Side Projects · These are questions for wise men with skinny arms

Side Projects

I have at least 6 side projects, this blog is one. That count doesn’t include crafty handiwork, maintenance, or learning a new skill. I don’t have a good term for those short sessions, as they are more of a spike instead of a storied endeavor. My side projects are ideas I enjoy working on, but not necessarily complete. I think the difference between that project time investment and the time spent on things like TV seasons, video games, and random social events is an interesting dichotomy.


I organize the projects into moods, where I try to have one project per mood. I don’t have a set schedule, there are no deadlines or external requirements for these other than my own interest level. As a set of creative outlets, I try to cover as many feelings as possible without spreading myself too thin to feel accomplished.


I have a hardware project, which requires 3D modeling and researching part numbers for physical components. I’ve probably spent the most money but the least amount of time on this. It makes a good anecdote for the quintessential never-finished oft-discussed side project. I find this outlet supportive when I’ve realized I’ve lost touch with mechanical interactions. I often get into this mood if I’ve gotten frustrated from replacing something on my bike or computer by hand. It lets me continue that plan-buy-wait-forget tempo.


I have a legacy improvement project which is turning some awful open-source technology I needed once for work into something better for the next poor person who needs it. I’ve started a few different iterations of this, where I decide on a different path after I’ve made some big decision without any progress. I come back to this when I feel like I need to contribute to the technology that is left behind. When I feel like all of the modern technology problems are bad, going back and working with something both old and a little painful reminds me to enjoy my shiny new toys. I then have the urge to try to remove the pain from the key legacy component by pulling it into the future. This is partly to test if the new is better and partly to see if the old can be replaced. The cycles for this go fast as the project becomes more and more painful to work on the older it gets and my approaches get successively more ambitions.


I have a few long-running business/marketing ideas, which are light on the technology. These are great for chatting about big plans. They are always just out of reach of current technology or my capabilities, but they always have such potential that planning alone is part of the fun. I love talking on this level because it shows how much I don’t know and eventually tests how good my educated guesses are. I get to work on these when my friend brings up with a new direction to explore. I act as an app-technology consultant which is mostly just me rambling on topics slightly related to the issue at hand to try and put some context on the buzzwords being thrown around. This just makes me feel smart, I get nothing from it otherwise. I say: “Server-side Swift? Sounds like a technology hipster!”.


I have a game project which is half technology and half storytelling. This is a tough spot where I try to apply those weekend hacks on WebVR or Dr. Racket to do something useful. Sometimes it’s just blocked diagrams, other times it’s just trying to shoehorn a creative story into restrictive frameworks.

And then I have this blog, which is my collection of observations on the above and my day job.

The mood to create is a strong force, each of these is a creative outlet in technology where most of my expertise lies. The decision to balance each of these on a real whim means I never count on making progress, and the work, not the goal, is what makes it enjoyable. Inevitably, I get to a stage on each project that’s not enjoyable, where I’d rather skip to the next step than muddle through something I either don’t know or don’t enjoy. Sometimes I get lucky and I’m able to find a way around this stage where I can find a path that is enjoyable in a different way than I expected. Even worse I get sometimes get blocked by something external that can’t be controlled. When I do get unlucky, it generally puts me off the project for just long enough to slip my mind. Eventually, I’ll restart the project without remembering what put me off of it in the first place. Picking up a project long neglected is often a step in itself. Some things would be left in a working state or would break since I last touched it, and even if it does work I’ll spend most of the time just trying to new paths to the same place.

While I have a grand goal for a project I’ll admit that I treat them more as relaxing time wasters.