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.


What getting dressed means now

This photo of my father and I at the CDP was part of a section on garbage in a health/social studies text book.

For all of my adult life, with the exception of that period of time where I would wear a black suit to the office, my definition of work wear consisted at its most fancy, a pair of khakis and leather shoes. For the most part, I’ve dressed the same as when I was a kid – jeans, t-shirt and sneakers.

Today, I stayed home and didn’t make my weekly trip to the town centre for meetings and general conversation. But I still decided to dress for the office. Which meant ditching the comfy gym shorts and old t-shirt, and donning gym pants and a fresh sweat shirt. I don’t think it’s possible to get any more casual.

I’m in full support of this anti-fashion, super comfortable work from home office attire.


True

A business card message I can agree with. It’s amazing the small stupid things that you carry around for years.


CrossFit via zoom

I joined a Crossfit class via Zoom at lunch time today and while I appreciated the opportunity to be gently goaded to get out of my chair and move my body, I hope it doesn’t become a habit. It’s essential to do some kind of functional exercise everyday and throwing myself into CrossFit training has helped my mental health immensely. It’s a great diversion from running while the roads remain perilously ‘slippy”.

But more Zoom time is not the answer, for me. It’s just far too impersonal.


Faith

Like the weather before, COVID dominates the start of many conversations I have had recently. Unlike the weather, it spoils the conversation to such a degree that whenever the topic emerges I try to change it as quickly as possible. The anger the topic brings spoils all that follows – it’s gone well beyond the shared suffering stage. People are angry.

At this point I have lost all faith that Canada or Canadians will ever get this pandemic under control. It’s been over a year and yet nothing has changed; nations with more competent leadership and more resilient peoples have, with the exception of tight border controls (which are meant to keep people from Canada and other Western countries out) moved on. It’s ridiculous.

Locally, we have faired far better. But we still suffer from the same self-righteous, selfish assholes that the rest of the country does. This is illustrated by the 2 women who recently had to break isolation in order to go shopping at Toys-R-Us. It’s not hard to conjecture that the only thing special about their situation is they got caught. And what will be their punishment? About the same as playing hooky from school. Civic responsibility is fleeting for many more.

There are also the dim-wits who believe wearing a mask is infringing on their rights, or some other nonsense they read on Facebook. They are ignorant to the fact that our rights have been earned and that they require payment time and again.

Locally we are still using language that doesn’t emphasize the seriousness of the situation. Self-isolate instead of quarantine. Advise you to do something, instead of requiring. Guidelines, instead of mandate. It’s like we are trying not to hurt peoples feelings.

The time to be kind and patient is long over …


Anyone home?

I often talk about the importance of having a system and policy in place for when you publish that email address or email form on a website. You set expectations as to when you will reply and you stick to it as much as possible.

This is such a basic thing that I think many don’t even think about it any more, which is perhaps why the problems is still so persuasive.

But what about phone numbers.

Sometimes I think dusting off the Phone app and calling is a more efficient way of finding the info I need. So when a particular department at UPEI publishes the phone numbers of those who I wish to call, I expect at some point someone might answer. Except out of the the 16 listed numbers no one has answered all week.

And to make matters worse, when trying to leave a voice mail message, I get an error stating that they don’t subscribe to the service!

Does this have any real world effects? In this case, likely not. But under other circumstances, like if this was a business, I would have taken my business elsewhere long ago.

So I’m back to email. Maybe that will work. Or not.