Searching for the Moon

Shannon Clark's rambles and conversations on food, geeks, San Francisco and occasionally economics

Archive for May 27th, 2009

Defining yourself through your priorities

Posted by shannonclark on May 27, 2009

This is a post mostly for myself, a reminder of what my priorities are, a checklist of sorts for myself in the future when I have the resources to follow up on these priorities.

In a strange way this is also a bit of a personals ad – a woman for whom these priorities resonate noting both what is and what is not on my list would, if she is single and at least relatively close to me in age, be a woman I would like to meet. (A man for whom these resonate might be a good friend – but my interests lie in the opposite sex).

In particular a few key priorities for many Americans which are decidedly not on my list.

1. Anything religious. I’m an Atheist, my budgets and priorities have no money at all for religion. Plenty of other worthy causes and organizations whom I would strongly prefer to support, groups whose goals are more closely in alignment with my own.

2. Beyond a very small amount of wine, mostly for dinner parties, no alcohol or for that matter other drugs (legal or otherwise – medically needed ones the exception). I don’t drink much – which has probably over the past decades saved me a great deal of money. Nor do I smoke or consume any other drugs.

But enough of the nots, what are my priorities. This may be a bit random – I’ll seek to  impose some order on this list and it is not in any particular order, but I am trying to be comprehensive. In general I’m looking at my life on a per year basis – what would I spend money on if I had it to spend. Not just for the act of spending it but because what I spent it upon held meaning and importance to me.

My priorities, in no particular order:

Shelter Currently my one real indulgence, I have a large apartment in SF capable of both hosting many friends (large downstairs space w/couches/airmattresses for up to 7 friends). With more resources I would also like a second place in NYC (or London) and perhaps a third place somewhere quiet & remote but w/great Internet connectivity, likely in a large forest somewhere.

Furniture – I have expensive tastes – prefering timeless, very high quality furniture. If I had the money I’d like to indulge myself and actually, for the first time in fact in my life, live in a place fully furnished – and not with furniture found on the street. So this is a one time purchase, but then as I add other places to live I’d expect to also furnish them well and occasionaly to replace items I own (this would be the height of luxury for me – my parents still have, ugly, furniture from my mom’s college days – stuff they have moved across the country and back)

Clothes – at the moment I buy new clothes of any type rarely, mostly just once every few years and then rarely spend all that much. That said, like with furniture my tastes in clothing run expensive. With enough resources my goal would be to get over my hangups here, to finally only have clothes that fit well and are comfortable (and yes this means very few of my current staple – free logo t-shirts from trade shows). I doubt I’d ever be replacing my wardrobe on a seasonal basis, but I would like to have a wider range of options and to have more stuff that makes me feel great when I wear them.

Glasses – I currently have only one pair of glasses, purchased many years ago. Instead I’d prefer to have a couple of really nice pairs, plus at least one or two pairs of prescription sunglasses. I don’t wear jewlery but do wear glasses, so would probably splurge a bit here, albiet with my tastes running to stylish but without logos. Ideally I would have a spare pair of glasses in every place I live, as well as sunglassses and spares to travel with.

Health Care – from expensive dentistry which I am slowly working on but with more resources would do at a faster clip, to having full comprehensive health insurance this is a necessity I have been avoiding for far too long.

Transportation – Since 2004 I have not owned a car, rarely even renting one. But living in CA this is a position which is increasingly hard to sustain. At a minimum I want to just budget a reasonably large amount each month for renting cars (or using ZipCar) and get back in the habit of driving. But ideally I probably want to get a car, something exceptionally reliable (I don’t want to get to know a mechanic on first name basis), automatic (I refuse to invest the mental energy in learning how to drive a manual – or in the attention it requires). Almost certainly this means a non-American car (I’ve never owned one and have hated driving every single American car I’ve ever even briefly driven). But I haven’t shopped for a car seriously in years – walking around I’ve be interested by some of the newer Volvo’s, have in the past mostly owned Acuras (2 plus one high end Honda), and like some of the Infiniti’s and Mercedes Benzs which I see around SF (generally the smaller, sportier ones, often hatchbacks). My ideal car gets very good gas milage, is inexpensive to operate (less concerned about the initial cost – this is assuming I have the money to just buy it outright), isn’t overly costly to insure (I have no sense at all what insurance will cost me in CA). Probably it will seat four adults in a pinch – with the ability to store a bunch of stuff in the trunk – though ideally without it being visible (a drawback of many hatchbacks) as I would likely be parking on the street fairly often.

For me as well visibility while driving is a really, really, really big deal. I hate a lot of modern cars, such as the Prius, because I find they have really obnoxious blind spots, at least for me, plus physically I find myself in pain when I have driven them in the past (something about the seat and layout really, really does not agree with my body. I also seriously do not like the other trend I’ve seen in many otherwise interesting cars of moving the dials to the center of the dashboard instead of in front of the driver – really don’t like that all and find it beyond distracting – and also physically uncomfortable (Scion’s fail for me here, as does alas the Mini, wasn’t a big fan of the Honda Element the few times I’ve driven one either)

I also want to be able to just buy a nice bike. I’ve been intimidated by the cost – mentally I still think bikes should be 100’s of dollars, not the 1000+ they can easily be these days. I’m also not entirely sure how to handle riding a bike in San Francisco on the hills of the city (since I live on one, impossible to avoid) and I’ve never figured out the whole bike helmet thing – how to handle having one with me when I’m using my bike. I think this is in part a generational thing, I grew up before helmet laws so never really rode a bike with one all that much. It is also a factor of not having an office to ride my bike to/store it at. Instead I would expect to be riding to cafes, dealing with the scary prospect of locking up an expensive bike on the streets of San Francisco, and then repeating for as many stops as I had in one day.

So even with lots of money, not sure when/if I would get a bike, the stress of owning one here in San Francisco might be too much for me.

I would also, will get to this in more detail below, want to travel a lot. Between the East & West Coasts at a minimum, but probably also traveling globally far more often than I do now. For a few weeks a year at a minimum, but ideally more than that. Some of the time for conferences and events (again more below) but I would also want to travel just to travel, go to places I haven’t yet seen, or to places I have been once but really want to return to (India comes immediately to mind). I might even want to live abroad for months (or years) at a time.

The later depending on personal relatioships and work of course.

Events – At the moment I mostly attend conferences here in San Francisco, when I can get a press pass or know the organizers and can get in for free or at a discount (often helping with the event). However there is a long list of events I would want to attend if I had the funds and resources (which include the time and business purposes for some)

  • SXSW – full, platinum pass. Yes, 10+ days, film, tech and music, but this is very high on my list of must do soon as each year my experience there just gets better and better. Next year (2010) I’ll be working the conference for one client (at least, perhaps two or three) so this will probably be very doable. But with the resources I want to just stay at a great hotel, right downtown, fly on flights that don’t make too many stops, and otherwise not scrimp on my conference experience.
  • TED – Yes, this is expensive (really expensive). I might not be able to get into the main conference, but while I love BIL, I do want to go to TED and be part of the whole experience. I might start by going to TED Global or the like but sometime soon, in the next few years I hope, I plan on saving up to “do” TED. (best case I get invited as a speaker first)
  • PopTech – I have been to PopTech twice, haven’t been back in too many years, but I miss it. I want to have the money (and the time) to attend again.
  • Picnic, Le Web, LIFT or another tech conference or two NOT in the US – I have never been, but friends help organize these events, speak at them regularly, and report back about how great they can be. There are smaller events happening in Europe as well which appeal to me, the point being I want to get myself out of the US more often – and I want to experience non-US perspectives on a more regular basis.
  • A full Film festival – not just a few films at SXSW, but I want to give myself the luxury of attending a film festival and just seeing dozens of films in a short period of time. I’m not sure which festival I want to attend, there are many great ones (The Toronto Film Festival would be one that has a lot of appeal)
  • A Renaissance Weekend – I’ve been a few times, but like PopTech! haven’t been back in too many years. A great event, really interesting people, and people whom I haven’t seen in far too long. If I had the money I would both want to attend some of the smaller events held in Santa Barbara or Monterey as well as the New Years Eve far larger event.
  • San Diego Comiccon – I’m tempted to try to attend this year in fact, but sometime soon I want to make it to this mecca of all comic book conventions.
  • WorldCon (and one or two other “big” Science Fiction/Fantasy conventions) – I’m a huge science fiction fan of all genres though most especially literature. I don’t go for the costuming or for the purest geeking out, but rather relish the chance to get to know writers and editors (and other creators) whom I respect. So my preference tends to be for the smaller, more focused conventions such as World Fantasy Convention over larger, more media focused events. But ideally I would like to be able to attend more conventions without scrimping when I do so – so just going ahead and having a nice hotel room adjacent to the convention center etc.
  • A Doctor Who convention – perhaps one here in the US, even better one in the UK (or heck both a US and a UK conference). I’m a huge Dr. Who fan yet I haven’t been to a Dr. Who convention in decades.
  • One or two new events each year. Stuff I haven’t previously been to – perhaps a great music festival such as Cochella, a convention for an academic field I’m interested in, something like the New Yorker Festival in NYC or a conference focused on Social Good. There are many, but my hope is to have both the money and the time to attend conferences a bit outside of my comfort zone – where I’m there to absorb the experience. Hopefully with a “native” guide to the experience. In some cases I might go as a speaker or participant (which is always a good way to attend) for others I might go with or for a client. But my goal is to get to more new events and experiences.
  • Still a bunch of important tech conferences – AdTech SF & NYC, Web 2.0 Expo (at least SF, perhaps NYC, possibly the Summit), TechCrunch 50, MacWorld. If possible I’d like to get a few more – stuff like the D Conference happening this week or Internet Week in NYC happening next week.

Food – this is a big deal for me. I take food seriously. Starting by mostly eating as a locavore. Most of the food in my home I buy from local merchants, primarily at local Farmer’s Markets or my local butchers. With a bit more resources I would keep my kitchen more fully stocked with the foods I enjoy (fresh seasonal fruits etc). I would also eat out more often and at a higher end of restaurant than I usually get to at the moment. I’d love to eat at places with chef’s tastings more often, to get to the many specical meals and dining events that occur on a regular basis. Here in San Francisco as well as in NYC and as I travel. For me serious food is one of my main pleasusres in life and an artform I really appreciate – both in the creation of it myself (I’m a very good chef) as well as in appreciating the skill of serious chefs.

I also do love great foods of all types – I’ve happily traveled great distances to try little hole in the wall places, restaurants far off the beaten track.

I would enjoy going to more food related events, a Slow Food Convivia for example and I could well imagine planning an entire trip around getting a reservation somewhere (el Buli for example would be among the places I would love to dine, though by no means the only such place).

I have mastered the somewhat dubious art of ordering so as to get great food but not spend a ton of money, often by being highly selective in what I order, by passing up on many elements of a meal. I’d really like to be able to put this aside, even if only a few times a month, and just embrace what the restaurant does well and really experience it (not the alcohol perhaps but everything else). Ordering the Omakase at a Japanese restaurant instead of just the chirashi etc.

But in many ways my tastes don’t run to the extravegant, I’d rather an amazing local grapefruit in season than a the most expensive cavier. That said, when I entertain I have also now mastered the art of stretching my budget via careful choices, ideally I’d like to be able to support local farms a bit more, to buy the prime grade meat over the choice etc.

Living in San Francisco one of my small but very pleasant pleasures is being able to get great, serious coffee from now almost literally dozens of choices throughout the city. I’m also a big fan of tea, however in recent years I haven’t been as focused on teas as I have been on great coffee. With more money I would want to have great means of making coffee at home (currently I have no reliable means at all) and instead of random tins of now fairly old teas I would like to stock fresh, great teas.

Kitchen – while I love my current apartment in many ways, the kitchen is not one of them. In an ideal world in a year or two I will find a place which has nearly as much space as my present space but which has a truly fantastic kitchen. For me this would be:

  • Modern gas stove, ideally six burners – Currently I have gas, but it is an old and somewhat unreliable and in any case cheap stove. I would much prefer to have more burners which get hotter than my current stove and which I could control more finely.
  • Double ovens – I am a serious cook, often as I cook for dinner parties I literally run out of space in my oven. I’ve love to have two ovens so I could bake in one, broil in the other.
  • Serious dishwasher – currently I don’t have a dishwasher at all, for the previous decade when I lived in Chicago I had a dishwasher, but more often than not it didn’t work very well.
  • Double Sink – Currently I have one, deep but relatively small sink. I’d really like to have a double sink, ideally with a garbage disposal.
  • Plentiful and easy to maintain countertops – I would like to have more plentiful space to spread out and cook, to have room to entertain while I cook, space to cook with someone else at the same time without tripping over each other. This means great countertops, it also means a logical layout and flow for the kitchen as well as plentiful storage.
  • Upgraded pots and pans – I have mostly great pots and pans, but don’t have a lot of them and a few of what I have could stand being upgraded to higher quality versions. I am also lacking certain key and useful dishes, such as a serious cast iron post (Le Creuset probably) which I could bake in and do much more in. A great wok is another (I have one but it isn’t very good and I lack a place to store it).
  • High end, serious kitchen gadgets – at the moment I have basically no kitchen gadgets at all, no mixer, no food processor, not even a simple blender or hand powered mixer. I don’t need lots of gadgets but I would like a few of the more basic ones so I could expand the range of what I can make – a mixer for more serious baking for example.
  • Duplicates of the basics – I have three spatulas at the moment, one set of tongs, only a few (albiet very high quality) knives. No wooden spoons etc. Mostly this is a combination of trying to only have high quality products in my kitchen and of simply not having much space, with more resources and I hope more space, I would fix this and finally have enough of the basics so I can do even more serious cooking.
  • A few special treats – I use a great local Balsamic but I don’t have any really aged balsamic, likewise there are many other products I would love to use but don’t stock in my kitchen for a lack of funds. Ideally I’d like to have a range of local olive oils, restock my spices on at least a yearly basis and keep the staples I stock at high levels of quality.

Books – I have a book habit, even today I buy around 100 or more books every year, in some years many more than 100. I read a lot but my list of books to read keeps growing, hurt by my habit of buying more books than I read most weeks. With more resources, however, I would want to do a few specific things with my book buying habit and collections.

  • Just buy the hardcover editions of my friend’s books. Since I have 100’s of friends who are authors (seriously not exagerating) I currently pick and choose whose books I buy and not infrequently in some cases I wait for the paperback editions. Ideally I would prefer to buy most of my friend’s books and to suppor them by buying them in hardcover and ideally via pre-orders or online purchases around the time of release so they see the best spike in purchases possible.
  • Be more serious about a few of the my collections. Earlier today, for example, I chose not to buy a copy of Asimov on Shakespeare, though it is among the many books I have always wanted to own a ocpy of. With more resources I would just buy such discoveries without as much worry, building up I would hope a more complete collection of Asimov’s works, as well as many other books and authors I wished I had more works by.
  • Buy most of the Doctor Who books, both as they are printed and filling out my collection going backwards. I have not bought most of the recent books though I am huge Dr. Who fan and would really like to support the show and the creators and authors.  This includes buying the back catolog of Big Finish Audio Adventures and subscribing to the new editions as they come out.
  • Buy a few graphic novels and comics on a more regular basis. Probably sitll would mostly focus on trade paperback editions but there are many great artists and creators working whose work I would like to support more strongly. Starting with finally finishing my collection of Sandman graphic novels by Neil Gaiman which is a series I should have read decades ago. But I would like to be getting great series such as Fables on a regular basis as well. Oh and the new Dr. Who series of course…

Magazines (and perhaps newspapers) – currently I subscribe to The New Yorker which I have subscribed to for nearly two decades. I would like to support a number of other great publications:

  • Monocle
  • The Atlantic Monthly
  • N+1
  • Asimovs
  • Analog
  • Business Week
  • Granta
  • Paste
  • and ideally a handful of other great publications, perhaps a gaming magazine or two, other great literary publications, possibly again subscribe to the New York Review of Books

On the topic of newspapers, at the moment I don’t see a great local paper anywhere in the Bay Area. I think the Wall Street Journal has declined considerably. I could perhaps see subscribing to a newspaper again in the future though I’m uncertain which or in what manner. The New York Times I might subscribe to while I am in NYC.

Technology – For the past few decades I have put off upgrading my computers for about a year or two too long, Enduring machines at the end of their life and often running an older OS for far too long. I have also frequently compromised and haven’t had resources which would have, in fact, helped me be more productive.

  • Get a second monitor for my desktop setup. A 24″, full HD resolution screen, probably from Apple. This is one of those things I should have done a long time ago as it would add greatly to my productivity.
  • Always have a current, updated, modern laptop. Here I face an issue, there are serious issues I have with Mac laptops (weight, lack of a trackpoint, reliance on a trackpad) My ThinkPad is still fairly powerful at the moment but that will be changing rapidly in the next year or so. I should really have a second laptop and should invest in upgrading my current laptop (larger hard drive, probably installing Mac OS & Ubuntu).
  • Have a real gaming PC. I have never had a gaming PC in nearly two decades of owning computers. Given my interest in gaming this is silly. I should have a high spec, high quality, quiet, fast and upgradable gaming rig with great monitors and a suite of modern games (or a gamefly subscription so I can try many games, as well as a Steam account)
  • Breakdown and get a real, modern, HD TV. In fact get one for my bedroom (for the first time, seriously, in my entire lifetime) as well as getting either a very large screen or a very high resolution projector system for my downstairs. Get real speakers to go with these systems (also for the first time in my life)
  • Get the modern suite of accessories for a TV – TIVO, HD source(s), BlueRay player (or a PS3), an Apple TV (or Miro box etc), an Xbox360, probably a Wii. All stuff I’ve never owned – ever.
  • Get serious headphones instead of making do with cheap ones I got for free at a trade show somewhere. Both for my iphone and for my ipod and some great over the ear ones for around the house.
  • Get a bluetooth headset, probably a Jawbone for when I am driving (and more generally for walking around the city making calls)
  • Get an HD capable, small video camera. Perhaps a Flip or the like but I should be shooting video on a more regular basis
  • Get a digital audio recorder capable of serious podcast creation. This might include serious microphones and a small mixer.
  • Get a Skype capable headset for my laptop and desktop computers. I rarely use Skype though I really should be using it more often.
  • Upgrade my iPhone to the new version when, as seems most likely, it comes out in a few months.
  • Invest in a network backup solution for my computers and automate this process so all of my systems are backed up on a regular and automated basis
  • Get a modern, networked, duplex capable, color laser printer.
  • Get a fast scanner and start to migrate to a fully paperless (and backed up) lifestyle.
  • Get a serious digital camera – both an upgrade to my small pocket friendly Lumix and ideally also larger more serious camera with lenses. Also get some great lenses.
  • Invest in serious software – Adobe Acrobat for example, but also video editing software, current editions of Office products etc. Also useful utilities and productivity software (and also make use of the tools I buy). But stop avoiding buying software and then only making do with partial solutions to problems I have (free themes for my wordpress blogs vs. more serious but non-free themes etc)
  • Invest in online services that add value to my life – take full advantage of Plaxo, pay for a serious online backup service, consolidate all of my domains into one registrar and register other relevant domains on a more regular basis etc. This last one might actually make me more money than it costs me.
  • Get more iPod docks and/or make my music more networked so I can stream it to what I hope are serious speakers (I haven’t ever owned real speakers or even one good sound system)

Personal Services – at the moment though I go to a serious hair salon, I do so on a very infrequent basis, generally weeks after it would have been sensible. I should go on a far more regular schedule, never letting my hair get completely out of countrol. Additionally I should invest in personal health and wellness services – pay for a real serious massage on a regular basis (as I write this I can feel the knots all across my back). I have also always avoided gyms though I shouldn’t – I should invest in the clothes to work out (at the moment I don’t even have gym shoes or any clothes suitable for a gym), in a membership (or two) and in a personal trainer to motivate me and to ensure that I don’t hurt myself while focusing on being healthier.

Music – In the past few years I have bought more music than I have in years past, mostly digitally and primarily through great services such as Amie St. I would like to buy more music which I enjoy – completing my incomplete collection as well as supporting newer groups and artists I’ve discovered in the past few years. Ideally I would like to also attend live shows on a far more regular basis probably a few times each month as well as select larger festivals. I have clients in the music industry so some of this is even work related.

Entertainment – I’ve alluded to some of this in the above sections but I would like to on a more regular basis support many creators I really appreciate – buying the Dr. Who dvds but also DVDs (or more probably BlueRays – or better yet HD downloads) of TV shows and movies I love. I would also like to have and use memberships at local institutions (in SF and perhaps in NYC or other cities – art museums etc) and get to them on a far more regular basis. Also get out to the Opera and to live theatre.

Charities – At the moment other than a few small donations and volunteer help with some events, I have not been able to support charities to the degree I would prefer. If I had the resources my selection of charities to support is a bit eclectic:

  • Creative Commons
  • EFF
  • Clarion – science fiction workshops
  • The Carl Brandon Society
  • Wiscon/Tiptree – Feminish Science Fiction
  • one or more charities focused on literacy
  • effective charities (or for profit but mission driven businesses) focused on addressing homelessness
  • Architects for Humanity – one of my favorite groups
  • – amazing resource
  • other focused, highly efficient art (especially of the printed word) groups and organizations

I’m sure I’m missing many worthy groups, but these are a few that reflect my priorities – literacy, support for effective global change and creative technology thinking about worldchanging issues, highly focused local efforts to address seemingly intractable problems such as homelessness, and small but effective groups such as the Carl Brandon Society and Clarion which support Science Fiction writing, especially from diverse voices.

If I had the resources I would probably also, anonymously, support a number of other efforts and projects – often offering capital support (assuming I had the funds) to help groups become more effective and ideally in many cases more self sufficent (and not entirely reliant on only donations or only on market returns that would often be counter to the group’s mission). I would also not draw a firm line between non-profit and for-profit groups, offering support without much concern whether I could specifically get a tax deduction.

My own projects – this is a touchy subject, some of these might be how I fund all of the above, others will probably never be funding sources and may always be a money sink. I have to balance out my time and attention as well so a few of these ideas and projects may have to be delayed or my active involvement minimized.

  • MeshForumI organized a MeshForum in 2005 and 2006, but haven’t held one in a few years. I would like to hold another multiday conference on the study of Networks as well as more MeshWalks which are conferences held mostly outdoors and in motion.
  • tbnl – later this year I would like to publish what I hope will become a quarterly publication focused on great, timeless stories. A mix of fiction & non-fiction but all with an emphasis on great storytelling. A celebration of spending time with content the print editions would be very well made and the focus would be on long form (though not novella length) pieces with only relevant and value enhancing illustrations or photographs.

So there you are 5000+ words on my priorities at the moment. This is a long post, I don’t expect most people to read it in full, it ia highly personal post as well, perhaps I should have just written it and kept it only as a draft. I’m certain I have missed something important – of course I would have other things I spend money on (gifts for friends and family for example) but these some of my most important priorities.

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