Entertain Me! (But from way over there)

The Dutch government has put strict isolation measures in place to control the spread of COVID19. As of last week all events with more than 100 people were closed – so no sports, no museums, no movies, no nightclubs. Even smaller venues started to cancel and close events as a precautionary measure. As of last Sunday night all restaurants and cafes were closed. For now I can leave the house, but we’re being asked to stay home as much as possible. I’m lucky, I can work from home, I have supplies in the house, and there are supermarkets nearby. My issues are isolation and boredom especially at the weekend – hence this list.

I’m going to focus on cultural entertainment because that’s the stuff I am missing most.

Books

My number one favourite thing to do is curl up somewhere comfortable with a great book. Right now that’s providing me with a healthy measure of escapism. As it happens I have about 15 unread books on a shelf and 44 unread on my Kindle, so I’m good to about October.

First big tip – check your local library, the one near me is promoting ebook lending to help people entertain themselves. As a billboard near here says “luckily we can still read books”.

In the unlikely event that I do run out of books I will look at the Kindle deals – right now they’ve got David Balducci and Joanne Harris for 99 cents each.

And then I will check Gutenberg, for those that don’t know Gutenberg publishes books that have entered the public domain, meaning they are no longer under copyright, and lets you download them for free. they have several formats including pdf and kindle. It’s a great way to meet and read classic authors, it’s how I read most of Trollope one winter. (Caveat: Gutenberg is blocked in Germany).

UPDATE Scribd has a 30 day free offer for e-books.

There are also some authors reading books for children, this gets a bit tricky with timezones, but it could be a great way to distract kids who are home from school/day care while you need to work.

Museums

I love visiting museums and galleries when I go to another country, and now I don’t know when I will be able to leave my own city. But some museums have made virtual tours, which are fun to explore and might keep me going for now. Google has a partnership with loads of museums and is highlighting content we can’t get to see right now.

Anne Frank Museum has a range of online resources, including a sophisticated virtual experience, it’s a bit of a “count your blessing” reminderBe.

Berlin Museum Island has virtual tour and great video experiences.

The British Museum has a virtual World Museum, where you can move through artefacts from any era. It took me while to get good at the navigation, but once you pull an artefact there’s all the information about the source and history of the item. It’s like a treasure hunt!

The Rijsksmuseum goes one better – providing you with rights free access to use their works in your own creation, check out Rijksstudio.

Music

If you’re into classical music have a look for #SongsOfComfort on Facebook, I believe it was started by Yo Yo Ma and he is playing a piece each day, and including a short dedication or uplifting message. Others have joined in, and it’s a wonderful sharing of music to sooth the soul.

Need more classical music? The Berlin Philharmonic has opened their digital platform for 30 days, the archive has everything from Daniel Barenboim Conducts the 1997 European Concert from Versailles to the March 12 concert that the orchestra played to an empty concert hall as the COVID19 curtain came down on large gatherings.

More a modern type? Follow Amanda Palmer, she’s performing live from wherever she can and linking to other artists who are streaming. Check her Insta to get the latest info.

Opera Buff? The Met is screening one opera per day for the duration of their close down. Their productions are arguably the best in the world, the singers, the costumes, the musicians, the production is lush. Even if you’re not an opera fan this is a visual and aural feast.

Check you local/national performing venues, I know that the ones here are working on ways to share their work, with at least one ballet troupe working on “training at home” sessions.

Bravo to all the musicians, performers and artists sharing their work. We’ll be back to support you live as soon as we can leave our houses.

Learn Something

There are online courses for all sorts of subjects, and some organisations are opening up free options to help us get through this.

If there’s a specific skill you want to learn check YouTube, I taught myself basic crochet in the Christmas break based on videos.

If you’re into Quizzes, you can spend days on Sporcle learning to name all 197 countries of the world.

If it’s a language you’re interested in download the DuoLingo app, and have fun learning how to say “stay home” in a dozen languages. Babbel has language courses and an insta account to please all language geeks.

We need art.

Lots of venues have had to close stuff, if you had ticket to an event that has been cancelled please – if you can afford it – don’t ask for a refund. We need art, and artists need to eat.

Lots of artists are finding new ways to share their art online, enjoy their work – but look for their patreon, donation or support pages, and support them as much as you can. We need art, and artists need to eat.

Image by annca from Pixabay

Creativity at Play #9

One of my New Year’s Resolutions is to be more creative and one way I’m doing that is picking creativity exercises from the brilliant book Caffeine for the Creative Mind: 250 exercises to wake up your brain.

Here’s last month’s challenge:

How Big is a Bread Basket?

Recognising relative size or distance is an underrated skill. The late Chick Hearn, long-time play-by-play broadcaster for Los Angeles Lakers, was the king at being able to identify, from a country mile away, how far any shot attempt was from the basket. Your task today is to find he Chick Hearn in you. Grab a digital camera and take one picture of an object that satisfies specific size criteria:

1 is bigger than a coffee cup, but smaller than a dinner plate

I chose to think of this in terms of the diameter of the seed head – if you include the petals I think this would be bigger than most dinner plates!

2 is smaller than a cat but bigger than a kitten

An adult sized ceramic clog – in wonderful Delft blue

3 is bigger than a baseball but smaller than a football

A sculpture of a child’s head from the Allard Pearson Museum.
(Just how big is a football?)

4 is smaller than a car, but bigger than a bicycle

A boat! This image fools the eye because the perspective makes the bike look bigger than the boat and the boat look bigger than the car.

5 is bigger than a letter but smaller than a folio

A bar of Chocolate. It’s a slight cheat – it’s bigger than a letter, we’ll be taste-testing this today.

Did this exercise break out the creativity?

Sort of – I started out with specific things in mind to look for, and dipped into my image library for a couple of them. The last one was actually the first that I took. This could easily be adapted as a break out exercise for a longer workshop, and allowing the use of existing image libraries could make it work for a virtual audience. Maybe you could use your company’s products for the size limits. It was fun to do but not super creative for me.

Creativity at Play #6

One of my New Year’s Resolutions is to be more creative and one way I’m doing that is picking creativity exercises from the brilliant book Caffeine for the Creative Mind: 250 exercises to wake up your brain.

Here’s this month’s challenge

Coca Cowpie

Some of the most powerful brands on the planet right now are soft drinks. The graphic qualities of the packaging are recognisable for just about every person alive. It makes you wonder what soft drink packaging would have been like in historical times. OK, maybe you don’t wonder that, but you’re going to start today. Your challenge is to create the soft drink can of choice for any of the following historical eras.

  • Old West
  • Impressionist Painters
  • Prehistoric Times
  • Medieval Times
  • Futuristic

Create the name of the soft drink, its flavour, and what the front of the can would look like.

This question amused me so much I had to choose it. Imagine what soft drink Monet drank, or Fred Flintstone, or Chaucer’s pilgrims. Ah, the luxury of choice!

I chose medieval times, and imagined some of Chaucer’s pilgrims might have wanted to refresh themselves on a journey. I came up with the name “Holy Soda”, and the tagline “the pilgrim’s favourite pop” before I remembered that there had been a product with that name on the Dutch market, and featuring a Dutch TV presenter walking on water. Oh well.

The flavours would be herbal, and sweetened with honey – since sugar cane hadn’t been invented in Europe yet. And fermenting the drink with a little yeast starter yields a slight fizz.

I had fun drawing a number of version of pilgrims on very shaky looking horses for the label before I realised that there weren’t canned drinks back then and the pilgrims would have stored drink in earthenware or glass. So Holy Soda is in a pure green glass bottle, and has a tied label on it, with the name and the tagline, and an image of Chaucer implying his endorsement.

In my mind the pilgrims can return the bottle and get a refilled one along their journey. So not only did I invent the world’s first soda, I also invented recycling. You’re welcome.

This was the best exercise yet in terms of how creative I felt. Partly because when I first started sketching it was with pencil and paper and I didn’t impose any of the historical accuracy restrictions. But even once I imposed those (and I know I haven’t been very strict), that made it more interesting to think about what would have been possible while retaining the concept of a refreshing non-alcoholic drink.

I’d do this again and use other time periods, and I’d even use it as a brainstorm starting exercise in a training course.

Creativity at Play #5

One of my New Year’s Resolutions is to be more creative and one way I’m doing that is picking creativity exercises from the brilliant book Caffeine for the Creative Mind: 250 exercises to wake up your brain.

Here’s this month’s challenge

Batteries Not Included

It seems everything has a starter kit. From poker to guitars to video games, if you’re just starting out and you want all the necessary things you’ll need to begin, there’s a starter kit available. Too bad someone couldn’t have left us a creative starter kit when we first started our jobs. It’s time to become that someone. Your challenge is to create a starter kit for your job. Create something to give to anyone starting in your occupation or a starter kit for someone just beginning at your place of employment. Include a “Quick Glance” instruction sheet, something to give them the essential advice to succeed right away. What would you want to have known when you started?

This is a bit more real for me, as I took on a new role in February and I had a new colleague join me in April, which has made me think about what a new person needs to know. Here’s my first pass at a secret guide for a digital team member.

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Did this exercise break out the creativity? Yes, it was fun to think about the REAL content you need, as opposed to the usual official HR-approved list. Will I really produce this as a guide? not alone – it could be a fun collaboration project. Going through this and playing with how information is presented has inspired me to think about a project I’m working on a little differently though, we’re creating some SharePoint training, most of it will be connecting to existing Microsoft content, but some is company specific. It might be more fun to present it like this than as a pdf, let’s check with end users first.

Creativity at Play #3

One of my New Year’s Resolutions is to be more creative and one way I’m doing that is picking creativity exercises from the brilliant book Caffeine for the Creative Mind: 250 exercises to wake up your brain.

Here’s this month’s challenge

Can Anyone Direct Me to the Perfume Aisle?

If there is any one retail outlet more intimidating than the local giant home improvement warehouse hardware mecca, point it out, please. You can get lost just locating a shopping cart. One thing is certain: the target audience of these emporiums is heavily male. Now imagine you are asked to consult on a new brand of uber-spacious hardware paradise, this one targeting women. List at least twenty ideas to make the local oversized hardware warehouse appeal to a female demographic

Three Stories

I live in the Netherlands, and I can speak enough Dutch to manage most forms of shopping. Some years ago I went into the local hardware store, I knew exactly what I wanted, only I didn’t know what it was called because growing up I could just wander into my Dad’s workshop and pick up whatever tool or supply I needed. So I didn’t have the right vocabulary to even look stuff up in Dutch, I had to draw the thing I wanted, much to amusement of the sales guy. I wasn’t intimidated, but I have never felt so aware of “secret men’s business” as I did in that moment.

I was at a conference about branding and marketing, and the keynote speaker summed up marketing to women as “pink it and shrink it”.

Decades ago when I was deciding what to study an engineering recruiter pointed out that women who sew their own clothes, as I do, should be good at engineering since they’re already thinking about how to make flat surfaces (fabric) into three dimensional shapes (clothes).

I tell these stories to show that I recognise the male-bias in hardware stores, but I don’t want to solve it by the sexist cop-out of painting everything pink, and I think women have existing skills that make them capable of undertaking DIY projects.

My List

  1. Hire women. I was tempted to just repeat this 20 times. I don’t go to hardware stores all that often but I don’t think I’ve ever encountered a woman working in one.
  2. Provide a creche, and a supervised playground. For a large emporium this is just good business, women will stay longer and buy more.
  3. Develop a visual glossary, a bit like the old “Point it” books for travellers, to help women find the tools and supplies they’re looking for without having to know all the specific vocabulary.
  4. Use the visual glossary on signs alongside words to make specific tools more recognizable.
  5. An app based on the visual glossary from which I can create a shopping list before I come to the store so that I can research and check what I want.
  6. A range of tool sizes – it’s much easier to swing a hammer that’s the right size for your hands.
  7. Offer DIY kits with step by step instructions, think IKEA and make it simple and visual.
  8. Offer beginner’s classes for specific build projects eg; “build a bookshelf in a day” and let these classes have a social element. Women who are into craft often enjoy crafting together.
  9. Provide tools and supplies for advanced projects – don’t assume all women are beginners
  10. Promote women-based DIY businesses to customers.
  11. Offer trade discounts to women working in DIY comparable to other mega-hardware stores.
  12. Create a community online where your customers can talk about their projects and share their progress and results, refer to ravelry.com for examples.
  13. Train all your staff that women are becoming experts in DIY. If a man and a woman are shopping together, don’t assume that it’s the man doing the project and speak only to him.
  14. Trolleys that are ergonomically fit for women to use.
  15. Hire women experts to demonstrate how tools work, how to complete projects.
  16. Profile successful customer projects on your site/app.
  17. Carry a range of work clothes that fit women, from gloves to overalls, with lots of pockets. Have a range of colours – not all pink.
  18. Keep shelving at a reasonable height, adjust shelves so that 80% of women can reach them.
  19. Hire women. It’s worth repeating.
  20. Good coffee.

This was easier than I expected, perhaps because I’ve been reading reviews of Invisible Women by Caroline Criado Perez about how the world is often built from a male perspective and the impact on women ranges from inconvenient (public toilets) to dangerous (medical diagnostics). As psychologists would say, I was slightly primed for this task.

It was still a fun and creative, but something else occurred to me, many of these steps would just be good for business.

Creativity at Play #2

One of my New Year’s Resolutions is to be more creative and one way I’m doing that is picking creativity exercises from the brilliant book Caffeine for the Creative Mind: 250 exercises to wake up your brain.

Here’s this month’s challenge

What day is it?

The week of seven days was adopted in Rome somewhere about 400 AD and spread into Europe, but it had been recognised long before that in the East. The names of the days are generally associated with Roman mythology.

It’s time they received a contemporary change. Your task is to rename the days of the week to be more modern. They can all be associated with a theme, or they can all have different meanings. They can be as long or as short as your like, but they must all end with the suffix “-day” like they do know.

First up, the names of the days of the week in English are generally associated with Norse mythology, not Roman. Latin based languages adapted the names via Roman Gods, so Friday is named after Frigg/Freya, the wife of Odin. She was often associated with love, and connected to Venus, the Roman goddess of love, and Friday in Italian and French became venerdì and vendredi respectively. That’s the factual detour out of the way, now I can get creative.

First, what if we just numbered the days? Oneday, Twoday, Threeday, Fourday, Fiveday, Sixday, Sevenday

It’s much easier to remember, and handy for foreigners learning English. In fact Mandarin Chinese does this, for six of the seven days, and it is very easy to learn. Slavic languages also use numbers in naming some days, but in a more complicated way, and Sunday is something like “no work day” in Czech which is genius.

A random co-incidence there are seven colours in the rainbow so how about:

Day  Day  Day  Day  Day  Day  Day

It may appeal to people with synesthesia, less useful for people who are colour-blind. Tricky for design and colour printing.

I have rather neutral associations with the actual words for days of the week, maybe if I renamed the days I could have positive association.

Monday becomes Beginday

The first day of the week and you get to start new things

Tuesday becomes Dashday

For some reason Tuesday is often a day for lots of meetings and actions, which sounds heavy unless I think of it as dashing my way through the meetings and then it sounds fun.

Wednesday becomes Focusday

We’re in the middle of things, time to focus on the centre of what needs to be done

Thursday becomes Doday

A day to get things done with the energy of Thor

Friday becomes Capday

Time to cap off the week and plan for the next week

Saturday becomes Playday

A day for socialising, for meeting friends, for watching movies and doing the fun things of the week.

Sunday becomes Createday

On Createday I will write and work on creative hobbies.

Did this exercise break out the creativity? Yes, it was fun to think about it from different angles and throw some different languages into a post for once. Will I really use my new days of the week? Sort of, it feels positive to give working days a theme, but I can’t completely control my calendar so the theme remains loose during the week. As for the weekend – that’s already a reality.

Creativity at Play #2

One of my New Year’s Resolutions is to be more creative and one way I’m doing that is picking creativity exercises from the brilliant book Caffeine for the Creative Mind: 250 exercises to wake up your brain.

Here’s this month’s challenge

What day is it?

The week of seven days was adopted in Rome somewhere about 400 AD and spread into Europe, but it had been recognised long before that in the East. The names of the days are generally associated with Roman mythology.

It’s time they received a contemporary change. Your task is to rename the days of the week to be more modern. They can all be associated with a theme, or they can all have different meanings. They can be as long or as short as your like, but they must all end with the suffix “-day” like they do know.

First up, the names of the days of the week in English are generally associated with Norse mythology, not Roman. Latin based languages adapted the names via Roman Gods, so Friday is named after Frigg/Freya, the wife of Odin. She was often associated with love, and connected to Venus, the Roman goddess of love, and Friday in Italian and French became venerdì and vendredi respectively. That’s the factual detour out of the way, now I can get creative.

First, what if we just numbered the days? Oneday, Twoday, Threeday, Fourday, Fiveday, Sixday, Sevenday

It’s much easier to remember, and handy for foreigners learning English. In fact Mandarin Chinese does this, for six of the seven days, and it is very easy to learn. Slavic languages also use numbers in naming some days, but in a more complicated way, and Sunday is something like “no work day” in Czech which is genius.

A random co-incidence there are seven colours in the rainbow so how about:

Day  Day  Day  Day  Day  Day  Day

It may appeal to people with synesthesia , less useful for people who are colour-blind.

colours or sounds

moods