Hello everyone, and welcome back to The Wednesday Writeup! As you may have noticed, it has been two weeks since the last issue. I have been feeling a little bit of burnout on this newsletter lately, and I felt like the best way to handle that was to step down the frequency a little bit so I can dedicate more time to each issue while spending less on the newsletter as a whole.
I have other things going on, and I want to start doing even more, and in the meantime I have been finding my personal and social life getting more and more busy lately, so finding the right balance between my different projects is proving to be incredibly necessary.
What I'm Doing
Still learning piano. I decided to pick up an online course a few weeks ago, and got some recommended books from there to properly guide my study. I have been making pretty good progress, and have generally kept up with about 30 minutes of practice just about every day. I am still at a very early level of course (it has only been about 3 weeks back at it), but I can see noticeable improvements comparing myself just against the week before. So it is working, which is fun!
My energy has been reinvigorated on a game development project. I can't talk much about this, but I'm working on implementing a really big and complex feature for a friend's game, and there was recently some news about it that is rather exciting. So I have been a bit more motivated to dedicate time to that to try and get things moving forward a little more quickly. It is definitely coming together, and I'm getting more and more confident that I will be able to finish up the bulk of it within the next few months.
I have also started again on a web development project that I had put on the backburner in order to finish my android app. Although this may be too ambitious, and I will definitely be starting with a small subset of the features, my idea (currently titled PodNaut) would be to create the Goodreads of podcasting. Although there are some mini-communities out there for podcasts, from what I could find there isn't anything that is a general community for podcasters and listeners. I can't go to one place and find discussions about Cortex, Hardcore History, and The Tim Ferriss Show, other than some super general platforms like Reddit. I don't know exactly how this will manifest yet, but I have been spending time recently brushing up on my design skills in Sketch, and doing some basic layouts, font selection, and building a color scheme so I can start to throw things together more quickly. I'm hoping to get that baseline in place soon so I can throw together a working prototype of some sort and begin getting feedback.
Since I'm learning piano, I have a number of good resources that I have been using lately, so figure I would go ahead and include those in here this week for anyone else who is considering the same self-taught journey.
This guy has great videos on the basics of piano, as well as more advanced information about playing Jazz piano. If you don't want to pay anything, or buy any books, I think his videos are one of the best places to get started. In particular, this series starts from the basics and builds up to a number of jazz pieces and a fair bit of technique. The 21 videos in that series could likely last you for a few months.
This channel is run by a piano teacher based out of Canada. She provides a ton of information about learning strategies, technique, book reviews, information about the the various piano grading systems out there, and comprehensive curriculums on how to improve. Although there isn't as much of a simple zero-to-playing guide as the one that Bill Hilton has, there is a much more comprehensive and broad swath of educational material that she has published over the last 5 years.
This isn't specific to piano, but if you are interested in music theory and want to dive deeper into a couple of really interesting cases, Adam Neely is great. He seems to mostly approach things from a jazz perspective, but has a pretty wide range of things that he covers. From what I could find there is nothing that follows any sort of structure as far as a course or tutorials, it is much more long form videos on one specific song or concept.
Method books are books that teach not just specific songs, but also how to play piano. They can act as a good curriculum to learn how to read music, hand positions and movement, and pretty much any of the other fundamentals required to play.
These are really solid method books. Although these have a lot of material designed to be worked through with a teacher, so far it has still proved to be valuable for me self teaching. I'm sure the later books continue to be useful, although I have started by picking up the first two, which as far as I understand it should keep me pretty busy for roughly the first year of playing. After that I may consider getting the next ones, or shift to something else.
This is the most common alternative to Piano Adventure's. I have heard it is relatively similar, although has a slightly different focus on teaching style. I also heard it is a little more hokey, which is why I decided to go with Piano Adventures, although I'm certain it would still be an incredibly good curriculum.
Thoughts about different writing styles
I have been thinking about how to define the type of writing that I do, and also about what other types of writing I might want to start doing. I figure by categorizing things this will be a good way to direct my learning and improvements and help myself to identify good resources for each. Although I'm keeping up relatively regular journaling, my other writing habits have fallen off lately, and I think that is partially because I have been relatively constrained with what I work on, so I'm hoping by branching out and exploring more areas I can rejuvenate the love I had developed for writing throughout spring.
This is how I would probably define the tutorials that I write, the scripts for the videos that I have made so far, and to some degree these news letters. This is defined by a goal oriented result. You want to learn how to accomplish a specific task, so you might refer to a piece of technical writing.
The thing about technical writing is that it can be difficult finding the right balance between detailing very specific steps, vs trying to provide a narrative. Although what most people are looking for is the technical details, the narrative is what keeps people engaged and coming back. I am good at the first part, not so good yet at the latter. This is partially why I am planning to start diving more into a few other types of writing. I need to spend more time on forms of writing that index more heavily into the narrative so I can improve how I present a story, think about characterizations, and employ more effective use of descriptive adjectives and colorful language.
This would, of course, be anything that is just about entirely made up. I want to start writing more fiction for the pure creative expression of it. One way I'm doing this now is to actually start developing an idea for a Call of Cthulhu campaign to run for my roommates. Although the plot itself won't be well defined because of the nature of table top role playing games, there is still a ton of world-building, character development, and scene setting involved. I just started this a few days ago, but it has been fun so far, and it definitely works a different part of my brain.
I'm starting with this because it doesn't have to be terribly ambitious compared to something like a book. I am basing the setting off of a few real small towns in Sweden, and so I can start from a small slice of the world, and build up detail around it to make a compelling environment for the players. It provides a great bit of structure, freeing myself up to focus mostly on the creative aspects. And this game is likely only going to be 2 or 3 sessions long, so the amount to create for it is much more limited than some larger campaigns, and should be a great scope to break into fiction writing.
I have generally never been big on poetry, but I think it could be interesting to get into something that traditionally has very unique literary structure compared to anything else. Potentially lacking in proper sentence structure, grammar, or anything else, it would break a lot of rules while also introducing others. I joined a local poetry group recently, so going to start trying to contribute an entry there every now and then to keep my brain working through things differently.
(One final thought about writing. I'm realizing that based on the number of newsletters I have done, and the fact that they each range from around 1500-2000 words, by this point I have practically written a decent length novella purely through email! That's kind of a cool thought.)
Location of the Week: London, UK
I have been to London a couple of times in the past few years. I have been there for quick work trips, as a short stop on the way too and from Israel, and stopped there for a couple of days on the way from Edinburgh to Paris. But my favorite trip to London was definitely the first. Back in 2016, after I had been at Facebook for about 8 months or so, my team decided to take a trip to London to work with some folks in the office over there for a week. This was going to be my first ever time in London, so I knew that I had to make the most of it. I decided that I wanted to stay an extra week after work, and that I wanted to be in an AirBNB. I found a tiny little apartment in Covent Garden which ended up being perfect.
Once the work week was over and I had gotten to my vacation time, my days often consisted of stopping in to a nice cafe nearby for a Croque Monsieur and a cocoa for breakfast, before spending the next few hours wandering around the city, checking out the common sightseeing destinations, and going to shows. It was a really great time overall, and it was nice having enough time to settle into a routine in such a cool place. Too much travel ends up being go-go-go, and being able to avoid that sometimes is really nice.
Signing off until next week
- Aengus McMillin