The Wednesday Writeup - Issue #13

Welcome back to The Wednesday Writeup!

This week hasn't been the most productive ever, but it has been pretty good. I ended up doing very little over the weekend, which can make a surprising amount of difference. But it is good to do non-productive things every now and then, and that is certainly what happened this week.

I have to say, I'm definitely feeling the struggle of trying to come up with new things to include in these newsletters every week. I'm running low on cool destinations I have decent photos from (or at least, good photos I can track down), and I feel like I'm getting repetitive in my updates. That probably means I need better inputs into my life, so this may begin to become a forcing function to encourage me to read more and find more interesting things to write about!

As always, let me know if there is anything in particular that has struck a chord or that you would want to hear more about.

What I'm Doing

I finally published my Building a Second Brain article. I have had this outlined or drafted in some format for over a month now and was struggling with exactly how I wanted to present the information and lay out the post. Finally I got it to a state that I was reasonably happy with, and although it isn't perfect, I knew I just had to get it out. I'm hoping that frees up mental bandwidth for me to switch to other things and that I can gain momentum to do more writing again. I want to begin publishing more technical programming content going forward, it is something I have always intended to do more of and now is as good of a time as any to start.

This weekend I went out with the parents to do some bee hunting! My mom is volunteering for the PNW Bumble Bee Atlas, which is working to track and conserve bumble bees in the area. Part of that calls for volunteers to adopt an area and run a couple of surveys there during the summer to count the bees we can find. So on Sunday we went out and drove around a while until we could find a nice spot with lots of flowers. We spent the next hour or so wandering around collecting bees with a net (basically Animal Crossing in real life) and putting them in little vials a cooler to calm down. Then at the end of our time, we went through the dozen or so that we had collected and did a little photo shoot for each one before releasing them. It wasn't the most exciting day, but it was really nice getting out of town for one of the first times since quarantine has started, and just getting some time to relax and enjoy the fresh air.

I am now fully on board with Roam Research. I committed to subscribing to an annual membership so that I would stop messing around with a bunch of tools and finally commit completely to one. So far I haven't regretted the choice. I'm finding more ways to adapt it to my routines, and adapt my routines to it, and I'm steadily building up a more and more robust setup. I think I'm also getting close to the point where my systems will be good enough to write about, so hopefully I will have more to share about that soon.

Recommendations

I figured this week I would give some recommendations for an assortment of some of my favorite music.

Caravan Palace

Electro swing has been consistently my favorite genre for the last 8 years or so. It is just so much fun. Even after listening to some Caravan Palace songs probably literally hundreds of times I still don't get bored of it and it always gets me moving. I was supposed to go to a concert of theirs over in Switzerland this summer but for obvious reasons it was cancelled. I'm hoping to make it out there this fall, and in some ways, at least for me personally, this is the thing that I'm most hoping COVID doesn't cancel.

Mother Mother

This is a Canadian band that I began listening to back when I first went off to college, and although not as consistently following them as I have with Caravan Palace, they have continued to put out good music. Back in 2014 I was so in love with their sound that I actually took the ferry up to Victoria for one of their concerts. They were, at the time, a small enough band still that for the price of what would have been a regular ticket for a normal band, I was able to get a VIP ticket, meet the band, and have a seat front row and center stage. It was an incredible experience, probably still one of the best single nights I have had.

Tom Thumb - Bitter Ruin

This is just one song, but it kinda captures a theme of songs that feel like they could be in a musical. I think it is because I went to a fair number of musical performances growing up (brother was a theater kid), so I really enjoy the more theatrical style of music. I will also listen to the occasional actual soundtrack from a musical, but this song in particular hits a sweet spot for me.

Computer Magic

There are a couple of solo artists producing pretty great work using almost entirely synthesized sounds and digital audio workstations. It isn't quite the same as having a full band playing, but I love the sound that these folks are creating. Computer Magic is probably my favorite right now, but I have also enjoyed Gooseworx, The Living Tombstone, and Crusher-P among others.

I think that one thing I love about these artists is it feels like something that I could attain. I don't foresee ever being part of a band, but I have spent some time learning Ableton over the past few years, and although I still have a ways to go, this is some of the sort of music that I hope to someday be able to create.

The How To Train Your Dragon Soundtrack

When I'm in the mood for something without lyrics, or something that just puts me in a good mood, there are a couple of soundtracks that I can't go wrong with. I linked to Joe Hisaishi in an issue a few months ago, and I listen to his Miyazaki soundtracks regularly nowadays, but even more often than that I can be found listening to the soundtracks to the How To Train Your Dragon films. There is something both relaxing and inspiring about the music that John Powell created for those films.

Idea of the Week: Always question the data

When I was working at Facebook, although I wasn't a data scientist, a big part of my job involved looking at data nearly every day. Data for experimental results, data to try and identify and track down problems, data to try and understand usage patterns and populations, etc.... I looked at a lot of data. And I really do mean a looooot of data. And one thing that I learned in that time is just how often data lies.

Data loves telling a story that seems plausible, and that you really want to believe, but isn't actually true. For example, when running experiments, one metric that we would look at is time spent. Normally we would expect it to stay flat, and watch out for any negative movement as an indicator that something may have gone wrong, but then for some experiments we would want to make it improve as a measure of success. So, whenever we would see time spent go up because of an experiment, the immediate thought was something along the lines of "yay, more time spent, great!" We would then have to force ourselves to take a step back and really ask a couple of questions: "why is this happening?", "what is this really showing?", and "is this really a good thing?".

Although sometimes we would finish our analysis and find it was actually a positive experiment, sometimes there would be something deeper there. We might find that there was no additional content consumed, or engagement happening, and that performance metrics were slightly negative, which could indicate that the added time spent wasn't a good thing, but was in fact a side effect of slower performance! It would be incredibly easy to look at just a couple of metrics for an experiment like that, declare it a success, ship it, and claim a win. It is a lot harder to dig in and gain full confidence in and understanding of everything the data is trying to say.

Don't trust data. Question what it is telling you. Confront your assumptions and expectations. If you have data, analyze it responsibly.

Location of the Week: Barcelona

Back in 2016 I had a work trip to London. As I was booking flights I realized that it was actually cheaper to fly through Barcelona first than it was to fly directly to London. I decided that would be a good opportunity to see someplace new, and went for it. I was only there for two days, but got a fair bit of sightseeing in.

The Gaudi architecture is incredible, from the Casa Milá to the Sagrada Familia. And it was cool seeing the different cultural aspects (for example, Caganer figurines all over the place), and enjoying the local fare. Would definitely recommend the Churros and Chocolate for anyone that visits. I don't think it is one of my top destinations, and I'm certainly not racing to get back, but it was an enjoyable couple of days.

Signing off until next week
- Aengus McMillin