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. 

I’m still learning how to get LaTeX to work on Overleaf

My energy and efforts have been focused on producing high quality academic content since July 21. Instead of blogging away I focused on that introduction to machine learning syllabus I have been preparing. I’m even doing the typesetting in LaTeX using the Overleaf website in preparation to be a better academic. It seemed like a good idea to learn how to publish academic papers using LaTeX. Generally, I have been able to get away with using Microsoft Word to prepare things or sometimes Google Docs. It seems the world has changed and the serious people writing serious papers are all using LaTeX these days. It took me about an hour, maybe two hours to start getting the hang of it and I don’t really like it at all. It’s a clumsy method for typesetting and while I get that the focus is on the end product and how it looks as a PDF the actual process of typesetting is tedious. My basis of comparison is that I can very easily write in APA formatting in Microsoft Word and work from start to finish on a document. It’s fine really as a platform for documenting words and processing them. I get that the idea of LaTeX and the storage of documents in PDF format is to ensure that the documents are portable and readable for as long as possible. Anyway, I’m still learning how to get LaTeX to work on Overleaf. I have the first 3 parts of that syllabus loaded up and I’ll get adding part by part until all 8 are loaded. I’ll give it a really good proofreading and then try to submit it for preprint. That is the plan anyway.

Worrying about productivity and LaTeX editing

Yeah, I sort of thought it would be possible to just jump in and use Overleaf to edit a LaTeX template. I’m going to end up going back and looking at a few tutorials on YouTube to understand the finer points of what is happening within the document. It was easy enough to save and load the template. Making a copy was pretty routine and renaming the original was highly intuitive. I was able to edit the title, author information, and a few of the elements in the source file did not really make sense to me. That is why I’m going to watch a couple of tutorial videos to really get a better understanding of what is going on within the document. At this point, I’m pretty sure this will be something that I can manage to help produce papers on a more regular basis from my work. That is where things are at right now. 

My current backlog of produced podcasts stands at 2 recorded and loaded episodes. One is ready to go out on July 15 and the other is ready for July 22. That leaves us with the draft of week 79 that is generally complete, but not very compelling. I had moved on and written a pretty decent missive for week 80 that is much longer. The outline for week 81 is clear enough, but it needs more work to bring it up to the standard necessary for recording. I knew that the content from week 81 to week 87 was going to be difficult to generate. Writing out an 8 part syllabus for how I would introduce machine learning is an interesting intellectual challenge. My goal of course is to allow anybody reading the material to come up to speed with a general understanding. The respondent would really have to read the materials and dig into them deeply to walk away with next level skills. That is really the hard part of putting this content together. It needs to be approachable to help provide the breath necessary to introduce machine learning. At the same time, the content contained in the syllabus has to provide enough depth for those respondents who are consuming it to gain knowledge beyond a basic introduction. 

I may very well for fun take the 8 part introduction to machine learning syllabus and convert it into a LaTeX document in Overleaf at the end of the process. That would take something that I know is going to be completed and give me an opportunity to really mess around with the typesetting. It might even give me a chance to help figure out the integration between Overleaf and Github which seems to exist, but I have not had the opportunity to explore. That will probably be a good use of my time. The other way to go about getting some practice with Overleaf and LaTeX would be to take a few of my talks over the last few years and convert them over to paper format. Most of those talks have a transcript and a PowerPoint which could be easily converted over to a LaTeX document. Honestly, that content was probably a better fit for dissemination by recorded video and the follow up transcripts. Most of the content people consume is just text in a browser from a webpage, news source, or some type of application. A much smaller percentage of the population in general consumes all their content from PDFs containing academic papers. 

I absolutely read a ton of articles and jump in and out of consuming content generally available and content packaged up as academic articles or research notes. Those of you who have read my work for a longer period of time will know that I enjoy a bit of research trajectory mixed into my papers. Knowing the bigger picture and where things are going is an important part of how I consume knowledge. I want to know where it fits into the broader spectrum of the academy and how the author intended it to either move things forward or cement something that needed to be shored up with additional research. That is an important part of the equation that is missing from a lot of machine learning papers that I end up reading. The authors get very focused on the mechanism of the mouse trap and how it functions. They don’t really share the importance of the mouse trap in the broader context of the research within the field. It’s possible that maybe a few papers on the research trajectory of machine learning are necessary. My thesis that has been advanced is that overcrowding is causing a problematic scenario where more content than can possibly be consumed is being created and the noise outpaces the signal by an order of magnitude.

Starting to learn how to edit with the LaTeX typesetting system

This weekend a little blogging on the WordPress Android application occurred via my Google Pixel 5 smartphone. Two different posts were made to keep my writing streak alive. Both of the posts were just updates to my activity during the weekend, but they were enough to keep things moving along. During the lengthy car ride back to Denver from Kansas City I gave some thought to the edges of the things being expired in my writing. I’m getting to the bleeding edge of a lot of different academic work. Writing is occurring often at that edge, but I’m not taking the time to put it into an academic paper format for submission. While I don’t wholesale believe in that type of writing for every purpose it probably is something that deserves an investment of my time and energy going forward. 

I’m learning how to use the online site Overleaf as a LaTeX editor. A lot of people ask questions online about the best LaTeX editor for beginners. Over the years I have become very skilled at using Microsoft Word to produce manuscripts and it has worked just fine. Millions of people use it daily. Right now I’m writing out of a Google Docs file with a .DOCX extension. Working out of a LaTeX editor is not something that I really ever do. Either I have to learn how to write in an editor that supports that format or I have to take the time at the end of the journey to convert everything over to that format. Some people have found ways to edit LaTeX documents in Google Docs and it seems that it might be possible. Instead of messing around with that type of effort I’m going to just go all in with Overleaf and see what happens. Today will be the day that starts and I’m hopeful it will be a fun adventure. Learning how to modify and work with LaTeX formatting is not really something that I want to invest my time and energy into, but it seems like something that will end up paying off in the end. 

It should be possible to take my research note on open software MLOps repositories shared on GitHub and get everything converted over to LaTeX using Overleaf. I found an arXiv style template that will serve as a basis for the final output. It should be a fun little adventure in the fine arts of typesetting. Right at the start it is clear that the source and recompile being split sides of a screen is radically different from what I normally handle as a workflow. Right now I’m writing in a print preview mode basically that shows me the read pretty much what will happen live within the document and what will be sent to the printer or a PDF document for that matter. I’m not sold on the idea that you need some type of academic typesetting to gatekeeper the publishing world as a technologic barrier to entry at the port of academic freedom. 

A few thoughts on the ongoing grand writing experiment

Getting back to a bit of daily writing in a journaling style seems to be a good thing to accomplish. For some reason this style of writing has dropped off from my efforts. Every week I’m still producing pracademic style content and I’m gearing up to learn how to convert some of that into a LaTeX style editor for academic paper publication. Maybe that is the missing element in my progress as a writer. We will see if it really is the missing element or if something else might be a contributing factor. Within that framework I have a few thoughts on my ongoing grand writing experiment. For those of you who have been along for the ride you know that millions of words have been produced. A lot of them appear here on my trusty weblog, “Functional Journal.” It’s not my flagship production, but it is a central base that I come back to over and over again. Originally, I had considered just putting all content here as a sort of content hub. That is not a terrible idea, but it does discount contributions to other forms and how those avenues of communication work. 

Tomorrow the 75th post within “The Lindahl Letter” series on Substack will be distributed. All of that content gets packaged yearly into a book format. It gets distributed weekly as a Substack post which is functionally an essay on a topic built for the purpose of being informative and at times thought provoking. That type of writing is different from what gets shared generally on the weblog and that is one of the reasons why jumping on the Substack bandwagon made sense. It also has a very different publication mechanic. The weblog is something people have to elect to go visit. Substack as a platform has a mechanism to deliver the content by email. It follows that newsletter framework which is more of a push to disseminate content delivery vs. my traditional method of providing the content on a digital shelf without marketing or any push. I know that the weblog gets published out to WordPress that new content arrived, and I let it push a notification to Twitter. Based on the amount of traffic that comes in from WordPress or Twitter neither of those communication methods is particularly useful. 

As a communication platform, Substack has appeared to work out well enough. One of the main differences between my Substack writing and my normal writing paradigm is that all 75 posts for Substack were constructed in the same Google Doc. Each day for general writing I open a brand-new Google Doc and start writing from a blank page. I’m wondering if I should shift to working out of a single manuscript for my daily writing and just accept that it should end up as a publication at the end of the year like the Substack efforts are combined to produce a set of collective works. Maybe that is the right way to begin moving forward. I could easily take this essay and allow it to be the start of that project. I generally do not like working out of a Microsoft Word document using the online editor. That is one of the reasons that all of this work generally happens in Google Docs. I’m sure that is mostly preference based and either one could work as a word processing document management system.

A few changes occurred between the last two paragraphs. I went over to Microsoft Word and created a manuscript file based on the publishing template I normally utilize. That brand new file and the entire novel directory on OneDrive has now been synced over to Google Drive. I then opened the .DOCX file for editing in Google Docs which seems convoluted, but it works for me based on the efforts I’m about to undertake. Moving forward I’m going to keep working and writing for the weblog within this document. That is the plan and I’m going to stick with it until December 31, 2022. At that point the plan will be revisited and hopefully this document will be published as a manuscript.

Working in LaTeX again

Normally my writing happens in Microsoft Word or Google Docs. I have not tried to use any other work processing software in years. Seriously, I have not even looked at LaTeX editors in some time. However, in my infinite search for bound of joy yesterday it seemed like now is the time to take the plunge and reintroduce myself to the joys of writing and working in a LaTeX editor. This effort is directly related to my renewed interest in publishing content at a much faster rate. Maybe the best method to move forward it to compose survey builds based on answering relevant questions, collect data, analyze that data, and publish papers based on that activity. Perhaps that is the best method to begin to move forward at a rate of producing 3 to 6 articles per year. Honestly, to accomplish that goal I am working on a strategy to produce a paper every 30 days next year. That should allow enough false starts to really get to a genuine pace of 3 to 6 articles a year.