What is Thing-a-Month?

Posted 6 months, 3 weeks ago on Jan. 1, 2024

Thing a Month is my challenge to myself to release a new project every month.

They will often be software projects, because even though I have been working as a software engineer professionally for almost 20 years, I still love coding in my spare time. Some projects will be other things though, I have no criteria or, to be honest, any kind of structure or plan.

That's kind of the point though.

I have many many ideas, but they often go nowhere either because I lose interest or, more often, because I overthink them and end up restarting again and again and giving up in frustration. In terms of word count, I have written a whole novel - but it's the first few pages just replaced again and again.

In 2005, Jonathan Coulton - creator of the theme song for Portal - decided to write a new song every week. He managed to do it too, for a whole year, and created some brilliant songs. Also plenty which by his own admission were just silly:

That is the inspiration for this website, both in name and purpose. Reduce the filter, put something out even if it's not ready.

Why Thing a Month?

Accountability

By publicly committing to releasing something once per month, I am hoping that the visibility and eventually habit will encourage me to actually release something even if it is imperfect, instead of second-guessing it into purgatory where it never sees the light of day.

Tom Scott committed to posting one video to youtube every Monday. Watch his discussion of that as he draws it to a close after one video every Monday for 10 years,

He points out that some of the videos he put out because he had promised he would do so, even if he didn't feel they were as good as they could be, and also how much better he got at it over the years in terms of quality, research and production quality.

This is the kind of attitude I want to embrace. Instead of constantly thinking that "there's no point releasing it because I can see the flaws: if it's not perfect, nobody will want it", I will try to think "here's version one, tell me what you think and I'll learn, iterate and get better".

Fun!

In a way, having to release something also takes the pressure off to the point where I can release things which may be whimsical or serve no particular purpose.

A lot of times I try to make some serious project which might become a new business or might help in my job searches. It always has to be a "productive" use of my time, and that is a habit I want to break by taking the time to have fun for no reason.

The childish joy of creating for the sake of creating.

Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal web-comic "Being"

Habit/routine

I have been reading The Power of Habit recently. It is a fascinating examination of the mechanisms by which we form and break habits - and addictions.

It discusses how any habit we have is made up of three components:

  • The cue : the thing which triggers the habit, whether it's a certain smell or a particular time of day
  • The routine : whatever it is that we undertake to perform the habit
  • The reward : the thing which causes the endorphins we get from completing the habit.

In an example given in the book based on a study of rhesus monkeys:

One day, Schultz positioned Julio on a chair in a dimly lit room and turned on a computer monitor. Julio’s job was to touch a lever whenever colored shapes—small yellow spirals, red squiggles, blue lines—appeared on the screen. If Julio touched the lever when a shape appeared, a drop of blackberry juice would run down a tube hanging from the ceiling and onto the monkey’s lips.

Julio liked blackberry juice.

At first, Julio was only mildly interested in what was happening on the screen. He spent most of his time trying to squirm out of the chair. But once the first dose of juice arrived, Julio became very focused on the monitor. As the monkey came to understand, through dozens of repetitions, that the shapes on the screen were a cue for a routine (touch the lever) that resulted in a reward (blackberry juice), he started staring at the screen with a laserlike intensity. He didn’t squirm. When a yellow squiggle appeared, he went for the lever. When a blue line flashed, he pounced. And when the juice arrived, Julio would lick his lips contentedly.

As Schultz monitored the activity within Julio’s brain, he saw a pattern emerge. Whenever Julio received his reward, his brain activity would spike in a manner that suggested he was experiencing happiness. A transcript of that neurological activity shows what it looks like when a monkey’s brain says, in essence, “I got a reward!”

So I will try to build my own habit loop, looking something like this:

Habit loop: cue, routine, reward

What Things? What Months?

To be very clear up front: I will not be spending a whole month making one thing from scratch. This page is just about actually announcing the projects.

Some might take a long time to get working, some might take a weekend. The effort in them will be varied but the cadence for how they get released will not.

The ideas I have are various:

  • Some tiny projects which might make some extra money on the side, as a gentle passive income... usually software
  • Some more serious business ideas for software-as-a-service products
  • All kinds of little things, like : how do you make croissants? Should I try to run a marathon? Can I become a voice actor?

I don't promise that all things will he consistent with each other, make sense or in an way shape or form be anything other than what I felt like making.

The first project is Thing a Month

As a kind of quine, the first project on thing-a-month will be thing-a-month itself.

This blog software is very simple and self written, so it's not cheating to say that it was a project. It'd be disingenuous to say it took much effort though. Still, for the purposes of releasing one project a month, and in deference to the fact that this was the project I worked on this month, here it is. Tada!