Catriona, 18

Somehow this little girl who used to run around Jusco singing songs turned 18 today. It is a cliché but I really don’t know where the time has gone. This morning while getting some coffee near my office I saw a group of young kids excitedly going to dance class, just like she used to, which made me wish I could experience it all over again.


Not my finest moment

I was sitting at the coffee shop while I did my end of week admin debris when I notice my 90 year old uncle in his car parked outside the optometrist office next door.

Getting out of his car after having a short chat, a guy started approaching me to let me know that I should inform Wendell that he ran a stop sign. While he was not particularly aggressive in his approach something about his manner triggered me and I became testy.

It took me many years to learn that in every confrontation, argument, or conflict of any kind, even a minor one such as this, one needs to be calm, polite and empathetic. Once your heart rate rises above baseline, and you loose the ability to think, your ability to choose the correct verbal or physical language for the situation diminishes.

While his delivery was aggravating, he was correct. Wendell didn’t see the stop sign. I should have smiled, said thank you, and moved on.

And now it’s time to encourage my uncle to get off the roads.


Surveillance

I’m not sure how long these have been in place, it’s amazing how one doesn’t notice these eyes encroaching on your privacy, but these cameras on the confed. centre certainly are an ugly accoutrement. It’s not like the building was attractive in the first place but one would think that more subtle methods for surveillance might exist.

While not yet approaching Asian state levels of surveillance, Charlottetown certainly does seem to be trying hard. Is there a crime problem I don’t know about?


Soy Milk Latte

I’m sitting here at what is becoming my second office trying a soy milk Latte, after tasting which I remember that I have always hated soy milk. The kids love of all things soy never took hold with me.

Today is supposed to be a day of writing, but with writing being my worst skill and with no real deadline, I’ve done every other possible task.

Perhaps next I should go home and clean out my son’s closet.


New Habit

Now that Catriona is attending University her schedule has freed up considerably which allows us to start having the ability to enjoy morning coffee and tea together at The Shed. I don’t think we’ve had this much time alone together in years. We don’t talk much, she reads, and I wade through piles of email and such, but I think we both share the characteristic of extended periods of quiet juxtaposed by periods of manic conversation.

She is studying medieval literature at the moment, which I warned her about as I always thought it got in the way of more important things, like the study of medieval music and the drinking of beer. She obviously gets her smarts from her mother as she thinks all the stories are easy, predictable and boring. I remember struggling.

We arrive early (to her) at 8:30am but the prospect of me paying for her tea and car ride into town (I get the feeling my bike would be stolen by end of day) gets her out of bed faster than the school bus ever did.


Undecided

Tomorrow is Election Day and I have still not come to a decision as to who or what party I will cast my vote for. Unlike past elections, held during our brief time back in Canada, there has been little in the way of outreach from party candidates, and with life being busier than the past, I’ve done little to understand their take on the issues that matter to me.

Here are the issues that seem to be pre-occupying my mind of late:

Cost of living. Coming home was in one small part an experiment, could we lead a similar middle class lifestyle that we lived abroad while enjoying a greater work-life balance. Before we left we knew that the medical system here was not comparable in access to what we were used to, but we felt otherwise the numbers worked. Recently at the behest of a friend and mentor, I more closely ran the numbers again (I dislike quant.) and discovered that our experiment has failed. At a time when we should be celebrating success, who the hell makes a living telling bedtime stories, we realize that despite having a household income far above the median, we just can’t make it. In many ways our lifestyle is a shadow of what it was – the cost of living is just too high.

Food has always been more expensive (Atlantic salmon is cheaper in Taiwan for some reason), housing costs are spiralling out of control (a house we thought of buying recently sold for double the price), services and education are multiples more expensive, and Canadian salaries like in Taiwan are depressed.

High taxation. To make matters worse we pay 6-7x the effective tax rate we were paying before and for what (where is the accountability)? PEI doesn’t have true universal health care, you have to pay for dental, eye exams, audiology and for any medications you might need. I have no idea if mental health is covered or where one would go to access that. If you try to look after your physical self, you have to pay for that too – physiotherapy is a thriving business on the Island.

I had this misplaced conception that by returning to Canada we would have access to greater social services, more security, and thus more peace of mind. What the pandemic has taught us is that this is far from the truth. We must be as self-reliant as in the past (in Asia we had no assistance available for anything), which is fine, but again, what do we pay such a high tax rate for.

Universal healthcare. What good is having great doctors if you can’t access medical services? Camren has an ingrown toenail, a minor problem, but one that has a dramatic effect on his quality of life. Competitive athletics are best performed without a swollen infected toe. He’s been told its a 3 month wait for a procedure that we could have been taken care of immediately by walking into any hospital in the past. I had been experiencing an irregular heart beat, was concerned and started my journey at a walk-in clinic. It took me over 6 months to get the prognosis that “if anything bad was going happen it would have happened by now.”

What is frustrating is that while you have to pay for some services, you aren’t allowed to pay for others. I would like more data as to why I have decreased energy levels and if there might be circulatory problems in my left leg. I can’t pay for blood work or get scans from a private clinic and the system here only starts to work when problems get chronic and then you begin the well known long wait.

Before I left the Island for education and work, I was raised by my mother alone on the modest salary she received. We lived in a 3 bedroom duplex, she drove a nice car, I was dressed in nice clothes, and I had regular visits to the doctor. We ate well. Sometimes it was tight, but I didn’t notice any difference between our family and those of what might have been my better off classmates. It would be impossible to have a similar life style today on a single salary. I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say, under similar circumstances, you would be food insecure and perhaps at risk of being homeless.

At present, I have no idea which person and party can best represent my concerns. And honestly, I have little faith any will make much progress. Lawrence Macaulay would seem the most qualified, but I’m not sure he has ever stepped foot in Stratford, let alone gone door to door talking to constituents. The Green party’s focus on climate is something I can get behind, but when your boat is already sinking, it’s hard to focus on rising sea levels.

I have about 12 hours before I plan to vote.


Cost of Customer Acquisition

I’ve been in need of a new pair of glasses for some time, particularly for when running or other sweaty fitness activities. My old Japanese frames, though seemingly still of the same look of many glasses you can buy today, look scruffy as hell.

Eye glass frames, along with razor blades and printer cartridges, are essentially all profit, with frames being especially “scammy” as most are manufactured by a single company. Seeing as we have a family of 4 to feed I wasn’t too excited to not only have to pay to get a subscription, eye tests are not part of our universal healthcare, and pay the $400 and up, I was quoted for new glasses.

So when presented with an ad on Instagram from Kits.ca I decided to give it a try.

I measured my previous glasses, used their tool to measure my PD, gave them my prescription, and submitted an order for the pair of glasses that looked as close as possible to my previous pair.

Total cost was ~$12 for shipping, plus the time I spent entering the data. They arrived in my mailbox a week after purchase.

Kits gives you your first pair of glasses for free because they believe that you will be so impressed with the product and service that you will be back to buy another pair. I’m not so sure. The quality of the frames is on par with anything else I’ve owned and they fit right out of the box. For running and other bouncy activities they will require some slight adjustment but otherwise they are fine.

The only problem is that I don’t really like them. Online try-on can’t really compare to the experience of what you get in store, and I’m fairly certain I would never have purchased them if I had tried them on in store. The software they use is somewhat akin to a Snapchat filter. They do offer a 30 day return policy with return shipping at their expense.

It’s a great deal and an interesting business model, but I’m not convinced its for me just yet.


Fancy

When I first arrived in Fuzhou I was required to stay in a dorm in the city – they had my passport for a couple weeks so I little choice as hotel stays are bit more strict in China than say the former Queens Arms Inn (which based on experience was of similar quality). Luckily the apartment I had later was in a different class all together. I remember being a bit salty when I walked into the room, but though I was recruited, I was still considered a local management hire and with their obsession with harmony, deserving of the same treatment as everyone else.

25+ yrs earlier, Sheryl’s tiny one room apartment in Antigonish had a similar arrangement in the bathroom which seemed more fun at the time.


Island Cam

Years ago I used to check the Island Cam(s) from half way around the world to take a peak into the goings on in the City of Charlottetown. Not much was ever going on during the times I checked but it served as a good lead in when talking to family via phone. “I see you have some snow there…” “How did you know that?” That and listening to local radio while driving in some remote locale was pretty magical in those days.

These days, with our weird and annoying changes in weather, I use to see if it’s fit to go outside. My current office doesn’t have a window.


Paid podcast subscriptions seem to be having a moment(?)

Paid podcast subscriptions seem to be having a moment: Breaking Points, a podcast and YouTube show, has seen 10,000 paying subscribers in just two days using Supercast. The company tells Podnews that their top ten podcasters are earning more than $9 million in annual recurring revenue from paid subscribers on the platform; and that their growth rate is outperforming Substack’s early published milestones.
Via Podnews

I know of only a handful of children’s podcasts that enjoy similar success, albeit at a smaller scale. We aren’t one of them.

I’ve often described creating audio for children as my happy place. As far as products go it’s a simple problem to solve, it’s creative, has seemingly endless possibilities for personal growth, and you get immediate feedback from your customers/listeners. And despite the long hours and no days off, it feels far less stressful than the 996 culture I was embroiled in in the past.

Our growth, though slowing (we may have hit peak bedtime stories), has been amazing; we average over 700,000 downloads a month on Sleep Tight Stories alone. And yet these seemingly large numbers have not translated into a truly functioning business. A great side-hustle sure, but not something that we could support our family with, particularly with the high cost of living on PEI.

I’ve yet to identify where our execution is lacking – value prop?, messaging?, community?, my propensity for introversion?. All these areas need work, and I’m trying to improve our execution in each of them to see if there is any improvement with our anemic conversion rate.


Extreme 996 Work Culture

I watched this last night and it brought back memories. Particularly the constant messages that you had to answer no matter the day or time. As a foreigner I had been given different expectations, but if everyone else on your team is working, it’s pretty hard to walk away. This work ethic was not limited to China, it was the norm in many companies in Taiwan as well. I still remember the first time I saw the Startup Zone in Charlottetown, it was just past 5pm and the place was dark and empty. I couldn’t believe that people at the beginnings of building a company would leave work before 5pm. And that in summer, so many office workers would be on their way home at 4:30pm.


Too short a stay

Foggy in New Brunswick and PEI, sunny in Nova Scotia

We had a short pit stop in Aulac enroute to a family BBQ in Truro. While we had little trouble entering Nova Scotia, the fact that we stopped at all in New Brunswick gave the “gate-keeper” at the provincial border significant pause.


Planned Obsolescence

Of all the tech. purchases I’ve made in the past few years none have had as positive effect on my quality of life as my AirPod Pro’s. The sound quality is fine, but it’s sound cancelling and integration with my other Apple tools is exemplary.

Being able to discreetly mask environmental noise has been illuminating, you don’t know what you are experiencing until it’s gone. The fact that they are the only wireless in-earphones that will stay in my ears while running, is a boon to being able to communicate while active.

But after a year of use they are starting to develop some quirks; each time I take AirPods out of their case one of the ear buds will have its battery drained and as such is unusable. A quick 10 minutes in the case brings it to life, but it casts doubt on the long term viability of the product. Particularly since is becoming a regular occurrence.

Perhaps this is the (hefty) price you pay for wireless earphones, or yet another example of how so many products we buy today aren’t built with longevity in mind. I have wired over the ear headphones that have last for years and years.


Small beginnings

Some of the materials which will come together to form a small voice over booth in our office. This is a somewhat portable solution but far more cost effective than what I’ve seen on Amazon or a full blown whisperroom.

The people at Kent Building supplies were quite kind, holding our hands throughout the whole wood buying process.


Complexity by design

I spent an agregiously short period of time yesterday trying to decide where to buy home insurance. The policy had just expired and a house fire spurred me into action.

Our current broker was recommended to us by my mother, apparently we had a relative working there, and she seemingly told everyone else I know to go there too. Unfortunately, my whole experience with this company has been sub-optimal. Poor service is the norm.

I inquired with other companies and the coverage and costs are all similar. Looking at the details of these policies, 50 + pages for our current one, requires more patience and time than I have. So relying on hopes and prayers, I gave up and decided to stick with the devil I know.

Since everywhere in the downtown is a 5 minute walk I thought I might drop in, as I also now need coverage for our office. Unfortunately, unknown to me, due to COVID they are appointment only. A call to the office reveals the account manager was on holiday and the operator sent me to someone already on the phone. And so I wait for a call back, so I can give them more money.

Insurance, like taxes, feels like it has been created with such complexity that only those with means or a great deal of time can afford to truly understand its workings.


Adaptation

These photos illustrate not just a messy desk but my preferred way of working. Screens off and paper, sharpie and pencils on. This is how I work and how I have worked for years. It’s immediate and easy – we have practiced our whole lives to transfer thought via pencil to paper.

Regularly I contemplate giving up working for myself and enjoying the regularity and structure of working for people presumably more skilled at business than I, at least skilled enough to afford hiring people like myself. I continue to resist and procrastinate; my wife continues to listen as she has heard the same words for years and years.

One of the challenges I might face is not ageism, though that’s a thing, or even finding work, a possibility, but the simple fact that so many I have talked to have abandoned creating low fidelity prototypes in favour of spending all their time using tools like Figma or my current tool, Sketch. I can’t imagine spending all my time creating high-res prototypes that would never be used. But these are just tools and tools can be learned by anyone. I can’t help but feel working time would be better spend communicating approaches and ideas vs. near pixel perfect output.


More survey nonsense

Nearly half of departing Health P.E.I. employees who took part in exit surveys as part of an effort to improve staff retention cited a “toxic workplace” as one of their main reasons for leaving the provincial health authority.

That information comes from an internal report on retention that consultant Garth Waite prepared for Health P.E.I.

CBC News obtained the report through a freedom of information request.

Health P.E.I. gave Waite the names of 55 employees who left jobs with the health authority between March 2020 and January 2021. Of those people, 31 completed exit surveys that became the basis of his report. 45% of departing Health P.E.I. staff surveyed say ‘toxic workplace’ main reason for leaving

Ignoring the fact that the CBC is resorting to sensationalist misleading headlines to gain ‘clicks’, I find it hard to believe that an organization full of smart educated people like Health PEI would rely upon a simple survey to try and gain insight to the deluge of people leaving the organization (we expect the knuckleheads at Ch’town city hall to use these methods, not health professionals). With peoples lives at stake one would expect Health PEI would try harder. Is it not common practice for organizations of this size to have an even an exit interview? It was a requirement for every organization I worked for for the past 25 years.

I assume the consultant hired to do this work was specifically instructed to use this method, because his background would illustrate he understands how to gain an in-depth understanding of how people come to understand, act and manage their day-to-day situations in particular settings. Something a survey would be hard to provide.


Wendell Clark, 90

My Uncle Wendell, and our last remaining elder on my side of the family, turned 90 today. We were fortunate to have a small celebration for him this Sunday past in Hunter River and published a short notice in the Guardian – a notice in the Guardian seems to be of particular importance to his generation.

I didn’t have a particularly hard youth, but summers working on his farm, throwing bales of hay in blazing heat high up in a loft, taught me the privilege of choosing a different less arduous path. A staunch Liberal since birth, his biggest thrill today was no doubt a call from Ottawa from his MLA.


Open water training

Camren had the opportunity to have some open water practice (about 6km) and coaching with Pierre Lafontaine yesterday, all in preparation for the upcoming Canada games. This was after he went to Stratford gym to practice the double-under for CrossFit, then a CrossFit class, and his 2nd COVID shot in the afternoon. I’m not sure where his intense drive towards certain activities comes from, but I do know we go through a dozen bananas, a dozen or more bagels, and a kg of peanut butter a week just to keep him moving.

Meanwhile, I stumbled along the starting route of the PEI marathon for my 6k, in what felt like incredibly strong sun. This segment is one of the most agreeable places to run I have experienced. Lovely flat surface, clean fresh air, and aside from the monster homes in the distance, incredible views.


Monday view

We took part of Monday off to enjoy this view on the north shore of the island. I have little patience to sit on a beach hours on end, but I enjoyed our little reprieve from screens and work.


Hello heat

When we first arrived in Taiwan many years ago I would plan my routes throughout Taipei with the ability to stop at the ubiquitous convenience stores that cover the whole Island. This was my attempt to beat the sweltering heat and torrential rain. During summer, a time to stay indoors, you would find whole families camped at one of the many malls to avoid the high cost of leaving monstrous AC units running day and night.

I sweat profusely at the first sign of exertion, so running in Taiwan was a constant battle with dehydration. Often I would fail, as I experienced during one marathon when my leg muscles failed to contract, but to cramp, and I started to pass out due to poor hydration. 3 litres of water on a 21k run wouldn’t be enough, and I experimented with all manner of electrolyte replacement products, none worked, but the disgusting Japanese drink powder Pocari Sweat came close, and is what I have been drinking as I have been running midday from downtown Charlottetown to CrossFit.

The weather we have been having lately is giving us a sense of deja vue, except that the interior temperature of our living room reached 31c yesterday, and many places are with out air conditioning. My new office in the basement has been a god send.

Today I lost more than 2kg in just over 1 hour of running. My clothes looked like I had been in a downpour.

I don’t recall as a kid growing up on the Island needing so much as a fan, but this intense heat, on an Island in the cold Atlantic, seems to be the new normal, and means further investments in AC units which will likely perpetuate the problems that got us here in the first place.


“No Worries”

On recommendation, last night, Sheryl and I went to the Brickhouse Kitchen & Bar for dinner. I had 2 mains, the starter selection seemed pithy to me and I wanted a chowder. Sheryl had salmon, and I had their seafood chowder and haddock. The pricing suffers from being geared towards visitors from New York, but we seem to be in the minority that feel the cost of food here seems high, especially considering how little they pay staff.

The seafood chowder was great and arrived hot. This is one thing I appreciate, food arriving so hot that you need to give it a minute to settle. It was also full of seafood and nary a filler ingredient like potato to be seen.

The haddock was well presented but lukewarm and quite salty. The fish was overcooked – which I find often the case with meat here in every single restaurant. Dry meat which requires a sauce is either a local preference or as a consequence of public heath laws.

The service was friendly with the hostess giving us that “awww look, it’s a couple of people as old as my grandparents out for dinner” smile as she showed us to our table. As we weren’t drinking service was quick, a little too quick at the end, but what was interesting to me was their use of language. Surely, language is a key part of the experience in any restaurant or service. Aren’t staff trained on what to say when patrons arrive, and when they interact with them? Even 7-11 cashier’s in Taiwan are famous for consistently saying, 「歡迎光臨」 and 「謝謝光臨」.

What tuned my ears into the language they were using was the constant use of the term “no worries” by two particular waitresses. Every reply was peppered with it. No thank you’s, you’re welcome, my pleasure or simple silence. Perhaps, that along with the softening of the “H” to become “Haaach” is part of the charm of dining in Charlottetown?

I’ll definitely be back for that chowder.


“Successful” podcasts and language

Spotify’s Research and Development department released a report detailing how the language you use can make your podcast more successful. Use “I, we, you” not “her, him, them”, don’t swear, use positive language and don’t talk slowly – and people will listen to your show more. They do note: … “It must be emphasized that the stylistic associations that were observed to distinguish high and low engagement podcasts in this particular dataset are correlations with no causality established, and therefore must be interpreted with caution”.

Through a combination of reading podcast advice blogs, previous research on correlating linguistic features with consumption metrics in other media like books and tweets, and intuition, we devised a set of interpretable, automatically measurable features of the titles, descriptions, and transcripts. These are features like the proportion of swear words or the reading grade level.

Much of the popular advice of language usage is validated by the data. Compared to low engagement episodes, high engagement podcast episodes tend to have longer and more relevant descriptions, use diverse vocabularies (as measured by word entropy and reading grade level), contain more positive emotions and fewer negative emotions, more conversations and personal narratives (as measured by the prevalence of first and second person pronouns compared to third), and fewer words associated with swearing.

On the other hand, some of the correlations are surprising. High engagement podcast episodes use language more like the average podcast creator, as measured by the cross entropy of the episode under a language model trained on the rest of the dataset, which contradicts the general advice to create a distinctive “voice.” They are also associated with faster speech rates (number of words per second) than low engagement episodes.

This report coincides with our first piece of negative feedback from a listener in some time: “These stories were read too slowly to keep my kids’ attention. I get trying to have a soothing voice for bedtime, but this was like Ben Stein calling roll in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.”

Some feedback should of course be ignored.

https://research.atspotify.com/podcast-language-and-engagement/


Quiet

When visiting a new city I love to get up early, grab a hot drink, and watch the city wake and get down to business. Charlottetown doesn’t have a downtown or central business district like other places, but there is still the opportunity to see quiet moments before people make their way for lunch and dinner.


Absence of thought

Peter has a wonderful post detailing his canoeing adventure on Andrews Pond, a lovely area to walk, run or in this case, canoe. There is much to do around Charlottetown for those of us who enjoy quick quiet escapes to nature, all are accessible and require nothing more than the ability and time to walk or ride.

I love it when urban areas thoughtfully juxtapose with nature but this is certainly not the case in this area. I can’t keep my eyes off the photo above, a screenshot from Peters article. Charlottetown’s rickety apartments look far worse than the brutalist concrete architecture that was so valued in construction throughout Asia. The use of concrete represented prosperity and strength, and the exterior appearance (and interior for that matter) was of less importance. Over time though, the concrete takes on the same patina as the surrounding area and can withstand the gradual encroachment of nature. I am constantly surprised, despite the obvious wealth flowing through this country, how little attention is paid to the places where people congregate and live. Perhaps that attention to detail is paid only to those who can afford a mansion in places like Stratford.


Eyesore

A lovely symmetry and elegance has been purged seemingly in the hope of serving a few more cups of coffee and sweets. There are other more subtle ways to bring your experience outside without building a structure such as this.