December 12, 2008

FAQ about ODP/DMOZ editing
Part 3: Settling in

This is the last in a short series about becoming a volunteer editor at ODP/DMOZ (The Open Directory Project).
The introduction can be found in Part 1: Applying.

For many volunteers, what starts out as a minor interest soon becomes an absorbing hobby, so this post explains how editors settle into their roles once the first confusing steps are behind them ...
(A small resident of Fraser Island, Queensland)

"Will I be limited to the DMOZ category I applied to?"
Short answer: Only to start with.

A longer answer is found in "Applying for New Categories":
Getting approved to edit a new category is easy if you take the time early on to learn the editing guidelines. We seek to promote editors who have a record of adding quality to the directory. The ODP benefits most from having as many good editors as possible with permissions to edit in broad and diverse areas. If you add quality sites and lots of them, then you will be systematically granted higher and more diverse editing privileges.
"How much time am I expected to spend editing in ODP/DMOZ?"
Short answer: As much or as little as you feel like.

A longer answer is found in "Becoming an Editor":
There is no time requirement. We appreciate any time you can commit to improving and developing the directory. In order to keep the community thriving, editor accounts will expire after 4 months of inactivity. This allows another editor the chance to take over an area where an inactive editor may have left off.
If your account expires, you can
request reinstatement.
"What if my category is all up to date but I don't have enough edits to apply for another one?"
Short answer: There is always something to do which will help the directory and add to your experience.

Many new editors assume they must wait for suggestions to arrive from outside the directory, but in fact there are many places where volunteers can look for good sites to add, as explained in "So it's OK to find and add sites myself?"

In some categories, however, there may not be many more sites to add, but the editor can still improve the category by checking the existing links to be sure they work, are correctly listed, and that they have titles and descriptions meeting the current guidelines. All these activities are very worthwhile, and provide valuable experience. Such efforts are always taken into consideration when an editor applies for permission to edit in another category.

Another very useful way of gaining editing experience is to create a brand new category in the editor's own Bookmarks. These editor-created categories can be seen by the public, but are not included in the RDF dump, so they are like categories-in-waiting, and when ready, they can be incorporated into the main directory.

"What resources are available for ODP/DMOZ editors?"
Short answer: Extensive collections of tools, tips, advice, and forum threads.

Over the years, editors have developed tools, written tutorials, and assembled an astonishing amount of information with the aim of making editing easier, more productive and more enjoyable. For example, the DMOZ Documentation Project provides additional examples and explanations to help editors interpret the official guidelines, and the DMOZ Newsletter Archives contain articles on an impressive variety of subjects.

There are also all sorts of useful shortcuts and scripts available to editors, and everyone is encouraged to suggest further improvements to help fellow volunteers. Many editors have extensive IT experience "in Real Life", and there are plenty of opportunities to discuss technical matters pertaining to the directory, and to participate in development projects. In fact the editorial community includes experts from almost every field, and this wide range of knowledgeable people is one of the great attractions of being a volunteer.

I hope this has been helpful. 
Now go and apply

December 07, 2008

FAQ about ODP/DMOZ editing
Part 2: Getting started

This post follows on (obviously) from "Part 1: Applying", so after a brief pause (hah!) to admire my Kangaroo Paws, I'll get on with the FAQ rather than repeat my explanatory introduction.

Anigozanthus "Yellow Gem"

"What happens when I get accepted as an ODP/DMOZ editor?"
Short answer: Your new hobby begins!

You will receive the standard Welcome letter providing details of your login and password, as well as explanations of how to access the editing interface, forums, and editor resources. In addition, you might receive a specific welcome from the meta-editor or catmod who accepted your application. There is a lot to read in this document, and some very useful advice and links, so you are strongly advised to keep it somewhere handy and refer back to it over the first week or so. 
By the way, your login details should never be shared with anyone, so if you want to reply to your joining meta/catmod, be sure to leave out those details from the copy.

"What's the first thing I should do?"
Short answer: Read a bit. Edit a bit. Repeat.

Most new editors are astonished at the amount of information available to guide and assist them, and it is easy to feel overwhelmed. As with any new skill, it takes time and practice to edit well, but even the most seasoned volunteer started as a newbie, so we all understand what it is like. After bookmarking the Editor Guidelines for easy reference, and reading the New Editor FAQ (requires editor login), the best thing to do is dive straight in and try making one or two edits. 
You might make a mistake, but you won't break anything, and almost everything can be reversed. The more often you keep returning to the guidelines the quicker they will become familiar, and you will soon feel at home.

"Will someone be checking my edits?"
Short answer: Very probably, and if not, you can ask.

Many volunteers enjoy helping new editors, and there are numerous ways this takes place, either on an individual level or as part of a larger project. In addition, it is likely that one or more of the 200+ editors who can edit all over the directory will notice that a new editor has arrived, so they might stop to help as well. 
On the other hand, if a new editor feels their arrival has been overlooked, or if they need assistance for any reason at all, they are encouraged to ask for help in the internal forums (requires editor login) or by sending direct feedback to another editor.

"Do I have to review all the submissions?"
Short answer: Definitely not.

Editors are volunteers, so there is no editing activity that they have to do, beyond following the policies and guidelines of the ODP.
However, a primary role for all editors is building the directory, and sites can be found in all sorts of ways, including personal experience, search engines, newspapers, television, online reference material, advertisements, journals, and organisations. The sites suggested by other people form a collection which is just one place that editors can look for sites if they wish.

"What if there aren't any sites suggested to the area I edit?"
Short answer: See above for other places to look for sites.

"So it's OK to find and add sites myself?"
Short answer: Absolutely!

If editors know of sites which will add value to the directory, they are actively encouraged to add them, no matter where they belong. If the editor does not have editing permissions in the category where a site belongs, he can send it there through internal channels and it will be reviewed by another volunteer at its destination. If the required category does not yet exist, or if the editor can't find the right place, he can either ask for assistance or list the site in his Bookmarks.

Next: Part 3: Settling in

November 28, 2008

FAQ about ODP/DMOZ editing
Part 1: Applying

In the unofficial ODP/DMOZ forum recently, I found myself answering extremely familiar questions about becoming a volunteer editor in the Open Directory Project
I am certainly not alone in this regard, and many of my volunteer colleagues have patiently repeated the same information far more often than I have, in weblogs and forums over many years.  There are also several authoritative places where people could find the answers, but they don't seem to look there before posting their questions - or perhaps it's natural to hope for a new answer. ;-)
So although this series of posts is merely adding to the pile of almost identical information, perhaps if it is repeated often enough, in different ways and places, the message might get out there. It's worth a shot, anyway.

That's a tiny skink on one of my ripening peaches, by the way, but as for my own credentials in providing these answers (which should always be the first question of course) you can check them out in an earlier post.

Now let's get started ...

"Why be an ODP/DMOZ editor?"
Short answer: It's a fascinating hobby, a chance to be part of an international volunteer community, and it helps people everywhere to find useful material on the internet.

Many people have given longer answers, of course, but one recent account was written by friend and fellow editor laigh in the official ODP blog: "I ( heart ) DMOZ...Why I Joined And Why I Love It"


"Is it difficult to become an ODP/DMOZ editor?"
Short answer: Not at all.  Editors come from all age groups and nationalities, 
with widely diverse skills and knowledge.

A longer answer is found in "Becoming an Editor":
Everyone is welcome to join the ODP.  All you need is an interest or passion and a computer. While there are no specific pre-requisites, we seek people who have a genuine interest in building a directory that is free of commercial interests and favoritism. Fairness and objectivity prevail here. ... Potential editors should demonstrate a keen eye for spotting quality and useful sites, attention to detail, and possess good grammar, spelling and communication skills.

"Any tips for making a successful editor application?"
Short answer: Read the instructions on the form, do a little homework, and be honest.

A longer answer is found in "Becoming an Editor":
We view the application as an indication of how you will edit. A thoughtful, well-written application that is free of hype has a far greater chance of getting accepted than one that is sloppy, poorly-written, and full of promotional, subjective language. Finally, be truthful about your affiliations with any Web sites. Webmasters, site owners, and friends and relatives of webmasters and site owners are free to join. However, you should be up front and honest about these affiliations.
Note: As far as helpful tips are concerned, a much more comprehensive answer can be found in the blog of my friend and fellow meta-editor, shadow575, who has written an excellent guide called Become an Editor.


"How will I know if I've been accepted or not?"
Short answer: Feedback is sent after the application has been reviewed, 
whether or not it was successful.

Longer answer: Each application is reviewed by an experienced volunteer editor - a meta or a category moderator (catmod). This can take anything from a few hours to several weeks.  
  • If the application is approved, a welcoming email is sent with further information.
  • If the application is rejected, a form letter is sent with a list of common reasons, and the reviewer may add specific comments.
The most common reason for an applicant not receiving any feedback is that it has been caught by a spam filter, so anyone applying to ODP/DMOZ is advised to set their email program to accept everything from ;-)
Unsuccessful applicants are almost always encouraged to try again, after attending to the issues raised in the feedback, and many current editors have been accepted only after submitting a more careful or complete application.
To help increase the number of editors, volunteers at the unofficial public ODP forum provide an advisory service for applicants (but please follow the instructions before posting).


"Can I be an editor even if I have a site to be listed in ODP/DMOZ?"
Short answer: Certainly. Many editors join for this reason, 
but as long as they are willing to be impartial, they are welcome.

A longer answer is found in the guidelines on "Conflict of Interest":
Everyone is welcome to apply to join the ODP, including those who own, maintain and promote websites. Editors may have business or other types of affiliations relevant to the categories they edit, and may add their own sites or sites with which they are affiliated. However, it is contrary to the goals and policy of the ODP for editors to add only their own or affiliate sites, to engage in self cooling or other forms of self promotion, or to exclude or disadvantage a site that belongs to a competitor for the purpose of harming the competitor. 

Next: Part 2: Getting started

November 19, 2008

ODP/DMOZ meta-editor report card (2)

It's almost 4 months since I bowed to the inevitable and requested reinstatement at ODP/DMOZ, and more than six months since I posted a summary of my contributions as a volunteer meta/kmeta-editor.

I won't be updating those statistics, because although I have resumed my previous levels of activity, I have no desire at all to highlight my (unpaid) contributions, contrary to the waspish rant by (paid) staff. Instead, I would like to suggest a subtle re-naming of my position. But first let's recap ...
Until I realised the extent of management indifference to the volunteer community, I was an enthusiastic and unfailingly up-beat advocate of the ODP/DMOZ model. But in order to continue with a hobby I enjoy and a project in which I still fervently believe, I have had to remove the rose-tinted glasses and substitute blinkers.

So rather than continue trying to "fight City Hall" or "tilt at windmills",
I have reluctantly chosen the more Zen-like path of ignoring the many things over which I have no influence, and instead concentrated on those aspects of editing where I know I can make a difference.
As I have previously lamented, this makes for a rather isolated existence, far removed from the energetically diverse community in which I was delighted to participate.
But at least it protects me from the inevitable exasperations and disappointments inherent in any large organisation lacking a competent and dedicated management team.

So what is this new term? Well, it arose from a recent news item announcing the inclusion of a new word in an authoritative dictionary, and which I feel neatly encapsulates my current feelings as a "mehta/kmehta" editor. ;-)

November 09, 2008

What goes around ...

I've never really had a clear idea what people mean by karma, but I am a firm believer in the less esoteric concept of "what goes around, comes around". (And I certainly don't mean the song!)
Like many people, I find it comforting to think that there is some sort of natural justice at work in a world which is otherwise so obviously and dispiritingly unfair.

I have recently experienced three such instances, and although they are of microscopic importance, they have reassured me that this benign force still exists, even if we seldom see it at work.

As we all do, I occasionally find a valuable item that has been left behind by its owner, and like most basically honest citizens, I hand it in to the nearest authority. It's just one of those things you do, and I've never thought any more about it.
A couple of months ago I carelessly left my wallet on the platform of the rather seedy train station where I start my one hour journey to work, and it was not until I alighted at the other end that I realised what had happened. In that hour, anyone would have had ample opportunity to use my credit cards on a spending spree at the nearby shopping complex, so I was very anxious to report their loss without further delay.
A succession of exasperating events (no ticket to get me through the gate, absent station staff, dead phone battery, non- functional public telephones, missing phone books etc etc) delayed me for a further 15 minutes, so I was "in a bit of a state" by the time I finally contacted a friend to ask them to look up the necessary numbers and make the calls for me. In an infuriatingly calm voice, my friend asked if I'd got the message from the train station that my purse had been handed in over an hour ago. They'd found his number in the wallet, but nobody could reach me because of my dead phone battery.
Apparently some kindly and honest person had noticed my purse as they alighted from the train I boarded, so it was abandoned for less than a minute, thereby avoiding notice by the less honest folk who frequent that station. I thanked the anonymous person in a letter to the local paper, and I do so again now. I hope they get some small piece of good fortune in their turn.

The second serendipitous event happened during (of all things) my grocery shopping trip yesterday. I had made the infuriating error known as "Choosing the wrong checkout line", because the older lady in front of me had inexplicably turned her trolley around, and now had to reach over the bulky handle to lift her items onto the checkout. Despite some optimistic little jumps and a flailing arm, she couldn't grab any of them, so of course I unpacked her trolley for her (trying not to take too much interest in her choices, because other people's shopping is always far more fascinating than one's own). 
Naturally, she did not use this time to find her purse in her handbag, so there was another long delay while she rummaged around for her credit card and decided whether she wanted extra cash, but I maintained what I hoped was an expression of terminal good nature and tried to think about wildflowers.
After I finally made it out to the carpark and had loaded my groceries into the car, I returned my trolley to the bay. (Oh all right, I admit I'm not always that conscientious, but I do make an effort sometimes.) As I did so, I noticed something in one of the trolleys ahead. Feeling a bit foolish, I pulled out the intervening trolleys and reached the treasure: a large block of chocolate and a tube of toothpaste! They had obviously fallen unnoticed from a shopper's bag, and there was no way of knowing which store they came from, so I accepted this as simply a laugh-out-loud moment, and more than an adequate "reward" for helping a senior citizen. :-)

The third event was not specifically good for me, but it shows that chance is indeed a funny thing. At a recent community festival, I entered a competition run by the local government, with questions about fire safety in a semi-rural area like ours. The main prize was a large hamper of fire protection equipment like extinguishers, blankets, smoke alarms and the like. I didn't notice the minor prizes, so I was very surprised to get a phone call last week congratulating me on having won second prize: a ride in the fire truck, complete with lights and sirens. Hooray!

The thing is (for those who haven't read previous posts), I am a volunteer with the local Bush Fire Brigade, and one of the people qualified to drive the fire truck
So a ride in it wasn't quite the thrill you might have thought. LOL

However, I passed the prize on to a friend with 3 small boys, and I am very happy to know that they (and their father) had a day to remember.

November 02, 2008

On the up and up

As I've mentioned before, my natural tendency is to be a "glass half-empty" sort of person, so I've refrained from posting for a couple of weeks until my "bio-rhythms" (does anyone still believe in them?) return to the positive side, or my chakras re-align ... or whatever.* 
So today, for a change, I'm going to leave my latest exasperation with ODP/DMOZ until the very end of the post, and instead concentrate on  things which have lately made me remember that I am a lucky person.

1. I love where I live.
Kalamunda is an outer suburb of a big city, and might be nothing special except for the fact that each day I can go walking in natural forest and bushland just up the road, seeing native birds, animals, and wildflowers
Yesterday I walked for over an hour and a half without seeing anyone else, and yet scenes like are within a mile of my house.

True, it takes me an hour and a half to get to work, but that's only 2 days a week, after all, and trains are great for making a fidget like me sit still and actually read a book!

2. I enjoy my work (paid and unpaid)
My class of medical students are nearing their annual exams, and getting very anxious indeed about how much they have to learn. So for the past few weeks I've been giving them impromptu quizzes to show them that in fact they already know most of the material. It's been a cross between light relief and revision, because naturally, they all enjoy watching someone else having to act out a symptom or draw surface anatomy on themselves. This week they enthusiastically answered questions about blood results, tremor, and  Xray interpretation using coloured pens, scissors, butcher's paper and glue ..."Gen Y meets Play School".

One of my volunteer activities has been delayed for months due to an unfortunate administrative bungle, but last week the adult literacy tutor programme finally linked me with a student, and we begin our weekly lessons tomorrow. His main difficulty is with spelling and punctuation, so as one of Nature's inveterate typo-spotters and apostrophe police, I can hardly wait to get started. Fortunately, there are plenty of adult literacy resources on the internet, and I've already got some teaching material from the excellent BBC website.

3. The obligatory ODP/DMOZ whinge
On the whole, my strategy for enjoying the editing experience is working out OK. It's a lot more isolated than I like, and sadly I still hear too much about poor management and lack of respect for the volunteer community, but I learned a very painful lesson indeed, and no longer tilt at those windmills myself.
So in comparison to my ultimately futile indignation and deep disappointment at the way most of the volunteers are treated, today's comment is no more than a single raised eyebrow.

I'm puzzled to see that the much-heralded official DMOZ/ODP blog has become a succession of articles written by editors, when for many years there has been a publicly available, editor-produced ODP Newsletter chock-a-block with similarly worthwhile and informative pieces. Of course I completely support the wider publication of such efforts, as part of our ongoing efforts to make the directory better known and understood, but I thought the blog was meant to be something new.
Mind you, just over a year ago, the Editor-in-Chief promised weekly posts, so it has certainly been a relief to see more frequent entries, after many embarrassing months of silence. Perhaps the purpose of the blog has changed since it began, as AOL staffers have come and gone. Anyway, I'll now retreat under my Cone of Silence and resume my meditative chant. ;-)
Better still, I'll go and enjoy the late Spring sunshine in my back garden, eating mulberries from the tree and watching the honeyeaters on the grevilleas and kangaroo paws. 

*Personally, I blame the two long anaesthetics and the month of post-op complications, for the simple reason that it therefore becomes someone else's fault. ;-)

October 17, 2008

Cross-culturalism set to music!

This is the first post I've made purely to share a link, but despite all the financial doom and gloom, this will put a smile on anyone's face:

The video was taken at a local festival in a remote area of northern Australia, and to quote from an ABC news item when it was published in October 2007, 
"A group of traditional dancers from Arnhem Land has become a sudden smash hit on the internet, with their unique interpretation of Zorba the Greek.

The 10 Yolngu dancers on Elcho Island have decided that dancing is the ideal antidote to unemployment.
Their Zorba dance has gone around the world, and even been screened in a public square in Greece.
The offers are now coming in for the group to perform at music festivals.

They are called the Chooky Dancers, a group of young men and boys from Elcho Island, and their interpretation of the Greek Zorba is taking the internet world by storm."
Since then, they have even performed on a televised talent show and at the normally staid Art Gallery of NSW (although I notice they were more decorously dressed for that appearance).  Apparently there is also an invitation to perform in Greece, where the video has proved very popular, confirming that weighty subjects like international relations and indigenous culture can be light-hearted too.

Trivia: Elcho Island was the inspiration for a very popular mainstream song a few years ago, called "My Island Home", which was sung by Christine Anu at the closing ceremony of the 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney.

October 04, 2008

ODP/DMOZ lives!

To quote a famous Australian poet:
"There was movement at the station, for the word had passed around "
A post has been made in the Official ODP Blog, after a worrying 4 month silence broken only by the clamour of spammers using the unmoderated comments to promote their worthless sites.  This was a very poor indication of the interest shown by AOL in the volunteer-edited directory which Google used to recommend to webmasters.

However, to misquote a slightly less famous person
"They like us. They really like us!"
Not only did they acknowledge the work done by so many volunteers in building up the impressively extensive non-English part of the directory, but they alluded once again to exciting changes which are still "just around the corner" 
..... as indeed they were in March, 
........... and confirmed by the Editor-in-Chief at the birthday celebrations in June.

Yes I'm afraid I have to admit that when it comes to guesstimating the completion date of long-promised improvements, AOL sounds like it's relying on council workers. ;-)


September 26, 2008

Community spirit

In common with most mammals and birds, we humans generally prefer being part of a pack.
Groups provide safety, companionship, and economy of effort, with individual members contributing to increase the well-being of all. All such groups have internal conflicts, but with a common goal and competent leadership, the overall community is not threatened by temporary disruptions or difficulties.
In the absence of mutual support and direction, however, the group can easily fragment into smaller factions which have to compete for the same resources.

At this point, astute and/or regular readers (usually one and the same, of course) may assume that I am about to launch into yet another analysis of the often self-defeating management policies at ODP/DMOZ, which relies for its success on a vast and diverse community of volunteers.
No, surprisingly enough this is the last mention of ODP in this post!

One of the ways in which groups can increase cohesion and participation is through non-essential, enjoyable interaction where the goal is not survival but increasing trust and bonding within the community. This is the basis for all those corporate/team-building activities which often make such entertaining documentaries.
I have never been lucky enough to go on a work-sponsored weekend of wilderness camping, abseiling or SCUBA diving, but I have taken part in many less commercial group events, and they were certainly great fun.

Last year I posted about participating in a mass sporting event for charity, and for the last few years I have taken part in the annual community walk down a very scenic abandoned railway line.

This year I added another group event to my calendar: the annual Trek the Trail, an historical walk through native bushland in the steps of early settlers and engineers.
Unfortunately it was not a sunny spring day, but several thousand of us braved an icy wind and constant rain to walk the 7 km down to Mundaring Weir. Local artists displayed craft and sculptures along the way, and volunteer groups were on hand to help with road crossings and provide impromptu entertainment.
Historical markers and descriptions of the wildflowers made it educational as well as entertaining, and there were all sorts of activities for children. It was wonderful to see so many families taking part, despite the weather, and I shall certainly be attending next year.

September 17, 2008

We need square pegs

Conformity rules, by and large. In all communities, both animal and human, the non-conformist is often ostracised, or at best hidden away, ignored, or discriminated against.
A "square peg in a round hole" is one expression used to describe the sort of person who also attracts labels such as "show-off", "trouble-maker", "rebel", "loose cannon" or "maverick". Someone who habitually "rubs people the wrong way" through outspoken-ness, ambition, manner, or achievements.
And yet we know that evolution, adaptations, inventions and advancements are usually the result of one or more individuals not being the same as everyone else. So why penalise those who are deliberately different, who challenge the safe uniformity of our "herd"?

In the non-human animal world, I can understand that prejudice is based on an instinct for survival - the possibility that such an individual will attract unwanted attention from a predator. But what is our justification?
Surely we cannot seriously believe that just because a person does not "fit in", they are a threat? And yet we so often treat them as if they were. Are we so insecure that we have to try and force these people to conform to the social norms that we have chosen to follow? Maybe they do indeed scare us, because when they continue to act outside those parameters, we band together, getting the wagons in a circle to protect ourselves. From what, exactly?

Example 1
This week I watched a television interview with a neurosurgeon, Dr Charles Teo, who has been shunned and publicly derided by his professional colleagues. Not for malpractice or anything like that, but basically for annoying them and not behaving like they think he should. 
True, he is also outstandingly good at his job, and has an astonishing success rate ... but I'm sure that has absolutely nothing to do with his colleagues'  antipathy. 

Examples 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, ...
I have been reminded yet again this week of a particularly counter-productive tendency at the Open Directory Project , where high achievers within the volunteer community are often harried, ignored, or slowly but surely driven away. It is sadly rare for such people to be appropriately recognised for their dedication and contributions, and I believe this is for the reasons I mentioned above: they are "square pegs" - outspoken, or irreverent, or too openly ambitious, or simply seen to be doing too much. 
No, wait, that can't be right. As with Dr Teo, surely it can't be that their achievements make others feel uncomfortable about their own contributions.
That just wouldn't be fair, or sensible, would it.

September 11, 2008

Boom and Blooms

Well, yesterday's "Dawn of a New Era" in physics wasn't quite the spectacular event that you'd expect for several billion dollars, but at least the dismal predictions turned out to be groundless, and we didn't all disappear into a black hole. Now that would have been (very very briefly) a true spectacle!
Rather to my surprise, I have in fact been following the development of this immense project with mild interest over the last year or two, not because I understand the principles, and even less because I care about the potential discoveries. My fascination is with the vast number of people (8,000 of them, according to the report in the Washington Post) who have been involved for so long on such a single-minded project with un-knowable results. How do they maintain their interest and enthusiasm? Certainly, many of them will have worked simply for the money, but there must be a significant number who have chosen to stay on the project because of their belief/hope that it will achieve something extraordinary.
Personally, I've always been more interested in serendipitous discoveries than in massively organised, expensive and ambitious experiments, and it will take more than a little puff of light on a monitor to maintain my interest.*(see below)* I think for that sort of money they could have incorporated a few more satisfying effects, or at least a whooshing noise as the protons went whizzing around the 27km tube.
But I did get a smile from the following quote made by Robert Aymar, Director-General of CERN, who obviously wanted to say something suitably momentous:
“The LHC ... has the potential to change our view of the Universe profoundly, continuing a tradition of human curiosity that’s as old as mankind itself.”
As old as that, eh?

With the Western Australian wildflower season getting into full swing, I'm delighted to be able to start my bush walks once again. I took these photos in 2006 and 2007, but with an almost-average rainfall this past winter, it should be an inspiring display this year as well. I'll take my camera the next few days, and post a couple of photos here to brighten the place up a little.
Added: it's been too wet and windy for a walk, so here are a couple of Spring photos from my garden instead, taken in the last week.

*Update on 20 September: the Big Bang machine has gone kerplonk. Apparently some of the magnets overheated, which means the recreation of the beginning of the Universe is "on hold". I love it!

September 04, 2008

Perspective (4)

I have been confronted by ageing issues this week, although fortunately not specifically my own.
1. As I have mentioned previously, I teach graduate medical students, and yesterday the subject under discussion was how best to manage patients with chronic disease for which there is no definitive treatment.  The idea was that the students would consider the problems of providing support and maintaining a good doctor-patient relationship when there can be little improvement in the condition. I was once again somewhat disappointed to find that their attitude depended almost solely on the age of the patient: 
  • anyone under about 30 would get their full support and be offered an impressive range of alternatives.
  • anyone "old" was expected to understand that some things could not be treated, and that they must therefore "live with it". (They were polite enough not to mention an actual age, out of deference to what they probably see as my own advancing decrepitude. ;))
2. When I mentioned this to a colleague, she told me about a 99-year old patient of hers, who was still well and active and living at home. The patient apparently lied about her age when socialising with other "senior citizens", because she found that being truthful was often seen as boastful. 
In effect, she was a whole  generation older than most of her acquaintances, and found it difficult to make new friends among those "only" in their 70's. 

3. An amusing email belatedly doing the rounds shows a mock-up of the social networking site Facebook as it might appear in 50 years time, when Generation Y (like my students) reach their 70's.
(If that is itself a copy I hope someone will correct me. I do like to give credit to the original source of these endlessly replicated items.)

September 03, 2008

Up and away

"Validation", "confirmation", and  "affirmation" ... individually, they are often annoyingly trite and meaningless expressions, but sometimes they are just right. Words have great power when used carefully and honestly.

Affirmation 1: The surgeon said yesterday that he was thrilled with my recent progress, and congratulated me on my efforts. 
Until then I had felt merely sick and sore and distinctly sorry for myself, but hearing his positive message (after 5 weeks of him looking worried and downcast) did wonders. I can now feel myself getting better.
(For those wisely ignorant of my health saga, I recently underwent additional surgery for a post-operative complication arising from an elective operation a month ago.)

Affirmation 2: Further to my suppressed distress over understandable but unnecessary resignations from ODP/DMOZ, I am delighted that some well-placed and authoritative words of support and encouragement have done their job in at least one case. Definitely better late than never. 

August 31, 2008

Down and out

I probably shouldn't be posting here during the tricky "Post-op Blues" period, because anyone who's had a general anaesthetic knows that it can mess with your mood and metabolism for several days. 
As well as the normal post-surgical "bleagh" feeling (a technical term covering pain, tiredness, nausea etc), many people report feeling unaccountably emotional, and patients are advised not to drive, operate machinery or make any important decisions for 2-3 days.

Fortunately my most recent surgery was only about an hour long, and a lot less complicated than the original operation, so although it has set me back a few weeks with regard to wound healing, I'm doing pretty well really. Admittedly, I find I can't get warm without a ridiculous woolly hat (*see below), gloves, scarf and about 6 layers of clothing despite the fine spring weather, and if anyone were rash enough to get between me and chocolate I would kill them without a second's hesitation. Although that's not so unusual. ;-)

But I do know from an unfortunate experience after the first anaesthetic that I will get more easily upset about things than usual, so now is not the time to comment on a couple of conversations I have had today about the frustrations and disappointments which make dedicated and valuable volunteers leave something they care about - in this case, the Open Directory Project
No indeed.
Besides, it's all stuff I have already posted about quite recently, not to mention the analysis I made when I resigned back in April, and I'm certainly not in a hurry to revisit all the distress that caused.

So instead, I will focus my mind on serene thoughts and concentrate on replacing any nasty lingering anaesthetic chemicals with good honest chocolate molecules. 

*And, finally,  in acknowledgment of the above-mentioned (and much-appreciated) woolly hat, here is an exhibition recently visited by a friend: The Alice Springs Beanie Festival.

August 26, 2008

Forewarned is forearmed

There's a lot to be said for a repeat visit to a bad experience. 
Sure, it's a bit demoralising to already be aware of the unpleasantness which may occur, but at least it lacks the elements of surprise and disappointment, and in many cases it's possible to plan ahead and ameliorate the experience. I hope to be able to use this tactic in the following two important areas.

1. Unfortunately the post-operative complications I mentioned in earlier posts mean that I have to go back to hospital later this week for more surgery. This is depressing enough in itself, because it means undoing 4 weeks of healing and starting almost from the beginning again, with the accompanying limitations to daily life, activity, and general well-being. But in addition I am now more aware than previously just how dispiriting a place hospital can be, largely due to the sad loss of the "TLC ethic" in favour of "performance markers" and "duty-of-care", and other similarly fatuous socio-politico-legal phrases.
However, I am now ready to take a much more active role during my stay, even at the risk of not being considered a "good" patient (ie quiet, undemanding and compliant). 
  • Instead of meekly waiting for a suitably qualified staff member to wander past so that I can ask for assistance, I will make much more use of the bell. 
  • Rather than smiling inanely at the people who enter and leave my room without speaking or even looking at me, I shall greet them cheerily and ask about their role and the purpose of their visit. 
  • And I will remind each and every person to turn off the spotlight and return my bedside trolley within reach when they have finished attending to me.
Yes I'm afraid this time I will definitely be a "pain".

2. Since my return to ODP/DMOZ a month ago, and for similarly self-protective reasons, I have adopted almost the opposite tactic (equally uncharacteristic for me).
Sadly, I have still not recovered from the shock of having my previous efforts devalued and publicly ridiculed by community management, so this time I am making much greater use of an already well-practised Ostrich Attitude to matters outside my immediate control. I admit that it still feels very strange to be working in a state of semi-isolation, because I used to put a lot of effort into what I saw as essential teamwork, but I now understand why so many of my volunteer colleagues long ago retreated to similar positions. 
One of my greatest enjoyments as an editor was the interaction and friendship with people from all over the world, and unfortunately it's quite a fine line between serenity and loneliness, but I am gradually learning to balance the two.

Wish me luck with both of the above endeavours!

August 21, 2008

A sort of tribute from a DMOZ editor

There are many reasons why being a volunteer at ODP/DMOZ can be a worthwhile and enjoyable hobby, but today I once again did something that many experienced editors say gives them the most satisfaction of all: creating an entirely new category by searching for and finding useful sites.  

Sadly, this one was prompted by the death of a young veterinarian in Queensland, but at least now there is a collection of sites which may help those who, like me, knew nothing about the disease which made his death front page news.

August 18, 2008

Dithering is dreary

I've been a lifelong ditherer, so it has been bemusing in recent years to find the word being used in all sorts of  incomprehensibly technical ways involving words like "scatter", "amplitude" and "oversampling". 
I can see the connection though. In my form of dithering I do indeed rapidly oscillate back and forth between two choices, endlessly evaluating the pros and cons in a state of perpetual motion which is exhausting in its futility. I often feel like one of those desk toys popular in the 1980's, where metal balls hung from a frame and could be swung so that the ones on each side kept smacking into the one in the middle, which was therefore prevented from joining in. 

Off-topic: Thanks to the wonders of the internet, I have just now learned that this toy is called Newton's Cradle, and that link has a mesmerising video of the principle I just described. I was also highly impressed to see some very fine minds at work on creating the world's largest one, which looks almost worth a trip to Kalamazoo, Michigan.

OK, play time is over, back to the topic.

Maybe dithering increases with age, because I'm sure I used to be better at making decisions. Certainly it's something I always put on my resume, and in fact when it comes to decisions involving expertise rather than emotion, I can still make a snap decision as easily as the next confident know-all.
But when my feelings get involved, the whole process becomes woolly and ineffectual, which is deeply irritating.

At what point does "weighing up the possible risks and benefits" become just an excuse for avoiding a decision? When does it become necessary to say "Oh for heaven's sake just pick one and move on!"

I've had two such situations in the last few weeks, which is what has prompted me to examine the actual process involved.

I have already written (at interminable length) about the ridiculous difficulty I had in deciding whether or not to resume volunteering at what is basically just a hobby (at ODP/DMOZ). Actually, I am facing a similar decision regarding another volunteer activity from which I have long been absent due to injury: bush firefighting. But that can be legitimately left for later, because I am certainly not fit to resume training and active service, and in any case, the fire season is still a few months off.

The matter over which I have spent the last week in a state of exhausting indecision is whether or not to allow the surgeon to re-operate to fix the painful post-op complication that I mentioned in my previous post.  I'll spare you the medico-surgical details, but basically it's been a choice between fixing it "properly" with surgery and another hospital stay, or letting me muddle along at home (as I have been doing without any real progress). I feel the time is approaching for one of those "Pick One!" moments.

Well, I see him yet again this afternoon, so perhaps the Correct Decision Fairy will be back from her holiday by then. :-)

August 15, 2008

Getting the point

Most medical folk know the following quote from "The House of God" by Samuel Shem
There is no body cavity that cannot be reached with a #14 needle and good strong arm
There was, thankfully, no need of arm strength, but today I did meet a large bore needle, because another truism of medicine is that surgeons have two ways of treating patients: stabbing and slicing. Having already been sliced 2 weeks ago, it was inevitable that I would get my turn on the pointy end of a cannula. The lurid details (while undoubtedly fascinating to those of a similarly clinical bent to myself) will be omitted out of respect for the squeamish, but let's just say it was somewhat reminiscent of the visuals which accompanied the first verse of the Beverly Hillbillies' theme song. ;)
The aim was to relieve the prolonged discomfort of the last week, which would be a Very Good Thing. It was also a huge relief to learn that my post-operative complication was not only rare, but was absolutely not caused by my own over-enthusiastic attempts to return to normal activity, as my friends had feared. So I'm innocent! :-)

The other point I got today was that I have slipped even further out of touch during my absence from the Open Directory Project/DMOZ. I have always been determinedly and deliberately inept at political manoeuvering, and it has definitely made life difficult at times, in a large organisation with its fair share of agendas and alliances. However, I have muddled along with a combination of dogged commitment and a genuine enjoyment of the volunteer community. 
It was therefore depressing to realise today that my lack of political expertise might have adverse effects on other people. That is very unfortunate, and it is further proof (if any were needed) that we are in a constant battle of style over substance in all areas of life.

August 12, 2008

Double double, causes trouble

If there's one thing guaranteed to ruin my mid-year resolution of serenity (of course there are way more than one, but I'll try to focus), it's hypocrisy.
I realise I'm not alone in feeling outraged about this sort of thing, because society has developed a number of common words and expressions to describe the behaviour:
being duplicitous
speaking with a forked tongue

We see it in our public and private lives, and it is as insulting as it is infuriating, because acting like this implies that the other person is too stupid to see the truth. Unfortunately, people often do not realise the true situation, but I don't think it is due to stupidity. More likely it simply does not occur to them that they are being deceived or misled.

Please indulge me while I describe two specific  instances, one public and one private, because they illustrate the phenomenon well.

For reasons which escape me, I had to pay all the (large) fees for my recent surgery in advance, but I could not claim anything from medical benefits until a week afterwards. So as soon as I could drive I went to the claims department, and after waiting 20 minutes in line I presented my accounts and underwent the usual interrogation to determine that I wasn't a dangerous criminal with counterfeit documents. (I'm surprised they don't demand to see the scars.) Then she asked for all my bank details so that she could transfer the refund. I had expected to receive a cheque, and didn't think to bring all the required numbers, so she handed me a long, two-sided form and told me that if I filled that out and posted it in, I should get my cheque within 4-6 weeks. Yes, weeks.
Alternatively, if I returned with the required banking details, she could transfer the funds electronically and they would be in my account in 6-10 working days. 
Excuse me? How on earth can it take a nanosecond to extract funds from my account, and a minimum of 2 weeks to deposit them? Arrgghh.
(By the way, there's no need to send me similar banking/government stories. I do know what they are like. This was just the most recent and my blood pressure is still raised over it.)

On a more individual level, I learned earlier this year that I had allowed myself to be misled about what I had thought were friendships. It happens to most of us at some time, and I'm not really whining about it - we live and learn. However, I recently discovered that one of these people has been deceptive in far more than just friendship, and in fact has been for a long time. It's not a criminal deception, or I would have no hesitation about reporting it, but it does represent a prolonged case of being two-faced. The individual holds a senior position in an organisation to which I belong, and has frequently disciplined others over precisely the same behaviour, which has apparently remained undetected until now. I doubt there is anything to gain by exposing this person, but I am glad that I had already realised our friendship was not as I had thought, or I would be distressed rather than merely very disappointed.

But finally, to balance the above two whinges, here are three glorious headlines from today's news:
"Economy slowing faster than expected" (It's an oldie but still a goodie.)
"Dead 'collector' leaves behind stolen works" (Really?)
and just to show that I like toilet humour as much as the next person:
"House-sized dog poo causes chaos at museum" (Not to mention the actual dog!)

August 06, 2008

It's the little things that count

Many thanks indeed to all those who sent kind messages here and via email and Facebook while I was in hospital. 

I took my laptop just in case, and was thrilled to find free broadband via ethernet, so I was able to keep in touch with people and while away the days with some soothing editing in ODP and BOTW

As I expected, it was an eye-opening experience to be an in-patient, and I rapidly came to realise that once you know you are going to go home eventually, the big issues fade to insignificance and the tiny things exert the greatest influence on your day, for better and for worse.

Day Brighteners
  • The friend who ensured that flowers were in my room by the time I woke from surgery.
  • Free internet (for reasons of sanity and companionship)
  • Prompt attention by IT (who first had to "test" my laptop for presumably dangerous somethings. It passed. Phew.)
  • Great food (no, really, it was outstanding, and all patients know that meals are the highpoints of every day.)
  • Food not only varied and tasty, but arriving hot. (See above)
  • Proper cutlery (eating in a semi-upright position is hard enough without bendy plastic knives and blunt plastic forks)
  • Endlessly patient "Service Assistants" who refilled my water jug umpteen times a day.
  • The surgeon's young son who came with his father on Sunday morning and gravely assured me that "Daddy will fix you up. He always does."
  • The wonderful crispness of a sunny winter morning the first day I could walk outside.

Day Darkeners
  • Staff not explaining who they are or why they have come to speak to you.
  • Staff coming into the room and reading my notes without even looking at me or saying hello.
  • "Duty of care" taken to ludicrous extremes. Many infuriating examples, but this was the silliest: I asked the meal-delivery person if she could please raise the head of my bed so I could eat, but she was "not allowed" to do that, so I had to wait for an "authorised" person, by which time my dinner was cold.
  • Leaving the bright examination light on when leaving the room. (It was out of my reach.)
  • Not returning the bed/door/curtain to its pre-visit state before leaving.
  • Leaving the bedside trolley out of reach.
  • Putting the pillows on a shelf wayyy out of post-op reach (can you see a theme here?) 
But I am home now, healing as fast as I can and hoping to avoid further surgery (for a troublesome complication). If I do have to go in again, I will be forewarned, because I now understand that "nursing" has become less about patients and more about administration, "performance indicators", "quality assurance", and the afore-mentioned "duty of care". Dozens of staff helped to care for me, and they all did their jobs, but it's very sad that I remember only two who treated me as an individual with needs, fears, or concerns of my very own. 

I was a very "good" patient, and did not bother the staff at all, but perhaps I need to attract more attention next time. I don't know when or why it apparently became too time-consuming, out-dated, unprofessional, or perhaps just inefficient for nurses to provide, but I would have given a very great deal for some good old-fashioned TLC.

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. 


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