Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Put Your Best People on your Most Boring Challenges

A guest article today from The Harvard Review via the Dynamic Small Business Network.

Don't you love it when someone crystalizes what you know already but haven't been able to put into words?

as organizations scale, they often slip, slide and default into less than mediocre processes that get the job done. Unfortunately, the job gets done in manual, jury-rigged or improvised ways that are deadly dull to manage and excruciatingly boring to fix…. [T]he real barriers to growth aren't around the ingenuity of value-added implementations; they're in the lag-behind, necessary evil support systems and three-quarter baked infrastructures desperately attempting to support them.

When we confuse process with result

Here's the scenario: you decide to spring clean your closet / hall cupboard / stationery store. You pull everything out to see what's in there, and have it all spread over every available surface at the point where your blood sugar falls through the floor or you're called away to another task. It all starts to feel pointless and counterproductive. You shove it all back in, any old how, and mentally curse yourself for being such a slob that even when you're trying to clean up you're still only making a bigger mess.

Congratulations, you've confused the process with the result. The result is a tidy and organised closet / hall cupboard / stationery store. The process is chaotic and appears disorganised. (People never believe that random looking piles of stuff are a form of order.)

Our new fitness regime is likely to suffer a similar fate. We don't feel (or look) trim, taut, energetic and terrific when we exercise, so when we hit our lowest ebb, we wonder 'what's the point?' We're confusing the result with the process.

Take this human tendency into the field of human relationships and you just know its going to go kablooey.

Can you see this pattern at work anywhere in your life?

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

The end of embalmed wood

I'm about to rave about a new non-toxic paint stripper, called soygel.

I love wood, which is why I dislike the plasticised finishes on so many items of furniture. Sure, you can put your coffee cup down on it without it marking, but sometimes the polyurethane is so thick - and tinted - it obscures the grain. One scratch and its ruined forever, there's no recovery. (With oil and wax, you just add some more and buff till the mark is gone.) And polyurethaned wood doesn't feel like wood, it feels like plastic. A book I once read on fine carpentery techniques called it 'embalmed wood'. I wish I could recall the author's name, because that's a genius phrase.

Soygel is the answer. As the name suggests, its a byproduct of soybeans. Its so non-toxic you supposedly can eat it out of the container (I wouldn't.) You can't eat it once its mixed with paint, you don't know whats in that stuff. It smells faintly fishy to me, in a 10 litre quantity, its not offensive in smaller doses. Compared to paintstripper it has no smell worth mentioning.

The thicker the paint/varnish, the thicker you apply the soygel. It goes on a bit runny and thickens up to the consistency of jelly (aka jello) once it combines with the paint/varnish. Two hints - use a brush that doesn't have a painted handle otherwise you'll end up with soygel on the paintbrush and it will lift off staining your hands. Don't use a foam 'brush' - the soygel seemed to break down the foam.

Wait a while then use a plastic scraper to literally scrape the paint-infused gel off the surface.  You don't need anything as aggressive as metal scraper. Wipe the scraper off onto paper towel. A while is around 30 minutes but can be up to 2 hours. If you leave it too long, it dries hard again, so you just apply some more soygel. On a flat surface, and with the optimum amount of time, you can just scraper the gunk off the edge of the item straight into a waiting container.

At the end, wipe the item down with warm soapy water and any residue will be removed. Unless your item is very damaged there is NO NEED TO SAND. Really.

Life will never be the same again. Viva human ingenuity.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Gift giving - a moment of truth

Gift giving can give you an insight into the level of intimacy in your relationships. I'm talking about gift giving that is motivated by love, rather than by duty or social obligation.

There are people you love who you could pick a dozen appropriate and desirable gifts for, you know them that well.

There are people you love who you have no idea what they really genuinely like. Maybe you did 2 or 5 or 15 years ago, but now you don't.

If you're not increasing the intimacy of your relationships - the other person is becoming more 'real' to you, more complete or multi-dimensional - then you are decreasing intimacy, and paying less attention to them. Which can begin to merge into situational love rather than specific love.

So the only thing worse than not knowing what to buy someone you love, is knowing what this says about how you relate with them. Loving blindness is, as Billy Connolly would say, 'of use to no bugger'.

Saturday, December 3, 2011


Earlier, I posted about tweaking photos.

Serendipitously, this week I'm reading Clive James' A Point of View, a compilation of articles he wrote for the eponymous BBC Radio show.  Radiant Faces discusses icons - do follow the link to his website, where you can read the article yourself - and made me realise that is what I am doing with my tweaks, I am turning the photo into an icon. James writes:

… the viewer’s imagination is drawn in to fill a space, instead of shut out by a display of technique…. any kind of camera, whether cinematic or still, always lies, because it gives a single figure far more importance than it can have in life.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Listen up!

A short, fascinating talk by sound expert Julian Treasure on how to improve our listening, and why we might want to.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Resistance is useless

I'm very attached to my treats. I'm a chocaholic, a caffeine fiend (in a small way), and I like a glass of wine now and again. I'd be very reluctant to give up any one of these.

If you ask me do I prefer chocolate or bacon, obviously I prefer chocolate. Especially if that's Lindor 60% cacao you're half-hiding behind your back.

But if I absolutely had to give up one or other other, forever… that changes things. I'll keep the bacon thanks. Especially if it's Waitrose smoked streaky back bacon. Which goes very well with rosemary infused portobello mushrooms and a cafe latte. I'm just sayin'.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Tweaking photos

I've been thinking too much about how to prepare photos for userpics, 'rogues gallery' framing, or to use in tributes or invitations for milestone birthdays, anniversaries, awards, funerals, etc.  Here's my primer of things to consider.

Choosing a pleasant 'happy snap' of the subject is the beginning, not the end of the process.

By the way, the subject limits the use of her image to this post only.

Some judicious cropping will help keep the focus on the subject.

Head and shoulders is often more flattering than waist up or three quarter. Especially if you are cutting someone out of a larger photo.

A head shot will usually look better than a torso shot. Its about capturing the essence of the person, not every detail.

Less detail makes for a more timeless image - you notice the person, not the unfortunate mid-noughties fashion choices, or the incriminating evidence of where the photo was taken.

You can choose an oval, which keeps the visual focus even tighter.

An oval can create a classic, traditional or retro feel. It depends on the original photo.

There are other frame shapes but oval/circle or rectangle/square are classic for a reason. A star-shaped cut out, for example, can look too-cute very easily.

An 'average' photo - wrong exposure, wrong light, etc. - may look better in black & white. You may want to increase the contrast.

If you're feeling brave, tinker with the mid-tones to get the right amount of detail. You don't want to emphasise every spot or wrinkle, but neither do you want the face to lose definition or character.

Some photos look good in sepia. In this case the subject looks somehow 'happier' in the golden tones, which pick up the sunshine effect. There's more depth too.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

High maintenance life

I'm beginning to be frightened - I kid you not - by the amount of time I spend maintaining stuff in my life.

It could be that my standards have improved over the years. I can recall times when I threw things away because they needed a nail or a screw and I couldn't be bothered or didn't know how to fix them. Or there was a brief phase when I succumbed to the "I am too spiritual and intellectual to bother myself with material things". These days I think it's a bit immoral to own something and not take care of it. If you despise it or don't need it, get rid of it rather than neglect it.

So I clean stuff, repair stuff, and of course - my all time favourite - move stuff around while trying to work out where to will live on a more permanent basis.

The positive effect of this is that I'm reluctant to acquire new stuff unless its a consumeable or I'm convinced it's going to be more than a short fling. I'm also motivated to get rid of stuff that no longer has a purpose in my life.

I once visited friends in the UK who were there for six months only. They had a flat which contained a bed, a portable wardrobe, a couch and 2 arm chairs, a table with folding chairs around it, and one bookshelf. When we visited they had to buy extra plates, cups and cutlery for us. When dinner was over we had to the do the dishes or we wouldn't have clean plates for breakfast. Cleaning the house took about 40 minutes once per week, if you moved at a gentle amble. While staying there I had so much time…

I get the same feeling when I'm travelling, only there I'm not even cooking my own meals. Sure, I don't have as much control over my environment or what I'm eating, and I can't do crafts, but it's simple and there's plenty of time.

It makes me realise what a high maintenance life I lead.

Monday, November 28, 2011

One little thing

It's hard for most of us to overcome inertia. We may know we're in a rut, or stuck, but we can't work out what to change to make, we can't work out what's for the best. We avoid small changes because we're saving up to make big changes… any minute now.

My experience tells me that when we're caught by inertia, we can overcome it with one little thing. Choose something to change (it can be anything) and do that.

  • Walk to work by a different route.
  • Buy a different brand of something at the supermarket.
  • Wear your underpants on your head instead of where you usually. (Ok, maybe not that one.)
  • Eat half that chocolate bar instead of the whole one.
  • Update one item on your resume, just in case.
  • Send that 'thinking of you' card to a distant friend.
  • Do 5 sit ups or a brisk 20 minute walk.
  • Buy a plane ticket.
  • Plant a flower or a tree.
  • Decline an invitation you'd usually accept only out of politeness.

One little thing can make a big difference.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Who's afraid of a bit of boredom?

What prevents us from trying new things?  Faced with a new environment, a new art event, a new social gathering, we retreat because our inner voice whispers..."what if it's boring?"

It's just anxiety in a new suit with a haircut.

I'm not sure that a bit of boredom is such a bad thing. I don't think it should stop us from trying new things. So what if we experience some boredom? We're not committing every Saturday night for the rest of our lives… at least I hope we're not. We often feel a bit bored when we're not engaged, but it's unlikely we'll feel instantly engaged with a new pastime or social group.

It's worth the sacrifice of a couple of hours of potential mild boredom to find out if we enjoy that new activity, that new class, that new discussion group. I say mild boredom, if you feel paralytic boredom coming on you should definitely leave.

It amuses me to realise that we don't run the boredom meter over the status quo. What would we be doing if we don't try that new thing…washing the dishes? watching a tv show? starting at the phone wishing it would ring? arguing with our housemates? reading random blogs on the internet?

Really, who's afraid of a bit of boredom?

Saturday, November 19, 2011

What were they thinking?

A friend brought this little "what NOT to do" to my attention. Australia Post have a nice little promotion on until the 25th:
You complete an entry form, and have your $20 spend validated by a customer service person. 

The obvious next step is for you to go about your day with a little happy glow knowing AustPost have noticed that you're one of the few people sending snail mail these days and keeping them afloat and is actually a bit grateful and trying to reward your behaviour.

Instead, some bright spark decided you have to buy a 60c stamp and post the entry form:
Because it's not enough that you are actually in an Australia Post branch, spending 20 of your hard-earned dollars in a single transaction. 

My friend was not exactly feeling the love. I guess "Spend $20.60 in store…" didn't have quite the same ring to it. This from a postal service which also advertises Reply Paid Mail so that "your customers can respond quickly, easily and with minimum fuss."

It has all the hallmarks of committee idea dilution. Some marketing person had a neat little idea for a cheap and cheerful little campaign to identify high-volume consumer customers.  Then someone had the brilliant idea of wringing a few more stamps sales out of it.

So congratulations to AustraliaPost, you've annoyed my friend, a rare bird who still sends letters, and moved her from mild indifference to active dislike by revealing the contempt in which you hold your consumer customers.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Letting go of gifts

When you give a gift, the gift then belongs to the recipient.

Sounds simple, doesn't it?

But many of us don't truly let go of our gifts. We want to see the gifts used and appreciated, even treasured.    Our feelings are hurt if our carefully chosen gift is neglected or rejected - however tactfully it's done. We understand the gifts belong to someone else now, but we don't fully give them away, because we unconsciously reserve 'an interest' in what becomes of them.

Thus the angst that comes when our Sharon realises that our Roula never even used the lovely Christmas themed coffee mugs, and Roula is offended because Sharon never wears the sweater she gave her.  Or your neighbour discovers a garden statue at the local charity shop that is suspiciously like the one she gave you for Christmas.

The only strings on your gift should be the glittery ones used to gift wrap it. Remember, once given the gift will belong to the receipient. It is theirs to love and cherish, or neglect, or destroy, or give away, as they see fit. And its really none of your business which it is.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

3 things I'm feeling opinionated about...

1. Public transport stops:
Why have people decided the benches on train, tram or bus stops are for putting their shopping, school bag, boxes on, rather than for people to sit on? It's not cool, people, especially when the other people at the stop are older, injured, pregnant or infirm. Your stuff is not as important as that human being right in front of you. Honestly.

Also, smokers. I've said it before, but its important to move downwind of the stop when you smoke. It's nice that you're considerate and move away from the people, but pointless if you move upwind. I'm starting to think its some passive-aggressive pay back at the non-smoking majority.

2. Climate Change:
Truth is the first casualty in war. When any public debate becomes as heated and politicized as this one is, it triggers my deepest distrust. I count as friends passionate believers on both sides of the 'debate'. The thing I notice about their - endless and not always friendly - debates is that no-one ever alters their opinion by a millimeter, and they quote different authorities. I also notice that all of them recycle (for example), so their differences are basically rhetorical rather than behavioural. I doubt the Carbon Tax will either save or destroy the world as we know it. But hey, I could be wrong.

3. Children and Recreational Shopping:
They don't really mix. First of all, it's too noisy and stimulating for most kids after, oh, about 30 minutes. There's nothing for them to DO. You're not going to approve of them touching everything and you're not going to buy everything they want, are you? (I really hope you're not.) Little kids are strapped into strollers where all they see are legs. And guess what, big kids know that no matter how often you say, "yes, in a minute" they're here for a good two to four hours.

Recreational shopping with other adults barely works. Someone is always being patient, or failing to be patient, with the other person's interest. Witness men in women's clothes shops and women in the software/war/railway/car section of the bookstore (ok, cheap shot and stereotypical but you get the idea). An adult shopping companion won't ususally sigh loudly, demand food, cry, or run off the minute they're bored, but if you people watch you'll see plenty who want to. Adults are socialised, children aren't.

So shop by all means, but don't imagine that it is a good family outing, or a treat for the kids. Unless you're going to spend a lot of money on things they don't need and only want for the next 48 hours, then coming home with your loot via a fast food outlet where they can load up on food with no nutritional value and lots of E numbers.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Making space

I spend too much of my time 'stuff wrangling'. Books, tools and craft items top my stuff list. I'm always looking for a space where some new thing can live happily in a 'place for everything and everything in its place' way. I'm also always looking for stuff I can sell, gift, donate, recycle or throw away.

When a thing doesn't have its own space, it just hangs around clogging up your home (or your workplace) and by extension, your life. Having stuff can make you happier, but not if its controlling you rather than the other way around.

I've realised that where I need more space is in time.

There are lots of projects I want to do, and genuinely intend to do. Problem is, they don't have a spot on my calendar yet. Or, if they do, they get bumped by something more urgent, or something more important (usually something for someone else).

Like physical stuff without its own space, things you want to do can hang around clogging up your mental space. So I started committing to particular times to work on different projects. I call it making 'temporal space'.

Even allocating 15 minutes to some planning on a new project gives it a space in which to become real. Add another 30 minutes to do just one bit of it, and you're on your way. Sometimes just deciding to rest the project this week gives you some valuable mental space, because you're not running that internal litany of "I really should be getting on with…"

Ok, its just scheduling. When I think of it as that, it focusses me on how time-poor I am. I don't want to be in a closed mindset about time. I want to be in an open mindset. When I create temporal space, I feel expansive and welcoming. I'm focussing on the possibilities.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011


Vale, Steve Jobs.

I haven't felt this personally involved in the death of a public person (one who I never even met) since the death of Jim Henson.

Their genius made the world a richer and more interesting place. What they created for the masses seemed also to be deeply personal - to them, and to us, their legion fans.

So, in their honour, here's The Rainbow Connection, sung by Kermit the Frog.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011


 Here I am embarking on my maiden voyage on my new e-trike. I took delivery on Saturday and have ridden every day since.  This beauty was bought at EVS in Melbourne.

I need a trike because I have some balance issues resulting from a bout of vestibular neuritis a few years back. I really struggle to ride a bike now. I also want to be able to carry stuff, so the basket is useful. I need the electric assist because Melbourne has hills and I am unlikely to do much cycling without. There are some studies that show people who ride ebikes or trikes get all the benefits of those who use purely pedal power. The difference is that knowing we'll have a little help if we need it, we actually use the bike or trike rather than leaving it in the garage.

The centre of balance is different from a bike. You don't lean into a corner, you lean the opposite way unless you want to go shooting off course. You have to be a bit careful taking corners fast too, because the chap who sold the trike to me warned that you can pull them over if you really try.  As a trike has 3 wheels on the road, rather than 2, you want the juiciest battery you can afford.  So that's the downsides.

The benefit is that I feel very stable 98% of the time, and I don't have to put my feet on the ground when I stop. I have 3 gears in addition to the throttle and find that I use them because I like to feel some resistance when I turn the pedals. The motor means that hills feel like the flat or gently undulating country. I hope to use the motor less as I get fitter, but its nice to know its there.  I can now keep up with my much fitter husband when we go on a bike ride. (But he has ordered his e-bike anyway…)

The trike was not cheap - $2,700, nearly $1500 being the super-duper batter pack - but it doesn't need to be registered and it doesn't drink petrol. It gives me much of the freedom of a car, without  the price tag, and with the hope of increased fitness. Best of all, it's great fun, riding along with the wind in my hair, and able to go places that aren't on a tram or train line… as long as they're within 20kms!

Friday, September 23, 2011

Two steps forward and then who knows...

One of the nice things about middle age is realising that change may be slow, but it does happen if you perservere. When I was younger, I wanted change to happen in an-instant-and-once-and-for-all. I wanted the lightning bolt, the fairy wish, the light on the road to Damascus.

Now I don't trust such change. My experience of life and people tells me that isn't a normal or necessarily a wholesome change.

Now I reocgnise that while I may take two steps forward and one step back (in some things) overall and over time, I am moving toward my goal.  This is a great comfort on those days when I have taken 10-12 steps back, and feel like I am getitng nowhere. If I remind myself where I started from, I recognise I have made progress. I have enough experience of life's ups and downs to realise that its possible I'll jump forward 10-12 steps when I least expect it.

It's all a bit Snakes and Ladders, now I come to think about it.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Why Small Interactions Matter

Why Small Interactions Matter

An article about why we shouldn't avoid those "I-just-need-a-minute" interactions, and how we can make them work for our time-management rather than against it. Published by the Gallup Management Journal.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Um… it went away

Where does the time go?  Almost a month since I last posted and I was determined to do so. At that moment in time.

A lot of our failures revolve around our inability to predict our own future behaviour. Daniel Ariely, the behavioural economist writes about this in an entertainingly erudite way. The film 'Willow' gives a pungent pop culture example when Joanne Whalley asks Val Kilmer, "What happened to 'Without you I dwell in outer darkness'?" and he replies, bemused, "Um… it went away."

At the time I am confronted by my neglected blog, I am 110% determined to post daily even while travelling in another country. This determination is completely divorced from a strategy to accomplish that outcome.  Apparently the good intention will be enough balm to get me to sleep tonight, and I'll deal with the inevitable guilt… later...

Most of the time we're not as conscious of our own patterns of thought as this. So I wasn't lying when I intend to write every day. It's just that a vague intention, on it's own, isn't worth much.  Many years ago, when I was a young bride, Mr O came home from work and told me that he had meant to buy me flowers, but for one reason or another had not done so. I pointed out that while one often gets points-for-trying this was NOT one of those situations. I recall saying:  "Do it or don't do it, but don't tell me what you would have done if only you'd cared enough to make it happen. Which you didn't. Apparently."

Possibly you, dear reader, are not as desirous of my prose as I was of those flowers, but I suspect roughly the same sentiment covers both situations. On which note, I will go away. Until the next time….

Thursday, July 7, 2011

When did 'no' become the starting point for a negotiation?

I'm now officially so old I might as well be dead. That means I'm not giving anything away when I tell you I came of age during the "no means no" public education campaign. In modern mating rituals, this still - officially - applies, but it's being eroded in other areas of social interaction.

Tell someone, "No." and watch them settle in to demolish your (un)reasonable objections. It's as if the word, 'no' is merely the invitation to commence a negotiation. When, in fact, it's a blunt denial.  I don't mean polite evasions: "Oh I'd love to, but…" or "we'll see…" or "I'll try…" I'm talking about a straight up, "No, thank you for asking."

Our freedom to say YES relies on our equal freedom to say NO in every area of social behaviour I can think of.  Most of us struggle to say an honest and appropriate no, so how free are we really?

This came to mind while I watched dogs and their owners. Dogs can be trained that no always means no.  Dogs can also be trained that no means "beg harder and then you'll get it". Young children work much the same way. Both can be found at your local park, a rich data bank for social research.

It's easy for a parent, under pressure, to say, "No!" which you may later regret as unreasonable. But do pause before you rush to reverse it. If you occasionally hold to an unreasonable no, you learn to think before you speak. Once you firmly establish that no means no - this will take a little while - you and the child both benefit.  You'll both spend less of your day negotiating for a start.

Dogs and people learn from experience. Regularly overturned 'no's' dilute the value of the word. I don't want to be strident in order to make my 'no's stick. Too often I have to be. And I really don't want to return to a social norm where a woman's 'no' was an invitation for the man to be more 'persuasive' (verbally, emotionally or even physically).

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Mind the intention gap

I'm off on my travels. I always intend to keep this blog up while also posting to my travel blog. But I haven't posted in weeks.  And I've posted precious little on my travel blog either.

I'm in London just now, and the Underground announcements still ask commuters to 'mind the gap'. I need to mind the gap between intention and execution. Stephanie Dowrick points out that we tend to judge ourselves on our intentions, and others on their behaviour.

I intend to do better with keeping up this blog. I'm travelling for several weeks yet so it might be a long wait if I don't. At least the travel is prompting many future subjects for opinionated-ness.

Friday, June 3, 2011

The satisfaction of learning a new skill

Today I learned how to do short row shaping in knitting. It's a technique that is easy to do, and hard to explain. I've tried several times in the past. so it's quite exciting - and satisfying - to acquire this skill.

Or any new skill.

When was the last time you learned something new that you weren't forced to learn e.g. for work or legal requirement?

What could you learn tomorrow?

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Not from around here

Being a foreigner offers a glimpse of what life is like for anyone who has a brain injury, intellectual disability or lacks skills in human interaction.

Even simple exchanges of information can be fraught with uncertainty and misunderstanding. While I haven't changed, a different language, or different accent, or a different set of assumptions means I'm often not sure of exactly what is going on at any given moment. After some time for reflection, I might realise What Went Wrong, but not in the moment: too much is happening.

Perhaps the most useful insight being a foreignor offers is how depressing it is to see impatience or scorn (even if veiled) in the eyes of your interloculator. You understand that you're being given up on, and relegated to a lower order of humanity - that of too-stupid-to-be-bothered-with. You want to say: "I see that I'm missing something, or got off-track somewhere. Can we just run through it again, more slowly?"

Imagine how it would affect you if life was usually (or always) like that. If there was always some elusive something that you couldn't grasp.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Generous, kind & considerate

Being kind is not the same as being considerate. Neither is being generous. Kindness without consideration can be infuriating or embarrassing for the recipient. It may even be both. Our kindness and generosity may inspire us to unwanted, inappropriate, uneven or even humiliating gifts...

Generosity and kindness tempered by consideration may understand, for example, that while you want to buy your loved one a car, you A) may rob them of their sense of ownership from saving for and choosing the car, and B) may purchase a car that's not what they wanted or not 'fit for purpose' but which they will feel obliged to put up with to save your feelings.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Make and mend

Today I repaired two fitted sheets. The elastic had lost it's spring. I bought some new elastic, and sat down for aBout an hour at the machine. Hey presto, two sheets as good as new.
As we like 100% cotton, with a high thread count, this is a considerable saving.

Before you gain a false impression of my domestic economy, I also have a couple of items at the Magic Tailor for repair. One is a jacket of Mr OS that needs relining. Although I am technically capable of doing relining myself, I didn't choose to do so.

I'd rather make a jacket from scratch than reline one. Yet I don't think I'd make a sheet from scratch.

It comes down to a time/benefit ratio. The sheet repair was was simple, and quick and I was confident I'd do a good job. The jacket repair was slow and complex and I wasn't sure I'd get a professional quality finish.

I like the idea of make and mend, just as long as I don't have to do it all 'in house'. There is a place for outsourcing.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Slip sliding away

Another week has got away from me. Time's wing├ęd chariot is not so much hurrying near as hurrying away. My to-do list has gone critical.

A good habit is a terrible thing to break. A blog, which is unpaid work - however enjoyable - suffers when Real Life ™ intervenes.

During the day, while working on other things, I have many profound and beautiful thoughts I'd like to share with you. Before I can write them down I'm distracted by something (else).  The less I write, the less easy the thoughts are to capture and pin down.

I console myself with the old adage:  don't speak unless you can improve the silence.

And I promise I won't be reduced to telling you what I had for breakfast, merely to have something to post about.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Adapting to a changed environment

Today it was curtains for us.  Well, a blind and a curtain, actually. The unusually chilly late autumn required drastic action: our winter drapes are now installed. This extra insulation means it's consistently warm in our living room. (Previously it was only warm in front of the fire.)

In between showers, hail and thunderstorms, the sun has been bright. I've had to wear my sunglasses, and Mr O's transitions lenses keep turning black.

All of this prompted me to reflect on the various ways we adapt to our changing environment. And on the ways we fail to adapt, or refuse to adapt.

I'm a big believer in ear protection. I have noise-cancelling headphones for when I travel, I carry vinyl earplugs for noisy situations, and have just bought musicians' noise filters.  These are custom earplugs which only limit certain frequencies and sound-ranges. I can hear the person sitting with me at a cafe, for example, but not the chatter of the people across the room - or only as a muffled murmur.

A couple of people have expressed surprise at the lengths I have gone to to protect myself from noise. I asked one person what else I could do?  I can't live half-way up a mountain, and I refuse to give up my cafe lifestyle. I do try to visit my favourite caffeine pushers during their slow times, but this means my daily habit is a solitary experience. Other patrons aren't going to halt their animated conversations for me. Or their raucous laughter. Or their children's chatter / whining. The coffee machine will keep on grinding and swishing in the background.

The only part of my environment I have much control over is my own body. So I bought the earplugs for $170.00 and I bless them every day. Especially when I need to buy something at Chadstone Shopping Centre.

If only every environmental annoyance could be fixed so easily!

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

What NOT to do on public transport

Watch and listen to a comedy sketch from YouTube on your iPhone. Loudly. Without headphones. Trust me, the rest of the carriage may not share your tastes.

Tweeze facial hairs and drop them onto the floor of the carriage.

If only I were joking.

Monday, May 9, 2011

When we expect the worst & don't get it

Have you ever noticed that when we have negative expectations of someone's beahiour and they turn out to be unfounded,it doesn't change our mood mor our attitude the way it should.

For example, if you expect to be stood up (possibly based on previous experience)the last minute appearance of your loved one doesn't assuage much. Human nature being what it is, we can even feel aggrieved. We've just worked up a head of steam and now we're wrong footed. Our brain chemistry works fast, but not in an instant. Since our nervous system is still in high gear, we look for something to justify our feelings. If we look hard enough, we can usually find something. Even if it's annoyance for the past behavior that led us to our negative expectations.

Humans, we're an odd lot when you get right down to it.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Situational love

I'm a little suspicious of some kinds of love. Especially love that isn't specific and individual.

I understand that many - most - motheres and fathers love their children. Most children love their pareents. Some of us continue to love partners who mistreat us, or who no longer love us. I wonder though, where that leaves parents who don't like or even respect the children they've raised to adulthood. Or children who don't like or respect the parents who raised them? Or the men and women who continue to love an abusive partner?

Such love seems to me to be somewhat allied to ego. We love the object of our affection because it is ours, because of his/her/it's relationship to us. "What can I do? She or he is my _______ (insert relationship here)". It's situational love, and it centers on us.

Sometimes we can't help loving, in spite of a lack of reciprocity, because we love, understand and even admire the individual we so helplessly love. Or even because of habit. But where it's situational without individual specificity, I don't trust it. As Billy Connelly says, it's of use to no bugger. It doesn't help the beloved, and I'm suspect it doesn't help us.

Love is not love that alters when it alteration finds, sure. But love is not love that fixes on structural relevance rather than on the human being caught inside that matrix.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Thoughts of a late night knitter*

* with apologies to Pam Ayers for re-using the title of her poem.

I like to knit but I'm not a gifted knitter. My only pretension to knitting talent lies in my persistence. I enjoy knitting and I'm willing to keep going with a project in spite of set-backs.

The set-backs can be significant: one sweater I've almost finished has been knitted up about 3 different times, if you count one complete re-knit (about to sew up when I realised it was the wrong size and the style wouldn't suit me). Also several times I've had to pull back several inches to correct mistakes. The (nearly) finished garment won't be perfect, but it won't have gratuitous and major errors that leave it holey or the wrong size. It will be a workable, wearable garment when done.

This reminds me - again, and if any reminder were needed - just how unnecessary talent is when we do any art or craft. Talent may be necessary if we crave fame and fortune from our skills. If our aims are more modest, and we can be satisfied with doing our art or craft, and improving as best we can, we can enjoy the journey. At least with knitting I never say, "I'd love to knit, but its a waste of time as I don't think I'd be any good." (A lot of would-be music learners tell me that.) Most of us don't believe we have to be particularly talented to produce a scarf, so we're not put off starting.

I persist with knitting not because I am bloody-minded, as a penitential exercise, but because I enjoy the process of knitting. I enjoy getting it when I get into a rhythm, I enjoy the magic of creating fabric and garments out of string and thin air. I even get a perverse pleasure from recognising a mistake, and pulling my work back to correct it. I enjoy getting better at knitting, even though progress is sometimes (often) slow.

I also enjoy it more when I recognise my limits - my current limits - so I stick with new projects that only contain one new technique, rather than diving straight into something so complex I am guaranteed frustration and failure.

Many beginner or intermediate musicians aren't pleased with the simple songs they play well - the equivalent of scarves or hats knitted well in attractive and appealing colours - they insist on tackling Debussy or Beethoven. Which, if your skill level isn't up to it yet, is like a complex lace knitting pattern in an unusual yarn on non-standard sized needles. You may more-or-less complete the project. It may reflect a high degree of technical mastery, but by the end maybe no-one wants to wear the rather odd-looking garment. Very disheartening after all the valuable work that has gone into it.

Saturday, April 30, 2011

Getting back on the wagon

I'll spare you the excuses, compelling reasons and dire necessities that forcibly kept me from my computer screen for a week now.

The interesting bit - for both of us - is what happens next? Do I get back on the wagon, or do I sit in the middle of the road sobbing while it disappears into the sunset?

Whenever we fail to live up to our own intentions and expectations we face the climb back onto the wagon. It's easy getting on the first time, full of hope and good intentions, full of excitement about where we're headed and how much greener the grass will be when we get there. It's harder the second, third and fourth time, with the knowledge of failure (or defeat) burning in our breast, and grass that is an ubiquitous shade. But unless we climb back on the wagon, we won't get to our intended destination.

I wonder why it seems easier to say, 'Sod the wagon, I never wanted to be on it anyway!' than it it is to accept that we fell off - or jumped off - but now we want back on again?

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Bad behaviour in a carpark

Traffic can turn ordinary people into tools. Maybe the distance between us and the outside world creates the necessary privacy to act like a tool in ways we never would up close and personal.

This morning, a chap wanted to turn into a carpark. The streets were quiet, but there was a queue of about five cars ahead of him actually in the carpark, where one driver was leaving and another was waiting to take the spot and temporarily blocking the throughfare. It's Saturday of a long weekend, so there wasn't anywhere to go with any great urgency. (It wasn't a hospital carpark, for example.) He was waiting in a turning lane and was in no danger of being hit by another car while he waited. Nonetheless, he repeatedly blasting his car horn - maybe at the cars in front, or maybe just at the world in general.

What disturbed me more than the pointless rudeness and excessive aggression was that he had his small daughter in the car with him. She was visibly distressed. From the look on his face, he wasn't even much moved, the instinct to blast away appeared to be his habitual first response. (Like I said, tool.)

I was sufficiently moved by his behaviour that I walked over to his car to ask him what he thought it would achieve. He failed to make eye contact, and drove off as a bit I got closer. As I was feeling quite moved, I walked over to his car again.  I did this three times, and each time, he moved away without making eye contact.  I'm pretty sure he knew I was there. Bullies never seem to enjoy a taste of their own medicine. Even if it's administered by a pedestrian and they're driving a big 4wd tank.

Friday, April 22, 2011

A sacred holy day

Here in Melbourne, Good Friday has become the most sacred day of the secular year. I woke up to silent traffic sounds. No-one is going out because there is nowhere to go. The shops are all shut - and how often does that happen these days? The Zoo, the Botanical Gardens? Shut. Even Bunnings is shut. (A few traders of different religious persuasions will open, ensuring that Melbournians can get essentials such as milk, nappies, kebabs, pak chouy and great middle-European cakes and pastries.)

The second most sacred holiday is not, as you might expect, Christmas Day. It's ANZAC Day (in honor of returned servicemen) on 25 April. It would qualify as the most sacred day, except that the shops are only closed until 1pm. The pubs needed to open so old diggers could go out for a slap up lunch (liquid or otherwise). Now the shopping malls feel this applies to them too: Mammon must be worshipped, he is a jealous god. I suppose a little retail therapy helps bring us down from the ANZAC Day focus on death and noble sacrifice.

Its an interesting cultural phenomenon that Many more Australians will observe the dawn service ANZAC Day ceremonies on Monday, than will be in church at 3pm today. Unlike Christian congregations, the gate at the Shrine of Remembrance is growing annually. Which begs the question: which day is really the more sacred holy day to the average Australian?

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Fancy a change?

If its our waistline, or a grumpy teenager, or our finances, and the change is positive: bring it on!

If it is a loved one behaving 'like a stranger', or it's ambiguous what will happen, or it's negative, or it involves something or someone we like the way they are now, then hold the change please, I'm fine with the status quo.

Not that we get a choice. Often, we don't control change. Even when we make the change, we don't - and can't - control all the indirect consequences and repercussions of that change. We pick up both ends of the stick when we grab hold of one end. Which leads to both fear and anxiety.

Without change, there is stagnation. A little bit of stagnation, once in a while, can be very comforting, but it's not good for us. When did you last do something different, something really new? Try it and you'll get a new appreciation of resistance.

So, do you fancy a change?

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Getting what I ask for, or what I need

Today I was buying hardware. I needed to buy a bracket that was similar to, but shorter than the bracket sample I took in.  I needed a centre bracket for some curtains, as the curtain pole was sagging in the middle. But the middle bracket needed to be shorter because it would be installed on the window frame, whereas the end brackets were attached to the wall.

The staff went out of their way to get me what I asked for.  They didn't become enrolled in my problem. With great regret, I was told that there were longer brackets, but not shorter ones than the sample I had with me.

I thought for a moment, then said, "I know, I'll use these longer brackets to replace the ends, and use the one I already have as the 'short' one in the middle." The staff tried to stop me, "But the one you're buying is longer than the one you have. I thought you said you wanted a shorter one."

"Yes," I said, "but it solves the problem just as well." They were so busy giving me what I asked for, they weren't giving me what I needed.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Love language translation errors

We feel sad - and unappreciated - if those around us do not notice the small tasks we do for them. Perhaps we tidy the kitchen bench. Perhaps we make more than our share of cups of tea. Perhaps we always put the garbage out. Perhaps we watch a film in which we have little interest. I recently had an instance where my little expression of love was ignored or at least not recognized for what it was. These are examples of translation errors in our love languages.

Which started me thinking. More important than my 'love tasks' being noticed is to notice and appreciate those others do for me. I wonder what I am missing? I do notice some things, but probably not all.

The difficulty of having different 'love languages' is this type of obliviousness. I'm carefully giving you space and not mauling you when you are tired, but perhaps you're craving a cuddle. Restraint may be one of the hardest love gifts to appreciate because it is invisible when done well.

Or I might think you put the garbage out because you share my ideals of equitable distribution of domestic tasks, and thus fail to see it as the example of cherishing you perceive it to be.

If only we recognized all the loving things done to and for us as they were intended by the giver: the world would be a more peaceful place, and we would each feel more appreciated too.

Sent from my iPhone

Working from home - two birds with one stone

I'm freelancing from home a lot at the moment. I rather like it. Today I found myself working in 3 different rooms of my house, and out in the garden. The change of scenery is good for creativity, as it keeps things fresh. I find I enjoy my house more, when I use it more.

Wage slaves - and I count salaried professionals in that category - tend to only enjoy their homes briefly. Most of the time, we spend more time maintaining it (it gets dirty when unused too) than enjoying it. For many, the weekend is when we do a week's worth of laundry, a mountain of dishes (especially if we've had a rush of blood to the head and invited people for a meal) and a vacuum, dust and general tidy up.

Working from home, I do a bit of housework every day, rather than a lot at once. So no day is the dreaded 'housework' day. It's great to do something physical while you consider a tricky piece of writing. It's good to get up and more around after you've been text editing at a computer screen for the past two hours.

As for productivity, yes, there are some days when not a lot of 'billable hours' occur. There are other days when I'm still working at 9pm - or when I start at 6am. Over the course of a week, I'm not sure it makes much difference. I don't waste any time on 'make work': at home, you're either working or you're not. There isn't any benefit to sitting around pretending to be busy the way there can be in an office environment.

Working from home is a good way to kill two birds with one stone. Or maybe I'm just learning to appreciate the positives of whatever circumstance I find myself in. It feels a bit like work-life balance to me, if there is such a thing for more than a few days!

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Growing food

I have discovered pea pods on my peas. I now consider myself a farmer. I have never grown food before - unless you count herbs, which I don"t quite.

They're too small to eat, but it's a start.

Apologies for my recent absence. Normal service has now resumed. See you tomorrow.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Simple pleasures

"I don't think even a king could eat anything nicer than bread with butter and honey." So says Cassandra Mortmain in Dodie Smith's I Capture the Castle (brilliantly read by Jenny Agutter in my Audible audiobook).

I quite agree, and that was my snack yesterday. Another pleasure is 15 minutes weeding in my garden. There's something very satisfying about pulling weeds up by the roots, especially the kind that have runners. The recent heavy rains we're enjoying make weeding easier and more necessary too. The glow of conscious virtue is a b

Sitting in the sun for a few minutes (when there is any) enjoying the mildness of the air. The smoothness of freshly washed sheets and I slide between them. (I've never been a fan of satin, I prefer the resilience of good quality cotton, with a high thread count.)

I've been suffering from a bug - I blame the change of season - and as I recover it is such simple pleasures that I enjoy most acutely. I don't know why they're so easy to overlook when we're caught up in our busy schedules or our busy minds.

What're your favorite simple pleasures?

Sent from my iPhone

Monday, April 11, 2011

Advice: just another word for affirmation?

When you ask someone for advice, what are you after? Do you want their unique and different perspective on the issue? Or do you want them to uncover what you - perhaps unconsciously - think, or want to hear? Do you even ask for advice?

Some people ask for advice as a form of attention-seeking. Most of us are flattered to be asked for our sage advice. Remember: the other person is not obliged to take our advice, but it's polite for them to listen to advice if they ask you for it.

Have you ever had someone solicit your advice, and then when you give it, argue that your perceptions are plain wrong? Have you ever been that someone? This is a case where your affirmation is desired, rather than your advice. Rather than, "what do you think?" you're being asked, "do you think I'm right?" (or even, "I'm right, aren't I?")

It's a win-win situation for the advice-seeker: you affirm their opinion now and they get to blame your bad advice if everything doesn't work out the way they want later. Here's my useful side-step phrase when you recognise you're in this situation: "Wow, I'm flattered you want my opinion, but I don't feel qualified to comment."  If the advice-seeker presses you, you can follow up, "You're a fully-fledged individual in charge of your own destiny, I'm confident you've already worked out what you feel is best to do, and that's what's relevant here."

Saturday, April 9, 2011


No wait is long if you have a good enough novel. Waiting for public transport, five minutes feels like ages. Today, fifteen minutes passed in the blink of an eye. Thank you, Donna Leon.

Sent from my iPhone

Thursday, April 7, 2011

When we don't finish what we start

Have you ever noticed how many times you don't finish a task you start?

Sometimes it's the nature of the task, but more often we get distracted or think we are better at 'multi-tasking' than we really are. This post was prompted when I emptied the kitchen bin earlier today, and an hour later I realised I hadn't replaced the bin liner. In itself, it's a minor sin of omission, but it started me thinking.

Many - most? - of us go through life metaphorically leaving lights on, doors open, lids off, belongings strewn about the place, etc. I suggest that all but the most efficient and tidy amongst us do this at least some of the time. For example, does it count as finished when you 'file' those files in the 'to be filed' basket? I don't think so. It's really finished when you file those files in the correct file in your filing system.

Much of the minutiae that clogs our lives falls into this category. Also most of the annoyances of on our annoyance lists. Take this completely fictional example:

We take the dirty dishes through to the kitchen, then dump them on the benchtop rather than stacking them neatly let alone rinsing them and putting them in the dishwasher. (Chances are we don't do this because the dishwasher is still full of the last load of clean dishes.)  Incomplete tasks snowball. We don't have time to empty the dishwasher just now, so we dump our new load of dirty cups. Later, we don't have time to empty the dishwasher and reload it, so we certainly don't have time to do all that and cook, so we go out to dinner….

When something has remained unfinished for long enough, it becomes first an annoyance and then a 'guilt god' (thanks to the late Douglas Adams for this useful concept). Eventually we have a large domestic crisis looming when we either the funky smell, guilt, or impending visitors drive us to deal with the kitchen situation. That's right, it's now officially 'the kitchen situation'. At which point we're mentally swearing and feeling sorry for ourself for having to do all this horrible, unnecessary, boring, unpleasant, menial housework on our precious day off. It takes a long time, and we're exhausted mentally and physically by the end of it.  So we have a cup of tea. Then we decide to do something more interesting as a reward. We probably leave the dirty cup on the coffee table when we do so.

So the next time you find yourself 'just' doing something else instead of finishing a task you'd already start, stop and ask yourself where it might all lead, and what your daily life would be like if you finished minor or menial tasks whenever you started them.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Is this the end of the shiny nose?

Another product review. Good work deserves encouragement.

I don't like foundation makeup. I like what it does - when it works - but I don't like how it smells, how it feels on my skin, how it rubs off on my clothes, or the breakouts I get when I use it.

But - and its a big but - I also don't like having a shiny nose (well, a shiny t-zone since I'm being confessional.) My Scottish ancestry is evident in my pale and sensitive skin, which goes red whenever I encounter an environmental poison - like sunlight, cigarette smoke, alcohol, coffee, sugar, perfume… you get the idea. Vanity, thy name is opinionatedchildlesswoman.

Now I've found a foundation that works on the shiny/red part, without the usual negatives of foundation. It's called Matte Morphose by L'Oreal. (I bought a small tub for AUD 30 at Priceline.)

It has a mousse texture, and you only use the merest dab of the stuff as it spreads a long way. I do mean a dab, and not a wodge too - I ususally just tap the surface of the stuff with my middle digit and apply that much until I run out. 3-4 taps does as much of my face as required.  Its texture is creamy without being oily. Once it's on, I can't feel it. When I touch my face, the skin feels like smooth skin, not like pancake. It doesn't have enough smell to mention.

It lasts and lasts, without clagging up my pores. I haven't had a breakout as a result. Yet it does cover in the illusionistic way I like. At first you can see where you've applied it, but within a few minutes it seems to disappear. I don't look like I'm wearing makeup until I use a wipe to take it off, and then I notice that it was evening out my skin tone. Mr O, who can't understand why women think they look better with "that stuff" on their faces, quite approves of this one because he doesn't notice I'm wearing it, he just thinks I look especially nice today.

I've worn it all day without my face beginning to itch - which is a first. This foundation is even making me vainer. Now that I know I can get rid of the shiny/red, I tend to wear it more often than in the past. Or maybe that's just part of being in my early 40s? (My 30s was when not wearing lipstick prompted colleagues - especially male colleagues - to ask, "Are you feeling ok today? You don't look well.")

I think this IS the end of the shiny nose.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

A 100% cotton non-iron dress shirt - really!

Mr O has just discovered Seidensticker 100% cotton non-iron shirt. Which really is non-iron. No, I mean really. Once again I find myself exclaiming, O brave new world! (I expect we'll crack poverty and world peace any day now….)

We recently bought some other shirts that claim to be non-iron, with varying degrees of success. The Seidensticker are the real deal.

I do not use any tricks or special equipment. The O household has a front-load washer, and I do use the crease free setting. When I hung the shirt out on the line in a light breeze I got the best result. Drip-dry inside was not exactly creased, but did not have the same crispness. Moving air seemed to help. The shirt dried inside did need a quick 'touch up' with the iron. What my mother used to call 'a lick and a promise'. This was made almost worth doing because I sprayed on some lavendar water for the totally over-the-top care. (Yes, sometimes I am that much of a domestic tragic - but not often.)

The next best non-iron shirt was Brooksfield (by Gloweave). It was not crumpled either, but you could tell it had not been ironed. The Seidensticker shirt did look ironed. No creases, at all. Other shirts in various brands all needed to be ironed.

Both the Brooksfield and Seidenticker shirts iron like a dream, if one feels very dedicated or if the gentleman has a very important meeting or a wedding or funeral to attend. I do prefer the German shirt though - it handled better and the seams were so even the shirt laid flat ready for the iron. Both had a soft smooth texture, which I think of as 'buttery' even though no grease is involved.

Serious attention to detail, and a seriously wonderful sensory experience. If you have to wear a business shirt. Or launder one.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Driving and playing piano (not at the same time)

Today I drove for the first time in nearly two years. A combination of a temporary injury, a lack of available car, followed by lack of confidence, habitual avoidance, and de-skilling.

Anticipation was far worse than the experience. It felt weirdly normal to drive. I got my confidence back driving around the back streets on a quiet Sunday morning, while I re-familiarised myself. This is more significant than it sounds as I was a late-blooming driver who didn't get my license until I was 30. So I already had a story about how I was too old to be a really good driver.

I get much the same sensation after I haven't played the piano in a few days or weeks. It doesn't take long for the cycle of hyper-self-criticism, loss of confidence, avoidance and guilt, and de-skilling (repeat ad nauseum) to take effect.

Get on and drive either machine, and that all evaporates like snow. You're doing it, end of story. A very happy ending.

Happy driving this week.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Why do we care?

The clocks go back tonight, so time is on my mind.

I wrote recently about minutae. Why do we care so much about minutae? For example, I have a nature strip and I care about how it looks. I cut it with shears (very tiring, but satisfying) and have investigated replacing it with creeping thyme or just killing the current 'grass' (aka 'weeds') and installing some instant lawn. My preferred variety is Santa Ana in case you were wondering. Add up researching lawn mowers and lawn mowing substitutes, lawn care, planting options etc and I suspect I've given a week of my life to this issue over the past six months or so.

Why is it so? Why do I care? I doubt it adds to my property values. If I were selling or renting I'd pay a Jim's Mowing man to deal with it and that would be the end of it. I don't worry about the neighbors: it's not that kind of area, and I just don't much care what they think. No visitor has ever remarked upon the state of my nature strip.

In the end, I think I like grass and this is the only patch of it that falls under my sphere of control. Amateur psychologists may find other reasons why.

There are many less obvious tasks we all do because we care - although why we care is a mystery when you consider it consciously. I suggest we waste a little more time investigating why we care. It may just be a matter of out-of-date programming, with the potential to save us minutes, hours, days, weeks and even - eventually - years. Time we can spend on something or someone we really care about.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Knowledge is power

Here's a great trick for getting baked on gunk off a stainless steel roasting tray. I scrub and scrub, but the burnt oil always collects on the edges of the pan, and creeps toward the centre with regular monotony.

Pop the tray in a plastic basin filled with hot water and a dishwasher tablet. (Use rubber gloves and don't splash the water on your clothes or in your eyes. Let it soak. I became distracted and left the pan in for two days. The chemicals don't seem to have harmed the steel.

Rinse and allow to air dry, the baked on oil will peel off - literally, spookily even.

In domestic management, as in so many areas of life, it turns out that application, diligence and good intent are not enough to ensure a successful outcome. They need to be allied to knowledge. Knowledge is power.

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Less haste

Just lately, I've been noticing my habits around tidiness. The stand-out discovery - a BFO (blinding flash of the obvious) - is that I'm most untidy when I am rushing. Or when I am concentrating on something else while I do a task.

When I focus on the matter in hand, I'm quite tidy after all.

It's when I'm not present while bringing the washing in off the line that I find pegs on the kitchen bench - where I answered the phone - and the clothes strewn across the back of the sofa - where I flung them as I was looking for a pen to take a message.

Focussing on the task doesn't make the task get done faster, but it does close off the 'ripple tasks' that flow from it. The old saying says if you haven't got enough time to do it properly, you better have enough time to fix it later. Or 'a stitch in time saves nine'.

For the past few weeks i've been free of large scale mopping up operations: the great surface recovery and the desperate putting away of the laundry pile. More speed, but less haste.

Sent from my iPhone

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

O brave new world

I don't know what rock I've been living under since we got rid of our television set. Somehow I'd missed that most of my favourite crime dramas - which I normally have to wait for DVD release - are now available, free and legal, on the intternet.

O brave new world that has such technologies in it!

I feel vaguely ashamed of just how much I enjoy access to Bones, NCIS, Castle, Lie to Me, Criminal Minds, The Mentalist and New Tricks. On the internet, they're available at my convenience too.

This post could be about disposable pop culture and consumerism run rampant. I think it's really about control of our time.

It's also about the genius of inventors and marketers. Once again, they invented a product I didn't know I needed or wanted.

Monday, March 28, 2011

iPad: it's seductive

Both Mr O and I are entranced by his iPad.  The other day I made the critical mistake of installing his micro sim so he can use it with 3G, and he promptly began taking it to work. (He bought it for work purposes, but there were a halcyon couple of days where it sat at home being unusable without 3G.)

  • Instant start up. (It's true it doesn't multitask like a laptop: that's ok, it's not a laptop). Whether you want to check emails, surf the web, record a voice memo, dictate a letter, or play solitaire, it fires up as soon as you hit the button. No waiting. I didn't realise how desirable this could be until I experienced it. It means you pick the iPad up and quickly check something and it really is quick.
  • Scrolling with gestures rather than with click and drag is seductive. It feels odd at first, and then a couple of days later you find yourself swearing at your mouse because it's so recalcitrant…
  • It's weighs less. Mr O is very pleased to be saving 1.5kg in his briefcase.
  • More screen 'real estate' makes for easier mobile working. Very nearly the convenience of the iPhone, with a much bigger screen - so kind to middle-aged eyes!

None of these sound compelling on paper. The experience of using the iPad is compelling - or as Mr O says, "this things is so seductive".

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Change of season, change of mood

It's autumn (fall) in Melbourne. To me, this means

  • the International Flower & Garden Show, 
  • early evenings on our patio, before it gets too cold
  • cloudy mornings and sunny afternoons, 
  • the return of roasts and soups, 
  • turning leaves, 
  • the first fire of the year,
  • the aroma of coffee on a cold morning,
  • the taste of rosemary mushrooms with bacon,
  • time for a clean up around the house & garden before winter,
  • restlessness… 
  • knitting frenzy after a summer hiatus,
  • dark red and browns and greens,
  • the last roses,
  • the spicy smell of herbs,
  • the feel of my lap rug
  • pears
  • dinner party time (it's too hot to cook in summer)
  • long rambling walks…
and long rambling blog posts as well.

Does your mood change with the season? Do you respond to the weather? Or are you the same no matter what's happening outside?

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Surprise gifts

One of the pleasures of online ordered books is their variable delivery. It's like waiting for Christmas or a birthday when you were a small child, asking, 'Is it today?'

It's also one of the few times we get something in the mail that isn't either a bill or some other request for money. We've more or less forgotten paying for the books, which was a few clicks of the mouse rather than handing over tangible cash. These two facts together make it feel even more like a gift.

If we've been working hard, and are psychologically inclined, the books will feel the same way a reward does. We may be feeling unappreciated and overworked, but then these gifts arrive - and so perfectly chosen to suit our interest and tastes. We have become our own fairy godparents.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Tied up in string

When I need a pick-me-up, nothing works so well as the satisfaction of learning a new skill. It doesn't have to be a big, impressive skill, it just needs to be something I want to learn.

This week I've been tied up in string, learning some knew knitting techniques - and failing to learn a couple as well. That comes with the territory.

For me, confidence lies in competence. Tangible evidence of a new skill soothes me during moments of self-doubt. Rather than getting all tied up in my insecurities, I choose to be tied up in string.

Or even lace weight mohair silk blend, as the case may be.

Sent from my iPhone

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Retrospective enjoyment

The Melbourne International Flower and Garden Show is on next week. I go most years, and enjoy it - even in the days when I didn't have a garden myself. Some years are better than others, but I always look forward to the next one, and recall the last one fondly.

I suspect this is a case of retrospective enjoyment: I enjoy having gone to MIFGS even more than I enjoy going. On the day itself I'm dealing with crowds, after a few hours my feet hurt, I'm wondering how I'll get my purchases home... In memory, all of that fades and I can be more present in retrospect than in the moment.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Genre for Dummies?

Mr O and I have been to see The Adjustment Bureau at the cinema. We read several reviews and were prepared for an 'unlikely' ending and plot holes you could drive a truck through. I wish film critics would familiarize themselves with standard genre plot conventions.

If the story contains fantastic elements, it is ok for the denouement to include fantasy elements, so long as they are consistent with the world of the story. If a film contains an Adjustment Bureau who have strange powers and report to a Chairman who orchestrates The Plan, then a plot resolution that feature those elements is not full of plot holes.

It's called Willing Suspension of Disbelief. Really, an adjustment bureau in 50s hats who open doors between is no more improbable in that world than Hobbits in Middle Earth, an alien in ET, or Rochester's mad first wife in the attic.

This was an enjoyable, stylish film raised above it's B plot line by restrained dialogue and some fine acting by Matt Damon and Emily Blunt.

Monday, March 21, 2011

What money can't buy

I'm listening to Daniel Ariely's first book, Predictsbly irrational. (Read by Simon Jones who is very easy on the ears. From

Today I was struck by Ariely's findings that money is not very motivating at work. Money does not seem to lead to increased performance or outcomes. In Ariely's study, people worked harder at a task they volunteered to do than volunteers who were paid. The amount of compensation affected the amount of work done, but those donating their time worked hardest.

As the study involved short term tasks, I dare say that economics would play a part in changing things in a longer study. The fact remains a wage only buys so much loyalty. Part of that loyalty is how much of ourselves we are willing to sign over to work. Back in my banking days low commitment workers were called 'warm bodies'. They came, they did their assigned tasks and other tasks as directed, they collected their salary and they went home. The bank owned 37.5 hours per week of their attendance, not necessarily their attention. They were valued accordingly.

So as an employer how do I 'buy' your engagement?

I could ask, but do you know? When employees are asked they often choose money because it is a no-brainer. It's what everyone wants, right? What would you rather have? More money or less hours? Or more autonomy or less of a loathed but essential task? Or authority to go with all the responsibility you should?

And what could you offer me in this more perfect world that you're not offering your employer now?

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Multitasking with my iPad

Two things that I like to do are to knit and to write. With Dragon Dictate - free download - on the iPad I'm able to do both.

I am dictating this post on the iPad while I knit. (A beret, thank you for asking.) Both the knitting and the writing are a little slower than if I were doing either in isolation.

I am not a great fan of multitasking but I do find that doing a repetitive physical task frees my mental creativity.

Dragon Dictate works reasonably well even with my Australian accent. I have had to make several minor corrections to this dictation: it hears 'meeting' when I say 'knitting' is the most egregious. Dragon Dictate will continue to learn my speech patterns and is well worth persevering with.

It will be some time before I can knit anything complex while I dictate, but the purpose of the exercise is freeing my mind, so the actual knitted results are a bonus.

Sent from my iPad

Saturday, March 19, 2011


I had my ears lowered the other day. I'm always amazed how much more 'together' one presents with either tidy or artfully tousled hair.

I don't really think tidy hair iin a reliable indicator of personality, but society goes on believing it is.

Friday, March 18, 2011

It doesn't smell like that on me!

I have been looking online for discussions about which scents smell like cat pee, and which ingredients are the trigger. It's perplexing: various writers attribute it to different perfumes, and to different ingredients in those perfumes.

The response of perfume lovers to criticism of their favorite scent is an interesting insight into cognitive dissonance.

Many report 'some weird people say it smells like cat pee...well it doesn't smell like that on me!' In spite of folk wisdom that 'a fart has no nose'. Some - many? - attribute liking the scent to having a more educated and discerning nose.

Perfume does smell different on different people, but if someone told me my perfume smelled bad, I'd seek further feedback. In the perfume industry, it's believed that 'great' perfumes tend to be the ones that are most divisive: you either love or loathe them. Even a panel of perfume-istas won't agree on which perfumes belong on which list. Hence the same perfumes often appear on both best and worst perfume lists.

Several fans responded smugly by saying, 'I'm lucky, it smells good on me.' This may be followed by 'I'm one of the ones it chose ton reveal itself to.' Wow, I must be special because this cat pee smells great on me (to me at least). Buffy eat your heart out.

There is something in this. Body chemistry varies, and this affects the volatile ingredients in perfume. Which is why you should never buy without trying just because a perfume smells good on someone else. Still,'other people hate my perfume but I know it smells good and they are just ignorant' is a risky interpersonal decision.

One writer even complained that she was banned from wearing any perfume at work because 'this one time' she put on a bit too much of one quite heavy perfume. Thinking of my many and several work places, I am awed by the amount of built up angst that would be necessary before a ban would be proposed let alone enforced... Yeah, sure it was just this one time...

To complete the case study of humanity in action, several perfume lovers reveal that they 'punish' people who don't like their perfume by wearing even more of it. Or wearing another perfume that even they have reservations about. I'm sure that helps.

Perfume is emotional. Smell is directly connected to our limbic system in our brains, which process emotion and bypass logical processes.'You stink' is a powerful insult to hurl at anyone. The identification many people have with their signature fragrance means that even a careful 'it's not you, it's your cologne' will not erase offense.

For a minority of people, estimated to be between 5-20%, mild chemical sensitivity means they can get headache, asthsma or migraine just from being exposed to strong smells. Which just shows how variable people are.

Both sides of the debate remain convinced of their olfactory superiority (perfume lovers and haters), that there is a 'right' and a 'wrong' in the pong debate.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

iPad - first thoughts

Mr O has bought an iPad for work purposes. No really. I'm typing this post on it now in my role as informal IT consultant. It's been in my life for about 26 hours, and I've played with it for about 2-3 of them. I mean, I've experimented and set it up.

After reading some online angst about how you need to have iTunes on a desktop or laptop (aka a 'real computer'), I thought the setup would be difficult. How wrong I was. Take it out of the box, plug it into the Mac and turn the iPad on. Within a very few seconds iTunes started up and we were off. Unhooked it - the battery was at 85% - and it found our closed wifi network. Entered our password and we were off.

It was a bit weird that the sync function is quite limited, but that's because you have iTunes and the App store loaded on the iPad. If you have MobileMe on your Mac or iPhone, you just open the settings on the iPad and enter the account data in email. Then you confirm you want to sync everything: apps, bookmarks, email, notes via the cloud. A few minutes later you check your contacts and there they all are.

So you only need to sync when there's new system software or if you want to do a major overhaul which photos or apps you want to sync.

I find the on-screen keyboard is fine. I can type nearly as fast as a hard keyboard. But, you know, a keyboard is hardly the point. The iPad has already convinced me it's a better way to surf the net: lighter and a bit faster because the OS isn't hogging capacity. It's a great media device. Browsing photo libraries and the net is more natural and intuitive. Tap on a thumbnail and it fills the screen. To go back to the thumbnails, 'pinch' the picture to close it. Flicking past pages or images is just more comfortable.

I also had a look at Books, the eReader and I find it a much more meaningful experience on the iPad compared to the iPhone. I have to say, size makes for comfort.

Mr O will use the iPad as a display book or digital catalogue. He'll also store multimedia files for presentations. It can attach to a projector with a standard cable. It's a lot smaller WMD lighter than the photo albums and folders currently being used for the same task.

I now understand Steve Jobs idea of a third device, despite my initial skepticism. I could see myself taking this in preference to my beloved iPhone in some situations. For travel, it would be a gem. If I didn't need to take a full laptop for the big crunchers apps I'd be a lot happier with this. Ok for emails and notes. Great for photos, web surfing and utilities like maps and online banking. If I'm not doing complex document layouts or coding, I don't need more than this.

The predictive text takes a bit of getting used to, but I can dimly forsee it ruining my touch typing. If I can just stop hitting n when I am aiming for the space bar...

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Perfume and food don't mix.

I have my crankypants on tonight.

It's bad enough when (some of) the patrons are the culprits. Not always women either. More women wear perfume but men's fashion colognes can be more offensive. Lately the wait staff are wearing more or stronger perfume.

There is an ingredient in some very fashionable popular perfume that smells a lot like cat pee to me. I'm not alone in this, the blogosphere contains a small vocal minority with this trait. But we are a minority. I'm also aware that the perfume doesn't smell like cat pee to most of you, even if it smells 'a bit powerful'.

An unscientific poll of my dining companions reveals that most people notice and mildly deplore the wait staff wearing stronger perfumes in the past year or so.

I've read that Michelin starred restaurants have a 'no heavy perfume' rule for staff because it interferes with patrons enjoyment. A recent book by a French perfume guru described it as 'antisocial' for a patron to wear perfume at a fine restaurant. I wish the trickle down effect would catch up. Perfume and food don't mix, but not enough people are willing to say so.

Sent from my iPhone

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Where does the time go?

I wrote recently about minutae. The number of tasks I complete in even a relaxed 'I didn't get much done' day continues to astound me. Not because I am a task dynamo either. More that there's always such a lot to be done... None of it important until you stop doing it...

You either cook or you go out or order in takeaway. It seems to take roughly the same amount of time either way unless the restaurant delivers. You have to eat.

You get up, wash and dress. After a day or two this will involve washing clothes. There may even be ironing if it's hot and I choose to wear linen.

There's food buying. I have a small fridge so that's every third day minimum. Usually daily, even if only milk or bread.

I like my garden, small though it is. It requires watering every couple of days. Weeding can be put off longer but is a task where a little now saves a lot later.

You get stuff out, you have to put it away again. If not now at your leisure, then in a panic before visitors come over. I usually clean or tidy something most days, this avoiding an entire day spent cleaning or tidying.

I mostly go out to a cafe for a coffee at some point. I read or write there. That's me time, I guess. Or research. Or work, depending.

People phone me. If they're cold callers I will hang up, but in case they are a client I have to listen to a couple of sentences. A friend may call or email. Less likely than the cold callers. I subscribe to a few newsletters so I scan the headlines of those when they come in. I also post to this blog.

Not much of the above is work related. Nor do I have kids.

T. S. Eliot has Prufrock say "I have measured out my life with coffee spoons". Sounds quite a bit classier when you put it like that.

Sent from my iPhone

Monday, March 14, 2011

skill, talent and dreams

Recently, I had a dream in which I was at a university school for metalwork artists. Their work was extraordinarily impressive, particularly some intricate relief sculptures in bronze, enamelled in blue and green. Just before I woke up I wept because I didn't have the skill of these artists.

When I woke up, I did find myself meditating on my own talents and skills. It feels a bit disrespectful - not to mention pointless - to dismiss them. As much as I admire others' skills and talents, and can draw inspiration from their pursuit of excellence, I can't acquire the same if they're not innate or intrinsic to me.

I believe we can waste a lot of time neglecting to foster our unique gifts in the pursuit of other skills and talents. Especially if the skills we have a mild flair for are socially rewarded.

I don't actually have a sustained interest in doing metalwork, therefore I'm confident I don't have what it takes to be one of the artists in my dream. If I did, that might be a different matter.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

I shall not hate

I'm feeling very humble tonight, as I'm reading Izzeldin Abuelaish's book I shall not hate.

It's hard to be opinionated about comparatively minor issues when reading about this doctor's journey from a refugee camp in Gaza, through the death of his wife from cancer and then the death of three daughters and a niece during Israeli shelling in January 2009.

Dr Abuelaish has created a charitable foundation Daughters for Life, which will promote education among middle eastern women and will be offering four scholarships this year.
It is true that the sky was always beautiful but I don't remember marvelling at sunset or gazing at the dawn of a new day. Survival does not allow time for poetic reflection.