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. 

Striving for a trajectory of growth

Yesterday some consideration was given to the idea of transitioning to a very old school method of writing weblog posts. This might be the moment that I’ll flip the switch and write in a slightly different way as things mover forward. Sitting down with pen and paper affords a certain opportunity to sling words without the direct consequence of them being published. Twenty years ago, I just sat down and wrote whatever came to mind without any degree of self-censorship. Returning to that framework of writing might not be entirely possible, but it could be one of those things that would make sense. That would mean writing about whatever mundane things or grand considerations that come to mind at the point of the writing exercise. At the very end of the day, I used to just sit down and write and drop whatever came to mind onto a site hosted with a Microsoft FrontPage backend. That for those of you who do not remember was a WYSIWYG editor that produced HTML pages as a final product.

Back in those days my grammar, spelling, and overall editing was lacking. Those things have improved over the years, but still have a way to go as with all things we can work to refine our knowledge, skills, and abilities to grow along the way. Perhaps that is the great debate of our time. It’s the questions of striving toward a trajectory of personal and professional growth or living within the moment and simply sustaining things as they are. This same question is asked of both companies and people. Coming out of high school it was strongly suggested that I spend time in college. At the time, I had two choices that stood out on that front. I could have attended the local community college or gone to one of the state colleges. Either way would probably have moving things along in generally the same trajectory. Back in 1999 the cost of college tuition was a lot lower than it currently happens to be and I’m not entirely sure the services being offered are that different.

Anyway, back to the question at hand really about the nature of striving for a trajectory of growth. We have come so far as a society in general and the nature of changes to our civil society have changed the social fabric in what I broadly consider positive ways. We have a lot more knowledge available to people, science, and medicine. That growth did not come without problematic situations, conditions, and challenges. Looking back on the last 50 years, 100 years, and 200 years things within society have changed a lot and core to that change is technology. I’m not sure today is the day that I have enough time to really sit down and write about the changes to civil society as we approach the intersection of technology and modernity. We have a very real approach of a couple potential singularities that will have profound effects on the nature of our social fabric and how we view civil society in general. Those very real watershed moments have the potential to change things profoundly and we are not particularly ready for those events.

We will however keep moving along and striving for that perfect possible future as we work together toward pathing that allows for personal and professional betterment. At the very heart of that social compact that we share remains some things core to the freedoms that we need to generally work together toward that end of personal betterment. At the moment, I should take a bit more time to write about community and draw these arguments out with support and logical extension. That however is not entirely practical as the day is grinding to a start. Sunrise is still about 30 minutes away, but I won’t be able to capture that entire block of time and use it for writing. Other obligations are about to step in and separate me from this work processing document. That is the necessity of things that require time and are commitments outside of the opportunity to write freely at the start of the day. Commitments stack up over time and that seems to be a central truth of adulting.

Thinking about the nature of civil society

A bit of time was committed to thinking about the sheer volume of Substrack newsletters I’m receiving right now. It’s enough that I’m not reading all of them right now. They really seem to show up in waves at this point. During the course of that pondering activity I took the time to unsubscribe to a bunch of different newsletters from restaurants and online catalogs. The amount of email I’m getting was simply taking up too much time on a daily basis. Deciding how to spend our limited amounts of time is an important thing to consider. My regular writing routine is pretty straightforward. Each day my Fitbit watch wakes me up by vibrating instead of being a loud alarm sound. I get up and either drink a cup of coffee or two shots of espresso. After letting the dogs in and out of the house, I sit down and look at the blank page and begin the process of writing. That is the desired outcome of my daily routine. The steps really are to wake up, get coffee, manage dogs, and start writing. 

Sometimes this regularly scheduled writing routine works well enough. I start to consider the world and within that process I’m tilting at my own personal windmill known as the perfect possible future. To that end, I ponder the world as it is and try to figure out the best possible path forward. Within that pathing is how I view a lot of things like the intersection of technology and modernity. We stand at a very unique point in the totality of our civilization. We will probably see the singularity in our lifetime where technology moves beyond a resting state to a state of pure motion. That means some level of self-sustaining technology will occur as the intersection of technology and modernity occurs. Within that eclipse of possibility and technology the other side of things will be distinctly different. It is something that is probably going to happen and it is not as well understood as it should be right now. 

I spend a lot of time thinking about the nature of civil society. My considerations include how communities of practice, circumstance, and interest will change within the intersection of technology and modernity. At the very core of our social fabric that brings civil society together we may see things changing within a layer of technology that did not exist before and could rapidly change. This week the researchers over at Google’s DeepMind have claimed to be close to artificial general intelligence (AGI). Those types of claims are what make me really sit back and think deeply about things that will be different. It makes me wonder about how civil society will change.

A bunch of words on a Friday morning

Reworking my 5 year writing plan and really digging into that was a powerful motivator. It was exciting to deeply consider what’s next in terms of writing and producing content. I never really want my research trajectory to get bogged down and stagnant. Part of my journey into the world of research and understanding is endeavoring to learn every single day. We have a wealth of content to learn about every day. People and now bots are producing a tremendous amount of content. Enough content is being produced to consider it flooding and in some cases highly overcrowded. In my case the peak production of my prose a year is around a million words. Some generative models can produce that within the use of one prompt cycle. I would argue at this point that my million words are better, but for how much longer that will hold true I’m uncertain. Millions of my written words were shared in a file for a GPT-2 model to work with and produce output. Within only a few cycles of training that model will very quickly start writing and writing and veering off into tangents. 

My ability to refocus from writing about the process of writing which happens on this weblog a lot. Based on my tag cloud it is a preponderance of what I produce these days. A lot of my other content is written into academic papers, manuscripts, talks, and potentially produced for a newsletter. All of that content would have to be bundled together to really give the model a chance at producing prose that more closely matches my style and switching between stream of consciousness style musing that happen here in a weblog format and the more structured academic writing that happens one bit a time. Generally I write an academic article by producing a core of text that gets broken down into parts or I start with a shell of what needs to be produced and work on it by expanding the outline bit by bit and paragraph by paragraph until it is a comprehensive work. I’ll admit that if the idea has been something that I considered deeply before sitting down to write it is possible that I could write from start to finish a short research paper. That has happened before. I typically make presentations that way as well. The entire thing will sort of get worked out in my thoughts by the power of imagination and then the act of creating media happens after that as I translate my vision to the page or in some cases the slide. 

A lot of my writing production ends up like this page of content where a stream of consciousness at the very start of the day or at the end of the day I sit down and just record my thoughts. It is quintessentially the act of thinking out loud except with a keyboard instead of vocalizing anything. My preferred format for response and argument is in writing. Well measures and considered arguments are always more interesting to me in general. Debating verbally typically develops into a pattern of exchange where give and take is reduced to the sharing of single arguments sometimes that are reduced to a soundbyte. We need to get back to really long form arguments where the important things are deeply considered. Some type of shared perspective and understanding is necessary to rebuild the social fabric that allows people to work with and find reasonable consensus. People who come together to live and form communities have some foundation for doing that. We have a lot more in common from the normative assumptions of our community than we do from the edge of theory where conflict exists. Triangulation of political differences has created a degree of polarization from the edge that exhausted the resilience of our shared social fabric. 

My thoughts have wandered a little bit into the philosophy of community this morning. That is bound to happen I guess. A lot of my energy is going to need to be focused on working on outlines and drafts to the things in my 5 year writing plan that was shared yesterday. One of the more surprising elements of that planful list was that it did not contain any reference to the 100 pages of contact strategy for campaigns book that is sitting unfinished. Earlier this year during a super burst of productivity I cleaned up and shared a bunch of content previously written, but shelved. For some reason, that bit of research which has a lot of time invested into creating it has just been put on the backburner. Maybe I should keep a list of false starts as well in case during a fit of writer’s block it becomes prudent to jump back into one of those stalled projects to kickstart something better. Sometimes working on something that is lacking and otherwise undesirable is enough to bring a creative spark to the forefront. 

Beyond the structures and forms

Today is going to be filled with potential options to do something useful. It is going to be one of those days where more paths are open than choices can be made to take. This happens from time to time and picking the right ones is essential to maximizing the potential of the day. Sure one path exists where the perfect possible future is realized, but that dance is sometimes beyond the structures and forms we follow will allow. Maybe that is the quintessential problem we face and need to spend time solving. It is a very real challenge to figure out how to get things done and done well within the structures and forms we have available. We also face a very real implied normativity that directs convention in what could be described as the forms. Those two things working together constrain a possible set of paths forward. I could elect at this point to spend the rest of the day doing nothing but studying applied cryptography, but consequences would exist to that decision. The output of that study and effort would be unlikely to outweigh the consequences. 

My thoughts at the moment are at least more focused on the edge of what is possible than tactical questions. In terms of all the ways the start of the day could have gone this path is much better than the alternative. Now we can round out that first thought into a question of action. Aligning to a path that strives toward the perfect possible future. At this junction in the inquiry, I am thinking about the common purpose of advancing both my own intellectual pursuits and strengthening the fabric of civil society. Both of those things are in my own self interest, but they are generally silos of action compared to each other. We exist within the moment of reflection as we take action. Each step forward, to the side, or backward is a reflection of a choice made in that moment. We have a space of reflection that can be used to consider and reflect or to drive action. Making a very conscious decision to use that space of reflection to drive toward a purpose like striving toward a perfect possible future is one way to sharpen action. Inside of that contemplation is inherently a choice to action. Retreating like a turtle into itself rarely is the action that moves things forward. I suppose some very special cases of an action paradox exist where standing still makes the most sense. Even the notion of waiting a turn for an outside action to complete seems more reasonable than the turtle’s defensive withdrawal. 

Action at its very nature and paths forward have been considered and the day is still beginning. Maybe today is the day that the right first step is followed by enough reasonably correct steps that a continuity of action builds toward something meaningful. That is an entirely plausible thought at the moment and that is inherently exciting if not thrilling as a way to start the day. These are the complex ideas we have to consider during this grand chautauqua of existence. Within that moment of reflection the structures of our institutions provide guard rails toward certain outcomes. Several days of work are the basic project we see enumerated as the expected outcome of a week. We see that day of work as being the basic unit of complexly interconnected communities. Maybe the summation of that is a bit harder to compel to exist in written form, but the idea is on the edge of what is possible. Describing the grand interconnected nature of economy and intergenerational equity remains a valid pursuit. That is probably where we need to wrap up this course of the chautauqua. More will come as the series of learning never stops from one day to the next.

Forgotten platforms and political attention

Yesterday, I watched part of the 7 hours of testimony from Robert Mueller in front of two different congressional committees. It made me wonder about the amount of attention that is being paid to politics in general at all levels of government. My thoughts wandered to ponder if more people were watching and enjoying ESPN than the hearinings. The attention of people rated in viewership is typically evaluated in terms of how passionate those viewers happen to be at the time. Fans of sporting teams that watch ESPN are typically reasonably passionate about something. That might be one specific team or maybe everything related to an entire city or maybe even a region. Politics are complex and getting even more complex every day. Trying to divide that complexity into two main voting categories that has no index for passion remains deflating.

That is the point in this thought exercise that seems to stand out to me. Maybe it is an inflection point that snuck up slowly or maybe it is just suddenly ours and very real. The example under consideration is a comparison between what it takes to become a sports fan of typical team vs. what it takes to really become active in a political party. My guess is that throughout the United States more people are actively supporting sporting teams on a daily basis than a specific political party. That is a line of inquiry that is really driving me toward some research questions around local government engagement levels. Understanding civil society has been a passion of mine since before I started to reflect on the intersection of technology and modernity. For better or worse the social fabric that binds us together and informs how we relate is built on the foundation of civil society.

One of the things that I have spent some time reading over the years are party platforms. Maybe the one that caught my attention the most was the 1960 party platform of JFK. It is pretty easy to figure out the trajectory of your local sports team. They are actively winning or losing and you can get a sense for how close they are to contending for a championship. Trying to figure out the trajectory of a political party and what exactly that party is trying to accomplish is really hard in a world full of very short soundbites that lack context or any real degree of directionality in terms of where the argument is going. Sitting down and reading an entire party platform is a real commitment. Figuring out where all 20 candidates that are running for president stand within the context of that platform would be a daunting task. My honest assessment would be that they all probably do not have defined positions or have throughout out exactly where they stand on the entire platform.