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◌  Vacation

8 December 2013

I’m in Portland, on vacation, trying to have vacation thoughts. These are mostly obvious things like: My friends are great. And: I should travel more. And: I should be a better person.

Less expected was: I should make more physical things. I get a lot of satisfaction from work, but it leaves me with little energy to write or code on my own time. Instead of fighting this, I should be fiddling with amateur electronics and visual arts and crafts. You might think I would have thought of this sooner, but nope.

To define physical things I guess we can say that they are what we can all sense. They take up space and time, the things everyone shares. Space and time.

It’s good to remember how much I like Portland. DC has many wonderful features as a city, none of which are things I care about. Feeling a sense of belonging in Portland is reassuring because, although I can’t stay here, I’m reminded that there is a place that feels comfortable. My micro-expat sense in DC isn’t how I will feel for the rest of my life. It’s not so hard to spend time away, sometimes, when you know you’ll be back. When I moved, I said:

A sense of place is terribly important to me. […] I am spending a little of my sense of place on a chance to help others’ sense of place. It must sound weird, but it’s how I think of it.

It still sounds weird to me, but I still think of it that way. I’m away from home because I was given a strange and priceless chance to help work on some problems people have with space. I get to work on the edge of what’s possible to do with remote sensing – with pictures of home – and to see the enormous potentials and the sharp needs of people around the world. It’s a privilege, and this vacation reminds me I have to work very hard to do it any justice.

A theme this year, I hope, will be figuring out how to better see, and talk about, the bigness of things. How do I deal with looking at images that aggregate the personal spaces of millions and billions of people? How do I find ways to contribute to work against too-big-to-think-about problems like overpopulation, human rights, and climate change?

Two ways forward are to fail in public more and to do more to get people interested in open remote sensing data. These are small ways to get at big things. I will be trying to think of more.

My life these days is grateful.