Interruption: another word for clutter?

April 12, 2010 at 11:42 pm | In comments, fashionable_life, housekeeping, ideas | 3 Comments

When Google came out with Buzz, I wondered who would want their email cluttered up with constant (and probably inane) interruptions. I thought, I’m getting curmudgeonly, even cranky. I didn’t like Wave, either. Stupid idea.

But a post by MentalPolyphonics, Workplaces Are Poorly Structured, confirmed what I’ve been thinking.

It features a BigThink video, Why You Can’t Work at Work, in which Jason Fried (co-founder of 37 Signals) explains how constant interruptions at work keep people from getting anything done.

Well, d’uh…

I left a comment on MentalPolyphonics, along these lines: I’ve come to believe that another word for “interruptions” is clutter: A sort of mental clutter and time clutter that becomes a bad habit (“habit clutter”).

Much of that is inspired by Julie Morgenstern‘s kick-ass book, SHED Your Stuff, Change Your Life: A Four-Step Guide to Getting Unstuck. Yes, another “self-help” book to help you get organized – but this one doesn’t just tell you to buy a bunch of stuff at the Container Store so that your place has the appearance of unclutteredness – as if that were all that’s to it. For one thing, Morgenstern doesn’t stop at physical clutter – she asks you to go after both time clutter and habit clutter, both of which can be very tough to deal with.

That’s where the overlap with Fried’s take on interruptions comes in. Bad habits include letting yourself be interrupted constantly, whether you’re checking email, checking Twitter (or whatever your ambient social media app of the moment happens to be), or are simply being “on.”

Consider trying the SHED diagnostic test here to see if you’re a candidate for SHEDing. It’s a fun way to get into what Morgenstern is trying to get across, but read the book for the full picture. Consider it not just cleaning up, but clutter therapy.

Over the  weekend, I popped into Chapters and had a chance to leaf through Youngme Moon‘s fascinating new book, Different.

(An aside: I really want to read this, but refuse to pay Cdn$32.00 in-store for it – heck, over the weekend, our dollar was at par with the US$, yet I’m supposed to pay $6.00 more than what this book’s suggested retail price is in the US? Not to mention that it’s available on Amazon for $17.16?)

Anyway, asides aside, one of Moon’s points revolved around reverse engineering (that’s not what she called it, but I was skimming while standing in the bookstore aisle): basically, once we are surfeited with choice(s), things tend to tip over, almost into their opposite, and the company or business that then moves ahead of the pack is the one that (almost counter-intuitively) does the opposite of what the others are doing. So, if people were saturated with search engines that practically come out screaming – with bells, whistles, and visuals – then what will grab people’s attention (even though it seems counter-intuitive to go down that route) is a search engine that’s bare and sparse (<ahem> Google). (Which makes Google’s current attempts to clutter up our lives with Buzz or Wave so much more pathetic, I guess.) Moon had a couple of other examples, but you get the point.

So… looking at all the ways that we let ourselves get interrupted now, I wonder whether the next killer app won’t be one that does the opposite: a digital cocoon, perhaps? An invisibility-maker, a discriminator, an exclusivitator, a zen snob app that let’s you say FU. Let’s call it the Garbo.

Just a thought… 😉

The Sunday Diigo Links Post (weekly)

April 11, 2010 at 2:30 am | In links | Comments Off on The Sunday Diigo Links Post (weekly)

Posted from Diigo. The rest of my favorite links are here.

Stop. Watch? Go? Wait!

April 10, 2010 at 9:33 pm | In just_so | Comments Off on Stop. Watch? Go? Wait!

For the last few days, I used a stopwatch to time some of my activities. In fact, my stopwatch looks exactly like the one in the photo: a promotional from Apple, I think.

Here’s the thing: I realized that I’m too often in a rush (or actually late). I also recently read that people who behave as I do are typically underestimating how long it takes to do a task. These people (that’d be yours truly) always think they can cram in “just one more thing.”

Does. Not. Work.

And yes sir, my stopwatch experiment confirmed it.

The other fatal flaw I have is procrastination, which stems from both perfectionism as well as a hankering for excitement. I crave that adrenaline rush of getting something done at the last minute. But while my perfectionism makes me fearful, my wish for excitement makes me careless. And I’m losing track of time. I’d call that a lose-lose.

No, wait: it’s a lose-lose-lose. Triple crown in the loser sweepstakes.

I won’t reveal what my stopwatch told me, or report out on further plans to change my ways. Let’s just say I’m working on it …stopwatch in hand.

The case for a brave new pillow

April 9, 2010 at 11:47 pm | In just_so | Comments Off on The case for a brave new pillow

With Aldous Huxley’s satire in the back of my mind, sniggering, I stole 10 minutes this afternoon to alter and repair two pillowcases. A pair of king-sized cases, their corners had frayed because I let the pillow protector’s zipper-pull worry the same corners over and over, with predictable results.

The plan (since last Monday) was to throw them out. I thought of my intention (to clear the clutter, remove old junk, get rid of broken things), but instead I weakened, …and fixed them.

O Brave New World, it seems you’re not for me after all?

In case the reader has forgotten, Huxley’s Brave New World among other things required the erasure of history and sentiment, and therefore forbade darning or repairing any consumer item – especially socks. In the brave new world, people don’t fix things, they buy new ones.

Except that sometimes it’s really hard to find good pillowcases that manage to combine something you like to look at with something you like to feel. I’m fond of the barest hint of chinoiserie in the pattern, and pleased by the fabric’s cottony softness.

(The solution: turn the king-sized cases into standard-sized cases by sewing a new straight seam across the top and cutting off the excess fabric.)

If only the rest of my de-cluttering and ridding myself of broken junk were going to be as easy as fixing pillowcases.

Oh well, at least I can sleep on my plans to conquer the world through better house-keeping, familiar case that it is.

Brave new world indeed…

Congestion is our friend

April 8, 2010 at 10:19 pm | In cities, green, johnson street bridge, land_use, transportation, urbanism | 4 Comments

On March 31 Gordon Price spoke in Victoria about what he calls Motordom, or “auto-dependent urban form.” Motordom basically is the generative transportation paradigm that has shaped urban form (and dominated urban planning) since at least the mid-20th century. It’s now perhaps finally coming to an end (albeit with many many loose ends).

I’ve been intending to write a proper blog post about Gordon’s excellent deconstruction of Motordom.

However, … just a quick note today that touches on another transportation-related event I attended on Tuesday night (April 6), Going Beyond Gridlock- Green Party Sustainable Transportation Forum, because it fits so neatly both with some of the points raised by Gordon Price as well as with my concerns around a local issue.

At his March 31 presentation, Gordon noted that congestion is our friend. When roads are congested, the solution to that problem isn’t to build more roads. Instead, let the congestion be the impetus for developing transit and for giving people choices that let them get out of their cars.

At the April 6 meeting, every single speaker agreed that solving transportation problems does not mean building more roads, but rather taking car lanes away: transforming them into cycling or multimodal lanes.

No one at Gordon Price’s March 31 lecture could answer his question (in the photo, above), “Where is there a good example of an urban region that has successfully dealt with traffic congestion by building more roads and bridges?” Especially when he added the qualifier, “A place we want to be more like”?

And everyone at the April 6 Green Party-sponsored transportation forum agreed that building more roads fails to lead to transportation solutions that are sustainable. Everyone instead agreed that taking car traffic lanes out of the urban grid and converting them to cycling, multimodal, or transit lanes was the more sensible thing to do.

The obvious question for the City of Victoria is then: why don’t you apply this line of thinking to solve multimodal transportation issues on the Johnson Street Bridge? Specifically, why not look to Vancouver’s example?

In Vancouver, the city took a traffic lane on the Burrard Street Bridge and turned it into a cycling lane. In Victoria, we could easily try the same approach with our historic Johnson Street Bridge – an approach already suggested by Councilor Geoff Young, but poo-pooed by the Mayor and his friends on council. The latter include Councilor John Luton, who spoke at the April 6 event in favor of getting people out of their cars and preferably onto bicycles or other sustainable transportation options instead. He even made a point of showing images of the Johnson Street Bridge, which he considers a key piece in Victoria’s multimodal puzzle – except in Luton’s mind, only a new, expensive bridge will suffice.

It’s funny that those same politicians will flock to hear Gordon Price, applaud the critique of Motordom, agree with other sustainability experts that the best strategies include removing car traffic lanes from the grid, …yet adamantly maintain that the relatively tiny Johnson Street Bridge crossing has to stay at three car lanes. Come on, people: give your heads a shake. Take a lane out, remove the slippery steel deck, re-deck it with fiberreinforced polymer (FRP), and give it over to bikes. (Note: “Since FRP bridge decks are still considerably more expensive than concrete decks, they are basically competitive where light weight, corrosion resistance, and/or rapid installation are demanded. Accordingly, competitive applications are mainly found in movable bridges, historic bridges, and urban environments.” [source/PDF])

Much cheaper than a new bridge, better for the environment (think of all that new concrete needed for a new bridge, and the steel manufactured in China and brought to Victoria with bunker oil burning freighters – how sustainable is that?), and much better for the local economy (fixing the bridge would employ local people, building a new one would not).

Figuring out religion in God’s Brain: great interview with Lionel Tiger

April 7, 2010 at 8:38 pm | In health, ideas, nature | Comments Off on Figuring out religion in God’s Brain: great interview with Lionel Tiger

One of the commenters on Maclean’s Interview with Lionel Tiger writes, “Gosh this is depressing. Believers, the delusional mob will continue to infect all cultures.”

I’m not so sure.

Seems to me that Lionel Tiger is on to something with his analysis of the religious impulse – or God’s Brain, as his book (with Michael McGuire) describes it. Tiger is an anthropologist (and prolific author), McGuire is a neuroscientist (who figured out the role of serotonin in the brain); together, they’ve come up with a theory of religion that makes sense to me (a full on skeptic and basic atheist).

Maclean’s interview with Lionel Tiger covers all the key questions to give the reader a good overview of what to expect from the book (which I haven’t read, but wouldn’t mind putting on my reading list).

One question in particular struck me, as I’ve been turned off by the religious undertone of some environmentalisms. The interviewer asks (on page 2), “Despite increasing secularization, especially in the West, most people have not become flat-out rationalists. Do you think that for many environmentalism is a religion?”

To which Tiger answers: “That’s absolutely right, and that’s interesting because it is finally the fruit of pantheism, a very, very old religious idea. For many people, not using more than four sheets of toilet paper is an act of moral purification.” [emphasis added]

To my mind, there’s a link in Tiger’s remark about the allowable number of toilet paper sheets to OCD and other neuroses that compel people to act in certain ways: something about the behavior soothes the brain. Unfortunately, that same impulse creates anxiety in mine, which is why some meetings with those who wish to save the earth make me want to run screaming from the room. I just don’t get it when it gets all …um, oceanic and communitarian.

That said, it’s not the case that hard-core atheism is much better, and Tiger’s work has stepped on toes in that camp, too. With regard to hard-core, sometimes you have to wonder if being benighted is like a two-sided coin. That is, one side is as dark as the other, and reduction to “black and white” just leaves everyone clueless.

Q: From the outside, then, it’s not religion’s strangeness you see, but its naturalness?
A: I’ve been on panels a couple of times with Richard Dawkins and invariably we come to the point where Richard will go on about how terrible religion is, and I’ll say, “Richard, are you a naturalist?” And he says, “Well, of course I am.” And then I say, “Would you agree, as you’ve in fact argued in your books, that over 90 per cent of people have some religion?” and he finally says, “Yes.” “How can you be a naturalist and assume that the great majority of the species is not natural? That doesn’t make any sense.” As a social scientist I wanted a deeper explanation for this otherwise remarkable activity. When you think of the cost of religion—the buildings, the tax exemptions, the weekly offering—it’s not trivial, it’s simply not trivial. If only out of respect, one has to pay attention to this. (source)

The underlying fact of life is death, and that healthy people normally do not want to die. Heck, most of us have a hard enough time with growing old, since aging turns into a series of announcements about the final curtain call.

In more recent years, we’ve soothed ourselves with the idea that there are other planets out there and that we’re not alone. Now it turns out that the Earth may indeed be, if not unique, at least nearly unique in the sense that there’s nothing else quite like it within a gazillion light years around us. What a scary thought – and what a waste if we trash this planet.

Then we all die!

Oops, that was the original scary part – except now, it’s not just as an individual, or a clan, or even a species, …but cosmic. Like, totally cosmic.

No wonder religion is on the rise, even as we learn more and more that traditional religions are not to be trusted.

Tiger and McGuire offer a scientific and anthropological explanation that finally makes sense of the religious impulse, without flattening either those who believe in religion or those of us who question it. The drive to religion is powered by our basic dislike of death – death creates stress and anxiety for our brain, religion soothes it. Given the potential we have today for collective death (in war, in environmental disaster) – and therefore our potential for collective religious silliness – maybe God’s Brain can help us move toward more rational solutions. Failing that, we can just keep praying.

Let’s say you own an airline…

April 6, 2010 at 10:57 pm | In futurismo, green, innovation | 2 Comments

Here’s an interesting question: where are today’s business leaders when it comes to solving pressing social and economic issues that affect our common wealth (and health)?

The other day, Fred Wilson’s post, No conflict, no interest, broached this question by describing a major historical precedent, the creation of the New York City subway system around 1891. Back then, “conflict of interest” didn’t fundamentally hobble participation by business, although that changed during the course of the 20th century:

In this day and age, having a financial interest in something means you’ve got a conflict and your opinion is somehow “tainted.”

But that wasn’t always the case. (source)

The New York City subway system was shepherded into existence by the Steinway Commission, which consisted of a team of differently-minded (and differently-interested) men.

Does that happen any more today, or does “conflict of interest” prevent it?

As it happens, I recently learned about the Carbon War Room, co-founded by Richard Branson of the Virgin group of companies (which includes Virgin Atlantic Airlines).

The Carbon War Room‘s front page states:

Our global industrial and energy systems are built on carbon-based technologies and unsustainable resource demands that threaten to destroy our society and our planet. Massive loss of wealth, expanding poverty and suffering, disastrous climate change, water scarcity, and deforestation are the end results of this broken system.

This business-as-usual system represents the greatest threat to the security and prosperity of humanity – a threat that transcends race, ethnicity, national borders, and ideology.

Maybe there’s some productive and welcome “conflict of interest” at work here. With carbon-based fossil-fuel-burning travel as one of the key pieces in the Virgin group, it seems a risky proposition to declare a “war” on carbon, but that’s the plan at the Carbon War Room.

In the section Strategy & Tactics we read:

The Carbon War Room has identified 25 battles across 7 theaters that are material to winning the war against climate change. Each battle accounts for over 1 billion tons (or more than 2%) of global anthropogenic CO2e emissions annually.

The battles encompass the full spectrum of challenges that must be met to implement a post-carbon economy, from energy to agriculture to carbon storage. Once the determinants of a battle’s outcome are understood, the Carbon War Room plans targeted operations to achieve victory.

Our agents of change are entrepreneurs of all kinds – including business entrepreneurs, corporate intrapreneurs, and non-profit/ social entrepreneurs. Critical to our success, entrepreneurs will be directed to engage all means and tools necessary to disable and replace business-as-usual systems. They will drive the innovation establish new sustainable practices, while unlocking wealth, security, and wellbeing for the world’s inhabitants.

The other co-founders are Craig Cogut (of Pegasus Capital Advisors) and Boudewijn Poelmann (of Holland’s National Postcode Lottery). For more on who’s involved, check out the Executive Team and Executive Board pages.


A featured event listed on the front page is an upcoming summit, Creating Climate Wealth at Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business. Looking through the agenda, it’s clear everyone involves means business.

And maybe that’s just what we need.

(Hat-tip to Guy Dauncey for the initial pointer to the Carbon War Room.)

My Spelling Bee-related story (Gimme dat ding)

April 5, 2010 at 9:57 pm | In just_so, writing | Comments Off on My Spelling Bee-related story (Gimme dat ding)

Victoria BC’s Belfry Theatre has a new Facebook page where people can post stories about their spelling-related mishaps. The spelling-related stories are in reference to the Belfry’s new production, The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, which will run from April 13 to May 16.

If you post an anecdote, you’ll be entered in a draw for tickets to the play.

Nice idea!

I’m not going to enter to win tickets (I already have access to a pair, so no need to duplicate what’s in my goodie bag anyway), but I have a story about spelling nonetheless.

When I was 8 years old, I emigrated to Canada with my parents and my sixth oldest sister (my other 5 sisters had already left home, married, etc.). I looked slightly more doofy than the spelling bee contestant pictured on the right. Actually, I probably looked a lot more different. For starters, I wore dark colored clothes – the typical immigrant kid garb in a sea of pastel-wearing natives.

And I couldn’t speak English. I won’t say “not a word,” because I must have known some basics (my father spoke English, one of my sisters lived in England and I had visited her). I’m guessing that my Wortschatz (vocabulary) amounted to, “yes,” “no,” and maybe “hello I go now.” Really, not much.

It was March when I arrived in Winnipeg – which of course was totally snowed in. My mother thought we had landed in Siberia. So did I – the “adventure” of it all went straight over my head.

I got to stay home for about a week (to acclimatize – um, …to what?), and then they sent me to school. Pointed me in the approximate direction, and gave me a shove. (I walked to school alone.)

Mrs. Dyck was my teacher – she had a few words of German (many people in the neighborhood had Mennonite backgrounds), and she gave me a rapid immersion course in grade 1 English: that is, after regular classes were over, she and I went through all the Dick and Jane primers in about 3 weeks flat.

So, after about a month in my new English environment, I got to participate in one of those spelling-cum-grammar-cum-listening tests that teachers used to deploy all the time – and which we homeschoolers certainly also used, but which these days (from what I understand) are no longer routinely given to pupils (too bad!).

Here’s how it works, for those of you who never experienced them: the teacher reads aloud a text, and the pupils have to write it out.

Simple. But it can expect a lot. Listening skills, where you have to differentiate between “their,” “there,” and “they’re,” based on the meaning of what’s being told. Punctuation skills, which test your ability to transcribe and to remember rules.

…And of course, spelling.

So, Mrs. Dyck read out some basic, inane text – which included the word “that.”

When I got my test back, I stared, mortified, at what I had written: “dat.”

Dat? Who dat? (My ears turned crimson – I was horrified.)

It was my own immigrant kid nightmare: first, I blithely ignored the perpetual treachery of the English th, replacing it instead with a simple d. So many immigrants before me had struggled with the th, made it into an s or even (blush!) a d, and none had done so without betraying their moronic inability to master that simple sound.


But there was an additional layer to my shame. Dat is the low-German version of das (the article, as in der die das).

For god’s sake, only peasants say dat!

We used to make fun of low German at home, particularly with that horrid word, dat.

For example, here’s a deliberately ridiculous rhetorical question-and-answer, designed to sound like a clunker. First, the accepted German version: Darf das [Kind] das? Das [Kind] darf das!

Next, here’s the phrase in English: “May [the child] do that? It [the child] may!”

Finally, here it is in low German, where the hapless speaker is rendered like a true idiot: Darf dat dat? Dat darf dat!

Ah, yes, peasant Morse code…

And that was my first English spelling mistake: a perfect fusion of immigrant blindness (damn you, th!) and being caught with my peasant knickers down, to boot.

I’m happy to report that after dat, I made damn sure I didn’t make any other spelling mistakes. Pulled my pants up and killed the English language. 😉

About five years later, when my English problem was long settled, the pop song Gimme dat ding came out (it has a Wikipedia page…).

Oh the irony…

The Sunday Diigo Links Post (weekly)

April 4, 2010 at 2:30 am | In links | 1 Comment
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