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2017 Project: January “Progress”

There are two different ways to interpret my 2017 project: that it's a way more complicated New Years Resolution, or that it is essentially a shame-based mechanism to treat time management as a New Years Resolution. I choose the second because I would have wanted to do most of the activities anyway - it's just a matter of making time for them.

The reality is that much of my previous personal time management mechanisms went out the window around the time I brought a basset hound home. Amazing how time spent practicing guitar gets traded out for picking up dog poop, but it does. This really began with my own paranoia about house-training a breed of dog considered by some to be "untrainable." In practice, this meant taking my dearest Elsie out for a walk about every 2 hours - or whenever she made any noise, fuss, or motion to indicate that a walk was needed. Helluva grind to be on for her first year. We're now down to a far more manageable routine and Elsie is perfectly house trained. Now I'm just long overdue to find more time for leisurely reading, playing with musical toys, and other stimulating activities.

All that said, January did not see a transformation in how I juggle all of that.

I'm woefully behind on every single thing attempted during the month. But there are still some small signs of progress. The Handwritten Bible project is gaining some structure to help me pick up the pace. Reading through my Kindle backlog is sputtering. But I can't blame that on lack of interest in the first book. There's still a lot to deal with in order to force me to open the book rather than my Madden Mobile game or start something up on Netflix.

As for the scheduled "New/Old" projects at the core of the project:

1. Learning to play piano/keyboards is still in its infancy, but I did manage to record some basic tracks to kick-start the home studio back to life. I've also plunked down some dough to bring in a professional to help with the recording process. Piano lessons are still going to take some effort. I've been a bit lackadaisical in finding a teacher and I need to try that once more for the next month. The self-teaching component is still a function of teaching myself new muscle memory and this could be going better also. Needless to say, there was never any hope of becoming proficient with my new keyboards in one calendar month. So the project rolls on.

2. Re-reading a handful of Public Administration chapters to recharge a few brain cells with a subject that I love ... has been an abysmal failure. I'm pushing that back to March in terms of a deadline. Reading is one thing and I've only made time for a whopping two chapters so far. But I'm also hoping for some more modest study time to put together some notes and maybe ultimately post something from that effort in order to organize a few thoughts.

So here's where I'm scheduling everything as of right now:


A few projects get turned into 2-month projects - especially due to the fact that they might involve reading a few different books. The 2nd half option for a MOOC class is yet to be determined, but I really like the idea of going through two of those for "new stuff." The Great Courses option isn't wildly different from going through a MOOC, but the topic may or may not change by the time I get to it. My goal there is to pick something a bit more uncharacteristic than I might choose to learn about elsewhere. And I'm horrible with drawing, so that topic really jumps out at me.

On to February!

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2017 Project: Where Things Begin

As a side-track to the "Teach Me Something New" plan, I still hope to work in a few other goals. One obvious goal is to read more and make a dent in the unread books sitting on my Kindle. Somewhere in the world is a new Michael Lewis book and I don't want to rush into that one until I can claim at least the beginnings of success in knocking off some of the backlog. With that ...

The Reading Project
I was hoping to finish off one more book before the start of the year, but I wasn't terribly smart in my choice - I picked up Dedman & Newell's 500-page "Empty Mansions: The Mysterious Life of Huguette Clark and the Spending of a Great American Fortune."

I end the year with Chapter Three staring at me, so this will eventually have to go down as the first book completed of the current year. I'm setting a goal of 10 current books being read off of my Kindle with the reward of picking up a new Kindle at the end of the year. I don't really need a new Kindle, so this is really just me postponing a stupid impulse purchase for a year. Slightly less than one new read off the Kindle each month seems doable, even if most of the candidates for reading are pretty meaty reads. After "Empty Mansions," I'll get to the book I should have started instead: "Thinking, Fast and Slow" by Daniel Kahneman - the book that Michael Lewis writes about in the book I really want to read right now. Ballpark length of Kahneman is another 500 pages. Some goals are easier than others.

The Handwritten Bible Project
I've taken a stab at this idea since I first encountered it in 2009. Somewhere in a stack of half-used notebooks are a few full books selected for transcription. But at some point last year (or possibly the year before), I decided to start doing it a bit more systematically and begin from Genesis. Naturally, I then decided to skip Genesis and start with the second book: Exodus. Don't ask - I do this a lot. Since then, I've properly scolded myself for doing a Tarantino to the biblical timeline. I end 2016 about halfway through Genesis, with a goal of "about 200" chapters transcribed for the year netting me a new Bible at the end of the year. That finish line is set at completing 1 Samuel in 365 days - by far the most ambitious goal and one I've got absolutely no track record of demonstrating sustained ability to meeting said goal. That said, THIS is a pretty sweet motivator.

The (New) January Plan: Learn to play keyboards
So I've had the keyboards set up since before Christmas and have had some spastic attempts at dedicating practice time toward it. I'll be going through the Alfred teaching method to develop a few skills and habits. I could probably stand to locate an actual human teacher for a bit more accountability in that process and I haven't been terribly aggressive in seeking one out yet. What I have found out is that Night Ranger's "Sister Christian" is in the key of C (translation: no black keys!). And that gives me an incredibly wonderful end goal for the month.

The (Old) January Plan: Study Public Administration
There are two books involved here:

The first is a collection of historical writings involving the subject. The second offers background and context to the writers and ideas involved in the subject.

I've chosen as my starting point to read up on two folks in particular: Luther Gulick (Mastering - Ch. 3) and Mary Parker Follett (Mastering - Ch. 4). Together with the concluding Chapter 10 ("The Study of Public Administration: Origins, Development, Nature), I think that gives me a decent launching pad into a few areas of Public Admin that I'm not recalling well from my college years.

There are three chapters of Classics that track with the two writers I've chosen:

  • Ch. 8 - The Giving of Orders (Follett, 1926)
  • Ch. 9 - Notes on Theory of Organization (Gulick, 1937)
  • Ch. 10 - Report of the President's Committee on Administrative Management (Gulick et al, 1937)

That's designed to get me about halfway through the month at about three chapters a week. I'll save the thrilling details on further chapters as they approach. Feel free to follow along if you feel so inclined. I'm sure that this subject matter is guaranteed to the wildly popular at parties and other social gatherings.

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Something New: 2017

I hate New Years resolutions. Let me just begin with that. But after a few encounters with Aaron Carroll's blog, I got a little envious of his 2016 series entitled: "Please help me learn new things." On the surface, this just looks like a New Years resolution on steroids (minus the gym membership). And even worse, it looked like an invitation to develop a brutal reading schedule that I'd never be able to maintain.

That last point is what got me to thinking. And my conclusion is to modify it so that it's not entirely about reading a new book. Good thing since both my Kindle and my newest bookcase at home are both chock full of unread books. This idea was finalized after purchasing a new keyboard (like, the piano kind) for the home music studio. Since I've had zero training on piano, getting some lessons in was a logical first step and a great way to launch this annual project. Also helpful was that it doesn't involve the promise of reading a handful of new books.

But I didn't just want to go in the direction of completely new things to explore. There are a number of subjects that I'd like to re-explore. So I'm admittedly complicating things by having a category of "old" material that I explore while also learning something "new." The hope here is that in the process of working out some new neurons in the brain, I'll see some old topics in a new light at the same time. Given the start of a new legislative session, I'm starting this track by dusting off two texts on Public Administration to set the mood.

The fuller schedule is still being ironed out. I'm expecting the first half of the year to be a challenge since I'll have a few more hours a day eaten up by that previously mentioned legislative session. When in doubt, filling in a month of "old" material by forcing myself to commit something musical to a recorded song is relatively easy.

For now, the short-term schedule looks like this:

New Stuff
January - Learn to play piano
February - Go through an Open Yale Course (currently eyeing Robert Shiller's 2011 Economics course)
March - Read a celebrity bio (current pick: Henry Bushkin's bio of Johnny Carson)

I consider myself under no obligation to be "Van Cliburn-ready" after an entire month of learning piano. Just good enough to add a bit too some home recordings, develop good practice habits, and work on techniques that are currently alien to my more guitar-friendly fingers and brain.

The Open Yale course is primarily video-driven, but I'm open to adding a book to it. To be honest, I've wanted to get a good college text in either economics or science to mow through it and see if I can re-invigorate my study habits from college. Open Yale is essentially me saying "close enough" to that dream.

The Carson bio caught my interest with a few of the reviews about it back in 2013. It's a short read and hardly qualifies as "serious subject matter." But I'm fascinated with it due to the way Carson experienced fame as the lone late night face on TV. That stands in stark contrast to the post-Leno/Letterman era where the market is considerably more fractured. And since I'm of the belief that politics has added a more celebrity-driven attribute, I'm a little curious to see if I find any parallels. In reviewing past reading habits, I think I've found myself reading about one celebrity bio a year (Steve Martin, Dave Mustaine, and Michael Sweet come to mind). At least in this case, I'm not choosing a subject due to being a fan. Then again, Carol Burnett's bio is awfully tempting as a fallback option.

Old Stuff
January - Read up on Public Administration
February - Record a song
March - Complete a Truefire video guitar lesson

I've had two great texts on PA since the 2014 and have barely made a dent in them. It's probably the most boring subject that I'm immensely fascinated by and I feel awful for the two books every time I look at them on my bookshelf. I'm currently in the process of picking and choosing some chapters to focus on.

February's goal is a minor challenge in a few regards. To start with, I haven't really recorded a new song in years. And even then, it was probably more of a snippet of a song. And still ... it was probably improvised during one practice session. And still again, it didn't involve keyboards. So, giving myself a month to create something in a fuller song format, with keyboards, after a lengthy amount of time allowing a basset hound to chip away at time spent with my toys seems like a fair tradeoff.

The Truefire guitar lessons have been a great resource for me since picking guitar back up in 2010. But there was a point where I found myself collecting unused video downloads as if they were book samples for my Kindle. For one month, I think I can focus on one lesson series.

Since birth, we've found ways to develop habits, learn languages, develop expertise in areas and enjoy new sensations for the first time with unparalleled ease. As adults, trying to learn a new language or develop a new skill or learn about a subject matter incredibly outside of our world is a skill that fewer of us maintain.

I think this happens for reasons not involving getting dumber. Instead, we develop patterns of behavior – in both work and play – that shape us neurologically. In my own case, the time deficit for reading longform material has gone on way too long for my liking. I'm not about to get lost in reading research on neurology, but my sense that there is a way that the brain functions when absorbing material for hours at a time versus picking up snippets in 15-second episodes of news scanning, television viewing, conversations, facebook posts, or talking to my dog.

The outputs of this endeavor will be where the blog goes for this year. So expect a bit more subject-matter diversity in the months ahead. I believe that writing here is going to be helpful for the project, so feel free to follow along (or not). In any event, my thanks to Aaron Carroll for the idea. His wrap-up of his 2016 project can be read here. It was decidedly more reading-centric than what I can do, so I'm all kinds of jealous. We'll see how my version goes. I look forward to any and all feedback once things get underway.

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