Death and Taxes

While I helped others complete theirs, I waited until the last possible moment to finish our taxes this year. My thinking was that it should be pretty straight forward, I haven’t drawn a salary since COVID hit so what could be easier than entering a 0.

Except it wasn’t easy. Something was awry. Sheryl was continuously coming away with owing thousands of dollars in taxes. I prepared them separately, together, and backwards and forwards (not really) but with each revision the numbers got more and more dire. There was smoke coming out my ears, as I loudly exclaimed the impossibility of owing Canada yet more taxes during one the hardest years of our adult lives.

I’m the last person in the world you should rely upon for financial advice, and so with the knowledge of my limitations I called my cousin for advice who directed me to his accountant.

Long story short, he saved us these thousands by virtue of his knowledge of just announcement rebate (nee loophole). I thanked him profusely, paid for his 10 minutes of work, and was on my way.

But it shouldn’t be this way. No tax code should rely upon experts in order for tax payers to pay their fair share. What if I was too poor to pay his fee? Or just accepted my fate? How many other people in Canada are paying more than their fair share? It’s ridiculous.

Comparisons are odious, but I am going to do it anyway. In 20+ years of living in Taiwan when we went to file taxes (Sheryl as a teacher didn’t have to pay taxes for the majority of our time there), we would make the short trip to the tax office where the officer would review our file, and work to save us money! It was a simple 1 page doc. but they always found some simple errors and the general feeling was that they were on our side. I can’t imagine the CRA doing that here.

And has this higher tax rate resulted in a higher standard of living? Better services? Not that I can see.

My cousin just shrugged, laughed, and said welcome home. Sort of a Canadian equivalent of 沒辦法.

It’s not just taxes. The bureaucracy in Canada is thick, with people hiring experts with money from the government, in order to prepare complex documents to get yet more money from the government.


Sean Casey Can Run

The weather today could be best described by saying, at least it’s not a snowstorm. But despite the winter like temperatures Sheryl and I participated this morning in the @flyYYG Runway Run with event proceeds going to the family of Randy and Valerie Diamond.

I’m still wary of the problems I have in my left posterior chain, with lately my Achilles telling me to ease off the biking, which yesterday I didn’t with a heart exploding performance this time on the Concept2 BikeErg. Since I haven’t been running much my plan was just to enjoy a run with Sheryl and take it slow and easy.

That plan went out the window when half way through the run Sheryl had some problems and decided to walk, goading me to keep going.

I like targets, and seeing Sean Casey wearing Liberal red far in the distance I thought it might be fun to catch up and say some likely not so witty words of encouragement as I sped past.

Alas, I forgot that I am no Usain Bolt and failed to sprint soon and fast enough to catch up to Sean but managed to finish with wonderful flush of adrenaline that you feel after a sustained 4th zone push.

Afterwards, as usual, a short nap was needed.


No reward for difficulty

As we sit at the whiteboard strategizing how to get blood from a stone, this quote comes to mind …

The interesting thing about business, it’s not like the Olympics. You don’t get any extra points for the fact that something’s very hard to do. So you might as well just step over one-foot bars, instead of trying to jump over seven-foot bars.
Warren Buffett’s $200B Berkshire Blunder


Time and understanding of a culture

Twenty-one days isn’t enough time to really understand anything about a place — we’ve been on Prince Edward Island for twelve years and we still don’t understand. Most of what I relate above is more about comfort and familiarity than about realizing French life, culture and history.
Vicarious Travel

We lived for upwards of 21 years in Taiwan and still were dumbfounded by many things. Even after spending close to 6 years studying Chinese, much at the undergrad level, I still only seemed to be skimming the surface. A professor I studied with a National Central University said that I must marry into the culture to acquire a deeper level of understanding, a shallow remark considering she knew I was married, and something I discounted as just another person repeating the “you foreigners don’t understand Taiwan culture” trope.

This apparent lack of understanding did not take away from our experience there; Taiwan, and all the other places we have travelled, have shaped our view of the world today.


Island of bosses

Further, Taiwanese bosses foster a work culture defined by the ideal of suffering, shaping Taiwan culture in entirely negative ways. In Taiwan, work is suffering. Workers constantly have to display that they are suffering in order to show that they are working (much “work” thus becomes displays of suffering to fend off added work).

This social programming begins in school with students displaying how much their massive homework loads are making them suffer. Homework thus functions as a form of authoritarian control of time, leaving students little time for their own lives — that might lead to their participation in politics, god forbid — and as a tool for acculturating Taiwanese children to their adult lives of suffering at work under authoritarian bosses.

That is why Taiwanese frequently accuse white foreigners of being lazy, since many of us are from cultures in which it is considered a loss of control, especially for males, to make displays of how difficult work is, of how much we are suffering. We foreigners are not sending out the right cultural signals. You need to suffer more loudly, big noses!

It starts before elementary school.

Notes from central Taiwan: Taiwan: Island of bosses


Thailand near border

Hiking in Northern Thailand (close to Burma I believe) almost 20 years ago we finally came upon the village where we would stay the night. The rivers were swollen and the ground wet and muddy. It was this trip I think that I ventured into a fast moving canoe that almost capsized as we were trying to get to our destination. I don’t swim and there were no life jackets. There were a couple similar occasions during our many trips to Thailand that I would have, with only a slight change in luck, have met a different fate.

You haven’t had Thai food until you have had it prepared fresh right in front of you, with freshly culled chicken, and just picked herbs and spices.


Sunday Scene

After getting some work done, Sheryl and I walked (she walked, I limped) around Victoria Park on Sunday. The park was alive with people playing, walking and relaxing. We sat for awhile on a bench, people watched and generally enjoyed being outside, breathing in the crisp clean air. I find it very hard to just sit and do nothing; seeing people laying around for hours on end mystifies me, as I always feel the need to see or experience something. Relaxation for me comes from an escape from routine and this fit perfectly.


I fought the echo bike, and the echo bike won

It’s been a bit of a challenging week or two. First, persistent chest pains that kept me awake over multiple nights, then a man-cold, and now a sports related injury that has me sitting on the couch with my leg iced and elevated.

Since I became interested in running 6 years ago or so, I’ve suffered a slew of injuries. The most uncomfortable of which was extreme lower back pain that could only be abated by laying on the floor, just before I was to board a 24+ hour flight in economy. My mind, and to a lesser extent my heart and lungs, were far more capable of exercise than my middle aged weak frame. I’ve learned a lot about my body since then, have seen a number specialists, and have been scanned and probed many times.

Most medical advice on injuries aspirational middle aged athletes like myself acquire, almost universally includes the word stop. I have in turn each and every time I have heard that word ignored the advice, and instead replaced it with go harder (but smarter). It’s worked pretty well.

This past year I have despite putting my body through many kilometres of slow runs, intense running workouts, and light CrossFit workouts been injury free. I thought my more measured approach was working, and it seems to be until now.

I switched gyms recently, primarily out of convenience, but also in the belief that I would receive better coaching. That has turned out to be true, and they are far more accommodating towards an adaptive athlete such as myself.

Since joining in January I have ramped up the intensity of my workouts, and started adding more weight. My frequency has increased as well, so that I am there 5x per week. The biggest change was my discovery of the Echo bike above. If there was such a thing as hell, I am almost certain it would have one of these. It’s a torture device, and I have fallen in love with the discomfort and pain it gives me.

I used to always laugh at those who were laying on the floor after a work-out, but now the laugh is on me, because anytime a work-out includes extensive row/bike/run I’m laying on the floor in a fetal recovery position afterwards. It’s fantastic for my mental health.

Unfortunately, seemingly out of the blue this change in intensity, either from the bike, skipping, or box jumps has caused swelling and pain on the inside of my calf. I’m taking a breather for the next few days and off to Physio early next week.

It used to be common for the old folks to say, when life gives you lemons, make lemonade. I’ve found that since the pandemic has restricted our lives I’ve lost much of the routines I used to follow, and some discipline as well. So, I am going to take this opportunity to work harder at living a more healthy lifestyle, and work through whatever injury I am suffering from.


Giving

I just completed my 89 year old uncles income taxes (2 weeks later than promised) and am humbled by the amount of money he gives to charities that matter to him. And he does that on an income that is less than we pay in rent every year. He splits a box of Kraft dinner over multiple meals so he can afford to do this. Often a meal is a biscuit and tea. Selflessness like this is rare in our world today.


“Heavy production pressure”

I like Michael Turton’s take …

In Normal Accidents, Charles Perrow’s classic analysis of technological systems and the accidents they foster, Perrow observes that “when we have interactive systems that are tightly coupled, it is ‘normal’ for them to have this kind of accident, even though it is infrequent.” Such accidents are an “inherent property” of technological systems, and we have them because our industrial society is full of tightly coupled, interactive systems with great potential for catastrophe.

Here in Taiwan the omnipresence of tightly coupled systems — systems in which a failure in one leads to failure in another — operating in an atmosphere of intense production pressures and a lax safety culture has caused me to reflect often on Perrow’s insights. Everywhere you look, you see normal accidents.

Notes from central Taiwan: Taiwan’s normalized accidents


True Fans

I read this essay years ago and am rereading it after being reintroduced to it via an email list subscription. While the thesis of the essay feels true to me, getting these numbers of fans is harder than creating the work worth paying for. Time, patience, grit and luck are all required.

To be a successful creator you don’t need millions. You don’t need millions of dollars or millions of customers, millions of clients or millions of fans. To make a living as a craftsperson, photographer, musician, designer, author, animator, app maker, entrepreneur, or inventor you need only thousands of true fans.

A true fan is defined as a fan that will buy anything you produce. These diehard fans will drive 200 miles to see you sing; they will buy the hardback and paperback and audible versions of your book; they will purchase your next figurine sight unseen; they will pay for the “best-of” DVD version of your free youtube channel; they will come to your chef’s table once a month. If you have roughly a thousand of true fans like this (also known as super fans), you can make a living — if you are content to make a living but not a fortune.

1,000 True Fans


I’ve got a cold

This is only notable because I can’t recall having anything close to resembling a cold or flu since the pandemic started, and for the simple fact that somehow despite following all protocols, I still managed to catch a virus. I suspect, at some point I touched my face prior to washing my hands, likely at the gym.

I slept poorly over the weekend which may explain why I am exhibiting symptoms – which are mild, but being a male, they feel exaggerated and I am left wondering how I will get anything done today.


Liberty requires sacrifice

Not just America, but Canada and much of the West.

The pandemic has illuminated a set of imbalances in American society. The most profound among them is the growing disharmony between the individual and the community.

In recent decades many Americans have conflated liberty with selfishness, adopting the notion that freedoms are self-sustaining, that liberty is a birthright that no longer requires sacrifice or collective action. They denigrated the institutions and traditions that yielded our freedoms in the first place and serve as the connective tissue holding the nation together. These attitudes are societal comorbidities, and when the pandemic hit, the results were tragic. Despite having just 4% of the world’s population (and nearly 30% of the world’s wealth) America suffered 25% of reported covid-19 infections and 20% of its deaths.

Scott Galloway on recasting American individualism and institutions


HK Disney, 2007

In 2007 Catriona and I flew to Hong Kong, and after I finished my business at the TECO office, spent a day at Disneyland. We had a perfect day and all the pictures I have are of her smiling and me a ball of sweat – the temperatures were likely over 35°C. I was at that time extremely over protective of her, and had a fear that she would wander off on her own, never to be seen again. Hence I had her wear that foolish card around her neck with all her personal info. in 2 languages.


福州肉包

The kids love these meat filled steamed buns purchased at the grocery at the corner of Belvedere and Mt. Edward Rd, across from the Physio clinic. Steamed buns of various types were a staple of their elementary and middle school lives, and though not as good as fresh they are a nice treat, and provide a dose of nostalgia. During my short period of time living in 福州 (Fuzhou), they were a frequent addition to the meagre breakfasts that were available at the company cafeteria.


Taxes

My mood today matches the weather outside. Gray, cold, and slushy.

Sheryl prepared her taxes a couple weeks ago and the prognosis was poor. I’ve been procrastinating completing mine because I know too, that mine will also be grim. In the most challenging economic environment we have ever faced we will end up owing the government money this year. We applied for no business funding, nor received pandemic relief. We fall in the cracks for just about every available program – we pay cash for dental and the egregiously expensive eye exams. Thankfully, we don’t pay to visit the doctor. We don’t desire help, and are used to being self-sufficient, but the Islands extreme taxation, low salaries, and high cost of living makes cutting a cheque to the federal government painful to say the least.


Sometimes it takes time …

.. or in my case too much time.

In 2018 I was sitting in perhaps one of the worlds great cafés drinking tasty coffee and working on an app called Sleep Tight Stories. An app that would get finished, but sucked, and then transformed itself into one of the worlds most popular podcasts in its niche.

I never could revisit that code, in part because I no longer could understand what I wrote, and because it’s nigh impossible to find someone locally willing to write in Swift (on the cheap). Also, I’ve been working 7 days a week on something else.

Now that I have a few days a week to devote to creating new products, it’s time to revisit that bad code, write a tech. spec, and find someone online to help write the parts I will never be able to do alone.


Meat

When naming this business they really got to the point. Certainly not to be confused with a vegetarian restaurant, Meat offered Roma Cuisine in a secluded alley off the Main Street near the East Gate of Hsinchu.


Wither Startup Zone

Recent changes at the Startup Zone prompted me to jot down my thoughts on the changes, which then became a too long to read article, and now a still too lengthy TLDR bullet point post.

  • While not without it’s faults, the Startup Zone has provided tremendous value for me (and others) during the time I have been a resident company. Weekly stand-ups, coffee chats, workshops, access to an incredible breadth of advisors, social events, water cooler talk, and the accelerator program are just a sample of what I participated in.
  • While modelled after other programs, Startup Zone’s focus on small local business’s makes it unique; nowhere else could I participate in a meeting with a freelance designer, material scientist, dog trainer, Saas company CEO, fitness trainer and someone developing products for cancer survivors.
  • There is no other place on PEI where a remote worker, entrepreneur, or fledging business owner can simply congregate. No other government organization as willing to help get you started and support the ongoing development of your business.
  • Startup Zone CEO, who was "from away", left to return to Halifax to raise his family. The fact that this was an abrupt transition speaks volumes. The marketing and events coordinator left shortly afterwards, as has the office admin. This leaves the running of the space to an overworked temporary operations manager who is filling in for a maternity leave.
  • A new CEO, a local hire, has been selected but won’t start until sometime in November which in the real world means the organization is without leadership for a year, or more. An inexperienced local entrepreneur-in-residence has been hired for an unadvertised position.
  • This is turning out to be a fine case study in how a tone deaf board can run to the ground a valuable community resource.
  • It’s also a case study in how not to change leadership.
  • What little communication there has been has been cold, opaque and without an ounce of empathy.

Anyone who has worked in any kind of corporate environment for a period of time has seen leadership come and go. I’ve witnessed many of these transitions, and this is perhaps one of the worst I have ever seen (no communication, no knowledge transfer etc. etc.). It reflects very poorly on the board and it’s a shame that the community that has benefited so much from this resource, and Islanders in general, may not be able to rely upon the Startup Zone in the future.


21.2

I am not participating in the CrossFit Open this year, and feel no great interest in participating in the future, though that may change as the competition has been far more inclusive than I remember in the past. People with all range of challenges are encouraged to participate, from wheelchair bound athletes to people in their 60’s.

Our new gym does include the workouts as a part of their programming and I completed this last Saturday workout “21.2.”

Prior to heading to the gym I watched Tia Clair Toomeycruise through” the workout with seeming ease. Encouraged, I went to the workout without any reservations as to how hard it might be on my body. As evidence that nothing is as easy to accomplish in real life as what you on Youtube, I did not “cruise through” the workout with any of the grace I witnessed with Tia.

I was a complete sweaty mess and it took me 2 days of rest and stretching to recover.

My workout was the scaled version, which I completed in 18 minutes which though half of the Mens Rx winner of 9 minutes was not a bad performance for my first time out.


A better sonic experience

When we purchased a new MacBook last summer Apple was running a promotion whereby they would throw in a pair of AirPods for free, or a pair of AirPod Pro’s for $100. I jumped at the chance and purchased the AirPod Pros.

They have proven to be miraculously effective in staying in my ears no matter the activity – there have been one or two pairs of in-ear headphones that could fit securely in both my ears, Etymotic and Yurbuds, but they do so reluctantly.

Having access to Siri while doing various things is nice, though Siri itself is rather anemic and it’s utility beyond sending messages suspect.

The defining feature of the AirPods must be the noise cancellation which is pretty effective in my use cases.

One of the most interesting use cases for me, which though my son says I look like a Dweeb (and I agree), is to wear them while shopping at the grocery store. You never realize just how noisy retail environments are until you have the opportunity to remove all the background hum and machinations that this environment produces. I’ve listened to podcasts or some of the soundscape episodes I’ve produced, but walking around while cancelling noise is effective enough.

Now if there was only a way to reduce the amount of harsh blue light in the stores, the experience would be all the better.


3 + 1

16 years ago we were invited to display our musical chairs prototype in front of the Presidential Office Building in Taipei but somehow forgot one of the chairs we used. Though the replacement worked it was rather embarrassing. Actually, considering how simplistic the concept was, I’m surprised we were invited at all. We embedded pressure sensors in pillows which allowed people to create music by activating prepared samples and manipulating various parameters based on how people moved to the music. Though the artists statement was ever so slightly more eloquent, essentially four people created a musical performance with their ass. An in-action shot is below.


In praise of Apple Pay

Until recently I’ve avoided having any financial data on any phone more out of a sense of prudence than being a luddite. When I was in China I carried a separate iPhone, due in part to the rampant thievery there, the realization that the company I was working for tracked my every movement with their required app, and because WeChat was the default payment method.

Recently one night in a string of many mistakes I’ve made of late, I walked out the door to buy groceries without taking my wallet. Having set-up Apple Pay earlier when I arrived at the cashier I gave Apple Pay a try and was struck at how much faster it was compared to the usual tap with credit card.

I’ve always been a bit dubious about any added benefit of using a phone for tap vs a credit card, but for whatever reason the process is much faster with Apple Pay and I’m now sold on it’s usage.

Which makes me wonder about the future of cash – something I haven’t had in my pocket in years.


Off to UPEI

Catriona and her Japanese teacher.

Catriona is off to UPEI in the fall to study modern languages. We had given some thought to sending her abroad but the pandemic here in Canada has changed so many plans, and UPEI should give her a more gentle start to adulthood.

She has studied and had interest in a number of languages. Chinese is her mother tongue, with English spoken at home, and while in Taiwan she studied Japanese, Taiwanese, and Hakka. She took a class or two of French in high school, but the results were primarily passing a test vs. any real understanding of the language.

She didn’t take a linear path to attending UPEI in the fall. When we first arrived on PEI we were discussing goals and I mentioned that McGill had a Chinese program that she might be a good fit for. But teenagers apparently have a mind of their own and she stated that she was going to be a surgeon, and that languages were no longer her interest. So began a painful 2 years of her taking sciences and math. She did well in math, but sciences less so.

With the prospect of a 4 year struggle finishing a science degree she quickly changed her mind and will start with the program offering at UPEI. And unlike her younger self when she stated that she was going to move to Alaska as soon as she could, she seems inclined to stay close to home, for now. And for that we are grateful.


Family

This photo was sent to me recently to me on Facebook and reminds me of how supportive many colleagues and friends were during our early years in Taiwan.

Pictured is Sheryl and I, a very small Catriona, and the trio of friends who became my family in Taiwan. My Taiwan sister, Mother, and brother. Camren was still in progress. We were fortunate to have even more sisters and brothers who didn’t appear in this photo.

I often talk about how living overseas developed a kind of resilience, or self-reliance that we would never have developed if we had stayed in Canada. Taiwan’s government was efficient, and at times fair, but the farther the government was from our lives the better. If we lost our jobs, no help was coming, and in fact you would be required to leave the country quickly. If you wanted to retrain for another career, you pay for it yourself. There were no-one of the social or business supports that so many enjoy here (and interestingly, because we were away for so long there is no government support for us here either).

But we did have support from wonderful people for so many of the years that we lived there. Even after I left ITRI, where I met many of our Taiwan family, the support remained, and we have been in regular contact since.