Eating an Elephant, Review

Elephant Eating 101: One bite at a time.

Elephant Eating Remedial: Ignore the salad.

Elephant Eating 102: Ignore the other elephants.


I Want My Rights — the Upside to Publishers Owning Digital Rights

Today’s podcast for cleaning the kitchen was talking about Kindles and iPads and how they don’t necessarily compete. Kindle wants to sell books. Apple wants to sell hardware. They each offer a bit of the other, to get things going, but overall it’s better for both if they help each other (and us).

Authors these days are often frustrated with the standard contract, that included electronic rights. The author can’t put the book online, anywhere, and if the publisher stalls the eReading community can’t buy it.

(We won’t get into rights for storytelling.)

Yes, the publishers are stalling. Not all of them, but enough to make news. I notice most of them come to an agreement with Kindle fairly quickly.

Now for the other side.

Take a publisher with thousands of books. Assuming they want to issue the catalogue electronically — perhaps just send the whole thing to Kindle for them to handle — they need to:

a) have the words in electronic form — probably not a problem for books that were typeset electronically. Get a decent programmer to mass-convert them to Kindle format. Done.

b) have the rights to do so. If the publisher doesn’t own those rights, then they have to contact each author and negotiate. Ain’t gonna happen.

So, author beware, again. It’s nice to hold all the rights in your hot little hand, but don’t tie the publishers’ hands. If they’re willing to do the work of converting it to eReader format and putting it in the online stores, let them. You’ll get more readers through, “Oh, it’s on BigEReaderSite” than “It’s on my website, http://www.authorname2.aut . First you download the file, then you drag it to the Reader icon.”

Crystal ball time. If the publisher will, in a reasonable time, get their entire catalogue online, stay out of their way. It’s better for all of us in the long run if they change.

It reminds me of the advice we were given when preparing our wills. Give it room to breathe, and don’t try to control the world from the grave.

There’s a library in the US that received a huge bequest for books. The library doesn’t need that many books — it needs a place to store them and a modern computer catalogue. The money is accumulating interest rather than being used.

Maybe something like, “Either of us can publish it online. Author keeps sales from authors’ site. If Publisher gets their act together puts it in the standard online stores Author will change his website to say, “Buy it there.”

Podcast Idea: Annual Archive Feed

I’ve discovered more podcasts that I enjoy enough that I want to listen to the early episodes. Some are ongoing courses, other are just interesting.

Sometimes, usually with podcasters who “rolled their own” and didn’t do it quite right, it’s easy. The feed has every episode they ever created. (Fortunately, iTunes’s default is to list them all in grey but only download the most current — I like to sample a few before downloading more.)

[Observation: Firefox’s spell-check doesn’t recognize “iTunes”.]

Others, though, who knew more or hired someone who did, only have 10 or 25 episodes. This is the intent of a feed — don’t waste our time with old stuff.

I propose a compromise, for those who can do it.

Keep the current feed showing the last 3 months or so.

Create separate “Annual Archive Feeds”, with maybe 25-50 episodes per feed. This way, if I like your latest episodes enough that I want to start from the beginning, I can do so easily. Engineering Works (iTunesU) does this. Also, once I grab the year I can unsubscribe. If your feed gets rebuilt, only the current episodes get repeated.

This is my favourite method. I can use one program (currently iTunes) to keep track of which ones are available, downloaded, on my player, and listened-to.

Some podcasters create zip files for the archives. This also works, but please number them somehow. For one, I have to go back through the archives to see which title corresponds to which date. Yes, there’s just enough continuity that it’s worth the effort. It doesn’t synch as well with iTunes, but I can deal.

Others, though, make me go back through their entire blog and download each one individually. Blech.

In WordPress, the link gives you a feed for all posts in 2010.

Just something to consider.

Eating an Elephant — Remedial

How do you eat an elephant?
Answer: One bite at a time.

Remedial answer: Ignore the salad.

Another time management expert says to “Eat the frog for breakfast,” meaning do the thing you least like first. The advanced method is to find the biggest, ugliest frog and eat that one.

Eating frogs doesn’t work for me. The metaphor works, but not the advice.

Frogs multiply. They come in many shapes and sizes, but they’re all reasonably small. Some types of frogs keep showing up, although their size varies. Every day I have to cook and do the dishes, but sometimes there’s more baked on. Every week (or so) I have to do the bathrooms and bedding. So, it’s a good metaphor.

My problem is the eating. I don’t want to eat any frog, let alone the big ugly one. Instead I’ll procrastinate and do nothing. At the end of the day, all the frogs, and their cousins, are still there. The elephant is still there, too.

When you eat an elephant, you need to start with a part you can reach. Chances are, it’s not the nastiest part. Often it’s a bit bland (laundry) but otherwise not too bad. Add a nice sauce (music) and it’s edible. The nasty part will have to wait.

Some parts rot and get even nastier (chicken bones in the garbage). You’ll probably want to get those early, but they reach a point where they won’t get any nastier (mop the kitchen). Other parts just dry out (music practice). Some taste better with red wine (gardening in mild weather), some with milk (paperwork before I’m tired).

The most important thing about eating an elephant is not which part you eat, but that you actually eat it. As you finish one bit, you get a good look at the next. It’s probably not as bad as you thought, or can be broken down, or you realize there’s a better way to eat it. At the very least, the first bits are no longer in the way, so you don’t have to climb over them.

The important thing is to ignore the salad. As long as you’re eating that elephant, you’re making progress.

Organizing Inherited Knitting Archives and Thinking of the Future

An elderly knitting friend who is cleaning her basement recently gave me several inches of paper. I’ll give it a good home, and we expect my daughter will do so after me.

Most of it is going into the library or my filing cabinet, but a huge amount of carefully-collected, valuable information is being recycled.

There’s a chart of all the wools sold by a shop in Kingston, with price (no date), and on the back they’re sorted by recommended gauge. There’s another showing all Pattons’ lines by gauge. An email from her friend with an unusually clear explanation of turning a heel, and collected advice from the author’s knitting group for preventing holes. An outdated set of requirements for the Knitting Masters. Instructions for three different stretchy cast-ons and two ways to do jogless stripes. Several catalogs from a designer I know is online.

Often, when I ask myself, “Can I find this elsewhere?” the answer is, “Yes, on Ravelry. If Rav doesn’t have it, someone there will point me in the right direction. The online version will be more complete (not limited to one store or line) and more current. Often with bigger pictures and helpful comments.”

That’s not to say Rav has reduced the paper in my house. This pattern looks as good as everyone says, that one looks interesting, this one is even closer to what I was looking for than the last one I printed. Save paper by printing two or four pages per side to save paper, then realize it’s too small, then there’s something on the back that shouldn’t go into my archives. (When will basic printers double-side without attention?)

Often, though, I see something online and restrain myself. It will wait for me online, much better than it will wait on the shelf at the bookstore or library.

This project is reminding me how much we rely on the internet these days, and not just for current needs. We expect it, and everything on it, to be there for as long as we need it.

I suppose that’s no more an act of faith than leaving my files in a non-fireproof cabinet, but it’s a new type of faith.

Shared Labour

My husband did the income tax this year. Rather, he reviewed, sorted, summarized and assembled the folder for the accountant who does the final paperwork. Normally I do it, but this year I decided he needed to remember how.

When we were first married, we would sit at our respective computers and make spreadsheets, then enter each other’s data to verify. Then QuickTax appeared. For a few years we mailed in the printouts. One year we took a disk to an accountant who did “EFile” and paid $15 for him to send it. (I think he also checked that the supporting documents existed.) The next year I think the government had a website that let us upload the file. Eventually, QuickTax talked to the government all on its own.

Several years ago, we changed financial advisers. The new one has handled my inlaws’ investments and taxes for years. Between Oma and us, someone in the family sees him every few months. He also does income tax, for only a little more than the cost of the QuickTax program.

The downside to this is neither of us have looked at the forms for years. Our lives have changed. We might be eligible for deductions that we ignored before. Fortunately, the guy knows our family. As our lives change, he points out the tax implications — usually to our benefit, like the Active Kids deduction.

During the year, I throw anything that might be tax-related into a tax folder. I have one for each year, plus one for Forever. The Forever one has things like stock purchases — we’ll need the info if we sell the stock, but not before.

The tax file for the year has the usual T4’s, T5’s and charitable receipts. It also has receipts for professional memberships, which would be useful if I made any money in those professions. (Storytelling and engineering.) It also has medical receipts, which would be useful if we spent more than $3000 on medical expenses. (We did that only one year, when Son was tested for ADHD and had 12 weeks of Sensory Integration therapy.)

Of course, I’m not entirely up to date with my filing. It’s all in my office, but not in the file. Some is in a pile on top of the filing cabinet. That’s not too bad. The bad is every few months I move everything off my desk into a “super-low priority” file — usually once per season. The intention is that I deal with them within another month or two. Reality is closer to a year. Fortunately, those files are usually sorted by date, (i.e., most recent stuff lands on top) so I can usually find things in them, provided I haven’t made an aborted attempt to “improve” them (i.e., put them in some other order, which made sense at the time).

I went through all that stuff and made sure the tax file was complete. Husband then went through the tax file and, well, he doesn’t work the same way I do. Says there was too much in it. (About half the papers didn’t get to the final envelope.) You’ll note he didn’t say, “Just give me all this stuff from now on and I’ll file it.”

The weekend reminded me when we were first married. He could could to feed himself. He couldn’t do laundry. He wanted me to take his name (something I’d already decided to do). His explanation was, if I was in the hospital he didn’t want to have to remember to say, “I’m here to see my wife, “Maiden Name.” I counter-blackmailed with “When I get home from the hospital, I don’t want to have to do a big pile of laundry.” He did enough loads that I knew he wouldn’t ruin things. (He’s good at putting his hand-knit socks in a mesh bag before putting them down the chute. It’s easier to pull out a bag than notice a few dark socks mixed in with the rest of the laundry. If he does laundry, he knows how to sort colours and set stretchy stuff aside. He’s also great at getting the laundry off the line not too long after the dew falls — which says something about how well I keep to my plans each day.)

We’ve entered all our receipts into Quicken since 1994. Yes, I can tell you how much we spent on kids’ clothing, and how much our grocery bill decreased when they were out of diapers. We don’t sub-divide it as finely as we used to, but we still enter every receipt. Sometimes I think it’s a waste of time, but it’s a shame to stop after all these years. It’s also useful to see just how much I’ve spent on yarn or nice lunches.

When we were first married, we took turns entering data and filing receipts. When I stayed home with the kids, I took over. The filing system has evolved over the years. In this house, the big file cabinets are in the basement, so I keep the current year up here on a shelf and prior years’ downstairs. All the files are labeled, and I try to do something that makes sense, but sometimes the mechanics break down — like with the “seasonal unfiled” stuff. The systems I put on top of the main system to keep things moving are just another layer of complication. (One file for urgent bills, another for receipts to enter, another for statements to reconcile. We won’t talk about the medical receipts / send to insurance file / check their reply file.)

It’s all stuff he’s capable of doing, but the system has evolved and is no longer suitable for shared use.

It reminds me of my parents. Dad is capable of doing any housework task (although is pure ADHD when it comes to paying bills). Mom does the bills and current files. Dad takes over when they go to long-term storage. Mom keeps her accounting files separate from hobby files. Dad sorts purely by alphabet, with coloured dots for category. Resistor Catalogs is beside Rent, one has a blue dot and the other green.

It’s good to organize your work in a way that makes sense to you, including which things you let slide and how you make sure they don’t slide too much. On the other hand, it’s also good to keep things up to date and uncomplicated, so someone else can take over if necessary.

Shopcraft as Soulcraft

My thoughts after a quick read of Shopcraft as Soulcraft, the online version.

Three decades ago, Canadians were told we were going to stop basing our economy on natural resources, and become knowledge-based.

What happened? We destroyed our old-growth forests anyways. We also built houses over half our good farmland, so we need to import more food.

The little countries without natural resources also became knowledge-based, so there’s more competition. Supply and demand, people.

We do need knowledge, but we need a more than one type of knowledge. Books and theories can only do so much. We need practical skills.

We need advanced shop classes. Not the bird class that the under-achievers can’t fail. We need kids who can see how things fit together and have experienced levers and screws, who can hold three things at once while setting a fourth in place. I don’t care if my mechanic can spell or write a thousand word essay. I do care that he can listen to a funny noise, narrow it down to three suspected problems, then to one, and fix it — without replacing the entire car while he does it. That sort of skill takes just as much hard work to develop as a university degree, but a good chunk of it needs to be done in the shop.

We need welders who know when to use which technique. Which rods and methods work for which materials. Whether to do it differently if there will be a post-weld heat treat. When to go fast, when to be gentle. Yes, some materials work better one way, some the other.

We need nurses who can assess patients by how they talk and feel. Who know when to question their instructions. Sometimes doctors are wrong. Sometimes the condition changes.

We need landscapers who can choose the right plant for the environment, which includes the type of owner. Coming home to a yard that makes you smile, that requires enough energy that you are proud of it but not enough that you hate it, has value.

I see the shift in my own family. Dad’s a ground-up engineer. Smart as whip, with degrees and patents to prove it. He started with old vacuum tube radios, a manual, and a solder-iron. The engineering ed8cation reinforced and quantified concepts he already knew. He wired several houses. He repaired the car until it became impractical. Dtr’s Dora Cash Register, which we finally bought of EBay a year after it was discontinued (she really, really wanted it) died after two days. Grandpa took it apart. He resoldered a connection and cleaned off a solvent that, while advertised as “no cleaning needed” (which is why the factory used it), in his experience usually should be cleaned off. (I can see why they discontinued it — great design, stupid manufacturing decisions, and likely way too many unhappy kids.) He’s a hero!

I used to do more “big” work, like wiring and carpentry. I should do more. Last time I tried to adjust a bike seat the wrenches spent more time falling on the pavement than on the nuts. It would be good for my muscles and brain. Instead, I do fancy crafts, especially knitting. Lace isn’t easy on the brain, but it’s worth the pride when you finish.

I don’t know when they’ll cram that all in, but it’s necessary. Give the kids who excel at it a chance to excel. Give the rest of us an appreciation for it.

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