600 Hours

Today marks the 245th consecutive day that I've written and published a blog post on this site, which is a number that I find astounding given the number of times I've tried and failed to do this in the past. As these posts are all stored in a database it's easy to quantify what's been done even more, but these metrics would just add noise to the goal of the current objective of publishing at least one blog post every day for 365 days … or more. That said, the vast majority of my day is spent thinking about numbers. To not slice and dice my efforts here in an effort to better understand what's been done would run counter to my nature. So it should come as no surprise that I decided to kill some time while listening in on a meeting at work by writing a quick little script that would take a look at the source files for the blog posts I've written — including the unpublished ones — and try to work out roughly how much time I've invested in writing since September 12th, 2018.

The answer is just shy of 600 hours1. I thought it would be more.

Setting a goal to both write and publish a post every day is easy. Achieving the goal is another story altogether. When I would try to publish daily in the past, it was often necessary to have a couple of blog posts written and put in the queue ahead of time so that there would always be something to publish, even if I couldn't write it that day. This tactic is being avoided this time as one of the benefits to writing every day is the unseen information stored in each post. Articles with a great deal of repetition were written at the end of the day or during times of burnout. Posts that consist mostly of photos are for those days when I am just staring at a blank page for far too long. Items that have clearly defined sections were written over a period of hours with at least two revisions. It's this extra information contained within the patterns of every post that I find the most interesting as it reveals elements of my mental state as the fingers hit the keyboard.

One of the reasons this personal site exists is because it's a reflection of who I am in more ways than one. There are bugs, imperfections, poorly-written posts and, occasionally, better ones. Some of the ideas I write about have evolved over time while others may have remained mostly static. It's very much a personal Wayback Machine.

Writing and publishing every day is not something everyone can do every day, and I struggle with blank pages just as often as anyone else. There's no stopping this streak, though. 365 consecutive days is the minimum goal, and there is no upper limit. With all this writing practise, I hope that the articles are being written better and with fewer digressions.


  1. The best estimate is 594 hours 29 minutes, but this can't include situations like standing up to use the bathroom or stopping because the boy needed attention. It should be taken with a grain of salt.

18,767

Randolph recently wrote a post about being a writer as a direct response to yesterday's post where I outlined my desire to write essays in order to be better able to discuss and think through complex problems. My lack of confidence in being able to adequately articulate my thoughts were cast aside as absurd and the constant juggling of priorities to make time for writing was identified as a common problem. Randolph strikes me as a person who spends a great deal of time in their head, just as I do, which means that making time to write cuts not only into thinking time, but into the myriad of tasks and responsibilities we've taken on. In an effort to encourage my self-improvement attempts, they suggested using Drafts for iOS and macOS as a jotting tool where ideas could be quickly noted and saved.

They go on to say:

I have an app on my phone (Drafts for iOS, which has a macOS version as well), in which I write a little bit about a certain topic on a regular basis. Each thought is in its own document, with some context. You always want to add context because you’ll forget what you were thinking otherwise. […] Eventually there will be enough content to write an essay, complete with references.

Very true. By writing a little bit on a topic and saving it in a file, ideally tagging it with keywords to better support search later on, it becomes feasible to amass a large collection of ideas surrounding a topic or group of topics. This is something I've been doing since discovering Evernote in 2009, and continue to do with Byword on iOS and Typora on Ubuntu Linux. In fact, this has been going on long enough that I've amassed 18,767 partially-written blog posts, many of which are written or edited on the same day and subsequently abandoned for a "simpler" topic. Not a day goes by where I don't discard two or three blog posts, often right near the end of the writing process, simply because they don't "feel" right.

It's annoying.

Random Blog Posts

Randolph is 100% correct, though. In order to become a better writer — or better at any skill — a person must continually grind through the process with the understanding that most of what they produce will not be up to their own expectations. We are our own worst critic, after all. I've been writing software for a quarter century and still learn new things on a near-daily basis. I've been cooking meals for even longer and am often surprised to learn a new way to prepare eggs or something seemingly just as basic. Cognitive writing is something that I've been doing longest of all, at 34 years … yet I still see the words in front of me as a semi-coherent rambling.

My first memories of "serious writing" were in September of 1985, when I was just six years old. I was in the first grade and my teacher, Mrs. Stamphler, assigned us the task of writing a diary about our summer holidays. I had just spent six months in a foster home while my parents went through a divorce and my father worked desperate hours to pay down the bills and gain custody of a sister and myself. I was still adjusting to all of the changes that had occurred in such a short period of time and decided to write about that. My foster family's name was Nevan, so I would often refer to them as "The Nevans". They were incredibly religious and we would often attend church during the week. Occasionally I would spend time with my sister in the Sunday School class but, more often than not, I would be up in the pews with all of the adults, listening to the minister deliver his sermon. The topics were always way more complicated than I could follow, but I do remember what he said about the trials of Noah, the trials of Job, and how Judas may have betrayed Christ, but he was not as evil as modern teachings would have us believe. I was six years old and writing about this stuff — poorly — in an effort to make sense of the changes I had witnessed, and I remember a lot of the details to this day probably because I wrote them down.

The diaries and journals never stopped. I would write them year after year, much like I do this blog. Occasionally there would be gaps where I would not write, often because of boredom or a feeling that I had nothing to say. As I entered puberty there was the embarrassment of recording semi-coherent thoughts that basically translated into "my parents aren't fair" or a popular Skeelo song. Regardless of the absence, though, I would feel the need to grab a pen, sit down, and write. Just as I do now, decades later, as evidenced by the almost 19,000 incomplete blog posts sitting idle and awaiting bit rot on my computers.

The reasoning is simple: writing helps us think.

For most of my life people have praised what they perceive as my intelligence, but I've never bought into it. I've taken IQ tests and received triple-digit scores, but this isn't really a sign of being "smart". IQ tests measure a person's ability to solve problems … or so I perceive. "Smart" people make dumb decisions all the time, and "stupid" people have often been some of the most honest, down-to-earth humans I have ever met. Solving problems is a crucial skill that everybody needs, but there's more to the human experience than overcoming challenges. Writing is generally where I get to explore this other side; where I get to examine multiple aspects of the same situation in order to come to a better understanding of the whole.

This isn't always the case, as evidenced by many of the posts on this blog. Most people in the world will never visit the places I've written about, and fewer still will ever get to meet my dog, yet these are things that I record on this site in order to preserve the memories and etch them more concretely into the mind. These personal posts are important to me, but they're not quite what I'm hoping to accomplish with my writing. Not by a long shot. Hence yesterday's posts on essays.

I said this in a social post earlier today, but I'll repeat it here:

When I look in the mirror I see a nameless Pakled who wishes so much to be a Jean Luc Picard.

The Star Trek references are important, not only because the stories shaped a lot of who I am and how I see the universe, but because it very succinctly encapsulates where I feel I am intellectually from where I want to be. The Pakled were portrayed as a cognitively stunted species that (somehow) existed with a very surface understanding of everything around them. They were not particularly good engineers, explorers, manufacturers, warriors, or … anything. In the TV series they were shown as being incapable of higher-level reason. In the books they were a little more methodical, but no more than a six year old trying to scam extra cookies from their parents. Jean Luc Picard, however, is the ideal.

Captain of the U.S.S. Enterprise, the flagship of the United Federation of Planets. Well read. Well travelled. Well educated. Eloquent and respectable. Jean Luc Picard was the ultimate role model for the teenage version of me. To this day, this fictional character is someone I look at with awe and respect. He could go into any situation, see past the chaos, and bring about order in a just fashion. He made mistakes. He learned from those mistakes. He grew as a person. What's not to respect about this?

When I look at my writings, be they unfinished essays or published personal posts, I see the gulf that separates where I am from where I want to be. The ideas are scattershot. The paragraphs don't flow. The sentences run on or contain imprecise grammar. The words — adjectives in particular — are clumsy and unsophisticated.

To be a better writer, I need to find mentors or, barring that, educators to emulate until my own style matures enough to convey ideas coherently. I need to seek out criticism, then learn from the actionable critiques that can lead to better, more specific writing. More than this, though, to become better, I must think better. This requires more learning, more reading, more listening, and more discussion. The first three I can do on my own thanks to the power of the Internet. The fourth I can also do online, but only if I publish ideas to be discussed.

Randolph says I'm a writer. 18,767 incomplete posts suggests otherwise.

Essays

Despite not being particularly good at the skill, writing is something that has been near and dear to me for as long as I can remember. There is always something that needs to be written down, be it something as trivial as a note or as complex as an argument. Over this past week I've had the opportunity to get a lot more reading done than usual and, as a result, there are a number of topics that I would really like to write about. The problem is that these are complex situations that will require a good amount of research before I can even think about penning an essay on the subject. Where in the world do prolific writers find the time?

Writing With Style

Essay writing is not something that I've done too often on this site given the lack of focus on any set of topics, and I'm not about to start. That said, I have been kicking around the idea of writing essays on current events with a different site, as this would allow a clear separation of content.

One of the things that I like about writing longer pieces, particularly those that require a bit of research, is the opportunity to better formulate thoughts around a subject. Sometimes I'll begin writing a piece with one idea then discover halfway through that the original position or understanding was incomplete or incorrect. The act of slowing down and really thinking about the subject made it possible to better examine the situation and draw a different set of conclusions. Being able to come away from a piece of writing a little more more informed than before is a wonderful thing, after all. So it's with this in mind that I've created a new folder in the notebook and have started making notes and planning arguments on various topics from reneging on historical treaties to imposing belief systems on others.

What I plan on doing is writing three or four essays to start with, working out the tone and style of the pieces, then aiming for a post a week. My goal with this additional writing project is to develop a more complete understanding of the complex decisions that need to be made to address current social and cultural situations. If anyone else finds value in reading the words that wind up getting published, then I'll consider that a nice bonus.

Topics

Earlier this evening, while Nozomi and I were out for an after-dinner walk, I was thinking about some of the things I might write about today. As with most days, there were a number of topics that I could write about, but only enough time to focus on one. To make matters more complicated, the subject couldn't be too complicated, otherwise any attempt to write intelligently on the subject would be ruined by my inability to remain consistently conscious when sitting down1, which is exacerbated further if sitting on my bed. So with all of this in mind, what could I possibly choose to write about today to put the bow on another week?

One of the more interesting challenges that I've started running into when planning the day's article is writing about something different from the 2,800+ other posts on this site. With over a decade worth of writing published on this site, choosing something that is relatively untouched is by no means easy. I'll admit that there are a number of recurring themes that pop up from time to time, either involving the boy, the day job, or my mental state, but I do try to write about something different whenever possible. This isn't so much for the benefit of people reading the blog, but more for the enjoyment of writing.

Today's possible topics involved the monthly Windows Magazine that I used to collect and look forward to every month as a teen, sleeping in a room with a server, the challenges of taking good pictures of children or puppies, and the purpose of desktop backgrounds on machines where you almost always fun applications full screen. All of these are worthwhile, but only one can be chosen. As you have probably guessed, the topic I went with for today was "blogging about topics".

For the first few years of blogging, I would often make a quick text note with my HP iPaq, then write the post one stroke at a time on the train ride home. With every day involving at least 140 minutes of train time, it seemed logical to use the time to write. Being alone for over two hours of every day is now a luxury that I sorely miss, so writing is generally started on the phone with some poorly-typed notes while walking the puppy, then completed on a device with a physical keyboard.

Not a day goes by where I don't think about how to improve the way I write posts, and not a day goes by where I don't think about writing better as a whole. The latter requires practice and focus while the former is something I don't have an answer for. Having the preliminary notes written before the blog post itself generally seems like a good way to let the mind think about a subject for a while before there is time to write. Using mind maps and other writing tools would certainly lead to better posts, but these things often require a pretty large time commitment, which is something that I cannot negotiate with the family when people require attention. Speech to text doesn't seem right, either, as it would mean talking to a computer and thinking less about the words that get put on the screen.

What I would like, however, is a small application that would keep track of the blog ideas I jotted down for a given day and hide them around 3:00am so that the next day would start with a blank page. Throughout the day, I'd want to go back to the application and maybe jot a note down or add a link to a picture. When the time comes to actually write at the end of the day, I could then look at the application and all the disparate notes that were written throughout the day would be loosely attached to a topic thread and I could write from there. This would be similar to a mind map, but slightly less structured.

I would write something like this myself if I had the time. Naturally, it would also fully support publishing items directly to 10C. Unfortunately there just isn't enough time in the day, so I'll continue to think about how to improve my writing while doing the writing.


  1. This will probably be a topic for another day.

Cognitive Kaizen

A little over ten years ago I wrote this blog post on trans-gendered people in Japan and the darn thing has remained one of the most popular posts found on any of my sites. As of this morning it has been accessed 477,218 times, which is more than triple it's nearest competitor. By all accounts, I should be happy that something from a decade ago is still being read today. Unfortunately, I'm anything but. The post is awful on a number of levels. From the grammar to the stupid "score out of 10", the article is a shining example of my ignorance on the topic back at the start of 2009.

This isn't a virtue signalling1 post.

Very few of the posts I've written since 2006 have been deleted or otherwise taken down, even when I was proven wrong or justifiably castigated for some of the stupid things that were said. A lot of this has to do with the reality that whatever is put online is there "forever", which is particularly true for websites where Archive.org's Way Back Machine stops by every couple of days to see what's new. But it's not just the web crawlers that keep me from removing old posts, it's the personal context.

Regardless the subject, most people are pretty ignorant about things when they're young and slowly accumulate knowledge and life experiences that can fill the gaps in a person's understanding. I'm not particularly bright today, but I know that the person I am right now is much more aware of the world than the person I was a decade ago. The person I will become over the next 120 months will likely look back on items written today and wonder how such nonsensical drivel could have been pushed out on a daily basis. A million monkeys using a million typewriters could pound out better prose than this single fool at a keyboard. But this is the point of the exercise. If I were to go back over the thousands of blog posts published to this site over the years and revise or remove items, then I am ultimately erasing one of the better resources I have to go back and see how my thinking has evolved over time as a result of new information and new experiences. So while I may not like some posts very much, I would rather keep them online2 than lose them entirely.

Would I consider rewriting the older posts, linking back to the original so that it would be easier to show what sort of cognitive evolution has taken place? It's certainly an option. If I were to write another blog post about Haruna Ai, Ikko, or trans-gendered people in general, it would likely be a better researched, academic-style thesis on the complexities people face when trying to fit into the binary Male/Female labels that many cultures and societies enforce. Why write about something that has nothing to do with me? The reasoning is really quite simple. By writing about a topic, I need to slow down and be more deliberate with my thinking.

Quite often it's when I am writing about a topic I don't know very much about that I learn the most.


  1. Wikipedia defines virtue signalling as a pejorative for the conspicuous expression of moral values. Academically, the phrase relates to signalling theory to describe a subset of social behaviours that could be used to signal virtue—especially piety among the religious.

  2. Yes, I know that I can password protect or otherwise hide posts on my blogging platform. This still doesn't guarantee that posts can't be surfaced through Google cache queries or on The Way Back machine. It's better to keep the posts open for anyone to see what a fool I was, and how I'm (hopefully) less foolish today.

Writing Tools

When it comes to writing, some tools are more important than others. Some people can write without a pen or paper. Others can write without a good beverage to semi-distract them from time to time. For one person I know, effective writing is all about the location. As with many things in life, there is no ideal set of criteria that will work for everyone. Fortunately, it's these differences that can make for some interesting discussions.

Writing Tools

Last week I was having a short chat with someone who, like me, has lived in Japan for over a decade. Like me, when he first arrived in this country he would blog daily about all the new and interesting things that caught his eye. He'd write about the different places he wanted to visit. He'd post dozens of photos showing places he had been. He'd follow up with a "reflections" blog post a week or two after a trip to share his thoughts after taking some time to digest everything he'd seen.

This changed in 2009 when he started working full time. Rather than write daily, he would have a weekly post that would go out on a Monday or Tuesday to summarise the last weekend. A couple of months later, he'd publish a short post seasonally. Between the winter of 2010 and the fall of 2016, aside from a few posts talking about the 3/11 earthquake that struck the northeastern part of the country, he'd written fewer than 5 items. "Life" had gotten in the way of his writing. It happens to us all.

Of the many questions that we asked each other, two have really stuck with me over the weekend:

  1. What purpose does a long-lived blog serve?
  2. Given how "everyone" uses various social services, why have a blog at all?

What's the Point?

The general answer we came to with this question would fit right in with a lot of existential questions people might ask about themselves. Why would anyone want to have a blog for 10, 20, or 50 years? Who would read it? Should such a site be a publicly-facing diary, or something more ephemeral that discusses things that are current as of the publication date?

In my mind, I don't see why a person would want to impose an artificial lifespan on a hobby or pastime. People are not static beings, but ever-changing individuals with interests and commitments that change with time. So a blog doesn't see an update for two years before a flurry of posts are pushed out because a little bit of time became available. What does this matter? Ultimately, a blog or other hobby is there for us when we want them to be there. If other people can get enjoyment from what we do, that's just an added bonus. It is us who gives the writing we share value, not someone else.

Why a Blog? Why Not a Social Post?

Why, indeed. Why does anyone write a letter on paper, stuff it in an envelope, buy a stamp, and mail the missive when an email would be faster, cheaper, and more interactive? Why does anyone bake bread when there are stores just about everywhere that sell the finished product for a reasonable price? Why read a book when there's a movie version of the story? For some people, value is in the message alone. For others, the value of the message is enhanced by the medium. I won't pretend that a blog post is more valuable than a Tweet or something posted on Facebook but, at the end of the day, the medium can signal the amount of attention a person invested into their writing, and how much they expect from the reader. I would hope that a person who received a hand-written letter from me would enjoy it just a little bit more than an email, just as a person who bakes a loaf of bread hopes the people who eat it enjoy something more unique than a mass-produced food product.

While I may not write nearly as many blog posts today as I did a decade ago, the medium is still an interesting one that is still evolving alongside the rest of the Internet. There may be dry spells here and there as "life" gets in the way. There may even be future torrents should the need ever arise. The purpose of this site is the same today as it was in 2006 when it was hosted from a single-drive Synology NAS sitting on top of my fridge. This is a place where I come to put ideas into a text-based form. The words may not always make sense. The concepts may not always be correct. But they do provide a point-in-time picture of something that is happening in my life. Whether anyone will ever get any value from anything I write is tertiary to the reasons I invest time here.

High Fives

We all put a lot of words on the Internet, and the number will only increase as we find newer and more intuitive ways to communicate with each other. How much of what we put online would we classify as a shining example of our ability, though? How many works of creation would we classify as being one of our best? Looking back at the 2,154 posts that currently reside on this site, I would be hard pressed to find something that I would classify as the best I’ve done. There are a number of posts that are pretty darn good … but they could certainly be better.

Filling Up the Notepad

Seven years ago when I started this site the main goal was to improve the quality of my writing. I wanted to be able to look back over a period and see not only how I was developing psychologically and intellectually, but how well I could translate complex thoughts into coherent words that people could understand. While some of the paragraphs nestled within articles on this site do contain gems, I still feel the vast majority of what goes online is a rough. There’s just something not quite right … something missing.

Yet people seem to enjoy reading the articles on here.

50,000 Words

Some studies have shown that people who possess a post-secondary education typically use 50,000 unique words a year. A little bit of SQL work shows that my site currently has 48,449 distinct words, some of which I am sure are typos. What this tells me is that a person with a large vocabulary can still be at a loss when trying to enunciate what goes on behind their eyes. I want to be better, but how?

Perhaps it’s time for me to redefine what an article actually means …

New Beginnings

Yesterday I hit the 2,100-post milestone on this site and it got me thinking about some of the different writing projects I've wanted to start but haven't for one reason or another. Believe it or not, one of the reasons I created my own blogging platform was so that I could have more control over how I publish text online because that's all I really wanted to do: I wanted to write. Several years ago I tried writing two blogs full time, this one and TheCarbonBlog1. The goals of the second site were ill-planned and, as a result, the project never took off. I did learn something through that 1-year exercise, though: I love writing. I want to do it more. A lot more.

Over the last few years I've been writing a lot of material that just never makes it to this site for one reason or another. A big reason is the format. Third-person narrative is fine for books and introductions to ideas, but not full posts on this site. It's a completely different format. This blog is the epitome of a personal site, as almost every post is written in the first person and rarely gets edited before going out for publication. The new project won't be like this site. In fact, it's going to be quite a bit different in a number of ways. It's going to have chapters for one …

Whether this new project catches on or not is going to be a secondary matter for me. I won't care if nobody reads the work, or if the whole world hates it. The content will be much longer than the articles I write here, though, and won't use very many relative clauses or ellipses. What it will do is give me the opportunity to explore another part of my imagination; one that has been semi-ignored for fifteen years but begging to be released.

Now it will have that chance.

This site will continue to see its near-daily posts while the new one will be updated every seven-to-ten days. I hope you'll take a look when it becomes available.

Adverbs and Adjectives Galore!

Although the main character of George Orwell's amazing book, 1984, would disagree with me, I find adjectives and adverbs to be some of the most interesting and wonderfully remarkable elements of the English language. With these two pieces, we're able to take a very simple sentence and build on the statement, adding more and more detail until we have adequately enunciated and juxtaposed our full thoughts and opinions on any matter. Without them our words lack colour, giving our sentences a pallor that is not at all favourable to the cause of communication. How can people not want to use as many of these exquisite words as possible when discussing a topic?

Over the last few months I've taken the liberty to read books, blog posts, and newspaper articles by vehemently expressive authors who are far more intelligent than I. These people are able to articulate their postulations and considerations with such ease and fidelity that their ideas, while occasionally incomprehensible due to obscure or otherwise effervescent language, flow like calm streams of consciousness rather than the cut-and-paste, bite-sized blocks of text that many of us have become accustomed to on the Internet. While this sort of communicability can cause problems with a diverse readership, being able to fully express ourselves with a full palette of indispensable vocabulary in a veritable ocean of incomplete sentences and half-baked ideas can be a breath of fresh air!

Like anything, though, we can sometimes take expression a little too far if we're not careful.

Pens

What stands between a good idea and its execution? More often than not, it's a pen. A recent shortage of good quality, felt-tipped Mitsubishi PiN pens has forced me to go back to using ballpoint writing tools; which I am not particularly fond of as they tend to scratch the paper and collect filament, which leads to awful ink smears. That said the Mitsubishi UB-150, also known as the Uni-ball eye, has been a much better writing device than I had initially expected.

A Trio of Mitsubishi UB-150 Eye Pens