Remember the milk (on working at home)

June 17, 2009 at 10:45 pm | In education, health, housekeeping, ideas, just_so, writing | 2 Comments

The other day Philip Greenspun wrote a provocative (that is, a typically iconoclastic) article, Universities and Economic Growth. It’s well-worth reading, so click through and take a look. (h/t @KathySierra)

I just want to use a small passage in that piece as a jumping off point for another observation that’s completely unrelated to Phil’s agenda. (In other words, this is a hijack.)

Apropos of universities, and of how today’s students use them, he wrote:

Focusing on homework has become much tougher. A modern dorm room has a television, Internet, youtube, instant messaging, email, phone, and video games. The students who get the most out of their four years in college are not those who are most able, but rather those with the best study habits.

No company would rely on this system for getting work done, despite the potential savings in having each employee work from home. Companies spend a fortune in commercial office space rent to create an environment with limited distractions and keep workers there for most of each day.

It’s that last sentence (“Companies spend a fortune in commercial office space rent to create an environment with limited distractions and keep workers there for most of each day.”) that really struck a nerve.

Readers of this blog know that I homeschooled my children. Today, I’m done with that – but until last summer, we were in the thick of it. For eight years, from 2000 until 2008, we – my son, my daughter, and I – worked at home (with field trips thrown in). Toward the end of that period, we did use BC Ministry of Education curricula, so it’s not the case that I had to invent unit studies for high school science or anything. But the homeschool culture (which basically means self-motivated work habits) continued.

That status quo changed last September when my then-17-year-old started his path on the B.Com program at UVic and my then-14-year-old started grade 12 at a neighborhood school (for the exotic experience). This coming September the now 18-year-old will enter his second year at UVic while the now 15-year-old will start her university studies at UBC. (Yes, you read that right, and no, I don’t want to hear any tut-tut-negative comments about radical acceleration. Tell it to someone else.)

About half a dozen years ago the spouse began working from home, too. So here we all were, 24/7/365, working at home – until last September, that is, when the kids went off to school. …Which left us grown-ups to continue the home-work slog.

Now that I’ve had ~10 months to decompress, at least from the intensity of being responsible for the day-to-day education of my children, the statement “Companies spend a fortune in commercial office space rent to create an environment with limited distractions and keep workers there for most of each day” really resonates with me.

People who commute and go to an office think that working at home in fuzzy slippers will be somehow liberating. Well, there’s a flip side to everything. Working at home all the time – not by yourself or just for yourself, but rather as part of a larger entity (say, a homeschooling family or a couple starting a business) – especially if it’s not very remunerative or lucrative (homeschooling is a financial drain, not a generator of income) can be really hard. I suppose it’s different if you make oodles of money and can get away from time to time. But if you don’t and you instead end up with more of the same (working at home), watch out: you can get to feeling stuck, and there’s nothing quite like that kind of stuckness.

Working at home isn’t like working in an office that you can leave behind. You don’t have tidy divisions between work and non-work, and sometimes the blurring lines get really blurry.

My dog won’t appreciate being left at home, but maybe I’ll try working in some third places this fall. On the other hand, if I use third places to do more work, it just means that I’m taking my work out of the home and into those other places, too.

My home (and homework) isn’t like a modern dorm room with “television, Internet, youtube, instant messaging, email, phone, and video games” as distractions. Over the last few years, my many home jobs have splintered into many more pieces, to the point that they themselves have become the distractions. In shepherding this machine that is the home and this project that was homeschooling and this partnership with my partner through years of home-work, it seems I have forgotten how to get my own work done.

In fact, I think I’ve forgotten what it was.


Sometimes someone will helpfully ask what I plan to do, now that the kids are heading out. It occurs to me that I have to remember something I forgot, not plan something I don’t know yet.

Posting elsewhere

March 29, 2009 at 8:58 pm | In housekeeping | 3 Comments

Even though there’s not much activity here, that doesn’t mean I’ve been sitting on my hands. As we continue to get MetroCascade up and running, I’m not just curating content on that site (by bookmarking local mainstream news items to a separate Diigo feed, for example) or by hunting for additional Victoria, BC online sources. I’m also posting occasional updates to the MetroCascade blog, and I post unusual event notices to the MetroCascade Events blog.

Checking in

March 29, 2009 at 8:50 pm | In housekeeping, just_so | 1 Comment

I’m “neglecting” my blog lately (tho’ I hate using that word, as it makes me sound like neglect is optional).

(The give-away was that for a couple of weeks running, I don’t even have a Diigo linkroll update, except for today’s single entry…)

Earlier this month, I blogged What’s my domain?, where I wondered whether I should break away from the brand and stake out my own. So far, I have achieved no practical progress on that front, although I did secure my domain name. In the comments thread to my post, Harvard’s Daniel Collis-Puro pointed out that I benefit from association with the Harvard brand. True, but I need to weigh benefits and negatives, which I haven’t done so far.

The problem is this: I get caught up in different projects that require my attention, and I like to have plenty of time when I’m not “on.” In total, it means I’m not sure I could maintain the kind of daily and persistent output that all things “brand” require. If I don’t bother maintaining my “brand,” however, there’s no point in starting it.

So…, still figuring this one out.

What’s my domain?

March 8, 2009 at 11:02 pm | In housekeeping, writing | 6 Comments

I’m very fortunate. Since March/ April 2003 I’ve been able to blog for free, hosted by Harvard’s Berkman Center for Internet and Society. It’s an option open to anyone with a Harvard email address.

While we all started with Radio Userland, Berkman switched everyone over to WordPress couple of years ago. But presumably because it’s a group-hosted gig, we don’t have the same kind of affordances that free-range WordPress users enjoy (I have a hard time getting hold of a human resource person who can explain the options from Berkman’s end of things – you can see that the How-to guides on Berkman’s website all say “coming soon,” which is what they’ve said for years <sigh>).

Individual (and also free) WordPress accounts allow users to upload videos and to add widgets and things, none of which I can do on my Berkman-hosted blog. I won’t even let myself dream of all the neat things paying /hosted WordPress account holders can do.

For a year or more I’ve felt I have a dilemma. I’m not a famous blogger or anything, but I feel like I have some investment in my “” brand. At the same time, I feel like I should be my own brand, and the “” handle keeps me from putting what I want into my domain.

If I now, at this late date, abandon my “” handle, however, I risk losing whatever equity I built up over six solid years of non-stop blogging. (Ok, there was a month here, or two weeks there, that I temporarily disappeared – but the emphasis is on “temporarily.”)

If I continue with the “/yulelog” handle, my personal brand plays second fiddle.

Meanwhile, new widgets and add-ons come along, which I’d love to implement …but can’t. Case in point? The Disqus commenting system – you can see my profile page here. (Note that Victoria’s own Black Press had added Disqus to its Business Examiner and its Victoria News sites, but not – yet? – to Monday Magazine, which Black Press also owns.)

Another example: a number of years ago I nuked my Flickr account, but even back then I was annoyed that I couldn’t put a Flickr badge on my blog. Things haven’t improved insofar as I can’t put a Twitter updater on my blog, either. And so on.

What should I do? Abandon the “” brand (such as it is) and venture out on my own? Forget about it? Or do both (set up my own site, but double post with some sort of redirect work-around – and to what end?)?

Victoria’s Focus Magazine now online

January 2, 2009 at 11:55 pm | In FOCUS_Magazine, housekeeping, victoria, writing | 2 Comments

In a move that surprised me pleasantly, Focus Magazine – the Victoria/ South Island magazine to which I contribute monthly – has a new website where readers can download (in PDF) the entire magazine, just as it appears in print.

It’s a new feature. On the site, they included not just the current (January 2009 – PDF) issue, but also last month’s (December 2008 – PDF). Focus Magazine is the best monthly covering people, ideas, and culture in Victoria, BC. There’s a lot packed into its pages, by many engaged writers.

PS: I still plan to upload my articles individually (to Scribd), with the current article going up soon.

PPS: I just noticed that the PDF downloads are called “previous” and “current” issues, which makes me think that the issues won’t be archived month-to-month on Focus‘s website. So if readers are interested, download copies while they’re up – they might be gone in a month (or two).

More Focus Magazine articles up on Scribd

December 6, 2008 at 11:56 am | In FOCUS_Magazine, housekeeping, urbanism, victoria, writing | Comments Off on More Focus Magazine articles up on Scribd

I managed to scan & upload a few more articles, this time starting with October 2006, and managing to get through half of 2007.  See my Scribd page here for details – there are now 3 folders (2006, 2007, 2008), to make it easier to find articles chronologically.

Next up, finish 2007, and then do the beginning months of 2008 (currently uploaded to the Berkman server in over-large PDFs). The Scribd format is much user-friendlier – very easy to zoom instantly to read clearly, etc. At least I think it’s user-friendly. Let me know / give feedback if there are problems – or kudos.

Scribd updated with recent Focus Magazine articles

December 5, 2008 at 2:04 pm | In FOCUS_Magazine, housekeeping, urbanism, victoria, writing | Comments Off on Scribd updated with recent Focus Magazine articles

I finally updated my page with the past five months worth of my articles for Victoria’s Focus Magazine! That’s August, September, October, November, and December 2008.

I’ll post an update with details (titles, etc.) later, and I also need to update my “Articles published in FOCUS Magazine” page here.

In addition, I need to uplodad to (which means re-scanning and creating PDFs first) all my articles prior to the first upload to Scribd (which is the March 2008 article).  That’s October 2006 through to February 2008.  Why? Because I currently saved them as PDFs that are basically not down-loadable (files too big, etc.).

Before I do all that, other work beckons, however.  So enjoy (I hope!) the current up-to-date 2008 crop.  More later.

Housekeeping (again)

July 7, 2008 at 10:42 am | In housekeeping, writing | 2 Comments

Sleep-deprived but feeling like it’s vacation time, I’m happy to say I finally got my August FOCUS Magazine article finished (it was due some days ago).  Maybe it took forever to write because it deals with BC Provincial Legislation, which is typically written in language that has the effect of a soporific potion. I challenge anyone try sounding sexy/ interesting/ whatever about urban planning when you’re tied up in clauses.

The article describes Bill 27, and after I spent nearly 800 words of my word allotment to explain what Bill 27 entails, I overstepped my word limit to write about what we (in Victoria) might do with it.  One idea?  Use the special Development Permit Area provision to create a Dockside Green version 2.0 in Harris Green.

While I’m off now to attend to mundane housekeeping in my non-virtual (what a silly way of saying “real”) domain, I do have plans this week (finally!) to upload my PDFs of articles (from February or March through July).  That process languished, partly because of upload limits on the Berkman server that hosts my blog.  But I recently discovered Scribd, which seems perfect for what I need.  Another service (as yet unexplored by me) is Issuu.  Might try both.

But first it’s laundry.

Web discipline: instructed skid marks

June 30, 2008 at 12:11 pm | In housekeeping, web, writing | Comments Off on Web discipline: instructed skid marks

It’s a day shy of July, and I had hoped that by now there would be a “finish” to some still-open “action items.”  But things are not quite yet falling into place.  It’s not entirely my “fault,” but I confess that I’m skidding into inefficiency myself.

At the same time, I’m reluctant to beat myself up in public (on this blog), so I won’t try, just now, to analyze why I have come to feel like such a drudge.

On a different note (but also, curiously, part and parcel of what contributes to my present discombobulation), here are a couple of items — trails, if you will — that I came across online and that I’ve scattered randoms thoughts into.

First, last night I read David Weinberger’s Government by these people, a brief pointer to an article by Matthew Burton.  Burton’s piece (Why I Help “The Man”, and Why You Should Too) inspired me to leave a long-ish comment on David’s blog.  It’s about government, especially local government.

But what was then more intriguing from my perspective was that I came across an article by the Toronto Star‘s Christopher Hume this morning, For fire trucks, bigger isn’t better, which I subsequently twittered (“Can’t you just see the burning babies already?”) and commented on in my Friendfeed:

The job of service providers (such as firefighters), says Hume, “is to serve Toronto, not alter the very fabric of the city to serve your needs.” The key clause is “not alter the very fabric of the city to serve your needs.”

That’s the key in the relationship between infrastructure (including services) and urban fabric (historical & living thing built up over time): too often, the service gets an “improvement” that destroys what was built over time — as though time, during which the embodied energy of past users accrued, doesn’t matter (is immaterial).

It’s not immaterial: in cities you can see time as matter.

Infrastructure as “embodied” money, cities as embodied time.

To see embodied money in totally new infrastructure, to the point of seeing capitalism’s astral body, go to Las Vegas (which provides a fabulous experience). (Comment to self: Q: why am I making blog/ book/ article notes to myself on Friendfeed? A: Because it’s there?…)

That comment in turn somehow connected with what I had written on David’s Hyperorg blog, as well as with something I’ve been thinking about ever since my first visit to Las Vegas last October.  The thought (then) was that Las Vegas makes capitalism’s astral body visible.  Somehow, in the triangulation between (1) Burton/my comment on Hyperorg and (2) Hume/my comment on Friendfeed and (3) my remnant impression of Vegas, a more firmly defined thought clicked into place.

I’m just a bit depressed by how distractedly it clicks, though.  I’m also worried that the distributed nature of its clicking will mean that it stays dispersed instead of being pulled into a reasoned, written article.

And so we (I?) am back to where I started at the outset of this blogpost: the nature of skidding into inefficiency, as embodied by my undisciplined ways.

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