diary of a doctoral student, personal

Spiraling progress: Looking to a bursty 2015

1280px-NautilusCutawayLogarithmicSpiralI like to think that progress in life happens in a spiral – we return again and again to the same places and lessons, going deeper each time as we evolve into our best and most whole selves.

I cherish the spiral of my life, as long as I find more meaning and human connection each time I come back around to what sometimes seems like the same exact place I was five or ten or twenty years ago.

This afternoon I’ve been browsing the Wayback Machine looking at past blogging I’ve done (such as at The Barely Attentive Mother and Anne 2.1), thinking as I am of dedicating myself in 2015 to renewed blogging and a whole lot more connecting than I’ve done recently. The past five or so years I was focused first on getting my PhD then recovering from the divorce that may have been related in some complex way to my pursuit of the PhD at the same time that I was launching a career in data science. Between those three activities I had little energy and inspiration left to consider any but the most mundane concerns. I was working working working all the time. At least when I wasn’t crying.

So I’ve been busy, not bursty for the past five years. It’s been a whole lot of perspiration not inspiration. But I’m feeling inspired and excited – ready to make connections again – with great people and great ideas – with great people who have great ideas.

In addition to returning to regular writing online other things I’m spiraling back to are these: mountain adventure (skiing, snowboarding, hiking, backpacking), music (playing both guitar and piano, plus helping my middle child find her own musical muse), leading a team at work (have just put together the processes and people I need to accelerate IQN’s data-driven innovation efforts in 2015), plenty of dating of the casual and serious varieties, and Latin American travel (planning a Christmas trip to South America for next year).

I haven’t decided exactly what my blogging and connecting in 2015 will look like but I’m excited to get going, excited to evolve and grow and spiral some more.

that's random

Detached, difficult, and boring

I’ve had two things open in my browser all day while I’ve been finishing off that policy paper: a review of The Age of Absurdity and Hugh Macleod’s ‘boring’ is underrated comic/post.

These seem to me to go together and also seem to be a message the universe keeps trying to morse-code to me. Gotta do the hard work, take it step by step, ignore the emotions, quit looking for excitement. You can’t succeed with that bursty stuff you used to do.

In The Age of Absurdity (as reviewed in The Guardian) author Michael Foley takes aim at the culture of instant-constant-increasing gratification and looks to the twin cures of detachment and difficulty, things I’ve been looking for myself over the past few weeks.


It’s not even as if we want what we have once we’ve got it. Foley calls this “the glamour of potential”, a relentless churning of desire by which the things we have are devalued by the things we want next. The only way out of the churn is “detachment”…

And difficulty:

The difficulty of change is aggravated in a society in which difficulty itself is avoided. Hence the study of science dwindles in universities (“Why submit to mathematical rigour when you can do a degree in surfing and beach management?”) and sales of oranges plummet because people will no longer take the trouble to peel them.

This avoidance of difficulty is what I’m looking for in the big data analysis project looming this week… I want to see if cultures higher on self-expression show lower math achievement, with the moderator of “liking math.”  In other words, do students who really enjoy math get directed towards high level achievement with it? Or, as happens in our culture (I think), do they get dissuaded because instead they might do something more authentic? I mean, what does it express about you if you like to do math? (Hint: you’re a nerd!)

In Macleod’s boring is underrated, I’m reminded that getting a book deal from your blog used to be big news, that making money blogging was hot, that blogging in 2004 was edgy and exploratory and experimental. It was exciting. Yes, yes, yes. I remember all that.

But I agree with him that boring <> bad (where, for you non-programmers “<>” means “not equal” or “isn’t equal to”). Blogging as a technology is boring but the ideas and connections and possibilities are not. Similarly, long hard work in support of an important goal may feel boring at times, but the results are not.

Still I can’t quite get worked up about detached, difficult, and boring. And I hope those words don’t start to apply to me just because I’m working on detachment, learning difficult topics, and slogging through the boringness.