Monthly Archives: February 2005

not used to continuous partial attention

Adults in this culture, especially those in the internet culture, are used to continuous partial attention (term from Linda Stone via Joi Ito).

If you’re a crying baby, however, and your papa is trying to calm you down through any of the wits he has left in him, continuous partial attention doesn’t cut it. Full attention NOW and as long as I need to until I’m satisfied!

Plausible futures

I’ve been thinking about how to do planning for the 1000 days future without getting all dreamy-eyed about it, and came up with this technique. See what you think. This is a starting point for a new 1000 days ahead mailing list that’s formed for people with similar time-horizons – it’s getting going now, follow the link to join.

Start out with a sufficiently ambitious and far reaching goal or prediction for 1000 days out. It doesn’t have to be the only thing that might happen in that timeframe, but it should at least be plausible by your intuition and first sense of it.

Work backwards from there (I have done it 100 days at a time) back to the present day, to set some milestones in place to see what might need to happen for that plausible future to occur. What will a plausible future look like in 300, 500, 800 etc days? Again you don’t have to spell out every precondition in exact detail, just get enough of a sense for if the goal is to be reached, what kinds of steps along the way might come about. You will know some events with some accuracy and others will be wild guesses.

(This approach is borrowed in some way from Paul Saffo’s “cone of uncertainty” idea about thinking about the future; in this application you start from the future and work your way backwards to the present, checking all the while that what you have is plausible. Maybe a “cone of plausibility”?)

Back as close as 100 days from now you should start to get to short term projects that you could actually start to implement, and at 0 days from now there’s probably some next action that will come about spontaneously without much extra thought.

Then follow the usual routines you have for dealing with new things to do. In my particular case I worked my way backwards from the desired goal of “I exercise regularly at the new Y” to a very attainable “Schedule an appointment to visit the new Y” with a few detours along the way but something on my calendar to do that’s concrete for tomorrow.

ambient music for babies

I’m sitting here with Jonathan typing away while he sleeps. It took a good 45 minutes for him to chill out, and he should be good for another hour or two before he needs to get up again.

In the process of getting him to rest I’ve been going through my checklist of all the things that might be bothering him. Does he need a new diaper? Is he too warm, too cold? Does he want to be walked around, or bounced around, or to stop walking or bouncing? Sometimes the quest for change is more important than any one particular goal.

One thing I have been trying – short of singing to him, which I do some too – is having some music playing that I think he’d like. Most of the music that iTunes would call “Children’s Music” is really more stuff that Saul (age 4) is interested in. I’ve had good success of late tuning into ambient music on iTunes – e.g. the Chillout channel on – and letting that play. No words, good soothing beats, and no intrigue to decode for the adults.

Mostly though Jonathan just likes to be snuggled, he sleeps best when I’m wearing him in his baby sling.

Structural Holes, Ron Burt

Here’s a revision of a review first posted to Vacuum 5 years ago, and then posted to Amazon. The book in question is Structural Holes by Ron Burt – note that he has a new one coming out this summer called Brokerage and Closure that expands on these ideas.

The network structure of social capital, April 5, 2000

Reviewer: Edward Vielmetti (Ann Arbor, MI USA) – See all my reviews


The Network Structure of Social Capital” by Ronald Burt at the U Chicago Graduate School of Business is one paper that held my attention. “Social capital” is a metaphor for the accumulated wealth built up in a personal network; better connected people have more social capital, and as a result they gain advantages in social situations. Burt’s thesis is that social capital depends on not just the size of your social network, but also its nature and structure. Here’s a brief summary.

If you’re looking to get ahead, you should aim to build a circle of work and personal contacts that is broad and diverse. The more diverse your contacts, the more likely it is that you will find an opportunity through them. It’s particularly important not to narrow your networking efforts to a single clique of all like-minded people who all know each other and don’t mix much with others; maintaining such connections gets in the way of more productive efforts that bring in a steady mix of new faces.

When you have a network that gives you the opportunity to connect two widely diverse parts of an enterprise together, or when you can bring friends together who know you but don’t know each other, you stand in the role of gaudius tertius, “the third who benefits”. Even if you don’t explicitly control the relationship (now I don’t want to sound too mercenary here; remember, this is social science, not Emily Post) you will still benefit from the control of and access to flow between two elements that have been insulated from each other.

The pieces of an organization’s or a population’s network that don’t communicate much are insulated by what Burt calls “Structural Holes” (the title of one of his books). He goes into detail studying behavior and networks of senior managers in an organization trying to find structural holes and predicting with a fair degree of accuracy who will get ahead in the corporate game by how big people’s networks are (bigger is better), how centered their networks are on their bosses (all things equal, you’d rather know people who your boss doesn’t — but take advantage of your boss’s network to bootstrap your own) and the overlaps in their contacts networks (be the bridge between people who don’t know each other).

A good read, if you’re into theory, though a bit of a slog at times. The author appears to bear a bit of a grudge against some fellow academics who disagree with his conclusions – those academics went off and formed a little clique that’s busy quoting each other and recommending that senior managers build little cliques within their own companies. I believe that eclectic networks bring the best results persuasion by my nature. (Witness Vacuum.)

[Originally from Vacuum #11.

Colophon, 2005

This is an update of my previous “colophon” page.

The mailing list “vacuum-egroup” is run on Yahoo Groups. It has about 150 subscribers, and has been running continuously since my first post in April 1998. You are invited to join.

Paper notebooks are from Moleskine (the pocket squared one) and Roaring Spring (the lab notebook size). Lab books are typically whatever is cheapest at Michigan Book and Supply – I paid $1.75 for the last one, but sometimes they run $7.00, and I haven’t figured out what time of year is cheapest to stock up. All the paper is 5 squares to the inch quadrille ruled, so that I can do page layout with straight lines and get the measurements exact and replicable. I write in both and they compete for attention, see Moleskine vs Lab Notebook.

I’m using an iBook G4 running Mac OS X 10.3.5. Last time around I was on an old Dell running Windows 98 SE. I’m happy I switched. The old Dell is now the kitchen laptop for listening to Internet radio like Free Speech Radio News and for doing email – Deb uses it mostly.

The weblog is published with Typepad. In the past I used Blogger, and before that I edited pages with vi. My first weblog goes back to 1999. In some ways I’m happier with the fine grained layout choices I could make back then with sidebars and tables all constructed by hand, but the whole process is a lot quicker now.

My private wiki is powered by Socialtext. More often than not I am not sure whether having a “personal wiki” makes sense except as a private PIM – you might be better off contributing to an existing wiki that covers the topics you are interested in at the moment, rather than building a wiki around your own ideas for yourself.

Postings for the weblog are composed for the most part with Ecto, which is nice because I can compose either online or offline. At any point along the way I usually have 15 or 20 half-finished entries in the works, and periodically when I’m away from good internet connectivity I’ll go through the list and add detail to each of them one after the next.

Pictures are done with Flickr. The camera is a Canon Elph S200 – the link is to a 2002-era review when this camera was a new model. The “S” stands for slow, but it takes pretty good shots. The 64MB memory card that I got for it was a big purchase back in the day but I see that compact flash memory has gotten really cheap.

Email is with Gmail. My inbox is 26% full. This is a change from 2004 when I was using Pine for everything. I find the search functions in Gmail to be so vastly better than Pine that my personal sense of memory is improved as long as someone has sent me mail about a topic. I’m still perpetually behind on reading my mail, but isn’t everyone. The standard strategy now for mail handling is to read it, try to dispatch it quickly, and if it’s not going to go away right away use the Gmail “star” function to put it in a kind of holding bit – that leaves starred mail as an out of the way place for unanswered mail.

VOIP service through Skype. It’s a bit of a pain to have to have headphones for calls to sound good, but the cost of the service more than makes up for it. My phone call to Valdis Krebs while he was flying above the Atlantic Ocean has gotten a lot of mileage.

Long distance phone service is through Telesthetic. Does your long distance company send you a holiday card every year and invite you to their open house? They do VOIP too, I don’t yet have an Asterisk PBX running at home to take advantage of it though. In due time.

Cell phone service at the moment is via AT&T / Cingular. I have an ancient Nokia phone which works just fine (except for an occasional screen-scramble into something that looks like Cyrillic). I’m eager to replace it with something that does the iSync dance with my iBook and a better cell plan.

Shared office accomodations are at Clearweave, with Jill Peek and Colin O’Brien. It’s not a very big office, but it is away from home and quiet and it has lovely warm brick walls.

Bus service is from the AATA. I can be in my downtown office in 17 minutes on the #5 bus, and The Ride is reliable enough and relaxing enough that I regularly get some writing or reading in on the way.

Baby supplies (diapers, wipes) from CVS – they’re close by and it doesn’t require a special trip. Plastic bags (and you need a lot) from the Ann Arbor News and the New York Times.

Keep it in the pipeline

One of the controlling metaphors of the chemical industry is “keep it in the pipeline”.

In auto assembly plants, the same sentiment is expressed as “Keep the line moving”.

Every industry has its own unspoken core motto that keeps people understanding what the real priorities of day to day operations are.

For a new parent, I guess it would have to be “keep it in the diaper”.

The new normal: reflections on having a second child

Baby Jonathan is three weeks old, and we’re adjusting to the “new normal”.

He’s still small enough to be at the eating / sleeping / pooping / smiling phase, but not too much more than that. There’s lots of opportunity to admire and adore him, and to calm and soothe him when he inevitably hits a crying spell. I’ve taken to walking him with the baby sling when he needs to be calmed down, that helps a lot.

The new normal is still being worked on. I’m on family leave from work, so there isn’t the interrupt-driven pressure that is more typical of the working day, and it’s easier to move the hours around than it usually is. Night time bed time for Jonathan is not yet settled and probably won’t be for a while, and I’m taking the night shift 10pm-3am to make sure Deb gets at least some rest early in the night.

It’s a lot of fun.