Artifact Porn

Working long after everyone else went home.

Every design office that has a team of researchers keeps this mess on display, seemingly to show that something is being done – to make the invisible insights visible for others to try and understand. I think we kept these whiteboards populated for 2 months after the project ended in the off chance the VP of design might pop by.


Finding focus?

I had my first session with Focusmate today, a service that was introduced to me a while back as a means to keep me accountable while doing those tasks that I generally abhor, and thus delay until the last possible moment.

During my first year back on the Island I was in the midst of a work crisis. I was doing so many different little things, attending far too many events, had no real deadlines, and no one to answer to. The structure and extreme pressure of my previous workplaces were gone and I was languishing.

This wasn’t a new problem, as I’ve tried working independently from home at various times, for over 20 years. I think seeing Sandra Bullock sitting on a beach with a Powerbook, miraculously connected to the Internet, in The Net, might have started it all. I tried just about every productivity hack, software, and method available and am a self-professed expert in most. While they certainly help with organizing the things that I needed to do, they were useless when it came to keeping me accountable.

The problem has been largely solved – I can be as productive alone as I was with a sociopathic CEO and overly ambitious team members. Developing my own work structure and self-discipline has been one of my successes over the course of the pandemic. Too much so, as I became the workaholic I was when competing with others.

But now that I am working in my own space, without any distraction whatsoever, I find I miss the little bit of human interaction you get when you work around other people. The noise. The annoyances. I also learn a great deal by simply observing others in work or public space. Perhaps Focusmate could fill this role?

I found my first session … weird. Beyond a check-in and a wrap-up you don’t actually talk or listen. You just stare at this head on the screen from time to time, like a voyeur who has commandeered a strangers webcam. I can see where it might help with accountability but it feels like trying to fit a square peg in a round hole for my use case.

At $5/month it seems like a ridiculous value, so I’m going to give a few more sessions a try and see how it changes my work habits.


… makes you stronger

Catriona picking up something shiny from the sewer grill in an alley by our house in downtown Hsinchu. She turned out ok so I guess she fought off whatever toxins she might picked up from that and a multitude of other things she picked up from the roads of various Asian cities. The Taiwanese are experts at constructing drainage but often residents would circumvent city engineers efforts by covering drainage grills with rubber mats. The rubber mats stopped the deluge of large cockroaches which would stream out before earthquakes or during intense rain.


New Office

We’ve recently moved in to a small office space in the bowels of a building on Victoria Row. The landlord was gracious enough to give us a couple weeks to get a feel for the place before we start paying rent and so far it’s working out well.

The small space should serve as both a working space for me, and once built, a voice-over booth for Sheryl, and possibly others. With our small home seemingly being more office than living space it became clear that constantly working from home was not tenable over the long term. That and having to constantly schedule our recording sessions based on others’ quiet times had us looking for alternatives.

We looked at recording studios, and shared spaces, but though the costs were doable, they didn’t make much sense. It also didn’t solve the problem of having 3 desks littering our home.

We also found a new house but since we are both essentially self-employed, we decided to not take on more risk. Better the devil you know than the one you don’t.

This means no more permanent desk at the StartUp Zone. I’ve had a great deal there for a couple of years, and might have stayed on into the fall, but with the organization in such disarray, I couldn’t count on having a desk there from one week to the next.

The only downside to the new office is the solitude. That can in part be alleviated by daily trips to a café, but something tells me that customers might not be interested in hearing “problems at work” from a stranger.


Kids Listen

We recently were approved to join Kids Listen, an organization that advocates for high-quality audio content for children. They describe their mission as:

​Our mission is to build community, advocate for the growth of the medium, and create standards and ethics that serve as best practices for development, production, and monetization. Kids Listen is creating platforms for producers to share ideas, and publish data and information relevant to creators, consumers, and supporters of podcasts for kids.

We’ve long followed their work and have admired and enjoyed many of the podcasts that are a part of the community. Producing podcasts is a lonely pursuit here on the Island, particularly audio for children, so it’s wonderful to be a part of a group of people who share similar values as our own.


Breaking Free

Yesterday after a short 7k run, a CrossFit session which I could hardly keep my eyes open for, we got in the car for a day trip to Nova Scotia. I’ve been cooped up here on the Island for a seeming eternity and I was expecting some feeling of euphoria akin to breaking free from the bonds of prison. Our pandemic time on the Island has represented the longest we have gone without a trip to somewhere in over 20 years, making a trip to anywhere off Island seemingly exotic. And looked forward to.

It was clear sailing all the way through with little in the way control points throughout the whole trip. A pit stop at the Aulac Big Stop reminded us of the time we are still in, as people walked about wearing masks, some going well out of their way to avoid contact with people. Returning to the Island we were asked for our PEI pass, and sent on our way. Though they were wonderful, I wish this part of the process was more akin to showing a bar code on a card in Apple Wallet that would immediately clear us to go. It took time.

There was no grand feeling on my part however, as I slept pretty much the whole time I was in the car. I’ve realized for awhile that I am exhausted; I’m more forgetful, irritable, and more prone to mistakes. But the fact that I could hardly keep my eyes open for most of the day indicated to me the depth of the problem.

Despite this, there were moments when we shared laughs, and the kids had a chance to act like siblings everywhere. We ate well, including some lovely fresh strawberries.


Short visit


It was great weather for a short visit to the beach on Tuesday. This was a small attempt on my part to try to incorporate activities other than work into my life – especially since the season of nice weather on the Island is so short.

My strategy has long been to go harder until it breaks, but with recent injuries, an ongoing problem with my Achilles, and increasingly foul demeanour, it feels like it’s time to step back, gain some perspective, and rest.


Bringing markers back to UI design

Little to no learning curve, instant communication. A sharpie is still my go to tool for wire framing and storyboarding.

Many designers know: the best design tool is a marker. Not Figma, not Sketch and no, not a pencil. With markers you draw something once and it’s done. No erasing, no fiddling around, no details. You get your big idea on paper in a few seconds. If it’s not good enough, you try again.
Bringing markers back to UI design


Work sprint @ The Shed

In between running, CrossFit and my “Fascia Release” class I came downtown to do a short work sprint at The Shed. Nice coffee. Nice people. And they play jazz in the background. They also serve iced tea as it’s meant to be served – without sugar. It’s worth coming here from Stratford.


“They’re Getting Their Shift Together”

I’m not a big consumer of TV and as far as I can remember have never subscribed to cable. We do have Netflix, Disney and Prime by default, and find ourselves many nights with an hour to watch something that we can all agree to. Lately I’ve grown tired of many stories taking a turn towards increasing darkness, and though I appreciate their painted vision of the world, have been looking for something that doesn’t remind me of what hopefully will never be (Sweet Tooth as an example, though imaginative, hits a little to close to home).

As a lark we watched Super Store on Netflix a while back and have been watching it most nights ever since. It’s stupid, many times inappropriate, but forces a couple eye rolls and laughs each night. It creates a better state of mind before bed than so much else that we have been watching.

Until now, I seem to have been the only person in our family to not watch sitcoms. Camren is an expert in Brooklyn Nine Nine, and Sheryl watches all manner of things. Catriona never watches TV but whatever she reads must be humorous as she is often heard laughing out loud.


Tyranny of choice

Confronting the tyranny of choice is an unrealized opportunity in all manner of venues, from restaurants to bookstores.
One Book Bookstore

One of the most almost anxiety inducing activities when we would return from Taiwan was a trip to the drug store to buy toothpaste. With a seemingly endless variations to choose from, with countless different claims of efficacy, I used to stand in the aisles in befuddlement. In the early days of our move to Asia there were 1-3 choices in toothpaste brands to chose from, all much the same. The selection of deodorant was even more pithy, and in that case, seemingly few men applied it, I would carry tubes of it whenever I returned from a visit to the outside world.

See also The Paradox of Choice.


Taiwan moment

I’m sitting here in what is usually a quiet office (few come to the Startup Zone anymore) trying to test the mix of some audio, when sound of a drill hitting pavement reverberates through my skull. Unlike Taiwan this noise is outside on the street instead of your upstairs neighbour changing the layout of their kitchen for the 5th time in a year. I try to test the mix of our audio on devices that our listeners will most likely be using, including a phone speaker, and this requires some quiet. Though I suppose not every listeners environment would be as quiet as Charlottetown at night so this is perhaps a good test.


Wear a mask

The view from my apartment window in China. I wore a N95 mask regularly for entirely different reasons than we do today. Eventually it became inconvenient, I became complacent, and as a result, I have no doubt my lungs are filled with all manner of micro-garbage. It’s scenes like this which help me appreciate what we have here on the Island. Often when outside I simply stand and stare at the deep blue skies in appreciation.


Rejuvenate

Yesterday, after a short run, a bit of work, 2 naps, and a long Fascial Stretch and Release session at Reactive Wellness I was still feeling tired, listless and generally … blah. Remembering the wise words of my mother, I headed to the closest beach for a short walk in the hope that by being close to the sea all ailments may well disappear. While it did nothing for my aching muscles, a short walk amongst the red sand cleared my head and prepared me for the remainder of the evening. We are lucky to close to clean beaches.


The Shed Visited

I think we have contender in the upcoming Charlottetown coffee wars. I had the honour to have tried one of their first Lattés, and though the barista seemed unsure of himself, it tasted fine. This is the second coffee shop in town where you can choose what flavour profile you want in your expresso, I chose the light roasted bean from Peru. My only complaint is that in terms of taste the coffee to milk ratio seems off – too much milk.


3 Years Ago

3 years ago today I had my last taste of Japanese cheesecake and a Latté at Ink as a sending off treat before I boarded a plane the next day ultimately bound for Charlottetown. We’ve decided to stay another 3 years to allow our son to graduate high school and our daughter to settle into university life. By then perhaps the housing market will have settled and we can be in a better place to decide whether to stay or move on.


On to the next

I have a pernicious habit of not celebrating wins with more than a simple statement of “Good, what’s next”.

I finished the PEI marathon one year unscathed, and unsatisfied ran it again the following weekend. I was unsatisfied with that effort as well, but my Achilles wouldn’t endure a third attempt. I launched a 5-6 year effort to change my direction in life – lost 40kg in the process, became a marathon runner, became fluent in Chinese, and landed a job as a usability “expert” and did the same, said “good”, and picked the next target (China).

That’s fine for me but I often forget that it’s not fine for others.

Tomorrow, my son graduates middle school with grades in the high 90’s, is an accomplished swimmer, loves CrossFit, and is smart and strong as hell.

Tomorrow, my daughter, who with her boundless creativity has influenced my life immeasurably, graduates high school, and is attending UPEI in the fall to study modern languages.

Both of these kids have seen more of the world and accomplished far more than I could have ever dreamed of at their age.

And I am proud.

This week I will take time to celebrate their wins and let them know that what they have done deserves far more joy than I commonly give myself.


Walking to town

I gifted myself a walk across the bridge today and the experience is so much more improved than the previous dance with large trucks that it verges on relaxing. What a difference a little thought makes.

Not to sully this little celebratory jig, but I find it hard to believe that the city of Charlottetown had much to do with the planning of this project. As the superhighway sized road construction continues on St. Peter’s Road seems to illustrate, the continued effort to drive people out of the city and into the countryside continues unabated, thereby eventually turning the whole of PEI into the banality of suburban Toronto. It’s not just a government stuck in the 70’s but a people who don’t want development in their backyard because … traffic. But you can’t get people out of cars without density and so the cycle continues.


What is it like to work in China?

I found our constant attention to WeChat both fascinating and frustrating.

I worked in the design centre, not finance, and was in a less developed province, so while this made many things slightly more relaxed much of what is related by Zara Zhang rings true.

“Work”, as we know it, is basically a struggle to reply to WeChat messages. On any given day, I probably receive several hundred WeChat messages (this is not counting large WeChat groups) for work. Business plans, legal documents, and due diligence files are sent over WeChat. It is very common for professionals to have tens of thousands of unread messages on WeChat. Consider it your email inbox, except that every sentence within an email is broken down into separate messages, so the number of unread messages multiplies. Since WeChat messages come at all times and many require immediate response, people are constantly interrupted and distracted during meetings.
What is it like to work in China? via Jan Chipchase


The Shed

I’m really liking this lets open a coffee shop trend in Charlottetown. I plan on supporting them all. Is this what happens when Starbucks leaves a market, local small enterprises have room to try to make something work?


More taxes

This explains why I have been getting all these last minute notices to enter our BN to avoid tax collection.

The move comes after Ottawa unveiled plans last year to require foreign multinationals to collect GST or HST on digital products and services, something they said was fair since Canadian companies were already required to do so.
source


Empty

One of the reasons I have parked myself in the downtown for the summer is to spend time around real live people. When I worked out of my then Jhubei office I would spend my lunch hours watching people come and go at the train station, in part to study how people used mobile devices while living their busy lives, and also because I am an avid people watcher.

Charlottetown is a great place to walk, if you discount the soulless outer rim, you can pretty much walk most of the city within 30 minutes or less. Unfortunately, the pandemic has given the downtown a feeling of abandonment with few people out and about, so while I had a relaxing and safe walk, I only met 5 people during my time outside. Hopefully, with restrictions being lifted visitors to the city will breathe some life into the downtown during business hours.


The Bridge

Sheryl and I both spent most of Sunday working so an after dinner walk was in order. One thing we both appreciate about Stratford is her network of trails, parks and beaches, which we need to take advantage of more often.


Envy

I’m downtown today on a sunny Sunday sitting in air-conditioned comfort in this lifeless office. I love to work, and I have a tendency to love to work a lot.

Lately I have been spending more time perusing job ads, looking for a position within my current skill set, that doesn’t push my capabilities, nor require intense study. Every position I’ve ever had, bar serving coffee at the YMCA in Toronto, has required hauling out the method books; required a frenetic pace of study to just keep up or lead.

I see others spending their weekends working in their back-yard, tending their gardens, going off to unbeknownst to me events, and generally enjoying some down time. I’d love to spend the day on a bike ride with Camren, or go for a hike in the woods somewhere.

This 7 day a week push was supposed to be temporary. A pandemic thing (what else was there to do but work) and not a lifestyle. We aren’t attempting to cure cancer or solve big problems, nor are we trying to make a lot of money, and yet here I am.

When you reach middle age are you not supposed to slow down? I’m doing the opposite, longer work hours, harder work outs – work outs I compare to going to war. Neither are producing great results.

Maybe it’s time for a period of self-reflection, a re-examing of priorities and goals. Except, I’m not sure how I’ll find the time.


Toilet UI

When I was in Tokyo and had to make a pit stop I was confronted by this interesting array of choices for what one would assume were to flush the toilet; sometimes the most obvious affordances are best, but for those who have a sense of adventure, pressing the wrong button might lead to surprise and a story to tell. Unfortunately, I could read the characters and was familiar with similar toilets in Taiwan so in this experience I was denied the discovery of something new.


Rustico

Last night at the risk of having our place smelling like a fat filled fry pan, we prepared burgers and salad for dinner, which as my burgers are usually 3-4x the size of the overpriced variety found in restaurants, usually means an after dinner walk.

This time, instead of a walk around Stratfords own ghetto, we got in the car and headed to Rustico. My thought was that perhaps there would be a village or something to walk around in, which would in addition to a little beach time, would provide a suitable antidote to a fever from eating too much red meat. We never made it to a village, because as I know now that expanse is in the north side while we had driven to the south side, which is anchored by an old house with an Acadian flag on its roof. We did get a chance to peek inside Prince Edward Island’s oldest house, one of the few houses in the area not foreign owned or a short term rental.

It was a nice drive, a chance to see the countryside, and experience some quiet. I also realized that the fact that I actually enjoyed getting in a car, and driving just to go for a drive, means that as I get older I am getting more and more alike my parents. Parents who I set out at an early age to be as dissimilar as possible.


Lucky Bean

Back from my usual Thursday bask in the light of all the people in downtown Charlottetown habit, I didn’t quite feel like staying in the confines of our noisy home so I walked over to Lucky Bean for the first time to try their Latte’s.

In my recent tour of newish Charlottetown cafés Lucky Bean wins the best looking mug award by far.