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Month: April 2010

Did you have a good adventure today?

Whinging poms seem to like adventure ~ a lot

I’ve lived abroad all my life so I still notice things in Britain that other people take for granted.

Like many noobes here, particularly from the ex-colonies, I’m amazed at British whinging.  People don’t complain.  They whinge.  Like satire, which I must admit I enjoy, whinging expresses criticism and negativity, but doesn’t try to change anything.  It is essentially the icing of negativity and complacency ~ an “I’m alright Jack” outlook on life.  Hence the colonial mystification.  We are doers.  We get jumpy when we aren’t fixing a fence post or shoring up a bridge. (Remember that!  Always put us to work.  We are insufferable otherwise.)

Brits enjoyed the closure of European airspace

The great grounding of aircraft across Europe, courtesy of the Icelandic Volcano and ‘winds blowing the wrong way’, brought out another side to the British.

After the first day of irrational rage from some passengers yet to leave British shores, Brits set to figuring out places to stay when all hotels were chock-a-block.  They set about crossing Europe, taking each leg at a time, leaving fate to find the hotel and transport for the next leg. Young and old traveled for days sleeping in vehicles or on any dirty floor that they could find.

They enjoyed the scenery.  They explored cafes normally patronized by truck drivers.  They helped each other out.  Uniformily, they talked about the ‘adventure’ and their new appreciation of what and who they met along the way.

Maybe Brits whinge because they are bored?

And it got me thinking.  Maybe Brits whinge because Britain is boring.  I don’t find it boring. It’s big and anything you want is here, somewhere.

But the daily grind of long hours on public transport to do dull repetitive jobs is boring.  Maybe Brits are predisposed to enjoy the unpredictable where they have to solve real problems with other people.  How people have come alive!

Turn work into an adventure?

Maybe we should jettison all these tiresome employee engagement forms and ask one question as employees leave the building: did you have a good adventure today?

Did you have a good adventure today?

What do you think?

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A salary structure for a turbulent world

LizO of HRPractice in Harare asks

Dear Jo, how can I get role clarity and understanding , compensation internally equitable and consistent and worthwhile performance without the old tried and true job descriptions, Paterson etc ????

In a sentence Liz sum up the goal of job evaluation and salary structuring and the main change in work of the past and work today.

Our Goal remains

Role clarity and understanding , compensation internally equitable and consistent and worthwhile performance

Our Procedures change

Job descriptions take time to produce and are outdated so quickly that managers add  ‘and anything else I think of” at the end.  When we define something as anything, then there is little point in having it.

What of the past can we confidently take into the future?

First and foremost, we should be happy to be in a place seeking role clarity and understanding, internally equitable compensation, and consistent, worthwhile performance. Whatever the hassles of pursuing those goals, they indicate that people believe in their collective venture and each other.  That’s great.

What constraints should we consider?

Express and implied terms of employment

Whether we have job descriptions or not, good descriptions or bad, we must remember that there are express and implied conditions of employment.  Over and above the requirement that the employee is paid on time and does not act in conflict of interest with his or her employing organization, there are usually cultural and legal limitations on what an employer may ask the employee to do.  We should list what we know, add to the lst as we go along, and keep the list as simple as possible.  In an ideal world, we will have a short list that in one page lays out our obligations in a way that we are unlikely to breach either the law or deeply held cultural beliefs.

Jobs that are jobs

Within those broad boundaries, people want ‘proper’ jobs and work better when they have proper jobs:  the need a goal that can be laid out in public next to the goals of everyone else, they need training, they need resources, they need authority, they need clear guidelines on when to refer to others.  I think putting energy here is a better use of HR time than writing job descriptions.  A training manual is better than a job description, in other words.

Career ladders

I would add one goal to your list.  People want to see their futures too.  Of course, our futures are affected by firm profitability more than anything else.   The Labour Relations Act allows employee representatives to inspect the accounts.  Few people understand them though and it makes sense to help everyone see where the company is. Some firms, for example,  ingeniously printing current goal on canteen napkins and play a special tune every day when overheads are met and people start working for profit.   What we communicate depends upon the business and the key factors and requires some creativity and good understanding of the business.

Once a firm is profitable, people want to see how they can climb the ladder.  In some firms this is a nightmare because the next level up requires special training outside the firm (e.g. nurse to doctor).  In so far there is a ladder, the equitable structure should reflect the ladder. After all, as someone said about UK, if someone is motivated for 9 pounds a day, why does someone else needs thousands of pounds a day to be motivated?  Money doesn’t buy performance.  It signals to young people the availability of certain life styles provided certain paths are followed.  In short, we don’t pay a boss thousands of pounds for his time. He puts in the same time as everyone else. We pay him thousands to encourage youngsters to go to school and learn his skills.  In a sentence, the pay structure makes the ladder visible.

Paterson job evaluation

With these considerations in the back of our mind, yes, I’d use Paterson.  It is very reliable and the discussion of bands helps clarify roles.

Before I begin

Before I began, I’d take the precaution of listing all the jobs, their pay and their benefits on a spreadsheet and classifying jobs roughly myself.  You want to look ahead to how many jobs are seriously out of position.  When you draw a graph of pay against jobs, it should conform to a neat exponential curve with pay bands that overlap a little but not too much.

To manage the maths, the Paterson grades will be recorded as numbers (1-12) and the pay will be turned into a log.  10=1 100=2 1000=3.   (There is a formula Excel).  In that way, we flatten the exponential curve and we can check that the slope of the line (regression) is between 1.33 and 1.50. That means the grade-0n-grade increase in pay is between 33% and 50%.

Going to Paterson, the grades make good generic job descriptions.

A: Entry level job where you are shown what to do.  You are still a bit of a liability.

BL:  You have a skill that took some organized training, much like a light vehicle driving license.  Within the boundary of this training, you know what you are doing and you are “in charge” as a driver is in charge of a vehicle.

BU:  You have a skill that was acquired in a similar way to a driver’s license (heaps of practice) but it is far more responsible.  Examples are long distance drivers and bus drivers.  A BU might also supervise BL making judgments about very difficult situations.  Once the BU has interpreted the situation, the BL is able to take over and carry on.

CL:  This is a skilled level taking 3-5 years training where we have to think out what to do.  The typical examples are nurse, junior doctor, trial balance bookkeeper, degreed accountant, sergeant, lieutenant. CL is also used as a bottom end of management and might included people who have worked up from A .  They will be supervising several BU and the difference is seen in their time horizon.  BU are finishing a shift of or a journey.  CL are focused on weekly or monthly goals so there is a lot more juggling to do.

CU:  This is rarely an entry level position.  Usually a CU is an experienced CU and works alone or mentors CL.  They have the same ability to understand how the time periods of months and weeks vary and to tell other people what to look for.  In the army they would be Captains and Majors.  In hospitals, they would be Senior Medical Officers.  In schools they would be subject heads.

DL:  The entry level to middle management requires people to lay out systems.  Should they buy in the wrong tools or not have cash available, then the CU cannot do their jobs.  Sadly lots of people in these roles have drifted up but are unable to plan ahead for a whole year adequately.  In a factory, they not only plan and watch progress towards an annual goal, they usually are on 24 hour call when the system crashes.  They are responsible for the overall system though CL keep it running on a shift-by-shift basis.   Some mines appoint entry level engineers here.  Recently qualified medical consultants enter here.  Often newly qualified CA’s enter here.  This is a Lt Colonel in the Army responsible for keeping an entire battalion battle-ready.  They would be a Chief Superintendent in charge of a District in the police.  General Managers of factories begin here.

DU:  Is the skilled level of  DU.  They’ve put in several systems, or done so much surgery that they can mentor other DL’s.  They would be Brigadiers in the Army responsible for 4-5 Battalions.  If they don’t “see ahead”, then the DL’s won’t have the budgets and systems in place to function.  In the police, they are the provincial commanders.  They get involved with big events but they are largely pattern watchers.  They understand patterns across time spans of 1-2 years and get things in place on time for others to roll things out.  A DU in business is likely to manage a set of factories each of which is self contained but linked to the others.  A Captain of a long distance aircraft is here.  Though their planning horizon is only journey, the complexity of the system they are managing requires them to anticipate lots of if-thens.

EL:  Is the beginning of senior management.  Their time horizon should be five years – anticipate the obstacles we will face in the next five years.  Can’t see it in UK some how. Events always seem to take managers by surprise. Contrast the sitting-on-hands with TESCO who rerouted produce to Spain and trucked it in.  That couldn’t have been rolled out quickly with advance anticipation of adverse events and general preparation.  Junior managers are effective with senior managers have done the ground work.  Typically senior managers do a juggling act of planning out a whole function and managing another plan of change simultaneously.  Or they are managing the links between functions.  It’s not just rolling out a plan.  There has to be a element of saying we are following Plan A but if this happens, we will have to be ready to go Plan B, and if this then Plan C.  They are balancing the present with the unknown.  Spend to much time on the what-if and the company will fail now.

EU: Experienced version of EL.  Should have 3-4 EL reporting to them requiring coordination and overview.

F:  Designing a whole organization

Alpha:  Monitoring world events (Chairman of Board)

Beta: Changing conditions in the world

Thinking ahead to a structure

When applied to structuring work, you don’t want to split the grades into quarter grades (B1 and B2, B3 and B4) unless you are like the army or a mine where everyone is doubled up to allow for continuity during an emergency.  Have A’s report to BL who report to BU etc.

Sometimes when the minimum wage is very low, the entry level is pegged there and there is a big dog’s leg into A band when the person joins up permanently.

You can see why you should do a rough check yourself before you start talking.   Thereafter you have a simple system where people get paid and they know what they need to do to move up.  The training must be available of course otherwise it is not possible and they will devote their energies to side ventures.

You can also leave spare money in a pot to be divided up at the year end (or November) and tailor benefits.  One well know firm used to have the very good benefits kick in after 5 years because there was high turnover before then.

How to sort out a mess

Before I talked to anyone, I would do my own preparatory work and sort out a skeleton for the key jobs.

Then (depending on how the problem was presented)I would discuss role (not pay) and guide the discussion to talk about career structures.

If pay had already become an issue, I would simply say that I was there to sort out a pay structure, but before I could, I must understand the levels and how some one got to be really good.  That I would go round and talk to every one to see what I could learn but it would also be useful to sit down in groups and talk through how one gets to learn the business.  Then I will on my consultant’s hat and lay out some proposals for them to look at.

The odds are that they will find the solution themselves and we only have the administrative task of tidying up the payroll over a period of a few years.

To give an example of how this might pan out,  once I proposed a simple structure: Learning the job, Knows what they are doing, Could run the business for a day, Could run the business for a week, Could run the business for a month.  When we know Paterson, then we see immediately that I have proposed levels that are A, BL, BU, CL, CU.  There is still the level of DL above these. Using a slope of 1.40 that would be fairly typical in the private sector, if the guy in A band is earning 10 dollars, the fellow in BL will get 14, in BU will get 20, in CL, in CU 38 and in DL, 54.

Depending how long it takes to move through those levels and other pragmatic considerations (including how much fiddly bookkeeping I am prepared to do), I might put in some notches.  Or I might not. I always go for the admin-lite solution that delivers more control and more cash to the employees (presuming I begin with sound business sense and everything I propose is linked to making more money faster within the company). It simplymight be better to hand out decent cash bonuses from time-to-time and some businesses are so volatile the best the owners can do is pass on windfall gains.

Once I have a clear structure like I proposed, phrased in clear business terms, then I am clear about the training people need to go up the ladder, the opportunities they need to learn and even the systems I need to put in.  People can’t run the business and make sensible business decisions if the accounts are in shambles, for example.

I’m also able to communicate clearly what matters and people will take charge of their own training. They will be looking around for tasks they don’t know how to do and making sure they’ve learned from people who do know.

HR is a a creative business (TG) and people respond to simple, comfortable systems leaving us with a lot less work to do.

The question of whether you need to write jobs descriptions.

My answer would that in places that change a lot, why write them?

Concentrate on

  • a clear simple contract
  • transparent orderly pay that doesn’t put the company at risk
  • managers’ skills in delegating whole tasks and coordinating teams rather than micro-managing
  • good emergency welfare budgets to help people keep their lives stable
  • sensible career structures (with planned exit strategies – like articled clerks- that benefit the employees).

We need simplicity in HR and a spotlight on trust.  We don’t need more paperwork and complication.

What do you think?

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Open Space Technology increased productivity 3x to 10x

The people who came are the right people.

Whatever happens was the only things that could have happened.

Whenever it starts is the right time.

When it is over, it is over.

Open Space Technology

I first heard of Open Space Technology back in the 90’s ~ in Africa.  Yes!

Open Space Technology & Myers-Briggs

Open Space is a challenge to we ++++J types.   We are schedulers.  We want things to be right.

+++P types live like this anyway.   Schedules make their eyes glaze over.  They like to be curious and love situations where we don’t know what will unfold.

The West is generally (though not exclusively) +++J.  We value schedules.   Even when we laugh at Open Space Technology, we secretly believe it is “wrong”.

That is burden we place on ourselves.  We put in a lot of effort to deciding what is right or wrong, rather than what is.

Modern Organization Theory

Modern organization theory (in the west) is moving more and more towards open space ideas.

We hold conferences in London with the loosest of schedules.  Someone puts a sign up sheet online, organizes a venue, and provides some basic kitchen facilities.  People sign up online and pitch up.

Imagine, if you will, going to a conference in a smart part of London, dodging riot police because Tony Blair is talking about Iraq around the corner, showing up late (courtesy of the M1) and staying till 8 during which time people who didn’t know each other before they arrived but done the equivalent of 8 dissertations (all except the write up).

With minimal organization, people learn as much as they would in 6 months in a university.  Moral hazard is avoided as people fund their own basics.  No one overeats. No one gets drunk.

What is, is.  And the economic impact is enormous.

Is all Open Space Technology productive?

No it isn’t.  Sometimes I attend something which clearly does not speak to me.

But that happens far less with unconferences than with conventional formats.  Conventional formats are also far more expensive.  People stay because they have a “day off” or have to fill in a “CPD”.  They are bored.  They eat too much bad food. They get drunk.  They learn little.  They create nothing.

Can we all work in Open Space Format?

I think it is a shock to people who are not used to “being answered back”.   If I have worked long and hard to be a Professor, I take it as my due to drone on for an hour and have a few hundred people sit and (pretend to) listen.  What would I do if I have to grab an empty room, start speaking, and have people to leave when they are bored?  I wouldn’t like it at all.

It is a new game where we work with others.  It is no longer “who we are”; it is how we collaborate with those who were there.  When we have no interest in their story, we will find the event a trial.

The old guard might, I fear, never learn.  People my age repeatedly ask me: what do you get out of it?  The sub-text is why speak to someone if they cannot give you something.  The old guard are so obvious at a meetup, cruising, if not for sexual pickups, then for money.  They are very difficult to speak to as well.

Conversation is a building process.  We put something on the table.  The next person builds upon it.  When someone just wants to take something off the table – what are you supposed to do?  Keep putting things on the table?  I can’t see why that would be interesting.

This “take” mentality only works when there is a third party in the equation.  I am paid (by someone else), for example, to stand there and put tidbits on the table.  People have got into the habit of “not being present” with people in business.

So, yes, open source format might be too much for some old dogs.

Young dogs.  I am sure they need to learn to work in open source format. But they have less to unlearn.  And what they will know, is that it is what they do with me that counts.  If they think the world owes them a living, they may still find a patron who can “supp” them.  They will find it harder and harder, I think.

Today’s working environment requires them to show up, work with whomever is there, and produce something by the end of the day.  To be in the game, they should expect to produce in a day, what an individual used to produce in several months.  Working on a time model of 20% of time on one project, 4-5 months, and 3-8 people on the new team, productivity has just leapt 3x to 10x.

That’s what it is all about.  With a lot less management, angst, & overhead, we can get 3x to 10x more out of life.

The price?  That we work with who and what is there.  With no guarantees.  None.

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Tell us a good story . . .but not an anecdote

Narratives are better than goals

I was talking today with @dominiccampbell and he helped me resolve another question that has been hanging around my head.  Why are narratives so much better than goals and targets for guiding action?

Goals do raise performance

We psychologists know that goals raise performance.  Put a target on the wall and people will try to meet it. Performance can leap by huge multiples of 100, 200, 300%.

Add feedback, that is add the circles around the bull’s eye, and performance goes up further, even by 20% for top performers.

We like making targets.  Just watch a dog at a sheep trial. We love it!

Narratives are better

But, now we are in election season in the UK, the poverty of goals becomes so clear.

Parties are tossing around specific promises for everything from deficits to bus timetables.  It’s most odd.  For a start, most of these target are the job of mid-level civil servants to set and manage.  Not sure what we employ them for if politicians do this.

The targets are also spurious.  Can anyone really set these targets for a year ahead at any time and can they do so now when the world is in such disarray and a double dip recession might happen within weeks?

Most of all, goals are wrong because they are artificially simple.  I pointed @dominiccampell to a Gen Y blogger who paints a depressing picture of the life being led by fresh graduates in the UK.   This is the life they lead and they can “see” themselves leading.

Politicians need to paint the picture of what they see happening in the UK and how it is unfolding.  Stories of the one-legged man they met on the way to the forum, or arbitrary numbers just don’t cut it.   (Can’t remember what they other fella said.)

We need a visual picture of UK – a synopsis of the movie we are living out.

This, dear psychologists, is why we should use narratives.  We need a moment of ‘aesthetic arrest’ where the relevant factors are brought together within a frame, in a story which shows how the main factors come together, counteracting and influencing each other, and it must be “true”.   We need a sense of “yes, I see it now”.  Aha!

Goals and anecdotes don’t deliver ‘aesthetic arrest”.  They are one dimensional or 2 dimensional cutouts.  They cannot deliver a picture of the world in all its complexities.  And that is what we need to hear.

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Let each day’s work absorb your entire energies, and satisfy your widest ambition

Live neither in the past nor in the future, but let each day’s work absorb your entire energies, and satisfy your widest ambition

Sir William Osler (1849-1919) Canadian physician and instigator of medical residencies

Sometimes it is really hard to live mindfully. We want to reminisce, or we left the past untidy and it bothers us. Or we are are excited by future possibilities or anxious about negative side-effects.

How would we feel if we were stranded, in the great grounding of planes by volvcanoes, in a place we didn’t want to be? Most of us will fret until we have a plan.

Organize agilely and leanly

That is the secret, isn’t it? To become ‘agile’ and ‘lean’, so that each day matters for what it is.

What if we rephrased the day’s purpose “from get back home because that was my plan yesterday” to “let’s see what is possible and let’s have fun working out what my choices”.

Leadership vs management

On another channel, some of us have been lamenting the lack of leadership in British politics and the distinction between management and leadership came up, as ever.

I don’t think that leadership and management are ever far apart. We cannot manage without leadership. What looks like management is just clerical work when it is separated from judgment, moral responsibility and poetic imagination.

Leadership, when exists apart from management. probably exists because good management, happening quietly in the background, allowed us to think about what we are doing today without stressing unduly about yesterday or tomorrow.

When the world gets in a muddle, we need leadership AND management to get our heads straight again and the world orderly again so that we can give unto today our full attention.

But that is our goal – to let today be enough to absorb all our energies.

When life is out of order, to put some effort into straightening out the way we think.  Sometimes it is a trial.  But we do have to ask ourselves how much energy we waste fretting.

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If. . . We wouldn’t be We

If

If freckles were lovely, and day was night,

And measles were nice and a lie warn’t a lie,

Life would be delight,–

But things couldn’t go right

For in such a sad plight

I wouldn’t be I.

 

If earth was heaven and now was hence,

And past was present, and false was true,

There might be some sense

But I’d be in suspense

For on such a pretense

You wouldn’t be you.

 

If fear was plucky, and globes were square,

And dirt was cleanly and tears were glee

Things would seem fair,–

Yet they’d all despair,

For if here was there

We wouldn’t be we.

E.E. Cummings

Teaching the challenges of morality

I’ve spent a lot of my life teaching young adults.  Every subject begins with teaching “declarative knowledge”, the labels for things, the things that can be tested with multiple choice.  Then we move on to “procedural knowledge”, getting our hands dirty, and the things you can only know if you have done the job yourself.  It is here that morality arrives.  We have to consider consequences.  And we have to consider that we will not always be “right”.

Let me explain with two extreme moral positions

At school, a friend of mine didn’t  like putting sulphuric acid on zinc chips  She was convinced that she could hear them squeal with pain.  That is one extreme.  She saw consequences which others did not see.

In social sciences, we are required to fill in forms in lieu of considering ethics.  We even go to great lengths to remove the effects of what we do from experiments. That is the other extreme.  We pretend, indeed we are required to pretend that we are not acting in our self-interest and that our actions have no impact on the world.

The world in flowing motion

Of course, all this is a nonsense. Everything we do affects the people we do it with.  And we are affected in turn.

This is the lesson that students should learn.  They need to learn to listen and to understand how other people are affected by their even seemingly innocuous actions.

And yet moral choices are not ‘pc’ or paralysing

And then they must decide. The students must decide.  Are they going to act anyway, and why?

Students find it hard to accept that moral choices don’t leave us feeling good

Somewhere buried in there is a hard lesson of life – that are our actions and circumstances don’t always reflect well on us ~ and that we are never comfortable with that.  But that is a good thing.  The day that we are uncomfortable with the uncomfortable,  then we have lost it.  We should feel bad about bad stuff.

But we also have to make choices despite the fact we are not going to feel good.

But feeling bad is shared and it important to recognize that the bad feelings are both valid and shared

I like that Cummings ends with We wouldn’t be we.  Because the journey that brought us together into this uncomfortable place is our shared journey.  Our discomfort is a product of our shared journey.

I may not like that I am in this bad place with you, but I am.   That cannot be denied.  And I have to act anyway.  Just as you do.  I just try to act thoughftully, knowledgeably, fairly.  Often I don’t even achieve that, but I try.

And that I act does not deny that all this is bad.  It’s bad.  I act.  That is.

And that it is bad does not change that tomorrow may not be bad.  With you or without you.  That is, too.  It just is.

And to pretend that we don’t have agonizing choices to make denies that We are We. That is bad.  Very bad.  That is much worse than the lousy circumstances and awful decisions.  The worst thing we can do is deny that We are We.

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There is only an open invitation to take part every day in whatever part of the world that I find myself

The defining moment is how we react, not the tragedy

I heard these key words a moment ago on a program about Poland on BBC Radio 4.

The words are true.  We know it.  We are just not well practiced in dealing with tragedy.

  • It feels sick to rehearse dealing with tragedy.  It follows that we are not ready when we are called to be.
  • When we cope well, we suffer ‘cognitive dissonance’.  If we aren’t falling apart, then surely events are not so bad after all?
  • Alternatively, if we cope well, maybe that means we don’t understand.  Maybe we simply insensitive.

Tragedy messes with our heads because we don’t know how to behave or how to tell our story.

The world doesn’t respond to blackmail

But sulking is a poor story too.   It’s silly because the world doesn’t care.  And it doesn’t respond to blackmail.  The world doesn’t care if we don’t like it.

It’s also self-destructive. We give away initiative to events.

Let me try explaining again.

From loser to hero

Sometimes a tragic story, or potentially tragic story, can be turned into a hero’s story.

A journalist on BBC4 this morning got back from Norway by getting a ride on a container boat and then a train.  Another took a taxi.  Angela Merkle flew back to Portugal.  The Noregian Prime Minister was last seen using his iPad sitting calmly in an American airport.   Our story is “what we did when . . .”

People who are enjoying the quiet of English birds singing in the early spring, feel apologetic.  I know I shouldn’t be enjoying this but . . .  They are feeling guilty because their story defines the cancellation of all flights as an advantage.

We hate it just as much when we miss events.   When the great volcano erupted, I was, well, I wasn’t doing anything sufficiently important to be interrupted.  I wasn’t important enough to be inconvenienced or be involved.   Oh, we don’t like that at all.

We cannot have a hero’s story without a push-off event.  We need a conflict or obstacle to have story and our reaction to the event is the story that we choose.  And we hate it when life doesn’t give us push-off events.  Do you get our screwy psychology?

What do we do our lives are turned upside down?

Let’s play this along a bit more.  In the early hours of flights being cancelled, we heard clips of people at airports who were disappointed.

I am sure their heads were reeling.  Could they make alternative arrangements?  They would have been blaming themselves for not travelling a day earlier.  They would be hastily making other arrangements (including getting home again) and calculating the costs.  They would be annoyed with their insurers who are very likely trying to get out of paying up.

There is a real story in their confusion, their choices and their actions.

Hassles show we are alive

Sadly, we heard them being angry.  With whom exactly?  They talked and spoke as if someone had done something to them.  One man even cursed the Icelanders?  Huh?  Badly expressed irony?  Professor Brian Cox mildly explained that we need volcanoes. If there were no volcanoes, the planet would be dead and so would we.

OK, volcanos are “natural”.  They clearly aren’t people.

But airlines are people.  Traffic controllers are people.  Aeronautical engineers are people.  That we travel by air is a people-thing. It isn’t natural.

We got into our situation by being human. By doing people things. It is part of being alive in 2010.  Should we refuse to travel by air?  Should we refuse to take part in life?

Of course not.

We don’t measure up when .  .  .

But shit happens.  How we cope with shit is the story.  We don’t measure up when

  • We refuse to acknowledge the shit.  It happens. Call shit, shit.
  • We refuse to learn.
  • We refuse to work with others.
  • We have no interest in what is happening to anyone else.
  • We don’t help anyone else.

We don’t measure up when we refuse to respond to life.

That doesn’t mean the story will be the one we prefer

Yup. We might not be able to change a particular story into a hero’s story because no one wins.

To change my metaphor, sometimes life is like a game of rugby when someone breaks his neck.  We don’t carry on playing.  We might play again tomorrow, but not today.

If the game is so rough that the chance of someone breaking their neck becomes to high, we stop playing.  We switch to another sport.

The story of life is not always gratifying.  Sometimes we even wonder why we bother.

What do we do when there are no heroes because we are all losers?

We aren’t always heroes because sometimes no one wins.  There are only losers.

The only story is damage control, be calm, work with others.  That is the only story.

It’s when we still try to be a hero that we lose.   Sometimes we have to accept that life is out of our control.

No one promised  . . .

No one promised we would be in control.  No one promised that we would be heroes.

We were only promised a chance to be alive on a planet with angry volcanoes, people jostling for advantage, hare-brained human ideas like air travel. I like hearing the birds and walking in the fields but I wouldn’t have any of that if the volcanoes died, no one made enough money to ship food across the world, and there weren’t daft engineers making metal birds to fly through the sky.

No one promised that I would always have it good. No one promised that I would always come out ‘looking good’.  No one promised I would always feel good about my efforts and reactions.

There is only an open invitation to take part

There is only an open invitation to take part every day in whatever part of the world that I find myself.

An open invitation to take part. That’s all.

I don’t have to feel gratified.  But I can be grateful.

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Noobe gets started on Aviary’s free online image editor

Graphic Design

No, this is not an advert but it is a blog of acknowledgment.  I had some graphic work to do that needed more power than the Paint program that comes with Windows and with Paint.net that can be downloaded free.

Aviary

I’ve been exploring Aviary, which drove me up the wall ,but since I have learned to use it, I think it is fair to blog what I learned as a vote of thanks and to help the next noobe.

Free and online

Aviary is a a free, online powerful graphics editor.

Modularized and beautiful looking

Aviary is broken up into modules named after birds which is one of its irritating features ~ I could never remember which was which. It’s beautiful to look at, these are graphic designers after all, and it certainly seems that we can make beautiful creations with it.  You can even sell your creations through them.

Getting started

But first, we noobes have to get started.  After you have joined up (all free and painless), you will find a set of modules.  I used 4.

Aviary’s Modules

Raven is the vector image editor

Vector images, for a noobe are “not raster” and “not pixel” based.  Basically, you slap down shapes and push-pull and overlay them to make sytlized images.  Once you are done, you can save on Aviary for later use and export in various formats.

Pheonix is an image editor

Once again, assuming that I am speaking one-noobe-to-another, an image is a .jpg or .png file.  You are used to these.  These are files that you saved when you exported your vector image.

You need to understand two things here.

  • First, when you save your vector image, it is now an image.  You can’t go back to treating it as vector and push-and-pull its shapes around.
  • Second, you use .png formats if you want transparent backgrounds.  .jpg formats save solid backgrounds.

Peacock is an effects editor

Someone kindly wrote out a tutorial for me.  Basically, you pick a shape, generate some kind of image, and edit it with various effects.  I didn’t use it but I put the tutorial on the Aviary forum.  Hope you can find it.  It’s tough to find stuff there ~ no tags.

Image Markup

The image markup is separate from the image editor.  I used it to bring in images (.png and .jpg) for cropping and rotating.  I could save temporary versions of my images on Aviary and my hard drive.  Then when I was done, I selected Advanced Editor and was transferred automatically to Phoenix, the image editor, without losing my image.

So what could a noobe like me achieve in Aviary?

Time-sink

First, be warned that this is a time-sink.  This is a great program to learn if you are trapped somewhere, like an airport, with a WiFi connection and nothing to do.  If you are a rank noobe, budget on 30-100 hours before you achieve very much at all.

Get your head around what the modules do for you

Second, think like this.

  • Draw in Raven/vector editor by adding, pushing and pulling shapes.  Save as .jpg and .png.
  • Crop and flip in Image Markup.
  • Mashup images and add text in Image Editor (Phoenix).

Hard learned tips

Overlap images.  There is one variation to this pattern.  If your images will overlap each other, you will need to treat them as shapes in the vector image where you can push them to bottom or top (as you can in Office).  Or you will have to change the order of your layers in the Image Editor.

Delete backgrounds.  Another useful tip is how to delete the background of an image (.jpg). Bring an image into Image editor, pick the wand, then go to Edit/Cut.  The edges might be a bit rough but you can save now as .png with a transparent background and mash the cut-out bit in with other shapes or backgrounds.

Getting canvas size exactly right. When I had to mashup shapes with canvases of specific-sizes, then I found it useful to reduce an image to the right size, save it, and bring it onto a fresh transparent canvas of the right size.

Delete parts of images.  Another useful edit was to bring in an image, use the color box (bottom left) and color picker (eyedropper) to match the color, go to square and enter the number manually and draw matching colored boxes over what I wanted to wipe out (like unwanted text).

What did this noobe achieve?

I found the program a little temperamental and could never figure out whether “it was me” or “it”.  That said, I managed to produce a bird and edit professionally made vector images that I wanted to mashup with some text and another back ground.

Tutorials needed – let’s put them up on Aviary

If you do take this on, it would be nice to keep some notes and put a noobes tutorial on Aviary.

We all need an online graphic editor that we can use occasionally!

If you are stuck in an airport this weekend waiting for the volcano to die down, here’s your chance!  Learn to draw online!  You will more than pass the time.

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I am a geek. I watch politics. But the leaders’ debate was boring.

It wasn’t as boring as we expected

It’s a cultural thing.  Brits were surprised their politicians weren’t dead boring.  The debate wasn’t quite as boring as watching Congress pass the Health bill but I did switch over to the The Huff Post to read about Obama at NASA announcing 6bn for commercial space flights.  Now that is exciting!

But it was boring

Truthfully, I am a geek.  I watched Congress pass the Health bill.  Of last night, I can remember except marveling at a newspaper picture of the 3 contenders’ ties.   I wonder what women would wear?

I was also amazed at how nervous the leaders were.  So much for our adversarial system of public life.  It scares the most competitive of us silly.

So morning after.  What can you remember of what the leaders said?

So what happened in Britain yesterday to rival 6bn for commercial space flight and the introduction of SDR’s by IMF.  Three pale male and stale in brightly coloured ties said  . . . .?

Oh, and an Icelandic volcano shut down our air space.

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Tighten your seat belts. Good overview of next installment of the financial crisis

I am optimistic but

attend to the facts

I think we live in oddly optimistic times, but only if we attend to the facts.  Financial facts can be hard to come by and its very difficult to find the whole picture laid out in one place.

The Huff has a summary of the financial crisis in April 2010

  • our total national debt as you and I understand it – what we owe not just what the government owes
  • how much is underpinned by China
  • what China wants done and what IMF is doing RIGHT NOW

The Huff’s general message is tighten your seat belts.  The critical ideas seem to be

  • Debt repayments due in April 2010
  • Chinese/IMF proposal to introduce SDR’s – in short an international reserve currency which allows countries with surpluses to hedge their bets across countries looking for bailouts (us)
  • Where (and to whom) our money has gone (we really should get back what is left)
  • A crisis due in the next month or so (hang on to your seats)
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