GHDR 2021 August Report – Conceptual Musings

GHDR 2021 August Report – Conceptual Musings

"A Conceptual Model of Self by DS"

A conceptual model of myself, made around 2014

Goodness, it is already time for the August GROUNDHOG DAY RESOLUTIONS REVIEW. I’m going to try a different format for this report, based on the poor readability of the July report. I had tried to retain a conversational tone around themes I was having trouble summarizing, and I don’t think it worked well because I had rushed to post it.

Today I’ll try to get to the point more quickly.

July Report Summary and Followup

Review of July Insights

Let’s start by first reviewing the insights from last month. They were:

  • Indulging curiosity is the means by which I maintain project momentum. By contrast when using time efficiency as the metric, the total lack of intrinsic motivation causes the work to suffer and stall.

  • Letting go of worry is the complementary stratagem. The desire for time efficiency creates time anxiety, which drains me of energy that could have been applied to something other than worry. By letting go of worry, I allow myself to indulge in curiosity, which drives forward project momentum.

For this reporting period, indulging curiosity helped me overcome unfamiliar software challenges, and I feel good about being able to do so with less thrashing than before. However, this improvement had the effect of suppressing every OTHER interest.

On a related note, I have been able to suppress the urge to buy stuff for future projects. The thrill of IMAGINING future project possibilities through shopping therapy temporarily lifts my mood, but when the new materials arrive the thrill is gone. Recognizing and breaking this impulse is a kind of win.

Review of Personal Productivity Insights

Last month I reiterated a theory I have about my cognitive limits:

  • My working memory may be even more limited than I thought: I may have only two thought buckets that I can count on moment-to-moment. It feels like a severe limitation. However, accepting this means I can also find ways to work around it.

  • If I only have two thought buckets, I can only handle a single objective at a time, because one bucket has to be reserved for EVERYTHING ELSE getting done. That includes the sundry everyday details of living. If I juggle more than one, I will LOSE TRACK of one of those objectives and ALL OF ITS CONTEXT. That make it very expensive.

What struck me this month: despite vastly reducing the number of plates I tried to juggle, I got the same amount of stuff done. That suggests that I am finding my natural work rhythm and capacity, and that is reassuring. On the flip side, stuff that IS NOT getting down is at the same level too. This covers cooking, cleaning, and critical self care. It alo covers projects I need to do now to have security in the future.

AUGUST FOLLOWUP: continue to apply “two bucket” model and see what else falls out of it.

Review of Personal Inspirations

Last month I became a fan of the animated web series RWBY. I don’t normally get so emotionally attached to a series. My theory was that the overall RWBY story (of characters and creators) had reminded me of a forgotten desire to be part of a great team, something I had pursued since high school.

It was surprising to realize I have not had this desire since 2003. That’s when a cherished friend and creative partner passed away, and I wondered what I was going to do next. What happened?

AUGUST FOLLOWUP: Reconstruct personal history from past blog posts and journal entries. Ask myself “What does it mean to be part of a creative team means in 2021?”

The Month in Review

One of the main themes of this year’s GHDR is to have one singular focus at a time, and let everything else just happen when it will. This is incidentally where my “two bucket” theory comes from, after a couple of years of experimenting with the number of foci I could handle.

As it has been since the beginning of GHDR, that singular focus has been Getting Better at Software Development. I had never thought of myself as a developer, but I’ve been doing it for over 7 years now so I thought I might as well get serious about it.

This past month I’ve been busy building systems in our Javascript-based research software:

  • A new application state system.
  • A new database load/save system.
  • Changes to the script tokenizer to process nested blocks recursively, not passing the responsibility to other code.
  • A new asset manager system that takes asset creator workflow into account.

On the more personal side, I’ve pursued some knowledge-expanding interests:

  • Added more NodeJS in my js-after-school repo on Gitlab.
  • Posted questions in the #js-after-school channel on my Coworking Discord to show that no question was dumb.
  • Used Coding Sandbox to make a shared workspace for one of my cousins. He’s learning NodeJS server stuff.

I am noticing that I’m getting better at hard tasks like creating new systems from scratch. By indulging my curiosity, I have also allowed myself to pursue simplicity and elegance in the research and design of these systems. I like this part the most, I am finding. Writing the code is still frustrating given the inconsistent quality of documentation, but that frustration is more manageable because I am rewarded more immediately when I validate part of my system design.

New Insights

The experiences with software system design this month got me thinking that maybe I am more of a systems architect at heart than a programmer. I made a list of things of recent experienced that seemed relevant:

  • I really like designing systems in software, probably more so than actually using the software.
  • The research software I’m working on is designed to TEACH modeling concepts to students, and I have found it interesting to see how each research team member has a different modeling approach.
  • I was video chatting with my friend Shannon and discovered that we both liked “simulating people” by building a mental model of what their motivations, interests, and experiences could be. Partly this helped me interact with people, but it was also entertaining to make up characters that way.
  • I have been trying to internalize how to make Kimchi Jjigae intuitively as I can with other Asian staples, and started to make a visual model of how much of each ingredient was applied in what phase of the recipe. I dislike following recipes and measuring ingredients, but with a model I can synthesize the flavor of what I want and then tweak it.

All of these activities involved creating or applying models. Even more interesting is that there is strong correlation between modeling activities and enjoying myself. The big insight is that I like conceptual models and modeling. A lot. It seems to be at the heart of a lot of things:

  • For the first 30 years of my life I wanted to make games, but I seemed to enjoy the design of the worlds and their social systems more than making (or even playing) the games themselves. I also tend to play games to find out “how they tick” and once I figure that out I lose interest.
  • In general, I lose interest if I can see the “pattern” in what is happening and it seems unlikely to change. I will stick with a hobby long enough to confirm I understand it, and then I forget about it.
  • In my design work, I can not start unless I have an accurate model of desire and utility on the part of the client.
  • I dislike following dogma of any kind, because they are meaningless steps.
  • I can’t remember anything unless I know how it “works” in a way that “makes sense”. I am bad at memorizing arbitrary numbers and facts. I learn only when I can figure out how those number and facts it into a model that I can hold in my head.
  • In my productivity tool design, I have hesitated to call them “finished tools” because I was still gathering data on what they actually did. I didn’t want to promise that they would solve any particular problem because I didn’t know how other people worked. However, I was very confident in parts of the design that were based on by internalized model of how people react to what they see, a skill I picked up from informal study of video game systems, advertising, and cinematography.

I think I see the world as a collection of interconnected models, and that’s what helps me navigate life. That also implies that when I don’t have a model, I am confused and anxious and I am forced to rely on the internalized model of myself to cope. It is also through modeling that I overcome the limits of my two-bucket working memory.

There are two immediate ramifications:

  • It is going to be the focus of as I shift identities. Conceptual models are the organizing principle for all my knowledge and it’s what I really enjoy. There are so many different ones and it will be fun to share my collection of experiences through this lense.
  • Knowing that conceptual models is at the heart of my cognitive processes helps me structure my learning. Most documentation and material does NOT address my needs because they are extremely bad at presenting cogent models. Now I know it’s completely OK for me to discern what the model is first; it is a personal quirk that is uncommon but also very powerful.

I am very excited about this insight, as it immediately gives me ideas of how to reorganize the way I present my work. I have now identified the most dependable “first approach” to every situation I encounter, with the additional awareness of when it is NOT the right approach.

The Month in Pictures

Not a lot happened this month as I was super preoccupied with work. As usual it is mostly about food:

Lau Gan Ma Preserved Beancurd in Chili OilA cube of preserved beancurdSri's Congee There was a brouhaha about the appropriation of Asian culture by rebranding congee (a type of watery rice porridge) as “improved by westerners”. This reminded me how much I like eating the stuff, so I went hunting for ingredients.

I stumbled upon Chili Oil Preserved Beancurd (ABOVE LEFT) at the Asian market. My sister reminded me that Mom liked it and was the only person in the house that did. The texture of the beancurd is almost like a soft cheese (ABOVE MIDDLE), and it is LOADED with umami. It is so strong that one cube like that is shared by a family, pulling off small bits at a time to flavor their porridge. It is really delicious; while you can’t see it in my congee (ABOVE RIGHT) it added a lovely flavor underneath all the other ingredients.

Tempting CheeseballsGlittery Lip GelTaiwanese Chili Harvest There is this display of cheese balls made of puffed corn (?) at my local supermarket, and every time I walk by these head-sized jugs (ABOV LEFT) I am tempted to buy one. I finally took a picture because it would last longer :-)

During one of the “virtual spa nights” we had a put goop on face activity where we were trying out makeup samples on video. I’ve been looking for subtle makeup applications that I could use as part of my developing non-binary/transgender presentation, and this sample was a color I particularly liked (ABOVE MIDDLE). It was very light. I’ve been buying more glittery ones for fun too and they taste like BERRIES!

Those Taiwanese Chili Plants I got earlier in the year have started bearing fruit (ABOVE RIGHT). I’m drying them out right now but also have some fresh ones. I’m going to try using them in experimental stir fries to see how hot they are.

The Month Ahead

I’ve been feeling depressed about gender identity and presentation, but have come to the conclusion that the most effective thing I can do right now is to exercise and improve muscle composition to feel better about myself. That is true despite what gender I am, and it’s good for overall health! The problem is that I’ve never been able to start a good regimen, and while COVID-19 rages outside I am reluctant to return to the gym. So, I am going to try making this the new singular goal because I think that I have reached a good place in the Getting Better at Software Development push. I need to take care of this exercise thing.

I’m not sure how I’m going to start this new routine other than declaring it here. I think I need to devote the first part of the day to figuring out where to do it, and then find a personal trainer to help me develop a routine I can do at home. I also have the Ring Fit Adventure game for the Nintendo Switch gathering dust under my TV. The hard part is probably just changing my ATTITUDE toward exercise as “boring chore” to “delightful activity” and THAT is going to take some doing!

With that, this is the end of my August 8 report. I don’t want to put too much on my plate right now by doing a lot of overt planning; I am still figuring out what kinds of activities I can manage without overloading my capacity. If there is anything on the side I want to work on, it’s the new website and its related conceptual modeling focus.

About this Article Series

For year 15 of Groundhog Day Resolutions, I am writing about TRANSITIONS. All related posts on this subject are posted on the  2021 Groundhog Day Resolutions page. You can also find the link under the INVESTIGATIONS menu item on my website.

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