July 29, 2008

Perspective (3)

In just over 41 hours (and counting) I will be going into hospital for an elective operation that I've been alternately dreading and planning for over a year. If all goes well it should take about 4-5 hours, and require a few days in hospital followed by a couple of weeks strict recuperation at home. 
[You'll understand that I don't want to go into public details, but it results from exercise, not disease or malfunction (thank goodness), and relates to comfort rather than appearance.

I have re-used the "Perspective" title for this post because I will be experiencing hospital as an in-patient for the very first time, and I am sure you've heard the truism that 
"doctors make the worst patients":
  • we know precisely what can go wrong in even the best-run hospitals
  • we understand all the risks and complications in scary detail
  • we know that even the most competent doctors make mistakes
  • we may be embarrassed to be cared for by former work colleagues
  • ... and we are often reluctant to admit how frightened or uncertain we are.
Because I have never had to stay in hospital overnight (as a patient), I don't even know what to take with me, or how mobile/awake/uncomfortable I'll feel afterwards.  Am I being hopelessly optimistic to take books, laptop, iPod, DVDs, headphones etc as if I were going on some sort of holiday? Very likely, but planning for my post-surgery days helps me stop thinking about the actual operation.

Naturally I've spent many hours on the internet, reading learned articles about the exact procedure. [Eeeek! Those blithely described incisions will be into ME!]  
I've also pored over umpteen patient accounts, many with scary post-op photos. My camera is one thing I am not taking into hospital, by the way. So you will be spared any richly illustrated blog posts proudly describing the number of stitches or the extent of bruising.

Initially I thought I would come home as soon as I could totter about, regardless of pain, tubes etc. But numerous more sensible friends have advised me to stay as long as I can, because not only is pain control likely to be far better in hospital, but I will be forced by boredom (not to mention scary nurses) to rest as instructed. There will also be an absence of large happy dogs hurling themselves enthusiastically at me or trying to turn me into a warm pillow. Owwww. Good point.

So cheerio for now, and rather than sending the usual "Get Well Soon" wishes to me, please send "Hand-Steadying" thoughts to the surgeon, and "Paying-Attention" thoughts to the anaesthetist. 

July 26, 2008

Wanted: Serenity, please, and plenty of it!

Long-suffering readers will no doubt be very relieved to hear that I have finally made up my mind about asking for reinstatement as a volunteer meta/kmeta at ODP/DMOZ. I'm not at all sure that it is the right decision, but like everyone else I am completely fed up with all my interminable dithering, so I basically tossed a coin, as predicted in one of the comments here.

I'm very apprehensive about returning to something which gave me such distress both before and after I left, but I'm afraid I do miss it, and I have received so many supportive messages and sensible advice that it would be very churlish of me not to at least give it a try. 

But I will need to tape the "Serenity Prayer" to my computer screen, with an essential amendment: 
"Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change ..."
(or at least the courage to ignore them).

And while I'm waiting for a decision on my request for reinstatement, I think I'll watch one of my favourite movies, which gave "serenity" a whole new meaning. :-)

[Added: ODP management decided it was OK to have me back. Things will certainly not be the same, but that is a Good Thing.]

July 23, 2008

Competence: an ODP handicap?

Many thanks indeed to all those who have sent positive messages regarding my ODP/DMOZ dilemma. It is certainly reassuring to know that many editors would welcome me back, and it also seems that there is no official barrier to my reinstatement, which is almost as much a surprise as a relief. 

However, it is clear that the editorial community still lacks the motivation and energy which made it such a fascinating and rewarding place to volunteer. Many of the most active and experienced editors have left the project in the last year or so, and even more have minimised their DMOZ input and instead turned to other activities where they gain more satisfaction. Consequently, there is less and less supervision and assistance for newer editors, with a further decline in community morale and overall directory quality. 
This sadly ironic trend is not specific to the Open Directory Project, of course, and many organisations recognise that as people gain in competence, their frustration can simultaneously increase to the point where they reduce their commitment, or look for more satisfaction elsewhere. Here is just one of hundreds of sites providing tips for retaining these valuable workers.
So it continues to baffle me why the ODP management team seems not to understand that unless an effort is made to retain the most active and experienced volunteers, the situation will deteriorate even further.
As you can see, despite the extremely sensible advice I have been given about limiting my involvement, I can't stop myself from trying yet again to suggest more beneficial management practices, even as an ex-editor. So if I returned to the directory, I'm sure that before long I would have resumed all my own projects to try my best to improve the situation, and of course it was the depressing futility of these repeated attempts that led me to resign in April, with the added distress of having my efforts subsequently ridiculed by DMOZ management itself. 

I badly want to return to something I loved, but I am naturally very reluctant to risk a similar outcome. Do I have the willpower to accept things as they are, and ignore all the things I am demonstrably unable to improve? I doubt it, but maybe it's worth a try. 
Perhaps I need a 12-step plan of my own. ;-)

July 18, 2008

ODP/DMOZ quandary

Contrary to my declaration six weeks ago (which was meant sincerely at that time), I am now considering applying for reinstatement to the Open Directory Project, but it is a very difficult decision. 
I started thinking about it again after a current editor wisely observed that although getting reinstated would inevitably lead to some upsetting situations, perhaps that was better than the more constant regret and frustration I seemed to have experienced since resigning. Good point.

There are indeed plenty of reasons not to return, and I have posted at length about most of them, but here are some reasons in favour of this possible about-face: 
  • I still care deeply about the project, and in particular the volunteer editors. They are the lifeblood of DMOZ, and as I explained at the time, I left in despair at the way they were seriously undervalued by directory management. I can't change that attitude, but from the letters I still get from editors requesting assistance, it seems as if there are too few experienced people to help and encourage the newer ones. I really enjoyed doing that, so perhaps it would be better to do what I can rather than to stand to one side and criticise.
  • I am very keen to see what positive changes have resulted from the appointment of the new volunteer Administrators. They have had several months to settle into their new roles and implement some much-needed changes, and I hope to see the beneficial effects of this boost to community management. 
  • I am also curious about the long-promised and publicly-announced improvements to the directory, but unfortunately there have been no more posts in that official blog, which has now been taken over by comment spammers. So if I want to find out what's happening, I'll need to be on the "inside". 
  • Finally, I have tried valiantly to find other activities which would give me the same sense of achievement, without the accompanying angst, but unfortunately that combination has proved more elusive than I expected.  I was very optimistic about volunteering in Best of the Web, but although the positive atmosphere and energy is a very welcome change from ODP, I just haven't managed to get sufficiently involved there.
Of course it is entirely possible that a reinstatement request will not be accepted, as ODP management made it distressingly clear that my previous contributions were of questionable value, but as far as I know, I resigned as a meta/kmeta "in good standing". 
True, I have written at length about the ODP in this blog, and some of my posts have doubtless (and even intentionally) ruffled feathers at a management level. But my aim has always been simply to highlight problems and suggest solutions, not to undermine what I still believe to be a very worthwhile project.

Anyway, I strongly believe I still have something to contribute, even if "just" in the realm of editor motivation and morale. But if I do decide to request reinstatement, two more questions arise: 
  1. Do I ask for my previous permission level, or would I be happier at a level that avoided many of the more stressful responsibilities?
  2. If my request is accepted, will I be able to maintain a healthy balance and focus on the positives rather than the inevitable disappointments?
Sigh. I need the "Correct Decision" fairy to materialise and wave her wand. Has anyone seen her lately?

July 16, 2008

What I Did in My Holidays (2)

Fraser Island - Part Two
"Look, no hands!" (or brains)

In my previous post I outlined some of the threats to Fraser Island's unique wildlife from selfish and thoughtless tourist behaviour, but of course in many cases the visitors place themselves at great risk of injury or death through ignoring basic rules and common sense. Spinal and head injuries are common, and there are several deaths every year. Hence the local expression "pumpkin-head" for tourists who seem to leave their brains on the mainland.

For example, one "fun" holiday activity for children is to ride in boats or trailers being towed along the inland tracks or the beach (which as I explained earlier is the island's main highway and aircraft runway). There are hundreds of unavoidable creeks, holes and washaways, and we were frequently jolted out of our seats or thrown from side to side, even inside the vehicle and wearing seatbelts. The effect on an unrestrained child sitting or standing in an open trailer is horrifying to imagine.

I should point out that there is no resident doctor, no ambulance, no life guards, and no hospital. There are very few internal tracks, and all transport has to be by 4WD. Rescue and medical attention is often delayed by many hours as the casualty is usually miles from a telephone, with the only access being a single-lane track of deep sand. Even after a rescue helicopter has been called, it can take more than an hour to arrive and another hour to transport the patient to the nearest hospital.

I'll illustrate my point with just one of the situations we witnessed during our short stay.

The wreck of the "Maheno" is a popular spectacle, but due to the advanced state of decay, the wild and unpredictable waves and currents, and the jagged metal half buried in sand, there are warning signs advising visitors to stay several meters away from the ship. In addition, all tourists are advised (through signs and information packs) that the sea all around Fraser Island is completely unsafe for swimming due to the under-currents, the high waves, and the large number of sea snakes, tiger sharks and bronze whalers which breed in the area. 
Not only does the noise of the waves make it very difficult to hear the often high-speed traffic using the beach, but vehicles negotiating the sand can rarely be steered - they have to follow their own course through existing tracks. There is often no way at all to make a sudden swerve to avoid any pedestrian who wanders into their path. 
So, quite apart from the most basic safety aspects of correctly supervising young children in water, can you see why this man's behaviour is critically endangering the lives of at least 3 of the 5 children in his "care"? [Click photo to enlarge it.]

It was scary. 
After he wandered off to his car, and with no other adults nearby, I went over to the children still playing in the surf. They were about 7 and 3 years old, and by now the strong current had sucked them much closer to the sharp rusty hull. I told them it was time to get out of the water, and fortunately they did so, or I would have felt responsible for their safety. Meanwhile, one of my friends was asking the father (by now several hundred meters from his children) if he had seen all the warnings about the wreck, the sharks, the vehicles, the ocean currents etc. The response was predictable and unprintable. 
Perhaps he was unaware that sharks can swim in only a few centimeters of water, as seen in this YouTube video from one of the island beaches.
Perhaps he had never heard that small children can drown in even less. 
Perhaps he didn't mind that his children were playing and wandering about alone beside a dangerous site and a busy "highway".
Perhaps he doesn't care. 
... Or think.

But I certainly don't want to remember my visit to this amazing island as a series of eye-rolling encounters with irresponsible idiots, so I'll finish this account with a couple of my favourite images. These are what Fraser Island is really about.

Complete photo gallery here.

What I Did in My Holidays

Fraser Island - Part One
Paradise and pumpkin-heads

As I start these notes, I am sitting in the sun on the verandah of a beach house at the northern end of this fascinating island, watching humpback whales rear and splash about 2 km out to sea, while a pod of dolphins cruises closer to shore and a pair of whistling kites circles overhead. Not bad. Not too bad at all.
It's the largest sand island in the world, and is World Heritage listed for its geology, rainforests, perched lakes and wildlife. All this just a mile or two off the SE Queensland coast and only a couple of hundred kilometers from Brisbane.

There are no sealed roads, so to reach this small settlement we had to negotiate more than 120 km (70 miles) of soft beach sand that frequently threatened to bog our 4WDs as we dodged the incoming waves on one side and the driftwood on the other, not to mention other vehicles, fishermen, and the occasional aeroplane!  [You can see a commercial video of the drive here.]

In the last few days we've seen several wild dingoes, innumerable birds, a rusting shipwreck [video], immense sanddunes, volcanic headlands [video], sparkling clear rock pools, huge trees and tree ferns, and fast-flowing, ice-cold freshwater creeks [video].

When we first arrived at the house, every whale sighting was greeted with an excited rush to the verandah, followed by frantic directions to those who had not yet seen it: 
"Where? Where??" 
"Look, it's just above that smudgy bit of blue ocean, below the white streak, about halfway to the horizon in line with that tree. See it? There it is again!!" 
By day three, it was more like "Oh look, another whale." "Yeah." 
How quickly we become accustomed to such wonders. ;-)

The island has several hundred permanent and semi-permanent residents, almost all of them providing services for the thousands of visitors who come to stay in the campgrounds and short-term rental accommodation. The locals believe that some of these visitors exchange their heads for pumpkins on the barge from the mainland, and certainly we saw some breath-takingly stupid behaviour. Unfortunately, not only does such irresponsibility put the "pumpkin-heads" themselves at risk of injury or death (see Part Two), but it threatens many of the features which make this island so special.

For example, despite extensive advice, in the form of plentiful warning signs and a brochure given to every island visitor, tourists persist in treating the dingoes as stray pet dogs. Feeding them scraps and allowing children to run after them with squeals of delight causes the dingoes not only to rely on humans for their food, but to see the noisy small children as either a source of handouts or a threat to themselves and their puppies. Consequently they have been known to stalk, chase and even attack children and solitary adults. After each incident, the "offending" dingoes are of course put down. Large numbers of the island's dingoes have been killed in this way, as a direct result of people failing to observe all the rules and advice.
During our visit, we saw a wonderfully healthy and impressive male dingo trotting along a track near the village. He was obviously a very valuable source of genes for the dwindling population, but the ranger told us that this animal was marked for extermination, due to his recent tendency to chase children. As we turned the corner after seeing him, we saw three young children shrieking excitedly and running down to the track after their parents had pointed him out to them. The parents did not even watch where the kids went, let alone stop them from such irresponsible behaviour. Another nail in the dingo's coffin. So thoughtless, so sad, and so unnecessary.

But it's not only the vanishing dingo population which suffers from our selfish behaviour.
Running over exhausted and migrating seabirds on the beach, destroying protected nesting areas and marsupial burrows by going off the tracks, disobeying fishing rules, ignoring all the rules for disposal of rubbish, broken glass, and human waste - all these activities are slowly but surely destroying the island's wildlife. 
And remember, this is a World Heritage site - a special place, unique in all the world, which should be enjoyed, appreciated, and protected by all who visit.

Complete photo gallery here.
Continued in Part Two ...

July 02, 2008

Perspective (2)

I readily admit to being a "glass half-empty" sort of person.
This does not refer to my drinking habits, I hasten to add, but to the fact that I am one of those people who have the unfortunate tendency to choose the bleaker of two possible interpretations in any situation.
The trouble is that there are usually many more than two ways of looking at something, so the boffins have come up with something called "Framing", which then leads to concepts such as reframing, frame selection, and so on.

For example, here's something I read on a blog recently:
"Throwing hurtful and completely unfounded accusations [like that] ... is really not a clever move."
Despite having evidently been written in some distress, and unfortunately weakened by aggrieved petulance (omitted from the quote), it is nonetheless a valid statement - hurtful and unfounded accusations should not be thrown at anyone.

As it happens, I was the subject of a similar personal attack a few months ago, in the same organisation to which the above incident refers, so I understand very well indeed how the author feels.
However, the irony is that the writer of the above words has in the past made "hurtful and unfounded accusations" against me (and others). So I will admit to a shameful but wry amusement at this fine example of "what goes around comes around", but more constructively, it prompted me to do a little self-reflection.

In both cases, I'm sure that distressing feelings on both sides could have been avoided with a little consideration of possible alternative interpretations, rather than immediately leaping to the most unpleasant one.
I found a very helpful article on this subject, and although it is written for doctors, its more general applications are obvious (my emphasis added):
"Reframing ... is one of the most powerful and creative stress reducers [and] is a technique used to change the way you look at things in order to feel better about them. ...
The key to reframing is to recognize that there are many ways to interpret the same situation ... so you might as well pick the one you like. ...
For example, a woman's boss was acting critical and domineering towards her. I said, "Assuming your boss is not just evil or malicious, why do you think she might be acting like this?" Answers included, "She is probably insecure," "She is under a lot of pressure,' and "She is having personal problems." Performing this exercise helped the patient step outside herself and look at other possible interpretations of her boss's behavior. After that, her upset was considerably
decreased. In fact, after such a discussion some patients feel more compassion than anger for the person who is bothering them.
Worth a try, I think. ;-)


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