Creating Order

I recently had a new closet installed in my apartment and some supplementary storage places added under the bed and in the entryway. Part of the reason I added in new storage options was because I seemed to have a lot of stuff that was “homeless.” The storage is there, but I haven’t started filling it because I’m still deciding what needs to go where.

I was discussing the new storage options with a colleague at work and his advice was “choose carefully.” Storage options can be tricky. I love having things out of the way behind a closed door or shut drawer, but I also need to be able to reach and access them. The best is to match necessity with ease of access. For example, my extra blankets are stored on a shelf above my clothes in my closet. I need a stool to reach it, but then again, I rarely need to.

It’s necessary to be strategic about which items are placed where in cabinets, drawers, closets, etc. This is especially important when unpacking a new home. It may take a few tries to get everything in the right place to optimize flow and convenience. Although items can be shuffled around after, it’s kind of a pain. Rearranging closets and drawer contents is a time consuming activity, one that almost always has to be done in one session because stuff will be everywhere in the transition process. I prefer to wait until I have a plan before filling my storage areas to try and avoid shifting things later.

Here’s my plan:

  1. Assess which areas are overcrowded and in need of some storage options. For me the priorities are my tiny, over-stuffed kitchen, hallway closet, and bits of random, orphaned “stuff.”
  2. Determine which items specifically need storage and how often you will need to access them. For example, I stored my towels with the sheets because there were no other spaces available until recently. As these are both frequently used items, it’s definitely something I’m flagging for a better option.
  3. Look at all existing storage options, including ones that are already filled and/or rarely accessed. It may be time to shuffle things around.
  4. Purge anything and everything possible that you no longer use and/or need.
  5. Clear out the calendar for several hours to fill storage areas and rearrange, as needed.

Stay tuned for progress updates.

Contractors: Offline

Every time I’ve had to hire a contractor, it’s always been done through word-of-mouth and referrals. For some reason, it’s not the kind of thing I search for online. When hiring a contractor for home repair, trust and good workmanship are essential. Maybe that’s why I always prefer to ask around. Or maybe it’s because that’s the best way to find the good ones, who are often too busy to set up more modern, digital forms of advertising.

I’ve noticed that the majority of contractors I know, or have learned about through referrals, rarely have an online presence. By online presence, I mean a website, or a company page on something like Facebook, LinkedIn or another form of social media. This makes it difficult to see photos of their work to assess the quality of the home repairs and to find online reviews. Though to be fair, I’ve never looked that hard because I mostly rely on the referrals. In my mind, the referral is one of the best reviews because most often the contractor has done work in that person’s house, making it a personal and intimate experience.

With some services, quotes and estimates can be attained through online services where the requestor simply fills in some details online to get some figures. With contracting work, however, quotes and estimates are done in person after a visit. I’ve tried to get ballpark estimates in advance, but most contractors I know insist on coming to visually assess the work themselves.

I suppose this is due to a combination of factors. Some contracting jobs are a lot more complicated than they seem to be from the perspective of the home owner, something that can only be assessed properly with a visual assessment. Contractors have a wealth of knowledge and experience about when a job may seem to be more complex than it first appears.

The work done by contractors is manual and tactile and it’s as though their processes are designed match. Invoices are done by hand, cobbled together in a disorganized fashion on a word document, hastily scribbled on an invoice pad, or simply itemized in the body of an email. A hold out to a fast-moving electronic environment where everything is readily available online in a digestible app form. But sometimes, you just need a plumber.


Who are your friends?

When I was in college, my father and my aunt would always ask me questions about my friends and socializing. They often asked me if I was in any clubs or groups, who I liked to spend time with, and what I was doing for fun in my leisure time. To them, my social development and sense of community were as important as the academic part of going to school.

I remember a lot of phone calls to them feeling low and lonely because I felt like I didn’t have enough friends. Only to have my father and aunt both pepper me with a lot of suggestions about how to get out there. Join a club. Find some groups at school related to your interests. Go study with your classmates, etc. All very practical advice, but sometimes easier said than done.

At the time I had a full course load and I was working on the side. My large and impersonal college had almost 20,000 students. It had its own subway stop on the 6 line in NYC, but not much of a campus with areas for mingling and socializing with other students. Most of the time available for socializing was restricted to before/after class, when we weren’t rushing off to the next thing.

If I had been in college during the age of social media, I wonder how different my answers would have been. I might not have been able to tell my father and aunt about in-person social interactions, but maybe I could have talked about how many online groups I belonged to, or how many hours I spent “chatting” with others. Or how many people “liked” or retweeted my lasting posting, surely an indicator of popularity. Then again, maybe they would have asked me different types of questions. Maybe they would have asked what social media networks I was on. And who I enjoyed following on Instagram and Twitter. And did I ever meet any of these “friends” offline?

People seem to have a lot of Facebook “friends” or connect on things like Instagram and Twitter, but are they really friends? Many times online connections are made without meeting in person. Does this count as making friends and socializing? Or fostering a sense of community? I mostly use social media for networking, rather than socializing. Maybe I’m a tad old-fashioned, but to me socializing is something done face-to-face.

FB and 3rd Party Apps

As I mentioned in a previous post, I’ve had my Facebook (FB) account since 2007. But I rarely log on and use it. It’s just one of those things I keep around, and it comes in handy about once every 2 years. Even in the beginning, when everyone was just figuring out how to use FB, I never engaged with any 3rd-party apps, with 2 exceptions.

A 3rd-party app is one that is created by an entity external to FB that then integrates with it, usually in the form of logins, games, purchases, quizzes, etc. The reason I never engaged with any 3rd-party apps on FB, even from the beginning, was because I always understood that FB could not be responsible for how my data was collected and used by an external party. I believe this is pretty standard, even today, with how social media works with 3rd-party apps and extensions. Once data leaves FB, either obtained legally or illegally, it is no longer under the control of FB and they can’t track or manage it on behalf of its users anymore. In the early days, FB also allowed 3rd-party apps to collect your information, and your friends’ information too.

Every time I get wound up about something like this, inevitably the person at the other end of my tirade shrugs. Then says something like, why should I care? I’ve got nothing to hide. I blogged about this some time ago. (Read here.) It’s not about having something to hide, it’s about having something to protect. Information is power. We freely give it up, performing thousands of hours of mundane data entry, for FREE, so other companies can swoop in and make a profit off of it. And what do we get in return? Addictive online services that distract us with high volume, low quality items? Manipulated?

Many apps and services also encourage, or require people to sign up through an FB account or Google, etc.. This is popular with people because it means there are fewer logins to remember, and it makes FB a one-stop shop with everything conveniently linked in one place. However, if you’re fond of using your FB login to access other services, deleting or deactivating your FB account will be difficult. You will lose all the other information and services integrated with your account. That doesn’t seem convenient.

Facebook & Privacy: You’re in Control, Really?

I have to admit that I was quite amused at the content on Facebook’s Privacy Basics page.  The phrase “You’re in Control” is even one of the menu headers. Really? I thought to myself. I never feel in control of my content on Facebook (FB) which is one of the primary reasons why I never use the account I’ve had for about 10 years. I only have content because my friends occasionally tag me in a photo or comment on something with my name.

It’s true that I can control who sees what I share on Facebook, but I can’t control what other people share or post about me. That becomes part of their feed and record. I know that I can be notified if someone tags me in a photo that s/he posted. If I elect not to be tagged, that photo is still there. That image of me can still be found with facial recognition software on someone else’s post even if it’s not tagged with my name and even after I’ve deleted my account. Where’s the control?

I’m irritated every time FB updates their privacy settings, that are inevitably defaulted to grant the highest level of access possible to my information. This means each time an update occurs, I have to go in and reset my permissions to whatever is the most restrictive.

I understand that Facebook now is quite different from the one I joined in 2007.  From its inception, it’s always been focused on sharing with others. The result is volumes of information freely available with open access. I’m not surprised to see FB in the headlines for months now about how data harvested from the site was used to influence voters and sway elections. I’m only surprised that it took so long to come out in the open.

Facebook’s business model is based on using profile information to send sponsored advertisements to their targeted audience. Does Zuckerberg have so little imagination that he couldn’t possibly imagine anybody using profile data to do anything else, like manipulate a government election? Hasn’t he read any sci-fi books about this? I’ve been reading about it in post-apocalyptic young adult novels for years. Surely some of these themes have hit the adult market.

So why do I keep my account? Like many people it’s because certain things I do are only on FB. Very annoying.

Digital “Note” Taking

Over the last several years, I’ve noticed a lot of people whipping out their phones during presentations or lectures to snap pictures of something on the projector. As the familiar adage goes “a picture is worth a 1000 words.” So whenever I see people taking pictures instead of writing, I can’t help but wonder do they also take notes? Is a picture enough to remember everything later? No caption? No explanation to go with the image or a title? How will these “notes” be found later in a collection of thousands of images?

I’m currently working on a college campus. Part of my job is to teach the students information literacy. The name of the class could also be “Using the library for research instead of Google.” Sometimes during the sessions it’s hard to gauge what, if anything, the students are absorbing. It’s tough to break through the ease and seduction of searching offered by Google. And the many misperceptions about the quality of results available on Google. Contrary to popular belief, the results on the first page are not always the most trustworthy, relevant, or best quality resources.

However, when I see students reach for their phones and start taking pictures of something I’m showing on the projector, I know something clicked for them. I’m always curious to see which things the students are interested in retaining since the phones appear at different moments in each class. Sometimes they take pictures of a link when I show them a nifty resource available to them through the library. Other times they capture the criteria we teach them for evaluating resources found on the internet.

In one class a student took a photo of the login screen that automatically appears if you try to access the college materials from an off-campus location. The login prompt, aptly named “Off-campus login” does seem self-explanatory, but I suppose having visual confirmation from the phone to the screen could help.


The only thing I recall taking pictures of are white boards after a particularly engaging brainstorm session when there isn’t adequate time to type up everything properly. And then it usually ends up sitting in my phone as a future task, something that “I’ll get to later.” I wonder how often other people end up referring to these pictures they take during lectures or presentations. And how much of the content gets retained.