Content still counts

Graph illustrating the Law of diminishing content

The law of diminishing content

First off, a disclaimer: I love discovering and using new Web 2.0 technology and tricks. However, it sometimes seems that the people I would most like to share with are the least likely to use the technology; worse still, the people who tend to dominate new media are the least interesting to me.

Take twitter, for example. I find that I use it almost exclusively to get immediate alerts of breaking news (Another reactor blows in Fukushima!), although most of my incoming tweets are from colleagues who seem to think that they should share every thought that occurs to them, from the most interesting work developments to their most personal experiences. I resent that they are unable to filter their stream of consciousness to separate different content for different audiences. I do not find it normal to include a link in your email signature that takes me to photos of your children in the bath, for example.

Even after making a distinction between public and private information, there remain a number of colleagues who flood my tweetdeck with impressive-sounding messages about seminars led, students coached or bridges built. But it is soon apparent that these are nothing more than descriptions of routine duties dressed up as new initiatives. Not surprisingly, these kinds of tweets come from people specialized in marketing, communication or life coaching — all pseudo-academic subjects that are sustained only through their own self-promotion.

These same people, the audience myopics and fluff meisters, are always present at the coffee and cake gatherings, or at the meet-and-greet lunches, always looking for ways to increase their network, although between their frenetic tweeting and hobnobbing, one wonders when they actually do any real work. I rarely attend these social gatherings, not because I’m a misanthrope (OK, not completely), but because I’m busy producing content: solid course material that draws on Web 2.0 eLearning possibilities as a means for student-centred, collaborative, flexible learning.

When my contract comes up for renewal at the end of the academic year, I’ll have an impressive portfolio of innovative training material to back me up … and not one tweet will be included. In a wider context, whether content will win out over appearance is hard to guess; however, in my case, contract renewal will come down to a place being vacated by a retiring colleague, and will have nothing to do with my own contribution (despite management and HR protestations to the contrary).

Maybe I should just go eat more cake.

Rollin’, rollin’, rollin’

Keep those wagons rollin’ …

Life is rollin’ on chez les Bacon — school’s almost out for summer, my contract at the university has been extended for another year, baby Didi is up and walking, and we interviewed a woman last night to come help clean for us, which of course meant we spent a mad hour tidying up before she came so she wouldn’t be frightened off.

On the work front, I see that a big translation I did recently on child witches in Africa has made the news. As with many of the texts I do for UNICEF, it produced very mixed emotions: on the one hand, it feels good to contribute to improving the lives of the kids; on the other, their lives are just so goddamn miserable, and people can be so extremely cruel and sadistic that I sometimes felt physically disgusted.

Meanwhile in my day job at the university, I’m alone in the office, having opted to push my holiday dates back to better match our oldest two kids’ break (the summer holiday is staggered in the Netherlands over three different periods to reduce the mass exodus in August).

The IT people have “upgraded” (sic) our system to Outlook and Office 2010, so I’ve spent the first hour reinstalling my own apps. If you consider we have upgraded from using Novell for our email, then you will understand that we are running about five years behind the cutting edge.

Now, everything seems to have stopped running … maybe I shouldn’t have tried to install Adobe CS4, Flash Player, VLC player, and 17 Firefox add-ins at the same time …

Back to work. Rawhide!

Call me stupid

It’s heading for 1 am. About to shut down for the night, I carelessly copied over the whole folder of my current editing job in progress onto my USB stick, thinking that I’d be super efficient by having access to the files during the day tomorrow. Two seconds later I realized to my horror that I had already been super efficient by working on the document directly on my stick. By copying over the original version of the file, I deleted all of this evening’s work.

I don’t know whether to cry or give myself a slap for being so stuuuupid!

House-hunting a TARDIS

Dear …

It’s been so long since I wrote a post that I forgot how to start. Dear me.

Since the previous telegraphic message, our house boss (huisbaas in Dutch, way cooler than landlord) has allowed us access to the Interweb; but only after several hours of Bergmanesque sighing, silence and alternately staring at 300 metres of ethernet cable and a very large drill. I held my tongue, for the alternative was signing up for our own connection with a five-day approval delay and a year-long tie-in. The former was out because I had a big translation job screaming to start, and the latter just gets my goat. I’ve skipped contracts in Rome and Dakar and I’m willing to do it again, but still … they’re just plain wrong and shouldn’t be encouraged.

Prior to getting officially connected, I had had to climb up to the bathroom under the rafters, in the converted milking shed we find ourselves in, and turn and twist the laptop to pick up a weak unprotected wireless network. The day I got the big contract, of course, I couldn’t pick up anything at all and had to walk up and down the street at 11 pm in a freezing wind in order to get a good enough signal to reply and accept the job. (It’s actually quite reassuring to find so many unprotected networks around in these times.)

I mentioned our milking shed in passing, almost a cliché, pregnant and no room at the inn-thing, except there are no cows a-lowing or sheep a-baaing. No sah! We got cable!

Still, it’s a holiday rental, meant for warmer periods, with no heating in the bedrooms upstairs and no insulation anywhere. And with the high-season rent at 500 euros a week, we are running out of time — Easter holiday an’ all.

It was part of our grand plan to return to northern Europe and buy our first house. It’s a buyer’s market, we’re told. Time to make a killing. Offer 20% off the asking price and they’ll still say thank you …

Hmmm …

Not so much. The debate of whether the economic crisis is real or not is played out in the housing market; after all, that’s where it started. And after extensive research — my recent browsing history (CTRL+H) is Funda, huislijn and JAAP) — my considered opinion is that people don’t care if everyone is talking about a crisis if they’ve got a house to sell. The prices are not dropping. (real) Estate agents may be going bust (boo…ha!), but that’s just because people are sitting tight until they get what they want. No one is selling unless they have to. So we’re counting on the greying of the Netherlands (baby boomers leaving family houses) and divorces; even there I imagine the estranged husband trying to make amends just to maintain the value of the joint property: “Baby, I love you … Let’s try and make this work, until the prices go up again”.

We live in a town that boasts over 1,200 registered monuments, that is, historically ancient or significant buildings. Some of the houses we’ve been looking to buy are over 400 years old. Problem is, they tend to be spread over four very narrow floors, with poky bedrooms in the rafters. And with (soon) four kids under ten years old, we’re looking for more horizontal surface area, and are obsessed with finding “the fifth bedroom”.

We’ve seen beautifully restored townhouses with no yard or garden or place to park the bike; newly built villas with no soul or sense of space; 1920s semi-detached with most recent maintenance in 1970s (No more brown tiles! Ever!) … in short, we’re stumped.

When my son #1 took out Dr Who from the library, I realized that in our house-hunting, we were looking for a TARDIS, an example of perfect building in land-limited Netherlands — small surface area, but endless inner volume: did you know that inside that 4m² area, “apart from living quarters, the interior includes an art gallery (which is actually an ancillary power station), a greenhouse, a bathroom with a swimming pool (which was jettisoned by the Seventh Doctor in Paradise Towers after it sprang a leak), a medical bay, several brick-walled storage areas”.

To which my immediate reaction is, “dump the gallery, we got the fifth bedroom”.

I’m nothing if not a practical philistine.

P.S. I need more regular work to boost our mortgage rating. Not too fussy. Anything well-paid that can be done in school-time.

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