Saturday, April 24, 2010

What did you do today, dear?


Has the day blended into an unwholesome mush? What actually DID I spend my time on today? Well, since you ask:

3h4m7s     (30.2%) How to approach archiving of dead 
                             ways of collaborating 
                             remotely on an affinity diagram.
1h40m37s (16.5%) Preparing, calling and documenting a 
                             call my mentor. Nice feedback from 
                             someone I rate highly. 
1h40m32s (16.5%) An unexpected call from a colleague 
                             asking for advice on how to get people
                             working on his project
1h17m9s   (12.6%) Mail. (150 mails. Including responding 
                             to mails, which probably took a good 
                             30 minutes)
40m35s     (6.7%)   Setting up my Vodafone account on 
                             their site and topping up sprog 5's 
                             phone. The wrong phone, as it 
                             transpired. Painful, two calls to 
                             support teams. Who were 
31m40s     (5.1%)  Call our IT architect and document the 
                             application strategy in a key country. 
                             A specific goal for the year!!
22m57s     (3.7%)  Work on the costings for a key 
                             proposal for next year. This was 
                             supposed to be the main focus of my 
                             day. But data was not forthcoming. Ho 
16m50s     (2.7%)  Browsing. Pretty disciplined! (Excludes 
                             the 1h45m49s I footled away on 
                             Twitter and Blip last night. Dear God! 
                             Emily was, as ever, quite right)
13m35s     (2.2%)  Setting up and learning ManicTime. A 
                             sound investment, as it transpired.
13m1s       (2.1%)  Fluid input/output breaks

So, overall, not a bad day at work, with a good mix of completions (application strategy), investment (the archiving and research into collaboration) and support for the team. A purist might say that I should have taken more breaks. Sorry, Nicholas: mea culpa. Sorry again. On the other hand, a change is as good as a rest and tinkering with collaboration tools is as close to playtime as it gets, so not an exhausting day. Shockingly off plan, though. But look what the Group Norm had to say about the power of not forcing things. (Stick with it). He may be right.

The beloved had an evening off: I got home to posh fischcakes and noodles which I took in front of last week's first episode of The Prisoner (remake). Which was as good as expected (note to self: set the recorder tonight). And fits the times. Then out with the dog for half an hour for exercise and inspiration. Came back buzzing with ideas for blog. But a little tired, so tuned in to and a friendly forum. 2 hours later I'm exhausted and haven't done anything worthwhile. ManicTime has the evidence (see above). Never Again!!

Though one of my blips had it right, if only I'd been listening to my screaming subconscious. 

Have I mentioned ManicTime? Oh yes, I see I have. repeatedly. I came across it on Mark Forster's blog as a comment from Romano to a post about Qlockwork (another excellent, but expensive, activity tracker). Who'd have thought a timesheet could be such a sensual delight? Or that a simple snap to feature could be exploited so cleanly and with such subtlety? I find myself wanting to stroke it, the same way I like to fondle my Moleskine and my iPod touch in it's black rubber gear. Possibly a touch TMI here? A good thing this is my private journal.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Good Luck, Penelope

Penelope Trunk, ace bloggerette, ties the knot today after what feels like a lifetime of ups and downs with her Farmer. Along with about half a million other people, I wish them both a lifetime of growth and happiness.

La Trunk is an enchanting writer, and has become a part of my routine like my favourite slippers (before the dog ate them) or evenings at the fencing club (before kids revision schedules got in the way). I seem to be running short of cozy routines. Happily, her blog is still there (twice this week). So I do feel a tiny thrill of linkage to this event, thousands of miles away among people I will never meet. Especially as she arranged it for my birthday.

I may not be the first to notice that you can slip into someone's head with different levels of subtlety.

1. Use my name for a straightforward, open approach

If you use my name in conversation or writing, you switch me into "greeting" mode. It's like knocking on the front door: I'll come to meet you courteously, ready to think about what you are offering me. Usually, this is what you want.

2. Grab my attention with a special date

Then there is the special date. For most of us, the most special date is our birthday. Seeing this date triggers unreliable memories of gifts, meals, parties, excitement, happiness and love.At least, it does for me. Even if the actual events may sometimes have been objectively disappointing, I remember them as they should have been. This hoard of memory sits surprisingly deep. It's as though the inner lizard is actually a sleeping dragon and this is his treasure. He is very attached to his hoard, and any reminder will wake him up and get him interested.

In other words, it's a shortcut to my happy place.

3. Do something clever with my name

On a memorable visit to the Indigo specialist printing company in Israel, I got back to my hotel room after the first day to find a calendar pushed under the door. On each page was a landscape photo with my name spelled out in some way. (The first was an Alpine scene where the skiers spelt "WILL". And so on.) This slipped straight through the open back door into the kitchen and poured itself a cup of coffee, as it were. Apart from being amazed at the technology (there were eighty people on the visit, and we each got our own personalised calendar), and though my thinking mind knew that this was no more than a mailmerge, I did feel rather special.

They had taken the step beyond routine good manners. Like the person you meet at a party who looks into your eyes and repeats your name. Hint: as people expect less courtesy, the bar is getting lower. These habits are easy to practice and are available to all.

4. Blow me away with a wordless image

Finally, you can surprise me with an image. Done well, this is very, very powerful. Possibly slight overkill to encourage people to pay their TV licences, but this (*) is exactly the response I expect when news of my blog leaks out beyond the discerning few. (Stick with it.)

(*) I am grateful to Jon Moon for this link. I've mentioned him once before. He won't help you organise your life. He won't inspire you to brilliance. He won't lead you safely through the maze of social media marketing. He  will simply show you how to design your documents for clarity and impact. You can find him here, with lots of fun stuff. He sent his fans this DIY Hero link.

He has done a lovely version of the Downfall subtitles, "Hitler Hates the Sales Presentation". What is it about these particular four minutes that make it such a great spotlight for all the stupidities of modern life?

(Today is shaping shaped up rather well, since you ask, with blogging first thing, a beautiful bright morning which will probably draw drew me out of my pit before I finished and good wishes from family and friends.Then rather a good adaptation of Robert Harris's The Ghost, birthday tea and a couple of games of Carcassonne with sprog 5 - honours even. Rounded off with a little quiet blogging and pigging out on Whittards plain chocolate orange strips.)

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Written in haste, written in awe

of Philip Pullman, on censorship and free speech. This just shows the power of an intelligent and articulate writer stating his credo. It's good enough to eat. In fact, good enough to requote here. Pullman was taken to task for the offensive title of a recent work. This is his reply:
"It was a shocking thing to say and I knew it was a shocking thing to say. But no one has the right to live without being shocked. No one has the right to spend their life without being offended. Nobody has to read this book. Nobody has to pick it up. Nobody has to open it. And if you open it and read it, you don't have to like it. And if you read it and you dislike it, you don't have to remain silent about it. You can write to me, you can complain about it, you can write to the publisher, you can write to the papers, you can write your own book. You can do all those things, but there your rights stop. No one has the right to stop me writing this book. No one has the right to stop it being published, or bought, or sold or read. That's all I have to say on that subject." 
 At which point, all right thinking webizens are on their feet, clapping and cheering.

Such precisely controlled and focused passion in an off the cuff comment: marvellous. And, most importantly of all, stopping as exactly the right place. An example to us all: every paragraph should carry exactly one payload.

Sorry, notional readers: I have some way to go, I fear.

But ...

You don't have to read a book for it to challenge your belief: just knowing it exists is enough. (In fact authors frequently whine that their critics should have read their work before complaining.) And you cannot protect yourself from finding out that it exists. From that point on, Pullman is simultaneously and falsely humble and arrogant.

On the one hand, he is offering the remedy of an argument. Well thanks, but no thanks. Defending myself against someone of his calibre is not really a starter. This is like a tenth dan Wing Chun master saying, "I have the right to try and mug you and you have the right to defend yourself". His answer proves it. When challenged by an ordinary mortal, he nukes them with his credo and moves on.

The implication is that you don't suffer real damage if your beliefs are weakened: that your credo is worth less than your credit card. But many inarticulate people rely on a simple faith to guide them through life. Chip away at that and they lose direction and momentum. This is real harm: to the good they can do in the world and to the living they can make for their families.

On the other hand, he assumes a God given (oops, possibly not!) right to tell us what to believe.

This is beginning to sound like an argument for censorship. It isn't.

Free speech and open argument do real damage, but in the end they are the safest way. People like Pullman are our best hope. What they write is important, can do good and can hurt people. So they need to take responsibility. "Well, no-one needs to read me so I can write whatever I please" is an arrogant cop-out.