A Great Start

This view is the start to my work day. Its getting cold and once the snow starts it’s not always possible to find traversable sidewalks in Charlottetown, especially across the bridge, so I am enjoying this view while I can. It’s also a good way point for my run/walk routine as I reacquaint my body to running once again.


The Complainer

When I was in grade school the teachers used to report that I complained too much, a habit that hasn’t really abated now that I am older. In fact, it’s likely increased since we moved back to the Island with my common refrains about how everything here costs far more than where we lived before or larger Canadian centres as well. I also have a gift for exaggeration.

We have been lucky enough during this period of increased prices to be affected primarily by the increased cost of fuel. Sheryl drives to Souris for work. That effect has been minimized by lots of carpooling and the fact that I run to work every day. As we buy food based on cost, and not by whim or habit, we have managed to keep our grocery bills within acceptable increases. Variety has taken a hit and I miss some fresh foods.

But with a swimmer in the house and most meets being off-Island there seems to be no escaping the high cost of travel.

Camren has a meet in Montreal in December and the team has decided to not go up together – in part due to the bus rental costing $11,000 – and in part due to some parents surprisingly enjoying driving in Northern New Brunswick in winter. I don’t. They all have large SUVs and being kind offered to allow him to ride with them. But alas he needs to be there earlier, he and one other swimmer qualified for a couple long-distance races which occur before the others arrive.

The only way to get him there is to fly. Unfortunately, the cost of flying out of Charlottetown has reached the level of ludicrousness. The price I was given for a return flight for the both of us was not far off what we would have paid to fly from Taiwan and return in years past. We often talk about returning to Taiwan, so out of interest, I checked those prices out of Halifax as well. They are double.

Porter has some far more reasonable fares out of Moncton, but they leave at 6:30AM, which in addition to paying the bridge tax and gas, means an incredibly early start to your day.

It’s pretty hard to justify all this for a single race.

Our savior may be Aeroplan. I have accumulated enough points that he and I could fly there with only a small service fee. I had planned on using these to fly us all someplace warm in Asia, but with the high costs of travel that doesn’t seem possible in the near future. I have little faith in Air Canada but I’ll hope that when we get to the airport they will actually have a seat on the plane for us.


The Blackbox

We have had a tremendous run with our niche podcasting journey. I’ve been a part of a lot of projects over the years and helped create a lot of different products. What we have created here lacks the sophistication and all the moving parts of other products I’ve helped create, but none of them have had the impact that our audio has. Creating audio for kids to listen to and enjoy, is incredibly rewarding. And I love getting direct feedback from them and their families. Something not typically possible in a large company.

Another thing I have discovered while attending a writing workshop is the challenge of getting published and getting people to read your material. Every month kids listen to my stories millions of times – I’ve built an audience for my (albeit weak) writing.

Now here comes the but …

I’ve learned a lot about podcasting these past few years. From audio editing and sound design to growth and monetization, and everything in between. Despite this, some aspects are still a complete mystery to me.

There was a naive expectation on my part that if you create a product that people enjoy, and you get enough people enjoying this product that revenue will follow. Sort of build it and they do come.

It’s a simple formula: A (audio that people want to listen to) + B (scale) = C (revenue) In fact that’s all anyone ever talks about. When the inevitable question is asked, “how do I make money podcasting”, the answer is almost always the same. You need scale (or a very valuable niche).

We have scale. In fact, using the number of downloads we have as a standard, we may have one of the largest podcasts in Canada. We are not the largest globally by a long shot, there are many podcasts in our category which enjoy multiple more listeners than we do, but it should be enough.

My focus has been on creating audio, not ad sales. Our ad sales are handled by Advertisecast, RedCircle, and Gumball.

Last year at this time the future looked bright. We signed several family-friendly brands, which helped make this the first year I was able to pay myself and keep the lights on in our studio. The celebrations were short lived because since June there have been no new contracts and I have no idea why that would be. I’ve reached out to the ad sales companies above and implemented all their suggestions, but they have been not very forthcoming with any solid suggestions.

So I started calling others working in audio. The most successful creators are a part of networks, others take advantage of being in the US (Spotify), and others can’t understand what our problem might be.

It’s a black box.

Advertising is not our only source of revenue, but unfortunately, it is our largest. Without it, it’s hard to justify continuing, especially with the rising cost of doing things on this remote Island in the Atlantic.

The only real solution I have is to start doing ad sales myself. Then I might find more answers, but finding time to pitch brands will be difficult, considering I take very few days off now.


Writing Workshop

I’ve been attending a writing workshop held by Doug Malcolm at the Charlottetown Learning Centre these past weeks. I had no real goal in attending other than getting help with the fact that “I write all the time and yet I have no idea what I am doing”.

These classes are the first time since the pandemic that I have sat around a table with a group of strangers. How novel to sit around a table with a group of people and discuss something of interest!

I haven’t learned anything related to writing yet, though the paragraph writing exercise he had us do did lead to the story Chef Shan and the Cabbage Rebellion that I released on Stories Pod. Having to read something written on the spot was terrifying.

This is a great chance to discuss writing and to learn how others think via their writing. Last week no one showed up, which I assume is a common problem (and a reason I wouldn’t put on a workshop myself), but I hope the meetings continue. It’s a welcome break from my routine.


Home or a house

I admit that I never entirely understood housing as an investment, preferring perhaps the idea that you buy a house because you want a home.

One of the many reasons we left Canada so many years ago was a desire to not follow the rules of what I refer to as the game – all the things you need to participate in until you can no longer. Buy a car(s), house(s), insurance, and investments, and stay in the same place and job so that you can retire and then live. We traveled, did interesting work with interesting people, and sent our kids to cool schools instead. I guess some could do it all, but when I was in my 20s I didn’t see how.

Before we can home, we thought of buying a house. We got approved for a mortgage but they wanted 50% down because our income was from “the FarEast”. Buying a house sight unseen seemed risky. Even when I said, here is a tiny one for 100K, we demurred (one of those just sold for $350K with nothing more than new paint).

We lived in a bubble in Taiwan for much of our time there – I had no idea what was happening here and what other people did to live their lives. I could see whole cities being built in Taiwan and China, only later to realize that they were beautiful ghost towns. People would buy real estate as an investment. Renting an Airbnb wasn’t a thing in my experience. The result was that it created soulless districts that eventually looked overgrown with weeds and unkempt. It also drove up the price of housing so that now in Taiwan, young people can’t afford to buy, and they delay having families until the last possible moment.

Unlike many of our family and friends our age, we are asset poor but experience-rich. It has been at times a difficult choice to make.

This is a long-winded way of saying that it’s fine, and in my view desirable for a community to say that homes within that community should be for those who want to live in them. Empty homes suck the life out of a city. Surely there must be other easy investments for those with the leverage to buy multiple dwellings.

There is a municipal election in Charlottetown and Stratford. The two main candidates in Charlottetown are comprised of the incumbent, who at every opportunity deflects responsibility for all matters to other levels of government (except arenas), and a pro-landlord and likely by extension pro-short rental candidate. As such, I doubt we will see meaningful change unless more grassroots groups like Charlottetown Mutual Aid rise up to force those old white men like myself to make change. They are too invested in their current way of thinking to do so by themselves.


Survey culture strikes again

I’ve lamented on many occasions the reliance on surveys, especially poorly formed ones, to gather data to guide public policy or to direct business strategy. Their use is not always misplaced, but they have become so easy and prevalent everyone thinks that simply gathering data of any kind is enough, no matter if what they are gathering is irrelevant quant., when it should be qual..

But never in my wildest dreams would I expect an organisation to use a survey to determine whether or not the respondent receives aid so that they can buy food. Aid that was specifically donated so that people could receive it. What makes matters worse is that no where in the survey, to the best of my recollection was it explicitly stated that this would inform future aid.

This leaves me wondering, can this Provincial government do anything right? The most effective organizations are those who understand the people and the problem, not those sitting comfortably warm in their second or third home, far from the problems at hand. Thats why grass roots organizations, like Charlottetown Mutual Aid, who are actually talking to people, and use a no questions asked approach to dispensing aid, are far more effective.


Catriona’s 19th

The day the Fiona hit was Catriona birthday so our annual sojourn to New Glasgow for dinner was prudently put on hold. Unfortunately they decided to close for the season so we took her for lobster at The Water Prince Shop on Saturday.


Fiona Day 3

We are back in our studio on Victoria Row, marvelling at the fact that when you flip a switch, a light turns on. We also have somewhat limited Internet access.

I ran around our neighbourhood in Stratford yesterday and it was sad to see so many lovely trees felled by the strong winds. Some utility poles were snapped, and lines down, so I don’t expect we will have power anytime soon. It’s amazing that so much of our critical infrastructure is strung between teetering wooden poles.

We have a limited social network on the Island but people we have met have been kind – my colleague gave us a 5G hotspot on loan, so that we can keep in touch with the outside world.

We do have some packaged food left and some fuel to heat it with, so we should be good for a couple more days. Hopefully by then other options will appear.


A Weekend Off

I’m sitting here in my kitchen, safe, warm and dry, drinking a lovely single origin from Peru that I brewed on my camp stove.

We’ve been through all kinds of natural disasters from the 921 earthquake, which leveled mountains and towns, to yearly typhoons which blew everything off the island not battened down. Being prepared for such things is something we are accustomed to but we’ve become somewhat complacent since returning to this gentler Island, and as such when we heard that this was going to be a “historic” hurricane we were caught somewhat unprepared.

Our food stores had expired and we were a bit short on fuel for our camp stove. The disadvantage of living in a place that relies entirely on electricity for heat, lights, and cooking is that once that disappears, modern life becomes less … modern.

We’ve done fine so far, we made food ahead of time and we have enough power banks to keep devices humming for days.

But what good are these devices if you can’t use them? This is perhaps the greatest surprise of this whole experience. Never in all the calamities that we’ve lived through, have we been unable to communicate with the outside world. In PEI, and other parts of Atlantic Canada, cellular service has been unavailable. According to some reports 911 service is unavailable as well. It took hours for me to finally check in with my 91 year old Uncle and the call failed half way through. What if he needed help?

Luckily we have a radio stored away in our survival kit so that we could listen to news updates. The CBC was having a hard time initially staying online as well.

We’ve now been without power for 36 hours. I think the CEO(?) of T3 Transit explained it well on radio the criticality of our electric infrastructure – you can’t even get fuel without power to the electric pump. It’s surprising how few backup systems there are in place.

We were greeted by the Mayor of Stratford yesterday as we went for a walk to survey the damage and realized that the town hall was open. He and other staff kept the coffee hot and made sure people could charge their devices and use Wi-Fi to communicate with others. It’s wonderful to see that level of care for the community.

I had a zoom call today and no way to reach out to say I was unable to attend. So I went to Town Hall again to see if I could either join the call or send an email to say I couldn’t. Unfortunately their network was overloaded with the hundreds of people looking to connect to the outside world and charge their devices. Instead we connected with neighbors over apple pie and coffee. We’ll go back later for a hot shower.


IRAC Vs. Renters

The recent announcement by IRAC to dramatically raise the allowable rental increase on the Island for the coming year affects us – we rent. Thankfully we won’t be left homeless or miss meals like others might, but because our money has limits it might mean no restaurants, which is already a rarity due to the high cost – low reward aspect of eating out in Charlottetown. It will also have an effect on charitable giving. Yes our rent is already that high.

Housing as an investment is weird here in Canada, at least from my inexperienced eyes.

In Taiwan, my experience was that people viewed real estate as an easy investment, an appreciating asset that could either be sold or used later in life. But they wouldn’t rent the house with the same regularity that you see here. Being a landlord was too much of a hassle, and often times we would have to convince landlords that we wouldn’t cause their asset to depreciate.

In Canada, it seems landlords use various means to mortgage a house, then have renters pay the mortgage, while they gain not only the value of an appreciating investment but also a profit from the renters.

The Taiwan model I witnessed resulted in whole districts being built with beautiful buildings, but no one living in them.

The Canadian model seems to create a return to a kind of serf – lord relationship.

In Taiwan it was understood that we could find another place to live with relative ease. So if we had a landlord with unrealistic expectations, or who was uncooperative, we would simply move. Adequate supply makes the relationship more equal.

Canada has no supply, and as such you have no recourse.

One of our many mistakes in moving home was not buying a house before we arrived. It seemed too risky with no steady income, and we wanted more than just a house, we wanted a home. Of course those houses have doubled in value in the past few years, but we didn’t have a crystal ball, and we knew nothing of real estate in Canada.

We are in a better position to buy now, we are more settled, but the question that we keep wondering, is this investment worth it? It was 4 years ago, but now at 2x the cost? It seems everyday the answer inches closer to no, but renting on the Island is not tenable over the long term (for many reasons), so that may mean a move to somewhere else. Somewhere with a functioning medical system perhaps, maybe Europe this time, instead of Asia?


Goodbye prime

“Your HappyEars Canada order is now complete.”

I’ve been shopping for earplugs to replace the freebies I received from Upstreet brewing a few years ago when I was there to hear Lady Soul. They were handing them out when people started complaining about the excessive volume, to which the sound engineer just laughed and turned the volume up even more.

HappyEars didn’t work for me, but I always thought that the language was odd considering I had yet to receive the product. Doesn’t my experience with the company continue after they receive my money? And shouldn’t they consider that?

The same can be said with Amazon, whose Prime we stopped subscribing to as the value proposition all but disappeared. In major markets Amazon handles delivery but PEI being remote, Amazon relies upon low cost providers for the last mile of service. When they used Purolator and Canada Post, service was great, now more often than not you will see someone pull up in their car with the backseat overflowing with packages. The results are predictably poor.

Over the winter we would see our packages in snow banks or tossed at random doors. Today I got a phone call telling me they found my package outside.

Considering that Amazon deliveries are slow at the best of times, why would you choose to subscribe to Prime? More TV? Admittedly the ability to order just coffee filters was nice, but some advance planning is all that’s needed, and Mother earth might appreciate the smaller carbon footprint.

The effect to Amazons profits of losing some customers in the Atlantic region due to poor experience is infinitesimally small, but smaller companies should find ways to at the very least let their customers know that they are there with them throughout the customer journey.


Coffee prices

With the exception of the cost of fuel, in much of our day to day the effects of rising costs brought on by the cause of the day hasn’t seemed to be that apparent. We eat less steak and fish, but that’s been a thing for years.

Today it hit home. We’ve been buying coffee from a number sources since we moved back, finally settling on 49th Parallel and Green Beanery as our most frequent place to purchase beans. Coffee of the quality we buy we consider our treat; other people buy wine, we drink good coffee.

Coffee has gone up since the pandemic but not so much so that we had to reconsider our habit (I drink about 5 cups a day).

Today marked a change. I abandoned a Green Beanery order because the shipping seemed excessive. Heading over to 49th Parallel I thought to restart my subscription until I saw the new shipping price. Our subscription was once 3 bags of single origin for $50 shipped, a great deal for the quality of beans. That subscription is now $80, a result of increased shipping costs, though I don’t see an increase at Canada Post who they ship with.

We do now have a good roaster in town, so perhaps we will be relying on her more often.


New Glasses

I received a pair of computer progressives yesterday which now allow me to see all the UI of Logic Pro, and text in general, with greater clarity. The effect is more magnifying glass than simply bringing objects into focus, so I’m not sure I will stick to it, but will give it a couple of weeks.


Thailand redux?

I run my life via my Aeroplan Visa card and have over the course of the past few years slowly accrued a lot of points.

Yesterday I found out that I have enough points to fly the four of us from Halifax to just about anywhere we might want to go. Flying to Thailand would leave some points for a flight elsewhere.

For some reason I hoard points like its real money (see Loss aversion) – I have enough PC Optimum points to buy weeks of groceries – but perhaps it’s time while we are all still under the same roof, to have a family vacation in one of our most beloved places, and enjoy some sunshine during the cold Canadian winter. Now if only we can get our passports renewed before 2023.


Existence-ism

Sheryl and I shared a look last week when I mentioned yet another couple of news items, one about the failing health care system, a day doesn’t go by without at least one article, and the other of yet another failing in one part of the giant bureaucracy of Service Canada.

It had been close to nine weeks since Sheryl filed for EI and numerous phone calls had shed no light on what the problem could be. Her case was elevated so many times it might well have been on the desk of the PM himself. Each time she called, the person who she talked to didn’t have any answers, and the person who did was either away or unreachable. The person on the other end of the call has an unenviable job. Yesterday she got an answer. Her SIN was inactive.

She asked how that could be possible – she drew EI last year for a month, voted in an election, they gladly took her tax money, even asking her for more based on her past EI claim, and she has been living and working back in Canada for years. The representative didn’t know.

So she spent a couple hours at Service Canada yesterday afternoon, patiently waiting while people were on coffee break, in an effort to prove to the Government that she does indeed exist so that she can receive the service she has been paying for.

It was recommended that I look into doing the same. But before I spend an afternoon at a Government office convincing them of my existence, I wonder if there are any benefits of living here in Canada, but not existing?


Movement

On this day not so many years ago, I got up, ran 21k, came home and showered, ate a full breakfast, and walked to work. This was routine.

Yesterday, I tried to run 3.5k from my office to home and failed. I mostly walked.

Monday at Crossfit I took a knee because my heart rate spiked over 200 and I thought I might fall.

Activity of all sorts seems more difficult and I now think in terms of movement and not, am I making my mileage targets. So I walk, run, bike, and SkiErg.

The cause of my decrease in athletic capability could be many things; long COVID, sitting on my ass all day, or it could all be in my head. This might be something to start a conversation with a GP over but we don’t have one, and it seems ridiculous to clog an already overloaded system with abstract health concerns.

What I will likely do is create a performance baseline in which to measure improvements from. This way I may gain a better idea if there are any underlying conditions that might be affecting my ability to move. The QEH has facilities for this, but getting access to that equipment in a timely manner is about as likely as winning the lottery. So I will pay a private clinic when I have saved the money required.

On the plus side, while at the hellscape that is Walmart yesterday, we had a competition to see who could sit down on the floor and get back up again without using your hands or any momentum. It’s a test of mobility and more difficult than it sounds. I won.


Science

I think it was during one of the many lockdown periods that we created something new, an experiment in a science education podcast. But once we started going about our lives again time became ever shorter and the project didn’t get past the first season of 10 episodes. We did the leg work for the second season, conducting and arranging interviews, a new direction for us, but again time just did not permit.

I made the time this summer, launching a new episode featuring Bernice the Bear who with her father was learning something about plants, and planting a garden. Our new direction is less beeps and bops, more let’s learn some science as a bedtime story. I also designed more space for advertising which makes me somewhat sad but is the only way I can see to make this work.

I finished the production of another episode yesterday – there is some voice over that needs to be redone but the real problem is we have found the limit to how much information can be chunked in audio format. It’s seems to my mind almost incomprehensible.

In a narrative format we can say more while allowing the kids to follow along and gradually become engaged with the underlying facts.

In our other question and answer format I have found hard limits to what can be said; it’s interesting how much more we can learn when it is contained within a story.

We are thinking of rewriting the whole episode but I’m also considering releasing it as is. Perhaps listeners will surprise us. Also, since one of the purposes of these summer episodes was to gain feedback, we might learn more by releasing the episode as is.


The Doorway Effect

I didn’t realize that this was a thing until someone smarter than me posted a cartoon about it on Facebook (it’s good for something!). I always assumed it was further evidence of age related cognitive decline or evidence of a mind preoccupied with too many things at once. I feel better already.

The doorway effect is a known psychological event, where a person’s memory declines when passing through a doorway moving from one location to another, when it would not if they had remained in the same place. People experience this effect by forgetting what they were going to do, thinking about, or planning upon entering a different room. This is thought to be due to the change in one’s physical environment, which is used to distinguish boundaries between remembered events: memories of events encountered in the present environment are more accessible than those beyond it.
Wikipedia


Workplace Progressives

I had a visit with the optometrist this week as I had some concerns about my left eye which had prompted a visit to emergency a few years ago. Luckily all is well, and though we discussed how getting older is a nuisance, my vision has actually improved compared to the past.

This is an ongoing example of health care that works. I make an appointment that works for both of us, I talk to the doctor about my issues, she does tests, gives a recommendation, and passes on some info to the specialist for future followup. Unfortunately, this is also a private and paid practice. It’s also expensive.

The other problem I have been having is I can’t make out the menu items on my computer monitor. Apple’s UI has been increasingly lacklustre in their pro apps, and deteriorating at about the same rate as my ability to see small text clearly at about an arms length distance. It drives me crazy and has an effect on my ability to work.

The optometrist’s recommendation was a pair of “computer or workplace progressives” which focus on the mid and short range of vision. Very promising. She was more than happy to introduce me to the optician who then gave me an overview of the frames available, which all have the same starting price, and what my final cost would be. The total cost for this visit was to be approx. $850. Glasses for driving would be an extra expense.

I didn’t buy the glasses.


What do you call a solitary entrepreneur?

Part of my motivation. I value greatly who I work with and its very difficult to know how well you will get along with the team in any company you might join.

… No bosses or investors to tell me what to do. Just me and my customers. And no-one else to share the profits with, apart from the tax man.

The downside is that you don’t always have someone to bounce ideas off and it can be a little isolating at times. Nothing is perfect. …

The place in which you work makes a difference as to how you deal with isolation. I find Charlottetown to be a very difficult place to do the work we do and have often considered moving to a place where there is a community of like minded people, or organizations to interact with. But life is not all about work so we stay.

I like creating products. So I created a job around that, with a conscious decision not to take on any employees. A ‘lifestyle’ business.

I like this framing; creating a job around doing what you love doing.

What do you call a solitary entrepreneur?


The craft revolution

My love of coffee and the vision I have for my for my professional life converge.

… Instead of privileging the pursuit of profit, craft businesses and professionals are part of the rise of creative professions. They are driven by esthetic engagement, creative expression and an aspiration for quality.

Craft work gives professionals the opportunity to create unique products that align with their personal visions. This helps the makers distinguish themselves and express their identity through their work.

The craft revolution helped develop the market for specialty coffee


CO2e Saved

In a recent update to the Suunto app., it started displaying how many kg of CO2e I’ve saved for the month during my commutes to work. This only includes the runs to and from work, which are few and short, that Suunto automatically tags as commute. I often walk, but also need to take the car due to the need for groceries and such.

I sent my bike to Ted’s Bicycle Studio in Stratford for a tune up on Friday – which seemed expensive but I appreciate his up front pricing. While it’s in his care he is also adding a rear bike rack. Once I order some rear panniers I should easily be able tp pick up some essentials for dinner – at least until winter.

Since my body is refusing to allow me to run marathons this year and perhaps next, I am planning a big bike upgrade for Sheryl and I so that we can start working towards long distance cycling trips. Traveling across the continent by bike sounds like a nice goal.


I learned something

I don’t know exactly what it was about the old library but I seldom wanted to spend any time there. Maybe it’s the open space, the brightness, or maybe it’s The Shed, but the new space is so much more inviting. I like to discover books, more than I like searching for them. The same could be said about music which is all algorithms now, which is far less satisfying than browsing for an hour at a store like Sam’s on Young St. in Toronto, back when LP’s were more than a narrow niche. So I wandered the aisles today at the learning centre, found a book and actually learned something new. Nothing life altering, just a useful function in Logic Pro I didn’t realize I needed to know. Now I do.