Reflection on 2014

I recently created a Facebook Year In Review for 2014. I called it Millimeters By Intravenous, or MMXIV as an acronym, which is also 2014 written as roman numerals. Facebook could only create a review based on what I posted to Facebook. There were definitely gaps in the narrative from when I was deliberately offline. My offline times were my most transformative, and it felt strange to get on Facebook and write about what happened while offline. I don’t think the Facebook Year In Review was the right place to share what happened. In fact, quite a bit of hullabaloo came about when terrible life events were framed as celebratory in the Facebook Year In Review for others. I’ll avoid adding to that discussion. Instead, I’ll focus below on details of my own life, especially ones where I think my blog is a better medium.

Note that this entry touches on parts of my life I may not have revealed on this blog thus far. As I continue writing in 2015, I want my blog to be my primary outlet to the world, so expect additional personal entries like this one. It would be difficult for me to write about learning without sharing what went into my own learning, struggles and all.

The format of this entry is going to be a retrospective, or retro, format. As I’ve learned from my new and current employer, Detroit Labs, a retro typically covers three categories:

  1. What went well?
  2. What didn’t go so well?
  3. What needs to change?

I’m going to keep the details fairly short on each item, only elaborating where it affects the scope of the year as a whole. I’m sure I’ll write more entries about specific items, and I’ll hyperlink to those entries with future edits of this entry.

What Went Well?
I read a book called Self-Parenting, where I learned about psychographic profiles that most of us have called the Inner Parent and the Inner Child. I learned that most of my inner conflicts can be acted out as dialogue between the Inner Child and Inner Parent. When I found ways to keep the dialogue civil and constructive, I was better able to work out my inner disputes.

I started regularly running again, and this time all on my own. I hadn’t run seriously since 2012. Back in 2012 I lived around Dallas, TX, and I had trained with my friends for the 2012 Chicago Marathon. I ran only some of the recommended training runs (and yes, I did finish the marathon with this inadequate training, but that’s another story), and only with my friends and never on my own. Turns out I love to able to run on my own for my own health and peace of mind and not for a race or any other goal.

I took journaling to the next level. I had been carrying a journal with me to most places since 2012, and I had used the journal to record little thoughts and observations at random intervals. This year I instead used my journal to write three pages of whatever comes to mind in the morning. This is Julia Cameron’s idea of the “morning pages“. Writing this amount has helped me see further into what’s really on my mind. A journal is a cheap therapist.

I went on a major road trip through North America’s northwest. I haven’t typed up my collected experience of this road trip yet, so I’m not sure if it will take multiple entries to explain. Essentially, the trip started in Seattle, WA where I hung out with friends for a few days. I then drove my rental Jeep Compass through the deserts of Washington, past the sapphire Ceour d’Alene over the Continental Divide of the Americas, in a Y shape around Montana that I loved and will visit again, across the green prairie of Alberta to Calgary’s metropolis, through the mountains and lakes of Banff and then British Columbia back down to Seattle. I followed a course similar to the one in the map below.
Screen Shot 2014-12-31 at 16.53.44

I wrote out a vision of where I want to be in five years, and I have defined my life’s mission statement. I worked on these while on my road trip. When I type out the final versions of these, I’ll make them pages on this blog.

I saw some of my favorite acts live in concert. Throwing Muses is one of my favorite bands, and I caught their act in Seattle during my road trip. They haven’t played together in a very long time. I saw Tacocat at a block party concert by Calgary’s Luke’s Drug Mart (also a stop on the road trip), and they were kind enough to chat and take a photo with me after their set. I saw Sharon Van Etten at The Loving Touch in Ferndale, MI, and also chatted with her after the show. There were a few other great acts, but that’s for another post.

I officiated the wedding of one of my best friends and her husband. That’s right, I’m ordained.

I left my job in medical devices for an apprenticeship in mobile application development at Detroit Labs. For three months I learned about Java and Android in downtown Detroit with a handful of other apprentices of all different backgrounds (no computer science majors). It was the most supportive and simultaneously most challenging education experience I’ve been through. There’s plenty more to write about this experience, another time.

I graduated the apprenticeship at Detroit Labs. I’m now working as full-time developer, making Android apps for clients. I never thought I would write that.

I started taking habit tracking seriously. I use an app on my iPhone called Habit List, where I can record how many days a week I kept to a habit I want to build. Among the habits tracked: getting more sleep, meditating, running, journaling, and eating well. My final project of my Detroit Labs apprenticeship was an Android app I made called HabiTrack that helps the user keep up chains of good habits following Jerry Seinfeld’s productivity secret.

What Didn’t Go So Well?
My visit to Canada this summer as a whole. I enjoyed seeing Tacocat live in Calgary, and it was gorgeous to drive through Banff, but I did not do the right amount of planning for the rest of my stay. I’ll spare the details for now, but I’ll just advise against not having a data plan in Canada and driving through British Columbia in one sitting.

Sleeping in a Jeep Compass without good blankets or coats. There’s nothing wrong with a Jeep Compass—I actually really liked driving it. I just don’t recommend sleeping in one. On cold nights, without my coat or blankets, I wrapped myself in trash bags, to wake up to dew coating my legs. Sleeping in the back of the Compass is worse than sleeping in the seat. I would wake up with a sharp pain from my neck to my feat, almost wishing I hadn’t slept at all.

Finances. I won’t divulge numbers here, but I have not been staying within my budget this year. I leave this year in the black, but there’s a lot to do to improve saving.

I lost my grandfather. He was very important to me throughout my entire life. He’s the reason I ever started liking math, wordplay, and comics. He believed in my creativity and nourished it. I miss him. When he died, I vowed I would live a life as great as his.

What Needs To Change?
I can call Discover and Verizon before I do any international travel to enjoy my stay more.

I can save up more for travel and stay in more hotels or motels on future road trips. A bed is worth it.

I can get serious about systems for saving money. One trick I learned this year is to save $5 bills instead of spending them. It stacks up faster than I thought it would. To take this further, I plan on working out an envelope system of saving, where every dollar is allocated to something, even flex room. I can also create a habit to spend time on finances on a consistent basis.


There’s plenty more to work on in 2015, but I’m glad I made it through 2014. Discomfort and loss were major emotional tones this year, but I think I was in a better place to work through them. I have a job I really like and I’ve got the momentum of the habit changes and hard work I’ve done this year.

2015, let’s do this.

To the future,
Arthur Hovinc

Flood of Tweets, Winter 2014–2015

You may have noticed my Twitter account has been a lot more active recently. Up until October this year I was silent, but broke that silence when I wrote a tweet to commemorate a great man. I started writing many more tweets since then.

Now, for the next ninety days or so, I am writing a new tweet that is also a haiku everyday. If creativity is a muscle, the more I exercise it, the stronger it gets. These tweets/haiku don’t need to be “good”, they just need to be created everyday. (And if you know Lynda Barry’s work, you know that the questions “Is it good?” and “Does it suck?” cripple innate creativity.) By writing everyday, even seventeen syllables, I quiet my fears of creating “bad” or “sucky” work. The more I write and collect experience, the more I realize how I would revise even my “bad” work. As Brenda Ueland said,

“If you write a bad story, the way to make it better is to write three more. Then look at the first one. You will have grown in understanding, in honesty. You will know what to do to it. And to yourself.”

Moreover, the work stacks up. Seventeen syllables for ninety days makes 1530 syllables. At my old rate of a tweet a month, I’d have only produced 153 syllables in the time I spent silent. That’s a tenfold increase!

Creativity/
Inexhaustible when used/
Signature haiku,
Art

Reflecting on Reflecting

I’ve been reflecting a lot more often recently. Autumn has that effect on me, and this autumn has had a lot to reflect on (more on that in other posts). I’m trying out a new reflection technique at the end of every meeting I have and at the end of every workday. It’s pretty straightforward, but I don’t see a lot of people doing it.

Reflection Technique:
I simply take out my pen and a piece of paper and I write down the thoughts in my head after each meeting or after the workday. When I say “meeting”, I mean any discussion with another person or other persons, formal or informal. At the end of day reflection, I answer the questions “What went well?” and “What could go better?” The whole technique takes between two and fifteen minutes each time. It’s time well spent.

I’m finding written reflection very useful to my learning process. My brain generates a lot of ideas, but if I don’t write them down or dictate them to my phone within two minutes of their creation, they are gone forever. I’m finding that I can consolidate my fleeting thoughts into long term memory just by writing down what I’m thinking after an experience like a meeting or a full workday. I may never read the notes again, but it doesn’t matter. The act of writing itself commits the thoughts to memory. Writing it down puts clear words to what I was thinking and feeling, and these clear words are retrievable in my brain, unlike fleeting emotions or vague thoughts.

I had left meetings and workdays in the past with many thoughts storming around my head, and not doing anything about them but letting them sublimate. Collecting those thoughts is analogous to finishing up a piece of art and properly stowing all materials and tools used to make it. It’s tidying up, leaving a meeting or workday cleanly. It helps me see what to-dos come out of meetings and what I want to focus on the next workday.

For instance, I reflected after an all-team meeting last week at work. The team was discussing being open and honest in communicating. Easier said than done. One of my thoughts after the meeting was that I could host some Lunch and Learn sessions about the techniques I’ve learned to communicate clearly and actively listen. I wrote it down on my notepad with my pen. Now I can recall it even without referencing my notepad, as I type this. It matters to me, and I intend to study more on the subject of communication and listening, and then implement and teach what I learn.

The act of reflecting is one level of the Four Levels of Learning. I’ll be writing more about these levels in the future, but I’ll list them below. Credit goes to ZingTrain for introducing me to the Four Levels of Learning.

Level 1: Listening or Reading (where good and active listening is an art and good and active reading is a system)
Level 2: Reflecting
Level 3: Assimilating and Implementing
Level 4: Teaching

Reflecting,
Art

Behold The Cheese In Retrospect, Part 7

Ah, another cheesy review of my old cartoons and comics website, Behold The Cheese. I drew most of these cartoons and comics between 2007 and 2011. The oldest ones are what I would now call Two-Minute Comics, which are scribbles in permanent marker capturing a silly idea. The latest ones (most not shown yet, saving for later entries in this series) were comics of two or more panels that were drawn all right. Today’s cartoons come from mostly 2008, except the obvious permanent marker cartoon, which comes from 2007. In the summer of 2008 I worked at an internship in Forrest Gump’s Savannah, GA, and I was drawing mostly with a Pilot V-Ball pen on printer paper. I had most Fridays off at that job, where we practiced “four tens”, or four days of ten hours each day. I spent most Fridays doodling and reading. The results are the cartoons that look like the ones below. Keep in mind that this retrospect series had not been chronological much at all.

Oh wow, it’s Batman! Anyone remember Bat Boy from the Weekly World News? That’s the reference here. I think this evolution follows most of the Pokémon conventions, in that later forms get more spikes and are notably cooler. Batman also has a lot more money than Bat Boy. He buffed up quite a bit too, but so did Christian Bale in changing roles from Trevor Reznik in The Machinist to Bruce Wayne/Batman in The Dark Knight Trilogy. Speaking of which, I’m pretty sure I drew this around the time The Dark Knight was in theaters. Does Bat Boy relate to Bruce Wayne in any way? Has anyone watched the TV series Gotham? Does actor David Mazouz (young Bruce Wayne) resemble Bat Boy? These are pressing questions. Someone has to know.

batevolution

Here we see a couple that is upset about professions. The woman is upset with the man about his being a clown, and the man is trying to deny it even though it is very obvious he is a clown. Maybe they are in some kind of relationship where keeping secrets about professions—however comical—is frowned upon. It’s unclear. I was playing around with expressive eyebrows here, having never really drawn them before. The clown eyebrows are very Peanuts, and the woman’s eyebrows are just horizontal lines (that were supposed to represent frustration). I like how the clown’s hair came out. Someone told me tonight these cartoons reminded him of The New Yorker cartoons. The single panel cartoons definitely had The New Yorker as an influence. These very literal paragraphs surrounding the cartoons have The Monkeys You Ordered as an influence, where I think the literal interpretation of something silly is even funnier than a punchline. In fact, being a fan of situational humor, I don’t really like or use punchlines. I much prefer reversals of expectation.

clown

In this next cartoon we see what happens to your batteries when they die. They hold funerals. The tears are actually some kind of magnesium dioxide solution, not saline water, so don’t get too close. You can see that I’m referencing the Duracell and Engergizer brand names here. I’m glad that competing battery brands can get together and respect their dead. I got a nice comment on this cartoon when I used it as my profile picture on Facebook. A friend said, “This belongs in a newspaper.” What do you think, readers?

deadbattery

Next, we see some bananas with faces and limbs getting very excited about being bananas, probably after being something else for some duration. What did they used to be? Are they actually bananas if they have faces and limbs unlike most bananas? Is this actually just a visual play on the adjective “bananas”? If so, why would they be excited about being nuts? Does that mean they are actually nuts and not bananas? They don’t look like nuts. We covered what nuts look like in Part 6.

finallybananas

Good, here’s another Two-Minute Comic of some creature leaping up from the grass. The image file was called “nemnoo.jpg”, where a nemnoo was an imaginary creature I came up with that is mostly eyes and feet. I think the nemnoo is checking for predators by jumping up above the grass. What eats a nemnoo? Do nemnoo taste good?

nemnoo

That’s all for now.

Keep your eyes open and wonder,
Art

Behold The Cheese In Retrospect, Part 6

Let’s look at five more old Behold The Cheese cartoons. Note that I am scouring my old image files for the Behold The Cheese website and posting images in roughly alphabetically by file name, saving some of my favorite cartoons for last. In fact, I’ll probably end this “In Retrospect” series with my five favorite Behold The Cheese cartoons, ones that I hope my readers will appreciate too.

Here we see a horse and frog having a conversation. The frog is not facing the horse. Maybe he was already walking on two legs to the right, and the horse was following the frog and had a secret to share. It looks like an important secret because of the three question marks following the question. I’ve always found repeated punctuation really funny, starting with the ellipsis (…). In fact, there’s a nice symmetry here for the horse and frog, three question marks (???) and three periods (…). This cartoon suggests that blonde Disney princesses are all actually the same character. My favorite Disney princesses are Pocahontas and Mulan.

horseandfrog

This next cartoon is a tribute to my old gamer handle, InappropriateNuts, often shortened to iNuts. The nuts are inappropriate when paired so closely, reminiscent of human anatomy colloquially called the same thing. You can see here I was playing around with cross-hatch shading instead of just thick lines of permanent marker. You can also see my real last name as a signature here. This was before I decided on going by my pen name Arthur Hovinc.

inappropriate

The next cartoon may be one of my favorites. I had been noticing that my cartoons rarely filled the whole paper when I drew them, and I wanted to play around with that in a cartoon. I think it’s interesting that invisible characters have visible word bubbles. Do you think the invisible character is a bird? The character is definitely close with Mary the bird. I’m kind of hoping that the character is in fact an invisible bird, but I can’t really say what he is. How long has the character been invisible? Note the repeated exclamation points. He’s pretty excited about being invisible, in the general sense (as in, he could be terrified). So many unknowns here. What a mystery.

invisiblebird

This next cartoon was from a series of cartoons drawn in the summer of 2008 when I was interning at an aerospace company and drawing a lot with Pilot V Ball pens. It would seem that these two characters don’t know each other and are in a kitchen. The character with the last word is a little sassy. Is he drinking water or milk, or something else? Hard to tell when everything is black and white. Again, note the repeated punctuation marks. I once had a boss that used six exclamation points in a row to convey excitement. (GREAT JOB!!!!!!) Back to the cartoon, I think it would be terrifying to find someone I don’t know in my kitchen drinking my water or milk, especially with such sass. It’s unknown how this conflict ends.

latenightfridge

In the last cartoon for this entry, we see Miniature Cow. Some people that are probably normal sized (but it’s not certain) seem to have been looking for and chasing after Miniature Cow. Maybe Miniature Cow stole something valuable, probably pretty easy to do at her size. Imagine all the places a Miniature cow could sneak into. Then again, where is a cow going to hide the loot? After I drew this cartoon, I thought about making Miniature Cow a recurring character. This cow has no udder (shown) because Behold The Cheese was rated TV-Y7, just like most of my humor. I thought the whole idea of a miniature cow was udderly hilarious.

miniaturecow

Call your best friend today,
Art

Announcing A New Blog Series and Category: Learning

I’d like to announce a new series and category I’m writing on this blog. The category is “Learning”, which is a very broad word, but here it means sharing my own learning process. I’m going to focus especially on topics that I used to think were out of reach for me to learn. I’ll cover how I learned topics such as Java and Android development for my new full-time (paying!) job, self-management that works for me, making electrical circuits that work, entering the huge world of 3D printing, and so on.

To give a little bit of context without giving to much away (more to share in this series), I have a TA at my current job, where my current full-time job is to learn as much as I can about application development and working in teams to deliver. Today the TA and I sat down for an hour and talked about feedback he’d written about me after I completed a project last week. He wrote, “I have not seen him expose his ignorance.” That got me to thinking—I don’t really expose my ignorance. I don’t really let others, especially those who care for me or those who are trying to help me learn, know where I need help. I try to take on everything myself, and I don’t share the struggle. We also discussed how I don’t even have a feel for the boundaries of my “learning zone”, that is, the zone between comfort and drowning. I’ll be reflecting on this as I try to find those boundaries.

This series then is about sharing the struggle of learning. Learning is hardly ever easy, but it’s fulfilling. I do share my successes when I get there, but I notice that I haven’t been creating or writing much in recent times, and I think that’s because I don’t have much to share as a “success”. Learning is intrinsically valuable even without “success”. I’m learning, and there’s lots of failure on the path of learning. But I’m starting to accept that. This series will be a reflection of what works and what doesn’t for me. There will be lots about failure. Perhaps my readers will find value in that. Even if they don’t, it’s therapeutic for me to expose my ignorance for my own sake.

A long journey ahead,
Art

IMG_5887

New Blog Layout for Fall 2014

Heya gang,

It’s been a while. This post isn’t a big one, but it’s to let you know I’m feeling my creative spirit starting up again, and I think a new layout is fitting for this blog.

If you’re a new reader here, how about reading some of my most popular posts from the past? It’s nice for me to look at them too.

You can read about my high school love of math.

I posited about haiku that rhyme.

I wrote about the boundaries of meaning in written language.

I wrote when I was probably too tired to be coherent.

I wrote a bunch of haiku in series.

Later,
Art

Insomnia Log 5

I’ve got the opening theme to Portlandia playing on endless loop in my head. I’m not referring to it by its song name or artist because I learned it first from Portlandia. I’m not current on music, or I might have known about the song back in 2011. Heck, I’m not current on TV either, never having watched the first season of Mad Men and only seeing the first season of Portlandia a week ago because the library carried it.

“Current” is definitely the right word for the state of understanding recent developments, i.e. knowing current events, or knowing what song is currently playing. If all our information is a river (I think it is), those who are current with it swim at pace in the most turbulent and forceful parts (the current) of that body of water. Those who are behind and don’t even think about swimming in that stream (like the author) are just looking at the river and all its swirls and ripples. I happen to look at it all rather wistfully, poetically if my brain is working. I have a list called “Music to listen to” that contains music recommendations from friends (whom I trust more than Amazon or Pandora). I’d say that list has six items added to it for each item checked off, on average. I find staying current pretty stressful. I rent multiple CDs from the library and listen to them while driving. Sometimes my car’s CD player thinks I put in a coaster and beeps at me with the CD halfway out. If it does actually play, it feels like homework if I’m working to stay current. “Have you listened to the new Vampire Weekend?” I did pick it up from the library and I didn’t know what to do with it. Nothing stuck. I don’t even remember how any songs went. I reply to that question with, “Yes, it’d be a fine weekend for a campfire.”

I like unasking questions. “Mu,” said Jōshū.

And yet the album The Campfire Headphase sticks with me, especially the song Dayvan Cowboy, even though the songs are just loops of guitar sounds. Why? I don’t know.

I don’t listen to lyrics. My good friend P will repeat sections of songs we’re listening to when he thinks the lyrics are important. I miss the words until the fifth repeat. I usually just nod on the first repeat and politely say, “Mm. Yeah, that’s a good line.” If I want to be moved by words I prefer reading them on paper. Maybe that’s why I like a lot of music that’s just sounds and no words.

Coming full circle, I only like the part of the Portlandia theme that plays during the show’s opening, i.e. the part without words. Once the robotic vocals come in, I lose interest. Then the song becomes something I “have to” interpret. Beats never need to be interpreted, only felt. Jazz never needs to be interpreted, only felt. I don’t think I can feel spoken or sung word.

Missing: adenosine; reward: $$$
Art

Damn Good Coffee 2

Today’s coffee tastes like unsweetened baking chocolate dissolved into hot water, with just a touch of sourdough bread flavor, especially toward the bottom of the mug. With press pot coffee (today’s coffee was brewed with a press pot, sometimes called a French press), there are often grounds and concentrated coffee oils at the bottom, giving a slightly grittier and silty feel at the bottom of the cup. The siltiness (new word) coats your teeth.

This coffee is a press pot–brewed Roadhouse Joe blend from Zingerman’s Coffee Co. and Zingerman’s Roadhouse.

And look at that! Two down on this row for press pot. There are going to be many entries about Zingerman’s coffee as I complete the Big Brew Bingo board.

20140724-214351-78231298.jpg

Keep bouncing,
Art