Tagged things i think about

Blogger’s block

I have blogger’s block.

I am unsurprised that other people have coined the phrase ‘blogger’s block‘ well before me. It’s an obvious one, isn’t it.

I remember when I was first on the internet. I was trying to create a character for a text-based role playing game and I remember thinking, ‘Wow, someone’s already chosen the name ‘Gandalf’.’

My brother and I tried dozens of internet handles. We ended with ‘VampireSmurf’. If we waited another week, VampireSmurf probably would have been taken.

No longer am I surprised that every idea I have is already on the internet.

This is cool. Use namechk.com check the availability of your username of choice on a whole bunch of sites.

Wow. There’s a joanium on a site called PictureTrail. Otherwise, all those joaniums are me. joanium is probably the nearest thing I’ll ever have to an original internet thought.

LinkedIn recommendations

I am informed that my LinkedIn profile is ’70% complete’. To finish it off, I need two recommendations. This means I should ask two people to write a testimonial about their experience of working with me.

I haven’t bothered with this. I don’t mean to make use of LinkedIn.

However, something has made me revisit this decision. Last week I was spammed by James from a recruitment agency.

The way LinkedIn works is that if you’re not directly connected to somebody, you can only message them directly if you pay for a premium account. However, recruitment agent James has found a way around this. He requested to be my contact and in the field for putting in a personal message, he wrote:

Dear Joan

Apologies for the direct approach but I wanted to introduce myself to you and I am hoping you may be able to help me.

I work for a company called [...], a recruitment consultancy that focuses on the sustainability space. I am currently working with a company that specialise in the provision of sustainability solutions, looking to grow their team in the built environment…

I would really value the opportunity to talk to you about this role and find out if you know anyone who could be interested, or indeed if you might be interested yourself! My contact details are: [...]

Thanks and Best Wishes

James

I thought, ‘The nerve!’ Of course I won’t respond to this kind of spam, this abuse of LinkedIn.

Just before I deleted his message, I clicked on his name and found out that we have three degrees of separation (one of my contacts knows someone who knows him). He also has a glowing recommendation from one of his clients.

‘…James has exacting standards and is a fantastic communicator which are really appreciated both in terms of the search and selection process as well as the negotiation of final contracts. James acts with the integrity of both client and candidate ensure that the final deal is one which sets both parties off on the correct footing.’

This testimonial starts to make me think differently about James. Maybe, instead of being merely rude and untargeted, he is actually working hard and is using social networks innovatively to get results during difficult economic times.

Hmm. These recommendation things could be very powerful.

Self-promotion

We were a couple of drinks in at the pub last week * and a colleague I had met for the first time that evening was getting angry.

One of the things he was angry about was a girl in his group, who worked only exactly the hours required of us (9am to 5:30pm), and yet she is well thought of by most people.

‘People like her, they’re good at self-promotion and talking themselves up,’ he complained. ‘But she doesn’t put in the hours.’

I was surprised to hear this. I know of this girl and have chatted to her a few times. I haven’t worked with her so I don’t know how ‘good’ she is. However, she does have an interesting personal and academic background and she seems to have a lot of initiative.

I started thinking, ‘Maybe… maybe there are people in my company who are upset about me too.’

Compared to other junior people, I am well known around the company. I hope this is because I do good work. In addition, I do try to meet people, keep in touch, make presentations and answer questions on the online company forums.

While I’m good at raising my profile, I hope I back this up by showing I have something worthwhile to contribute.

I am sure that there are people in the company who have something equally worthwhile to contribute, yet they aren’t getting the same attention because they’re not as comfortable at networking and self-promotion.

I’m sorry if people like me crowd them out. I do try very hard to direct questions and work to the right people and this means passing on leads to those who know more about a subject than me.

Despite this, though, it is conceivable that there are people who resent me the way this work colleague resents that girl.

I can’t do much about this except I am now reminded that I must be genuine and thoughtful: to speak when I am sure that what I say could be useful (not simply grandstanding), and give the quieter ones in the group the space to contribute.

* Not me, I don’t often drink at pubs. I don’t like the taste of alcohol and friends/colleagues are happy for me to have water and chips instead of beer.

Television thoughts

I’ve lived in my flat since November last year. Yesterday I finally figured out how to turn on the television.

I watched Embarrassing Bodies on Channel 4. It made me happy because it reminded me that I have a healthy normal body and that I should do whatever I can to keep it that way.

I watched Grand Designs and that made me think that people who build their own homes are ego maniacs who don’t know how to manage projects.

Well. Maybe it’s just people who nominate themselves to go on TV with their life-defining project homes who are ego maniacs who don’t know how to manage projects.

I also watched part of City of Vice, a show I’ve mentioned before. It’s a drama series about the battle to bring law and order to London’s streets during the 1700s. Once again, one of my favourite places has been revealed to be a historic slum of desperate poverty and wickedness. Seven Dials is now very hip and home to my favourite London eatery (Food for Thought). But back in Georgian England, it was crowded with starving people and a lair for criminals and prostitutes. It’s amazing how places can change so much.

Getting it wrong easier than getting it right

I read a frightening article in the Observer’s Food Monthly magazine. It was frightening to me, even though I probably have a relatively good diet. But I can see how people could very easily fall into the trap of eating badly even with the best intentions.

Read this on The Observer’s website here — Running on Empty Carbs.

I’m a fruit fiend. Every day, I typically eat a banana, two oranges and an apple. I’ve known for a while that each orange has the same calories as a small chocolate bar. The article confirms this:

‘Even fresh fruit… is a highly calorific food that should be treated with caution. “One consequence of the government’s Five-a-Day campaign is that children are eating fruit rather than vegetables to meet their target… If you are consuming an extra five pieces of fruit a day and changing nothing else, it will give you more calories because fruit is very sugary.” ‘

There are other depressing revelations (or reminders) about mashed potato, chorizo sausages, apple juice, Rice Krispies (like Rice Bubbles in Australia), muesli bars, dried apricots, bread and crumpets.

Why is it so hard? Why is it much easier to get it wrong than to get it right?

I’m trying to find ways of increasing the protein in my diet but I don’t have the skills or knowledge. It’s also expensive. What can I snack on, if not fruit, rice cakes, muesli bars or salted almonds? Am I meant to keep cans of tuna and boiled eggs on my desk?

First tier friends

I have five ‘first tier friends’. I’ve known this for a few years now. Sometimes, I am unwise enough to say aloud who they are but those people who aren’t first tier friends generally know this. I think it’s very rare that someone would consider you a first tier friend, while you think of them as a second tier friend.

Here is an interesting article from BBC Magazine — What’s the ideal number of friends? The article posits that the maximum number of ‘core’ or ‘Premier League’ friends a person has is between six and twelve.

This is funny:

‘A newspaper columnist once told of her shock when, having struck up a rapport with a man over dinner, she was told at the end of the meal he had no vacancies for friends. He was operating a “one-in, one-out” policy. Six months later she received a card stating he was now available for friendship.’

I will add one more feature to this theory of friendship. Like the United Nations Security Council, there are five permanent members of my first tier and one or two rotating members. At any one time, I feel close to a person that I am usually spending a lot of time with. These days, it’s often a work mate.

It may not be obvious at the time that this person is not a permament first tier friend but rather a rotating one.

Right now, though, this post is vacant. Apply within.

Dumb resolution

I have a lot of experience setting objectives and targets. I do it for a living and I pretty well know how to put together a target, commitment or goal that actually spurs people to change what they do.

It may surprise you, then, that I have made a dumb new year’s resolution. It’s dumb because it’s not SMART — Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic or Time-bound.

My resolution is: ‘To enjoy going to the gym’.

Since coming back to the UK, I’ve been to the gym twice. Both sessions have been good — I think I enjoyed them. Does that mean that I’m keeping my resolution?

Well, it’s hard to say. It’s hard to say because ‘to enjoy’ is pretty vague. What does it mean? I also don’t know how to measure it. Am I having more fun than I had last year? Should I enjoy myself more tomorrow? What level of enjoyment should I have (whatever ‘enjoyment’ means) within three months? What about by new year’s eve 2009? Is it really possible to enjoy going to the gym or are those gym junkies deluded?

Speaking of new year’s resolutions, I brought macadamia-centred chocolates back to the UK so that my workmates could have a taste of Australia. Would you be surprised if I told you that about a quarter of the people to whom I offered a chocolate declined because they were on some kind of new year’s resolution diet?

I was astonished. How can one resist chocolate-covered macadamias?

But I shouldn’t be surprised, really. After all, I too have been on an no-chocolate regime.

Back in September last year, having completed my one month chocolate ban, I reintroduced chocolate back into my diet. For a while, it was going well. I ate a bit of chocolate here and there. But then, my chocolate eating started to ramp up. One day, just as I was putting another piece of pointless-sweet-no-flavour chocolate in my mouth, I realisedthat I had reverted back to my former ways.

So I made a new resolution and that time it was a SMART resolution. I am only allowed to eat chocolate with greater than 70% cocoa content.

Specific? Yes. I know exactly what I am allowed to eat, and not allowed to eat.

Measurable? Yes. It’s a pass/fail criterion that applies 100% of the time, although I have made exceptions for spectacular chocolate cakes on three occasions.

Achievable? Yes. If coeliacs can avoid wheat products and vegans can avoid animal products, then resisting milk chocolate should be a piddle.

Realistic? Yes. It’s not like an indefinite ban on chocolate — clearly, I would fail that resolution. With this goal, I’m allowed to have the yummiest and best chocolate but avoid the incidental stuff (e.g. team mates bringing in cakes and sweets). It’s the incidental (accidental, non-deliberate, unplanned) chocolate eating that has increased since moving to London.

Time-bound? Yes. The resolution was applied immediately and lasts forever.

Forever!

Time for a change?

This is interesting: MI6, the UK’s Secret Intelligence Service is advertising for recruits via Facebook.

Gone are the days where you are secretly tapped on the shoulder while studying at Oxford or Cambridge universities. Now anyone posting their most personal details on social networking sites can work for MI6.

(Just kidding, I can’t work for MI6 because I’m not a British citizen but isn’t that the ultimate cover anyway.)

I used to live ten minutes away from MI6 headquarters. I walked past it whenever I walked home from work. The building is bristling with CCTV cameras. I am sure MI6 have lots of grainy black and white photos of me on file.

MI6 headquarters in South London — isn’t it an ugly building? I think of it as a wedding cake.

I used to also republish this blog and my photos on Facebook. I really liked being able to bring my writing and photos to all my more passive and non-RSS-cluey friends through Facebook. Reluctantly, though, I have now deleted almost all my original work due to this statement in Facebook’s terms of use:

‘By posting User Content to any part of the Site, you automatically grant, and you represent and warrant that you have the right to grant, to the Company an irrevocable, perpetual, non-exclusive, transferable, fully paid, worldwide licence (with the right to sublicence) to use, copy, publicly perform, publicly display, reformat, translate, excerpt (in whole or in part) and distribute such User Content for any purpose, commercial, advertising, or otherwise, on or in connection with the Site or the promotion thereof, to prepare derivative works of, or incorporate into other works, such User Content, and to grant and authorise sublicences of the foregoing. You may remove your User Content from the Site at any time.’

I’ve thought about removing my work from Facebook for a long time. It was a difficult decision — I feel the risk of Facebook using my work in a way I didn’t like was low and the benefits of Facebook delivering my work to friends were high.

But… I found out I cared about these things more than I originally thought when a non-profit website used one of my photos without giving me credit. I was very upset, even in this case, where it is for a good cause. (They denied that it is my photo but I have proof.)

Sigh. Oh well.

Marigolds

For me, washing dishes is meditative. As I wash the dishes, I am also flushing away all my worries. Also, dishwashing is exciting — SUDS, water water water, CLEAN! It’s like magic.

The day after moving into my Cambridge home, my housemate Di exclaimed, ‘Joan, you’re so funny! What are the marigolds for?’

‘Marigolds?’ What was she she was talking about?

Di pointed to the new yellow dishwashing gloves that I had just hung over the kitchen sink. ‘That’s what we call kitchen gloves in the US.’

I had bought the gloves on my first trip to the supermarket. Gloves are an important aid to my dishwashing habit.

‘Why are they called marigolds?’ I asked.

‘Oh, I think it’s a brand name,’ Di said.

Interesting. What was it about Marigold gloves that had turned the brand into a generic noun? (*)

The next time I was in the kitchen section of the store, I noticed the hanging rack of Marigold kitchen gloves. I wanted to try them out but I hesitated. They were more than four times the cost of the basic brand of gloves I had bought (£1.25 compared to £0.30 a pair). Could Marigolds really be that special?

I shrugged and picked out a small yellow pair to put in my shopping basket.

I have now been buying Marigolds for all my dishwashing needs for two years. They really are the best ever dishwashing gloves. Lined with flocked cotton, Marigolds feel so nice when I put them on. They also last a lot longer than the basic gloves.

In conclusion, Marigolds make dishwashing even more enjoyable.

(*) Other brands-turned-generic-nouns/verbs include:

  • ‘Gladwrap’ for ‘cling film’ (Australia)
  • ‘Hoover’ for ‘vacuum cleaner’ (UK)
  • ‘Xerox’ for ‘photocopier’ (USA)
  • ‘Kleenex’ for ’tissue’ (USA)
  • ‘Fedex’ for ‘courier’ (USA)
  • ‘Ramen’ for ‘instant noodles’ (USA)
  • ‘Tivo’ for ‘hard disk recorder’ (USA… can someone confirm this?)
  • ‘Rollerblade’ for the noun ‘in line skates’ (international?)
  • ‘Photoshop’ for ‘Digital image editing’ (international?)
  • ‘PowerPoint’ for ‘computer presentation slides’ (international?)
  • (defunct?) ‘Walkman’ for ‘portable casette player’ (international)
  • (emerging) ‘Google‘ for ‘web search’ (international?)

Goodness! Of course I should have expected it — people have written about this topic already. See Wikipedia — Genericized trademark, and a slideshow on AOL — Brand Icons That Made a ‘Name’ for Themselves (a bit US-centric but I didn’t know jacuzzi was a name brand!).

Other suggestions welcome, especially for Australia (I suspect ‘esky’ is one of these).

And why does it seem that the US is prone to turning brand names into generic labels? This is also interesting — examples from other languages and countries.

Home, year 2

At 2 AM last Tuesday, Damjan and I flew into Tullamarine Airport. Home! Home, for the first time in over a year. Perhaps annual trips home will be the normal pattern of things.

Previously, I had made a list of distinctively UK features. I am now seeing Melbourne as if I am a newcomer, and here are some of my observations.

As soon as I walked out of the airport, I smelled Melbourne. Melbourne smells like vegetation and rain. London never smells like that, even though it rains a lot and there a big parks about.

Despite my first week here being cloudy and rainy, when the sunlight appears it is as white and bright as I remembered.

There is much less advertising in Melbourne compared to London. It is refreshing to take public transport without being bombarded by ads. I love sitting in my suburban train to the city facing a shiny white wall. However, Melbourne trams are as ad-heavy as London buses.

Only about one in ten people on the train are wearing headphones. In London, 90% of people use headphones! There are also relatively few people talking on their mobile phones. In the UK, more than half the people I see on public transport and walking on the street are on the phone (if they’re not wearing headphones).

It’s easy to slip back into car use, both as a passenger and a driver. Melbourne is so car friendly that car feels like the natural mode of transport. London is so car unfriendly that even short car commutes have made me feel ill and stressed.

The kids from my high school look puny.