Long time since my last check-in

Word update on a chalkboard with a 12-hour clock over the letter 'A'.

Wow, it’s been nearly a year since my last blog, and I know I’ve been fairly absent on Twitter and intermittent at best on Facebook. Except for the past few days, I’ve been super active. Largely because I’m reasonably confident this is the last time I’ll have an opportunity to hear or hear from people. As you might imagine with all of that non-posting on various social media sites (including my own blog!), I’ve concluded the best thing to do is get on a NEW social media site – Mastodon (@daveskoster@mast.to). Less because I want or necessarily will abandon Twitter, but as of today, it’s looking like Twitter will be a pay-to-play system. I take this to mean that I’d need a proper platform and to pay $100 a year or so just to have my Tweets heard. That doesn’t even address the real issue with trying to connect with other writers and also the random cool folks I’ve gotten to know over the past few years. I think the quote from Elon Musk was: If you’re not verified, you’re going to have to scroll very far down the page to be found… “cool”

I won’t be deleting my Twitter account, I’ll only just be logging in enough to keep my handle alive and Tweeting some – though, it’s hardly worth it if the platform is now just a venue to listen to people with money and big political agendas. Maybe we could call it a billionaire’s social media?

Anyhow, I don’t have a lot to update with. I have been thinking about writing projects, but between school and work, I can’t devote much time to developing those. Heck, I’ve hardly got three minutes to string together for myself, and when I do, it’s for stuff like checking social media real quick :), or basic stuff, like brushing my teeth.

Anyhow, if you follow me on Twitter and I seem to disappear, I’m not gone, just elsewhere for now.


Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay


Time to get back to the books

Happy (belated) new year! For the past several years, I’ve written some type of new-year blog post about my writing goals. The posts usually involve burning something I’ve been struggling with or that I need to move away from and what I’m looking forward to. This year, I didn’t really spend a lot of time writing. I did put in a bit of time on the sequel to Wine Bottles and Broomsticks but hit some snags that I didn’t feel I could solve easily. I suppose I could’ve burned that, but I also haven’t given myself any goals for writing. Instead, I’m focusing on getting my master’s degree finished. The past almost 12 months have been focused on work, prepping for school, doing school, and trying to unwind where I could. Come January 1, I felt I had nothing I could burn and I certainly didn’t set any writing goals for the year. To be clear, none of this means I’ve given up on writing. I just have a different focus for a little while.

I think I’ve said this before on this blog, but I realized a few years ago that writing wasn’t ever going to pay my bills. For most writers, it doesn’t. That’s why I have to go to grad school. Not because I need a better job, but because I’m not at all confident that the education and skills I bring to the table will continue to sustain my career without significant augmentation. (I’ve got a whole rant here about companies bitching about not being able to hire and not bothering to call qualified candidates – or pay wages that make any kind of sense at all, but I won’t treat you to that) So, here I am, readying myself to start a second semester tomorrow. Even as I write this, I’m starting to get the introductory e-mails to the two courses I’ve signed up for. It’s going to be 20-40 hours a week on top of a full-time job and parenting. This is nothing I ever expected I’d be doing, but here I am.

What I really wanted to say with this post though is that yes, school starts tomorrow and I’m going to be thinking about little else besides that and work, but I’m not done writing. What’s more, I think the break from writing to focus on other aspects of life has been good. Over the past few days, the last of my winter break, I’ve started to seriously get my writing motivation back. By the time I’m done with this degree, I suspect I’ll be ready to tackle several projects, and having gone through the rigor of grad school is certain to help me develop the discipline required to allocate time to writing, and the focus to deal with problems effectively. In the end, no matter what I do still won’t result in my turning my writing into anything profitable, but I’ll be more confident about my ‘day job’ and so it’ll be easier to remain focused when I do have time to write.

Anyhow, those are my thoughts, I expect it’ll be a minute before I’m able to get back out here to blog again, but I will be back.

Drinking from a firehose

YES – I’m talking about grad school. I’m taking, what I understand to be, two of the most difficult courses to start with simultaneously in this program (many forums and the advisors themselves recommend you not do it). These are 6040 – computing for data analysis and 6501 Intro to analytics Fortunately, my computer science and extensive data analysis background is making 6040 a straight-forward endeavor. So far, this class takes me about two nights per week, and I’m about two weeks ahead, which means if I have to blow off a week, and I’ll get to that in a second, without any sort of negative impacts. Even then, that class, in particular, is a bizarre hybrid of basic introductory computer science and programming concepts mixed with fairly advanced and sophisticated data manipulation techniques. For me it’s a weekly ‘language drill’ – for the lack of anything else to call it. I am learning a lot, and the main thing I’m learning is that I’d be hard-pressed to justify the extensive use of python for data analysis in my current context. It’s fast and all, but not the kind of thing that lends itself to summary and computation of dozens of variables.

For the other class (6501), today is the last day I’m allowed to turn in my week 2 homework. This particular week’s lectures, notes, and homework took me, and I’m not exaggerating, just shy of 30 hours. Fortunately, the homework is done (only just, I realized today I’d neglected to scale the inputs for the model). Said homework write-up is just under 15 pages long (with tables, figures, text and shockingly little R code). This class basically gives you a concept, some cool R functions, a handful of sources, and a dedicated discussion forum (which is remarkably productive), and then the homework (or lab, whatever). The homework amounts to maybe 3 questions, one of which is meant to simply assess that you understand how to apply the method being discussed. The other two questions are brief paragraph asking for you to analyze some dataset using the concept & functions discussed along with some end-goal. Your job, as the student, is to analyze that data, write it up, and present it. Honestly, this is how I make my dollars. Granted, I don’t do the deep analysis, just the superficial numerical stuff, but this should be easy, right? NO. not even a little bit. Normally, I’ve got time, on the order of weeks to sift through data, and not only that, when I get stuck, I can set it aside for a day or two, work on something else and come back. This is not possible here. Not only are the concepts largely to me, I also have to develop an understanding well enough to explain the approach, methods, and outcome over the weekend.

Now, for the firehose part (bet you thought I was already there). The lectures and class discussion drop on Monday. This week, I had the good fortune of having Monday off, which afforded me the lovely space on Saturday to get into a totally unnecessary ditch involving a two dozen lines of code that was remedied Sunday morning with a single parameter… Anyhoo, There I was Monday morning, feverishly trying to figure out where to start with question 2 (of 3), when the new lectures dropped and the next weeks’ class discussion questions were posted. Plus, I knew (hadn’t checked, but knew), that this weeks’ 6040 homework had ALSO dropped. On top of all of this, I’m trying to get through a project at work that we do every other year, and helping to kick-off a massive annual project. The only saving grace thinking about next week is that I can reduce my effort in the other class washout falling behind there.

Monday, was not a great day. Ultimately, I kept my nose to the grindstone and things are fine. But, here I am on Wednesday, probably not able to take more than just these few minutes to myself to knock out a poorly written blog post before working my way through the lectures and notes for 6501 in prep for this week’s homework.

So that’s my update – I’m learning a lot, and not just like “oh, cool – I just found out about this k-means model in R, you can use for clustering”, I mean like: “Oh, so with k-means, I can probably develop a state-wide cluster-sample of communities to generate a reliable regional estimate of harvests – or at a minimum demonstrate that it’s not really practical.” Yes, I still have to learn a LOT with any of the topics we’ve been given, but it’s enough to actually implement some of the ideas in the real world – and that’s pretty cool.

Image by AntOne_01 from Pixabay