Who I Am

Me in Portland, OR (09/2019)

My name is James White.  I am a lifelong maker and a nerd. I am a polymath and as a result, my interests are broad and diverse. Among other things, I love to work in my garden, to fly fish, play and listen to music, read, draw and paint, write and tell stories, use gadgets, waste time on the Internet, read manga, dance, work with wood, garden, swim, play soccer, golf, and bake bread (which is ever so much more scientific than you would imagine). I fluent and literate in English and Japanese, and have been dabbling (with less success than I would like) in Chinese, Ukrainian, and Spanish for a number of years.

I am a city planner for a small city on the Oregon coast, and my focus is currently on land use and planning law and issues related to it. Previously I was operations manager and science program manager for a small environmental non-profit in central Washington. My university training is in geomorphology and natural resource law and policy, although fifteen years of my professional experience was in salmon recovery and the Endangered Species Act. I spent most of that fifteen years in some kind of technical capacity, and until I moved to organizational operations, I was quick to identify myself as a salmon scientist.

The Turtlshel Project has had a long history. Looked at from a particular point of view, it is a direct outgrowth and focal point of my various interests and activities. I registered turtlshel.com in 2001 as the home of my then Turtlshel Translating Company. As I worked less in translation, I added resources for intermediate and advanced learners of Japanese, and for students of classical Japanese – such resources were very scarce on the Internet at the time. Resources for studying classical Japanese were even more sparse.

During my university years, Turtlshel became a convenient place to post class notes, and to write about the interesting things I was learning. The content of the site leaned dramatically toward geomorphology, pedology, and other earth sciences and their related field techniques.

In the years since graduation the pages of Turtlshel have been a constant churn and a progression of redesigns to showcase my most recent hobbies. The Turtlshel Project has followed me as I spent a year learning how to bake fabulous French bread, as I learned how to play the Okinawan sanshin, as I dove into fly tying and fly fishing, various languages, the design and making of outdoor equipment such as messenger bags, and as I hunted as a photographer for the elusive perfect shot.

Now in October 2019 I am rebooting the site, again, returning to my geography and planning roots. Why a reboot now, when the last one was all the way back in 2013? There are two answers to that. First – I’m changing career paths right in the middle of an established, successful career. Essentially I am returning to the field I was training for (or had started to train for) as an undergrad studying geomorphology in the geography department. But the 15-year detour I took in salmon and nonprofits took me in a lot of different directions and has left me here, new to planning, and having to scurry to catch up. Second, David Kadavy, of “Design for Hackers” fame, wrote something in his 8 October 2019 newsletter that has been taking root in the back of my thoughts. He talked about the idea of a personal PhD, boiling down a PhD to the act of “produc[ing] original research that expands the bounds of knowledge,” and arguing that a personal PhD approach allows you to follow your curiosity while (in his case) earning money doing it. New to planning, and realizing that I am producing a lot of work on the side as I struggle to catch up in my new field, I realized the opportunity that I have to structure what I’m doing in a way that is helpful not just to me but to others as well. So welcome to my personal PhD.