Finding the line between work and play..

Attributed to Confucius is the quote that ‘if you find a job you love then you will never do another day of work in your life’. .. and that has some truth to it but there is nuance that needs to be considered.

It can be that the grass is always greener but I for one am lucky that I have a job whereby (apart from a certain lack of agency); I get to work on a number of interesting projects, with technology and helping people engineer solutions and solve problems big and small with the satisfaction that brings.

Right now I am thinking about is the reverse – when does play become work and how to handle that?

One of my loves is for sound and music. I’m a rubbish musician (no one will argue with that and though I play the trumpet from time to time it tends to be in the dark of the data centre while I’m waiting for something to happen where the servers are fortunate not to be AI enhanced else they’d be screaming out in pain). .. So having established that I’m not good at making music – I do appreciate the talents of those that can. I don’t do a bad job though of being behind the mixing desk and running all the tech / recording / doing live sound etc.

Over time I’ve invested in and accumulated quite a few bits of sound kit – speakers, amps, microphones, mixing desks, effects units and other audio processors, along with a fair number of lights, stands & umpteen cables to connect everything together.

Overall this is enough to use for:

– A quite respectable Mobile Disco / Live Band Events up to a few hundred people (Light / Laser / Sound)
– Recording a band (24 track hybrid digital studio)
– Podcasts and now with video cameras and mixers also to allow for video recordings and live streaming.

I greatly enjoy the recording, live music events and helping with things – at any given event I’d probably rather be helping to run the event than just participating in it as an audience member.

.. and so from local school discos to small concerts as well as our own company events, it’s great to get the sound & light system out and put to good use & have a good time.

Rock and Roll (it’s not but the phrase gives you a good idea) has an image of glamour and high living but the reality is actually quite different. Setting up a sound & lighting rig needs design (and meetings if a non trivial event) to get to exactly what is called for, preparation (one cable short and you can potentially have no show!) , and physical effort to lug heavy speakers and other kit around to erect & wire correctly with due attention to health and safety, and then operate the event etc..

On the one hand that’s good exercise, but it also has a cost. While typing out the above it has occurred to me that a lot of this comes down to motivation. If there is an artist I’d like to see, or friend I’d like to help, or event I like the idea of and possibilities to meet interesting people then I have a reason to help and it becomes a pleasure to contribute to the success of an event.

Thinking about this in economic terms, we can consider this a transaction in values – ie there is a cost to me in terms of time/opportunity cost, wear and tear, consumables etc. on the one hand, and a benefit in terms of inner glow & satisfaction, fun of operating the kit / recognition for helping etc. Hopefully, there is also an effect whereby value is overall created in helping everyone get more out of an event than the two sides of this equation on the ins & outs.

As a sideways example, I recently attended DorkBot London, which was held at Limehouse Town Hall (an amazing space) and had talks, demonstrations and a chance to catch up a little with some friends [queue thoughts of do any of us have any friends, but that’s a whole different topic I’ll gloss over just now – perhaps I’ll say ‘people I respect and like being around and talking to’ for now). .. but getting back to track – at the event there was a ‘bring your own refreshments’ policy as there is no licence and these are slightly ‘chaotic in a good way’ events in character etc. Thus it occurred to me to take along a contribution of assorted beverages to help stock the fridge (take several times what you might reasonably consume seems to be a good yardstick for contribution). Upon arrival and adding my contribution to others already in the fridge, there did not seem to be anyone actually running/operating the bar so I defacto took on that small role. This was enjoyable and I felt that I was contributing to the event’s success in a small way. Drinks were freely given as were donations towards the running costs of the hall and people gave most generously & the talks were super. The hall incidentally has a very substantial sound system run by someone who loves doing that so has the great benefit of available kit.

OK we didn’t need that many examples but you get the point. The question comes of where the joy runs out and what happens then. For example, being asked to an event which might not be something you’d go to otherwise or when you value your free time (and other things) more highly than running AV at a given event.

So here there needs to be an additional motivation. This might be simple money or some longer term motivation. A large part of the decision making process also revolves around the alignment of the event with values and governance / structure. For example if the event is one that is a festival or charity event where everyone is giving their time and resources freely it is natural to contribute on the same basis for the collective good. If however an event is a ‘for profit’ event then the concept of giving time freely for the financial benefit of others jars somewhat. It also means that the pressure is more commercial to deliver which again takes the fun away a bit.

So while it is hard to say no to things, and while there is pleasure to be had in helping with something – the equation needs to be balanced (and ideally a win win situation that we all aspire to).

Thus I guess the answer is that I’d likely supply a car’s load of equipment to an event / people / music / performance / cause etc. I’m interested in, setup, run / operate this and take it down again for the fun of it, ideally in a non critical situation – ie where lights & sound would add to an event but would not be a bust if they were not delivered and there would not be any hard feelings around that (again if I wanted to do something then I’d do that).

Otherwise – we like to help but things need to be on a bit more of a commercial basis… and in fact they should be so that an event is sustainable and realistic. Something I do somewhat for fun I feel on the one hand bad about charging for, but that’s probably residue from my childhood communist inclinations.

Business school teaches us that if you charge for your time people value it more. That’s something I continue to strugle with and it seems to be a family trait that I know goes back to my grandfather’s hardware business in Ogre (Latvia) where he went bust because he continued to supply people who could not pay for things on the basis that they needed them and he wanted to help but unfortunately it is hard to know where the line is drawn and you end up helping too much and so you have nothing left yourself. I guess it is easy to sell ourselves short in any line of work or life.

Recognising the value of a profession, product or service is an important point to start at. Value is hard to compare but is in overall contribution towards a goal and a little good consultative input can go a long way in helping to align things.

So perhaps with any negotiation, the question is of looking at the bigger picture and seeing how things can be best structured. Ie is something a simple client relationship where services are priced and supplied to a risk taker (event owner)? or could things be aligned so that there is shared risk and reward (ie an entity that might build value over time) where parties can add their contributions towards a positive outcome. This is where we hark back to original thoughts of the udimon organisation – one that challenges some of the givens of the traditional capital / labour / equity triangle to create a more equitable environment for everyone where value is accounted for beyond money. The practicalities of how this might in reality work are ones that are need more working out (understatement of the century) but are approximated in current setups with debt, equity, wages and so forth. Reality is that things are never quite equal but they should aim to be as fair as possible to be true to values and perhaps the effort and intention is as important as the outcomes here.

So with my technical services / equipment input question – there is nothing to stop hire of services and equipment / consultancy at market rates on this front, and that can be a simple working relationship. But then what is the difference between this service and any other hire company? On the one hand very little, but on the other hand a lot in motivation – ie wanting to do things for the right reason towards the best outcome and having a good head towards this. The alternate arrangement might be to form a joint venture on events where costs are accounted for and time and resources are committed with a degree of risk balanced towards benefit of upside in the longer term. If this is mutual risk (ideally limited to value of inputs rather than unlimited exposure, then this might work out well for everyone.

So this has considered something and nothing but has helped to work out thoughts on value propositions which leaves me on the one hand feeling mean but on the other hand progressive and liberated towards possibilities.

PS – Promise to self not to start with ‘So’ as much in paragraphs but as this is all the point of thought I’ll leave it all as is for now because content is what matters.

Small innovations in London mass transport

This morning I journeyed on the London Underground to visit a client site construction project.. but unusually for me this was done at peak commuter time as the meeting was for a 9am start.

Whilst not unaccustomed to taking the tube, which is a quick and efficient way of getting in and out of town, I’m not often taking the train at peak times.

Space taken up by seating vs standing – 1:3
Foot steps – space in the middle of a train.
Dynamic Seating based on time of day

The bashful british way and social norms & love of queues.

So – could this work? Could we try it? What is the ROI / Economic impact of improved capacity & throughput on the tube?

Thinking about houses and space

It is sometimes easier to think about what we don’t like than what we do like when it comes to design but ultimately design needs to be positive and constructive.

For context, at the moment, I’m sitting in a stripped out bedroom where floorboards had to come up to locate leaky pipework and the sheer amount of wasted space below the floorboards is very apparent, and I dislike waste especially when this could be put to good use perhaps.

Thus I’m pondering some aspects of aesthetics and engineering to work out what I do like and to balance the contradictions and of utilitarianism and minimalism.

Minimalism – seems to be very contemporary, with abstraction of elements from site where they can be hidden, so that services can be delivered ‘magically’ without connection to source. A pair of power sockets on a wall might be a good example., you see them and know that mains power will be served by this socket, but cannot see the wires behind or where they run to. The same seems to apply to pipes and anything hidden and boxed off.

On the positive side, minimalism allows for clear thought, and sense of space without hindrance or opportunity for detail to catch the eye. However in my view the wondering of where the abstracted services lye and worry of hidden bodge very much outweigh this minimalist advantage.

But clutter is also not good, and everything should have its place. A learning from all the TV shows about tidying up, throwing out anything that does not give you ‘a spark of joy’ etc. often come down to the fact that there is not enough storage to hold all the items someone has, and thus items are accumulated in spaces where they have a negative impact by creating visual and mental clutter.

There is also a scientific solution to the question of what and how much should be kept which considers actual utility of items and future plans for them. Somethings that ‘might be useful in the future’ actually might well be so, but in day to day life we only use a subset of items, be these our tools or our clothes.

Utilitarianism – This is the idea that a space and items in it must serve function and purpose without anything too superfluous. Pipes proudly (or just neatly) on display for example.

To prevent a space feeling small, it should be neat and manageable.

Thinking about a bedroom (as the room I am in now) for example, if we take the function and purpose back to first principles, then what do we need?

Bed / Space to sleep – NB does not need to necessarily be raised from the floor, and could be vertically positioned at any accessible height as long as some headroom left if needs be (ie be open to the third dimension for best use of space).

Space to put / store trinkets (for want of a better word) – ie place a radio alarm clock, phone for charging, glass of water etc.

Access to clothes – Clothes are traditionally stored in a bedroom, but actually they only need to be accessible from this space, and is useful to have present the immediate requirement of items that you may wish to wear that day. Clothes need to go into (clean) and out (dirty) of the room.

Attributes of a bedroom – temperature / air quality.

We may as well digress onto wider house systems while we are thinking about functions etc. Ultimately, again back from first principles, what are the uses and purposes of a house / dwelling (form does not need to be a house)?

So what do we do in a house?

Utility Tasks – Storing, Cleaning (ourselves and the house), Cooking, which enable / serve the above.

Traditionally a house consists of rooms, which serve static primary, secondary and tertiary functions.

These also allow for some space / privacy for residents who may co-exist, but might appreciate split social spaces or indeed solitude for periods of time.

A house (I use this again for simplicity but it could be a flat or other style of tennament) offers some core functions for providing an overall environment with shared attributes across the spaces:

Clean Air
Power, Water and gas utilities

Can spaces be more dynamc than they currently are?

Use of space as a core attribute and compressing all else might be a solution for the fact that we like a sense of space, but space is limited by availability (economics of land cost in urban settings), and also economically that a large house needs more materials, at a higher cost, and has higher running costs than a small house. Thus space is a premium commodity that is regarded as a luxury and very much valued. Ie a larger house is seen as an aspiration goal and sign of success.

So how many rooms are actually needed in a house?

A house can have as few as one room and for much of history this is how dwellings have been in rural and lower social classes, but larger houses with multiple rooms are the choice of the wealthy and aristocracy up to the scale of the palace which is seen as the ultimate abode.

In the current age, people are likely to live in multiple houses in their lives. Starting off (in the majority of cases and all things being equal noting many exceptions etc.) living in a family home from birth to adolescence, when there is a likely departure to university and then into the working world with likely evolution of shared space in a dwelling, then a small dwelling for one or two people depending on if single or in a couple; and then when the next generation of family is started moving to a larger house. Adults where children have left the house (refereed to colloquially as empty nesters) will likely stay in a larger house with excess capacity or downsize to a smaller dwelling again.

Occasionally a dwelling may be sub divided – ie into a house and staff / guest / ‘granny’ quarters, but where this is done, it is often done as a permanent change.

How Dynamic can a dwelling be? There are many examples of dynamic use of buildings and spaces in different ways. For example flats with mutable configurations (one item that is an example of this would be the use of disappearing / pull down beds that pack up to a wall when not in use. In other examples the buildings themselves might be dynamically reconfigured. For example Nakakin Tower in Tokyo – and allows for the capsules that make up the tower to be relocated to different parts of the building, though the small spaces of the units themselves are only traditionally configured (albeit in many different ways to reflect the needs and tastes of individual occupiers).

In future (and current), there is a need to provide housing for large and growing populations. The future will also likely find a closer balance or fusion between public (social) and private dwellings that have been at odds since inception historically or certainly have more commons to them.

So what do we need in a future dwelling?

Structure and solidity (which may not be exclusive to portability where beneficial)
Water (and waste), Electricity, Gas (in future perhaps less so – in fact perhaps we should exclude fossil resource consumption at design now) supplies.
Access to light (with windows / light tubes for ambient) or artificial light
Heat / Cooling / Atmosphere control for pleasant environment
Acoustic Insulation as well as thermal for economy of operation
Spaces for occupants
Storage for occupants
Utilities for occupants (which do not need to be visible as long as they are functional)

Thinking about future hotels – in this current age, hotels are static in configuration so that they might have X number of single rooms, X double rooms, X family rooms, X suites of different sizes and X honeymoon suites etc. Perhaps instead a hotel might have X number of rooms, and provision these dynamically to best match demand? Such a hotel might in part resemble the workings of theatre sets where spaces are created and destroyed (reconfigured) several times a day. As everything becomes electronic and interconnected, doors or partitions between fixed areas of structures & rooms might be allocated to the temporary space holder and a room might be ‘printed’ (configured) between check in and the journey up to the room in an elevator.

.. so back to our house example (thinking about one house again for a bit):

Traditional rooms in a house (some of these appear in every house, others only in some):

Entrance Hall
Sitting Room / Lounge
Loo / Toilet Rooms
Utility Rooms
Dining Room
Drawing Room
Kids Play Room
AV Room
Games Room
Music Room

What will the evolution of rooms be?
Over time, we expect that manual processes associated with rooms will be reduced as automation and integrated systems replace older flows of items.

To give some examples of this:

Clothing – currently this is manually selected, stored, retrieved, washed and put away (Yes, I appreciate overlap in these actions).. but everything except the processing in a machine machine or dryer is manual (done by human) at the time of writing.

Food – currently food can either be:

  1. Prepared offsite and delivered ready to eat (take away / delivery service).. or indeed excluded from household function and eaten externally at a restaurant / Cafe.
  2. By cooked in the home. Which involves shopping for ingredients, bringing these back, storing them (ambient, cool or frozen), preparing and cooking them into complete dishes, disposing of waste and washing / storing dishes and cutlery used etc.

People have appreciated the machines which take much of the traditional manual labour out of some of the above (washing machines / dryers / dish washers etc. are appreciated especially by those who have known processes without their benefit.. but the still manual parts of these tasks can be removed.. maybe little at a time, but saving small amounts of time adds up over time.

One simple example of this might be morning and evening tooth brushing. It does not take much time to brush your teeth, to effect the actions of taking toothbrush, opening toothpaste, applying toothpaste to toothbrush, brush teeth and rinse, put cap back on toothpaste and store toothbrush again. When toothpaste is low make sure a spare is purchased, and swap over when ready. Monitor condition of toothbrush and replace when worn (or to chronological cycle).

But over time small actions add up and make a difference, as they are repeated regularly. Apparently


Hello, good evening and..

Welcome to the blog. The idea of these pages are to somewhat separate personal thoughts projects and musings from the Onega Company stream.

For anyone who does not know me – Hi, I’m Ben Fitzgerald-O’Connor, and this is my blog. I’ve been meaning to do this for quite a while (you’ll note this may become a recurrent theme on many aspect of life – I’ll freely admit that while I aspire not to be, I’m the laziest person I know.