Oh those problematic strings of words

I’m spending more time working on the weblog than usually gets put into that platform in the last few years. This is one of those things that happens in waves and typically just happens based on a point in the cycle and not for any real empowered reason. Within the backend of the site it has 2,561 total posts that go back to the early 2000’s. A few of the essays I wrote back during my college years are worth updating at this point. Most of that content was just the beginning of things as I sort of booted up to the writer than I am today. Most of the time I can now power through a block of prose with very little editing required. My base writing state is now passable to just dump online without a lot of clean up. That probably should be more exciting than it actually seems to be for me at the moment. Sometimes without a doubt when I get into a hurry or am not paying attention to what is being written things will go horribly wrong in terms of grammar and style concerns. I’ll get the idea out, but the construction of the words bringing it forward can be highly problematic. For the most part, the main thing that happens is that word will be missing. 

Today again I’m misbehaving and writing out of a Google Doc instead of that Microsoft Word document that is supposed to be my daily writing home. It turns out that I really don’t want to continually write out of the same document every day and that I really do want to open up a blank document on a daily basis and begin writing from a fresh starting point. That is problematic in terms of collecting things together in the end for publication purposes, but it may very well be something that I’ll need to live with going forward. I had successfully switched over for around 30 days and then that habit fell apart the first time that I was a little bit tired and just opened a word processing document on a whim. It was that moment of tired whim that got me back over here into Google Docs. It is entirely possible that I prefer the editing features in Google Docs and maybe just got used to them over time. One solution to the problem would be to try to add the next missive to the end of this document and see if I could at least keep all the words together. 

I did manage to break down the problematic posts in the writing plan to get to 104 issues of The Lindahl Letter. At some point, I just had to accept that a couple of the topics were going to just end up being shorter than I had planned on allowing them to end up. A few of the topics have one central person who contributed to them and are super straightforward. During my planning sessions I should have tried to zoom out a bit or maybe picked different areas of focus where a bit more coverage would have been possible. I have been (for better or worse) in the habit of writing weblog type missives for the last 20 years. I’m probably not going to stop doing that at any point. Some of them never get posted, but the daily habit of sitting down and offloading some thoughts into some type of word processing document, notepad, sketchpad, or just a pad of paper is probably going to keep happening. The part of it that I find the most confusing is that I tend to go back to Twitter a few times a day and it has also become a part of my daily routine. 

My efforts recently have been on reducing my response times to alerts and notifications to help focus and be present. That is key moving forward. It is probably one of the reasons that my early morning hour writing plans have been so successful as nobody is pinging me or creating alerts at this time of the day. Even corporations and application teams tend to slow down the attention seeking during the hours when people are commonly sleeping.

Planning to write and writing about plans

We watched “Thor: Love and Thunder” (2022) on an IMAX screen yesterday. That theater had not changed in a number of years. It was a throwback to the times of yore. Ok, I just wanted to use yore in a sentence. Those very seats could have been in that theater a decade ago the last time I visited. A lot of the larger format screen theaters now have reclining seats that are a bit bigger and a lot more comfortable. These seats could have been from the original installation of the IMAX screen. You won’t find any spoilers here about the movie or a review really. My expectations were for the movie quality to be inline with the previous Thor films. It was within the envelope of expedited Thor adventures. For the most part in the dozens of Marvel based films very few terrible ones exist. They are a window into that world and they provide that adventure. It’s pretty consistent. That is probably one of the reasons the films have done so well at the box office since the original Iron Max (2008) film was released. 

I’m starting to wake up now which took just a few minutes to achieve today. For some reason I’m running a little slower than usual as the day is starting to pick up steam. The sun is rising and the weather seems to be lining up well enough for the back part of this trip to Kansas City. Taking a bit of time to think deeply about where exactly you are in the writing journey is good. Maybe you have a detailed writing plan with a list of upcoming things to work on like an extra awesome backlog of pending adventures. You can certainly extrapolate that out to a map looking set of expectations and plot yourself as a location defining where you are in terms of that journey. That would be one way to go about and it would be interesting. My research trajectory and writing plan are well documented. Somebody else could pick up my work and keep moving along if for some reason I faltered. 

We have now spent the morning considering Thor films and visualizing the writing journey. For the most part this week  I have been working on a bunch of different content related to machine learning. The production quality on weeks 80 to 104 needs to be tip top to make sure the end of the last section of this year’s physical publication of “The Lindahl Letter” is really high quality. Based on my writing plan I’m going to pivot to writing academic style articles after that point in the writing journey with  snippets of that output ending up being published on an online basis. Generally, that will change my writing output to shift from a series of Substack posts being combined into a final collection at the end of the year to a more complex content production process. Academic articles can certainly be broken into sections and that will allow me to publish them in parts along the way. It will create a scenario where I’m sharing content on the same topic for several weeks in a row. Given that I won’t know the exact duration of a topic in that format the forward looking guidance will really be on the next 5 topics, but the coverage of those topics could very well end up taking months. It should be an interesting turn of events in the evaluation of my Substack style writing.

Writing generally begets more writing

Today started off well enough. I finished a draft of a new post, “Substack Week 71: What are the best ML newsletters?” Assuming things go as planned I’ll work on a bit of editing tonight and tomorrow morning. That will take the post from editing to audio recording late tomorrow morning. I have been trying not to record right after waking up. Apparently sounding slightly sleepy when recording a podcast is frowned on by the listening public. I’m successfully staying 4 weeks ahead of my publication commitment for The Lindahl Letter. For the most part each Friday my backlog is deprecated by a single post and a new post is being created on the following Saturday and Sunday. That routine and pattern has been working. At some point, I’m sure the backlog will diminish a bit. This summer I’ll have a couple of weekends where writing is probably not going to happen. 

Overall I’m back on the writing bandwagon with a 5 day weblog publishing streak going. Getting to the point where the habit of writing is at the forefront of my daily routines is a good place to be. Writing generally begets more writing. I really do want to start my day with an hour of typing and working on writing. 

Several days have gone by without my social media applications being installed on my Google Pixel 5 smartphone. On a side note to that thought, I’m considering upgrading to the Pixel 7 when it comes out and just skipping the Pixel 6 edition altogether. That being said, I have found that not being able to look at Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram on my smartphone does cause me to use those platforms a lot less. A long time ago when phones were just for calling and texting I used websites on a desktop computer or my laptop. My efforts now are focused on just checking those websites at my main Dark Base Pro 900 housed computer. They will get checked at a specific time and place of my choosing. Notifications are not going to be allowed to drive my attention to something. Only my specific interest in a thing will drive my attention to focusing on it and that is a key distinction to consider. 

Focusing on accomplishing a deeper degree of work is an important part of the puzzle. I don’t want my focus and attention pulled away from the things I have deemed important. That is one of those things that helped me realize that focus on connections and effort has to be foundational to my planned actions. 

We have connections with people. A few of them last the test of time. They are with us even after we part ways. Sometimes a song, feeling, or just happenstance can trigger that connection to resurface. For me, hearing the lead singer of Harvey Danger always makes me think of one person. It happens every time and neither the context nor the occasion will shake that connection from coming to the forefront of my thoughts.

Spending that time wisely

The weekend is upon us with the opportunity to get some things done. A few blocks of time will exist in the morning and the afternoon on both days to spend on something. It makes me really question just how wisely I can spend the time. Generally we don’t commoditize time. I do think of some blocks of time that can be spent on something. It is trying to make sure that we are spending those blocks of time wisely that captures a lot of my focus. My writing routine helps to keep me on track for the most part. Every day at 0500 hours the alarm on my Fitbit watch goes off and I start the day. Larger blocks of time are reserved on Saturday and Sunday morning for producing prose and really digging in deep. However, you can tell from the general pattern of the routine that each day starts out with a bit of writing. 

My big plan for the day is to really get ready for a big trash pickup tomorrow. We have a few larger things that need to get sorted out. I generally feel the same way about my major writing projects. I have a few that need to get sorted out and the rest just need to be organized and worked to resolution. Sure my writing strategy should help make that easy enough. Sometimes you have to dig in and give the old writing strategy a bit of review to see if the trajectory is still sound. Producing prose for the sake of producing it has a certain amount of merit. However, working toward something more meaningful has a better case for spending the effort to get it completed. Especially if you are going to view that effort as a coin for a block of time that has to be spent wisely.

Watching that writing topic backlog grow

I turned on my Pandora internet radio this morning and listened to some music. Next week I should be able to listen to records again. Setting up my record player again will just require a piece of furniture to be moved from the garage back to my office. Most of my records are stored in alphabetical order. It would be pretty easy to listen to them one and a time and discard any that do not make the cut. Generally speaking my record collection ballooned in the last few years. Some of the records in the collections I bought to see if that band would make the rotation. A few of them were just not something that I enjoyed listening to very much. Sometimes a band goes in a different direction between albums. 

A pretty decent 7 day streak or so occurred where my writing was on point. Prose was produced on a daily basis with a certain degree of quality. You cannot take for granted those productive writing streaks. Part of stoking the daily habit of writing is sitting down at the keyboard and engaging in the practice of putting thoughts to paper. You have to sit down and put in the work to make things happen. I do feel that writing is something that the more you practice and refine your style the easier it becomes to produce. Yesterday was an example of running into a wall of slowly grinding progress that stunned even me after all these years. It was like a wall descended and surrounded every ounce of productivity I had. Sure it would have been the right plan to just fight through the wall and produce a page of prose. That just did not happen. Time faded away and sure enough the next day arrived. 

That very next day was today and within that arrival was an opportunity. Today I woke up with a degree of awareness that could be really good to focus on a problem or task. Part of that will require me to focus on what article from my 5 year writing plan will be up first and should be getting consideration throughout the week when I’m not tinkering with posts from The Lindahl Letter. During the course of one of my more productive writing streaks last year I did produce a 14 paper list of upcoming research papers. To help ensure those topics get some attention I’m going to add all 14 of them to the backlog for The Lindahl Letter. Right now that publication is outlined and planned until the 2 year anniversary with 104 topics. The addition was made and now that list is up to 118 topics. Making that addition really did mark the phase 2 expansion of The Lindahl Letter to focus on academic topics that I’m interested in spending time considering. 

Not only is keeping a solid writing topic backlog about making sure that I stay on track in terms of productivity, but it also helps keep to a research trajectory. One of the things that I have realized along this journey is that the cycle and routine of academic life helps keep things on track. You have conference due dates and other writing commitments that help keep things moving along. For me I do all of my writing on a daily basis for the explicit purpose of moving forward toward that perfect possible future. My efforts are really driven from a degree of personal motivation. I write because the act of writing is fulfilling.

Oh that writing plan collected some dust

Yesterday I spent some time thinking about my research trajectory and where my writing efforts should be placed. Intellectually I know that I should use the conference cycle to help motivate my writing efforts and keep them on a tight publishing schedule. Over the last few years that has not really happened in a consistent way. I have written and put together content for a series of talks, but I never finished taking that content and putting it into a journal article format or working it into a conference paper. That is probably one of the first things that should be on my writing plan that is in the process of being reworked. My writing schedule works and I turn out content every week. That is a proven effort at this point. It has worked for well over a year within the machine learning content space. All of that content exists in a well contained Google Doc with weeks 1 to 104 planned out for Saturday delivery. At the start of the year, I did take the first year of that content and put it into a manuscript form and it was edited by a professional to make sure it was ready to be shared in print. That cycle will continue until the end of the 104 planned posts. 

Please keep in mind that my writing plan is not a theme of the year or anything like that. It should be an organized and thoughtful research trajectory from the start to the finish. The other constraint that I put on it is to very clearly view it as a measure of what I could do with the time that I have in front of me. If I only had 5 years to muster up writing efforts, then what should that time be spent on and the most important things should be closer to the beginning of the journey than the end of it. Time is incredibly unforgiving and before you know it from our perspective things will move along with or without the time being put in at the keyboard to create resplendent prose. Within the moment we know time is about to pass, but we have the ability to only elect action or inaction. 

My 5 year writing plan as of March 3, 2022:

  • Year 1 – Heavy ML focus for the rest of 2022
    • Finish writing a collected series of ML/AI essays on Substack and combine them into a manuscript, “The Lindahl Letter: On Machine Learning Year Two.” This manuscript should include both years one and two. 
      • Weekly Substack posts
      • Manuscript generation at the end of the year
      • Will need to be edited by a professional before the print edition goes live
    • Rework last years speaking engagement talks into academic papers. This could be one combined paper or potentially 5 different papers depending on how the initial effort shapes up.
      • “What is ML Scale? The Where and the When of ML Usage.”
      • “The ML scale problem: Thinking about where and when to use ML, ROI models, synthetic data, repeatable frameworks, and teams.”
      • “Applied ML ROI – Understanding ML ROI from different approaches at scale.”
      • “Demystifying Applied ML – Building Frameworks & Teams to Operationalize ML at Scale.”
      • “Figuring out applied ML: Building frameworks and teams to operationalize ML at scale. V3”
    • Rerun the MLOps Github research and turn that content into a paper
  • Year 2 – For 2023 I want to pivot into studying sentiment analysis and modern polling methodologies. At this point, I will have written 104 essays on ML/AI and should probably refocus on a specific topic that is material to ML/AI, but adjacent to it as an area of research. It’s possible by 2023 that quantum computing will be a huge topic for research and will end up getting some attention as well.
    • Automated sentiment analysis paper
    • Sentiment analysis and machine learning essays for Substack
    • Modern polling methods essays for Substack
    • The breakdown of modern polling paper
  • Year 3 – 2024 will include a return to writing about local government administration and technology. It will be 20 years since earning my master of public administration degree. By this time my writing should be as crisp and focused as it will ever be and my perspective on technology will be well considered from my previous work on ML/AI. 
    • Technology and local government administration
    • The intersection of public administration and technology
    • How technology influences the practice of governing 
    • How government uses ML/AI technology
  • Year 4 – 2025 will probably be the year where quantum computing has broken down modern encryption frameworks. 
    • Changes and uses in encryption technology
    • Encryption and society
    • Quantum encryption
  • Year 5 – 2026 is going to be a year where my backlog should be highly full. The previous 4 years of this writing plan should have created a ton of leftover writing works.
    • A reflective work on ML/AL
    • Did open source MLOps technology survive?
    • Did the serverless trend pan out in the cloud?

Working out that writing plan

Right now I’m working to figure out what is next on my writing plan. Obviously, the future content for the Substack is well planned out. My backlog goes out to post 104 and I’m currently publishing week 58 this Friday. For the most part that gives me a pretty solid cut and what will be included in the first two years of The Lindahl Letter. Eventually that will get put into a manuscript and published. It will be an expansion of the year one publication that is already out in the wild. Getting into the habit of producing machine learning or artificial intelligence related content every week was easy enough. Figuring out a solid list of academic papers to work on each week has been a little harder. Several false starts and sketches of papers exist, but none of that has really translated into the production of conference or journal papers. Throughout the rest of 2022 that is where I’m going to put a lot of my energy.

That list of 104 topics gets stored here for posterity:
https://www.nelslindahl.com/the-lindahl-letter/

Getting back to whiteboard days

A quick check of the old weblog will clearly show that the last post produced by me was on Friday, September 17, 2021. Something along the way ended up creating a scenario where writing was not working out on a daily basis. That something was a pinched nerve in my neck that just devastated my ability to concentrate. As it turned out the process really did take the longer side of the 4 to 6 week recovery time suggested by internet sources. Honestly, a lot of laying on the floor and thinking happened instead of sitting and writing. Initially in the first couple of weeks after the injured nerve occured I really could not sit and write for very long. A lot of emails were sent from a phone screen while laying on the floor. Things that needed to get done still got done, but it was not the easiest of times to manage for sure. Being able to really truly deeply focus on something was just out of reach. Principally that scenario was frustrating and hard to recover from on a daily basis. It was the first time in my memory that I could not sit down and produce prose at a time of my own choosing. 

Some of the content produced between now and that last publication back in September is just terrible. It is really not very good and it did not get published for a reason. It was kindling on the false start pile for sure or in this specific use case it is just a series of word processing documents destined to be forgotten. Today really has been the first day that with a bit of clarity and some time I was able to sit down and listen to the clickity clack of the mechanical keyboard. This missive is not really a targeted or focused draft of content directed at solving a specific problem or anything like that to be sure. I’m supposed to be writing about getting back to whiteboard days and what that means for the nature of content creation. To me it has a very specific meaning and it is about throwing ideas up on a space that is meant to be erased to work on them without permanence. Sometimes you need to work to refine something before you spend hours writing about it and investing in a proper written explanation. Some ideas are going to be great for consideration. A little bit of consideration alone does not mean that it is worthy of taking it to the next level and that is where a little bit of whiteboard work can help with things. 

Over the years I have written about the benefits of keeping an idea journal/notebook. Sitting behind me in the bottom drawer of a credenza are a stack of notebooks. They contain a varying degree of useful too incredibly unusable ideas and written missives. That is the nature of working and reworking the process for a specific purpose outside of creating a record. For me that purpose is very clear and it is about the nature of pushing things forward. It is an exploration toward a perfect possible future where things are lined up and work out for the very best both personally and in terms of society. That might seem lofty and unorganized, but in principle it sums up my daily routine and efforts. 

* This post was lightly edited for readability after it was written.

Writing about the comfort of writing

Well, we made it to Friday. That means a small respite in the cycle of working and working in favor of just the writing part of the equation. Back in March of this year I picked up a K65 RGB mini mechanical gaming keyboard directly from Corsair. It’s a 60% size keyboard with Cherry MX speed keys on it. Really the only thing that from time to time is awkward with the keyboard is the complete and total lack of arrow keys. You have to be more focused on what you are doing and writing as you cannot arrow around on the screen. Outside of that I ended up getting a Kensington Duo gel keyboard wrist rest to make typing on the keyboard comfortable for longer periods of time. I have the corresponding mouse pad as well, but the keyboard wrist rest was key to making the whole thing work. I did not find it comfortable to type for long periods of time on the mechanical keyboard without it. I just realized that this last paragraph was really an exercise in writing about the comfort of writing. 

I was not sure that a min keyboard was going to work for me or that the sounds of a mechanical keyboard would be acceptable in my office. My office is really only shared with the dogs and they do not seem to care about the clickity clack of the mechanical keyboard. For the most part I have come to find it soothing and a part of the writing process. My typing speed is solid enough that the keystrokes end up just being a long string of crashing instead of one off disruptions to the silence. Really for the most part based on my writing schedule the day starts and some music gets played. During the course of listening to that music a blank word processing document gets opened and the writing process is supposed to start. Sometimes I get pulled into a productive effort outside of writing in a stream of consciousness style. Most of the content that gets posted on the weblog is like this where whatever comes to mind is going to get posted shortly after it is written. That pretty much means things that are not a manuscript, academic article, or work of fiction. 

One of the things that I want to really refocus on moving forward is taking notes throughout the day. Right now I have both Google Keep and the Recorder application setup and ready to capture notes at a moment’s notice. That does not mean that notes are actually captured. Letting all those little seeds of thought disappear beyond the active reach of consciousness is problematic based on my writing schedule. Being productive and actively writing is an important part of my planned daily activities.

Moving the writing plan around

Writing today started out with a bit of writing to finish up “The Lindahl Letter” for this week. My Saturday writing schedule happened, but the output was not exactly enough to finish up the content for this Friday and have it ready to post. Generally my writing plan for “The Lindahl Letter” was twofold. First, I had planned to work ahead and have the posts ready to go a few weeks or maybe months in advance. Second, my fall back position for the writing plan was to spend the first waking hours of every Saturday morning creating the post for the upcoming Friday. That plan gave me a few days of recovery if for some reason the post was incomplete, terrible, or writing was blocked for some reason. Today was one of those days where I had to pick up a post and clean it up on a Sunday morning. 

Working ahead started to break down a little bit when the content was revised to be more than just a brief or extended passage of prose related to machine learning to include sections that were more real time in their context. Sections for “links and thoughts” and of course the “top 5 tweets of the week” are certainly more related to what happened since the last post vs. the opening content that could be inspired from any point of the machine learning journey. Based on the statistics from the Substack some people seem to like the links and click them while an ever increasing bulk of people don’t really return data related to clicks anymore. That is a problem that is occurring more broadly in the world of advertising. 

My Twitter feed was a blaze with this hot take this morning, “A certain amount of buzz is resonating from the topics of #TimeCrystal and #Metaverse right now… sooner or later a wellspring of academic originated scientific discussion will circle back to cover these things in paper form endlessly…” I’m not sure it was entirely pithy, but it was where my thoughts circled this morning between those to very buzzword driven ideas of the moment. It is entirely possible that time crystals will prove to be truly interesting if they end up requiring a rewrite of the rules of physics. The weight of that last sentence in terms of historical context was pretty heavy. I’m not sure just reading it that it is clear. It is probably a shortcoming in the effectiveness of my prose. Please consider this extra bit of rambling after the original claim for additional context.