Weekly output: null

I finally managed to end a week with not a mere one or two stories, but absolutely nothing to my name. I spent last Saturday to this Saturday in the Bay Area with my wife’s family, and I did as much of nothing as I could manage–in between gawking at county-fair exhibits, visiting a winery or two and touring a nature preserve that offered the unadvertised benefit of zero wireless coverage. I napped at least once every day, I read a couple of books (on paper, even) that were not about current consumer-tech trends, and I ate too much.

I didn’t completely unplug; I sent out some queries for stories, answered some time-sensitive messages, and allotted a few minutes most days to flip through my RSS headlines. And I set aside one morning for an in-person conversation about security issues that led to a post I filed Friday. But that story and another piece I wrote this week have not gotten posted yet. Nothing to do about that now but get back to work Monday morning…

Respect the vacation

I did something a little crazy two Tuesdays ago, which was board a plane without a laptop. That strange behavior–the last time it had happened might have been Christmas of 2010–was the result of something almost as out of character, my taking a vacation.

iPad not at work

If you define that term as meaning a trip out of town that runs at least a week, which does not involve more than a tiny fraction of your usual workload and which is not listed on your taxes as a business expense, our last one had been a pre-parenthood jaunt in Montana in 2009.

The next summer saw entire weeks of time off, courtesy of our daughter’s birth–but that period  lacked the essential vacation ingredient of sleeping in. In 2011 and 2012, we had some great long weekends, but nothing matching the traditional definition.

(Some of my work trips have had vacation-like qualities–SXSW absolutely comes to mind–but if you’re on e-mail and Twitter all the time, your laptop is in use every day and all of the expenses will wind up on your Schedule C, the obnoxious term “workcation” is unavoidable.)

This year, however, things finally lined up. Our tenth wedding anniversary was approaching; we could leave our kid with her parents then; we both had enough time freed up in our respective work schedules. I even committed to avoid booking any business meetings in the tech-friendly cities we visited–that’s Portland in the above shot–even though that could have easily converted my airfare into a Sched C line item and allowed me to sell a story or two from the road. But I still had to force myself to unplug from my usual online outlets.

I used to be a hard-liner about not checking any work-related communication on vacation. That got harder to do as the pace of tech journalism accelerated, but many of our vacation destinations still enforced some disconnection. (Have you ever tried checking your e-mail in the middle of Glacier National Park? Would you be excited about doing that from the shared computer in the lobby of a hotel in China?)

This time, however, I figured I couldn’t skip telling people about just-published posts I’d written in advance (the last ones filed at around 3 a.m. the morning of our flight out of D.C.) or answering tweets mentioning me. And not checking my work e-mail at all also seemed like a freelance foul. It didn’t help that major tech-news events happened while I was out: Apple’s Worldwide Developer Conference and the revelation of massive phone and online surveillance by the National Security Agency. But even so, I found myself checking Twitter less and less after the first few days, to the point that I spent at least 48 hours without tweeting anything, and I felt zero guilt about letting unread e-mails and RSS items pile up.

There’s probably something to be learned from that experience. And yet: Here I am typing this on a Saturday evening.

Post-Labor Day reflections

The calendar says summer runs through Sept. 23, but in the working world it ends on the Tuesday after Labor Day, when kids go back to school and most adults either return to their work or return their full attention to their work.

Things have been a little different for me this year. I started this summer by exiting the working world, and I have not quite rushed to return to it. I needed time off, more than I realized in April.

It took a good month after my departure from the Post for me to realize the absence of the accumulated stress I’d been working under. It wasn’t just the volume of work, it wasn’t just the pressure to write up tech rumors of dubious long-term relevance, it wasn’t just the increasing anxiety of hearing each new crack in the ice under my position–it was the combination of all that.

Having that weight lifted from my back was a blessing. So was the chance to catch up on many of the things I’d been missing. Among them: growing enough lettuce and cucumbers to be able to stop buying either for two months (please don’t ask about the tomatoes and green beans); trying a round of new recipes to use up those crops; brewing beer at home; turning a few unproductive patches of lawn into beds of perennials more compatible with my erratic groundskeeping; witnessing the space shuttle launch in May and again in July; swimming in the Atlantic and the Pacific; exploring my expanded freedom to speak more directly on Twitter; arriving somewhat on time for weeknight events instead of showing up 90 minutes late.

Best of all, I’ve watched my daughter taking her first steps.

(I should also note things I’ve left undone: reading Ulysses, or even finishing the books I got two Christmases ago; resuming my fitful attempts to learn Spanish; getting rid of most of the junk in the basement.)

But now it’s back-to-work time for me as well. Blogging twice a week for Discovery News has left room in my schedule, but I’m about to start a second weekly gig and am looking at one or two other possible regular arrangements. I’ve also been picking up one-time assignments–within the next few weeks, I owe various third parties two magazine articles and at least one blog post. Under these circumstances, I don’t mind being busy again.