A Canonical Quest

Life moves too quickly in the 21st Century. Tweets and Facebook posts pour into every screen faster than they can be consumed. E-mails, like The Hydra, can be cut back but two or three surge forth to take the place of those answered. The news cycle is so short and the systems for sharing information so good that we’re constantly barraged with headlines from across the globe that shock and depress us. Heck, even if you just watch funny animal videos, there are too many to digest in one lifetime. It’s impossible to keep up, so there’s little point in trying. Instead, it’s time to discriminate.

The term “discrimination” has taken on a very foul taint since the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960’s, but I’m not talking about discrimination towards people. Instead, I think it’s important to have discriminating taste when it comes to to information. Some information sources such as Facebook have made curation of your feeds automatic, learning what you enjoy seeing and filtering out the detritus. If they didn’t there would simply be too much information from your hundreds of friends and their smartphones to ever keep up with. If they could start working on a similar algorithm for my work e-mail, I’d be overjoyed! This isn’t like the 17th Century when there was no Internet, no twenty-four hour news cycle, and barely any literacy; today, trying to keep up with all the information that is pushed, or perhaps thrown, at you is like trying to drink all the fresh water on your home continent. You simply can’t consume that much and survive. To combat this information overload, I’ve taken steps like turning off notifications on my smartphone so I choose when to review new messages instead of having them slap me in the face automatically, but that only solves part of the problem. The other, more important problem, is deciding which information or media to take the time to really integrate with oneself, not just in a superficial way (i.e. learning facts), but in a deeper way that integrates the information into one’s deeper understanding of the Universe and the human condition.

Determining where to start isn’t always easy, but I’ve found books to be a good source of wisdom in the past. Literature has a way of unveiling great truths through fiction that offers a much more fundamental type of learning than if one memorized the information in a set of encyclopedias. Therefore, I’ve decided to let the greats be my guides and teach me about life. By my fortieth birthday in nine and a half years, my goal is to have read the top 100 greatest books in the Western Canon (in their original language wherever feasible). I’ve purchased the following titles to help me decide what to read and how to begin this journey:

  • The Well-Educated Mind by Susan Wise Bauer
  • The Book of Great Books: A Guide to 100 World Classics by W. John Campbell
  • The Western Canon: The Books and School of the Ages by Harold Bloom

I began my quest last night, September 5, 2014, even though it has been a goal of mine for quite sometime. I’ve read a decent number of the “greatest” books, but there are still many whose spines I’ve yet to crack. Once I complete The Well-Educated Mind, I plan to have my first battle with All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque. I’ve read the synopsis which has given me a general idea of the plot and will help me really dig in deeper when I read it page-by-page. As I move through each book, I plan to share my thoughts here and record what I learn. By the time this quest is complete, I expect I’ll be a very different person, enriched by my decision to take it slower and focus not on consuming all the information in the world but the best.

I Kind of Suck at Documentation, but There’s an App for That!

They always tell you documentation is really important in IT or any work that’s complex, requires problem solving, and where someone else might have to try to repeat what you just did. It’s one of the best ways to not only avoid reinventing the wheel, but to get better over time by building on past successes. Additionally, it allows others to repeat your work when you’re not there and provides great data when you’re asked “what are you working on right now?” or “what have you done this week?” I know it’s important, but I get so caught up in what I’m doing at work, I often skip this step. It’s a terrible example to set as a director because I can hardly expect my staff to do this better than I do.

There are many obstacles preventing me from documenting well, not the least of which is limited time, but I think one of the main reasons is that I haven’t found the right tool. The ticket system is great for open incidents, but once you close a ticket, it’s hard to go back and find it. The knowledgebase in Kayako is OK, but not everything should be a public how-to article. I also don’t need something rigid that isnt’ flexible enough to allow me to get my ideas out in whatever for they come in. I want a captain’s log; something I can write in free form, tag, and search later if need be: something where I can write down the things I learn, catalog my tricks, and look back at later for laughs and for reference.

I think WordPress can be that tool for me. I think short articles written throughout the day on the stuff I don’t want to forget (or the stuff I think is important), can be recorded there. I can then categorize and tag my posts as well as write in HTML so they are nicely formatted. I toyed around with the idea of installing it at work and sharing it with the others, but I like the idea of being able to keep it safely password protected on my own server so if I ever leave my current job, I can still look back at all I’ve learned and have a good accounting of what I actually did on the job.

This blog will now house both what I’m working on personally (Project+ certification for my project management course at WGU, learning XML, etc.) and what I’m working on professionally (AAPC Certfied Professional Compliance Officer certification and many other things) as well as contain a log of the major projects I’m working on. If nothing else, it will help me realize where I’ve been and where I’m going at home and at work.

Here’s hoping it works well!

Data is King

And evidently I’m the king of data, at least where I work. Running so many reports has given me a new respect for statisticians and serious analysts as there’s just so much to think about if you want good data for anything more than the most basic report. Do you include X or Y or exclude them? If you run the numbers without them, is it truly representative of the reality you”re trying to report on. Which changes in data are significant and which are just the noise of normal variations? When should I take immediate action based on what I see and when should I sit back and watch for awhile? These are all important considerations and require a fair amount of cognitive energy. Report writing can be both a fascinating and exhausting process. Time for another cup of coffee so I can get back to it!

Back to WordPress

OK, so it’s probably ironic that I just got certified in web design (CIW Web Design Specialist) and just moved my blog back to WordPress, but there is a reason. I just have too much to do to hand code a robust content management system with all my other projects at the moment. The site I just took down was all hand coded, but it was for a school project and therefore was kind of ugly so that it could meet all the necessary requirements. Will I move this site off WordPress again someday? Perhaps, but WordPress is actually an excellent product (no, nobody is paying me to say that) so I might just keep it for the main portion of my site and leave the coding to other projects like my GPRA Gatherer or my Patient Refund Manager (both web-based projects for work). For now, I’ll let another wizard write the CSS and other code that magically renders this site.