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.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Weed words can ruin our prose

Weeds are plants that, however decorative or useful they may be, are in the wrong place.

In writing, all of us have favourite words that are like weeds in our prose.

I usually call them fetish words, because we use them ritualistically, unconsciously, out of habit. I thought that term might give you the wrong idea about this post.

The easiest way to identify weed words is look at frequency. If you've written 2,000 words and 'however' occurs 6 times, I recommend that's 5 times too often.

Find something you wrote in the recent past, preferably a first draft, and check it over for fetish words. 'So,' is a common example, but a weed word can be anything. Like a plant weed, weed words are perfectly acceptable words in themselves, but they are in the wrong place. Mr O was recently reading a book and threatened to scream if he saw 'literally' even one more time. Weed words are written verbal ticks. We don't tend to notice them, bit others do. A signature phrase is okay, a rampant and invasive case of weed words is not.

Happy weeding, and may your prose be the better for it. Be warned, new weed words are ready to sprout up whenever our attention wanders. And like garden weeds, occasionally we decide they aren't a weed at all but are exactly what's needed in this spot.

Sent from my iPhone

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Effort doesn't always equal outcome

I read once that it isn't always possible to tell, during the making of a film, that it's going to be dreadful.  Often, the pieces are there: good script, good actors, reasonable plot, but sometimes they just don't go together the way they should.

While you'd think you'd notice, in fact, it takes just as much work, passion and dedication to make an unintentional flop as it does to make a good film.

I'm having much the same experience with resume writing. Which is both humiliating and ironic given I'm a writer.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

iPad reviewers annoy me

I've been researching user reviews of iPads. I'm finding it quite annoying.

The so-called test drives are by tech-geek experts who fiddle around with a unit for a couple of days or a week, decide its not like their current top-of-the-line setup, and that it doesn't work the way their other appliances do.  They conclude - much to their surprise - that they evaluate exactly as they had predicted they would evaluate it when they were trying to suss out what it would be from the pre-release rumours.  As a gadget that (wait for it folks) is not an actual stand-alone laptop. Amazing.

Even more annoying are the many doom-sayers who feel that because the iPad is such a fabulous personal unit - it is therefore likely to be a distraction in a business meeting. Apparently people might not use it to take meaningful notes. They might misuse it to while away their boredom.

I take it these doom-sayers have never played hangman or noughts and crosses in a boring meeting, or doodled libelous caricatures of their boss, or even written notes for their next university essay or shopping list. All of which one can do with a piece of paper and a pencil, under cover of the desk or one's appointment diary.

The need evaluations are very simplistic - they all focus on one scenario: is it a replacement computer.  Some say yes, nearly. Some say no way. Hardly anyone writes about it in terms of what it can do, and more of the ways people might find to use it who aren't tech-geeks. I find it akin to saying that the new Bugatti Veyron sn't really any different to or better than a Landcruiser and besides it doesn't have a door in the back where you can put your shopping (which the landcruiser does).  I don't want a Bugatti Veyron, but then I couldn't tell one way or another from a review like that.

None of the tech writers guessed I'd use my iPhone to keep track of where I parked my car in those big malls either. I guess I'm just going to have to buy an iPad, and work it out for myself.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Envy and covetousness

I'm inspired when I see something good, something done well, something beautiful, something well crafted. I want to do something as good, as well done, as beautiful, as crafted of my own. I may envy your expertise and skill, but its' a generous sort of envy. It's an appreciation for things that are a force of good: insight, craft, expertise, application, etc. It prompts us to ask ourselves, what more could I be doing or being?

This is the opposite of the envy we feel for others' possessions.  Covetousness, as the King James Bible describes it. The problem with covetousness is, basically, not only do we want what the other person has, we also want them not to have it. When we talk about 'keeping up with the Joneses' but really we want to be the Joneses (or the new Joneses). Displacement is part of the aspiration.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Why this? Why now?

Today was a beautiful sunny day. So I've been doing a deep clean of my bedroom. It seemed like too nice a day to waste, and my room is now as fresh and cheerful as the day outside.

There have been plenty of other lovely sunny days when I've thought, 'I was going to do some house cleaning, but it's far too lovely a day to waste inside...'

I wonder what makes for one choice over the other?

It's not mood - or not wholly mood. I've been known to clean as a form of therapy or self-punishment when I'm grumpy or a a bit melancholy, or when I was cheerful and go-gettery, or just 'oh well, it needs to be done'-ish.

It hasn't much to do with the perceived state of my bedroom. I have a dust allergy (we're a sizable minority) so I intermittently turn out my room as a precaution.

It's a bit of a mystery.

Sent from my iPhone

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Forget the gym: grass cutting is cheaper and doesn't require lycra

Following on from my recent post about irritations, one of mine has been the state of the nature strip* at chez O.

It is the only grass on our property. As we used to live in an apartment, so we don't have a lawnmower. We've dithered about whether (or not) to buy one. It seemed extravagant to buy a lawnmower to mow a strip of ground 3ft x 30ft. Local lawnmowing services have a minimum call-out fee of $25, even more extravagant. During the drought all nature strips looked parched and bare. But with the lavish amounts of both sunshine and rain in Melbourne recently, the 'grass' is about 4ft tall. Not so much a lawn as a hodge-podge of broad leaf weeds, a number of grass types that are considered weeds in Victoria, and a lot of kikuyu, which I don't like. The state of indecision has been even more irritating than the issue of our socially undesirable jungle. Besides, it was becoming difficult to put the rubbish bins out.

I've - jokingly - threatened to attack it with kitchen scissors. Not being quite that irritated, I instead bought some pruning shears with a nice easy action and set to work. An hour's work got about half the 35ft strip down to under 10cms in height. I suspect I might be a bit mad (I prefer 'eccentric').

As I huffed and puffed, and clipped and raked, I got a similar sense of virtue that I get when I do a gym workout. With a bonus of aesthetic horticultural accomplishment. Contemplating the weeds beats contemplating lycra. Sure, clipping grass isn't exactly fun, but then the gym isn't either. I've saved money on the lawnmower, I've saved money on the gardener (who didn't want to do it anyway), I've saved money on a gym membership without sacrificing my health, and I've done something about my irritation. See, it was a rational decision.

*If you are not Australian: this is a strip of grass (and often weeds) punctuated by occasional trees, which separates the footpath (or sidewalk) from the road.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Inclination or will?

I used to be an early bird.  I don't know what's changed*, but lately I'm perfectly content to rise at 8am if no necessity exists to rise earlier. Whereas for much of my life I've found it difficult to lie in to such a depraved and decadent hour.

In retrospect, I realise I once prided myself slightly on this sign of virtue or at least productivity (the early bird catches the worm and all that). Unconsciously, I mistook inclination for will.  I suspect I'm not alone in this error

There's a lot less will involved when we act in accord with our natural inclination. I've never smoked, for example, but this requires no virtue as I've never wanted to smoke. I don't want to eat seafood and I don't want to smoke. One carries a bit more social approval than the other, but to me they are basically the same random characteristic.

Yet we see this unconscious assumption operate all the time.

For example, people who are orderly by inclination may pride themselves on their superior organisational ability. They assume, at some level,  that all those other messy people just don't have the will power to get themselves in order. Which is a bit like priding yourself on your extra 5 inches in height, that those other short people just don't have the will power to grow.

Ok, personality and habit are more malleable than height. Maybe. High heels are just as much a bolt-on as tidiness if no intrinsic desire for either tidiness or height exists. A petite woman may feel more social approval, or at least equality, when she wears 4 inch heels. I suspect a petite woman living in isolation feels no compelling need for height-remediation by footwear. Equally an untidy woman may not need to keep her papers in manilla folders in order to lay her hand on the one she wants but may get more social approval, or less disapproval, when she keeps her desk 'tidy', even if this reduces her productivity.

So the next time you feel like congratulating yourself on your willpower or indulging in a spot of self-righteousness, ask yourself: is this more about my inclination than my will?

* It may simply be encroaching middle-age, but I'd rather come up with a more palatable solution.

Friday, March 4, 2011

In which I manage to pick up

You get to experience a strong sense of the culture of place when you travel by public transport.

Today at the local station, a young chap was struggling with a large bag and a guitar. The train was the occasional branch service, not the frequent main line service. He was hobbling - it looked like he either had blisters or a sprained ankle - and he was clearly worried that the train would go before he was aboard. Here in Melbourne, the doors close 30 seconds before the train leaves, so it was a very real risk.  His guitar strap came lose and fell to the ground in the rush. He saw it fall, saw the train about to leave, made a regretful face and kept hobbling.

I wasn't in a hurry, and without thinking I called, "Keep going, I'll get it." I bent down, picked up the strap, took two long steps toward the train and shoved it through the doors just before they closed.  I was rewarded with a big smile and a look of huge relief, as the train chugged off.

The key to this scenario was not any particular virtue on my part. It's just that, unlike the other commuters, I wasn't so caught up in an internal monologue of What I Need To Do Next, and How Late I Am For Work or even Which Tropical Island I Wish I Was On Right Now (insert your preferred rumination). At the risk of sounding all Zen, I was actually Present - in that particular moment, at least - and the action arose naturally out of my awareness of what was going on here and now.

In retrospect, I find it rather sad that the young man was so surprised someone would help him.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Irritation, learned helplessness and '3 shoulds'

A few years ago I read about keeping an Irritations List as a productivity tool. (I think it was Michael Gerber's E-Myth, but it might also have been Stephen Covey's 7 Habits... both are good sources of ideas.)

An irritation is something less than an actual problem... it's not that big a deal... like using the stub of a broken pencil to take phone messages, or having to hold your front door key a certain way to open the lock. Irritations can also be procedural: any step which makes you wonder why do I have to go through this step or this hassle? qualifies.

The two hallmarks of irritations are
1) it almost feels petty to be irritated by it, so it tends to fall out of your head when it isn't actually in progress
2) when it is solved - sometimes by accident - we think, "wow, what a huge relief, I wish I'd done that earlier."

We spend a lot of time accentuating the positive, but we often have a 'learned helplessness' attitude when it comes to eliminate the negative. We put up with stuff because that's just the way it is, or we are annoyed but not enough to be motivated to do something about it. Yet irritations, especially when they gang up on us, can bring down our productivity and our mood, making even simple things feel hard.

The '3 shoulds' are a useful way to bring your attention to irritations. The third time you think, "there should be a better way to..." or "I really should fix this..." or "I should get a new..." that's when you act. Even if you don't wholly resolve the irritation, a bit of research will increase your understanding and your sense of agency.

What prompted this post was a faint, intermittent funky smell which has been maddeningly elusive for the past few days. I feared we might have a leak after the recent torrential rain, but it was just my front-loading washing machine needing a bit of extra TLC.  Possibly I have been closing the door too frequently, so I don't bark my shins as I go past it...which could be another irritation, now I come to think of it.

It was surprisingly easy to solve once I worked out the smell was emanating from my washing machine: empty the filter unit, wipe around the seals and the drum of the washing machine with a rag moistened with tea tree oil (to kill any mold and remove soap scum) and then run the machine on a short hot cycle after putting bleach into the drum. Hey presto: clean and sweet smelling. Not only have I vanquished this particular irritation, but I have an increased 'sense of agency' about dealing with any others that crop up.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

The joy of filing

We're at the turning of the season here in Melbourne. While spring is the more usual season for clean ups and clean outs, we've also just finished one of our accounting quarters. So it's been a filing frenzy here at Opinionated Childless Woman.

The filing frenzy included a re-organisation and rationalisation of our filing system. Filing systems should not be static. They need to evolve as you do. Retain what must be retained for legal, practical or sentimental reasons, and get rid of the rest.

The joy of filing lies in knowing where all your necessary paperwork is. Knowing where to lay your hand on any particular important piece of 'impedimenta' is a certain hope in an uncertain world.

Tonight, I rest filled with a virtuous glow of successful labour and good intentions. I came, I saw, I filed.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Metcard Customer Service: is this an oxymoron?

I recently damaged - accidentally - my 10 x 2 hour trips Met ticket. It got a bit squashed in my bag, then a validation machine chewed it up a bit more. I'd only used 5 trips, and then it didn't work any more.

Today I trotted off to the Camberwell Station, to arrange a replacement or refund of the unused portion of the ticket.  The gentleman behind the counter responded to my enquiry by barking,

"Refund?! We don't give refunds!"

I told him I was surprised to hear that, as had I checked online, where Metlink website said there was a procedure.  Before I finished the sentence, the Metlink employee had reached into a filing cabinet behind him, and pulled out the relevant form. He shoved it - I use the term advisedly - through the grille and glowered at me the while. I thanked him politely. If I had not done my homework, I would have walked away convinced he was right. Cheeky blighter. That's the oxymoron.

The form is was designed by a schizophrenic committee. It comes with a reply paid envelope attached, so that we customers can make our application free of charge (good customer service).  It also requires us to list a variety of details such as exactly where we bought the ticket, for what price, at what time of day and write the ticket serial number even though we enclose the ticket (bad customer service - this is not relevant, surely).  It offered a refund for situations such as illness or injury, not merely from accidental damage (good customer service). It states that if the magnetic strip cannot be read, there will be no refund (bad customer service).  It insisted that we keep a tear-off receipt of our ticket claim, which made me wonder how often such claims are "lost" (ostensibly good customer service which is in reality bad customer service).

I wonder how many people actually claim refunds or replacement? The process is discouraging, even without helpful Metlink staff attempting to 'protect' their employer's interest.

It remains to be seen how long it takes to obtain my refund or replacement ticket. My best guess is a month. Which is fine, because I'm on my high horse and my soap box now.

I can't help wondering why it wasn't possible to simply pay half the purchase price of a new 10x2hr ticket, provided I "cashed in" my damaged ticket. That seems simpler, and wouldn't leave the Metlink company out of pocket in any meaningful sense. Certainly less out-of-pocket than they will be by the time their department receives and processes my claim and posts me out a response.

EDIT: a couple of weeks later I received my replacement tickets in the post, with a polite form letter. Four 2 hour tickets and one Daily ticket.