One of the great things in Illinois is the libraries are structured as taxing districts. With voter permission they can levy a property tax, and then receive the funds from that tax. So there’s no danger that the city, township, or county will decide that it needs the money more. Or, as in this case, that the library is doing something wrong, and therefore shouldn’t get any money until they toe the line.

(I normally don’t link to substack posts, but this one seemed important.)

I wish libraries would take a page from the old DVD-based Netflix, and make it possible to put hold requests on a queue.

I’d really like to be able to tell the library that I only want one 3 (or 6, or 9) books at a time, and have it pull those books in roughly the order I have them in my queue, skipping over books that aren’t available. (Of course leaving them on the queue until they are.)

I say “roughly,” because if a book is part of a series, I want to read them in order. So, if the next book isn’t available, don’t just go on to the following book. Instead, skip ahead in my queue to the next non-series book that’s available.

When I find a bunch of interesting books, and put holds on them all at the library, they tend to all show up all at once. Then I have a big stack of books at home, most of which I’m not reading. That seems like a waste. Plus, then I have to return them all at once, often before I’ve finished with the last ones.

Obviously I could handle this by making a list of books I’m interested in, and then putting them on hold 3 (or 6, or 9) at a time. But that’s not only more work for me (which could easily be handled by the library’s computer), but there’s also no way to account for some of the books being already checked out.

Libraries should just handle this for me.

I am soon going to have to buy a new wallet. Before I do, I thought I should see if I can’t slim down what I carry, with an eye toward fitting things into one of those modern, minimalist wallets. (I have long been jealous of the folks who can get by with one.)

With that in mind, I thought I’d do a bit of an inventory of my wallet. This post is basically me thinking out loud about what I might be able to slim down.

My current wallet has a large currency pocket. I carry my cash there. I also stick receipts in here when I charge something on a credit card. Many minimalist wallets have a money clip instead, which means basically that cash stays outside the wallet. In theory I suppose that lets the wallet itself be smaller, but the clip mechanism is going to take up as much room as the money anyway, so I don’t see how you end up ahead of the game this way.

There’s an ID pocket with transparent cover. I keep my drivers license here, and in front of it I have my University of Illinois ID card. (It gets top billing because it doubles as a bus pass, so I am constantly flashing it to bus drivers. The clear transparent pocket cover is very handy for that.)

There are three overlapping pockets for cards the size of a credit card, and it is here that I feel a need for some slimming down.

The card pockets contain:

  1. Discover card My main credit card. I use it for most ordinary household transactions.
  2. MasterCard A backup card. I use it for places that don’t take Discover (which were common 25 years ago when I got the card, but are pretty rare now, except overseas). I also use it when (as has happened twice in the past ten years or so) my Discover card has to be canceled due to fraudulent use. Occasionally it has a cash-back deal that’s good enough that I end up prioritizing it over the Discover card for a month or three.
  3. Visa card My personal card. I use this for non-household expenses, such as lunches out, books, magazines, and toys. I also use it when I want to buy Jackie a gift.
  4. Busey Bank ATM card Actually a debit card, but I’ve never made a debit transaction. (Debit transactions are supposedly turned off, by setting the per-transaction limit to zero dollars, but that doesn’t seem like the sort of thing that can be relied upon to stay where you set it.)
  5. Schucks card Loyalty card for our local grocery store. Using the card gets me a discount on fuel at the grocery store gas station.
  6. AAA card For roadside assistance.
  7. AARP card For discounts, etc.
  8. Tolono Library card Lets me check books out at the Tolono Library (my address is in the Tolono Public Library taxing district). Also works at the Champaign and Urbana libraries.
  9. Illinois FOID card Lets me buy firearms and ammunition in Illinois.
  10. Health Alliance card Lets me use my health insurance at health care providers.

I have just demoted from that set my American Airlines frequent flier card, which I don’t think I need to carry around, because I don’t think I’ve booked a flight in the past ten years when I wasn’t sitting at my computer.

In a separate pocket, also just bumped out of my my wallet were:

  • Social Security card (which I’ve been carrying for most of the past forty years, and which is showing some signs of wear).
  • Carle Clinic card (which has my clinic number—used to be important, but nowadays they go by name and date of birth).
  • Voter registration card (which in Illinois you don’t need for voting, but which lists all the precincts and districts that I’m in).

But what about all those other cards? Maybe 10 cards is not too many, but it seems like a lot.

So I think I’ll bump the following:

  • The MasterCard that I use as a backup. (More specifically, I’ll swap it in for with the Discover card when it has a cash-back bonus that makes that worthwhile.)
  • The FOID card. I haven’t presented to anyone in the past 10 years or so.
  • The AARP card (but I think I’ll keep it in my wallet for another couple of months, because I think I claimed an AARP discount on a hotel room that I’ve booked for an upcoming trip, and might need to show it for that).
  • The AAA card. I’d hate to be without it when I need roadside assistance, but thinking about that prompted me to just now install the AAA app, which has a function for displaying a card image on the phone screen. I can also keep the card in the glove box, so it would be accessible 99% of the times I’m likely to need it anyway.

That gets me down to 8 (2 ID cards plus 6 other cards), which is down in the range of many minimalist wallets (including one I have my eye on).

Okay. This has, I think, been a useful exercise. I’ll post an update if I learn at some point that I’ve made a terrible error.

Over the course of my career as a software engineer, I only accepted job offers from employers that provided their software engineers with real offices, because I expected I would be less productive in a cube. When my last employer moved us from offices to cubes, that expectation proved correct. However, the situation turned out to be more complicated than that.

For certain kinds of work—certain phases in code generation, certain phases in prose generation—I need large blocks of uninterrupted quiet. That was hard to come by in a cube. When I spent the hour from 9:00 to 10:00 building the necessary state in my head to be able to generate code to solve a particular problem, and then had my manager come by at 10:10 to ask whether I was on schedule, I could quite literally lose a whole morning’s productivity—there was no point in starting over at 10:15, knowing that I’d want to break for lunch at 11:30.

For large blocks of uninterrupted quiet, an office with a door that closes is very much to be preferred.

Because I knew I needed an office—which I have in my apartment—I was surprised to find myself taking an interest in coworking. But it turns out that many phases of my work don’t require large blocks of uninterrupted quiet. In particular, when I pretty much know what I want to write, and it’s just a matter of sitting down and typing it out, a certain amount of activity in the surroundings actually makes it easier to get something done.

I have a few theories about why some surrounding bustle helps:

  • I think it’s good to have other people around me who are also working—modeling good working behavior.
  • I think a little activity makes it easier to just get a first draft down—making it easier to get past my internal critic that would otherwise insist on perfection.
  • I think a little stimulation makes it easier to be creative—providing some randomness that my brain can use to generate new ideas and make new connections.

Whatever the reason, sometimes I want to work in a place where other people are working.

There was a coworking place in Urbana a couple of years ago, called Collective Turf Coworking. I don’t know if they’re still around or not (their website seems to be down just now), but they were much too expensive for me.

Fortunately, there are a bunch of local public spaces that serve the purpose very well.

Both the Champaign Public Library and the Urbana Free Library provide a wide variety of spaces where work can be done:

  • Coffee shops
  • Large tables in the main library area
  • Divided workspaces in the main library area (Champaign Library only, I think)
  • Quiet rooms
  • Four-person study rooms

In my experience, the quiet rooms are quiet enough for me to be productive even on things that require quiet, the spaces in the main library area are only a little noisier, and the coffee shops are pretty noisy. The 4-person study rooms are great when two or more people want to work either individually or together.

The other place I’ve used to roll my own coworking space is the University of Illinois. Its various libraries provides an array of workspace options similar to those in the public libraries, but the main place I like to work is the Illini Union. It offers spaces ranging from the Pine Lounge (a very quiet place with desks and chairs), the South Lounge (just a couple of desks, but many chairs and sofas), the vending machine room (a bunch of long tables with chairs), and a very large Espresso Royale coffee shop.

Both libraries and the University offer free WiFi to the public. The University also offers secure WiFi to anyone with a NetID (which I have through OLLI). Not every space has power, but there are plenty that do. (The Pine Lounge has power at every desk, as does the quiet room in the Champaign Library.)

The main downsides are:

  1. Spaces aren’t reservable. On a day where there’s high demand, it’s entirely possible that all the prime spaces will be in use when you show up.
  2. Spaces aren’t secure. I’m unwilling to leave my computer and other stuff unattended even long enough to go to the bathroom and get a cup of tea.
  3. No off-hours access.

Those issues aside, each of these venues actually offer more options than any but the best coworking space is going to, in terms of a full spectrum from quiet space for individual work, meeting spaces for collaborative work, a coffee shop, outdoor spaces, and so on.