Formality vs Informality: Why Blogs are good

You know, when I think of the rise of blogs and how they’ve contributed to destroying our media institutions, blogs are kind of bad. Literally any dipshit with an opinion can opine on a subject they know nothing about, and it can be designated as significant as an expert in the field who has diligently researched the topic. Having said that, they also do the opposite – they can empower people who are experts into platforms where they can really promote their ideas, free from the stifling confines of BIG MEDIA. I want to say though… It’s probably still mostly the former? Having said that, I’ll now talk about why blogs are good, personally.

In aggregate, blogs are probably bad, because of the harm they’ve brought to investigative institutions. However, they’ve really done a good job at empowering individuals. Anyone in theory can start up their own website and write some shit. The barriers have never been lower. There are free hosting platforms now. You can buy your own domain name for like 10 bucks. If you want a little more freedom, there are still plenty of cheap hosting options – I run this blog on a shared hosting platform that costs me a dollar a month. I put in like 3 years worth of credit in advance and haven’t had to think of it since – it’s great. The only maintenance I do is upgrading wordpress and its plugins every couple of months. If you’re even more into running your own shit, you can pay for a 5 dollar VPS that can host anything you could possibly want for a blog. Also, this is all beside the point, which is this – blogs are good because of their informality.

Formally published institutions are good because they lend some legitimacy to your work and also ensure a certain bar – real professionals will review your work to make sure you aren’t actually shit. Blogs do the exact opposite – you can write as you like. This is great if you’re an amateur – even better than writing for published institutions. Why? Because of volume. How do you write for an institution? You need to have credibility, meaning you need prior work. You basically need to be good already in order to write for an institution. For a blog, you can get your practice in and publish at will. In theory, anyone with an internet connection can see what you wrote. However, in reality, as a small time writer, no one is going to be reading your shit. So you still get the feeling like you’re putting out work that’s good enough for public consumption, but without the actual pressure of money being on the line. If someone’s paying for my writing, I’m going to carefully pick at every little tidbit to make sure my shit is impeccable. I might even be embarrassed that this work is published under my name. I know there’s going to be a broad reaching audience criticizing my shit. If I publish in a blog, well, no one is going to know unless I start getting gud.

Furthermore, the most important thing for an early writer like myself is the volume of writing. I haven’t written shit yet. Going through the wordcount of all my posts in this blog, I don’t even top 40k. That’s a pittance. 2-3 paragraphs for me is about 500 words. That means I’ve only written roughly 160-240 paragraphs. There’s a ton of room for improvement. I like to equate it to learning to speak a new language – You can’t speak a new language if you never say anything. You’re going to make a ton of mistakes throughout your speaking process, but if you put in enough hours talking with other people, your speaking skills really have no choice but to improve over time. Consider the FSI recommended number of hours to achieve a decent level of fluency (Not native level, more like casual) in a language. For Spanish, they recommend about 480 hours of study. Try cramming in a 20 minutes a day speaking Spanish with native speakers. That’s ~120 hours in a year with no other practice, though you should be doing other work to increase your overall fluency. But in a year of 20 minutes a day, you’re a quarter of a way to being comfortable using Spanish in every day conversation. Fuck, I don’t even exercise 20 minutes a day. So many small wins could be operationalized here. It’s like I’m giving away free gains.

The pareto principle, AKA the 80/20 rule comes into play here. For things that aren’t my main focus, I can be getting roughly 80% of the benefits for 20% of the work. Not acting on that low hanging fruit is akin to not picking up that 20 dollars on the sidewalk because it requires work. Like, sure it requires work, the the level of work required is vastly outweighed by the benefit given in that fractional amount of work. For reference, I make like thirty bucks an hour. I really need to start internalizing what is and isn’t an efficient use of my time. Not to say that everything needs to be min maxed, but the point of reflection is to see areas in which my life can be enriched in ways that I desire, with an expectation that the amount of work required is less compared to the benefits I’m reaping. After all, there doesn’t seem to be much point in putting in work into something that only gives back exactly what I put in – could you imagine if a farmer only received the exact amount of calories or money they put into growing vegetables? What’s the point of doing the work if it doesn’t benefit you in some way?

2019 Status Update

Let’s see – it’s been almost exactly a year since my last update. Having said that, looking through my backlog, I have 38 drafts in the backlog that I never wrapped up, so there’s been material to work through; I just haven’t written much in the past year. So with that said, what have I been doing for the last year? Come to think of it, what the hell did I do in 2018?

A partial backlog of half assed drafts

Highlights of 2018:

  • Spent first half of year in China (Can’t recall specifics besides frittering my time away, really)
  • Moved back home from China
  • Spent a couple months job hunting
  • Got a new job

Highlights of 2019:

  • Started job, moved to a new city.
  • Found out about online language tutoring services, started to learn some languages
  • Started seriously applying a regular regimen to classes. My first month of language classes, I took on average 2-4 classes a week at one hour per class. Now I average 1-2 classes a day. That’s roughly 10-14 classes a week. My total lesson count for the year so far is about 250. That’s not bad – almost a class per day. Let’s see if I can crack 300 by EOY.
  • Made some serious headway into certain languages. My Cantonese has improved significantly since starting online language classes. My Mandarin probably improved modestly, or maintained around the same level. I’ve also started learning Spanish, though my Spanish is easily the worst of the three. To be fair, I was learning from scratch.
  • Also learned a lot about the general methodology of learning languages. I’ll have to do a write up about that – In fact, I’ll make sure to link it when it’s done
  • I’ve regained what I once lost, meaning I gained a bunch of weight lol. Weird how my China weight fluctuates so drastically from my America weight – the only explanation I can give is how each area lends itself to a certain diet. American diets tend to be calorie heavy when eating out, whereas Chinese places have various options.

Can’t really think of any other major events. This is why I advocate for following a smaller project based timeline for targeting goals, AKA SMART goals. Hitting concrete targets lets you break down what it is you accomplished, and makes it easier to broadcast it. SMART goals are generally binary – you either reached your goal or you didn’t. That’s really easy to measure. However, even if you don’t reach your goal, you can still expound on it at length. I’m really going to try to move to smaller timelines (say, monthly or even biweekly) in which I recall what I did. From there, I can do a meta analysis at every 3 or 6 months and then the annual write up.

Having to do this annual write up with no written material makes it a lot harder to break down what I did throughout the year besides my most memorable accomplishments. This is especially flawed, because the things that stick out to me most might not necessarily be the things that had the biggest impact. If I could quantify all my accomplishments over the past year with perfect clarity, I’m sure there will have been some that actually made a significant impact but I had a blind spot for. Kind of like that person whose opinion you disregard, so when they make a good point it blindsides you.

I need to do another write up where I review my past year goals and what I accomplished, with new goals added. I’m not going to do the analysis, but I am going to list out some goals I have in mind for next year.

  • Write 365,000 words in 2020. Influenced by this tweet. I’ve always admired patio11’s writing, enough that I read through most of his oeuvre starting back from when he initially started his bingo card creator app. Reading through his early work, I definitely feel like his writing quality isn’t particularly out of reach, or even great. Looking at his current stuff (More than 10 years later, Jesus) I feel like I’m looking at the work of a master of his craft, effortlessly producing work on the caliber of paid professionalâ„¢. I don’t see any reason why I can’t improve if I keep working at it. (I think this number is a reach. 365,000 is the goal, which is 1,000 words a day. Sounds perfectly doable in theory, but I don’t think I’m going to execute on this literally every single day in the upcoming goal. Doesn’t mean I can’t take steps to hit that goal.)
  • Hit 365 language lessons in a year. That’s at least 1 hour a day dedicated to language learning, of miscellaneous languages. Probably Cantonese or Mandarin still. FSI estimates language fluency for Mandarin or Chinese to take about 2200 study hours. Round out to about 200 for my main language, and that’s about 10 years. Sounds doable. Check back on my status next year. Also, I don’t need to reach full fluency – just “Good enough” for general conversations. I think this goal is more than reachable. Considering I’ve been averaging about 1.3-1.6 hours a day (~40 classes a month) for the past ~3 months, I feel like even missing a bunch of classes will still give me leeway to hit this goal. Unless, of course, I lose my source of income and can’t afford to take classes anymore. But that’s a different story.
  • Leetcode. I’m considering looking for new job. According to CS job websites, getting a decent feeling for data structure and algorithms whiteboarding is pretty important to the big tech company job interview process. I don’t have a concrete goal in mind, so let’s say somewhere between 1-200 problems solved. That’s about 2-4 problems a week. Doable depending on the problem set, but if I do start interviewing, I’m assuming I’m gonna go grind a ton of leetcode in a short period of time.
  • Read at least 12 books this year. That’s only a book a month. Seems perfectly doable, though to be fair, I can barely remember a single book I’ve read this year. Maybe the last book in the 3 body problem trilogy? Though now that I think about it, that was probably 2018.

I’m actually pretty excited about this upcoming year – I can finally start to pay down my looming debt and possibly even really see some of these initiatives bear fruit; I already was able to communicate more with relatives using my Chinese. I can’t wait to see if I can begin busting out the Spanish with strangers.