Kuroshio House Blend

While I don’t always take the time to drink coffee as good as this, there is no better way to start my day than with a cup of coffee and time to scan the headlines of the day, even the increasingly asinine headlines coming from south of the border can’t disrupt this essential routine. I’ve tried other morning routines with mixed results, getting out of bed and immediately doing burpees is best left to the Jacko Willink’s of the world.

The picture above is of Ink’s “Kuroshio House Blend” (墨咖啡). I’m not a fan of blends in general and prefer single origin, particularly almost anything from Kenya. This was ok, less bitter than most of the roasts found in PEI but perhaps not as good as other varieties they produce.

I received a healthy supply of coffee beans from two of my favorite roasters this Christmas, it’s still a surprise that such great coffee can be found in Hsinchu and other cities throughout Taiwan. This should make for an enjoyable to start to the new year.

Why would we bother to talk to our users?

People who make a product think and talk about it fundamentally differently than people who don’t. While both groups may use the same product, their context, understanding, language, expectations, and so on, is completely different. From a user’s point of view, a Big Mac eaten in Moscow is hardly the same product as a Big Mac eaten in San Jose, CA. And neither one is very much like a Big Mac eaten at McDonald’s Hamburger University in Oak Grove, IL. A strong product vision is important, but understanding what that vision means when it leaves your bubble is make-or-break stuff. Interviewing Users: How to Uncover Compelling Insights by Steve Portigal

Sleep Tight Stories Podcast

We launched a new podcast called Sleep Tight Stories back in October and have been releasing weekly episodes since. It hasn’t been widely shared, even amongst friends, primarily due to my issues with promoting myself and the projects I am involved with – which I discussed in another previous post.

We describe Sleep Tight Stories as: “Sleep Tight Stories brings you new and captivating bedtime stories every week. The stories range from retellings of fairy tales, folk stories, classic Canadian works, and original stories written by guest authors. Each episode is usually less than 20 minutes long and suitable for kids of all ages.”

This is largely an effort of my wife and I, but we were lucky to enjoy the talents of an American voice over artist, who I had hired for another project, for a few of the episodes. I’ve produced other podcasts in the past, most recently I helped my daughter create a 20 episode podcast about books called 志大才書 for a school project, but this is the first visible efforts of some recent collaborations between Sheryl and myself.

While podcasts like ours are no replacement for parent and child story time, they can play a great part in a child’s bedtime routine, and can help children develop early literacy skills, like the ability to listen to and understand words. It’s a great way to get kids focused and prepared for sleep too.

As this is a timeboxed effort we hope that the quality will improve over time. In the interim we appreciate any positive or negative feedback – sharing positive comments on iTunes is greatly appreciated. Subscribing, if the podcast is of interest, even more so.

Sleep Tight Stories on Apple Podcasts and Google Play

A little Christmas cheer

I had a romantic notion of what Christmas would be like back here on the Island, something akin to what you see in Christmas movies, with gently falling snow, elaborate decorations everywhere, ice skating, people out and about holding hands as they go, and the sounds of carollers floating through the air. The reality has been Amazon and trips to Walmart (and those other soul-less box stores nearby).

In retrospect Hsinchu did pretty well, at least on the elaborate displays front.

But today I had a small sample while shopping downtown for some final small items – books, candy, and silly things. I went into Kitchen’s Unlimited and purchased just a couple small cups and was greeted by friendliness and cheer. The two staff also boxed my 2 small gifts and did a fantastic job wrapping — all without an extra charge. This may not seem like much but compared to the “just a transaction” type of experience at the box stores and online, it’s a wonderful human touch that is missing all too often today.

Also, I don’t know if the small local shops downtown treat their staff better, but many I have interacted with recently feel genuinely interested in being there (or as much as you can in any job) vs. the feeling conveyed by many staff at Walmart et al, that this is employment of last resort.

So my small recommendation is to shop downtown, and if you can, visit Kitchen Unlimited.

Social media has been blamed for ruining our democracy, shortening our children’s attention spans and undermining the fabric of society. But through it, I was able to be with Paulina out in the world again, to see what she sees, to virtually stand beside her and witness the people and places she moves through, in nearly real time. Not in a parent-policing role, but in a wonderful-world sort of way.
Rediscovering My Daughter Through Instagram

I face similar problems raising a 15 year old daughter but luckily she doesn’t have the social media habits that many her age have, partially because “I am the strictest father in the world” and restrict her usage as much as I can.

Pretending to be busy

A couple photos by the venerable Rachel Peters whereby I, and a bunch of other people, pretend to busy working at the fishbowl. She also was kind enough to take some headshots which turned out much better than the last shoot where I looked like I was a giggly drunk. This time I just look like the unkept old guy that I have become.

Just Do It

Good advice for myself, not just for art, but just about everything else I do:

Lesson 1: Don’t Be Embarrassed

I get it. Making art can be humiliating, terrifying, leave you feeling foul, exposed, like getting naked in front of someone else for the first time. You often reveal things about yourself that others may find appalling, weird, boring, or stupid. People may think you’re abnormal or a hack. Fine. When I work, I feel sick to my stomach with thoughts like None of this is any good. It makes no sense. But art doesn’t have to make sense. It doesn’t even need to be good. So don’t worry about being smart and let go of being “good.”

Lesson 5: Work, Work, Work

Sister Corita Kent said, “The only rule is work. If you work, it will lead to something. It’s the people who do all of the work all the time who eventually catch onto things.”

I have tried every way in the world to stop work-block or fear of working, of failure. There is only one method that works: work. And keep working.

Every artist and writer I know claims to work in their sleep. I do all the time. Jasper Johns famously said, “One night I dreamed that I painted a large American flag, and the next morning I got up and I went out and bought the materials to begin it.” How many times have you been given a whole career in your dreams and not heeded it? It doesn’t matter how scared you are; everyone is scared. Work. Work is the only thing that takes the curse of fear away.
How to Be an Artist 33 rules to take you from clueless amateur to generational talent (or at least help you live life a little more creatively). Via kottke.

iCloud Directory Sort by Modified Date Bug

I’m going to call this a serious bug because like so many things that Apple is doing lately it breaks their HIG and basic usability heuristics.

In a discussion on severity ratings at a recent meetup in Charlottetown I mentioned how an increasing amount of non-severe ratings add up to cause harm to a customers experience with a product, but it’s difficult to get buy in (for change) from stake holders, as when viewed alone these are minor issues. I think Steven Garrity described as “death by a thousand cuts”. I wouldn’t characterize the issue I am having as minor, but many of the problems I see with Apple’s UI are, but collectively they show that usability is not the priority in once was.

In my “work” directory I sort all folders by date modified. This allows me to have the most immediate projects, files, and such always at the top. I find this reduces my cognitive load when having to think of names or by sorting alphabetically. This has worked for me for years, I’m sure is an accepted and common method for others, and is respected by every service I have used. Except for iCloud. I use this scheme through-out MacOS, with the exception of the downloads folder which I sorted by Date Added.

I wrote recently that I was running out of space on iCloud and Google Drive hadn’t synced properly for months. Despite getting some great suggestions I dropped Google Drive and went with iCloud for all my work files, until I could spend more time with the suggested alternatives.

But what iCloud did is change all the modification dates on all the top-level folders within the directory to the upload to iCloud date. Ok, I guess they were technically modified. It’s confusing, much in the same way that opening a file can change the modified date (because often opening a file changes some meta-data). Few understand these nuances of course.

What makes this worse is that despite working on files within the folders, the folders modification date does not reflect that some file or folder within has been modified or something added. This may or may not be now technically correct, but it is absolutely different from the behaviour you have elsewhere throughout the MacOS and different from what I have read in the HIG. The modified date on a folder represents not just the folder itself but what is contained within (changing the folder name does change the modification date). Dropbox respects this, Google Drive does, and in fact I’ve never seen another service not. So as result this behaviour is inconsistent and does not match the users mental model, resulting in confusion, moderate frustration, and a poor experience.

Perhaps the excuse is that this is simply iOS design principles spreading to the Finder, in iOS you are supposed to downplay file handling as much as possible. Whatever the reason, it’s a mistake and wrong.

Snow Squall

Yesterday afternoons snow squall, a term I had to look up, had some of the most beautiful snow flakes imaginable. It made for a great winter scene in downtown Charlottetown, all the more special since technically winter still doesn’t start for 10 days. The picture above, taken just outside the “fish bowl“, doesn’t do justice to what I later witnessed, but in my inexperience, I was in a rush to get home before the whole town shut down. Which of course it didn’t.

Redragon Keyboard

During travel between China and Taiwan I was a little too aggressive with my packing and my beloved Apple Wireless keyboard’s aluminum casing got bent, resulting in a duck tape and paper fix to make it level. I’ve been looking for a replacement ever since, especially recently as it has been getting increasingly wonky these past few months. I have a couple Logitech K380’s which are nice, but they don’t have as nice a typing experience as the Apple. This is primarily due to their silly round keycaps which provide too small a target for a chicken pecker typist like myself. I hate Apple’s newest bluetooth keyboard, and especially don’t appreciate its high price.

I’ve always been interested in mechanical keyboards or anything that approximated the feel of the Apple ADB Keyboards of old, but always hesitated due to price. That is until Amazon had a flash sale on the Redragon USB keyboard pictured above.

Initial reaction is extreme dislike. Apples and Logitechs keyboards have a nice slope starting in the front which feels comfortable over long periods. There is no such slope on the Redragon, which forces me to continuously hold my arms at a weird angle. Otherwise, the left of the space bar function keys are mapped differently than every other keyboard I have ever used. Overriding years of muscle memory might be too great a challenge.

Luckily the cost of this experiment wasn’t too high and perhaps someone on Kijiji will give it a new home.

Infinite Loop

I’m caught in an infinite loop with Apple trying to get a refund for a charge that should never have happened. I purchased Minecraft for iOS some time ago and it should be available to download to others in my Family Sharing scheme. It worked for my son, and across other devices, but not for my daughter, and I was charged $9.99.

Following multiple entry points through Apple support always ends up in the same place, the “Report a Problem” page where it lists all your purchases – except for the recent Minecraft charge.

I’m guessing that by the time I have this sorted, and assuming I work for minimum wage or less, I will be out far more than the $9.99 mistakenly charged to my account.

Despite being charged to my account, I guess I am to assume it may show up in my daughters list of purchases, of which this would be the only one.

This has happened in the past, and I don’t recall it being this “loopy”. Unfortunately, much of the Apple Experience I am having these days is less and less Apple-like. That’s my impression anyway.

Promotion Commotion

As far as I can remember, I’ve always been the worlds worst self-promoter, which I generally see as a good thing, since I have enough problems without adding self-aggrandizing ass* to the pile. But this inability to talk about myself also includes any and all work that I am doing, or have done, my capabilities and how I might be of service to others, and pretty much any project I am involved in. This is a problem, and has manifested itself to such a degree that for years my own mother had no idea what I did for a living, nor much of what I accomplished the 20 odd years I was outside of Canada.

This is due in no small part to being my own worst critic. When someone says “that looks cute”, I think the colours are off. When I received a compliment about an app. MVP I developed, I just thought about how simple it would be for a “real developer” to create the exact same thing, or the UI glitch, or how the audio doesn’t taper properly etc..

Logically I know that people outside my industry don’t care about such things (nice people in the industry understand and give you a pass) and just see the value to them, or lack there of, in what you are doing. Or the “specialness”, or the “neatness”.

As such, this is something that I have been working on these past few months. This blog is part of this effort, setting words to page and accepting their inelegant disjointedness as a byproduct of time and ability. I’ve taken pitch workshops, which have been great practice for stage fright, but though having created decent results, the results are rather inauthentic. Much more effort is required there. I have met some really great people in the process, all of whom have been willing to help, and I’ve learned a great deal.

All this learning is of no value if I don’t actually put it into practice and do something. This hump is really the hard part. I need the opportunity to make mistakes, learn from them, and get over these perfectionist traits instilled in me from years of misguided music instruction and my own irrational fear of embarrassment.

So please excuse if I use this space as a start of these efforts. This blog and my somewhat dormant FB profile seem like good places to start.

Ave Generosa

I came home last night to the sounds of the above song being played loudly by my daughter Catriona. What a delightful change this is from her current obsession with Korean Pop.

This I owe in no small part to her participation with Harmonia, a local all girls choir, and their recent series of concerts they performed with Sirens. Sirens performed Ave Generosa as part of their program.

Beautiful music, perfect for the season.

And this is secure how?

Two Factor Auth code

I realize some people only have one device but sending a two factor code to the same device seems to me to be a pointless exercise. Apple knows I have other trusted devices, why not send it to them? This happens every time I log in to an Apple developer site.

iCloud storage vs. the other guys

As I wrote on twitter this AM my iCloud storage is full. Currently we have 200GB which I share amongst our Canada based family for $3.99/month. We switched to a family plan as soon as Apple allowed for storage sharing amongst families, so considering all the photos I take, it’s not surprising that we’ve almost used up our quota.

Unfortunately, Apple’s next available storage tier takes a giant leap to 2TB which costs $12.99. We’ll never use that much storage, and while their pricing is competitive, it isn’t cheap, and it feels odd to pay for something that we won’t use in full.

Though Google Drive hasn’t worked on my Mac for months, I thought it might be worth considering moving to them for photo storage, except that Google’s pricing is surprisingly more expensive at $13.99 for 1 TB.

Dropbox doesn’t allow for family sharing and its “teams” plan is $17.50/month for each user. It’s not designed for our needs.

Which leaves me considering OneDrive. For $8 a month you get 1TB of storage with Microsoft which includes an Office subscription. I’ve generally avoided Office for years, at least until I was forced to use excel, because design teams love to punish themselves by using it. With my text writing needs far better served by other more pared down software like iA Writer and Bbedit, I’m not sure what value having access to Office has to our family – the kids are forced to use Google for productivity.

That 1TB of storage is for 1 mobile device. For the whole family to use OneDrive we would need to upgrade to Office 365 Home which gives 6TB for 6 devices for $11/month.

I have no idea what the Onedrive experience is like but it’s an interesting value, especially considering it’s coming from Microsoft. I don’t think I’ve even used Windows for anything other than checking website compatibility years ago and most recently for logging into poorly developed HR systems.

But again, Microsoft is offering something we will never fully use.

So I have no answer other than an example of customer lock-in.

Web View Controller or Not

Something that I was thinking about yesterday, was whether to have links to contact, support, privacy policy and some such, open within a web view in the app. or hand off to safari. It’s simple to implement either, and I’m not concerned with people leaving the app, so it’s only a matter of what is best for the apps users.

The complication is that the app is designed for children, while the customers are parents. How do parents feel about opening a browser vs. an embedded view of web content? I can’t find any best practices.

These elements are often buried deep within the information structure of many apps and you often have to work hard to find these standard contact, support, privacy policy and “marketing” uri. I suspect for many this is as much an afterthought as you see on the web. But while I suspect that very few will bother with the feature, I do want to support those who feel the need to reach out with their complaints, concerns, and feedback.

Some apps I have seen add some kind of heavy handed “gotcha” type test to filter out younger users, but the experience is sub-optimal and kids are generally smart enough to subvert most of these types of controls anyway. What I decided to do, at least until I can gain some feedback from future tests, is to simply hand off to safari with the belief that if access to the web is a concern to parents that they will have set up controls on the phone, or at least monitor their children’s usage.


Camren got his first stripe last week in Gracie jiu-jitsu. Throughout elementary school Camren participated in Kendo, joining various competitions, but as time went on his interest waned. As far as I know there are no Kendo classes here, and with equipment costs approaching that of hockey I can see why, so jiu-jitsu seemed like a good option/counterpoint for him. It’s good cross training for him but ultimately it’s about building confidence in his physical and mental self.