Quantum of Solitude

I’ve been reading Presentation Zen: Simple Ideas on Presentation Design and Delivery by Garr Reynolds. One area that I’ve found particularly interesting as a remote worker is his proposition that solitude is good for us and key in encouraging creativity. This idea is based on Dr Esther Buchholz’s theories on ‘alonetime‘:

Life’s creative solutions require alonetime. Solitude is required for the unconscious to process and unravel problems. Others inspire us, information feeds us, practice improves our performance, but we need quiet time to figure things out, to emerge with new discoveries, to unearth original answers.

Obviously one can have too much alone time and as a remote worker I often miss having people to chat with and bounce ideas about with (however there is an increasing amount of technologies that can help you stay more connected), but I do enjoy my own company. I also find that taking ‘alonetime’ away from my PC can be really helpful – one of the Sarah Houghton-Jan’s time management suggestions. I want to try taking more time away from the PC and use this time to read articles and ‘think’ as a precursor to writing papers, presentations and articles.

As James Baldwin said “The artist must actively cultivate that state which most people avoid: the state of being alone.

So, on this All Hallows Eve, maybe it’s time to find your quantum of solitude!

Happy Hallowe’en!


A Word about Wordle?

At the moment I’m really into Wordle. This is a great bit of application that lets you create tag clouds of words, you can use chunks of text or put in the URL of a Web site. The images created are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution license so you can use them anyway you want.

I’ve just written an article on technologies for remote working. It should be in the next Ariadne. Here’s what you get if you drop the contents in.

Have a go – it’s a great way to see what the key words are.

Quick Response Time

We’ve been having a bit of a discussion about Quick Response (QR) codes at work. These are two-dimensional barcodes that allow the contents to be decoded at high speed. The main use for them at the moment is allowing people to scan in codes (maybe in a magazine or in a presentation) using a mobile phone (with a camera or QR reader) that then provides the user with the relevant URL.

I first heard them mentioned in 2007 when the Pet Shop Boys used QR codes in their download-only single Integral. They originated in Japan and are fairly mainstream out there now.


QR codes came up at work because the Joint Information Systems Committee (JISC) has made £20K available to the University of Bath e-Learning team for scoping out the potential use of QR codes for educational use. I recently ran a workshop on Embracing Web 2.0 Technologies to Grease the Wheels of Team Cohesion with Andy Ramsden, the head of Bath e-learning, and all his slides had QR codes on them.

Andy Ramsden has called for people to experiment with QR codes and Paul Walk, our Technical Manager, has been having a go and recorded his thoughts on his blog.

Paul ruminates:

So, QR codes – what are they good for? There’s clearly some interest – I mentioned what I was doing on Twitter and got quite a bit of interest. But it’s still rare to come across QR codes in the wild. I see them occasionally on blogs/web-pages but I just don’t much see the point of that (except to allow people like me to experiment). I see QR codes as an interim technology, but a potentially useful one, which bridges the gap between paper-based and digital information. So long as paper documents are an important aspect of our lives (no sign of that paper-less office yet) then this would seem to be potentially useful.

I’m not the most technical of people and don’t even have a camera on my mobile phone so it will be a while before QR codes mean much to me but the potential for use is plain to see. QR codes let you put up to two pages of information into something the size of a stamp. Whether it will take off is another matter….During our discussion a colleague pointed out that attempts to exploit the potential of barcodes have happened before – :Cuecats ended up where the sun doesn’t shine.

So what are the implications for remote workers? Again it’s difficult to say at this early stage but already it is possible to create QR Codes for your Twitter feed and you can also use QR codes on Google maps. In the future people may keep all their contact information in this way (no more need for business cards), people could wear clothes with codes on them to advertise stuff. I have even read about clocks that use the code and mean that you ‘virtually clock-in’, maybe this will mean you’ll have to really be at your desk at 9am, rather than just pretending?

There are quite a few free QR code generators out there including Winksite and Kaywa. The QR code image included in this post is for the Ramblings of a Remote Worker blog URL. Is it time to get a T-Shirt printed?

Time Management

Last month’s Ariadne carried a great article on managing information overload: Being Wired or Being Tired. I think the whole time management thing has become amplified since I became a remote worker. The distractions have become bigger (that pile of washing, that DIY that needs doing) but there are also less useful distractions (coffee with colleagues, a lunch break!) so at times I start to feel like I’m handcuffed to my desk.

So here are Sarah Houghton-Jan’s ten techniques to manage the overload. The article is really worth reading.

1. General Organisational Techniques
This suggests starting off by making an inventory of information received and the devices you use. You should then read up on dealing with information overload. Other ideas include thinking before sending (for emails and the like), you could always talk to someone face-to-face. You also need to schedule yourself, schedule unscheduled work and use your ‘down time’ to your benefit. Another key factor in being organised is staying tidy and keeping lists.
2. Filtering Information Received
Weed out what matters, schedule unplugged times and encourage your team to do the same.
3. RSS Overload Techniques
Only use rss when applicable, limit the number of feeds and organise the feeds you do use.
4. Interruptive Technology Overload Techniques
Interruptions make us less effective so only use interruptive technology when appropriate and do not interrupt yourself
5. Phone Overload Techniques
Again use the phone when appropriate, feel free to turn your mobile phone off or let it ring (a tricky one for people with children) and keep your number private. Remember Work = Work; Home = Home.
6. Email Overload Techniques
Set aside time to do emails and clear your inbox. Filter and file messages, delete and archive. Limit the number of lists you join.
7. Print Media Overload Techniques
Recycle it if you don’t need it and cancel unnecessary subscriptions
8. Multimedia Overload Techniques
Be strict with yourself and limit television viewing
9. Social Network Overload Techniques
Schedule time on your networks and pick a primary network to use.
10. Time and Stress Management
Use your calendar, take regular breaks, eliminate stressful interruptions. If you need to look for time-management software to help. Make sure you balance your life and work.

Some great tips in there, I’m going to try a few…when I get time!

Flexible Work Changes May be Delayed

Yesterday’s papers reported on the possible delaying of the proposed increase in parents’ rights to request flexible working. This is apparently due to the economic downturn. As the Independent reports:

Lord Mandelson, the Secretary of State for Business, has ordered his officials to review all policies in the pipeline to ease the burden on firms so they are less likely to shed jobs, cut investment or go bust. The plan to extend the right to flexitime from parents of children under six to all those with children up to 16 was trumpeted by Gordon Brown and approved by Labour’s annual conference last month. It looks likely, however, to be kicked into the long grass.

Apparently an estimated 811,000 mothers and fathers were expected to request flexible working next year. Some small businesses have criticised the proposed extension saying it is not economically viable for them. Personally I think that if they were supported they could ultimately have a happier and more efficient work force making it a cost-effective plan.

In a BBC news article the TUC general secretary Brendan Barber is reported as saying:

Postponing a simple right to request flexible working would not save a single job in the small business sector. If such a request harms the business, the owner can say no. This would be an astonishingly irrelevant response to the severe economic downturn that we face and, in addition, would run the risk of sending a message to working parents that the government is not on their side.

At the moment the number of working parents is at a 15-year high. Something has to give….

The Art of Conversation

At the Interent Librarian International conference last week I went to a presentation by Michael Stephens (Dominican University) and Michael Casey (Gwinnett Public Library) on 12 steps to a Transparent Library – based on their Transparent Library blog.

These guys speak a lot of sense.

At one point they showed an image created by Brian Solis, principal of Future works, a PR company in Silicon Valley. He writes a blog called PR 2.0. The image was called The Conversation Prism.

It is also available from Flickr with links added.

The conversation map is a living, breathing representation of Social Media and will evolve as services and conversation channels emerge, fuse, and dissipate.

If a conversation takes place online and you’re not there to hear or see it, did it actually happen?

Indeed. Conversations are taking place with or without you and this map will help you visualize the potential extent and pervasiveness of the online conversations that can impact and influence your business and brand.

The links given could keep you going for a month of Sundays! It makes you realise how quickly communication mechanisms are changing.

This weekend we set up our first Skype/video chat with the in-laws. The kids (aged 6, 4 and 1) loved it and didn’t seem to think that there was anything strange or ‘space age’ about chatting to Grandma and Grandpa through the computer. My daughter’s only concern was how whether they would get bored sat in front of the PC waiting for our next call! I reassured her that as soon as we signed off they’d get back to their gardening and pottering…and the other stuff retired people tend to do in the breaks between using social networking tools and researching their family tree on the Web!

Will the Police be able to Hear Your Calls?

I read in the paper yesterday that the Home Secretary (Jacqui Smith) has outlined plans for a huge expansion of the Government’s capability to access data held by Interent services, including social networking sites like Bebo and Facebook.

At the moment the police can demand to see telephone and email traffic but online calls using software such as Skype are a bigger problem. They need this ‘communications data’ to secure convictions of terrorists and other serious criminals. One of the possible options is the creation of a huge database of this data. More in Data powers behind the times.

It’s all starting to sound a bit like ID cards…

So will this have any impact on us remote workers? If we are law abiding citizens maybe it won’t make any difference?

I can see that a certain amount of surveillance is necessary but this sort of stuff gives me goose bumps. The more data they have on us, the greater the scope for holding incorrect information and for that information to fall into the wrong hands…