Thursday, August 20, 2009

Content or Not Content?

That title up there is actually a clever double-meaning. I'll get to those meanings in a second. Suffice it to say I'm smart and it makes me feel smarter to withhold information from you for a few minutes longer. It won't be terribly long, so just bear with me.

I've often heard that writers can't write if they're happy. After all, how boring is happy? Have you ever imagined yourself perfectly content with not a care in the world? How long did you keep imaging that before it you moved on to something more interesting? It takes me about five seconds. I imagine myself sitting in a chair with a smile on my face and... then I repeat that. Forever. That's dull. Writers know this either consciously or subconsciously and strive to keep themselves aggravated. After all, writing is about conflict. Protagonists, antagonists, twists, man vs. man, man vs. nature, man vs. God, etc. So it doesn't do to live a life of contentment because the more conflict you're familiar with, the more you have to write about. Those writers make good books (in case you didn't catch it, the first meaning of the title was 'content' as in 'the opposite of conflicted').

So perhaps I can take it as an indication of my level of contentedness that I don't write here much. That's actually incorrect or at least a confusing argument. For instance, what kind of content could I put here? I started this blog to detail cool ideas I had and hope that other people would say 'wow, that's neat! I didn't know you could do that!'. I have some of those. From time to time. But my day-to-day work isn't exactly to work with super-awesome ideas all the time. It's somewhat hard to breed super-awesome ideas ("Hey guys, let's make robots with neural networks that train themselves to efficiently compete for limited resources against other robots!") when the only ideas you work with are super-pedestrian ("Hey guys, let's use Labview for test software again! All right! Just like the last 50 times! High-Five!"). Now the total contents of this blog are by no means all of the super-awesome ideas I've come up with, but it's enough of them. What I DIDN'T want to do with this blog was to 1) whine about my life and how horrible it is, 2) just post links to cool things OTHER people have done and 3) update about how I haven't had time to update.

I hate whining. And my life isn't awful or even excessively boring. What's the worst thing that happened to me lately? I had a fight with my wife this morning. Sure there was yelling. Sure there was screaming. Sure I kicked a robot (poor Roomba!) Sure we were angry. So what? That's not bad, that's a fight. That's a normal fight. I'll tell you what we didn't do. We didn't threaten to leave each other. We didn't say things like 'My ex-girlfriend never did this to me! That's why I like her much more than you!' We pushed each others' buttons and eventually apologized to each other. Wow. I'll tell you the number one thing I fear is getting in fights with my wife, but that's not the worst thing in the world. And how boring is my life? Well today I had to go through my Labview sub-VIs and re-arrange the connections one-by-one. I have about 20 of them. Yeah it's boring but I grew up on a farm. My dad used to have me stand in front of open gates and keep the pigs in just so he wouldn't have to close the gate and reopen it when he wanted to get out with the tractor. I did that for hours. In winter. I think I'll survive my office.

I also hate when people just link other things on blogs. 'Hey look at this cool kegerator robot!' Ok. That's good. But most of the EE/hacking blogs I read linked to that site on that particular day. It was a little excessive to read about it five different times, and I think we'd live in a worse world if I made it six. Just a link, no commentary, no analysis, no further ideas. Just aggregation. Go blagosphere. If anyone is actually reading this be assured I will NOT do that to you. If you, for some reason, subscribe to this blog you will not get that sort of 'content' (second meaning of the title!). You will get something original even if it's just meaningless ranting like right now (which, honestly probably isn't that original. Read Ecclesiastes).

And posting about how you have no time to post? No. Just Say No. Let me say one thing: it is essential to actively maintain something you want to build a following around. If you want people to read it then update it every day even if it's not particularly useful information or even tangentially related to your subject. People will either read it for the sake of reading or stop reading it altogether. But the people who read it for the sake of reading it will continue, daily, religiously. Then you can put ads in front of their face and get a shiny nickel. But it has to be NEW or at least something they don't ALREADY KNOW. If you dont' update your blog for a while then guess what? People know that. They can see it. So if you update and say 'I haven't updated for a while' they will respond 'We know' and leave. People aren't interested in things they already know. Better to update less often and with actual information than to tell people something they already know.

So that's my rant. Can you expect high-quality updates from me from now on? Probably not. I would actually have to do interesting things, or in fact, things at all. I'd have to have something to write about and it turns out I only rarely have that. And, if I start writing about non-engineering things I risk becoming like everyone else. And I HATE everyone else. They make me angry, hence the name of the blog.

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