Tuesday 31 August 2010

An amazing close up encounter with a sparrow hawk

It came in low and fast, over the Indian bean tree, between the pear and the honeysuckle and straight at the window of the study where I was sitting looking out. I’m on the ground floor. This is not an obvious flight path for any bird. Clearly after prey, or whatever it saw that it thought was prey, it screamed in and stopped a millimetre from the glass in a deafening clapping of wings, did a lightning midair reverse manoeuvre and sped off. For a fraction of a second we were eyeball to eyeball.

My camera was right beside me. Did I get a shot of it? Not a chance. It was on the return flight over the Indian bean before I got it together to leap up crying, ‘Aagh!’ In that fraction of a second, I really thought it was about to crash through the glass into my face.

Lame I know but I took a photo of the window. You have to imagine the alarmed ball of feathers, beak and talons mid-shot.

I wonder if this was the same bird that alarmed me the other night by crashing into the window of the lounge as I was watching TV. It lay stunned on the ground under the window, so I raced round to help, but the moment it saw me, it took off like a surface to air missile. Maybe just now, at that moment we stared into each other’s eyes, it was thinking ‘Not you again.’

Saturday 21 August 2010

The Yorkshire coast is amazing

We went to Scarborough on Thursday.  Just look how packed it is.  The town is a wonderful mix of old and new, with a vibrant shopping centre.

The sea front was packed too, though the crowds thinned out a bit towards the far end of the north bay.

And if you don't like crowds, just climb.  We went up to the castle and ate lunch looking out over the bay. 

On the way back down, we visited Ann Bronte's grave.  The grave stones are not in bad shape considering the battering they must get in the sea air.  It's a lovely hillside setting.

My kingdom for a horse?

Friday 20 August 2010

The fruit harvest

Looks like it’ll be an apple event this year, with walk on parts for damsons, pears, figs, blackberries and plums.

And some non-apples: Firstly the blackberries. We fight the blackbirds for these




Plums, with one or two just beginning to ripen

And we just love tomatoes and basil.

And apart from the nasturtium leaves there's nothing edible in this last one, unless you have three pairs of legs and two pairs of wings.

And that's it for this harvest bulletin.

Sunday 15 August 2010

Squaring the To Do List Circle - for GTD anoraks mainly

I always suspected that organisation was the key to having time to make the most of life, but I didn’t find my way there by the easiest route.

I'd heard that users of that old favourite time management tool, the To Do List, did more, did it more efficiently and felt better for it. But just how far could you take this? Did you become ever more efficient, more effective, more productive and less stressed with no limit? Of course not. What I discovered the hard way was that if you stuck with just the To Do List, you were pulled into a cyclical process that sucked the life out of you.  The basic tasks of list and prioritise are never static entities. Once you change the context, or throw a spanner in the works they evolve into monsters.

Decades ago, I got by with a few items scribbled on a whiteboard. Then life became busier. I no longer had time to attend the weekly research seminar. I came to rely on the To Do List more and more. There’s something reassuring about sitting relaxed to take stock at the start of the day. Listing all those pressing tasks feels almost as good as doing them.

But, like Topsy, they grow. Creating today’s list became a matter of checking yesterday’s for the things that didn’t get done because of this or that unforeseen crisis. Pretty soon, that relaxing few minutes became a fevered transcribing of notes from previous lists and the small pad became an A4 book.

So I computerised. Why waste time writing it all out day after day, I reasoned, when a computerised version could list and prioritise just as well.

Time to throw in that spanner.

Someone decided to sack two of my colleagues because they found a better use for the money that was paying their salaries. “But hang on,” I said. “That money comes in specifically to pay them. If they go, it doesn’t come in at all.”

Logic didn’t sway the day. It often doesn’t. The colleagues went and the money disappeared, but the work was still there. Furthermore, by voicing my objections, I’d shown up an inadequate manager to be a berk. So not only did my To Do List quota go up by a factor of three, the manager threw a hissy fit and pulled my secretarial and technical support.

The list now took on a life of its own. Where there were once well-defined areas of responsibility making it easy to list and prioritise tasks, I now had a stack of extra areas. I needed several To Do Lists.

With the computerised version I could sort by area of responsibility as well as priority. I fixed it so the 1A task for each area popped up at the top of the list, so no single area would be forgotten. But sometimes an area had more than one absolutely-vital-must-do-now-task. So the top of the list, the bit that just scratched the surface of all those areas of responsibility, grew longer than the old To Do List had ever been.

Before long, the list was many pages long and scrolled way off the screen. And that was only the priority 1A-Star tasks. The 2s, 3s and 4s were stashed in separate files that would never be opened again.

That first screen of the Top Priority List became etched on my subconscious. I dreamt in A-stars. My best efforts to scratch away at the surface of it were overwhelmed by tidal waves of new and follow-on 1A Double Star Priority tasks.

It became obvious that any task labelled a mere Priority One would never be looked at, let alone done, so one day I dumped the lot of them. And while I was at it, I deleted the 2s, 3s and 4s.

It wasn’t only the list side of the To Do List that changed shape, it was the prioritising too. A task might be 1A Triple Star, Whole Nation States Will Collapse If It Isn’t Done Right Now, but did it pass the “will anyone notice if I don’t do it” test? No? Okay, out it went.

Then there were the 1A Trillion Star tasks. Yes, they needed doing. Yes, they would be noticed. Yes, the sky might fall in if they weren’t done. But there were half a dozen higher up the list, all of them huge mega-effort tasks. I calculated what chance there was of ever reaching number 7 or more on the list. Basically none. So I decided I might as well bin those too, and not go through the agony of having them staring out forlornly from the list every morning until they scrolled off the screen.

Then in a moment of madness, I threw in my own spanner and went to the weekly research seminar. I was away from my desk for an hour and a half. I returned to a To Do List bursting at the seams with 101 other things clamouring to be added at the top.

I threw out the prioritisation system and decided there would henceforth be a single criterion for any task. Do I fancy doing this today? A couple of things usually met that one.

So I deleted all electronic lists, binned all paper ones, scribbled those two items on the whiteboard, and the cycle had started again.

The solution in the end was two-fold. I stopped working for stupid employers (no job satisfaction working for idiots) and I discovered that a genius called David Allen had researched this stuff properly, figured out the underlying principles, and that Getting Things Done really could mean empowerment and time to enjoy life.

What I've learnt is that sticking with the principles really works, but as to implementation, no specific system works for everyone.  There are loads of systems about - computerised and paper-based.  For what it's worth, I use Nozbe to implement David Allen's ideas.  It works for me.  I have more to do now than I ever had, but I can go to research seminars, even take time out to see a movie, and nothing goes critical in my absence.  And we all have to interact with idiots at times, but the best thing is to steer clear as far as possible and pity them for their impoverished lives.

Wednesday 11 August 2010

Which came first, the chicken or the egg?

The answer, determined by experiment and observation is as follows. Starting from here:

And here:

And then onto these:

And then this:

And ultimately these:

And these:

The conclusion from the egg’s point of view is that it comes after the chicken that lays it and before the chicken that hatches from it. And from the chicken’s, she comes after the egg she hatched from and before the eggs she lays.
The cockerel’s position remains a mystery.

Electric typewriter designers were probably keen gardeners

The similarity between the passion flower and the typewriter daisy wheel is obvious, but did they get the idea from the flower or was it coincidence?

How far can coincidence stretch? Look at the this flower as compared to the typewriter golf ball.  I think it's some relation to the thistle but not sure.

I had a whole thing going here with corn-on-the-cob paint rollers, lupin flower loo brushes and fig light bulbs, but I think I’ll leave it.

Wednesday 4 August 2010

It happens all the time in Kazakhstan

So I’ve been told by people who work there. But it’s a first for our back garden. The Indian Bean tree has flowered.

The thistles and buddleia are thick with bees and butterflies so intent on their business that you can bend the flowers down and watch closely, even stroke the bees if you’re so inclined. Capt Butterfly would be right at home here now, and would take pictures at the point where a thousand winged beasts hovered around the bush, rather than the second after they’ve all fled.

But no difficulty taking shots of the little buzzer things – those harmless ones that mimic wasps.

We assume an overlooked nest in the corner of the garden room or just outside. For two days it was like having the World Cup on in the background again – the constant hum of vuvuzelas. Proper wasps flew in and attacked them, picking off individuals, killing them quickly and then dismembering them. There is a touch of evil to wasps. They seem to mean it.

The grapevine is now tall enough to come into the garden room so we can expect a whole range of insect companions in there next year.