Type the Sky

typesky1

Type the Sky
Standing in something like a little courtyard in Barcelona I looked up. I saw houses, the sky, clouds and a “Q”. The negative space in-between the houses formed a letter. I loved the idea of the sky as words, the negative being the positive. If I could find a “Q” other letters should be somewhere around the corner.

Electrocuting wood

Now, electrocuting wood isn’t something that happens every day, so if someone came up to you and asked you what that would look like, you’d probably say something like, “Er, I don’t know, perhaps like, er, slow brown lightning or something? Something fractally? Perhaps mirroring the patterns of the wood’s original branches or roots or something? And then, perhaps, when two branches or lightning paths meet, they kind of get bigger? More like dark brown, clotted varicose veins or something, like out of The Thing, maybe?”

And you know what, you’d be right.

Man after my own heart?

Gus O'DonnellIt’s been suggested I have a listen to Gus O’Donnell’s Radio 4 thing, In Defence of Bureaucracy. It sounds great — “Former cabinet secretary Gus O’Donnell argues that bureaucracy is an essential part of a functioning democracy” — if you like that kind of thing. Which I do.

I was hoping The Google might tell me a little more about this but the links it provided were decidedly unhelpful.

One from FT.com looked promising:

There is no shame in being a bureaucrat
Bureaucracy brings fairness in a way more discretionary systems cannot, says Gus O’Donnell. Calling someone a bureaucrat should not be a …

but the article’s behind a paywall.

And another, from The Daily Mail, was heading off down a path I didn’t care to follow

Unsung heroes? No, pen-pushers like Gormless Gus are the bane of modern life!
We should be proud of our millions of bureaucrats, said nasal Gus, or Baron O’ Donnell of Clapham, as he has become following his seamless …

Let’s leave that there, shall we? I’ll just have to make up my own mind.

Update:

Sir Humphrey: Yes, yes, yes, I do see that there is a real dilemma here. In that, while it has been government policy to regard policy as a responsibility of Ministers and administration as a responsibility of Officials, the questions of administrative policy can cause confusion between the policy of administration and the administration of policy, especially when responsibility for the administration of the policy of administration conflicts, or overlaps with, responsibility for the policy of the administration of policy.

Stay on holiday

There must be a million blog posts out there about how to deal with e-mail. Here’s another. Rory Vaden has given us 7 tips for getting your inbox to zero to add to the mix. They all sound very familiar sensible but I especially liked number 3:

3. Extended Out of Office: When you go out of town for vacation or a work conference, turn your “out of office responder” for one day longer than you’re actually gone. I’ve found that having an out of office responder on all the time telling people how busy we are just annoys them–and doesn’t stop them from sending us emails. But turning on OOR once in a while really does have a positive effect in causing people to think before firing off an email to you knowing that you’re gone. The magic–which I discovered by accident–is in adding one extra day to it so that you legitimately have a catch-up day to get your feet back under you when you return.

I had a few days off last week and had my out-of-office on, but turned it off as soon as I got back. I might give this a go next time though, as I often find most of the first day back after any time off is spent dealing with the missed e-mail whilst trying to fend off the new that’s coming in, often about the same topic. (Do I start from the bottom and work up, or from the top and work down?…)

Other useful tips appear in the comments, too. Someone there admits to not reading any CC-mail. I might give that a go. Often putting someone’s name in the CC box is there for the benefit of the sender only, as a way of showing to the sendee (real word?) that other eyes are potentially on them. If it’s important, tell me about it. If it’s not, then don’t.

I also tend to avoid reading l o n g e-mails too. If it starts to feel like someone’s just venting or ranting, that the cue to stop reading and pick up the phone. Or better still, meet up and sort out whatever the issue is that’s prompted them to write at such length.

Will we ever crack e-mail, I wonder?

No such thing as a Stoic phone

stoicphoneI’ve had this iPhone for years, got fed up with it, got fed up with always having to chase the updates, always trying to catch up with the latest OS, always fighting off the built-in obsolescence, didn’t bother renewing the contract with O2 (when it finally ended) but instead went off in a huff and bought a cheap, pay-as-you-go, crappy dumb-phone, something deliberately not fashionable, with hardly any “features”, that was out-of-date before it started. ‘If I can’t always have the newest and fastest, I’ll have the oldest and slowest; that’ll show them,’ I thought, not really knowing who ‘they’ were or why I felt the need to show them anything.

But, as so often happens, I got bored with what I had and wanted something new. Again.

guidetothegoodlifeBut of course what I should have done was – not do that. What I should have done was – remember the book I’ve just finished reading, A Guide to the Good Life: The Ancient Art of Stoic Joy, by William B. Irvine. (Here are three summaries he wrote for Boingboing.net.) That would have saved me a lot of trouble.

Stoicism was a big deal back in the day, up there was Cynicism and Epicureanism and the other Greek and Roman schools of philosophy. Seneca, Epictetus and the emporer Marcus Aurelius were big exponents, but it’s pretty unheard of today, in any kind of structured way. Sure, we know what being stoical means, what being philosophical in the face of some adversity means, but that’s about it.

What the Roman stoics wanted, above all else, was tranquility. No negative emotions, such as grief, anger and anxiety, only positive ones. They felt the majority of our negative emotions were caused by our insatiability. We’re just never satisfied. We work hard to get what we want but then, when we get it, we eventually lose interest in it and go on to want the next new thing. And so on. This even has a name: hedonic adaptation. Sounds very grand.

“One key to happiness, then, is to forestall the adaptation process: We need to take steps to prevent ourselves from taking for granted, once we get them, the things we worked so hard to get.”

Lots of similarities with Buddhism, especially around the notion of impermanence:

“By contemplating the impermanence of everything in the world, we are forced to recognize that every time we do something could be the last time we do it, and this recognition can invest the things we do with a significance and intensity that would otherwise be absent.”

There are many techniques in that book that can help the reader contemplate such things as impermanence, as well as how to ‘stoically’ deal with all the crap life may throw at us. It all makes for fascinating reading, and I’ve been trying to out some of it into practice in various settings – with good results. Some of it reminded me of CBT; stepping out of your comfort zone to “immunise yourself against a fair amount of future anxiety.”

But I kept coming back to their views on desire, though that seems to be harder for me to internalise. Rather than working to satisfy whatever desires we find ourselves with, we should be learning to be satisfied with our life as it is, we should learn to be happy with what we’ve got.

I wish I had remembered that before I wasted all that time on that stupid phone.

stopwantingstupidshitI know you’re not interested, but I did finally jailbreak it, by downgrading to iOS 4.o and running redsn0w, but Cydia and ultrasn0w couldn’t get the damned thing to work with my other SIM card. Not bothered, didn’t want it anyway.

Like the Buddha says, Stop wanting stupid shit.

iMeh

Some context: For large parts of my working day I’m sitting at my PC reading and writing e-mails, Word things, database things. I also sit and read/write in the canteen with a cup of something. And at various points throughout the week I go to meetings where I also do the sit/read/write/drink-tea thing.

Sheets of A4 are involved quite heavily in all that, and I was asked if the paperless theme I’m so keen on when discuss the department’s systems and processes could be extended to my own ways of working. So I borrowed an iPad.

I’ve had it for over a week now and feel decidedly meh about it (if that’s not a contradiction).

Overall? Interface; nice. Access to the Word files I need; a faff, Dropbox notwithstanding. Ability to take notes and scribbles; still not as good/quick/free as a pen and paper.

I’ve found that I’m more likely to keep on top of my e-mails with it (which I’m guessing is a good thing?) and it’s very handy to have a fuller web with me when out and about, but if I was just looking at it as a way of cutting down the paper when I’m away from my desk, I think I’ll pass.

What would help more would be a netbook, I think. Something I can access my stuff on more easily. Something read/write. I’ve no doubt that there are many app(lication!)s out there that can help with that, but I’m just not sold enough on the notion to invest time and energy in searching them all out.

And that VMware View app(lication!) I had a go with. I was really excited about that and loved being able to connect to my desktop to get at my shared folders and files (hang on a minute, you mean- just like a laptop?). I could run Word and Excel, and even Access on it (like a laptop?), and being able to log in to our student records system (like you can do on a laptop?) has come in handy a couple of times. But, dear me, what a pain without a proper keyboard. Or a proper mouse. Just little things like the tab key, or F5 and F6 can make a big difference to your experience of something if they’re not there. Very frustrating, like trying to type wearing mittens. I’d imagine.

PS: My initial unease with this iPad, from an interface design point of view, has become clearer thanks to this BBC news story about Jonathan Ive and Blue Peter. Apparently there’s a word for it, skeuomorph:

It has been widely speculated that Sir Jonathan might now shift the Apple’s software away from its reliance on “skeuomorphic” textures and effects – in other words stop trying to make its apps look like their real-world equivalents. [Link]

Not before time.

The shape of stories

This week’s coaching and mentoring study day was all about stories and how they are used in coaching sessions to illustrate, elucidate, explain, hide and identify what may or may not be going on in our lives, behind the scenes or upfront, in our histories or our aspirations.

We briefly touched on the theory that there are only eight real stories but countless variations, and I was reminded of that Kurt Vonnegut clip I found on Brain Pickings, where he’s explaining his theory around the shape of stories. It may not have much to say about how narratives can help coaches and mentors, but it’s wonderfully astute and elegant. That Brain Pickings article carries on where this clip ends, if you want more.

Patchy first impressions

eye-patchI’m all for paperless this and online that at work, in terms of the systems and processes I try to roll out in place for the people I work with and for, but I was asked to put my money where my mouth is and remove the paper from my own ways of working.

I love lists, and those lists tend to be paper-based. It wasn’t so much those that I was asked to look at (thank goodness), but how I deal with all the reports and papers for the meetings and committees I go to. I did have a look at this before, but with not much success, so I agreed to have another go and asked our IT dept to lend me this here iPad.

Now I’ve had iPhones for a while, and have been a fan, but this is the first time I’ve had a proper go on an iPad, and I’m finding it a little frustrating.

Yes, the interface is all lovely, pinching this and spinning that, but that distant art student in me still has a problem with its schizophrenic approach to design: wonderful hardware, sleek, shiny, minimal, parred down, distinctive; but the software? ‘Notes‘, written on yellow pretend paper, complete with pretend perforation and pretend red margin, set in some kind of pretend leather folio, complete with white pretend stitching round the outside? ‘Contacts‘, set in a similar pretend address book, with pretend pages held together with pretend stitching along the pretend spine? I know that there are other work-related app(lications) out there that aren’t as bad, but still.

The thing that really jumped out at me, though, were those small pretend-raised lines under the F and J keys, ostensibly there to help the touch typists locate the home keys. I mean! The thing with the moveable split keyboard notwithstanding, that still feels wrong, right?

So no, I’m not sure I’m going to get on with this iPad.

Rethinking colour

Wandering round exp.lore.com has led to some re-evaluation of how I thought about colour. Turns out I’ve got some basic things wrong.

Update: Speaking of colour, Colossal have found some great aerial photos of tulip fields in the Netherlands. All the colours seem well represented there, without any wavelength issues…

In(ter)activity

interactivitySpeaking as an old Interactive Arts graduate, this Onion article really struck a chord and had me shouting “Yes! Exactly!” at the screen over and over again.

Internet users demand less interactivity
‘We Just Want To Visit Websites And Look At Them,’ Users Say

Tired of being bombarded with constant requests to share content on social media, bestow ratings, leave comments, and generally “join in on the discussion,” the nation’s Internet users demanded substantially less interactivity this week. […]

Speaking with reporters, web users expressed a near unanimous desire to visit a website and simply look at it, for once, without having every aspect of the user interface tailored to a set of demographic information culled from their previous browsing history. In addition, citizens overwhelmingly voiced their wish for a straightforward one-way conduit of information, and specifically one that did not require any kind of participation on their part. […]

“Every time I type a web address into my browser, I don’t need to be taken to a fully immersive, cross-platform, interactive viewing experience,” said San Diego office manager Keith Boscone. “I don’t want to take a moment to provide my feedback, open a free account, become part of a growing online community, or see what related links are available at various content partners.”

“All I want is to go to a website, enjoy it for the time I’ve decided to spend there, and then move on with my life,” he continued. “Is that so much to ask?” […]

In addition to demanding less interactivity, Internet users requested fewer links and clickable icons connected to social media outlets through which they could email, share, tweet, pin, blog, or re-blog content. Many said that when they did come across something they found interesting or amusing, nine times out of 10 they just wanted to keep it to themselves.

“Don’t always ask me to send everything I’ve read to everyone I know. And by the same token, I don’t need to know if they’ve read the same thing. That information means nothing to either of us,” said Glendale, AZ shopkeeper Dan Allenby, who could not think of a single instance where it would be helpful to sign into another website through his Facebook account. “If I wanted to tell someone about something, I’ll just tell them individually. Or better yet, they’ll stumble across it on their own.”

The header image for the article is great, just people reading the web, but sat next to it are the obligatory share-this-with-everyone buttons showing some impressive scores, so whilst it’s hitting a nerve with me, there are plenty of others on the other side of the in(ter)activity fence.

A less cloudy perspective on clouds

CloudDave Girouard, former President of Enterprise for Google, on why our objections to the cloud are mad.

Well, he would say that, wouldn’t he? Though, reading this, it’s hard to argue against him.

If you care about the reliability, security, and the protection of your data, then you should entrust it to those who are most capable of managing it. If you believe you can match the capabilities and rigor of Google’s Security Operations team, I wish you well.

An interesting perspective from someone very much the other side of this cloud debate.

(Via Robert Brook)

Defending process

An engineer’s perspective on process, and on never being put off when asking why:

A good Engineering Program Manager’s job is to keep the trains on time by all reasonable means. However, my experience with program managers over the past two decades is that 70% of them are crap because while they are capable of keeping the trains running on time, they don’t know why they’re doing what they’re doing. When someone on the team asked them to explain the reasoning behind the process, they’d say something to the effect of, “Well, this is how we’ve always done it…”

[…]

Anyone who interacts with process has a choice. You can either blindly follow the bulleted lists or you can ask why. They’re going to ignore you the first time you ask, the second time, too. The seventh time you will be labeled a troublemaker and you will run the risk of being uninvited to meetings, but I say keep asking why. Ask in a way that illuminates and doesn’t accuse. Listen hard when they attempt to explain and bumble it a bit because maybe they only know a bit of the origin story.

It’s a myth, but healthy process is awesome if it not only documents what we care about, but is willing to defend itself. It is required to stand up to scrutiny and when a process fails to do so, it must change.

A great account of how an organisation’s culture could be hidden within its processes, if only we have eyes to see.

To quote, or not to quote (Please retweet!)

“Apollodorus says, ‘If any one were to take away from the books of Chrysippus all the passages which he quotes from other authors, his paper would be left empty.'”
Robert Brook

Sorry, couldn’t resist this, but that was me quoting Robert Brook, quoting Wikipedia, quoting Diogenes LaĂ«rtius, quoting Apollodorus on Chrysippus’ quoting too much!

How to mess up hiring

A great perspective on some of the pitfalls of recruitment from Welsey Verhoeve.

I think of the costs associated with bad hires (time, energy, money) as a tuition fee for the lessons I’ve learned. And boy, lets just say I now have a PhD in hiring.

Lessons learned include hiring based on friend potential – that’s the one I fall foul of, and I’m due to start this process again soon as I’m looking to hire another member of our team. Wish me luck.

I liked his post about working in coffee shops instead of your office. The change of scene and fewer distractions certainly work for me.

(Via Swiss Miss)

Hunter on the edge

“The only people who really know where it is are the ones who have gone over.”

He’s dead now, but Dr Hunter S. Thompson is back to mock the living in this two minute run from the Golden Gate Park down to Santa Cruz, no helmet required.

Watch it, then check out his daily routine over on 101books.net. “Even if it’s only halfway truthful, wow. As crazy and morbidly fascinating and sad as this is, you’ve got to love the entry for 6 a.m.”

(Via Brain Pickings)