I'm a three-time (soon to be four-time) published author. When aspiring authors learn this, they invariably ask what word processor I use. It doesn't fucking matter! I happen to write in Emacs. I also code in Emacs, which is a nice bonus. Other people write and code in vi. Other people write in Microsoft Word and code in TextMate+ or TextEdit or some fancy web-based collaborative editor like EtherPad or Google Wave. Whatever. Picking the right text editor will not make you a better writer. Writing will make you a better writer. Writing, and editing, and publishing, and listening -- really listening -- to what people say about your writing. […] Just fucking write, then publish, then write some more. One day your writing will get featured on a site like Reddit and you'll go from 5 readers to 5000 in a matter of hours, and they'll all tell you how much your writing sucks. And most of them will be right! Learn how to respond to constructive criticism and filter out the trolls, and you can write the next great American novel in edlin.

Mark Pilgrim, on The Setup. (Emphasis mine.)

Cop out

I owe you some vacation photos, but alas — I don’t have them yet. For now, enjoy a set of photos from a previous trip to New Jersey & New York City.

Basketball Man
Grease Trucks

Oh yeah, and I probably owe you a mention or so about the rebuild of this site, don’t I?

Trust me, I’ll have something current up soon.

I’m kind of a big deal

Okay! I think I've just about cemented my claim as a New Media Douchebag by virtue of the ridiculous domain name I acquired for this site:

I've heard that in this day and age, "your name is your personal brand." I'm glad to say that I've successfully taken it to THE EXTREME. (Note: all caps means SERIOUS BUSINESS.)

Ahem. Apparently extreme coffee intake has a direct effect on my usually-latent ego? No, that can't be it. The domain name and phone number have been in the works for months now. Oh, I'm an iPhone and MacBook Pro owner now — yes, for the first time in my life, I own an Apple product that isn't just a music player — maybe that's added a bit to my smugness.

Related to the ego front

Spokesman.com — the Web site of the Spokesman-Review and the Web site I've been working for over the past 15 months — is a finalist in the General Excellence (Medium site) category of the Online News Association's Online Journalism Awards.

For a newsroom of our size, I am thrilled by the amount of multimedia we produce each week (and it shows and looks great on our site). More than anything, the people who create all of our awesome content deserve the shout-out.

Now, moving on in somewhat-less-narcissistic fashion… (Warning: cliché, "this is what I'm up to" personal blog post coming your way.)

School outlook

I have a 9am class this semester. I'm not a morning person; hell, I normally started work at 10am all summer (with the trade-off of staying long after 6). Previous semesters have seen me falter under start times as late as 11am.

Last semester I visited a counselor a few times because I couldn't tell if I was depressed or what—for a pretty long stretch, I was entirely disinterested in school, work, and socializing. (If you interacted with me at the time, you may or may have noticed just a bit of reclusiveness. Just a bit.) And I think it basically boiled down to a lack that rewarding feeling from anything I was doing at the time. It was a matter of me being disenchanted and not being able to suck it up and go anyway. Missed a lot of class, let a whole bunch of things slip by. I done fucked up, to put it lightly.

But back to today: It's going to be good semester. Yes, even with the 9am. No, really. It's going to be different this time.

My class schedule is essentially anchored by that 9am — an inter-division iPhone development class with CS/IT and J-school students. You really can't convince me that the concept isn't right up my alley.

Similarly, my capstone class wraps up most of my school days; and that's another long-term, team-based project class. I've convinced my team to do a Django-based app that does things with Census data and various datasets from Data.gov. That is going to be fun — and a lot more interesting than most of the standard-issue class projects out there.

If anything else, I have one goal that I think (or rather, hope) will get me through: the sheer idea of graduating and actually being done with it. Mathematically, I'm going to barely get by as it is — dragging my feet through these final two semesters will definitely result in failure.

I've got a good feeling about this. I've got a lot of momentum going into week three. And hell, as a superstitious baseball fan, I believe in momentum.

Coming soon

I'm writing some brief tutorials on Git (and using it with GitHub) for my capstone team (some of them have used it, some of them haven't), chances are I'll actually get around to finishing and posting that. And hell, I might tease some things I've been working on recently. We'll see.

Now, excuse me while I put my ego away.

Signal to Noise

Note: Originally written August 7, 2009, this post was held back and not published until March 31, 2010. This post serves as a companion to “Compartmentalization,” written that day.

The amount of a) material I write in this blog but don’t post, and b) material I want to write but never get around to, really reminds me of a pathetic and mute cartoon character: mouth agape, index finger in the air to call attention to himself, and then… nothing. I would love to change this. (There are at least five unpublished bits since my entry two weeks ago.)

One: Face it: the Internet is full of noise.

Facebook is the equivalent of being stuck in a friend’s vacation slideshow,” wrote a Columbia Missourian columnist. A New York Times column lamented the loss of serendipity and the rise of group-think: “…there is just too much information. We can have thousands of people sending us suggestions each day — some useful, some not. We have to read them, sort them and act upon them.”

Adding to that noise — at least, I see it as noise — doesn’t seem productive in the least.

Two: The more time I spend on Twitter and Facebook, the more I get the impression that inconsequential minutiae is all we’re allowed to speak of on the Internet anymore. All we do is add to the noise.

Most of what I see on social networks and blogs these days can be categorized into:

  1. Sharing news or entertainment via group-think. (Re-tweets, link roundups, Internet memes.)
  2. Self-promotion. (Being extra friendly, helpful, professional. Pimping out your latest blog post, photo gallery,
  3. Minutiae. (“I picked the wrong week to go to western Washington in a car without A/C.”)

Three: Who can actually be honest and “open” these days — especially online? We’ve got jobs and professional images to keep clean. We add to the noise because that’s the only thing we’re allowed to do.

A handful of times over the past week, I’ve noticed posts in the blogs of Mizzou-folk I follow, that either mention or play the “foot-in-mouth” card. It’s a real recurring theme. (1, 2, and 3: “My take? No comment. A smart intern knows when to keep her mouth shut!”)

This makes a lot of sense: company policies will prevent us from speaking about or on behalf of employers. Friends don’t necessarily want their doings told to all. That’s fine, that’s acceptable. I am not saying that you should disregard the authority of your employer or break the trust of your friends and start blogging every juicy detail that comes your way. You have to be able to follow the rules and the bounds of social normalcy to get anywhere in this world.

Clive Thompson wrote about the fear of information in this month’s issue of Wired: “We live with a nagging fear that something we say or do online will come back to haunt us years later[…]And society suffers when people stop taking risks.”

In seeing all of those foot-in-mouth statements of anxiety — because if you weren’t even somewhat anxious about the restrictions on your speech, I don”t believe you”d make a point of snidely acknowledging it — I wondered: if we’re so scared of what we say that all we amount to is minutiae, what’s all this for, anyway? Do we really need this limitless store of information (a.k.a. the Internet) and do we really need to be tuned in to every whim of those “connected” to us?

Technically, okay, this blog is here to “sell myself” to you, reader and/or (possibly prospective) acquaintance/friend and/or (possibly prospective) employer. (By the way, have you checked out my portfolio and mini-bio? Good. Glad that’s out of the way.) But I believe the “magic” that I once felt in blogging (and actually getting feedback) way back in the day (before I went mute) lies in the fact that when I used to write here, I wrote for me, and not for some “higher” goal of self-image or promotion.

It’s funny how much that’s changed and how much fear has crept into that part of my process.

Summer Reading: High Fidelity

A book review! Trying something new with writing in the blog today.

An admission: I’ve only seen High Fidelity, the film, once and I did not believe it to be the tour de force that some friends had made it out to be. Perhaps I was too young for it then—even though, okay, it was only about a year and a half ago.

But now! I’ve been single for quite some time, recently hanging out with a group of friends whose median age is give or take one decade older than my own (although this is probably moot because, for better or worse, I’m very often mistaken for at least five years older than my actual age), and suddenly dealing with the mythos of “having a career” and “getting old(er)”—and maybe this is exactly the “mature” (is it possible to put emphasis on quotation marks?) perspective and angle that one should consume High Fidelity from. Or not, but at the very least picking it out in book form seems pretty well-timed for where I am in my life. (And run-on sentence, much? Yeah, deal with it.)

(I think I have a propensity for “accidentally” picking out books that are “well-timed for where I am in my life.” Ever try a solo, cross-country drive, going through the parts of Western Montana and the Inland Northwest while reading Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance? Maybe my own philosophical tendencies blow that one out of proportion and maybe I just have a knack for picking out parts of stories that I most deeply relate to. But still.)

So the über generalized plot of “girlfriend breaks up with guy, guy goes off to figure himself out” isn’t that creative at all, alright. But there’s something about the execution of the novel—from the heaps and heaps of pop culture references, to the rambly internal monologue, to the snarky, self-deprecating sense of humor—that makes it stand solid as a contemporary rocky relationship story. I tried hard to avoid saying love story or romance because that’s so far from what the book is—and that characteristic is, I think, what makes it feel so real and modern. (Even moreso than the copious 90’s movie and music references.)

There’s a bit of deus ex machina that happens with a death, a funeral, and “oh, let’s get back together because I’m so tired of working so hard at being with someone else and making myself miserable for it.” But I let it slide because, hey, strange shit like that happens in real life sometimes; relationships do have that transient quality to them that lead them to go back and forth in strange times. And disaster, indeed has a way of making the unlikely happen. It might not seem perfect from a storytelling standpoint, but eh, I’m OK with that.

I don’t think I could have appreciated the overwhelming amount of snarky, self-deprecating humor a couple years ago. (But I'm all about it now, though I'm not that way myself. A lot of my favorite people have those qualities which some people misconstrue as abrasive but I find hilarious.) But in general, over the past decade our society’s shifted more and more to accepting (often offbeat) satire, parody, and snarkiness as the status quo in humor and entertainment. (Indeed, I had a conversation last night in which it was pretty much agreed on that the live action version of The Tick would have been more successful today than it was eight years ago.) I wasn’t very old in the 90’s so I can’t really say much about the relevance of the of sense of humor back then, but I think it’s as relevant now as it’s ever been. (Although it might be a British thing that’s only recently grown on us—the sense of humor, I mean. We imported Monty Python from there and that’s pretty much the classical bar for snarky, tongue-in-cheek TV, isn’t it? And the Hitchhiker’s Guide novels? And The Office?)

Oh, and the pop culture references?—“…looking like Susan Dey in L.A. Law” “…the Meg Ryan of Sleepless in Seattle” “…We’re like Tom Hanks in Big. Little boys and girls trapped in adult bodies…”—all had their place. It was more than just name dropping: every analogy painted a very specific—and modern!—picture of the given characters or situations, much more than a billion adjectives could have done.

Near the end I started to feel that, if a book like High Fidelity were to be written today, in 2009, it would undeniably have to reference “John Cusack in High Fidelity” in very much the same way. In fact, I’ve heard people use that exact same analogy to describe parts of their lives. Like every pop culture reference in the novel (though now some of them are becoming dated), it’s a kind of hip, yet subtle cultural touchstone that you can’t help but relate to and relate through (in using it as an analogy).

Weird how that works out.

Okay, okay. To everybody who absolutely adores that movie, I think I get it now. (Though, as is common these days, the book was better.) I may forget the story entirely by next week, but there’s a part that struck a chord with me that’ll probably stick with me just for that one time I end up saying “like the main character in High Fidelity,” when in conversation. And, to it’s credit, I thoroughly enjoyed it—few books make me chuckle out loud while reading. (Nor do they ever compel me to up and review ’em.)

It wasn’t a landmark, historic book for the ages, but—as if a breath of fresh air—it just felt damn good to read.