1. Suggest a question for us to answer
Aug 012013

Con lobs my question back at me: “What is something you know you do differently from most people?”.

Eat fruit.

Do not judge me.

I think it is a way, way back when I was a kid thing. Maybe, to pass the time waiting for grown ups to finish whatever it is that grown ups do that meant I had to stand around, I thought hard one day about how I was eating my fruit to try to find the best way?

Image: Hellebardius. (2010). Mandarine / mandarin orange / tangerine. Retrieved from http://www.flickr.com/photos/libaer2002/4400440273/


Bananas I will half peel so that I can get to the top bit, leaving a strip of peel still up around the top of the fruit. I then rest the banana on the strip of peel on a bench or table and break off chunks about 2 cm long and eat them one by one.

Apples. The logic, I think, was to maximise that wonderful feeling of that first bite into the plump middle bit of the apple. So instead of spoiling the middle bit, I started with eating away all parts that are not that.  First I eat a ring around the top of the apple, then a ring around the bottom of the apple. Then, with the centre left, I take large indulgent bites to finish that off. …

… (unless, of course, it is a Granny Smith. Then I take tiny bites around the centre to remove the skin and THEN take huge indulgent bites) …

Mandarines. Bite a thin strip from the centre of the crescent of a segment. Use my tongue to take the membrane from the outside if possible, or else turn the segment inside out in my mouth. Slowly burst the individual little sacks that hold the juice with my tongue. (Question just to see whether anyone is both reading this and awake – what are those little sacks called? They are not segments…)

Next post, I answer question 26 from Con –  “What’s your favourite question to ask people?” . (Do I then ask Con my favourite question for when she has answered that one? Do I even have a favourite question? I guess I will have either question or excuse when it comes time to post …)


Jul 282013

“What is something you know you do differently from most people?”

I’ve taken forever to post my answer to this question, because I don’t actually think I am all that different from most people.

I can only think of superficial things I do that most people in my social circle, don’t do. For example, I:

  1. Collect and use fountain pens
  2. Speak three languages
  3. Love chihuahuas

So even if many of the people I know don’t do these things, there are many people in the world who do.

If you go look at a site like the Fountain Pen Network, you’ll see that there are many many people around the world who obsess about, and use fountain pens. Not just me.

Being multilingual? Well, there are millions of people in the world who speak more than one language. There are indigenous people in Australia who speak a few languages, for instance. There are many migrants in Australia speak their mother tongues as well as English. There are many countries in the world where the populations are bilingual or multilingual, because they are made up of different cultural groups. So I’m certainly not unique.

Loving chihuahuas? Well, they may not be everyone’s idea of the perfect pet, but I’m sure I don’t need to prove that there are many chihuahua fans out there. I’m no different to any other fan.

And really, I’m sure I can find people I know who like/do some of these things too.

I wondered whether being online and being able to connect with people from all over my country and all over the world has meant that I am somehow doing things differently from most people. If I look at my social media use, however, I see that most of the people I connect with are members of my profession (librarians), are in Australia, speak English, and have a certain level of education (a Bachelor’s Degree at least).

I’m reading Ethan Zuckerman’s Rewire: Digital Cosmopolitans in the Age of Connection at the moment. He uses the concept of “homophily” – “love of the same” – to show that we tend to congregate with others who are most like us. “Our filter bubbles are three-dimensional: they insulate us from content that is not just outside of our ideology but also outside of our orbits of geography and familiarity.” (212.6/618)

What can we do to break our filter bubbles?

Zuckerman suggests that:

…all of us can take steps to increase the diversity of influences we’re encountering and make stronger connections with perspectives.

Monitor Consumption: Self-tracking of the media we each consume is a first step toward understanding the biases we bring to the world. Maintaining a simple diary for a week is likely to be revelatory, while tools like RescueTime enable you to track your behavior over the long term, which is useful if monitoring turns into an effort to change your behavior.

Escape Your Orbit Slowly: If you discover that you spend a great deal of time consuming the same few types of media—as most of us do—you may be tempted to try to change your media diet all at once. A better first step is to pursue an interest you already have and look for international connections within that space. Whether it means following your interest in economics to read a Ugandan economist’s blog or pursuing an interest in sumo to learn more about Mongolia, you’re more likely to change your habits personally if you’re following a topic that already fascinates you.

Find and Follow Bridge Figures: The best introduction to another country or culture is someone who understands that culture, and yours as well. The Internet is filled with people passionate about explaining their home cultures; our site Global Voices (globalvoicesonline.org) features many such individuals, but countless others exist. Communities like Meedan, sites like Tea Leaf Nation, and tools like Härnu all endeavor to introduce you to bridge figures who can help you understand another cultural context.

Seek Serendipity through Curators: Taking conscious steps toward diversifying the media you consume will take you only so far. We need to stumble on unexpected influences to make novel connections. This means granting some of our attention to curators—human and mechanical—who can introduce us to unexpected influences. Curators include editors of newspapers and literary magazines, new media curators like Maria Popova of Brain Pickings, and semiautomated systems like StumbleUpon and Longreads. In every case, seeking serendipity means embracing risk, being willing to let a curator lead you astray in exchange for moments of discovery.

(510.3 – 514.2/618)

I haven’t finished this book yet. (See this review if your interest has been piqued.) I’ll have to blog what I learn from it when I’ve read it.

So Kathryn, “What is something you know you do differently from most people?”

And when you’ve done with that question, “What’s your favourite question to ask people?”


Sites referred to in the Ethan Zuckerman excerpt:
Global Voices
Tea Leaf Nation

Q24: What did I want to be?

 Posted by at 7:48 pm on 12 July 2013  The Past, Thinking  1 Response »
Jul 122013

“When you were 13, what did you want to be when you grew up?”

I actually did not have a very good time with this question when I was 13.

At primary school in Malaysia, from around Year 3 (aged 9) until Year 6 (aged 12) we did an annual exercise, where the teacher would ask us to list our top three “ambitions” (in Malay, “cita-cita”) – What Do You Want to Be When You Grow Up. I can’t remember why they bothered to make us do this.

Anyway, every year, I wrote:

  1. Cartoonist
  2. Vet
  3. Teacher

What I really wanted to be was a cartoonist. I loved drawing.

I wrote “vet” because I liked our pet dogs.

I wrote “teacher” because I had to write three things and I couldn’t think of anything else to write…

I remember most of my classmates wrote things like “1. doctor 2. lawyer 3. teacher” or “1. nurse 2. teacher 3. housewife”. A few had interesting ambitions like “architect” or “badminton player”. I never wanted to be a doctor, lawyer, nurse, teacher, housewife or architect. And I didn’t care for sport so being badminton player was out.

Then when I turned 13 and went to high school, the teacher asked us the do the same exercise that year. This year she just wanted to know our main ambition. No need for a list of three things.

I remember feeling relieved that I didn’t have to pick two other things to make up the list, and happily wrote: “Cartoonist” and my name on the sheet of paper.

What did the teacher do next?

She collected the sheets of paper from the class, and started reading out what people had written down. After a few “doctors” and “teachers” she started rummaging through and pulled mine out of the pile.

“Okay… Constance…” She said.

“Constance… You want to be a… CARTOONIST?!”

Everyone looked at me.

She did not laugh but she did the next worst thing. She said:

“You want to be like Lat do you?” [Lat being Malaysia’s top and most well-known cartoonist.]

“Well, a GIRL cannot become a cartoonist. Not only that, you cannot make a LIVING from CARTOONS.

“So just concentrate on school and stop having such silly ambitions.”

Can you imagine??

The next year, I wrote “teacher”.





Q24: What did I want to be?

 Posted by at 6:33 am on 4 July 2013  The Past  No Responses »
Jul 042013

So Con wants to know: “When you were 13, what did you want to be when you grew up?”.

As I understood things back then, I would have thought that the questioner was asking about how I wanted to earn money as an adult. Interesting, because there is really no reason why I could not have thought about whether I wanted to be happy or a champion square-dancer or a labradoodle-owner or cultivator of guerrilla patches of sunflowers to brighten up suburbia.


I *think* that at that time I still wanted to “train guide-dogs for the blind”. My brother, having explained that I would need to kill animals in pain, had talked me out of being a vet. Although I had, admittedly, already created my own classification scheme for my books and added call numbers to their spines using typing paper and black duct tape, I had no intention of being a librarian. I remember very, very clearly that I did not want to be a teacher because I thought I would be frustrated with the amount of time I spend disciplining students rather than developing their minds and creating a spark to find things out for themselves.

Quite co-incidentally, when looking for something else, I came across the most wonderful name for an Hawaiian Service Dog company that trains dogs for people with all disabilities other than vision impairment. I kid you not, it is called … Hawaii Fi-Do

So, Con, “When you were 13, what did you want to be when you grew up?” . And once you have answered that one, the next question for us to both have a crack at is:  “What is something you know you do differently from most people?”


Q:23 I asked what now?

 Posted by at 1:30 pm on 30 June 2013  blogjune, The Past, Thinking  No Responses »
Jun 302013

It’s the last day of #blogjune 2013, so I guess it’s better late than never 🙂

Con, I am so sorry I asked you this one, although I was intrigued by your answer. But it is HARD. What was I thinking?

If you could invite 6 guests from any time to a dinner party, who would you ask and why? Let’s presume you can choose which age they are when they come, that they are not freaked out totally by all the new technology surrounding them and that they will actually talk and socialise with the other guests.

Like Con, I asked my nearest and dearests, and I was intrigued by Mr10’s suggestion, “Adolf Hitler …. as a baby”. I like that. I think that it would be interesting to have a  reminder that even those considered the epitome of evil were once innocent and vulnerable. Maybe it would be nice to ask Gandhi as a baby also and put them on a mat to play together to see what happens. Would Gandhi insist on taking all the toys while vulnerable little Adolf fills his nappy in the corner of the playpen? The mind boggles…

I think I’ll stick with the baby Hitler idea, which leaves five more slots. I am presuming that I could get the guests to talk about what I wanted them to talk about. I am going for an entertaining dinner full of stories that I could never hope to experience otherwise, rather than a pleasant evening full of modest and rather nice people. It looks like I would prefer hearing from people who were rebellious and went against the social mores of their time…

So, my guests  would be:

1. Baby Adolf Hitler – let’s say 12 months, so essentially pre-verbal.

Photograph of Anaïs Nin as a teenager, circa 1920.Source:  Sexual Fables

2. Anais Nin. Author, narcissist and sexual adventurer. For a few hours she would be entertaining company, although if her writing is anything to go on, totally self-absorbed. I would ask either the “living in Paris at the height of experimentation and daringness” Ms Nin or at the very end of her life. I think that meeting with someone who is in the middle of bucking convention and making her way in uncharted territory would be exhilarating.  She managed to have two husbands at the end of her life – one on each coast of the USA, so I would be interested to hear how on earth she did it, and whether it was worth it.


3. Freddie Mercury. Singer, song writer … and… oh dear … sexual adventurer. I’d invite the Freddie at the height of success but before the AIDS epidemic had touched the gay community. I would love to hear him compare notes with Anais Nin .

© Marie-Lan Nguyen / Wikimedia Commons

4. Plato. I’d like to find out whether he just made up Socrates as a narrative device for his own philosophy or whether he was just a scribe for his teacher. Also, he is probably the most unlike any of the other guests so may act as a catalyst to bring out other stories or angles that the others may not have considered without his presence.

5. Dorothy Parker from around the 1920s. Fresh from lunch at the Algonquin Round Table , aiming for wit and a pithy comment and likely to have acerbic commentary on every exploit of the other members of the table.

6. Jessica Mitford at the end of her life, as long as she would forgive me for inviting the other women in the prime of their youth… I’d hope she’d talk about her family of eccentric sisters, her work with the American Communist party and then by the end of it all round off with what must be one of the strangest recordings ever – her rendition of the Beatles’ Maxwell’s Silver Hammer .

When I next add a post to this blog – hopefully with less gap than last time, I will be answering Con’s last question to me : “When you were 13, what did you want to be when you grew up?” … and then asking her a hopefully less hairy question.

Q23: My Dinner Party

 Posted by at 2:40 pm on 3 February 2013  Thinking  1 Response »
Feb 032013

From Kathryn, a doozy:
If you could invite 6 guests from any time to a dinner party, who would you ask and why? Let’s presume you can choose which age they are when they come, that they are not freaked out totally by all the new technology surrounding them and that they will actually talk and socialise with the other guests.

See, the thing is, I don’t worry that my guests won’t socialise with each other. Of course they wouldn’t have a problem socialising with each other. They are accomplished, intelligent, well-adjusted, amazing people.

No, I worry that I would be a terrible host! Would I manage to be gracious, hospitable, serve a superb meal (prepared with my own two hands), AND manage to be an eloquent, literate and witty conversationalist? And of course, the worry of not being a good host would mean that I would bluster around and be generally stressed and probably less-than-pleasant to be around – thus causing the dinner party to be a dismal experience and a failure all round…

Angst aside, I found it extremely difficult to narrow the guest list down to six.

I asked one of my sisters who she’d invite – she had no difficulty picking her six guests: Daniel Craig, David Walliams, Francis Bacon (the artist), Amy Winehouse, Freddy Mercury and Kathy Lette. This sounded to me like an extremely interesting dinner party – but was no help in spurring me on to think about who I’d pick, myself.

I kept thinking of who I’d invite and then getting stymied over what I’d talk with them about. Also, there are SO. MANY. AMAZING. PEOPLE. How does one pick a mere six??

So anyway. After much deliberation, here’s who I’d invite:

  1. Ursula Le Guin
  2. Aung San Suu Kyi
  3. Adrienne Rich
  4. Thomas Cromwell
  5. Peter Drucker
  6. J.S. Bach

Ursula Le Guin because I love her work. (Especially the Earthsea novels, and The Left Hand of Darkness)

Aung San Suu Kyi, just because I think she would be an interesting guest. I’d love to have a conversation about how she maintains her belief in her work for Burma, despite all the obstacles thrown at her.

Adrienne Rich, because I love her work too.

Thomas Cromwell because I have been pondering Hillary Mantel’s Wolf Hall and I would love to find out more about the man.

Peter Drucker, because I think his work continues to influence our organisations, and I’d love to ask him how he thinks organisations in the 21st century will develop. I’d also love to listen to him talk with Thomas Cromwell about bureaucracy. I wonder what Aung San Suu Kyi would have to say to Drucker and Cromwell about power, influence and corruption… And what would artists like Ursula Le Guin and Adrienne Rich think about Drucker’s views?

And J.S. Bach because he is my favourite composer. Hopefully he would not be too appalled by my atheism. I’d avoid playing any of his works during dinner, though. I’d be curious to see what he thought of the works of other later composers…

Who would you invite, Kathryn?

And for the next question: When you were 13, what did you want to be when you grew up? (I’ll note that I couldn’t for the life of me think of a question. Is this question too difficult?)


Q22 Skills?

 Posted by at 3:34 pm on 27 January 2013  Thinking  No Responses »
Jan 272013

What skill would you like to learn or develop?

At the moment, I would like to be better at focusing my attention on whatever I am working on. In the course of a workday I can be interrupted many times, by phone calls, emails, and by other people.

When it comes to the interruptions of email or the phone, I can manage those – just turn them off for a while. People interruptions are a bit harder to manage, but generally speaking my colleagues don’t interrupt just because they can – there’s usually something that needs my input or attention. And I don’t find people interruptions as difficult to manage as the self-interruptions.

Even writing this post, I interrupted and disrupted myself numerous times, so that it took ages to write. I have to look things up while writing (fact checking is important, right??), alerts popped up on my screen, and oh, I’m thirsty…

I have been working on strategies to develop my ability to focus or concentrate.

Unfortunately there’s no simple, magic bullet answer. What am I doing to build on this skill?
Road with hairpin turns through mountain valley
I’m reading: 18 Minutes: Find Your Focus, Master Distraction, and Get the Rights Things Done by Peter Bregman has been useful. Also been dipping into Extreme Productivity: Boost Your Results, Reduce Your Hours by Robert C. Pozen, Paid to Think: A Leader’s Toolkit for Redefining Your Future by David Goldsmith, and that oldie (but a goodie) The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen R. Covey.

I’m practicing some of the suggestions Peter Bregman makes:

  • Being clear about what I want to focus on, and what I don’t (I can’t do it all)
  • Having a clear plan and referring to it often (I have a tendency to write plans and then file them away neatly, never to be looked at again)
  • Being specific about when and where I’m going to do what I’m going to do (otherwise it all slips into the never-never; this also helps with that other problem: procrastination)
  • Building in time for the “day-to-day follow-through” (very important for me, as I am usually juggling way too many balls)

Alas, this is not something I can just learn and apply once to have everything perfect for ever after. It will be an ongoing journey, and one that I will have to commit to, and tweak as needed. So I’m also trying to keep track of what I’m doing, what works, and what doesn’t.

One of the most effective tools I use at work is LeechBlock, which stops me from “accidentally” browsing websites which I know are time-wasters for me. I’m also going to be setting regular alarms (one of Bregman’s tips) to help myself refocus during the day.

Thinking about my answer to this question, I looked back over my personal blog and the topics I have blogged about over the years. I can see what what I have wanted to learn has changed over the years. Beginning in 2005, and for quite a few years after that, I wanted to learn more about various technologies. I looked at blogging, RSS, wikis, Second Life, bibliographic management software, microblogging, ereaders…
Gradually it’s shifted, so I am no longer really particularly interested in learning about technology. Learning about technology is not so important for my job either, except where it helps me be more effective or productive in what I need to do.  Over the years I think I have developed good skills in the area, though, so it’s not particularly difficult to pick things up, nor is it hard to stay informed – I’ve got good systems for keeping informed and up-to-date.

It’s also interesting to consider that most of my learning at the moment focuses around “soft” skills that fall into the categories of management or leadership. A lot of these skills rely on my developing a high level of self awareness. They’re also not always easy things to learn or improve.

In previous years, I’ve learned things for fun, like tai chi and the Dutch language. I’ll be open to learning something for fun this year!

Photo by Horia Varlan.

Jan 182013

Usually I have an instant answer to these FQ questions. This one from Con, what skill would you like to learn or develop? has me puzzled.

Something that Con is very good at – languages – is appealing. Not so much to communicate with other people, nor to appreciate entire bodies of literature from other countries but to understand which parts of my thinking are due to me as an individual and what parts are limited by the single language that I have to express myself. I think it would be really interesting to be fluent enough in another language to dream in it also.


Realistically, however, I do not think proficiency in multiple languages is something that would be possible to learn or develop without much more time than I have… so, what skill would I like to develop that is realistically possible?

I actually remember as a kid enjoying practicing really silly skills like being able to say the alphabet backwards at a really fast pace or to write in mirror writing as quickly as possible… so I think that something like that would be quite achievable at the moment.

A skill I would like to work on – because it is portable, can be done almost anywhere, and can entertain other people is contact juggling. It also looks wonderful and can be very soothing and something rhythmic to do with your hands. I already have a contact juggling ball on the windowsill of my office. Think crystal-looking, hard acrylic ball. Think David Bowie as Jareth in Labyrinth . It looks like this – if done well, Multiball Contact Juggling .

So, Con, next week can you please answer me the same question, What skill would you like to learn or develop? .

The week after, we are going a little complex…. If you could invite 6 guests from any time to a dinner party, who would you ask and why? Let’s presume you can choose which age they are when they come, that they are not freaked out totally by all the new technology surrounding them and that they will actually talk and socialise with the other guests.

Q21: New resolve 2013

 Posted by at 6:30 am on 10 January 2013  Living, Thinking  No Responses »
Jan 102013

Con gave a wonderful general survey about New Years’ Resolutions in her answer to Question 21. I like this answering the question second business – less research and more free-form. Question 21 is: Do you have any New Years’ Resolutions? .

(Next week I get to go first with Question 22 posed by Con: What skill would you like to learn or develop? so may be less free-form.)

I definitely resolve to do more things I enjoy doing this year. I am at a stage where I need to make new goals, so unlike Con, I did write a large list of resolutions. Most of them really reflect changes I have made in my life in the last year or so – so may even be more “retro-resolutions”. I wasn’t quite as simple and sensible as my ten year old, who has resolved to “make something yummy every weekend” and to “brush my teeth twice a day”.

5/H365 Baking too many bananas while watching Hercule Poirot

Being librarian-ly, I even worked under subheadings. I have just chosen one from each to give you a flavour of where I am at:

  • WORK – Find primary supervisor for PhD
  • HEALTH – Continue to do equivalent of 5km run 4-6 times each week
  • RELATIONSHIPS – Develop a wider circle of social support where I can give as well as receive
  • PERSONAL DEVELOPMENT – Blog at Librarians Matter or FQ at least weekly
  • FINANCIAL – Continue to record all spending and to download and reconcile spending records with all accounts monthly

I think it is also important to appreciate life as it is, right now. With that in mind, on 1 January I began another lifestreaming kind of project like the “Daily Image” challenges I did in 2009 and 2011. Sixty or so of us are in the Happy365 Flickr group where each day we will post something that makes us happy.

I am loving images from other people that are reminders about things that make me happy that I had forgotten or have been overlooking. Most of mine seem to be about food, like the image at the start of this post. I was dealing with a glut of overripe bananas while watching Hercule Poirot on ABC iView – which for some reason interested lots of people.

The slideshow below shows all of the images from my Happy365 set so far:

Q21: Do you have any New Year’s resolutions?

 Posted by at 8:58 am on 6 January 2013  Thinking  1 Response »
Jan 062013

I don’t really do New Year’s resolutions any more.

Over the years I think I’ve gotten leery of setting myself up to fail. When I was younger I had lists of resolutions just like this one:

Via Maria Popova.

If I was lucky I would get to the end of January before I relapsed into my usual ways again.

Still, despite not making resolutions in the traditional sense, I still feel that sense of new beginnings at the start of every new year. It’s quite difficult not to, especially when my Twitter timeline is full of people talking about their resolutions, or links to articles about how to motivate oneself to change, how to make meaningful resolutions and stick to them, how to set goals, how to Change Your Life, basically. Tell everyone. Don’t tell everyone.

So, no resolutions.

However I do like challenges. I often start one or two at the beginning of every year, but because they’re challenges and not resolutions, I can start them at any time of the year. I fail some of them, too. But somehow it doesn’t matter as much, and I can always start again. Is this just silly semantics on my part?

Do you have any New Year’s Resolutions?

And question 22: What skill would you like to learn or develop?

P.S. I did not even notice the “Generate Traffic, Convert Leads, Make Money!!!” in that link – thanks for pointing it out Kathryn, I’ll try to be a bit more vigilant in future.