate a series of feelings. That in part was probably due to the crushing inability to move on from that perpetual upward trending that could be seen in news reports and on tracking websites. From that understanding it became harder to try to get a foothold between the emotions of being isolated and the uncertainty of what would happen next. Together those two forces have a powerful combined effect on society in general. Wondering what will happen next at such a mass scale is itself a watershed moment for the nation. 

That last paragraph contained a very condensed version of my thoughts on the matter. Today I have been thinking about 2020 and what this year has meant. A preponderance of it is already gone, but the effects will linger on for some time. A generation will remember the uncertainty and the crushing feeling of failed containment. Maybe that feeling is what I’m trying to capture, but I simply do not have the capacity to summon words to adequately describe it. People strive forward for improvement to make contributions to the academy to build society. Our nation has been built based on a framework of expanding institutions. We witnessed those institutions challenged in ways that defied the very normative fluidity with which we expect civil society to function. Outside of the strain on institutions even our most basic supply chains began to break down. That realized the actual reliance people have on institutions even the ones sustained by capital exchanges for commodities. A very small percentage of the total population is capable of surviving without being able to shop for food. That is probably one of the driving factors to why the uncertainty this year is so confounding and worrisome.

Thinking about communication

The art of writing letters has been lost. 

Dear Reader, 

People seem to have forgotten how to debate in general communication. It seems that all conversation is directional in nature vs. providing some solid type of given and take. People are often directing others or trying to move the trajectory of an argument by pushing the very end of the argument as a slogan or aphorism. This type of directional effort falls short of convincing people of anything due to the hollow nature of it without the supporting foundation. That is one of the reasons that the media has been breaking down as an institution. Ongoing narratives have broken down and the foundation and background of an argument no longer fit into a sound byte or the space between commercial breaks allows communication to suffer and the people to be less informed. 

Maybe in some ways it feels like every conversation is for all the marbles and the national dialogue is the local dialogue. This obviously is problematic for a number of reasons. I started to think about how the art of writing letters has been lost. Imagine somebody sitting down and having to put everything together in one submission of thought to another person. Each of them having as much time as necessary to complete the communication cycle. In this case of a letter writing cycle the communication method was not as instant as an email, text, audio, or video. Even if people did sit down to write comprehensive missives would that format of communication be consumable is a question that remains. Maybe both the generation and consumption of arguments had changed. It does seem that with the rise of podcasts people are seeking out longer form communication. 

Dr. Nels Lindahl
Broomfield, Colorado

More reading and writing

Today could have started off with a review of my notes. A few observations have been squirreled away for coverage at a late time. Right now is not a time for notes or for thinking about things from the past. It is a time for being present right now in the moment. At the moment, I have a cookie and two shots of espresso. That should be enough to produce a solid page of prose. This functional journal is going to need to become a little more observation driven for the next few months. While I’m not going to by any means become a live journal type of writer where my every thought and feeling get put down on paper more things could be written. Throughout the last 132 days I have been trying to write a page of prose at the start of the day. Those words have been targeted from a stream of consciousness that sometimes yields to the production of prose and sometimes does not allow that simple task to be completed. Writing a single page of prose should be relatively easy to achieve. It should be even easier given that any topic could be covered. Maybe that is the underlying problem the totality of the scope being covered makes it harder to sustain. Perhaps focusing on one topic and going for extreme depth of coverage instead of the ongoing breath of coverage would be the best way to go about the daily production of prose. 

It seems like the best path forward toward that perfect possible future is to engage in more reading and writing on a daily basis. My bookshelves contain hundreds of books that could be consumed again from a slightly different perspective. My views on things are more refined and probably a little less interesting than 20 years ago when a lot of the books behind me were purchased from university bookstores. It would be pretty easy to just start reading from one side of a shelf and just enjoy the intellectual ride across a ton of different authors and subjects. 

I jotted down 3 book titles that should be on my shelf, but have not been written:

  1. Observing civility in America: Being a citizen of history
  2. The American Citizen: Civil society and being a citizen of history
  3. Community in America: Understanding place, interest, and circumstance

At the moment, I’m in one of those modes where I could probably write down 25 titles of books that should be written. Some of that energy should be used to write the outline and maybe a chapter or two of one of them, but that seems unlikely to happen at the moment. Something tells me interruptions are about to abound this morning. Having the time to simply sit and write in my office is a luxury beyond the time that I have today.

Wondering about media continuity

A percentage of people pay very close attention to the stream of news that is occurring on a daily basis. It is a percentage that has been shrinking and is harder to track. It is the stream that I’m interested in not the percentage of people observing it at the moment. Keeping track of the stream of news occurring is actually getting harder and harder. No one place exists that could be described as curating the information stream. It happens online. All over the place online a fragmented tapestry of news sources share content as quickly as they can to catch the wind behind a new entry to the stream. Like a ship with sails following the wind the newest entry into the stream propels focus and attention and drives speed above accuracy or continuity. 

It is really the question of the continuity of our information stream that has me wondering about the world this early in the morning. I could sit down and make a calendar of events that occur every year that will ganner news coverage. With that calendar you can sort of map out a few things that will happen within the stream of news, but that calendar is becoming increasingly more irrelevant. Streams of news are no longer event based time sequence driven and predictable. They are very much spiced up by the very incentive to catch the wind and within that mass of attention the hope of profitability. 

I would be more interested in reading a solid daily, weekly, monthly, and quarterly digest than a stream of reported fillings from news outlets. The key difference in preference is that I’m less interested in the single newsroom filing of a report and I’m more interested in the continuity of a digest describing the broader totality of events occurring. That preference is not a foundation supported by the same montiorizaintion that advertising provides currently in a world of clicks. You would have to build up a base of paying subscribers like a traditional journal or newspaper, but that foundation might not be economically viable anymore. That and the nature of the claim in the first paragraph are what are driving my curiosity this morning.

Increasingly discursive prose

Right now I think the ability to engage in longer form discourse of a deep and meaningful nature is more needed than ever. Our ability to communicate a philosophy about things has been diminished. Discourse has changed and in the methods of consumption in the public square have changed. All of the social media posts have the depth and effect of walking by a sign on the wall in the public square. Really deep and meaningful communication about complex issues has boiled down to simplistic exchanges of platitudes that have been ignored before they were even uttered. Within that argument I started to wonder if we have a structural communication problem for intellectual thought leaders. Maybe all of the public intellectuals still exist, but they have no method to actually communicate that reaches the public mind. That must be exceedingly frustrating for them assuming they are aware of the phenomenon occurring. This weblog has a target audience of one person. It is literally written for me to be able to think out loud and consolidate my thoughts. These words are not written like a soaring political speech to communicate to the world. Each post is just an increasingly discursive collection of my prose.

The important part of knowing

Today got off to a pretty decent start. I’m ready to get things done. It is one of those days. Let’s get right into the topic at hand and not waste a moment more on introductions…

Generally pretending that all of my online posts do not exist is how I got about things from day to day. It is a lot of online content to just ignore, but I really do just ignore it. Honestly, it is not like I spend a lot of time going back and reading my things that were previously written and posted online. It is much easier to sit down and focus on what will be than it is to sit around and review my notes and observations about passed events. Perhaps that is why I’m always much more interested in what is next than what I’m doing in the moment. That framework can be problematic and being a reflective practitioner is an important part of knowing how to move forward while improving and growing. Knowing that does not generally change my strategy of just pretending all my online posts are never really read or shared. 

The very thing that made me think about that last night was the act of sharing some conference content on my social media channels. Posting that type of personal advertisement seems to make things real for me and I’m always just striving to do my very best instead of trying to be the loudest voice in the room. One of the principal reasons that I am willing to engage in public speaking at conferences is the opportunity to engage with people who I would not normally talk to on a daily basis. Mixing it up and talking to a diverse group of people with new opinions and thoughts on things is a hugely beneficial element of attending conferences. 

Having short very focused conversations on topics that were just discussed can be very rewarding. It is like the stage is set with a shared perspective on things that allows people to get to the point of very deep and meaningful conversation very quickly. This topic was another note that I wrote down in my Google Keep application to spend some time thinking about yesterday at the end of the day. That strategy of keeping a fresh topic list does appear to be working out pretty well. Later this evening I’m going to need to run through my virtual presentation a couple of times using the Google Recorder to capture the audio. That will allow me to listen to a few variations of the talk back to back. I’m hoping that exercise will help refine the content presentation a little more in some of the sections that need to be a little more dynamic. 

The important part of knowing the value of working with others is understanding how the engagement continues on in the future. A conversation can echo on in the form for my conversation or even a little bit of sparked imagination. Ideas that continue on grow and spread in unexpected ways. Sharing things with others that have the potential to grow and continue to spread is a rewarding part of it. You can tell that the last few thoughts are divergent from my general philosophy of pretending that my online post and presentations don’t really exist. Intellectually I know those two positions are not consistent, but at the same time that does not stop me from muddling through on a daily basis simply working on what is next instead of curating a basket of previous thoughts. Once it is said like that I don’t really see any other way of saying it in a meaningful way.

General audiences

Yesterday I got really focused on preparing for that virtual presentation coming up next month. Devoting my time to that effort every day will have to be a part of my routine for a while. Generally speaking I should always be working on preparing and refining whatever speech is at the forefront of my mind. That activity needs to be ongoing and continuously refined. Last night I walked through the talk and really gave it some deep thought about how to make it insightful for a general audience interested in machine learning and artificial intelligence. People with those interests are probably the ones who would be attending my talk. I’m going to assume they are the general audience who will be listening. That is where things ended up yesterday and how my time got spent at the end of the night. 

Instead of listening to an audiobook at the end of the night I listened to that new Folklore album Taylor Swift (2020). The album was released this week. Stylistically the album was closer to the type of music I generally listen to than any of the artists previous work. I gave the album a listen as part of the shared experience people were having this week. It seemed like a way to understand a little bit of public discourse that is going on right now related to that album. Some music has been released during the pandemic. Given that touring musicians have been generally wherever they were located when the quarantine started we should probably expect to see more music arriving. Traveling musicians would have seen major changes to routines and lifestyles when the pandemic started to create quarantine situations. Art is art. Hopefully, some of that creative force helps move the things left unsaid into a more public forum for discussion. Advancing the general discourse is an inherent value that art brings to society. 

That string of thought got me generally thinking about how community standards might be changing right now. I’m not going to spend a bunch of time writing about the Miller vs. California (1973) court case and the nature of community standards. Instead of focusing on that Miller test of obscenity I’m more focused on quality and value to society. While I could spend the rest of the day thinking about the metaphysics of quality. I’m going to save that inquiry for another day. Maybe that will be part of creating a longer chautauqua at some point. Yesterday, we pulled into a parking lot on the trail ridge road in Rocky Mountain National Park. Parked next to us was an adventurer with a motorcycle loaded up for a journey. It was a rather zen moment of personal reflection to think about how peaceful that journey would be as an exploration of quality on a motorcycle camping along the way and enjoying being close to nature. All of that being said my focus right now is on what brings value to the community. The quentasitional description of civic duty usually includes some explanation of engagement. That description will probably closely be followed by explaining the inherent value in the act of voting. Value exists in the process of how a community functions. People inherently have to work together for a community to function. A community of interest exists around that album that Taylor Swift released this week. That community happens to have a lot of engagement both internally and externally related to that specific interest. 

We have to figure out how to understand the growing community of interest being built around the things that are not generally being said. My focus on value within the community has started to really center around the things that are left unsaid and just how much that dynamic influences communities of place, circumstance, and interest. Inquiring into the nature of community value surrounding that dynamic of disconnected communication and situation is more than just the discourse occurring in the public square. I’m going to try to circle back to this argument later. Right now I’m not able to put the right words together to close out the narrative that was building up related to community value and civic engagement. 

Interrupted. Nonsense.

On asynchronous argumentation

Yesterday I started thinking about the nature of asynchronous arguments and the nature of argumentation in general. That is as good a place to start my writing process as anywhere this morning. (That sentence ended with a rather out of place “I guess” comment. That had to be removed to improve things.) While thinking about the nature of instant messaging and the debates that it used to allow a few questions about asynchronous arguments started to develop. Good examples of classic asynchronous arguments would be the letter to the editor or the opinion pages of a newspaper. That is a forum where arguments are made and responded to in a very asynchronous way with days between layers of the argument. A format with even longer gaps might be academic papers in publications. Arguments in academic journals sometimes go on for years in very asynchronous ways. Scholars sometimes become famous or infamous for those types of multiple year arguments. Anyway those are two examples of asynchronous arguments that are ongoing and will probably continue to exist. My experience with asynchronous argumentation is somewhat different. Sure online forums and bulletin boards provide that type of interaction. Twitter for the most part is a series of highly distinct utterances separated by distinct gaps of time. Sometimes people do get into pretty much an instant messaging type argument on Twitter and that is obviously not asynchronous anymore. Those people or maybe automated bots (it being Twitter and all) are having arguments in real time. 

That entire last paragraph was just to introduce the idea that I don’t really argue with anybody in real time anymore. Almost all of my arguments are separated by sometimes big chunks of time. Occasionally my written response does not happen until months or years later. Inherently based on the separation between each step in the argument they are highly asynchronous in nature. That does allow for a more seasoned and thought out series of responses. Sometimes it happens due to my general interest to respond in writing and not to have verbal arguments with people. Moving toward the promotion of a daily writing habit pretty much encourages channeling most of my creative efforts into the generation of prose. Strangely enough I used to debate everything for any reason and then as time passed and I got a little bit older that stopped. Instead of debating everything I pretty much write about everything. The same sort of thing happens every day, but the medium of communication changed from verbal debate to the written word. Maybe that is a good way to channel my thoughts into a more permanent container, but I did spend a good chunk of my time yesterday considering the nature of instant messaging. That communication method was a pretty distinct part of my daily routine. It used to be exciting to see people logging on and off of the instant messaging service. Those conversations were exciting, but in retrospect those conversations were not entirely memorable.

Today is going to be spent doing all sorts of things related to surfing the internet and mentally resting. My big ongoing adventure yesterday was watching the director’s cut or special edition of the first three Alien films on Blu-ray. A few Tweets did get sent yesterday documenting my activities throughout the day. Today might follow that simple pattern. It might be a day of watching movies and surfing the internet. That is probably what is going to happen here. I’m going to switch from writing at my Corsair Cube workstation to working on my Google Pixelbook Go chromebook in the other room. The nice part about these Google Docs is that you can just move from computer to computer or even have multiple people editing them at the same time given that everybody is connected to the internet.