Monthly Archives: May 2009

Distraction, scatter, gather, focus, discardia: a five part cycle

Herein a recipe for producing what looks like some kind of careful long term reasonable insight into a question, but what is really a coping strategy for the complete inability to be attentive to anything for very long.

Be distracted away from the thing you are supposed to be doing; that part is pretty easy.  Wander off randomly into the wilderness of recent changes to the Internet or a random page in your personal knowledge management heap or some long-dusty book in Google Books.  Note some small fragment of something that isn't at all relevant to what everyone else seems to be looking at right now but that somehow temporarily holds your interest long enough to compose a few paragraphs with a few links.  Write about it here; try with desperation to find a category it should already belong to so that it has some illusion of continuity with what you have been doing all along.  Hit "save", hit "publish", and return to the task at hand.

Scatter your attention all over the Internet to a range of places where recent changes seem to be more predominant.  Post to Twitter, or Facebook, or your favorite online newspaper's best reader comments section, or to some seasonally or topically appropriate blog where you know that the author welcomes your readership.  Be outwardly visible and pay attention to someone else, something else, some place other than yourself.  Make the rounds of the usual places and hit a few new ones.  Stop before everyone is asleep.

Gather up things you have written on a topic, things captured during previous distractions or scattered to the four winds.  If there is a search engine, search for your own long-forgotten commentary on something, and collect it back to somewhere central.  If all you have is paper, leaf through it steadily and methodically until inevitably that journal yields a relevant fragment.   Pile up the fragments, enumerate them, list them out carefully as though they were bits of papyrus needing careful reassembly.  See what you might have known in the past and re-know it, relearn it.

Then, when all of the distract-scatter-gather process has all been put into motion, can you focus on that one thing you have been getting ready to do all this time.  Come back to what you have gathered up and re-assess the work as a whole.  Allow yourself to work methodically through the work you have gathered together, to pull it apart, to see what the whole set looks like and not just little bits of it.   Pull through everything that is relevant and stitch it all together into something new, something that lasts longer than a simple short distraction but that hold and sustain a concentrated narrative with examples and ideas and themes and notions pulled out from a long time.

The whole process should run on some cycle appropriate for the task or the season.  As I write, I think about the quarterly holiday of Discardia, where you celebrate letting go, and of all of the distracted and scattered thinking I have about that event that culminates in an every three months deliberate effort to tidy things up.  The collected effort of pulling things together means not only that you have everything in mind but also that you can free yourself of the distractions that eventually got you here – and that you get, periodically, a chance to edit out some randomness and make it look like you are more organized and orderly than your easily-distracted nature would allow.

This season's Discardia holiday is coming up on June 20-22, 2009.


links for 2009-05-31

links for 2009-05-28

“the conversation prism” as seen through the eyes of the a2b3 lunch

Today is a Twitter conference, so Twitter is full of good stuff people have been saving up.  Here's one: a "conversation prism" in bright happy colors showing a set of categories of tools, and how each one of them is occupied by some set of applications.  Here's a mapping of each of them onto the set of tools that I am using to keep a2b3 loosely connected. 
Sorry no links, didn't have time to hyperlink everything

The Conversation Prism by Brian Solis and Jesse Thomas

Forums: Yahoo Groups

This is the biggest single tool I use for group continuity; it perhaps reflects my elderly nature that email is the first system rather than web-based forums or modern social networks.  All I can say in my defense is that Usenet would have been better but it's really not available, and that I have 10 years of continuous use into Yahoo Groups and they haven't ruined it (yet).

Social networks: Facebook (intermittently)

Facebook will show up here frequently, if only because it's ubiquitous and because Ann Arbor is full of people who use it.  My sense is that its group tools are way weaker than its personal tools and so it's best used as an adjunct to the main Yahoo group just so you can attach names to faces and so you can promote events.

"Interest and curated networks" (?): LinkedIn

I'm not sure about the category, but LinkedIn certainly qualifies as one ongoing conversation starting and continuing tool.  Like Facebook, groups are second class objects in LinkedIn, and thus it's weak at building cohesion.  On the plus side you don't have to pretend to be someone's pal to look up their resume.

Reviews and ratings: Yahoo Groups, Arborwiki

There are a bunch of national scale review sites, but nothing beats asking a good sized group of your peers for recommendations on everything from programming language libraries to pest control.  To whatever extent possible, Arborwiki becomes the public long term storage for what would otherwise be something ephemeral and hard to retrieve through the Yahoo Groups search interface.

Location: none; I gave up on Plaxo when it creeped me out

Location-based mobile services are supposed to be the future of the social mobile web, but I lived through having my location visible on Plaxo and decided against living that way when people who knew where I was without me telling them didn't have the social clues not to be obvious that they were watching me.   If I want to tell you where I am I'll be explicit about it on Twitter, or you can just wonder.

Video: whatever people use

There are a couple of filmmakers in the group, and I respect their judgement what to use for video.  None of the video tools have strong group membership characteristics – or even particularly weak ones – so I treat them all pretty much interchangably as dumb hosting.  (And no, I don't particular care if any given short video clip goes viral.)

Customer Service: Get Satisfaction, but it's not quite right

If a2b3 was a business it might need customer support, but it's not, and Get Satisfaction is just extra baggage.  Tried it, it seemed to be functional, but not for the problem at hand.

Documents/Content: SlideShare seems to be a favorite

Those people who are giving presentations seem to have settled on SlideShare as a common denominator for hosting.  The weekly lunches don't feature presentations so there's no natural synchronization around it as a tool, but it works as advertised.

Events: upcoming, Facebook events, in-person lunch w/announcements

Events are perhaps the hardest nut to crack, the thing that would make you spend all week promoting other people's work and the like.  I have been telling people who don't have URLs for events to post them to upcoming; Facebook will tell you about more parties than you can manage to go to; and there's nothing like someone telling you about something around the table.  The only way to really lick the events question is to have someone full time collecting them.

Music: One each of everything; I'm fond of how twitters out songs is the closest thing to Napster that's out there; do a Twitter search for your favorite artist plus the word "blip" and you may be lucky enough to find a fellow fan and a track you can listen to.   YouTube is also really good for songs – my 4 y/o calls it "picture music".

Wiki: Arborwiki, plus my own private Socialtext space

Arborwiki is the designated spot for dropping in information that deserves to live in a wiki; the "Birthday Deals" page there is the one universal attraction point around which much of the rest lives.  I keep a Socialtext private wiki for my own personal memory augmentation tool, in part because it works awesomely on my Blackberry.

Livecasting video: haven't done it yet, not appropriate for lunch

If you want to join in to lunch, you don't want to watch it remotely; the space isn't set up for that.  If and when I get to a place where regular live video streaming makes sense I'll use whatever the cool kids are using then.

Pictures: Flickr, Facebook photos

Once upon a time Flickr was a dynamic photo community, with dozens of awesome funny friendly creative people who you really wanted to share pictures with.  Then everything grew up, people left for greener pastures, Yahoo acted stupid more than once, and my camera died.  Now if I want to share a photo I'm more likely to put it on Facebook.  I miss the old Flickr.

Social bookmarks: Delicious, plus whatever Les is working on

Once upon a time Delicious was a dynamic bookmark community, with dozens of awesome funny friendly smart people who you really wanted to share bookmarks with.  Then everything group up, people left for greener pastures, Yahoo acted stupid more than once, and Twitter came along.  Now if I want to share a link I think twice and either twitter it out or work it into a longer blog post.  I just hope my 10,000 bookmarks stick around for a long time.

Comment and reputation: plenty of that around the lunch table

There's enough people who I care to converse with that I know by face and name that the level of comment-tracking promoted by blog tools seems irrelevant, for the most part, or at least too much work.

Crowdsourced content: arborwiki, a2geeks

Both arborwiki and a2geeks have enough of a wiki platform running for general and for technical info that if you need to crowdsource something there's a place to point people toward to edit things.

Collaboration: Google Spreadsheets (for football parking info)

If I need to collect a bunch of numbers from a bunch of people, Google Spreadsheets seems to do pretty well.  I love wiki for private collaboration, but you have to be collaborating with people who love it too.  Otherwise, printing things out and letting someone else wrestle with tracking changes in Microsoft Word is about as good as I get.

Blog platforms: Typepad

Someone else worries about it and I just hit "post".

Blogs/conversations: Google Blog Search is the best of a bad lot

It's hard to track conversations in blogs, in part because the blog vs comment distinction is weird.  It's just as easy to do regular Google searches and put in teh word "blog" as an added qualifier.

Blog communities: mybloglog

I'm using this mostly for stats and to detect one-day spikes that mean that some seasonal post is current again or to notice when something is on fire.

Micromedia: Twitter

twitter, duh. 

Twitter ecosystems: trying out Cotweet

I have a beta account; it's working pretty well to do future scheduled postings and to better track responses.  Not sure yet if and how to open up the @a2b3 account to multiple posters but that's the next obvious thing.

SMS/Voice: Google Voice

It converts voice mail to text so that I don't have to listen to all of my voice mail.  Still in closed beta.

Lifestreams: get a life!  need some privacy sometime

Part of living a life is deciding what to broadcast to the Internet and what to keep quiet.  I'm just as happy to be offline as online, and the idea that you should soulcast ever
y last mood swing seems to be as unproductive as it gets


After working my way through this, I realize what it's missing – all of these apps I write about are apps that work on a big screen.  The real conversation prism also includes a parallel set of augmented reality supported by mobile devices, and that very well may include entirely new categories than above.

links for 2009-05-27

Blueberry growers facing price pressures

The Capital Press is an agricultural journal for the Western US.  I search it from time to time to get blueberry crop information.  Here's a latest Oregon blueberry assessment cap altered downward

Mitch Lies
Capital Press

– Faced with downward pressure on price from increased blueberry
acreage, the Oregon Blueberry Commission has opted to lower the cap on
blueberry assessments.

Oregon blueberry growers, beginning this summer, will pay no more than 1 percent of the value of their crop in assessments.

A list of Oregon blueberry farms is useful if you are in the area during the fresh berry season.

An April 2009 story from the Grand Rapids Press points to a continuing growth in frozen blueberries in storage, in part due to growth of crops in South America.

About 150 million tons of blueberries are now in storage nationwide,
said Carlos Garcia Salazar, a small fruit specialist for Michigan State
Extension Service
's Ottawa County office. That's about double the
normal amount for this time of year.

Fresh blueberry prices were above $2 per pound in
2007 and 2008, but this year they will be closer to $1.30 a pound. A
pound of processed blueberries could drop from $1.63 to below $1.

"We had bonanza for three or four years," Salazar said. "But that's over.

"We believe that given our holdings and storage some are estimating prices similar to five or six years ago."

One possible direction for this surplus of blueberries is increased use as a dried fruit, in addition to fresh and frozen.  The Kalamazoo Gazette writes about Graceland Fruit, which has innovated in creating cherry and blueberry "raisins"

"We're starting to see a very significant increase in dried
blueberries," said Frank Bragg, chief executive of MBG Marketing, a
multi-state blueberry cooperative based in Grand Junction, near South

"Today, 10 to 15 percent of processed blueberries are dried. That's up from about 5 percent two years ago."

A quarter of North America's blueberry crop comes from a four-county
stretch of Lake Michigan shoreline between Grand Haven and the Indiana

In other news, we had blueberry pancakes for breakfast (yum).