Giving Thanks

Today we recognize that we have much for which to give thanks, not the
least of which is captured in the views from our driveway — that it is
our driveway, that we’re here to enjoy the island, that the weather was
so stupendous that it was impossible not to smile 🙂

From the backyard

From the front yard

Today we particularly enjoyed the service here — left voicemail to set
up a service call and the response came in the shape of the service
person on the  doorstep (why phone, when you can drop by?). 

There was, of course, a cooking extravaganza.  Perhaps I’ll write
about that tomorrow.

Not so thankful for the blog spam scribblers — I hope I’ve gotten the
crap out of the previous blog posts, and that the upgrade/password
changes I did today will prevent further incursions. 

When You Just Have to Go

Dashing home from a week of meetings, sliding in by 7pm, time to
unpack, do laundry, repack and take care of some work deliverables, so
that at 6am I’m on my way to our favourite place on Grand
Manan
.

We transited Halifax, which is still digging out from 30cm (a foot) of
snow.

Blowing past Air Canada      
blowing perspex

And clambered onto the Beechcraft
18-seater
for the flight to Saint
John — big sunset, small plane.

sunset -- mile high    
beechcraft

An hour south of Saint John, we grabbed supplies in Blacks Harbour, and
made the 5:30pm ferry — arriving on the island at 7pm, to a fully
working (and warm!) house (but no Internet — hence the delay in
posting this).

Quiet…

Things seem a little quiet around here to me — do they seem a little
quiet to you?  Yeah.  Something to do with being busy in
meetings all day/evening every day for the last 10 days.  I think
it was a productive trip; I think the meetings moved stuff forward,
which is a win.  But there’s something about constant
concentration and trying to get the next meeting prepared even as the
last one is just ending that sucks the life out of you.

I don’t think it’s just a question of being tired (though big dinners,
nice wine, staying up till all hours and then getting up for 8am
meetings might have an impact
😉 ).    A positive spin is that level of engagement in the
activities simply pulls you in every direction and squeezes out every
bit of energy[*].  I always say, “better busy than bored”. 
But, here on Sunday evening, the meetings that ended Friday morning
seem like they were a month ago — as we transitioned into the
weekend’s meetings’ context around noon on Friday. 

Another way of looking at the “level of engagement” and intensity of
the meetings — intense flashbacks.  Last week’s meetings were in
a hotel where we’ve had 6 (of 30) week-long meeting sessions in the
last 10 years.  Yes, we’ve been there for 6 weeks, or 20% of our
meetings.  The flashbacks occured as I walked by meeting rooms and
could mentally replay intense discussions that had been undertaken in
many of them:  which BoF was held in which room, and what the key
objections had been (and who had them) — some of these from as long
ago as 2002, at least.

There’s also definitely an element of the impact of adrenaline (how
else to get through 12-14 hour days?  appart from 4 shots of
espresso in the morning, of course?).

But, for now, my immediate concern is how to stuff a queen-sized
flannel blanket into luggage as we head to an entirely different
context for the next week. 

[*]  It’s definitely some kind of reflection on the state of my
mind that this seems like a “positive spin” 🙂

Ultitasking

I coined a new word today — “ultitasking”.  As in:  theULTImate in multiTASKING.  It has to do with doing a number ofapparently-divergent tasks simultaneously and achieving some coherentand successful outcome.

Consider it “ultitasking” if you are leading a meeting whilesimultaneously handling several instant message chats and updating apresentation (for the same meeting.

Or, carrying out a discussion while checking news updates and knitting.

I don’t want to say that texting while driving or otherwise distractingyourself from control of a motor vehicle count — the only appropriateword there is “dangerous”.

I’d be interested in collecting some examples of “ultitasking” observedin the wild…

The Month

I
mentioned
that this burst of blogging is somewhat inspired by the
(writer’s block busting) activity of NaNoWriMo.

It turns out that I am hardly alone in this aspiration.  Someone
else has coined the NaBloPoMo
term for national blog posting month — blogging every day this
month.  That certainly captures the spirit of what I’ve been
trying this month, although I am resisting any urge to sign up. 
Stubborn individualism, I guess.

There is also a NaKniSweMo
— national sweater knitting month — focused on knitting a 50,000
stitch sweater (to match the 50,000 word novels of
NaNoWriMo).     I’m really not doing that — if
nothing else, because I don’t take sweater projects on travel. 
However, I did the math:  I figure my sock project is running at
10,000 stitches per sock.  I am about to finish my first November
sock (the second of a pair — expect pictures!).    I
might put another 10,000 stitches out, depending on what happens with
personal travel next week.  Nowhere near the 50,000 stitch mark.

I guess, no matter whether you slice it in words ore stitches, 50k is a
lot.  Even for knitting, which is essentially OCD with a
productive output.

Travel: Luggage

I recently got one of my suitcases back from the authorized repair shop
— it cost $50 to have a wheel replaced and a zipper pull-tab
re-installed.    Although the luggage was hardly cheap,
that’s still a significant fraction of the original capital cost, and
it makes me wonder whether the original purchase was good
value.   If the luggage is going to break anyway, why buy
expensive stuff?

Arriving here last night, I found my other suitcase had only one
functioning handle — the end of the other handle had been pulled off.

I do feel thankful — as my friends’ luggage failed to appear, and here
was my luggage, even absent the big airline routing label that had
slipped off the detached handle.

I should be able to reattach the handle — having cut through the inner
lining of the suitcase to access the screws.  However, the head on
the screw is neither Robertson nor Phillips nor flathead — some other,
unusual variation.  If I had my trusty screw
driver bit set
from RenoDepot, I could
get these screws back in and have a handled suitcase to ship
home. 

So — what is a truly robust luggage system?  And/or, why does
Samsonite insist on requiring obscure tools and know-how to mend their
suitcases within trip?

Git yer buckit, we’re bailin’

There were multiple announcements today of home mortgage bailouts in
the US – from
Citibank to its customers,
as well as US Federal bailout plans via
Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae.

The Citibank plan offers the possibility of reviewing the principal of
the loan as one possible parameter to adjust in aiming to bring the
mortgage payments of a principal residence under 40% of monthly
income.  Wait a minute — isn’t that retroactively changing the
price of the house you bought?  How is that fair to the
neighbours?    Or to those who purchased more modest
homes?  Well, the answers there are:

1/ it isn’t fair, nobody ever said it
would be; and
2/ it’s Citibank’s money — they aren’t obliged to be fair, and they
are “simply” acting to do what they believe will yield the best return
on their investments.  A defaulted mortgage is not good for
anyone’s business.

As a flipside of the fairness coin — those who are not concerned about
whether or not it is “fair” are concerned with whether or not the
availability of bailouts for some will cause an escalated demand from
those who have been struggling but surviving:  why should they
try, if they can get a bailout?

Also, it’s not entirely clear that banks will simply slash the value of
the principal.  Other
banks are apparently considering
different things:

“[…s]omething called principal
forbearance. There, the bank carves off a chunk of the money you owe
and puts it aside. You continue making payments, now lowered, on the
rest of the loan. When you sell or refinance later, however, the bank
adds that chunk back onto the total amount you must repay. By then, it
is hoped, the value of the home has rebounded or you’ve built up enough
equity to make the bank whole.”

The federal plans are already coming under criticism because they will not adjust principal.  Well, this is taxpayer money — why should I pay my taxes to bail out someone who bought a house that I would only dream of (and, unlike them,  had the good sense to realize I could not afford?)  But, “experts” are concerned that people will walk away from mortgaged homes if their mortgaged value is greater than the current value of the home.     In other countries, people doing that would be crushed by the inevitable ensuing personal bankruptcy; in the US, that’s not currently a very difficult reputation to shed.

The math here is really not simple, as the pros and cons have to be
weighed to consider

1/ The current situation was caused,
in a large part, by people making bad, overreaching choices in an
atmosphere that was devoid of expectation of (negative) consequences

Being able to walk away from some or all of a mortgage does nothing to
address that.

2/ The current situation goes well
beyond the mortgage market.
  We haven’t even begun to see
the extent of the credit crisis, but we need to be aware that it is not
limited to the US (there are global collapses).  

3/ The “righting” of markets is
taking down giants
  — such as DHL and General
Motors.  If and as these types of companies fail, the
repercussions reach far and wide.  The American
auto industry has a broad reach:

“[…] directly employs about 355,000
American workers, and it says that, through related industries that are
dependent on auto manufacturing and sales, it supports about another
4.5 million jobs.”

The impact of not propping up mortgages,  GM, etc, even if it
means bad decisions get rewarded, may be far too great to ignore. 
So, the questions are — is it possible to bail out “enough”, and how
do we ever get to a situation of adequate responsibility for individual
choices so that we can stop the madness of the spiral of bad decisions
that got us here?

Have we even begun to see the bottom of this hole?

Getting Things Done: It’s All in the Overview

Every now and again, I fall down the rabbit hole and find myself
exploring “to do” software again.  This dates back to when I first
had an Apple Newton and worked with basic list applications (oooh, the
thrill of having a “done” item disappear from view! so much more
satisfying than a simple strikeout on a piece of paper).

Some of the traditional “To Do” support programs aim to give you
guidance on what you should be doing next — calculated by priorities
and due dates, and whatever else.   Llamagraphi’cs LifeBalance
(which I did try even as long ago as on those Newton platforms)
aims to provide you with the insight of what you should be doing in
order to meet your stated goals of balance between different aspects of
your life.  

For myself, I find that I don’t want software that will tell me what to
do next.  Instead, I just want to capture the salient features of
the things I need to keep track of, and then have software that is
flexible enough to give me different views on that — what is due now,
what did I say I wanted to revisit now, what is the collection of
things I’m supposed to look at or do over the work week, the whole
week, the next 4 weeks, or the next 4 months (in
aggregate).    Then, I’ll use those perspectives to lay
out my gameplan for the day, week, etc. 

Or — I would like a tool that collects and manages the data about the
items to be done, is flexible in presenting the collected information,
and supports (not supplants) my own planning
process.  A tool that organizes my “To Do” data, and I’ll take
care of organizing myself.

My current “To Do” management tool is an Excel spreadsheet.  Over
the
years, I have refined my techniques so that I don’t bother with things
like “priority” (which varies by context and is largely equated to
guilt) and the types of things I track have evolved to look
suspiciously like those for David
Allen’s “Getting Things Done” (GTD)

So, I looked at the various software applications available that tout
GTD
capabilities, and compare their functionality to my Excel spreadsheets.

The big difference seems to be — the GTD software tools are much
better at supporting groupings of activities (e.g., projects, areas,
contexts) than Excel.  However, they mostly have a few pre-set
ways to look at the collected tasks — much less flexibility than you
can achieve in a more general purpose tool (like Excel).  I
wouldn’t dare suggest which is better than the other — it’s all a
question of tradeoffs and priorities.

Tools like Cultured Code’s
“Things”
, and Omni’s
“OmniFocus”
seem to focus on facilitating the process of capturing
activities (e.g., drag and drop from e-mail) and organizing them into
projects.  Then you can look at all the things that are to be done
“as soon as possible” in a given project or context.  But, as many
of us live in a world where everything has to be done “as soon as
possible”, the fine art of personal planning seems to be in building
nuance into how one handles “possible.”

Ideally, I’d like have the ability to map out the next weeks or
weekends based on what focus I intend to give them.  For
example,   there’s no point in expecting I’ll get a lot of
creative thinking done if I’m out of the office and on the road for 2
weeks.   It’s not okay to just say “I’ll get to those when
I’m back in my office context”, because deadlines will have
passed:  I need to prioritize which bits of creative thinking are
going to have to be tackled in the bleary eyed state of jet lag, even
as I am pushing off certain other thinking/writing
activities.   On the personal side, I can set any number of
goals or targets for getting machine knitted projects done, but there’s
not a lot of point in doing that without looking at the number of
weekends I’m going to be in the same building as the knitting machines
between now and the end of the year.  Or, when I have a weekend at
home,  will I swap in the knitting machine project or focus on all
the household chores that have backed up over weeks away?  (It
should be clear which I would prefer 😉 ).

Of the tools I looked at today, “Thinking
Rock”
seems to be the most promising, from my perspective. 
It’s a little less glitzy than some, as it is a cross-platform
Java-based application.  On the other hand — it is cross
platform, and knows how to save out an individual data
file!   The big thing it seems to have going for it is that
it includes a number of “report” perspectives — all open actions, all
actions for a project, all deferred actions, etc.  I haven’t quite
figured out how I would include the perspective of the kind of “focus”
times (or distracting events) as described above — but   I would
really like to let go of this hacked up Excel spreadsheet
approach.  There doesn’t seem to be a lot of glory to be claimed
from having figured out how to make Excel produce GANTTs. 

An Election Eve State of Mind

One has the sense that 80% of the US population is on edge tonight —
deeply concerned that the Wrong One is going to win tomorrow. 
What isn’t clear — what percentage of the population believes which
candidate is the wrong choice. 

It seems likely, given the expected record turnout and other
indications of people taking this election very seriously,  that
there will be a very large amount of disappointment, fear and probably
anger, no matter which way things work out.

I hope I’m only seeing the empty half of the cup — I sincerely hope
that there will be a lot of infectious positive, constructive,
inclusive, optimistic response from the election winner’s supporters.

Because, above all else, we need to feel an end to the grinding
downward spiral from war weariness, economic pincer grips and so on —
let our feet touch bottom and push up towards the light. 

What’s that?  Sorry — could you speak up?  Knitting? 
Oh, yes! Knitting.  Always plenty of that going on — more on
that, later.