Posts Tagged ‘Writing’

One of the reasons that I’ve been a bit quiet here lately is that I had some grand idea forming in my head that I would start a tradition of an annual report on my reboot process by going back and pulling up my initial objectives and examining progress on each one(*).  Well, not only did that stop me cold in my tracks, but I suspect that it would have been about as interesting to read as the phone book.  So I will spare you that.  You may thank me later .

In the process of killing off the annual report idea though, I did keep coming back to what I feel is the single biggest thing that I have learned over the last two years.  It may not sound particularly profound.  I think it may be like some of those Buddhist concepts where  the act of putting the idea into words robs the idea of its power.  But I’m going to try anyway.

The three word summary is in the title of this post:  Enjoy the Process.

And for some reason I feel compelled to break this down by introducing (or possibly recycling) a series of aphorisms.  This may end up being even more self-indulgent than my original idea of an annual report, but hopefully it will at least be a bit entertaining.

Don’t obsess over becoming an expert, enjoy the time spent on the journey.

This is mostly deeply rooted in the Growth vs. Fixed Mindset idea that came as part of my informal teacher training.  One of the most frustrating students I taught last year was convinced that he was a natural expert programmer and did a pretty darn good job in general.  But he kept hitting a wall in his experience and rather than treating that as an opportunity to learn he would just thrash away in frustration.  Some of my greatest triumphs were when I got him to plow through and figure out the solution himself.  I see too much of myself in that behavior, but now I have that very clear image of that student to pull on when I find myself hitting my head against a wall.  I hope I helped him half as much as he helped me.

Treasure feedback from any source as if it is a rare gift.

Because it is.  It is always harder to give feedback than not.  I have a deeply ingrained impulse to take constructive feedback as a negative commentary on my abilities and I believe it still shows on my face, even in very relaxed environments like a yoga studio.  And of course that treats the absolutely wrong feedback loop with people I am trying to learn from.  I think I’m doing better in the moment and hopefully that will continue to improve over time.   Habits aren’t hard to break (says the ex-smoker), you just have to keep trying.  And making sure that I express appreciation after the fact  to the people that teach me things is, I hope, an effective way of counteracting the in the moment reaction that still happens more often than I would like.

Things that are worth mastering are rarely things that can be mastered.

So one had better enjoy the learning process, because there is no end.  I set out to learn to speak Spanish and learned that I haven’t really ‘mastered’ English yet.  I set out to teach computer science to high school students and I’m pretty sure I ended up learning more from them than they did from me.  I could go on ad nauseum with this list, but I’ll spare you for now.

Be wary of spending too much time doing something that you don’t enjoy.

This is often an attempt to attain some grand future goal, like a title at work, a retirement fund or some kind of recognition.  I’ve achieved a bunch of these things, but if I regret anything (and I really try not to have regrets) it’s the hours spent doing things that I really hated to get to goals.  They really aren’t worth that price.  So I am going to try to make sure that whatever I do in the future the day to day work on balance is both fulfilling and enjoyable in and of itself.

Some part of everyday routine basis makes the world better place

This is the one that I struggle with the most.  Is the world a better place because I helped build better technology relatively early on in the PC revolution?  I like to think so, but it’s pretty impossible to prove.  Do some kids have a slightly better outlook on programming and technology because of the time I spent last year volunteering.  I think that’s a much clearer yes, but that was a much larger commitment than I can manage on a regular basis.  Hopefully I will manage to find on the clearly good + clearly sustainable list in the near future as a volunteer activity.  But the thing I am really trying to figure out is how to get my career Venn diagram to include an unambiguous “make the world a better place” component.

Overall, Enjoy the Process really is a pretty good summary of what I’ve learned so far.  With any luck that will include enjoying the process of writing and you’ll hear more from me in the coming months and years.

(*)The other reason is that I’ve diving into my start-up project which also involves some writing  and so I am (so far not very successfully)  trying to integrate the reboot writing into my ‘non-work’ time.

Advertisements

I’m going to try something a bit different.  I started a “Reconcilable Differences” blog in my usual style.  Which I would describe as a (hopefully) humorous observation about something related to learning, often inspired by something that happened in one context that shook something loose that I’ve been picking at in a different context.  Since I am doing a decent amount of breadth right now I have enough different contexts (teaching high school computer science, doing three kinds of yoga, taking several kinds of dance, learning a language, etc.) that I can generally at least keep myself interested with the combinations and juxtapositions between my activities.

However, I had a blog fail on this post.  And then another one.  And I realized that part of the problem was that I was pulling off a bigger chunk than I could handle in a single post.  And then I realized that there are several topics that are very much top of mind that I haven’t dug into since they don’t really fit into my usual format.

So I’m going to try something a bit different this time.  Oh, I already mentioned that, didn’t I?

This is the first post in a series.  I will most likely interleave other posts in my more traditional style with the series.  And if I get really ambitious I’ll start other series on some of the other subjects that I’ve been stuck on.  But I am going to try to get my words wrapped around a slightly larger idea than the ones I’ve been attacking recently.

The seed of the “Reconcilable Differences” thread was planted in computer science class recently.  We had an incident where I said something and one of the other volunteer teachers said the exact opposite a few minutes later.  Was one of us wrong?  Were we both right in different contexts? Were both of us wrong?   Are there other reasons why the experts in the room might contradict each other?  Or your teacher contradict your textbook?  What do you do when your teacher or coach tells you to do something exactly the opposite way from some other expert?

Well, I think my first pass at that is that you ask or use other means to figure out why there is an apparent contradiction.  And I think this feeds into a very important part of learning, at least for me.  It is one means of becoming  an expert even if it’s on some micro-subject or small slice of what one is trying to learn.

Then as I started to blog about that incident I started popping out way too many examples to fit into a single post.  And I also realized that my rapidly piling up set of anecdotes might fit into a taxonomy.  And that taxonomy might be a useful tool to help me learn.  Possibly even useful to decide when it’s most useful to ask an expert, to worry at a solution myself, or to just forget the issue.  And really, for myself, being able to do the last of those would probably represent a massive boost in efficiency of learning if I could do that quickly and in the right circumstances.  Perhaps it will also be useful to others.

So here is my initial taxonomy of “Reconcilable Differences” in roughly increasing order of interest.

  1. Simple Expert Error
    • One of the experts is just wrong.
    • Both of the experts are wrong.
    • One of them is answering a different question.
    • You just misheard one of the experts.
  2. External Context Issues
    • You’re tying to apply something that an expert said in one domain to a different domain and it doesn’t translate.
    • One source is significantly older than another and the ‘right’ answer has changed in the intervening time.
  3. Personal Differences/Internal Context Issues
    • The ‘right’ answer is different for different levels of expertise and you are attempting to reconcile advice given to a beginner with advice given to the current you who is more advanced.
    • You overcompensated between the time you got the original advice and the time that you got the follow up advice – so you really do need to do the opposite (just less).
    • Bodies are different – even experts don’t always do the translation from their body type to yours accurately.
    • Minds are different – it’s easy for a teacher to have an inaccurate representation of what you know and give advice based on that.
  4. Language issues
    • Experts have slightly different definitions of words.
    • Language is just ambiguous.

Over the next few posts I’m going to make an attempt to pull of my favorites of these and expand on them in something closer to my usual style, but tied back to the more general theme.  In the process I’m giving myself permission to modify or even outright rewrite the above list.  So this is a good time for comments if you’ve got ideas for an altered taxonomy.

 

By the most strict definition, it’s been 9 months since I started this reboot project.  But for various reasons I’m going to write off about three months of that time and call this my six month check-in.  Not the least of which is that I hadn’t really gotten to the point where I felt like a top down check in made sense in April…

Here is a paragraph from my very first post which I need to keep coming back to as it is way too easy to get lost in the details:

I’m taking a minimum of a year off of full time employment to dive into this experiment, if this ends up being a year of self-improvement and self-discovery, I’ll count it as a success but not be thrilled with the outcome.  My overall objective is to accomplish the brain reboot and in the process discover my next big thing, which I hope will be a project/career that will both improve the world around me and provide a sustainable living.

And to do this I developed a what I can only describe as a self-directed curriculum.  I’m going to just blatantly cut and paste my original ‘curriculum’ post from October here, as I didn’t really remember it in detail and I’ve been living it…


—–Begin Excerpt—–

Because I am fundamentally a reductionist, I am going to divide my efforts into three broad categories.  One is large goals that I intend to spend something measurable in hours per week over the course of the year to achieve a specific objective.  Another is what I’m thinking of as tools and techniques – experimenting with different methods of learning on small things or specifically aiming at acquiring a particular skill that I believe will help my ability to execute on my larger goals.  The final category is the scatter-shot learning of anything that strikes my fancy.

Well that’s completely amorphous, you say?  Let’s dig a bit deeper.

I’ve already mentioned the top four big things:

  1. Learn a language – there are two major questions to answer here. The first is the language, I’m leaning towards Spanish, but some of the other contenders are Mandarin Chinese, Japanese, French, Latin, Gaelic, and Ancient Icelandic.  This certainly deserves at least one blog post of its own, so stay tuned. The second is technique. I’m not even sure where to start with a discussion on how to learn a language (although I’ve been accumulating ideas from various sources) so again, stay tuned.
  2. Music – While my initial measurable goal is to learn an instrument to some level of mastery, I’d also like to dig more into music theory and develop sight reading skills. Contenders here are piano, guitar, violin, clarinet, saxophone, ukulele, harmonica, vocals and upright bass.
  3. Programming – I’m not even going to try to attack this in a small paragraph.
  4. Writing – Well, let’s start with blogging, perhaps more will come of it.  Although I did just notice that nanowrimo is next month. Hmmm…

And some of the skills that I’m hoping to develop:

  • Speed reading
  • Memorization techniques
  • Analysis/Critique – If nothing else I am going to start reviewing books and teaching company courses that I read and listen to.
  • Math – there is certainly room for a ‘big’ learning subject here as well, but my initial interest is in exercising basic math skills to see if that help stretch my brain and make some other activities easier.
  • Physical skills – Keep doing yoga and dance and perhaps re-introduce an eastern martial art of some kind – I am certainly strongly planted in the strong body helps a strong mind camp.
  • Typing?

I’m not sure that the last category is actually a separate thing, but I’m including it as a reminder to myself to  strike a balance between a disciplined approach and making sure that I have a blast in the process.

—–End Excerpt—–

And of course I gave myself full permissions to morph the curriculum as I went (including calling 9 months 6 months, just because).  So where am I now?

At a very high level, I feel both very good about what I’ve accomplished and pretty frustrated at the pacing.  But a large part of the point of this whole exercise is to get better at learning in general and while it’s very hard to measure that explicitly, I feel some movement in the old noggin’ so that has to count for something…

At the next level, I have stuck with my top four major objectives but would say that physical skills which I had originally placed as a minor player actually ended up getting elevated to top tier status.

And for a quick brain-dump style status report, here’s what I’ve got:

  1. Language: I landed on Spanish and spent some time listening to Pimsleur audio + their minimal reading writing accompaniment.   It was slow progress at best.  I certainly wasn’t able to absorb this information without reviewing multiple times per lesson.  So I broke down and signed up for a small class size Spanish 1 at a local school.  This seemed to get me over a bit of a hump.   I’m just starting level II and fell like I’m making real progress.  I think there is some chance that I will hit at least minimal functionality sometime in the foreseeable future which is definitely further than I’ve ever gotten before with a language other than English.
  2. Music:  I landed on Piano + some ear training supplemented with a bit of music theory.  I made it through a level one piano book quickly as it was mostly review.  I stalled out a bit on the level two stuff but can see myself getting back to that soon.  I am pushing hard on the ear training as it feels like a breakthrough on that would be more fundamental in my general brain training than incremental improvement of keyboard skills.  I am also having a lot of fun going through the Billy Joel songbook (and will add Brubeck as well) – this is definitely not an example of deliberate learning, but may start slopping into flow.
  3. Programming:  I’ve some thoughts on branching into iOs and Android programming, but for now I’m playing with some ideas that have been floating in my head for years for some dance music tools, and I can do initial implementation of that nicely in the Microsoft universe.   In fact as I’ve started spending a bit more time on this it’s pretty easy to get lost in it and not want to do anything else, which is great.  Also, I signed up for a volunteer gig to teach intro to computer science to high school students, so I’m busily training to teach this stuff.  There will definitely be more on that here shortly.
  4. Writing:  Most of my writing has been in the context of this blog.  Alicia and I took part of an online fiction writing class, but stalled on it as we both manage grammar pretty well and there was a bit too much emphasis on basics in that class.  But one of these days some fiction may escape me…
  5. Physical Skills: I’ve had a blast starting to learn to tap dance, which is something I’ve never tried before.  Learning a new physical skill has definitely been a key part of helping me think about how I learn in general.  I’ve also dug deeper into yoga, adding a vinyasa (or flow) style to my practice and spending more time working with poses on my own rather than just pushing through them in class.  This is definitely a place where I’m playing with deliberate practice, but I certainly have a long way to go.

For the small random things, I’ve spent considerable time on speed reading as I think that’s the biggest bang for my buck.  And of course I upgraded physical skills to a major skill.  I haven’t been great about attacking small projects though and that’s a little disappointing.  Although if we were to add cooking and canning into the mix, they might count.

And of course my progress on the top level of what I want to do when I grow up is on the slow side.  But re-awakening my joy in programming and taking a stab at passing that on to others in a new way has to count as a good start, right?

Anyone who knows me is quite aware that I’m an atrocious speller.  The advent of the spell checker is nothing short of a miracle as far as I’m concerned.  And I’ve been writing in English in excess of four decades.  And I write quite a bit.  And I read even more.  Well, I finally figure out why this is so.  Okay, so call me slow (you won’t be the first).  The relationship between how a word is spelled and how it sounds is only marginally related at the best of times.  And it requires an expert in descriptive linguistics to even put forth a plausible theory about why we spell things in a particular way in some of the more extreme cases.

This doesn’t appear to be the case in Spanish.  I’m only six weeks into an introductory course on Spanish at this point so I’m sure as I dig deeper things will get more complicated.  But at least for now things are almost completely rational.  Hallelujah!  I may just switch permanently (sorry, non-Spanish speaking friends and family – we’ll figure out some way to communicate).  Had I known this at 13 maybe I would have taken Spanish rather than French in high school and kept it up.  Then I’d be writing this blog in Spanish (or living in Spain).

So what does this have to do with Multiple encoding?  First, multiple encoding is a term that I learned in this lecture series about memory but haven’t found a great reference for on the interwebs.   I like the term though, so I’ll use it.  Briefly, think about the different methods you use to etch information into your memory (which is generally described as coding or encoding) – these are things like repeating something verbally over and over again, trying to visualize something, embedding the information in a broader context or solving a problem related to the information so that it can be retrieved.  If you use more than one of these methods, this is what one would call multiple encoding.  Almost every memory trick or technique I’ve seen can broadly be described as multiple encoding although some rely most heavily on one method of encoding with minor support from others.

Professor Joordens uses the example of the “ROY G. BIV” acronym for remembering the colors of the rainbow — each color is associated with a letter, and the letters are encoded as a name.  Coming up with your own acronym would then add elaborative encoding to the system and make it even more effective.

And that brings me back to spelling in Spanish.  It seems like as I actually internalize the pronunciation (see, needed the spell checker for that word) rules for Spanish, I find that I can work at memorizing vocabulary from two directions, the spelling and the sound.   At least for me this has significantly improved my rate of vocabulary acquisition (this time auto correct took care of it).  And I think this counts as a form of multiple encoding as describe above.  The flip side of this is that it is probably part of the reason that I was making very little progress by doing a predominantly audio series, even one that was recommended and apparently pretty well designed.

The other aspect of multiple encoding that I’m finding to be pretty compelling is use of the link words system.  This is the idea that for each word in Spanish you find an English word or phrase that sounds like the Spanish word and then you build an image that relates the sounds like word and the definition word together.   As an example – The Spanish for RICE is ARROZ (pronounced ARROS), so imagine ARROWS landing in your plate of RICE.  As a supplement to other study, combined with the rational system that Spanish uses to spell that gives at least three, possibly four different memory systems a chance to grab onto new vocabulary and reinforce each other.  Much improved over just hearing the word, I think.  Of course once the word gets really embedded all of the learning techniques will drop away and I’ll just be able to retrieve the word, but that’s a bit in my future, at least for a broad vocabulary.

I just finished re-reading This is your Brain on Music by Daniel J. Levitin.  It’s a general overview on how the brain processes music and includes a number of deep dives into things like his theory about the evolutionary basis of music, how one becomes an expert musicians and how music interacts with our brains.

I first read this in 2007 when I was hip deep in frustration at work and remember the biggest take-away being the wistful sense that I’d like to start playing an instrument again.  But perhaps it was an early seed for my reboot project. The brain is a strange an mysterious place and I certainly can’t be responsible for understanding my motivations 100% of the time.  Sorry, but it’s true.

In any case, on a re-read I realize that this was the book where I first encountered the 10,000 hours of deliberate practice to expert status hypothesis that I had most tightly associated with Malcom Gladwell’s book Outliers.  And this figure keeps cropping up.  Not just in the two books I’ve already mentioned but also in Moonwalking with Einstein that I mentioned in my Okay Plateau post.  And a friend who I swear I didn’t prompt brought the 10,000 hours to expert subject up at lunch last week.  While eating Pho. So I decided to go hunting up the source.  It looks like all of the references that I’ve cited lead back to K. Anders Ericsson and his work. (I wonder what the “K.” stands for?)   So now I probably have some heavier reading to do.

But in the meantime let me attempt to drag myself screaming back to my original point.  The point that I almost completely lost sight of in the process of looking up dates and following sources.  Which is, how in the heck am I going to find 10,000 hours for each of the several things I’m tackling this year?  Oh wait, I guess that’s physically impossible.  Huh. The rough math is that it takes about 40 hours a week for 5 years (40*50*5) to get to 10,000 hours, or 10 hours a week for 20 years…

Which is the point where I have to forcefully remind myself that I’m not actually trying to attain expert level for most of these things.  If I can hold a reasonable conversation with a Spanish speaker I will count that as good.  If I can enjoy my own piano playing that’s great (I’m actually almost there for this one). If I can have fun with tap dancing and maybe pull in a bit of improvisation that would be really cool. I don’t have to be good enough for other people to enjoy watching me dance much less make a living at it.

So I’m all right with my breadth first learning for now.  But I think there is some hope that there are generalized learning skills that I can hone over the course of the next year or so that will make me more effective in whatever I do next.  I’m certainly going to dig into the “deliberate practice” part of Ericcson’s work, because perhaps 1000 hours of deliberate practice is what I need to get where I want to go with a particular skill, rather than 10,000.

If nothing else, forcing myself to write on a regular basis has got to be useful, right?

I’m not quite sure why tap is doing this to me.  I really did just throw in this particular skill as an afterthought in my curriculum more because I’d like to have fun hoofing with my lovely wife if and when I make it close to her league rather than as one of my initial big chunks of brain re-trainings like language or music.  But for whatever reason things in my broader agenda keep clicking while in tap class.  So here is another installment of what I learned in tap this week that is only tangentially related to the dance form.

The teacher asked us to turn our backs on him and he tapped out a rhythm.  We were then asked to do our best to copy the sounds that he created using any technique that we knew.  He started out with extremely simple examples and when he got to just plain simple which resulted in total cacophony from the class, he stopped.  But he explained that this was a way of learning to improvise.  In the tap sense it’s pretty close to some of the ear training that I’ve been doing in music.  And of course back in my youth I really liked the concept of jazz improvisation, but was never all that great at it – probably because I didn’t spend enough time with ear training and building my vocabulary.

Did I just say vocabulary?  Yes, I did!  The thing that really connects everything together for me was that the teacher went on to describe how he thought of improvisation in tap.  He said it felt like learning to speak a language.  Your objective isn’t to figure out the sentence that you’re going to say ahead of time, mapping out the whole structure and then spitting it out.  The idea is that you should have a working vocabulary that is rich enough and natural enough that you can just start talking and you form the thought as you go.  Dance, music, language, choreography, sight reading, speed reading, writing, composing – the same brain does all of these things.  Maybe training in one is actually going to help others.  Who woulda thunk?

As I continue to dig out my basement and attempt to strategerize (why do I like that word so much?) my plans for the next year, I am spending some time thinking about the fun and random, but hopefully still educational, things that will fill out my schedule.  One of the suggestions made in the blog post that started me thinking about self-directed education in a structure way was to read twenty classic novels.  I do think that is a neat idea, and may play with that a bit later on.  But for myself, I am going to start along a slightly different tact suggested by a friend some time ago.

I’ve acquired The Hugo Winners series edited by Isaac Asimov in the sixties, seventies and eighties that collects the short fiction winners from the beginning of the awards until 1982.  This seems like a good way to do a survey of some classic science fiction.  I find that more compelling as an exercise in classics than attempting to plow through some set of classics of literature.  Especially since I have some desire to move towards writing science fiction or fantasy as I hone my writing skills this year.

I was somewhat skeptical of this approach as I had attempted to read these same volumes some twenty odd years ago and wasn’t able to get into them.  But with age comes wisdom, right?  Maybe I’ll actually read some “real” classics this year 🙂

In any case, I ordered the first book a couple of weeks ago and dove into it last week.  I almost gave up on the first novelette.

SPOILER ALERT – if you have an interest in trying The Hugo Winners yourself stop reading, order a copy of The Hugo Winners Volume I and II and read the “The Darfsteller”.  And then don’t forget to come back and finish reading this post.

This story is about 60 pages of prose that appears to be a reasonably well written variation on the well explored theme of technology making man obsolete with a subtheme about creativity being lost in the process.  I wouldn’t have been about to give up if the previous sentence could have been changed to ‘very well written’ as I understand than often in SF a theme that feels over-taxed in 2012 may well have been fresh in 1955, and that alone shouldn’t detract too much from the experience.

Well, why didn’t I give up, you ask?  Because I was completely wrong about the theme.  As is revealed in the last couple of pages (I did mention that there was a spoiler coming up, right?), the real lesson to the story is that in a world of continually improving technology, it’s no longer reasonable to train in a profession as a young adult and expect to continue in a single career for a lifetime.  Retraining, rethinking, and adapting to the changing demands of the workplace are all necessary to function in such a world.

Hmm, somewhat germane to my current endeavor, is it not?    In fact, that drove me from nice idea, let’s try it and see how it goes, to a become a definite part of my agenda. Now I have to decide if I go all out and read the Hugo winning novels as well.

Yoga

Posted: October 24, 2012 in Exercise, Mental Reboot, Writing
Tags: , , ,

This is slightly off topic, but I’m planning on bringing my physical fitness routine into this discussion at some point and a thought occurred to me during yoga this morning that I’d like to share.  I’ve been practicing Bikram Yoga and other hot hatha yoga for nearly five years now and have probably averaged a little under twice a week during that time.  It has rarely been my core practice, but more on that later.

Generally I’ve been very good at doing the mind-blank thing in Yoga where the only thing that is going through my head is concentrating on the poses.  I am wondering now though if part of the reason that this came ‘naturally’ to me was that I was stressed enough by work that I had to shut it out in order to function in class at all.  Because I’ve noticed over the last month or so that my mind is wandering more to things like future plans or composing blog entries.

For now I’m going to take that as validation that I made the right decision to undertake this adventure in rebooting myself.  But over the longer term I think I need to figure out how to block out the good thoughts as well as the bad when doing meditation-like activities.  If for no other reason than the idea that I happened upon when I read Stumbling on Happiness that the only scientifically proven  way to increase one’s base level of happiness is to mediate.

Anyone have any suggestions?  Success with meditation in general?  I’ve heard good things about both mindfulness meditation and heartbeat meditation, but haven’t managed to achieve success with either (although I also haven’t spent a lot of time trying).

Where N is large 🙂

I’m taking the Month of October to unwind, sort out the house and start building my curriculum.   The relaxing and sorting out the house are pretty boring, so I’ll spare you the details on those.  But I’m interested in iterating over the curriculum part of the process.  Every time I have this discussion in person, a new suggestion comes up. So I’m interested to see if the internets will provide more ideas.

Because I am fundamentally a reductionist, I am going to divide my efforts into three broad categories.  One is large goals that I intend to spend something measurable in hours per week over the course of the year to achieve a specific objective.  Another is what I’m thinking of as tools and techniques – experimenting with different methods of learning on small things or specifically aiming at acquiring a particular skill that I believe will help my ability to execute on my larger goals.  The final category is the scatter-shot learning of anything that strikes my fancy.

Well that’s completely amorphous, you say?  Let’s dig a bit deeper.

I’ve already mentioned the top four big things:

  1. Learn a language – there are two major questions to answer here. The first is the language, I’m leaning towards Spanish, but some of the other contenders are Mandarin Chinese, Japanese, French, Latin, Gaelic, and Ancient Icelandic.  This certainly deserves at least one blog post of its own, so stay tuned. The second is technique. I’m not even sure where to start with a discussion on how to learn a language (although I’ve been accumulating ideas from various sources) so again, stay tuned.
  2. Music – While my initial measurable goal is to learn an instrument to some level of mastery, I’d also like to dig more into music theory and develop sight reading skills. Contenders here are piano, guitar, violin, clarinet, saxophone, ukulele, harmonica, vocals and upright bass.
  3. Programming – I’m not even going to try to attack this in a small paragraph.
  4. Writing – Well, let’s start with blogging, perhaps more will come of it.  Although I did just notice that nanowrimo is next month. Hmmm…

And some of the skills that I’m hoping to develop:

  • Speed reading
  • Memorization techniques
  • Analysis/Critique – If nothing else I am going to start reviewing books and teaching company courses that I read and listen to.
  • Math – there is certainly room for a ‘big’ learning subject here as well, but my initial interest is in exercising basic math skills to see if that help stretch my brain and make some other activities easier.
  • Physical skills – Keep doing yoga and dance and perhaps re-introduce an eastern martial art of some kind – I am certainly strongly planted in the strong body helps a strong mind camp.
  • Typing?

I’m not sure that the last category is actually a separate thing, but I’m including it as a reminder to myself to  strike a balance between a disciplined approach and making sure that I have a blast in the process.

I’ve always been happiest when I’m learning.  But I’ve never been most effective doing so in a classroom context.  I’ve had a good deal of success  from learning within the context of work.  But there are so many things that I’d like to learn that just don’t fit in that scope that I am not really achieving my learning goals while holding a full time job.

So I am going to take some time to attempt to reboot my brain and become a more effective learner.  This is informed by a lot of things, but two of the primary ideas are that of Neuroplasticity and Flow, both of which seem to show that I should be able to effectively manage a mental reboot if I go about this right.  I’ve also been a fan of MindHacks and LifeHacker but have not taken the concentrated time to put these ideas to work.

All of that is great, and there are loads of ideas packed into (or unpack-able from) those four links and I’ll share others as I encounter them.  But I needed a framework to  drape all of that stuff on or it would just end up as a gooey mess in my head.   I ran across this blog – Skip Graduate School, Save $32,000, Do This Instead a couple of years ago and have been thinking about variations on that idea ever since.

This is perfect.  As a direct translation of the above blog post to my situation, I’m going to spend a minimum of a  year on a self-designed education including a number of things that I’ve wanted to do for a very long time but haven’t had the time or energy to pursue.  This includes learning an instrument, learning a foreign language, building writing skills, and broadening my programming/design skills.  That is a set of what I think of as medium sized goals that I can apply learning techniques to and at least informally measure my progress.

Finally, where does all this lead?  If you missed it, I’m taking a minimum of a year off of full time employment to dive into this experiment, if this ends up being a year of self improvement and self discovery, I’ll count it as a success but not be thrilled with the outcome.  My overall objective is to accomplish the brain reboot and in the process discover my next big thing, which I hope will be a project/career that will both improve the world around me and provide a sustainable living.

As part of the writing project, I’ve started this blog to document the journey, so if you find any of the ideas above interesting I hope to have more here on a regular basis.  My first month following full time employment starts today (October 2nd, 2012) and will consist of getting set up for the remainder of the year.  Some of the things I expect to post soon are what instrument and why, what language and why as well as early experiments in improving my pace of learning and how I figure out scheduling in an unconstrained environment.

–dwg

P.S. In case it isn’t intuitively obvious, the title of this post is meant to refer to the real mode dos/early windows definition of the three finger salute.