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the good life in a digital age

Archive for the ‘good life’ Category


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None of my grandparents are still alive. Helen died when my mum was little,  Walter when I was just out of university and May & Tom shortly after I got married. I have some things that might traditionally be considered my inheritance from them, although some of the things might seem a little odd.

From Walter I have cigar boxes, tins, wooden boxes, a stack of leather skins and offcuts, old curtains, and photos. From May & Tom I have a meat slicer, pie tins, knifes, a Mrs Beeton, a stone rabbit, a red honeysuckle plant, jewellery, and photos.

Walter was stubborn and eccentric.  A big food lover. So much of a storyteller that we don’t know how much of the family history is true. He was a cobbler, creative, a good craftsman but not such a good businessman.

Helen I never knew. She was a matron. Mum’s memories make her sound gentle and caring. She was able to live with Walter so must have had super-human tolerance and patience. And thrift.

May was an organiser. She had a document tabulating all the holidays they had even taken, with destinations, dates and travelling companions. Food cupboards had lists of their contents pinned to the back of the doors. Food prices at different stores were noted in a book kept by her armchair. Household accounts were monitored with double entry book-keeping. She’d been a civil servant before getting married. They let her stay on so long as she kept using her maiden name but her working life came to end once my dad was born. A whole lot of pent-up organisational ability got directed towards running the home like a miniature government department. I recognised a lot in Hallie’s My Grandmother the IA presentation.

Tom was very different to May. He needed a few cigarettes a day, friendly chats and no office politics at work. That was about it for his demands from life.

So other things I may have inherited are pleasure in a simple life, in organising things and in crafting things. And probably a bit more from Walter than I prefer to notice.

Written by Karen

May 16th, 2013 at 2:26 pm

on owning a puppy and an iPad

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Last April I wrote about how I’d rather have a puppy than my iPad. Now I have both!

This is Finchley (on the left):

Comparing beards

So those benefits of a puppy reviewed:

  • I do get more exercise. The accuracy of my ball throwing is also improving.
  • I do need less heating, but only in the morning. Finchley is not willing to be a lapdog after noon.
  • On the vacuuming topic, I’m an idiot. Whilst it is true than Finchley hoovers food from the floor she often does so whilst depositing a baffling amount of dog hair and sawdust. Luckily she is pretty much Roomba compatible.
  • Upfront costs were cheaper than iPad but not as cheap as a rescue dog (she’s an intentional cross-breed rather than any old mutt).
  • The ongoing costs have indeed been substantial including vet bills for having excessively long ear hairs, medication to counter the horrific consequences of the puppy being an ‘indiscriminate eater’ and the cost of providing decent food (this is a much more compelling imperative for a pet whose poo has to be picked up in little plastic bags).
  • I did not die from the excitement but I do bounce with happiness more than I did 6 months ago.


Written by Karen

May 8th, 2013 at 2:03 pm

Posted in dogs,happiness

i’d rather have a puppy than an iPad

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I remember saying that. “I’d rather have a puppy than an iPad”.

Now I’ve got an iPad and  I still don’t have a puppy. I use the iPad continuously. But I would still trade it in for a puppy without even momentary regret.

There are more side benefits to a dog. I’ll get exercise. I’ll need less heating (all dogs are lapdogs). I’ll need to vacuum less (there are no crumbs with a dog).

Upfront costs range from far cheaper than iPad (rescue mutt) to several times more expensive (Malamute). There are more ongoing costs to a dog but the upgrade timescale is longer. Round my way I think they are both equally at risk of getting pinched.

If I got a puppy, I think there is a reasonably possibility that I might die from the excitement. I’ve been waiting ten years. It’s been a consistent life goal since leaving home (and our dog).

The point isn’t really that I really really want a dog. It’s about trying not to waste money on things that don’t carry that death-from-excitement risk.

I do, of course, value good design but that has a limited value (in the literal sense that there is a limit not that it’s value is low). I won’t pay the premium regardless of what the premium is. I’ll weigh it up against other things of value to me.

My resistance to regular purchasing of expensive gadgetry (robots not included) really comes down to the other wanted things in the back of my head, things that the dog is only one representative of (having the fabled farm, moving somewhere where our neighbours don’t steal our trucks, not being a wage slave…)

I guess my (work) point is, make sure you understand everything the user values.

Written by Karen

April 19th, 2012 at 6:31 am

Posted in dogs,happiness

hello again

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Right then. Back to the blog.

Since we spoke last,  I have:

Given up my FUMSI editor job. Finished off my Open Uni Certificate in Contemporary Science. Passed the Requirements Engineering exam. Got an allotment and an extra chicken. Made croissants.

I’m particularly pleased with the croissants.

Written by Karen

January 18th, 2010 at 6:08 am

Posted in food,fumsi

wearing the same clothes everyday

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Not in the way you are thinking.

Sheena Matheiken  has pledged to “wear one dress for one year as an exercise in sustainable fashion.”  The Uniform Project caught my attention this week as a slightly difference angle on anti-consumerism, compared with all the not buying, seasonal eating projects.

Disappointingly it isn’t the same item of clothing, she’s got 7 identical dresses. And she does seem to wear mores bits and pieces with it than I imagined when I thought of accessories.

The concept’s interesting to me because the IA in the Woods won’t be able to indulge in much clothes shopping.

Kottke mentions some predecessors but Matheiken is unusual in actually making the outfits appealing. Mostly.

Written by Karen

June 13th, 2009 at 7:00 pm

Posted in simplicity,thrift

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In Defence of Food

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Finally got round to reading In Defence of Food by Michael Pollan. Perhaps I’ve been over-exposed to the concepts in the book but, in spite of wholeheartedly agreeing with Pollan, I found the book itself a bit, well, flimsy.

I read it in a day and it seemed to come to a rather abrupt halt. That feeling was exaggerated by the wodge of sources, acknowledgements and index – it seemed there should be at least 5mm more story to go.

His core message is “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants”. Of these only ‘eat food’ needs much clarification as Pollan is encouraging us to avoid processed industrial foods, largely anything your gran or great-gran wouldn’t recognise as food. (must remember to check how long Ribenna has been around).

The book also reminded me to be angry about the current government marketing campaign, urging us to cut down on saturated fat. The BBC coverage reminded us that “grilled chicken breast without skin contains a third less saturated fat than with skin”. I’m sure it does but grilled skinless chicken breast is utterly pointless. I’d rather eat a carrot.

Pollan uses quite a lot of the book to highlight how inconclusive the scientific evidence against the evil fat is. I’d much rather see the government spending our money on encouraging us to grow our own veg, or cook from scratch. I really don’t think we’re all getting obese and dying of heart disease because we’re leaving the skin on a piece of grilled chicken.

Written by Karen

April 25th, 2009 at 8:29 am

Posted in food

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food is a sub-category of women

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I remember when I was first working with the UNESCO thesaurus I was amused to see that ‘home-makers’ was a sub-category of women. I just thought that reflected the age of the thesaurus (it has some particularly lovely terminology around disability too).

Now I don’t expect the Daily Mail to demonstrate cutting edge social attitudes, or to be honest , to have particularly great information architecture. So I really shouldn’t have spent quite so long trying to figure out where their recipes section was buried. There is a shortcut on the homepage but I’d come in via a search engine and foolishly thought I could work out the main nav to get me to my destination.

The penny dropped eventually. It is nestled in the ‘Femail’ section,  of course!

Food | Mail Online.

Written by Karen

April 6th, 2009 at 8:50 pm

slow down London

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Later this month will be a London event I feel like I can get involved in (unlike the G20 protests…what was it they wanted again?)

Slow Down London is a ten day festival that sets out to encourage Londoners to  improve their lives by slowing down to do things well.

Also coincidently discovered Academic Earth this week, kind of Ted talks but with guaranteed PhDs. In Paul Bloom’s lecture “The Good Life” he refers to two solutions to the hedonistic treadmill: keep doing different things or just get off the treadmill.

The Slow Down folks want to get off.

Written by Karen

April 2nd, 2009 at 7:21 pm

Posted in cities,happiness,speed

my mother, the programmer

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I mentioned in my mum couldn’t use that that my mother is a computer programmer, so given the close proximity of Mothers’ Day (in the UK at least) and Ada Lovelace day (in the blogging world) it seemed appropriate to blog about Mum.

Mum studied physics at Kings College in the late 1960s. She doesn’t remember that choice being particularly controversial at her all-girls convent school. Nor was Grandad fussed by it. My aunt was already at Kings, also studying physics so Mum’s choices were rather ordinary for the family. Both sisters were very much in the female minority but they seemed to enjoy their status (they also met their future husbands on their courses).

My aunt left Kings and went to work at Jodrell Bank,  a job I am still insanely jealous of. Mum became a physics teacher and later a computer programmer.

Mum has been a huge influence on me. She made a technical career seem perfectly normal,  and left me rather oblivious to any prejudice. As a result I am a rather poor feminist. I feel rather more constrained by looking much younger than I am, and by being an introvert. I struggle to think of any situations where I have experienced sexism. At least from the men…

Written by Karen

March 24th, 2009 at 5:25 am

Posted in family

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a rather poor feminist

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I was surprised by my female colleagues reaction when I not only married but became Mrs Loasby. They were horrifed that I would “take the man’s name”. As my other surname came from my dad the objection seemed ill-thought through.

At least I’d chosen my husband and chosen to take his name. I never had any say in Harvey. Even more bizarrely they seemed to accept my decision when I mentioned that I would be the only ‘Karen Loasby’ in Google. Patriachy,  it seems, is ok if it enhances your brand!

Recent news also attacked  the Mrs title. Only very close friends and utility companies address me as Mrs Loasby. I don’t actively use Mrs and I’m baffled by a colleague who puts (Mrs) after her name in her email signature but I’m not concerned by the (empty) symbolism.

This doesn’t mean I’m in favour of sexism. I’m outraged that my grandmothers were held back by society. One was a civil servant and one a matron. Both were more educated and could earn more than their husbands but their careers were constrained by the attitudes of my great-grandparents,  one of my grandfathers and by the civil service. But their world seems utterly alien to me.

I never experienced any prejudice at school. The teachers were outraged when I didn’t study Physics at university. It was a similar non-issue at university.

At work my best  bosses have been women but I’ve had two awful female bosses too. Jen Rigby, Margaret Hanley, Julia Whitney and Helen Davies have all helped me greatly. This might just be a sympton that the BBC and RNIB don’t  discrimate against women.At the moment my boss is female, the head of IT is female and the CEO is female. This is my normality.

I suspect this is my mum’s fault. She was both inspiration and insulation and deserves a post of her own.

Written by Karen

March 24th, 2009 at 5:22 am

Posted in family,work