HOWTO: postcards on walls

We had two days of sunshiney melt here and had that day where everyone goes for a walk outside and says “Oh hi, how have you been since you went inside for Winter?” when they run into their neighbors that they haven’t seen for months.

Today it’s raining, all the better for me to get in my car and go to an airport. Destination: Crystal City Virginia for a Computers in Libraries conference. I’m giving a few talks (preview) and mostly getting a chance to catch up with librarian pals and do a little (more) travelling. Next weekend I’ll be on a panel at a Library 2.0 Symposium at Yale which will be an interesting affair where I expect to do much more listening than talking.

This photo is from a recently solved problem. I took some of those poster hanger doinker things and stuck them to my 80° walls and now I have a place to display my poscards. I’m planning to get a ton more of the stuff and make my angley walls into an ever-changing art gallery. Buying the hangers in sets of two is a little spendy relative to their wholesale price, so for the first time in I think ever I’m thinking of a scheme whereby I buy hundreds of feet of the stuff from the wholesaler and then start a little business selling the stuff on eBay. Because I need a new hobby/business/money-making scheme like I need another hole in my head.

And speaking of money, I went to the bank down the street to deposit my change jars. My sister (whose birthday is tomorrow, wish her a merry one) has something of a change problem and I wanted to do a little proactive change hygeine. So I brought my change jars to the bank. It went like this… I put my two big jars of money on the counter. The banker lady filled out a deposit slip asking “How much do you think is in there?” I said I wasn’t sure. She said “Guess.” So I said “Okay, $150. Maybe?” She filled out the slip and said they’d count the change and mail me the deposit slip with the actual amount on it. She said I could come back later for my jars. I sort of can’t wait to see how much was in there.

consistency of memory

sunset seashell

A decade of having a little bloggy notepad of what I’ve been up to means that sometimes my memory doesn’t work totally right. It’s like when you remember things that happened in your childhood that you have pictures of, but not the other stuff. I make an effort, but at this point working on memory tricks seems to be more work than just writing more stuff down.

I got home from eleven days away last night. The memory thing is that somewhere en route from (my amazing friend) Michael’s house in Texas to Logan airport, I lost my Mac’s power cord. I’m pretty smiling-buddha about most of my posessions. I do my best to take care of them but I try to maintain equanimity when something goes wrong. In this case I was sleepy and sort of buzzed-out from a really good time at the SXSW conference and I have no idea where my power cord got to. I called all the lost & founds — after a week of talking about usability, finding out that I could only figure out if someone found my power cord tomorrow was astonishing to me “but I’m in the airport where I lost it NOW…” — but no one saw it. And, to be fair, if I had a job in the airport lost and found and someone brought in one of these Mac power cords that retails for $75, you can bet I wouldn’t be giving it back either. At any rate. I got myself a new one in Massachusetts and promptly forgot that I even lost it. I also lost my long maroon scarf (how can you lose a ten foot scarf?) and that’s bugging me a little more, actually.

My trip was great and included a panel discussion in front of a room of ~800 people, my telling an old bad drug story (never before linked!) at the Fray Cafe, some quality power-eating with good friends who I don’t see often enough, and then a trip back through MA where I saw my Dad and helped a friend move and did a little of the Jessamyn-magic on Jim’s full-o-stuff bedroom. The long quiet bus ride and drive back from the bus station is like a three hour airlock between people-time and quiet-and-cold-Vermont-time. I’ll be turning around in a week and heading down to DC — actually Crystal City Virginia which is a terrible name for a not very interesting place — and in the meantime it’s back to classes, swimming, bird feeding and getting some of my brain back. Here are some photos of where I’ve been: Westport, Austin. They help me remember.

how do I get a job like yours?

I’m on my way to the SXSW Conference in Austin Texas. This will be the third time I’ve gone. The first time was in 2000 and I met my boss and co-worker there, though I didn’t know it at the time. The second time was last year and I gave a little presentation about being a community moderator for a job. As I mentioned in this photo on Flickr — and I’m working on a longer post about the topic for — I culturally identify as a librarian, whatever that means, but being a community moderator (or Chief of Operations when I’m sounding fancy) is what pays the bills and is the bulk of my income. It also keeps me in computers and free Internet when I travel but I’m one of those folks who loves what they do so I could probably get paid in sand and still be doing this.

It’s only been lately, really, that you could say “Oh I ‘run a community’ for my job” and have people know what you meant. Back in the day AOL had people who sort of kept track of what was going on in chatrooms and had some admin privileges but nowadays if you interact with any website that allows you to post or comment or rate anything, chances are there’s someone like me behind the scenes making sure it goes smoothly. The panel is going to be talking a little bit about that: what does it mean to do this sort of thing as a job, or even a career? I’ll be on the panel with people from Flickr, YouTube, CurrentTV and Etsy, all big name sites. I’m sort of the small potatoes person. MetaFilter was a community before any of those sites existed, but it’s stayed pretty small (relatively) and texty and off of people’s radar. That said, Matt Haughey who runs the place has been doing some form of community moderation since 1999 which is the Stone Age in Internet time.

People often ask how they can get a job like mine. Sometimes that means running a website, sometimes it means doing public speaking stuff, sometimes it means rural public librarian stuff, sometimes it’s teaching email to old people. The way the crazy swinging mobile of my work-life arrangements work, it would be hard for me to do any one of these things without the other three (though I do think about it) and my advice often turns into some hippie-dippy “follow your bliss” combined with “don’t get into debt so you can work for cheap while you wait to get paid well for being good at what you do” The last bit of advice I have is “You don’t want my life” Not that it doesn’t work well for me, it does, but when I talk about what’s really involved in keeping all these balls in the air (lots of travel, lots of online time, lots of multitasking, lots of new faces and places, lots of diplomacy, lots of apologizing for me and for others, lots of late nights) it’s really rarely other peoples’ idea of a good time.

I tend to re-configure these questions into something more like “How can I live where I want and do what I want while feeling like I’m having some sort of positive effect in the world?” and that’s the question I try to answer. I’m looking forward to hearing what the other panelists have to say about similar questions.

class and classy

It used to be a running joke in college that anyone who called anything “classy” was automatically bestowing sort of the opposite adjective to it; that classy was a word used by a person who had no class. Or used by us trying to be ironic.

I’ve been thinking about class a lot in the past few weeks. We just had our town meeting on Tuesday. I took a few photos. I like living in Vermont because there’s more of a sense that we’re in this together, whatever “this” happens to be. As of a few months ago, Randolph started charging people to drop off recycling at the transfer station. We’ve always paid for trash but recycling was free. I thought this was as it should be, small financial incentives to do the right thing. On the other hand, it was costing the town to get rid of the recycling and the so-called “tipping fees” were actually subsidizing the recycling program as recycling got more expensive to process. There was some discussion of this including one lady who said that she took a bag of recycling and it cost “only fifty cents” the easy implication being if you were going to not recycle over a mere fifty cents, there was something pretty well wrong with you. I think this ignores what it’s like to really live on a tight budget or make tough choices about where your money goes (for the record, I do neither, this is a bit of an intellectual exercise for me) and I have to admit that I’ve been letting my recycling pile up, which is ridiculous.

There was also some back and forth about the Randolph Food Shelf which was asking for something like $1500 this year to help with expenses. A young woman who was pretty new to town meeting was surprised to see people walking out of the food shelf with cakes because, well, she was on a budget and she wasn’t buying cake. She asked about it. There followed a long discussion of how the food shelf system works (cakes are day old, or donated) and who it serves (anyone who says they need it, no questions asked) and it seemed like most people in town were okay with the whole system. In a town of about 4800 people, 350 people had used the food shelf at some point in the last year. Ten percent of Vermonters have used a food shelf at some time. It didn’t look like the food shelf was going to have a difficult time getting their money. Good.

I’ve been travelling a lot on planes lately which is getting more unpleasant as the airlines find ways to save costs. I’m not complaining as much as stating a fact. I’m aware I can stay home. One day, perhaps I will. In addition to charging for checked bags, United now calls the first ten or so rows in the non-first class part of the plane “premium” seating (since they have a few inches of extra legroom) and tries to charge you more to sit in them. It’s not unusual to see a plane taking off with ten empty rows and everyone else smushed into the back part of the plane. After takeoff, people try to move into better seats and they’re rebuffed. Air travel has always come with severe class distinctions: from the order of loading the plane, to the silly curtain in-between first and second class, to additional bathrooms for first class travellers with severe exhortations from the flight attendants to only use your own bathrooms.

The stewardesses on my last flight — as I was smooshed in the back somewhere, but I don’t care too much since I’m short and can pretty much fit anywhere — actually told people it wasn’t fair for them to move forward since other people had paid extra to sit in those special seats. Ignoring the obvious “Well, who created this stupid system?” follow-up question. Then they said something about not using the forward rest rooms because of “safety.” Since it’s pretty well illegal for us to ignore anything they say because of “safety” this is a nice way to make weird arbitrary distinctions and make them unarguable. And yes I know you’re not supposed to gather by the cockpit, but as far as I know, there are no safety ramifications for a non-first class passenger to pee or not pee in a first class toilet. Are there?

Of course, people who can afford air travel in the US are often already in a privileged class, so it’s amusing to get this object lessons in how it feels to be someone who gets things denied to them just because of how much money you have, or are willing to spend. I’m glad I can take it or leave it.