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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

long view planning

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A lot of goal setting articles include the assertation that “you overestimate what you can do in a day but underestimate what you can do in a year”.

A similar quote is attributed to Bill Gates:

“We always overestimate the change that will occur in the next two years and underestimate the change that will occur in the next ten.”

via The quotable Bill Gates | Developer World – InfoWorld.

There’s a long view planning technique based on these concepts. It asks you to “Describe your life in the future”:

  • 50 years from now
  • 25 years from now
  • 10 years from now
  • 5 years from now
  • 1 year from now

I write the descriptions as  prose but I’ve seen this done in a more structured tabular way so that the same topics are covered each time.

50 years is so much time, it makes most things seem achievable. In fact when I’ve done this I usually find I can’t imagine much difference between 25 years and 50 years, as I usually assume I can get my goals sorted in 25 years. 50 years takes me to 82 but my life expectancy is longer than that even without taking scientific/medical advances into account.

Of course, the time points are completely arbitrary, so long as the final point is sufficiently far in the future.

It’s a good activity for planning and prioritising the meaningful stuff, and for when you need an optimism boost. It’s also  useful for “future now” activities. It challenges you to think about making 1 year look a lot more like 50 years.

A slightly uncomfortable but sometime useful variation is to include 100 years time, or after you are dead! How will you die, what will you be remembered for and by who, and what impact will you leave behind?

Written by Karen

February 17th, 2011 at 1:50 pm

Posted in career,future,happiness

working with people who demean their colleagues

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A while back I read The No Asshole Rule: Building a Civilised Workplace and Surviving One That Isn’t

Back then I was in daily contact with someone who could have been the inspiration for Sutton’s book. Some of you will have had your ears bent about that delightful situation.

I’m far luckier in my working environment these days. My current boss and colleagues are all pretty much universally supportive, considerate and rational.

Occasionally I still encounter less pleasant folks but they are mostly at arms length which makes them far easier to deal with.  My most recent encounter sent me back to my book shelves to read Sutton’s book.

The book makes a distinction between people who demean others and people who are constructively argumentative and challenging.  Sutton describes two tests for spotting the former:

  • Test One: Does the ‘target’ feel oppressed, humiliated, de-energised, or belittled by the person? In particular, does the target feel worse about him or herself?
  • Test Two: Is the venom aimed at people who are less powerful rather than at those people who are more powerful?

Sutton argues that the bullies cause obvious damage to their immediate targets but they also damage bystanders, themselves and the organisation.

There’s a good section in the book called “Teach People How to Fight”.

I’ve been struck that through bullying these individuals can control what people do but they can’t control what people keep from them. No-one is going to voluntarily help them out.  People will let them shoot themselves in the foot.

Written by Karen

August 5th, 2010 at 6:27 am

the trouble with careers advice

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The main memory of my school’s careers advice was an interaction that went something like this:

“You appear to be rather good at science…have you thought about being a scientist? No? How about a science teacher?”

I don’t remember anyone ever suggesting that there were hundreds of thousands of jobs out there that don’t appear in Happy Families.

And the range of generic professions suggested seemed to be based on what subject you were better than your peers at. Enjoyment didn’t come into it.

I was very good at physics and I even found the lessons moderately enjoyable.  But left to my own devices, physics didn’t particularly feature in the way I spent my time (barring a bookish interest in astronomy).

I played with my dog, went swimming, spent a lot of time on the swings, read heaps on books, wrote stories, sketched, painted, cooked, drew maps of fantasy places, drew plans for imaginary buildings and gardens, and made models of buildings and towns.

That stuff made me happy (and it still sounds pretty good today).

Reading that list, it does sound like architecture (the proper kind) would have been a sensible direction. At 15 I did a stint of work experience at an architects practice and I had great fun clambering around building sites and drawing up plans.

The architect got me to draw up a plan for my dream house.  He had a look at how I was getting on and suggested I should be more ambitious because:

“this is the last chance you’ll have to design a house that you actually like”

And that was the end of my career as an architect.

At the heart of his comment was a real problem with careers advice. Even if we can direct children to learn crafts that they will enjoy that doesn’t ensure they will enjoy the day-to-day realities of their work.

Written by Karen

June 8th, 2010 at 6:23 am

Posted in career,happiness

book: Shop Class as Soulcraft by Matthew B. Crawford

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I’ve been reading extracts of Shop Class as Soulcraft: An Inquiry Into the Value of Work by Matthew B. Crawford. Crawford has a PhD in Political Philosophy, once worked writing abstracts for an academic journal service and now runs a motorcycle repair shop. His book, which began as an article in the New Atlantis, champions the virtues of using your hands to make and repair things.

He tells some fairly depressing tales of cubicle life:

“The quota demanded, then, not just dumbing down but also a bit of moral re-education, the opposite of the kind that occurs in the heedful absorption of mechanical work. I had to suppress my sense of responsibility to the article itself, and to others — to the author, to begin with, as well as to the hapless users of the database, who might naïvely suppose that my abstract reflected the author’s work. Such detachment was made easy by the fact there was no immediate consequence for me; I could write any nonsense whatever….

A good job requires a field of action where you can put your best capacities to work and see an effect in the world. Academic credentials do not guarantee this…

The good life comes in a variety of forms.”

via The Case for Working With Your Hands – NYTimes.com.

Written by Karen

September 28th, 2009 at 12:43 pm

Posted in craft,happiness,work

the manager’s schedule and the maker’s schedule

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This rings true for people who are clearly in one camp or another, and probably explains my diary nightmare:

“There are two types of schedule, which I’ll call the manager’s schedule and the maker’s schedule. The manager’s schedule is for bosses. It’s embodied in the traditional appointment book, with each day cut into one hour intervals. You can block off several hours for a single task if you need to, but by default you change what you’re doing every hour.

When you use time that way, it’s merely a practical problem to meet with someone. Find an open slot in your schedule, book them, and you’re done.

Most powerful people are on the manager’s schedule. It’s the schedule of command. But there’s another way of using time that’s common among people who make things, like programmers and writers. They generally prefer to use time in units of half a day at least. You can’t write or program well in units of an hour. That’s barely enough time to get started.

When you’re operating on the maker’s schedule, meetings are a disaster. A single meeting can blow a whole afternoon, by breaking it into two pieces each too small to do anything hard in.”

via Maker’s Schedule, Manager’s Schedule.

IAs are a bit of both, so I have a diary cluttered with lots of ‘short’ decision making meetings but I also need to carve out half day (at least) chunks so I can actually design or write stuff. The real GTD challenge for me is keeping my design work going in weeks where I only have scattered time here and there.

Written by Karen

July 31st, 2009 at 6:25 am

Posted in gtd,happiness,work

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

lessons in frugality from cats

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1. Sleep alot
Cats enjoy just lying around. They wallow in laziness. Our two positively scorn me when I rush around getting ready for work. If sleeping is getting boring, then find an exciting new place to sleep. Grumpy Cat challenges herself to squeeze through ever tigher gaps to get into prime sleeping spots.

cat, doing what she does best   Other Cat

2. Entertainment can be cheap
Noisy Cat likes elastic bands. Alot. Shop-bought toys don’t hold his attention anywhere near as long.

3. Luxury is simple
Radiators provide cats with obvious joy. In summer sunshine does the same. Best not to discuss their feelings about warm bird guts.

4. Be cute and someone else will feed you
I’m not sure this is something you should try and emulate but both our two fuzzballs were once strays. They hit the jackpot when they sucked up to me, winning a warm house, an easily manipulated lady of the house, no kids, no dogs, and a home where alot of home butchery goes on.

They have to put up with occasional humilating fussing from the humans but mostly the cats seem to have the better deal. They even seem to love their super-cheap cat food, known in our house as kitty-crack.

Written by Karen

January 30th, 2009 at 10:14 pm