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what's up with build-a-bear this week?

so here's a relevant, topical post for the week... build a bear! wtf?

They had a "pay your age" day where you could go get a bear for your age, so if your kid is 8, her bear is only $8.

Which sounds awesome except I've been to build a bear, haven't a lot of people? The bears are never that expensive. They're like $12, maybe $20, sure there's some flashy licensed ones but there's almost always some on sale or a buy-one-get-one deal. They have sales all the time.

The sales never extend to accessories, and that's the bread and butter of build a bear. I was telling a friend of mine about how we might have build-a-bear clothes that are more expensive than my clothes.

You get your $12 bear then realize the little shirt for it is $8, but why just get the little shirt when you can get the $15 dress, $10 shoes, $20 rollerskates (yup), hat, bow, headband, purse, and you walk out thinking "I got a $12 bear! It was only $50!"

Maybe I notice these things because when I worked in the shoestore we were always getting pressure to sell extra accessories and items. We were graded on the item count average on all the days receipts. Profit margins on "stuff that's not shoes" was huge. Shoelaces, socks, shoe cleaners and care kit, bags, bows, etc.

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vampire talk with the 5 year old

olive: I do not like vampires.

me: well that's okay, because they're not real.

olive: but they turn into bats. bats are real.

me: well yeah, bats are real, but not vampires.

olive: but there's vampire bats.

me: well, okay. vampire bats are real. but you don't have to worry about them because they don't live in Kansas.

olive: I saw them in our zoo!

me: okay YES they live at the zoo but... not, like, outside? NOTHING IS TRYING TO SUCK YOUR BLOOD.

olive: mosquitoes are sucking my blood.

me: (deep breath) you're very smart olive. this is a very good talk.

olive: I just don't like vampires. 

me: me neither, babe. 

Upcoming Reunion

Can we talk about high school reunions?

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no socks

When I first came to work in an office 15 years ago, our company dress code required that everyone wear socks or hosiery.

My staple was close-toed dress shoes, knee high hose, and slacks.

Now it looks like the fashion for women is to never wear socks at all. So I'm trying to ditch the knee highs and go with those weird invisible socks that nobody can see but I think I hate this trend.  I'm in a nicer building these days with people who dress better and it looks like they really do not wear socks. Maybe that's the fashion. Why wear socks? They help your shoes last longer that's for sure. Why have shoes that last longer? It's women's shoes, you're supposed to throw them all out and replace them every three months. Oh wait, I hate that.

On jeans day I wear normal socks and brown leather lace-up sneakers that I got in the men's department. Leather holds up so much better I really try to get only that, but in the women's side of things it's hard to find and crazy expensive if it's any where. Men get leather shoes for $60. I think the ones I got are clarks or bass or something. I did get recognized one day when a guy saw that we were wearing the exact same shoes and he just said "that's so cool, they make the same ones for women!" and I just said "YUP!" At least, they made some for this woman.

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code switching robots

I think I realized why it's so infuriating to talk to robots on the phone. You know what I mean — you call a helpline or something and they've got the voice saying extra happy things like "Sure SPACEFEM, I'll help you with that right away. But first I need some information. What are you calling about? You can say CHANGE SERVICE, FILE A CLAIM, or CUSS US ALL OUT."

Then they kinda do or don't understand you and that's frustrating in itself but you know what's worse? They will never code switch like humans do. You know what I mean. When I'm talking to someone who talks fast, I talk fast. When they talk slow I talk slow. When they have a southern accent, I instinctively work in the word "ain't" every once in a while. It's what we all do.

I think I'm good at it actually.

Robots aren't that smart. There are too many tiny details. They can type, I've heard, and fake us out and make us think we're talking to a person, but it will be a VERY long time before verbal communication can pass a turing test.

My 7 year old definitely changes how she talks when she's around her friends, I notice. The 4 year old kinda doesn't. She talks slower to little babies but at some toddler age, they're all the same.

Spring break trip to Oklahoma City

Last weekend with the kids on spring break I took thursday and friday off so we could be tourists like a normal American family. That's what you do! Part of what inspired this trip is we've talked about going to Disney World but I keep wondering if it's worth it. Can Olive, age almost five, endure a whole day of fun? Especially when she thinks it's really special to just go to the playground two miles from our house? Then I realized there might be fun stuff within driving distance that we haven't gone to, maybe try that first and spend a few hundred dollars on a trip before we spend thousands. Good call.


Day 1: Went to Enid since it's sort of on the way to Oklahoma City to see the Leonardo's Children's Museum. Admission: $9 per person. Time spent: Easily four hours. It was a nice day so we spent a lot of time at this crazy outdoor castle they have. It's not all science museum per se, they have arts and crafts and a "town" setting, Olive loved the tiny grocery store. I liked the giant lite-brite. In the middle there's a big indoor playground/climbing structure with little ball pit balls you can send flying around through hamster maze kinds of setups, I was impressed. Definitely worth it. Olive wanted to go back. We could have spent more time there. 


We drove to Oklahoma City and I figured the kids would pass out but NOPE, Olive was back there talking and singing with extra energy. How? I have no idea. I think Josie might have drifted off.


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arm warmers

You know what I always thought was weird? Gloves with no fingers.

Then I got some through my etsy trade team because there were all these knitters making arm warmers and I thought what the heck. And you know what I realized? These are AWESOME!

You can wear them all day and do everything — type, use a computer mouse, text, write, do crafts, sew, dress your kids, all the stuff you do with your hands. Except now your hands aren't cold.

I work in an office with all men. I've been cold for 15 years. I always complained that I could bundle up all I wanted and wear a coat indoors but my hands would freeze.  But not anymore! I even wear them to drive sometimes. Bulky gloves are bulky. Sleek flexible gloves offer little to no warmth. Arm warmers, you can pull them up over your hands like mittens, or just have them warm up your hands and then it's not so noticeable. 

Took me long enough huh?

Waller

The word "waller" is a technical term recognized immediately in Kansas, not as much across the English speaking world. I think it's useful enough that we should spread it.

Definition: to enlarge a hole, typically though imprecise means.

Origin: Pigs waller around in the mud by moving around vigorously in it until they can get all down in there.

Example: The hole wasn't big enough, so I had to waller it out to make the bolt fit.

Related terms: "there I fixed it", "trust me I'm an engineer", "that'll buff right out"

2017 Resolutions

It's time to get back to new years resolutions. In 2017 I took a year off, so to speak, January came around and I wasn't feeling it, I was in a haze of gross corporate overwork and post-election depression. I resolved to do nothing, keep my head down and focus on work, draw no political attention to myself, spend all available time at home on my couch.

I did not do that. April came around and I addressed a crowd of nearly 1000 people at the March for Science... not exactly keeping my head down, but I was glad I did it. Then in June I was elected president of the board of a large non-profit organization that takes about 10-20 hours a week besides my 60 hour a week job. It is what it is. As we used to say in the '05 campaign days, "Sleep when you are dead."

I also really like having new years resolutions so it's time to get back into that. My philosophies for them: No repeats. Be creative. Forgive yourself if you don't meet a few. You need 6-10. Have some small fun ones in addition to big crazy ones. Give yourself until mid-January to set them - since you'll be at these all year, no pressure to have them all written down January 1, brainstorm while you slowly and fully immerse yourself in the new year glow.

Here are my 2018 resolutions:

  • Keep the glovebox in my car clean enough to actually store gloves
  • Make hummus regularly enough to have a freezer stash
  • Save Tuesday as a family day where we eat a calm dinner together and pick up the house
  • Get updated family portraits
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idiot proofing

I really hate the term "idiot proofing".

It's on you to make your designs user friendly.

If use of your design is ambiguous and fails to predict human behavior, you don't get to escape by calling everyone ELSE an idiot. If you failed to adhere to conventions and designed a car with the brake pedal on the right, drivers are not idiots for crashing. If you're teaching a class and everyone fails your test, the problem is not that the whole class is lazy. If you make a website for your restaurant and people constantly call you asking what the hours are, you might want to move the hours to a more noticable place.

I find fault with anyone who thinks "I'm smart, the rest of the world is full of idiots."

the best gift ever

I got your child a really special present this year because I love your family so much! It was expensive so I expect to see lots of facebook updates all year about it, I'll ping you on Thursdays :)

The box looks REALLY cool from the outside so your kids will be STOKED when they see this and will beg you to start setting it up right away!

It requires some assembly. You will need a 13.4mm tri-groove screw head bit that can be ordered from Shloshy's Bit World in southern Taiwan, haven't found it anyplace else.

When it's set up it takes up 30 square feet on your floor and stands six feet tall. It doesn't collapse back down.

There's a 60 page instruction booklet for you to read and you'll notice that every activity you can do with this toy is one that you and your five year old do TOGETHER! Each project looks really neat so she will constantly ask you to do it, some only take two hours but most of them take four or five, plus troubleshooting when it doesn't go well because you don't want to disappoint your child. Finally, something to occupy all your ample spare time!

It comes with one refill kit but will quickly need more. They are $37.50 each. It cranks out a finished product that lasts for 36 hours then it goes to a landfill so you can refill it and make another thing. See, it's a STEM toy! I knew you'd love it!

It emits a 90 decibel midi version of La Cucaracha at random intervals or when it senses vibrations or light changes in the room. Your kids will love setting it off!

It needs to plug in. The cord is only 18" long for safety so be sure to position it near an outlet or you'll need an extension cord. It ALSO needs 12 C-size batteries for the auxiliary control panel. The batteries last about 45 minutes.

Have fun! Merry Christmas!

items to always carry with you in your car

Here is my updated list of recommended items to always have in your car.

Two ice scrapers - My dad taught me to always carry not one but two ice scrapers in my car. One for me in case of ice, and one to give away to the poor soul trying to use a credit card two spaces down from me.

Two umbrellas - Same idea. Ever see anyone caught in a car wreck in the rain? Their day is screwed up, their car is dented, they're copying down some insurance information from a stranger AND getting wet. You can prevent them from getting more wet.

Tire gage - Not the crappy stick kind! Get a nice dial, with the extra button to let air out.

Travel car battery charger - I used to say "jumper cables" but then I met the travel car battery charger! You can jump start your own car with nobody's help. Truly a gift that keeps on giving and they charge your phone just in case. For the really ambitious, there are 2-in-1 charter/tire inflators.

Frisbee - Just in case a nice day breaks out and a picnic happens.

Milk crate full of books for little free libraries - just me? okay. Well I have too many dang books and hate finding a LFL that's not stocked up. If you're in a new part of town check http://littlelocator.org and map to the closest one.

Pair of scissors - so the drive through place doesn't mangle your coupons trying to rip them apart. A multi-tool or pocket knife with scissors is also an option.

Wine opener - Ever bring a bottle of wine to somebody's house for a party and they don't have a corkscrew? AHHHH! I have saved entire SWE meetings by having one in my glove box.

Survival blanket - okay this is maybe passable, but when I was flying airplanes it was a real thing in case you land in the tundra.

Gloves - be an organized person who stores gloves in their glove box. Not piles of old papers. I cleaned out my glove box and found insurance cards from six years ago. I decided to make a goal to store gloves in it, and only the necessary papers for registration and insurance. It can be done.

That concludes my list.

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bad leaders

I found this in my notes and can't find where I posted it to lj - it's possible I never did. I have a giant notepad file on my desktop where I jot down ideas. Sometimes I just need time to pass for everything to gel. Sometimes I'm writing about a very specific event, and I want it to pass so nobody can pin down exactly which event/place/person I'm writing about.

But this is one I don't want to lose. They say you learn about leadership from examples - both good and bad. Great leaders are exceptional at absorbing lessons. They learn from everyone. They learn just as much from bad bosses.

Well in my career I've had both good and bad bosses. And even when I had a great direct boss, I could see others around him - above him, or dotted line, or dotted line to me - who were not great so he was held back and therefore I was held back too. So I started this list. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.

Ten things that bad leaders do:

1) Pick tiny pet projects to fixate on and send everyone scrambling for that one little piece, rather than seeing the big picture.

2) If their boss yells at them they yell at you. They do no buffering, filtering, channeling or absorption.

3) If people are enthusiastic about the project, they find a way to squelch it.

4) If conflicting goals come up between groups, they casually tell you to work it out. They don't stick up for anyone. They tell each group to do whatever it takes to get their little part done, creating a constant multi-way battle for their love.

5) The goals and priorities change hourly.

6) They refuse to make any individual contributions on principle. They don't produce anything.

7) They want to know every detail and get very angry if they aren't kept in the loop. Even if you complete a task on time, they might still get mad because it happened without them knowing every step along the way.

8) They never praise anyone. If the team accomplishes a big milestone, the closure passes by quietly, there's never a confirmation that all our hard work paid off.

9) They ask you what you're working on in order to get an idea for what to harass you about later. You feel like you're working in an echo chamber.

10) They don't advertise their plan. They make people sit and wait on ideas that could improve the product because they have a secret priority they don't want to let anyone in on.

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well nobody told ME about it

I decided to set a rule at work for everybody.

You're allowed to be mad about Things, sometimes. We all are. Unrealistic schedules, work being undone, time wasted, money wasted, something breaking, someone being a jerk, life in general.

But of all the things to be mad at, you're not allowed to be mad about just feeling left out.

Communication is on you. If you want to know what's going on, ask. Set expectations. Or even better, be PART of the story. People tell you things when they trust you, understand that you need the information, or most common, they know you can help them. They'll naturally keep you in the loop if those things are true. If you're making enough contributions, they can't forget about you.

If one person routinely leaves you out, talk to that person. Maybe they have room for improvement.

But if you're screaming at a whole room full of people that they should have told you something, the problem isn't them. The problem is you.

Plans change fast. Everyone is doing their best to talk. So if you JUST learned something, that's great. Now you know. Let's move on.

Are we moving forward? Yes? Good.

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Spacekid's 7th Birthday List

I have tried to explain to Josie what a birthday list should be. Lots of items so people have choices. $10-$20 price range. Obtainable. Interesting.

Here's Josie's list:

- Furreal Friends Unicorn - A $80 robotic plush that has terrible reviews on amazon. the "not worth the money my kid played with this for one day" type that make me feel good about refusing the spend that much on a toy.

- Shopkins - Tiny little characters that exist everywhere in our house, we've obtained and lost so many. When humanity fails and a new race of robots takes over the world and tears our houses down, they'll find shopkins.

- Corn cob stuffed animal - yes. kid who has too many stuffed animals wants one shaped like a corn on the cob.

- Glitter crayons - doable, although again, I think we had and lost these already, and grandparents do not like getting a pile of $3 items. then again when it's up against the stuffed corn on the cob...

- 3D printed unicorn - Okay YES I learned to use a 3D printer this year. But unicorns suck! Tiny legs, big body, I did two attempts with thingiverse models that fell over and resulted in spaghetti. 3D printing is not like the star trek replicator yet, sorry friends. And objects with small bases suck. Why couldn't she asked for a pyramid?

- Headbands - how many does a kid need?

- Money - after seeing this list there's no way I'd trust her to go shopping.

- Candy - please.

This concludes the birthday list of my soon-to-be 7-year-old.

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This month a librarian in Toronto published a study that brought up issues with the little free library movement and central organization behind the charter signs and world map.

I heard about the dot org in 2012, loved the idea, paid $25 or something for a cute charter sign, and added myself to the map. Not every builder has registered with the world org, when we stewards see a library with no charter sign we sometimes call it a rogue library. They're not bad, but I did write a blog post about why I think you should register. I choose not to publicize them much on the city-wide facebook page I run because when I see a rogue library I'm not sure if they want to be part of something bigger or open to visitors from other neighborhoods.

I've done a LOT involving libraries, and like every very involved volunteer I've had constructive criticism. I wish the organization would come out with an app or text listing of the libraries to make them easier to find, made my own version and offered them the code, they are not interested. Their app has been talked about but delayed and delayed and delayed for a good two years now. I asked why the charter sign price keeps going up - it's over $40 now. I'll happily pay for a charter sign for anyone in my community who needs one, it's just funny that it's the most expensive component of our scrap-built LFL.

Back to the news of the day. This toronto librarian basically said that little free libraries are more about cutesy "TWEEE!" than promoting literacy, book quality is low, they're going to upper-middle-class neighborhoods and not neighborhoods in need, the organization isn't basing its strategy on research. She claims that the organization is making money but not doing anything all that helpful. She has nothing against individual stewards, if we want to build libraries we should build them, but the umbrella is unnecessary.

I asked the simple questions first: is LFL's mission to promote literacy? No, it's to promote neighborhood book exchanges. So they're doing what they claim to do there.

Then in the comments around the articles, I kept seeing this discussion happen:

1) That organization is stupid, anyone could have done what they did with a free google map.
2) But they didn't.
3) My cousin made a map, it's got 10 libraries on it.
4) What's he doing to get more? Promote it, add to it?
5) Nah he doesn't have time for that.

I had looked at the staff list for LFL, which expands every year, and wondered why they have five paid staff members assigned to "communications and marketing". Suddenly I realized why.

They've succeeded in getting through the noise of the world to me and many others. I wouldn't have built a library if not for them. There are 50,000 registered libraries now and 45 or so in Wichita Kansas. Is it solving all the world's literacy problems? Probably not. But is it a net good? Probably.

And I'm reminded once again that ORGANIZATIONS make things happen. Sometimes for bad, but if you don't want them to be bad, you get involved. Frequently the organizations do good. People use "organized religion" as a derogatory term, when they're not discussing the history of major hospitals in the US. Protesters are usually criticized for organizing when they should just calmly sit at home writing to their senators, but major changes in our democracy have their roots in organizations working for years with lots of people to change policy. We love little simple one person stories, but when we look deeper we see that the one person had a lot of help.

So even though I've had my beefs with the big org, I remain a joiner. I keep buying charter signs. I keep going to meetings - SWE, Toastmasters, church, the makerspace. I help the girl scouts, I donate to amnesty, I join committees, I organize and help people organize. Plant a flag on a hill, everybody go up the hill. That's the only way I've seen anything get done.

my facebook birthday wishes

I'm not a fan of facebook birthday wishes, sorry to say it. Some people make it a ritual, every morning I think they wake up, facebook tells them who's having a birthday, they go write on all the walls. I am lucky to have friends, of course, but having my phone blow up all day and all the clutter on my timeline did not make me feel special. So after I turned 36 last year, I hid my birthday so no one could see it. I SWEAR I made it private.

So imagine my annoyance this year when it somehow snuck back in! Woke up to four timeline posts, I was at work and my phone notifications were all facebook. I could turn notifications off but I use facebook for lots of things like groups I coordinate, pages I manage, I kinda need to see those, and now I'd have to wade through birthday crap. Dang it.

I went back in and hid my birthday AGAIN hoping it would curb off the madness but a few people had already seen it so the messages didn't totally stop.

Then I got an idea. If all these bored people were on facebook feeling obligated to do something for me, why not harness the energy for good?

So I made a post.

"I'm 37 today," I said, "and just got an idea. If you're on facebook and wished me a happy birthday, thank you! But a better facebook gift? Publicize a cause! Share a post from some page that I love - Little Free Libraries, MakeICT, Amnesty International, UMCOR - United Methodist Committee On Relief. Or whatever you think I'd like from organizations that help & connect people. Tag me in it but don't write it directly on my wall because nobody sees those posts. I would feel very special :)"

And people did.

Some of them didn't exactly know what I meant by "share a post from a page and tag me" but a lot tried, and many succeeded! The best ones went... "It's sf's birthday today and she asked us to spread the word about great organizations, I'm picking ___!" Suddenly I was being tagged in all these posts about celebrity softball for the children's hospital, drag queen bingo to benefit victims of sexual assault, our annual Alternative gift market where people buy "gifts" in the form of donations around the world at holiday time.

Everyone's friends saw the posts and we all got smart reminders about things going on in the community that we could help out with. Everyone's costs were the same: a few minutes on facebook. But my heart felt much warmer. My birthday was much happier.

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the power of a suggestion box

Life advice: be open to feedback, in everything you do.

The best way to do this is to have a channel for it that's very easy for people to use. If you all share an office, set up a time. If you all have access to the internet, set up a web form. If you're all in the same physical space for a short amount of time, give out little cards and have people write ideas and put them in a box.

Then if you really hate the possibility of improving you can throw it all out. But really, why pass up the opportunity to improve? Feedback is a gift. People take the time to make it better.

Do not be defensive. We have a human tendency to want everyone to think we're perfect, and if anything is not perfect it's not our fault. If your first answer is "no", take a minute to think about your second answer.

Do not tell them "I worked three months on this banquet if you don't like it then YOU join the board of directors and go to every stinking planning meeting." While dedicated volunteers are nice, do you really want people to feel like they have to attend a weekly meeting for three months just to tell you "there should have been more bathrooms" or "I couldn't get to the hot dog line without getting out of my wheelchair"? Most people won't do that, so if that's the barrier you are setting up, you just don't get to hear their ideas. You miss out.

And the more blocking or defensive you are, the more you send the message that the things you do Are What They Are, no changing or improvement.

Sometimes people will put huge weird things in the suggestion box, like "we should have also had a hot air balloon lift" and that's why you can ask for contact info and if they want to volunteer to help out, tell them you think it's a great idea, they have your full support in organizing the balloons! But at least hear their advice, and try to find a path to Yes.

took kids on a flight

I work at an airplane company and have a pilot's license yet my youngest daughter lived four years without every flying in an airplane. motherhood fail! she was asking for it too, multiple times, "I want to fly on an airplane!"

So OKAY.

I'm not current and getting current requires several flights with an instructor but I know pilots, so I checked the flying club schedule to see who was flying around for fun, and saw my friend amanda's name. She's awesome, so I asked if we could go along with her on a practice flight she had already scheduled.

First thing I'll mention is that I took the girls to a carnival last weekend and Olive had a great time except when we rode the ferris wheel, she cried. We went back to the little train ride and she was elated and forgot her troubles.

Friday Marc told her that she might get to go in an AIRPLANE and she was stoked!

I got home from work early and told Olive we might get to go on an an airplane ride, and she suddenly shifted to being less thrilled. Asked if we could just look at the airplanes but not ride in them. Asked if the airplane would be fast (I said NOPE) asked if it'd be loud (I said yes but we're bringing your panda bear earmuffs - califone hearing protection 27db noise reduction rating!) and I assured her we would not go very high at all.

Picked up Josie from school, went to the flying club, had a great time setting up the seat and sitting in the airplane, takeoff went great, then about 20 minutes in Olive started crying and wanted her earmuffs off but then it was too loud so she was REALLY mad about that and we turned around and went home because she was acting traumatized. We hadn't exactly planned an exotic trip but still, I was thinking we'd at least make it 90 minutes or so, nope.

Josie looked out the window happily and had a great time spotting trains and lakes and the soccer game at the high school stadium. When we landed she observed that many houses have swimming pools and we should obviously have one too.

Olive said it was scary, but fun, which is weird because from the screaming and sobbing in the back seat I didn't detect the fun, but I was really playing it up asking her the questions about what she saw out the windows. She said she saw houses on our planet.

Josie has been on little airplanes as a fetus/baby/toddler/big kid and usually falls asleep, either way she's never been upset by it, so I felt bad that Olive was so freaked out but she's a very different kid so it's okay. Just not as much of a thrill seeker. Prefers the ground, I guess.

I like flying with friends. Amanda is a better pilot than me. Calmer, and better at spotting traffic. When you get a traffic warning on your display you start scanning and get it in sight as soon as you can. She beat me to it every time. Yes I could get current myself with several instructor flights, practice flights, regular outings... it's a pain. With friend flights I can just chip in and split costs on one flight and they get their landings and I get my 1-2 rides a year and that's fun. That might be how my flying goes for a while.

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would a dream job make you a workaholic?

Here's a philosophical question for you all.

Think of your absolute dream job. Petting puppies, testing games, drinking wine, some combination of these, whatever.

You're going to get this job, and be salaried.

How many hours a week would you spend doing it? Would you work late?

Does your dream job include the requirement that it be limited to 20-40 hours a week with no pressure to work any more? What would you spend your extra time doing? What if you could get paid for that?

In other words, would you like a life in which all your creative energy was channeled into a Benefit For Someone Else... be it the company, your customers, some deserving cause? Is that healthy, to pour yourself into something so much? Do you want to love your job? Is loving a job about the task, or the conditions, or the people?

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