Residential Alternatives

The more I live in Louisiana, the more I would like either to live somewhere else or at least be able to get to other places when I have the time. (Sadly, the more I live here, the less I am able to afford anything.) Until that moment where I live elsewhere, I like to daydream about either living in a small house, maybe even a tiny house as they are now known, or at least camping in a similarly outfitted trailer.

Here are some ideas:

*An [Updated Airstream](*

![Updated 1962 Bambi Airstream](
*A [1962 Airstream Bambi](*

![Travel Trailer Home](
*A [Lived-In Travel Trailer](*

Thinking through Personal Data

There are, when you think about it, at least a few different categories for what is often called *personal data*. There is, perhaps first, the stuff you need to have with you at all times, which can be various, but usually includes:

1. contacts, calendars, and tasks
2. email and messages

These are the basic pieces of data that lie behind most communication infrastructures: people with whom I need, or want, to talk; things I need to get done; how my time is allotted and spent. In terms of their appearance in my life life, these are things I use, or think I use, *constantly*.

Inevitably, of course, there is a huge swathe of material that we would also like to have with us or at least readily accessible. I use *swathe* here purposefully to indicate that not only is there a reasonable amount of material but that it comes in a variety of categories, and how you handle those categories is, in fact, the focus of a large number of life-hacking and productivity-consulting websites and businesses. A lot of this stuff is, especially for professionals, electronic versions of what was once paper:

3. documents, clippings, spreadsheets, drawings, images, etc.
4. blended versions that new media offers us — presentations with embedded media, links to websites, etc.

However you keep it, and keep track of it, what matters is that you need it and you need it ready-to hand. In terms of how these things matter in my life, these are things to which I need access *regularly*.

Pushing a little further away from being central to us every day are the kinds of materials that once lived in filing cabinets, photo albums, and boxes of various sizes in closets and attics — i.e., storage spaces:

5. materials not currently in use but have potential future use — this includes a wide variety of materials including proposals that have been submitted, plans and designs, media produced as stock, etc.
6. materials that must be kept as records, either for personal or institutional reasons.

The long tail makes its appearance in our lives, and it reveals things that it is increasingly easy, and inexpensive, to hold onto for long periods of time, because we use them *intermittently*.

In temporal terms, then, we have materials that are constant, regular, and/or intermittent. And some of this bears out in terms of the services we use to maintain their existence: as a Mac and iPhone user, I’m fairly happy to let Apple’s [iCloud][] help me manage my *constant data*. Apple’s 5GB allotment is room enough. For the slightly larger amount of stuff that is my *regular data*, I use [DropBox][], where my years of use have allowed me to grow my $10 for 10 gig allotment to something like 17GB. (Thank you DropBox!) But, like a lot of people, I struggle with storing the *intermittent data*. Right now, it sits in external hard drives either connected to a machine on my home network or sitting in one of those storage spaces away from everything else because, well, backup is important.

Data Store Size and Frequency of Access

Data Store Size and Frequency of Access

I will confess, however, that this arrangement is not as organized as I like. Yes, I keep some stuff Dropbox, not because it belongs there in terms of usage but because I can. Moreover, and running along a different axis than usage, I have some data that I would prefer to use more regularly, but because it is large in size, it tends to sit on those external drives at home. If you’re like me, then that’s stuff like your media library, e.g. [iTunes][] in my case; my [Lightroom][] library of images and (some video); and that catch-all collection of folders of audio, video, and images that haven’t made their way into some sort of management system or, like raw video of my daughter from when she was young, remain somewhat un-manageable, both in terms of file size but also in terms of software — does anyone really use iMovie to manage all the raw footage of their lives? (And is footage as skeuomorphic as it sounds or is it a sufficiently terminological word at this point?)

Right now, I live at the unfortunate convergence of usage and size: there are materials to which I would like to have easier access, like my Lightroom library, but I have not yet figured out a smoothly connected system. I am fairly sure [from what I read][] that I can place Lightroom’s library on a NAS device, the same as I can iTune’s library. I don’t mind them being only available at home, so long as they are reliably accessible and the access is not dreadfully slow. This was not the case with my previous NAS device, so I’m looking to upgrade. (And I’ll happily take suggestions!)

I know there are solutions out there that offer to store *all your data*, or at least some dimension of the *big stuff*, like Flickr and Amazon now do for photography and Apple now does for music, in a way, with iTunes Match. And that’s just the free and/or cheap options. I know it’s also possible with some of the backup solutions to access materials away from home, and I don’t mind paying for that option, except that a number of them require that everything exist originally on one machine on one drive, but I don’t have any terabyte drive-equipped machines. At home, everything is a laptop or an iOS device, save the Mini in our kitchen, with rather small SSDs. That’s what has us in this pickle in the first place!

I guess I am like a lot of people, then, wanting both centrality so that I know everything is at least in one place, which also would make it easier to back up, but that I want that center to be easily accessed from the many margins of my life.

[from what I read]:

Musical Forest

This. This is how I want to spend my time. I want to spend it working with people in small groups to do amazing things. Ideally, it would involve making physical things as well as things like essays, books, software, analyses. If I could imagine the kind of consultancy that would allow that to unfold, I would apply for a job at it or try to create it.

This idea, of how we want to spend our time, arises in the wake of having a number of conversations with my daughter about, sigh, her homework. What she wants to do, and, really, what her brain needs to do, is play. And the kind of play she needs, in particular, is the kind of deep, immersive play that consists of building a world and then turning a series of characters loose within it. She does it with amazing ferocity and abandon. At times, it is like watching a horse burst forth from a race gate, or a cliff diver plunge into the water below.

The conversations we have with her is both about how to make homework more interesting to her but also, I confess, about encouraging her to focus on getting her homework done, and quickly, so that she can play. I know this isn’t the best way to frame homework, but you work with what you have, and our daughter’s imagination is not piqued by most school assignments. (We have tried to talk with her school about this, not just for her sake but for all the kids like her, but we have had little luck.)

What we say to her, in effect, is that most people have things to do which they must do in order to do the things they want to do, love to do, and that one’s goal in life is to try to make those two things converge as much as possible so that, each and every day you get up, you have to do things that you love to do.

Unfortunately, for me, my current context is one of divergence, not convergence. I am looking for ways to adjust this path, to find convergence, but I’m not there yet.

The Lykovs of Taiga

Thanks to Tim Tangherlini for the link to the [Smithsonian story on the Lykov family][] of Russia who survived for forty years in Siberia without contact with civilization — they had fled deep into the forest to escape anti-religious pogroms by the Soviets. A nice addition to the story is the [Russian documentary on the Lykovs][]. In a sense the Lykovs were a kind of time capsule.

[Smithsonian story on the Lykov family]:
[Russian documentary on the Lykovs]:

The Best

Dustin Curtis has a small essay up entitled simply [“The Best.”][best]. In it he describes how a three-month journey in Southeast Asia changed how he thinks about the material things with which he surrounds himself: since his belongings were limited to what would fit in a backpack, he had to find, as he puts it *the best* handheld lamp, *the best* wallet to carry money and papers, etc. He is not alone in his search of course. The fundamental fabric of the Internet, in terms of blogs and forums, is made up of individuals embarked upon similar searches: look no further than the number of sites dedicated to “life-hacking” and/or “productivity.” Clearly, a lot of people are seeking out solutions that will fit their particular needs, their particular proclivities, their particular way of working. That is, while Microsoft Word is omnipresent in most writing contexts, how to bend it to your own way of working is a continuing conversation, or what word processing application you could use in its stead that would more accurately reflect *your* way of writing seems a continual search for some. (My recommendation, by the way, is [Scrivener][].)

There are two senses of best here: Curtis seems to be arguing, at times, that there really is a universal best, that if you do the research, you will come to the same conclusions about what is the best flatware as he did. (I could be wrong about my sense of his argument, however.) This is, of course, a bit of Enlightenment residue, and something all successful individuals, especially those who make a living with ideas, are prone to succumb to, if in fact Curtis succumbed to this.

The other sense of best is the sense I was describing above: best *for me*, for my needs, my way of working, my way of living. In that case, I wholeheartedly agree, and I confess that I arrived at that conclusions after too many years, and really more years than I want to admit even to myself, of buying cheap things that I thought would suffice but in the end, didn’t.

It’s not that I didn’t have some early, positive reinforcement that one should find a thing one really loves and buy it when you can afford it and not waste time and money in buying poor substitutes. When I was a graduate student in the late 80s, I stumbled upon an art and drafting supply house in Syracuse, New York. It was an old-fashioned affair with lots of space and an island of glass cases, set in a rectangle, in the middle of the front of the store. It was there, in those glass cases that I first glimpsed a fancier version of the $5 Shaeffer fountain pens that I had started using at the end of my undergraduate training. Some of you will know what these Shaeffer pens are: they were $5 and you could find them at places like the old TG&Y. They were a bit leaky; they didn’t feed well; but when everything worked, they introduced you to the world of fountain pens, which is a glorious world after all, and, for seeking distinction through the color of the ink in which they wrote, you could fill them all kinds of colors.

Under the glass of the case lay the slightly upscale version of the Shaeffers, the Lamy. I bought one, but the nib never felt right, and so one day I returned, screwed up my courage, counted the nickels and pennies in my pocket, and spent my money on a Mont Blanc pen. If memory serves, I paid something like $35 or $45 for the pen. It was an absurd amount of money for me at that time, and most of you will recognize that I was buying at the bottom end of the Mont Blanc line, but it was a real fountain pen, in the sense of having a reliable feed system and a smooth-writing nib. I was hooked.

Many years and pens later I eventually settled upon a [Pelikan M215][], and I haven’t bought another pen since. Honestly.

This should have taught me the lesson I needed to learn, but in the intervening years I spend less money per item but more money in toto on a variety of objects which populate my world. (Okay, *populate* is weird to use there, but it works.) I bought coats that weren’t quite what I wanted, but were, I argued to myself, close enough and an awfully good deal, that I would like them, *well enough*. I bought backpacks and clothes and even pieces of software with much the same rationale. Only always to find myself not wanting to wear them or use them. Only to find myself looking again, looking around, looking for something better.

Well, no more. To some degree, fiscal responsibility has pressured me into some consumptive maturity. And so I save for some items, or, if I find something on sale and it goes over my monthly budget, I forego things in the months ahead in order to pay myself back whatever I borrowed.

What has that meant? The most ready to hand example, thanks to the somewhat cool mornings we are enjoying of late in south Louisiana, is the [Columbia fleece jacket][cfj] hanging over the back of my chair right now. I got it from [REI][] on closeout ($50) plus I used a dividend payout and another discount. I think I payed $35 for it in all. While I got a good deal, I bought it because I have a pair of Columbia shoes that I have had for over ten years that I still use for field work and that will not die and continue to look and feel good. Columbia gear is more expensive than other gear, but I am now willing to save, or shop, carefully, to get exactly what I want. The fleece jacket fits perfectly and feels great: no baggy arms, no overly tight cuffs at the wrist, nice weight of fleece. I’m going to have this thing for years to come and look forward to wearing it every chance I get.

For me, it’s one of my *best things*. The advantage os acquiring *best things* is that it clears up your day, your mind; it clears you from the distraction of looking. It’s a lot like those folks who have routinized their days by wearing the same clothes or eating the same thing. It’s one less thing to think about, to find pulling at your attention. Steve Jobs famously did this with broken-in jeans, black turtle necks, and Adidas tennis shoes. It’s as if you’ve decided *this is who I am* so now you can focus all your energy on *this is what I do*.

[Pelikan M215]:

Dying Wishes

Someone who tended to those who have gone home to die has posted a list of the [common wishes][] she encountered. The longer notes explaining each wish are worth reading, but for the condensed version to tape to that space near where your mind passes each and every day, here’s the short version:

1. I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.
2. I wish I didn’t work so hard.
3. I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.
4. I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.
5. I wish that I had let myself be happier.

[common wishes]:

Remembering Mr. Rogers

I started with [“15 Reasons Mister Rogers Was the Best Neighbor Ever”][mf] but I ended up with [“Can You Say Hero”][ss] by Tom Junod and which includes the following passage:

> ONCE UPON A TIME, there was a boy who didn’t like himself very much. It was not his fault. He was born with cerebral palsy. Cerebral palsy is something that happens to the brain. It means that you can think but sometimes can’t walk, or even talk. This boy had a very bad case of cerebral palsy, and when he was still a little boy; some of the people entrusted to take care of him took advantage of him instead and did things to him that made him think that he was a very bad little boy, because only a bad little boy would have to live with the things he had to live with. In fact, when the little boy grew up to be a teenager, he would get so mad at himself that he would hit himself, hard, with his own fists and tell his mother, on the computer he used for a mouth, that he didn’t want to live anymore, for he was sure that God didn’t like what was inside him any more than he did. He had always loved Mister Rogers, though, and now, even when he was fourteen years old, he watched the Neighborhood whenever it was on, and the boy’s mother sometimes thought that Mister Rogers was keeping her son alive. She and the boy lived together in a city in California, and although she wanted very much for her son to meet Mister Rogers, she knew that he was far too disabled to travel all the way to Pittsburgh, so she figured he would never meet his hero, until one day she learned through a special foundation designed to help children like her son that Mister Rogers was coming to California and that after he visited the gorilla named Koko, he was coming to meet her son.

> At first, the boy was made very nervous by the thought that Mister Rogers was visiting him. He was so nervous, in fact, that when Mister Rogers did visit, he got mad at himself and began hating himself and hitting himself, and his mother had to take him to another room and talk to him. Mister Rogers didn’t leave, though. He wanted something from the boy, and Mister Rogers never leaves when he wants something from somebody. He just waited patiently; and when the boy came back, Mister Rogers talked to him, and then he made his request. He said, “I would like you to do something for me. Would you do something for me?” On his computer, the boy answered yes, of course, he would do anything for Mister Rogers, so then Mister Rogers said, “I would like you to pray for me, Will you pray for me?” And now the boy didn’t know how to respond. He was thunderstruck. Thunderstruck means that you can’t talk, because something has happened that’s as sudden and as miraculous and maybe as scary as a bolt of lightning, and all you can do is listen to the rumble. The boy was thunderstruck because nobody had ever asked him for something like that, ever. The boy had always been prayed for. The boy had always been the object of prayer, and now he was being asked to pray for Mister Rogers, and although at first he didn’t know if he could do it, he said he would, he said he’d try, and ever since then he keeps Mister Rogers in his prayers and doesn’t talk about wanting to die anymore, because he figures Mister Rogers is close to God, and if Mister Rogers likes him, that must mean God likes him, too.

> As for Mister Rogers himself.., well, he doesn’t look at the story in the same way that the boy did or that I did. In fact, when Mister Rogers first told me the story, I complimented him on being so smart–for knowing that asking the boy for his prayers would make the boy feel better about himself–and Mister Rogers responded by looking at me at first with puzzlement and then with surprise. “Oh, heavens no, Tom! I didn’t ask him for his prayers for him; I asked for me. I asked him because I think that anyone who has gone through challenges like that must be very close to God. I asked him because I wanted his intercession.”