Question 334 of 365: Should we buy comfortable couches?

Abstract picture of a Couch.
Image via Wikipedia

We currently own the most comfortable couch that I can ever hope to have. While not immediately plush and inviting, it is the kind of couch that deceptively lulls you to sleep with its firm support and ability to fully stretch out in a number of different directions. And then there is the corner. Where this traditional l-shaped wonder is most magnificent is in the corner that leaves no shoulders stressed or mind worried. This corner has basically been claimed by my wife ever since we got it 4 months ago. Having just paid off the bill, it is almost completely hers. We are not productive on this couch. We are watchers of entire TV seasons in one sitting. On this couch, we know nothing but the casual glance up at the clock and the inevitable shock of just how late it has gotten.

I wonder at our purchase, now. I wonder at just how many meals are going to be consumed on the couch because of how easy it is to make picnics within the L. I think about all of the forts that have already been constructed for my children with no regard for the utility of this piece of furniture. The naps that will be had are too many to count.

Should we have gotten two couches like we had before so that no two people could accidentally sleep end to end until 4 am when we decide it is time to crawl up to your bedroom? Should we have gotten an intentionally uncomfortable couch so that we don’t sit for long periods of time chipping away at the world’s store of great acting?

I submit that a comfortable couch is essential. I believe that whatever life we are giving up by daily relaxing and sinking into that deep mocha fabric is not worth living. The world that exists outside of comfortable couches is nothing to be concerned with. It is for those who write thank you cards after coming home from a party. It is for those who converse about lawn maintenance for over an hour if given the chance.

Comfortable couches are for those of us who believe in pressure and release. They are for those of us who root for one another to be always be better, while knowing all the while that we can crash if we need to. They are for those of us who don’t want to ever be accused of not knowing what we have until its gone.

We know what it means to be still. We know what it means to enjoy each others company. And we do it. Every day.

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Question 285 of 365: When does advocacy become an employment strategy?

Oh, the Places You'll Go!
Image by Julie70 via Flickr

Being in favor of things is not so very hard.

I’m for watching TV in the evenings. I’m for laughing with children. I’m for opening up boxes as soon as they come in the mail. I’m for remembering what I’ve done with those I’ve done it with. I’m for being quiet when screaming seems like the only alternative. I’m for screaming through the quiet. I’m for the scary moment in the morning when you realize just how much you have to do today. I’m for arm rests. I’m for spelling things out even when children aren’t present. I’m for innuendo. I’m for exaggeration and hyperbole and overstatement and repetition. I’m in favor of picking things up instead of stepping around them. I’m in favor of spending too much money on a movie and popcorn. I’m for clouds and rain. I’m for staring at strangers without their knowledge. I’m for separating candy from chocolate. I’m in favor of listening the same album over and over when it is just that good.

I can state all of these preferences quite easily and continue the list indefinitely, even as it spirals out of control into tangents and random mentions of my past. This is entertaining and time consuming but these are not passions, they are merely skipping stones across the surface. They are the brail of my life. They are the ways that people know I am me, but they are not the things that will last. They are not what will make someone take notice. They are not what will cause someone to stay tuned to what I have to say or want to hear more from my perspective.

Being in favor of something every day and stating that preference, so clearly and completely that will cause others to take notice. It is why politicians have staying power. It is why companies can execute. It is why people get hired. Being for one thing and showing it to anyone that will listen is the role I am choosing to do. It is the implied job of my life, the one laying just below the surface. Those are how passions reveal themselves over time. It is the diligence to be for something ad nauseum, but never to actually become sick.

I am drinking the koolaid, and I have for some time. I am taking deep and long sips and enjoying it. I am advocating for what I need every day now because I know that it is the only way that it will happen. And if Dr. Seuss‘ immortal words are any indication, it is only a matter of time before I will start happening too.

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Question 280 of 365: Do we need Man Caves?

Screenshot from Le Voyage dans la lune (A Trip...
Image via Wikipedia

Call it an office or a tool shed or a garage, but the Man Cave has become something of a mythical figure in daily married life. It is something to aspire to if you don’t have one or escape to if you do. It is decked out with sufficiently Man-friendly objects like big screen TVs, powerful gadgets or tools, and lots of paraphernalia from when this “man” was a bachelor. Somehow, wives and girlfriends are supposed to pay respect to the cave and allow the man to slip into this space as often as he would like. She may complain about this setting to other women, but it is a nonstarter with Man Cave dwellers. The television and movies promote this and we buy in because it let’s the those rooms have a respected purpose other than time sinks and conversation avoidance. The Man Cave is a presence for all who see it or inhabit it. It exists. Accept it.

Except, I don’t have one.

I have never advocated for one or staked out my claim to a particular space in our house. The very nature of a space that separates me from my family is antithetical to my understanding of a home. I want to be with my family.

My “master bathtub” is the one that our kids are bathed in most often.

The reading area is for me to read with my kids.

We have laptops so that we can be with others while we do the work we must.

The only couch we care to sit on is one that fits all of us.

The play room is the play room for everyone.

Yesterday, my daughter told me that “adults don’t have fun.” She further explained that only kids can have fun. I asked her how she knew and she told me that Adults don’t laugh like kids. I asked her about the things that she thought were fun: playdoh, dancing, listening to music, and reading. I told her that I thought they were a lot of fun too. After some discussion, she begrudgingly said that I could have fun, but other adults could not. She agreed that I laughed with her on a regular basis, but she still wanted to see the distinction between adults (and specifically male adults) and children (specifically, little girls named Isabelle).

I wonder if those with Man Caves could convince my daughter that they have fun too. I wonder if they could convince her that both a separate space for Adult Men and small children is warranted in the home. She is pretty smart, and I think even at 4 she would be able to spot the hypocrisy of separation that is required to create a Man Cave.

While there are times that I enjoy being alone and thinking through my passions, I will never exercise a mythical right to a Man Cave. I will never expose my children to the idea that somehow men need to escape from the horrors that is child rearing any more than women.

Ultimately though, the biggest reason that I do not want or need a Man Cave is that it can only be one thing. It can only be a couch and a TV or a tool shed and a set of special wrenches. My spaces can be anything that I want them to be. I can create and recreate the places that I spend my time. I can dress them up and bring anyone I want into them just to have them poke around and enjoy the environment. I don’t have to devalue everyone by possessing them. I can co-create them with my family and outside of that nuclear unit. In short, I bring my Man Cave, My Woman cave, my Child Cave, my Coworker Cave, My Collaborator Cave, and all of the other various caves I need with me everywhere that I go. And because of this, I can look my children in the face and tell them that I have fun, with them.

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Question 228 of 365: How much do we want to see something spectacular?

Apple QuickTake portrait - 1997
Image by Willderbeast via Flickr

I get the feeling that we want the next big thing so badly that we see it in everything we do. We want the planets to align and for a vision to come down from the heavens more than anything else. We want to see what it is that will be our indelible mark on society and we want to see it now.

In every interaction we take part in, there is the glimmer of hope that it could turn into the one thing that makes us memorable. It could be the one thing that allows us to rise above the fray and scream out into the future for someone to hear what we believe.

We want to see the that our treasure is worth something in an absolute sense. That there are things we are holding in our hands that are worth a gamble. We want them to be, at least. We want the two pair that we are holding to be enough to turn around our meager fortunes.

We amass evidence that supports our theories. We train ourselves to believe that we are creating amazing artifacts and hopeful creations. But, are we?

Do we want so badly to be the shining example of all that is right in the next generation of ideas that we can’t see that some of what we are selling just isn’t good enough. Are we so confident in our approach that we can’t feel how wrong it is to want something that isn’t ever going to happen the way we envision it?

It isn’t wrong to want more than we have, but sometimes we need to be okay with the struggle and the satisfaction of learning from trial and error. Sometimes we need to create what is possible. It isn’t a defeat. It is redefining what we see as spectacular. We need to find our own identities as the spectacle. We need ourselves, with every flaw, to be the special sauce that stains every shirt it comes in contact with. The truth is so much more glamorous that all that we may wait for and want in the meantime.

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Question 213 of 365: Where is the asterisk?

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I have never understood infomercials. While they may be fun to watch or poke fun at every once in a while, I have never for a moment wanted one of those products bad enough to want to “call and order right away.” I know that there probably is a market for the products that they are selling, otherwise they wouldn’t be so ever-present. I just never could see myself as their target audience. I always just assumed that their target audience weren’t the type of people who looked for an asterisk. They weren’t the folks who really paid attention to the fine print or the incredibly fast talking at the end of every infomercial that explained just how different actual results and the results on the television could be. I have always looked for and listened to such things, even if I did not head their advice.

I first started looking for asterisks when I bought a super long range frisbee called the Arobe (or something like that). It claimed to be the farthest reaching frisbee in the world. I learned very quickly that this claim was pretty false whenever I threw it. Sure, it went farther than most of the frisbees I had thrown, but it was all in who was throwing it that made it a world record holder. I couldn’t propel the thing much further than the length of my parent’s lawn.

That first asterisk led me to be skeptical of nearly every claim that came after, including those infomercials. But, I have been noticing a severe lack of asterisks in the claims that people are making every day now about their value and their contributions. For example, there are almost no asterisks in either the Android or Apple app stores. The apps do what they claim to do, except when proven otherwise. There are no claims of “your results may differ” when it comes to describing or creating the new “killer app.” And frankly, without the healthy dose of skepticism that I have learned from buying frisbees and watching over the top infomercials, I would be buying a whole lot of crappy ideas and applications.

I would like to start seeing asterisks at the bottom of blog posts and news articles with the biases of the author. I would like to start seeing them crop up as links to opposing viewpoints. To me, the web is one big claim that each idea holds the same amount of truth as the next. Every site is proclaiming to have the right information or the right tool or the right context to fit your needs at the moment. But, without an asterisk on each on of those proclamations, there isn’t anything that can be said to be fully true.

It is the asterisks that make our claims believable. While they may not be entirely convincing with them in there, it is what makes it okay to go out on a limb and state fantastic successes without being delusional. The asterisk is what gives us the freedom to go from ingredients to finished product without having to show all of the steps in between. And yet, the asterisks are so implied online that we forget that they are there at all.

Twitter is not a life stream. (at least not without an asterisk that leaves room for all of the times that are not spent tweeting).

Wikis are not completely democratic (at least not without an asterisk that leaves room for all of the edit wars and bias of any given article.)

News websites do not have the definitive version of the news (at least not without an asterisk that leaves room for citizen journalism).

Comments and Web Traffic are not the measures of success or importance (at least not without an asterisk that leaves room for quiet authorship and appreciation that goes beyond simple popularity).

You get my point. The missing asterisks online are too numerous to count. And I would like to start seeing them pop up so that we can proclaim loudly that “results may vary”, even online*.

*I would like to state my bias for this post. I do not believe everything I read online, but I know a lot of people who do. I look down on those people, and in that sense, I am an elitist.

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Question 177 of 365: What is plan b?

Diagram of Streaming Multicast
Image via Wikipedia

Preparation is something I had to learn. While I have always planned, true preparation has always eluded me. I mean to say that the ability some people have for seeing the way things will work out before they do has never been my gift. I have to play my way through everything and push the boundaries in order to get at what is possible. I have to see which questions get asked and which conversations are essential before it all makes sense.

That is why when streaming three concurrent sessions at a conference with two video feeds and one audio feed each, I new that everything would eventually work out. I knew that there would be a plan b that I could put in place. I just didn’t know what that plan b was until I saw it.

Originally we were going to use rented powerful laptops, but we didn’t have the right converters for our video feed. Then we were going to use our Boinx TV mixer to give the pictures nice overlays, but our own laptops weren’t capable of handling all of the multimedia. We were going to have the audio pumped directly to the mixer but the Ustream broadcaster wasn’t having any of it. Ultimately, we had a great stream being pumped out with both the powerpoints and the live video. This is super nerdy and all, but I think that the plan b we came up with was exactly what we wanted in the first place, but it took us a few revisions to get there.

It was the process of finding the plan b that was actually most engaging to me. Knowing that things would work the first time is not interesting to me. It is only through troubleshooting and creating a new solution that I feel valuable. It is about the workaround and the new workflow that everything comes together and I truly learn something.

Which is why I am much more inclined to give my children and the other people that I work with a tool that isn’t specificially meant for the task at hand. Perhaps I don’t have the right one, but more likely I know that it is the process of figuring out just what the tool can do that will bring about the greatest change.

People say that the iPad isn’t a creation device. By making it into one, I am learning more than if I just accept that limitation.

Some say that blogging is dead. By figuring out how to make my writing alive and valuable to me, I am able to find it’s relevance.

The conventional wisdom is that boomers aren’t interested in a networked workplace (Personal Learning Networks and the like). The plan b is in figuring out where we can go from a place of resistance.

I don’t believe that we are ever done planning for the future, and that includes creating a perpetual plan B. I want to make sure that all of my actions are in the creation of the best possible option for what comes next.

We are not creating the first version of the future. Everything is a revision, a second and third and fourth attempt at getting things right. So long as we keep at it, I know that it will be everything that we need. It may not be what we hoped for, envisioned or prepared for. It will be what we deserve and what we work for. It will be our best plan b. I promise.

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Questions 140 of 365: When do we get to see Slim Goodbody?

this is all a dream
Image by underwhelmer via Flickr

PBS is good for a lot of things. Creating unreal expectations for what the world is like is one of my favorites. From having inquisitive puppet friends to being an incredibly good neighbor, PBS made sure that I never had to make reality my full time occupation. My favorite piece of edutainment, though, was Slim Goodbody. He was a man without parallel, a body suit that showed every organ and muscle.

And he was supposed to come to my elementary school. That is what they told me, at least. They put up posters and made a big deal about an assembly that was forthcoming. And as we filed in, I believed that all of my PBS learning fantasies were going to come true.

That was at least until they laid this wonderful little gem on us: we are our own Slim Goodbodies. They told us that we didn’t need to see the man himself because we were him. And that was good enough for some of the kids in my class, but definitely not for me. I kept asking even after the assembly was over when Slim Goodbody was going to grace us with his presence. The other kids thought I just didn’t get it. And maybe I didn’t.

I wanted him, not some version of him that required us to “believe” in his ideals enough to become him. And that is why I can’t handle the social networking concept that we can all be “liked” and we can all be “friends” and we can all be “fans.” I don’t believe that we should be putting all of our trust in the crowd. There is still value in the magic of PBS. There is still value in the purpose and the personality. And one person showing up can sometimes outweigh the millions that believe that they share something in common than that one person.

We cannot all be Slim Goodbody, online or in real life. And that is a good thing.

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Question 107 of 365: Are we occupying or transforming our idle time?


My brothers played hockey. Smelly, cold, and rough and tumble. They had early ice times and late night games. They played from mighty mites on up through peewees and then in high school too. Hockey made sense to them in a way that it never did for me.

I used to stay home during their practices, that is once I had done enough time in the ice rink arcade. For years I faked playing video games in there, living vicariously through people who seemingly had quarters coming out of their ears. But when I was old enough to stay home, I did. I knew that there was only so much locker room stench I really needed in my life, and once I had reached my limit, I said no more.

So, I stayed home and had marathon sessions of Saved by the Bell. I should have been doing homework, so I would try to turn off the TV from time to time, but I never was able to resist one more episode. Because of this I can go head to head with anyone who believes they know more about Zac Morris than I do, unfortunately it isn’t something that comes up all that often. I wanted to escape from my responsibilities into a world that was made for the protagonist, where the affects of doing whatever you wanted were never felt for very long (see the episode where Zac scores extremely high on SATs without doing any work in school). I just couldn’t turn away, at least not when the alternative was math worksheets or projects that had been dreamed up decades before.

It was when I was left alone like this that I understood just how idle my life was. Without the presence of interesting goals or progress toward something of value, I was just looking for something to distract me until my parents came home. That was when I first noticed how much time I really had to do “nothing,” but it certainly wasn’t the last. Before I could reflect upon it, I had lived some of the most insignificant moments of my life in front of the television and computer. Before I knew that Collaboration would engage my mind, I saw that entertainment could distract it. Before I understood that creation would bolster my confidence, I saw that consumption would provide escape.

And yet, I did figure out what would truly bring about my happiness and let me transform my idle time by controlling the ratio of input to output. I realized this as a function of being bored. I starting to write on a daily basis. It was becoming engaged in poetry and the conversations that it held that allowed me to finally turn off Saved by the Bell and find something more worthy of my time than Zac Attack (the fictional band that Zac Morris created in a dream episode). Unfortunately, I don’t think it can be writing that does it for everyone. I also think that we are distracting ourselves more easily than we ever have before.

Netflix on Demand, DVRs and similar services are creating a culture of entertainment that feels more like creation. Because we can play, pause and fast forward all of our content (even print, audio and images), it seems as though we are doing something. There is no longer the sense that other people are going to create a marathon of episodes for us. We are creating that marathon for ourselves. We are now active participants in our own idleness. Before it was being pumped at us, but now we are choosing to turn on the fire hose and leaving it on because it feels like we are moving from the pressure.

We can no longer accept that boredom and idleness are the same, mostly because we are no longer bored when we are idle. We don’t give ourselves the chance to be bored. We must always be engaged by the content at our fingertips. We must always be searching YouTube for the next viral video or be reading up on the next Apple rumor. In that way, we are occupying our idle time in self-made distraction. We are crafting the environment that occupied my time for years while my brothers were off playing hockey. And yet we are feeling transformed in this environment, and that is what I am most worried about.

It is the fact that our idleness has become so interactive that is disguising our preoccupation with it. We are no longer able to simply be bored and to let that run its course. Because inevitably, boredom leads to invention, at least it did for me. I wrote in the quietest of times and spaces. I wrote when there was nothing to occupy me. But there aren’t those times now, and that is a turn for the worse. While I am not going to make an argument that certain devices, like the iPad, are turning our culture in one of consumers rather than social creators, rather I would like to state that it is the way in which we are consuming our content that allows us to confuse idleness with participation.

In one last analogy, I believe that our instinct to create playlists of music has been compared to the mix tape or cd of just a few years ago. Unfortunately, I do not buy it. Now, our playlists are made up by Pandora or iTunes Genius technology rather than by people. We share them far and wide through project playlist and other such sites. There are no hand crafted covers or agonizing over tracks. While I do not wish to bemoan the past, I think that believing that the playlist and the carefully crafted mix are the same is one more way in which we are confusing a mere occupation of our idle time with a transformation of it.

If I can be so bold as to suggest:

We need more boredom. We need more mix tapes. We need more writing.

We need less false interaction. We need less occupied minds. We need less playlists.

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Twitter and Google Reader for Productivity


(All quotations are not exact, but paraphrases of much better words that were in the mouths of the participants – These are notes, but I think that they might have benefit to others, so I am posting them on my blog as well)

I just wanted to use this space in order to make sure that we take note of all of our discussion surrounding how to use twitter and google reader for productivity.

“We don’t want to jump on the bandwagon with all new products. But, where does iGoogle, twitter, and blog feeds fit in our district’s overall vision.”

“Just because things are free, doesn’t mean we should be using them and promoting it.”

“Conceptually, the idea of everything coming to you is very inciting, but we need to look further at it from the Google Reader perspective and Twitter.”

“The real question is where do we spend our time? What is really of value?”

“Television news is too slow. I want to be able to know more about the things that I am interested in. I want it to be hyperlinked.”

“I don’t have enough time to consume things in a serial manner. I don’t want to know what happened yesterday before I know what happened today.”

“White papers are specific enough. I want relevancy and making sure that it is current.”

  1. Decide on your purpose for using feeds. What information would you like to be able to access that you can’t currently?
      • Topics to look at:
        • Stimulus and education
          • CDE does a good job of talking about the stimulus, but they don’t have a feed.
        • Broadband and education
        • Virtual Learning Environments
  2. Making your reading relevant: What are the topics that you would like to come to you?
    3. Google Reader Bundles
  3. How do you want information to come to you?