parallel process(es)

Morningtime ... croissant?!I was making breakfast in a quiet household this morning.  It’s my wife’s birthday, so I let her sleep as she likes to be let.

The three children – no longer children at all – were also in the Land of Nod.

They like to sleep too.

On holiday, anyway.

And as I washed-up, made the coffee, filled the plastic bottles with mineral water from the five-litre containers and generally tidied up, I realised I am a man of parallel process(es).

My wife is not; and therein our occasional arguments.  In fact, I think the battles I’ve had as I’ve been trying to enthuse and engage people enough to participate in hyperlocal in the city where I live seem, to me anyhow, to indicate she is not alone in this world.

I am a man, and men do not multi-task as a general rule.  So they say; and if they say, they must be right.

Breakfast table ...To be honest, when you say the word “multi-task” what comes to my mind is a kind of multiple-limbed creature at the centre of a benevolent web of activity: almost an octopus in human form.  What I am, however, or what comes to mind when you ask me how I work, is rather different: my life operates more like a railway – a Christmas-excited kid’s train-set perhaps – where my tasks and responsibilities regularly criss-cross various lines: back and forth, occasionally (or maybe that’s often?!) halting at “stations” of significant interest … through beauty, through utility, through other more difficult-to-define reasons.

So what are the consequences of being a parallel processor instead of a multi-tasker?

Well.

Mainly, that multi-taskers think you’re wasting time never getting something finished.

They see the washing-up still soaking twenty minutes later, and don’t realise it’s the third set of dishes, left to soak so the detergent has time to do the work I’ve paid it to do – rather than me having to scrub furiously away at the hardened debris!

PersianasMeantime, they don’t appreciate I’ve been making coffee, filling water bottles, wandering round the house changing light-bulbs; admiring the scenery from the first floor; or just thinking – invisibly I grant you – about this or that.

My wife is a multi-tasker, yes – and a very good one at that.  I suspect many people – if not most – have lately learned to be.  They’ve had little alternative, to be honest: the strategic dumbing-down of most roles these days – as companies look to protect themselves against high staff-turnover, due to low wages and collapsing job-satisfaction – is almost certainly teaching even men to work at several discrete processes and their corresponding procedures during the course of a single day (without, that is, tragically messing things up … the real achievement of corporate multi-tasking everywhere – if not its everyday equivalent).

The downside, however, of all the above is that people who think end-to-end, or would like to be given the opportunity, are less common, less valued and – ultimately – less needed.

Until the whole house of cards tumbles down, of course … and by then, it’ll be far too late for anyone to recover the knowhow and nous.

My mistake, I think, in hindsight anyway, was not to realise that in hyperlocal it’s more important to gain people’s acceptance at a face-to-face level than achieve it via intellectual and process-driven means.

Salamanca's Town HallThis is why, even as I find myself currently on extended leave and would love to stay where I find myself, I also know for various reasons it is entirely impractical.

This is why, in the autumn, I shall return to jousting windmills as I have all my life.  My latest forays into hyperlocal and Chester are just one set of examples amongst a whole history of examples.  But really, if they are ever to become anything more substantial than windmills castles in the air, I will need to discover how to ensure the people I want to work with understand the important differences between multi-taskers like my wife (the grandiose majority – and I mean “grandiose” most sincerely) and parallel processors like myself (the sad – but also useful – minority).

There’s always a way for everyone to get on – as the Spanish say: “Hablando se entiende la gente …” (“Through speaking we understand each other …”) – so I’m not down in the mouth by any means as a result of this situation.

Again in hindsight, I’ve always been a fairly optimistic soul.

The only slight problem being we cannot live entirely on optimism.

But that’s where natural multi-taskers are always right – where parallel processors get lost in the maze of trains of thought.

Reflecting then?Reflecting then?  Well yes, that’s where I’m at right now.  But isn’t that where I’ve always been?

🙂

how to give a community its voice (and how not to)

I’ve posted twice on this recently, here and here.

It’s a bit of a struggle, signing up to altruism again.

My father-in-law died early last year.  He died, to my wife’s huge surprise, a rich man; but not really beloved.  No one who lived with him, who we presume knew how rich he was, ever suggested he use his resource for the palliative care he deserved – nor even the surgery that might have helped.

Instead, he hung grimly on as the Spanish public health system permanently postponed this action or that.

Any inheritance out of that could hardly be described as anything but blood money.

My wife had to take out a loan for the legal fees and death taxes.  She’s still paying it; still finding it challenging.

We all are, as a family: my kids lives are on slo-mo, in fact … they were looking forward to start learning paths you only get the change to achieve once in a lifetime.

But, on the other hand, if that “once in a lifetime” is based on blood money … well, how on earth do you think that might make anyone feel?

We were assured some of the money would reach us by November.

It’s awful – though no more awful than for much of the austerity-hit world – not to know if you can pay your next bills.

Anyhow.  The bank in question, a truly dreadful bank, recently froze all the resource that my wife supposedly had coming to her: it said it needed a document.  We sent the document via Royal Mail international tracking, at the cost of seven quid – instead of the assured two or three days, it took a whole week to arrive.

The bank rejected the signed document because my wife hadn’t known to put a tick in a box.  It was obvious from their initial request, once explained the four alternatives, which was needed.

It was the giving of a new address.

Even so, they refused to authorise the tick via security questions or registered email – or even from within my wife’s online access.

They blamed the Spanish authorities.

They asked for a repeat document; they refused to allow a fax.

The repeat document was sent on Monday 26th January.  It sat with Royal Mail for two days, somewhere in Britain.

Then it sat for two days with the Spanish postal service.

It still hadn’t been delivered last night.

It cost seven quid to send; less than 20g in weight; a standard-size envelope.

Meanwhile, once received the properly completed document, the bank’s representative added a little suspiciously, maybe even a little darkly, its legal department would then take a decision as to whether the funds could be released.  After having the week before assured my wife it was the only document needed.

Prior to all the above, they’d had her waiting fifteen days for a cheque book they at first suggested was all she needed to transfer funds, only then not to contact her when the legal department stepped in and decided no go.

It’s one of the worst banks in the world.  I won’t say which, but if you’re a grammar fiend, it’s definitely not the infinitive!

*

Why am I telling you this in a post titled as this one is?

Because, in an austerity world, the lizards are still playing the game of “Us vs Them”.  At least, that’s what I suspect.  You can only be allowed to easily access the kind of funds which do indeed change lives, hopes and futures, if you are prepared to become far more like “Us”; if you are prepared to stop being the “Them” you’ve always been.

That’s how I feel it, anyway; at least in my fragile and vulnerable present.

I may be wrong: it may be utter incompetence.  But Spain is different: they use the cloak of incompetence to get stuff done at the expense of the deserving.

Perhaps, actually it’s not that different: isn’t that what the British Coalition has spent its time doing for five long years?

The real mental suffering my wife has been exposed to by her family is only compounded by the bureaucratic wheels neither of us have any understanding of.

At least one member of her family is probably certifiably psychotic; the other, about as passive-aggressive as they come.

And if we look at what’s happened to my sad, little, suffering family, writ so small and insignificantly as it is, and as it has been over the past year, so we can make a wider comparison to what has been writ large across the global austerity stage.

Austerity is not a tool but a weapon.  It’s designed to prevent people having the comfort, security, incentive and motivation to explain sensibly, rationally, thoughtfully and constructively enough why things just must be done in a completely different way.

We are all, all of us, all of us who still belong to the “Them”, running terrified of what’s going to happen next.

In that, the comparison with the continuous ratcheting game of Hitler’s Nazi Germany or Stalin’s Soviet Union is perfectly reasonable.  In that, for the moment, anyhow.

*

So how does all the above, all of that, relate to my latest project?

The local wiki, chester.website, is an altruistic act on my part.  Altruism maintains humanity, life, hope and the futures which should belong to everyone.

That’s why I do it, why I’ve done it in the past, why I’m doing it now.  In order to remain strong enough to defend my wife and children; in order to keep a hold of the good part of life; in order to continue to reject its underbelly.

Austerity erodes people’s soapboxes: their desires to communicate; their confidence in being able to do so, in being valued for doing so, in even having a right to do so.

So if the big things are no longer within our reach, if the big things are being used to prevent us from speaking up, if we must jettison democracy’s right to speak out on major issues, if we must give up on our “one shot at happiness”, then at least let us, with the simplest of process, create spaces where kindness, solidarity and local neighbourliness can allow us to continue that appreciation of the good the world still holds.

For it is considerable, this good I mention; and wise, where it is to be found.

trolls

My memories of trolls pre-date the web.

My first contact with them, as a father who sat by his children whilst they watched their TV, was the original Spanish version of “David, el Gnomo”.  It’s funny how first seeings fix it for you.  I far prefer “The X-Files” in the Spanish dubbed version: the voices are much sexier, much warmer than the originals.  The dubbed version of Disney’s “Aladdin” could never replace Robin Williams, but the Spanish equivalent of the same company’s “Beauty and the Beast” (“La Bella y la Bestia”) is so much more fun – especially the figure of Gaston.

So.  Trolls as in “David, el Gnomo” are one of my abiding memories of my time in Spain.

Nowadays, it seems to me of late anyway, the term has come to mean not only people who deliberately aim to pull other people up short – often in a very cruel way – but types who in any other century might simply have been called pedantic.

Yes.  You got it!  I’m clearly talking about myself here …

I remember the other day a very short exchange with a notable British lawyer who has carved out a considerable social-network reputation.  Deservedly so, too.  I met him once, at one of those events in London I used to go to: I immediately liked his seriousness and his informed focussing on issues; I felt, I suppose, it matched my own tendency to talk about real stuff instead of nattering on this or that.

Anyhow.  As I was saying.  A couple of days ago, he asked the Twitterverse to comment on his newly refreshed website.  I made a light-hearted comment, alongside a more serious evaluation (“informative without being fussy” were the words I think I used – can’t say much more with 140 characters!), in what I thought was the spirit of the request.

He replied shortly afterwards, saying: “I actually found that funny.”  (I assume he was referring to the light-hearted comment.)

And so I suddenly realised, as I reeled back through other more recent exchanges, that maybe I’m getting a small reputation as an incipient troll of the worldwide-web kind.  You know.  The kind of person who has too much time on his or her hands, and so spends it wastefully, chasing down bollocks.

Pardon my language.

😦

On the other hand, I don’t feel – inside – that people should really see me like this.  Pedantry is irritating, that’s true, but in some areas – say safety in a nuclear power station – you’d be bloody glad for analogous attention to detail.

In a sense, then, the democratisation of everything except democracy – and here I mean social-networked access to publishing and communication versus feeling you’re making any real difference at the ballot box – has meant simultaneously that there’s both more pedantry to be retweeted and liked, if you so wish and if you are of a mind, as well as greater reasons to stamp – troll-like (as in my kids’ childhood TV) – on the heads of any such instincts.

Yep.  In the grand sweep of things, especially this week, it’s a really minor matter.  But our specialised society so depends on building its multiple foundations upon carefully wrought, observed and sustained accumulative detail that any tendency which serves to criticise and demean such pedantry surely doesn’t bode well for the future.

What do you think?  Am I a sort of troll?

Be kind.

Like all trolls, we do actually take criticism very badly.

🙂