2003 Old Year Reflections

My year in review.

The original post is here: https://erikbenson.typepad.com/mu/2004/0...

I wrote 251 entries on this here blog in 2003, down significantly from 444 in 2002. However, if you look at the number of characters written, I wrote about 8% more in 2003 (929,000 characters versus 854,000 characters in 2002). Longer entries. In fact, I wrote an average of 1,776 more characters per entry (3,701 words per entry in 2003 versus 1,925 in 2003). That’s about 190 pages of text written last year. These statistics should provide you with incredible insight into my… obsession with useless statistics.

On a slightly higher level of abstraction, the most significant external events of the year go something like this: a two week vacation in Dubai in January, South By South West in March, getting my very own server in April, attending the Emerging Technology Conference in April as well, retiring as a writer in July, self-publishing a book in August, visiting my sister’s baby in September, writing another book in November, and getting a new job (at the same company) in December. In general, I have woken up and lived an outwardly uneventful life 365 days a year. Significant things happening to people near me include my sister having a baby in July, and K completing her series of 21 panels in December.

Though I’m sitting at a different desk now than I was a year ago (and actually switched once during the year too), nobody close died this year. I live in the same house that I did a year ago. I still have 2 cats and 1 wife. I still drive a ‘98 Honda Accord. I still go to the gym about once a week, walk to work occasionally, and eat a lot of spaghetti and cereal. Due to being in the middle of the month of Mecember, I’m about 3 pounds lighter than I’ve been during the last few years. Still drinking lots of coffee though.

I didn’t survive the year without acquiring a few new gadgets. My primary personal computer is a PowerBook now instead of the ol’ Dell. I listen to music portably through an iPod now instead of a Nomad Jukebox. I finally got a cell phone (Nokia 3650). Still, since we didn’t buy a house or a car or anything larger than a new bed, we managed to increase our savings by about 40Gs. Saving for what exactly? Nothing, really. A new life, maybe. Looking at Microsoft Money a little closer, it looks like we spent about 18% of our total spendings at restaurants and clubs, 16% on rent, 8% on groceries, 7% on various DSL and webhosting fees, 5% on art supplies and self-publishing costs, 3% on clothes, 3% on plane tickets and travel, 1% on gasoline, 1% on books and magazines, and 1% on coffee. And a bunch of other small stuff.

I began the year thinking a lot about my fundamental purpose, and end the year thinking about taxonomies and interfaces. Other major themes along the way include decision-making, self-reference, manufacturing innovation, context, data-centricity, idea management, probability, predictability, and certainty. Here’s a collection of some of those entries:

On Fundamental Purpose: fundamental purpose, meta-fundamental purpose, 5 year plan, things worth doing, uncertainty, why, purpose, arguing style, self-promotion

On Decision-Making: how I make decisions, decision-making, prioritization, queue theory, switching costs

On Self-Reference: self-referential sentences, programmatic quine, self-explanatory text, reading RDF versus writing RDF

On Manufacturing Innovation: manufacturing innovation, the ideal idea database, rapid development, good ideas, the idea algorithm, group intelligence without process

On Context: scope, context, appreciating movies by shrinking context, advertising, living off advertising

On Data-Centricity & Social Software: data-centric, the data game, information storage, the Chinese room, bits and ideas, reputation rank, when a group becomes an individual, metadata, the universe’s computer, building complex things, better answering machines, multidimensional scaling

On Probability, Predictability, & Certainty: probability, fortune-telling, flipping a coin, randomness versus noise, predictable systems, the future has already happened

On Interfaces: conversation interface, taxonomy, layers of abstraction, lying to children, names are interfaces

This is the first year that I feel like I’ve been able to think about things productively and over a fairly long period of time, and make progress. I think a lot of that has to do with the fact that I’m writing in a wiki-like format, and can easily find and reference previous thoughts about things. This is on my mind now and has a lot to with the themes that I think will emerge over the next year: categorization theory, object-oriented programming, and natural and artificial languages.

A couple goals that I had set for myself earlier in the year haven’t really been resolved. Primarily, the goal to figure out what to do with goals. I gave up writing as a career ambition, but don’t really have something to take its place other than the fuzzy direction of social software. I have a row boat, I have an oar, but am blindfolded, since I want to be melodramatic about it. My deadline for devising a new 5 year plan was the beginning of November, but all I have is an unfinished idea algorithm and a scrap of thought that fell out of one entry: “creativity times reach times impact divided by bullshit.” In other words, given two choices, choose the one that has a greater number coming out of this algorithm, even though the numbers have to be made up. Two problems… I tried actually doing that and it didn’t provide any insight, and two, it can only make decisions when all choices are available and doesn’t account for things like uncertainty, lack of definition, and the ever-baffling gut feeling.

K, I can tell, doesn’t like the fact that all personal goals have fallen off the radar for me. I used to be focused about writing and was able to laugh at people who went home from work and felt scared about having a bit of free time for fear that they’d realize they were living a meaningless life, and now I am one of those people. K has a very clear picture of the direction of her goals, and here I am wondering if direction is even possible. It makes me look wishy-washy and lame. So, I gotta get off my butt and figure this out as soon as possible. My January resolution: at whatever level of abstraction necessary, create a goal. Any goal, even if it’s the goal not to have goals. Just something anything to write on the line “My goals: __.” Something that I can also explain why that is a goal. A goal like “become a good programmer” doesn’t count if I can’t answer “I want to become a good programmer so that I can find a good job and become rich while working in a field that interests me”. In that case, “becoming rich while working in a field that interests me” is the goal. But then you have to ask why you want to become rich and work in a field that interests you, and whether or not you’d take an alternate route to that goal if one were available. If you don’t have an answer for that then it doesn’t count. Now I’m remembering why this problem was so frustrating. A goal needs a reason, and a reason needs a goal, so you can’t define a goal without creating a piece of circular logic that has no actual foundation other than that the goals support each other. Anyway, no excuses now. Deadline, January 31st.

I did some reflecting, and now I have a short term resolution. I think I can call it a day now.

· In these piles: self-reflection, quality-time, year-in-review · Original post