07 May 2012

Blogging Output Falling

My blogging output has been falling this year, and doing so quite dramatically in the last couple of weeks. I thought I'd outline some reasons, for my own benefit as well as readers'.

(1) I'm behind the schedule I set for myself with the next chapter of my dissertation. That should speak for itself.

(2) I've been trying to read more books and less blogs and news. Not that I think one is better or more worthy than the other. It's just that I have stack upon stack of great books I've been looking forward to reading for years, and I decided it's time to start grinding it down.

In order to encourage myself to do so, I've set up a spreadsheet to track which books I read when and how long they are. It's semi-inspired by Stephen Wolfram's "Personal Analytics" and Nicholas Felton's "Feltron Annual Reports." I've found having a running tally of my pages-read-per-day is a great motivator to pick up a book before bed instead of watching TV. That in turn, I believe, has helped improve my sleep.

(3) Early this year Mrs SB7 got me a Kindle Fire. It's an absolutely wonderful device, but it is better suited for consuming content than it is for creating it. I've spent more time reading my RSS feeds on it rather than my laptop. Simply not being in front of my laptop reduces the time I want to spend blogging.

(4) I've been spending more time on practicing art, design, non-research programming projects, and other things. I decided I needed a better answer to "What do you do in your spare time?" than "I write a blog," especially since I do so anonymously and am therefore slightly reluctant to bring it up in conversation. I'm proud of – some of – what I write here, but I want to produce something a little more concrete than commentary.

To the extent I do publish the the output of these other projects I do so under my own name rather than doing it anonymously here. Every hour I spend baking my own bread or creating a new macro in LaTeX is an hour I'm not creating a post for SB7.

(6) I'm really sick of politics. I'd like to say it's an election year thing, but I don't think that's it. I'm simply worn out hearing about policies that I not only disagree with, but find to be criminally insane. I've (at least temporarily) run out of juice for creating "Holy shit is the whole world run by crazy people?!" blog posts. I'm still going to do some of that, to be sure, but I feel over-run. I can't keep up with the deluge of triple-distilled nuttery happening in the world.

(7) In large part this blog grew out of my attempt to teach myself economics through sources like EconTalk, EconLog, Marginal Revolution, Cafe Hayek, Asymmetric Information, Greg Mankiw, etc. A few weeks ago I was talking to a friend-of-a-friend who happens to be an economics professor. At one point in one of our discussion he said, unprompted, "man, you really sound like an economist. You ever think of switching fields?"*
I'm not sure if this makes me more or less proud, but the current topic of our discussion was the value of frozen pizza. I was taking the pro-frozen pizza position.

It makes me proud that my ad hoc, self-directed education passed the muster of a bona fide economist. I've felt pretty satisfied with my economics knowledge for the last few months. (That's part of why I've shifted some of my time to art, design and other skills.) His comment was only the most obvious marker that it's a good time to refocus on other topics. I'm not saying I know all there is to know, or even all I care to know about economics. And I'll still keep reading my favorite econ blogs and commenting on them. But I think I've reached a point where the most productive veins for me to mine are located in other disciplines.

(8) I'm not sure what should come next after economics. I don't think I'll do anything as comprehensively as I did with econ. I'm not sure if I could if I wanted to. To the best of my knowledge, there's not a thriving community of Operations Research blogs and podcasts.*
Please correct me in the comments if I'm wrong.

Currently I'm leaning towards learning some Scientific Computing and Numerical Methods. There are a few holes in my CS education that never got filled in due to the vagaries of ND and UMD's distribution requirements rules, the particulars of the professors in charge of those courses, and my own personal interests. I think Scientific Computing is one of those, and I think it's time I filled that in on my own. Plus I feel like it would be a useful tool to have in my kit once I hit the working world.

If anyone has a recommendation for a canonical book to learning this material, I'd love to hear about it. I know a lot of people like Press et al.'s Numerical Recipes but I don't think it has the introduction I need to get off the ground. Right now I'm working from a cache of PDFs bequethed from previous members of my lab along the lines of "Numberical Methods in Subject X using Matlab" and "An Introduction to Matlab for Scientific Computing in Topic Y." Anyone have recommendations for comprehensive intro books?


  1. Just post when you can. Put up your bread recipes too.

    I love baking bread. Ovens, however, are in short supply in Mauritius. I'm not kidding. More than half of what they call "American" style kitchens don't have ovens.

    Reading the same economics blogs is a big part of what I do on the internet.

  2. I strongly sympathize with pretty much all of your numbered points.

    ... except #3. I don't have a Kindle Anything.

    Enjoy your time away from blogging, and congratulations on doing such a good job of it up to now.