Auldhouse Blog

Sunsets Appearing from May to June

We have a Sunset view from May to June

Ever since my husband and I first met, we’ve spent May and June evenings out on our side deck. We fix a fancy drink–the first year it was Mai Tais from scratch and this year it is an Old Fashioned. We sit out on the deck with our drinks in hand and watch the sunset over Seattle in the distance.

When we set up this year, John noted that we haven’t spent much time since the Election. But this year, we say, “F*ck that. Life goes on and we are going to enjoy it.” We will sit out every nice evening until Batty flies erratically by to tell us it is time to go in.

Draw a Leaf.

I used to draw all the time when I was an adolescent. I drew endless horses and copied pictures from my Teen magazines. I sketched all the major actors (quite badly) in Gone with the Wind. I created fantasy house plans and fantasy pets. Since that time I may have doodled a little during meetings. I had some faces I liked to draw and I would also sketch animals in their purest five-year-old sense, barely better than a stick figure with thick legs. And lots of spirals. I think the last time I had truly sketched was one afternoon at the Ashland Oregon Festival. I bought a journal and sketched an ink drawing of Shakespeare while sitting on a blanket in the sun in the park. I must have been in my mid-twenties which puts that a couple of decades in the past.

Not that I haven’t wanted to quit being creative. I kept busy with other crafts like needlepoint and quilting. But now, that was over a decade ago.

I’ve wanted to get back to drawing and I’ve also always wanted to try watercolor. For the past few years, I can’t tell you the number of sketchbooks and pen & pencil sets I’ve bought intending to start. Then I would sit and stare at a blank page not knowing where to begin. Eventually, the journals would be absconded by the kids and the pencil sets would be broken apart and doled out to be found broken and crammed in the corners of the SUV right where the vacuum wouldn’t reach.

Needing an outlet for my creativity, I took the Artist’s Way workshop offered at Cloud 9 Art School with Charlene Freeman and that class changed my life. I had been searching and needed to uncover that side of myself again that made room for art. While that class allowed me to explore through my morning pages and my Artist’s Dates, I started making some changes in my life and my appearance. First, I chopped all my hair off. That act was simply liberating. I bought a new pink purse and tied a cherry blossom scarf I bought to it because sometimes you have to look the part to find your muse.

Next, I decided to take a sketching class at Cloud 9. Since Charlene is such a fantastic teacher I signed up for her Nature Sketchbooking class. I bought all of the class materials–which were listed on her site. A proper mixed media journal, some paint brushes, and a Field Artist Pro Travel Watercolor Set with 12 half pan colors.

What happened next was just as liberating as getting my hair pixied. The first day of class Charlene had us pick a natural item to draw and paint. There were feathers, and other items, but I chose the small leaf. Charlene had us fill in a title page in our sketchbook and then we were to go to town with our pens and the watercolors.

That was it. That was all I needed. Someone to tell me, “Here is a leaf. Sketch it and then paint it.” That simple leaf was the push I needed. I started taking photos of nature around me–other leaves and started drawing them. I grabbed an illustration from a Pinterest board of a Stellar Jay and I painted that. I captured flowers in my garden and in my kitchen window. I found an image of a pinecone tattoo, put it to paper and colored it in how I thought it should look. A jaunty duck strolled past me at Chateau Ste Michelle and demanded to be memorialized. Postcards, book illustrations, Sunset magazine photos, everything has become fodder for my sketchbook. Mr. Squirrely Squirrel (or Doug the Squirrel) decided the kitchen windows birdhouse was scalable allowing me to get in close enough for a couple of character studies.

I’m waiting for the paint to dry on the last page of my first sketchbook– some mushrooms from an old botanical print. I’m taking another sketchbook class and I’ll be facilitating the next session of the Artist Way at Cloud 9. I hope you’ll join me there. What sort of push have you been waiting for? What kind of creativity have you been putting off in your life and you are ready to say, “Now is the time.” Let’s do this together!

The International Bank of Bob: A Book Review

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Bob Harris was writing an article on the world’s most luxurious hotels. Appalled at the waste he saw and the gulf between the lives of the richest and the poorest–Bob decided to take the fees he earned and do something good with it.  He researched and began loaning funds out through Kiva and other micro-lending organizations. He then traveled the world and met some of the real individuals who are recipients of those funds to hear their stories and find out how those relatively small loans can make a huge difference downstream.

In his book International Bank of Bob: Connecting Our Worlds One $25 Kiva Loan at a TimeHarris connects the story to his own background–from roots in Appalachian poverty his own parents moved up for a better opportunity. He describes the long hours his own father put in–and how he sees that and his mother time and again reflected in these hard working individuals around the world.

He also tells the bigger story of micro lending in the book–of Kiva and other organizations–their successes and failures. This is as much a travelogue of the world’s poorest regions. He does it with humor and respect for those he meets (except in a couple cases the individuals are not told that he was their benefactor).

I’ve been a big fan myself of Kiva, and also organizations like D-Rev and Room to Read that are on the ground solving real problems.

In this vein, here are other books I would recommend on globalization and giving back:

Travels of a T-Shirt in a Global Economy by Pietra Rivoli
An economics professor chases the economics of a simple t-shirt around the world and it’s effect on the economy–from it’s creation in a factory to a used clothing economy in Africa.

Leaving Microsoft to Change the World by John Wood
John Wood left his career at Microsoft to start and fund Room to Read and libraries all over the world.

The World is Flat by Thomas Friedmann
Friedmann explains the economics of globalization.

Guns, Germs and Steel by Jared Diamond
Diamond explains how history and resources has benefited some groups over others.

The Soul of Money by Lynn Twist
Lessons on how to give back.

Nickel and Dimed: On Not Getting By in America by Barbara Ehrenreich
Ehrenreich joins the working poor working for minimum wage to show the endless cycle of poverty.

The One World Schoolhouse by Salman Kahn: A book Review

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First of all a thank you to Lynda Weinman, Lynda of lynda.com for giving every single one of the company’s employees a copy of this book over the holidays. Books make the best gifts and when I start a job and first thing they hand me is a stack of free books I know I’ve landed in the right place. 

You have heard of Salman Khan the creator of the Khan Academy and this book published by TwelveBooks serve as an introduction to his story and his thoughts or manifesto on learning. I was inspired by this book. Sal started out tutoring one student–his cousin Nadia and before he knew it he was spending his spare time tutoring more family members. He was very good at it. And from there his teaching starts to spread, his ideas start to catch on and now he is on a mission to create a free world-class education for anyone, anywhere. 

I could relate to Nada’s issue. She had missed one important concept and that put her on a lesser school track. When I was a freshman in high school in my first Algebra class–maybe I was talking…maybe I was sleeping… but I missed something important. That semester I received my first ever D! My teacher told my mother I was lazy and she needed to take my television and music away from me. (I knew the woman hated me! And yeah I was probably too busy talking.) From then on I was put in the more basic math–not the college prep and I had to repeat the semester in order to change my grade for college transcripts. The next semester when I took the class, I took the textbook and studied on my own. Then it clicked and I spent the rest of semester doing my homework during lectures. This time I received an A. 

And I do owe a big apology to my older brother the engineer who didn’t talk alot in class and studied harder. He actually tried to sit down and teach Khan-style concepts before I received my D. At the time I just wanted to learn how to do my homework, I didn’t want to learn the concepts he attempted teach me. C’mon I had Brady Brunch re-runs to watch! Luckily he seems to have had a better student in my niece. 

I like what Salman has to say about learning–covering the basics and practicing until you can prove you’ve got it to move on, and to also move at your own speed. Okay–you got me. The guy speaks my language. After all my career has been all about learning–first in creating how-to technology books to self-paced elearning, ILT courseware to certs and now in online video training. Not ironically, a career that has also called on my “talking” skills so there Algebra teacher! Technology loves self-learners and there is plenty to learn. This book did make me think about what concepts are basic and essential for the business technology subjects I cover.

I’ve also spent a lot of time on Khan Academy the past few days. I always regretted that I never really made it past basic Algebra and Geometry. I thought it was because I hated math, but the fact is I’ve loved puzzles. I’ve done quilting which requires a lot of math. And I use data analysis and statistics regularly to uncover business insights. So I’m going back to the basics–starting at the beginning just like Salman Khan suggests (and how can you not respect someone that Bill Gates says is his favorite teacher!). His site also has Science, Art History and more. Stuff I want to learn. 

Check out his book and the Khan Academy site. 

100 Diagrams That Changed the World: Book Review

As an Infographic nut I love this wonderful little book, Scott Christianson’s 100 Diagrams That Changed the World. Each diagram includes a photo or reproduction starting with the Cave Drawings done 30,000 years ago in France all the way to a diagram of the iPod. In between you’d be quite surprised to learn that the first bar chart was created by William Playfair in 1786 (or at least I was). Or that the first exploded view diagram was created by Mariano Taccola way back around 1450. 

I was very pleased to find not only the expected entries by da Vinci and Descartes, but a diagram from my personal hero Ben Franklin for his bifocals. I was surprised to learn that Bacteria was first diagramed by Leeuwenhoek back in 1683. 1683! There are some interesting call-outs like for Ikea’s Flat-Pack Furniture (1956) which makes me want to curse when I read it, and even Carl Sagan’s Pioneer Placque which shipped out into space in 1972.

My only beef with this book lays in the design itself. Seriously–what is up lately with graphic designers not being able to design for print? Each entry has a couple introductory sentences which are printed in such a light gray as to be unreadable in the evening by a person over their forties. It has to be readable folks! That is the point!

 

My Favorite Reads in 2012

Of the one hundred and ten books I read in 2012–here are my personal favorites and the ones I am most likely to recommend.

Fiction:

Where’d You Go Bernadette? by Maria Semple

Winner of the most fun fictional read about Seattle and Microsoft.

Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walters

Winner of most fascinating use of Hollywood and Italian scenery.

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

Winner of the I can’t turn the pages fast enough to find out what happens next.

IQ84 by Haruki Murakami

Winner of WTF is this book? But damn it’s good.

The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides

Winner of I love this book but hate the ending.

Business and Productivity:

Extreme Productivity by Robert C. Pozen

Winner of most likely to use these productivity tips.

Memoir

A Bittersweet Season: Caring for Our Aging Parents and Ourselves by Jane Gross

Winner of everyone with a parent over the age of 60 needs to buy and read this book now.

Siberia Bound: Chasing the American Dream on Russia’s Wild Frontier by Alexander Blakely

Winner of Economic Lessons wrapped up in a heartwarming memoir.

Art:

Moby-Dick in Pictures by Matt Kish

Winner of I Saw Your Website but Had to Own the Book No Matter What the Price.

Science:

The Best American Science and Nature Writing 2011 Edited by Mary Roach

Winner of Best Anthology Collection of Stories.

This is Service Design Thinking: Book Review

This is Service Design Thinking was designed to be a much needed textbook on the new interdisciplinary approach to designing services. If you work at all in in high tech you would be well served by reading this book–but service design touches almost any business.

The content is good–I especially enjoyed the middle sections that describe a number of methodologies for designing services. I’ve worked with a few myself including personas, idea generation (SWOT and mindmapping), agile development, storytelling, and my personal favorite–business model canvas.  (Damn, I need to make sure all that is on my LinkedIn profile!) I also enjoyed some of the included in-depth articles on deep service design thinking. The essay on “Integrating Service Design Thinking and Motivational Psychology” by Fergus Bisset and “Service Design and Biophila” by Renato Troncon are worth the price of admission.

A shout-out now if you want to see world-class design affecting real people in action. Watch this video by Krista Donaldson and the folks at D-Rev.

So now what I didn’t really like about this textbook… And mind you, I’m coming at this from an experienced book editor in high tech. The book was crowd-sourced but I think lacks a strong lead editor. It is a collection of material and I guess that is okay for a textbook like this, but I prefer having one expert guide me through the work of others than sifting through myself.

And the book was so over-designed as to be distracting. It has a number of bells and whistles–color-coded sections, ribbon bookmarks, a poster, pre-highlights and so many icons there is a map to the icons in the back. All of this is rather distracting. I hate having my books pre-highlighted for me. If I find it important, I will highlight it. I can do that. I kind of disagreed with whoever made some of the highlighting decisions.

I hope there will be a second edition because this is a good book, but it needs the hand of a firm editor to take it to the next level for me.

But I will keep the book on my shelf and will probably check out other titles that are referenced.

And if you work on services– do take a look at the Business Model Canvas. If I were to pick one method over the others that would be it for me. I can learn so much about how a business works by taking it through the canvas just on my own.

The Red House by Mark Haddon

Mark Haddon’s latest book the Red House is a stream of consciousness novel about two contemporary family of Brits spending a week of vacation together in a house in the English Countryside. At the center is Richard, a doctor and his sister Angela who have some unfinished business at the recent passing of their mother. Each brings to the house their respective spouses and children–three of the four being teens. Put them all together under one roof,  each with their own secrets, have them interact and see what happens. 

Haddon is most famous for his last book–the Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, a book written from the point of view of an autistic boy who solves a mystery. That book I loved–this one was a bit of a chore.

I started it last June but put it down for several months because it requires a more slow read. I had a hard time tracking the characters and who was speaking or thinking at any time. This is that dang stream of consciousness which I’ve never been a big fan of–apologies to Virginia Woolf fans. There are times when his prose is brilliant and poetic. He can take you from that contemporary setting back across years in one descriptive paragraph such as this one describing the house:

 “The Red House, a Romano-British farmstead abandoned, ruined, plundered for stone, built over, burnt and rebuilt. Tenant farmers, underlings of Marcher lords, a pregnant daughter hidden in the hills, a man who put a musket in his mouth in front of his wife and sprayed half his head across the kitchen wall, a drunken priest who lost the house in a bet over a horse race, or so they said, though they are long gone. Two brass spoons under the floorboards. a 20,000-reichsmark banknote. Letters from Florence cross-written to save paper, now brown and frail and crumpled to pack a wall. Brother, my Lungs are not Goode….”

That paragraph made me pick up the book again and hang in there. There are more passages like that and they made the book worth reading when they surfaced. 

Extreme Productivity: Book Review

I have read the book 4 Hour Work Week by Timothy Ferris a number of times because it has some good tips in it about being effectively productive. But it is also not a very practical book–for instance, I’m not planning on quitting my job anytime soon to take up Argentinean dance nor do I want to completely outsource my life. I also don’t have the luxury of focusing completely on one to two things at the expense of everything else I have in my life (like my child). I’ve read a number of his other books, I’m still a fan, but I regard him as bit of a flim-flam man or a snake oil salesman. His own attention span is short and his work (and writing) is somewhat sloppy, so I continue to dip into his works looking for little nuggets that help.

I am also not a believer in David Allen’s Getting Things Done. Blech. Any time I’ve tried his system I end up with a todo list that is a mile long and so overwhelming as to not be effective at all.

Over the years I’ve cobbled my own system by setting my goals and priorities ala Covey’s First Things First, and a bit of the Pomodoro method thrown in, with a smaller focused “three things that have to be done today” todo list.

Now comes Robertt C. Pozen’s book, Extreme Productivity: Boost Your Results and Reduce Your Hours. As someone who has read every productivity book out there, this one is a winner. In some ways, Pozen even has some of the same ideas as Ferris…such as excusing yourself from pointless meetings or focusing your talents toward the 20% of Pareto’s law for maximum return. But Pozen isn’t a snake oil salesman–he is someone extremely accomplished–Harvard Business School Professor, Chairman at Fidelity, maker of Public Policy…and author of numerous books. He is very practical and his productivity is so that he can accomplish more and do it effectively. He also doesn’t have you create endless todo lists. I like his focus on figuring out what you do best, do it, and delegating the rest.

I like this book very much–he spends the requisite amount of time on setting goals and priorities, but then the rest of the book has specifics…like how to read faster and how to write more effectively, then there are chapters that have great advice for planning your overall career. I also liked that Pozen addresses the homefront as well as career finding yourself a stay-at-home spouse or a quality support system. And for someone that you might expect to be a bit old-school, I like that Pozen has embraced the flexible workplace.