A Ghurka rifleman escaped from a Japanese prison in south Burma and walked six hundred miles alone through the jungles to freedom. The journey took him five months, but he never asked the way and he never lost the way. For one thing he could not speak Burmese and for another he regarded all Burmese as traitors. He used a map and when he reached India he showed it to the Intelligence officers, who wanted to know all about his odyssey. Marked in pencil were all the turns he had taken, all the roads and trail forks he has passed, all the rivers he had crossed. It had served him well, that map. The Intelligence officers did not find it so useful. It was a street map of London.
From Bugles and a Tiger, My Life in the Ghurkas via Steven Pressfield


District 5

I went to the Green Party’s district 5 headquarters a couple of times before I voted in the advance poll. The first time I had hoped to talk to Michelle Beaton about a range of issues that are important to my family, and to get some clarification on a few contradictory statements I heard in Peter Bevan Bakers speeches (the second time was simply to purchase more of her mothers excellent baked goods). I was impressed by her genuine interest in engaging with her potential constituents, her belief that this was “her life’s work”, and how we could find common ground for a conversation that lasted just shy of 45 minutes. What most impressed me about her was the simple fact that she upon realizing that she didn’t know the answers to all my questions, admitted as much, and set out to find the answers. Which she immediately did and my questions were answered. That quality is valuable I think and I suspect rare amongst those engaged in politics (or leadership in general).

I’m confident that district 5 is in good hands.

It’s broken and no one knows how to fix it

My son has been suffering from an infection from an in-grown toenail for about the past month. Of all the problems one can experience this is certainly no where near the top of the list, except that is, for the infection and the blood. And of course the discomfort.

The first time we went to a walk-in clinic I was surprised by the efficiency of it all. I was also surprised by having to pay a small fee to “Skip the Waiting Room” (previously I called this Skip the Wait I error). Isn’t this socialized medicine? That time we left with some medication and instructions for self-care.

That didn’t work, and the infection got worse, and was having an effect on his ability to enjoy his time training in Jujitsu. And well it’s an infection.

So we found time for another visit to the walk-in clinic – it can be difficult to see a doctor, but this doctor graciously worked over the Easter weekend. Again, no wait and the doctor agrees with me that something more invasive needs to be done. So a referral to another doctor is made.

This morning I received a call from Dr. Flemmings office about a referral for my son. After clearing some initial confusion about his name, I explained that his toe is swollen, bleeding, infected, and rather sore. I was given an appointment for 2 months from now (with an appointment booked that far in advance there is no guarantee).

I did my best to hold back my laughter.

These conditions are apparently have a hereditary component, and my daughter suffered the same problem when we were in Taiwan. There after the initial consult, she had to wait a week, as it was for some reason deemed surgery.

The situation here on PEI is of course ridiculous and peaks my interest as to how despite an increase in taxes by over 260% this year (compared to Taiwan) we can’t manage to enjoy the considerable talents of Canadian doctors, in any reasonable period of time.

This can’t compare to cancer patients or broken bones or the Charlottetown woman who waited 13 hours in an emergency room, but I can guarantee that this issue absolutely scales, and no matter the severity of the condition the problem of access to care remains.

Sobey’s Self Checkout Terminal

Processing, processing. Love the IT admin stickers on the screen.

This is a quick shot I took with my phone while I was trying to purchase a bottle of milk and jar of yogurt at the Stratford Sobey’s. The experience was terrible and required 2 attempts on my part. The context of this particular picture was when I had finally gone through a series of extremely complex screens, full of icons which match nothing from my world, and I was attempting to pay. Apparently there was an error on the interact terminal of some sort, the fact of which I didn’t know except that the attendant told as such, and the screen above was in some kind of loop until it received a message that the payment was not processed. I have a tendency to exaggerate, but it’s a complete garbage implementation. If you like usability heuristics, it’s fun to see how it violates: 1) Visibility of System Status, 2) Match between system and the real world, 5) Error Prevention, and 9) Help users recognize, diagnose, and recover from errors. The role of the attendants that work beside these terminals is not to guide new users through an unfamiliar system but to diagnose errors, fix the systems when they inevitably break down, and help people complete their purchases when the look of utter confusion sets in.

The Servant Economy

An unkind summary, then, of the past half decade of the consumer internet: Venture capitalists have subsidized the creation of platforms for low-paying work that deliver on-demand servant services to rich people, while subjecting all parties to increased surveillance.

These platforms may unlock new potentials within our cities and lives. They’ve definitely generated huge fortunes for a very small number of people. But mostly, they’ve served to make our lives marginally more convenient than they were before. Like so many other parts of the world tech has built, the societal trade-off, when fully calculated, seems as likely to fall in the red as in the black.

The inequalities of capitalist economies are not exactly news.

Also, linked to in the above article is 20 Facts About U.S. Inequality that Everyone Should Know written by the Stanford Center on Poverty and Inequality.

When we first started discussing how we could survive in PEI with it’s limited employment opportunities, one of the main motivations for creating a business was the sense that by working as a remote teacher my wife would become nothing more than a glorified dog walker for the wealthy. Granted, it’s much easier to join someones else’s platform, but I felt that would be a complete waste of 25 years of hard work and her talent for helping children flourish as human beings. Sometimes good things take time.

Always on surveillance

Chinese schools are prototyping facial recognition to monitor students to identify distractedness, level of engagement, responsiveness and other attributes. Every culture has different notions of privacy that are present in social and technological norms and what is considered creepy one day can become the status quo the next and vice versa once underlying dynamics are revealed. The relative importance of education in China, and the invasiveness of these systems will make school monitoring systems a bellwether for Chinese privacy norms, until the next wave of invasiveness arrives.

Chinese schools are using facial recognition on students

If in-classroom facial-recognition systems are teaching students and staff to “perform” for the cameras—in the theatrical rather than pedagogical sense of the word—then how will similar systems extrapolate to society at large? Or for populations whose belief systems are considered at-odds with central government? If you live in a democracy, or a country such as the United States whose current leadership is leaning-towards autocracy then “at-odds-with” means any community that didn’t vote for the existing power structure.

How China’s Surveillance State Overwhelms Daily Life

You get used to having different personas for various aspects of your life. It’s only when you are in the comfort of your home, can you be your true self.

Via studio D.

There’s no shortage of individuals and individual freedom. In America, people are willing to sacrifice their well-being, social cohesion, stability and sustainability for the false notion of individual freedom. But the truth is, there is no individual. There’s no such thing. It’s an utter fiction. It was created in order to promote more consumption. The more people spend time with one another, the less stuff they buy. A deep connection to other humans makes you an enemy of the marketplace.
Douglas Rushkoff — Fighting for #TeamHuman


Discovered in one of the many small alleys near FE21.

There is much that I miss about living in Hsinchu – low taxes and a functioning health care system being on my mind most this season – but aimlessly walking the alleys only to discover some small hidden treasure is certainly near the top of my list. Weather permitting we would walk a lot in Hsinchu and I was always amazed at the sheer number of interesting places to eat.

First item on my Wishlist

I was looking at the US Amazon site this evening when I had a quick look at what items I had in my Wishlist – I haven’t used the feature much these past few years, as most of my purchases have been at Amazon.cn (which recently failed) or Amazon.ca. The item listed above was added over 17 years ago, which reflects perhaps the longest relationship I have had with any single retailer, online at least.

Most off the early products were books, all that was available I think, and included topics that ranged from art, design, business, HCI and sewing. I wanted to read about sewing, as at that time I was determined to start a bag company and do all the work myself. A familiar theme. It failed shortly thereafter. Also, an all too familiar theme.

My first purchase on Amazon.com was in 1999 and included “Teach Yourself Html 4”, “Midnight Without You by Chris Botti”, “Midnight Martini by Guido Basso”, and “Lonely Planet Vietnam”.

It’s interesting how lists like this can give you another snapshot into the changes in your interests and activities over time – a bit like finding old stuff in an attic.

I Voted Yes!

I'm not a fan of the "upgrade our democracy" trope either.

Prior to arriving at the polling station on Thursday I was all set to vote for the status quo, a term I’ve adopted for situations like this, after 20 years of following Taiwan politics. It was more a reaction against what I thought was completely ill formed communications from both sides of the debate, than an out right disbelief in the positive aspects of this proposed proportional system.

Both sides showed a complete lack of empathy, exhibited little understanding about how the human mind works, lacked the ability to educate people on the pros and cons, and politicized the whole process. And I was annoyed that the current government gave such little time for people to understand a change that would may a greater effect on peoples lives than who becomes premier.

On Wednesday, I had a meeting with Anna Keenan of the Coalition for Proportional Representation and she helped me put aside my criticism’s of the other paid campaigns and focus on the positive. Forget ugly billboards spreading FUD or ads emphasizing how easy it is, it’s these kinds of grass roots efforts, simple conversations between people, that real change can occur.

I think Prince Edward Island is at a point where it can handle this kind of change, a change where people of more disparate viewpoints are required to work together in government. A little well directed conflict will be a good thing.

How An Aging Population Will Reshape The Internet

Although many older Americans have, like the rest of us, embraced the tools and playthings of the technology industry, a growing body of research shows they have disproportionately fallen prey to the dangers of internet misinformation and risk being further polarized by their online habits. While that matters much to them, it’s also a massive challenge for society given the outsize role older generations play in civic life, and demographic changes that are increasing their power and influence.

People 65 and older will soon make up the largest single age group in the United States, and will remain that way for decades to come, according to the US Census. This massive demographic shift is occurring when this age group is moving online and onto Facebook in droves, deeply struggling with digital literacy, and being targeted by a wide range of online bad actors who try to feed them fake news, infect their devices with malware, and steal their money in scams. Yet older people are largely being left out of what has become something of a golden age for digital literacy efforts.
Old, Online, And Fed On Lies


I’ve been complaining about the excessive noise in our building since I arrived here from my brief stay in the solitude of Clyde River, where the only noise I can imagine would be foxes rustling the leaves.

These complaints are in part due to contrast, when you go from dead silence to a neighbour out of the blue whooping and hollering, or loud socializing that can seemingly occur at any time of day or night, its far more noticeable than the constant din of big city traffic. Yes I have problem neighbours. Looking at this through a different lens, they perhaps lead a life as it should be lived. They don’t seem to work much, they love to live life with a boisterousness that we didn’t ever see in Taiwan, and they constantly socialize. We are polar opposites; we are quiet, reserved, and try to emulate the work ethic we experienced in China and Taiwan. As such there is bound to be conflict.

My wife tries to bring me a little perspective, reminding of the problems we faced in Hsinchu. So in the context of the recordings below – we truly live in paradise.

I constantly wear earplugs these days (which I resent) and I find it smooths out the rough edges. But no ear plug that I have heard of could alleviate the deafening noise that was experienced in the recordings above.

The quality of your thinking depends on the models in your head. Perhaps. The book that forms the basis of this article won’t be released until October of this year but seeing that it’s affordable, I’ve pre-ordered it for a surprise addition to my reading list.

The old saying goes, “To the man with a hammer, everything looks like a nail.” But anyone who has done any kind of project knows a hammer often isn’t enough.

The more tools you have at your disposal, the more likely you’ll use the right tool for the job — and get it done right.

The same is true when it comes to your thinking. The quality of your outcomes depends on the mental models in your head. And most people are going through life with little more than a hammer.
The Great Mental Models: General Thinking Concepts

How Mental Models Unlock Your Thinking

Head cold hell

I’ve been suffering from a Canada sized head cold these past few days which has kept me largely confined to the couch with Netflix as my companion. The cold itself, with the runny eyes and nose, is mostly an extreme annoyance. It’s the lack of sleep that came with it that has stopped my daily machinations.

This I think is punishment for my often “I don’t get sick” boasts.

I get reminded every once and awhile that I should bite my tongue. A number of years ago when we lived in the house in downtown Hsinchu where the electrical would frequently melt, I was the lone holdout in our family that wasn’t passed out from some virus – a virus that was so severe that I thought we would start bleeding from our pores. I swear you could almost see it moving through the house, like some kind of bad science fiction movie, as each person after another started suffering from its symptoms. I said some comment about having the strongest immune system or some such, and lo and behold I got sick, and was unconscious for 12 hours afterwards. I complained the most as well.

I’m on the mend now and should be back to normal tomorrow.

Versage: Following knock-off fashion’s flow from Lagos to Guangzhou (and back again).

“Nigerians in their own way like to emulate you know? We like to learn. Everywhere we are we just look at what entices our eyes and kind of put it on to try it, then we keep wearing it and we’ll think, if we can change it this way it can be also nice,” Uzoma mused. “We are inquisitive when it comes to fashion, curious. And we are also creative. We steal, we change, and add things to it.”

Literacy is a bridge from misery to hope. It is a bulwark against poverty, and a building block of development…a vehicle for the promotion of cultural and national identity. Especially for girls and women, it is an agent of family health and nutrition. ⠀

For everyone, everywhere, literacy is… the road to human progress and the means through which every man, woman and child can realise his or her full potential.
Literacy Is Freedom

A New Chair

For the past 7 months I have been sitting on a solid old kitchen chair in my makeshift office and wondering why I was experiencing general stiffness and pain in my hamstrings. I knew part of the reason, but despite checking out various office supply store sales, I couldn’t justify spending the money required for a chair that could adjust to my body. I flirted with the idea of exercise balls and fashioning a standing desk, but when I sit at a computer I don’t want to exercise, I just want to finish quickly whatever task I have set for myself.

Luckily this week I noticed that Carrie from Balance Consulting had purchased a couple of great chairs from Restore, and she graciously agreed to sell me one. What a difference a proper chair makes!

By rights I should post a picture, but my workspace is so small, I would need a fisheye lens.

The next task is to find a workspace that strikes a balance between having no windows, where I am now, and the fishbowl effect of the StartUp Zone, where I often go to get out of this closet.

Conducting User Research with an Interpreter

With Chinese and Spanish being the world’s top two spoken languages and huge growth in mobile users outside of the English-language world, there’s a good chance you could find yourself conducting research with participants across a language barrier. Rather than seeing this as an issue or trying to avoid it by seeking only research participants who speak English, plan for it and embrace the diversity of a global audience. Working with interpreters can be another tool in your toolbox for creating great user experiences. Partner with great simultaneous interpreters to help you conduct inclusive research that results in reliable, diverse input into your design process. Conducting User Research with an Interpreter

There were times when most of what I communicated was through translation, which was always slow and difficult. Instead of relying on interpreters, I found it useful to partner with others to facilitate the research that I or someone else had designed. By training people to, for example, how to conduct interviews, you not only remove a great deal of friction in your research, you also gain a new member of your team. Qualitative research is as much art as science and it takes a long time to gain real competency, but it’s something that everyone can be involved with. Another point, often times I found that my very presence in the room could create anxiety, as the participants want to please, and will feel embarrassed about their lack of English communication skills.

PEI political party websites are a mess

The websites of PEI’s major political parties are without exception a mess. Empathize for a moment, pretend you are someone short on time and/or with poor eyesight, and try to complete these common tasks as quickly as possible:

  • Who is my constituent and what is her qualifications for the job?
  • What is the party doing to meet my needs (the platform)?
  • Are there any upcoming events in my area?

Some websites will be more successful than others. Some quick annoyances I’ve found:

The PCparty doesn’t bother introducing their candidates, they don’t have any events, nor do they seem to have a platform.

Someone told the Liberal party that putting their platform as a pdf in a “3D Flipbook” was a good idea. It’s not. It’s completely inaccessible and not scannable. Also, how they have chosen to disseminate their platform puts too much of a cognitive load on us the voters, we’re supposed to piece together all these tiny media releases into one coherent whole? That’s their job.

The Greenparty appears to have a number of different landing pages depending on which link in Google I click. One leads to a huge picture of nature (a pdf I believe), another to a face of the party leader, and yet another which emphasizes the two successful members of the party. Luckily one landing page gives you access to an html version of their party platform, which allows you to use the accessibility features of your computer, but it suffers from a common problem of organizing data for their own understanding, versus the understanding of their prospective constituents. Their PDF version looks great but isn’t scannable and thus unusable.

I didn’t bother looking at the NDP party because they don’t seem to be even trying.

Serving your electorate involves transparency and convenient access to information for all. How the party’s attempt to disseminate information is a key indicator for me of their values as an organization. Designing for outliers (inclusive design) is important for public organizations. All party’s seem to be struggling in this regard.

This was by no means a comprehensive review of any of the websites. I had 10 minutes to spare and was dismayed at what I experienced. Having said that, if I had trouble, then it’s fairly reasonable to expect others will too.

Life on the wrong side of China’s social credit system

As long as I’m insolvent, then I’m an unpardonable devil
David Kong, ‘discredited individual’

Sarah Dai writing for Inkstone on the social credit system in China.

While the Chinese social credit system appears draconian, with offenders banned from planes and high-speed trains, parallels can be made with ratings agencies and their clients the world over. A person who is interesting enough to have earned a low score, will also be interesting enough to work around the restrictions. Foreign companies are also required to register, and while it’s not yet official policy, expect all visitors to China to eventually have a score assigned to them. A score which follows you with facial recognition.

Copy machines

I’ve been both a part of the machine and on the receiving end of China and Taiwan’s remix copy culture.

Part of my value within one team was my then keen memory for design patterns and recollection of how other software makers solved certain problems. In may role as a human copy machine I produced all kinds of examples that the software team could follow, thereby saving them the effort of testing iterations.

The latest example, was receiving an email to collaborate on an app that just happens to be a carbon copy of a concept that we launched, and an offer to license my wife’s voice. I jokingly said that they will likely launch new products featuring her faster than we will. She didn’t find it very funny.

Building a library

I’m entirely sure what it implies when a library holds an event to rid itself of books, but I’ve attended each book sale the Confederation Centre Library has held and come away with some amazing bargains. I do most of my reading on a screen of some sort these days, especially reading for fun, but there is something wonderful about the printed page and the impact of a collection of books has on a home. It took us years to have 2 walls of our Hsinchu apartment absolutely covered in books. With sales such as this we will accomplish the same here in far less time.

Educating girls: the key to tackling global poverty

Inequality, specifically gender inequality, stifles economies and prevents generational growth. Educated women become empowered and take control of their own lives. Education fosters personal autonomy and creative and critical thinking skills, which provide a wider economy and community.

Educating girls gives them the freedom to make decisions to improve their lives, which has deep social implications. Giving girls access to schooling is a central part of eradicating global poverty, according to the World Bank, which says better educated women tend to be healthier, participate more in formal labour markets, have fewer children and marry later. The UN’s sustainable development goals call for gender equality and a quality education for all by 2030. So what action needs to be taken to overcome the complex global barriers to not only getting girls into school but also providing them with a meaningful education?

Literacy empowers.

Educating girls: the key to tackling global poverty

In the everyday world, we want to get on with the important things in life, not spend our time in deep thought attempting to open a can of food or dial a telephone number.
Donald Norman

A First: An Election and Taxes

This month marks both the first time I have had the opportunity to vote in any kind of an election, let alone a referendum, and the first opportunity I’ve had to file taxes in Canada without the assistance of an expert (I don’t actually remember ever filing taxes). I have very little understanding about how any of these processes work so I expect I’ll be spending most of my free time this month ensuring that I actually can vote, understanding the various political parties platforms and seeing where my concerns and values match with theirs, and crossing my fingers that I make no mistakes with my tax file.

I like how the proximity of both filing taxes and selecting those who spend this contribution adds a more practical air to the whole process.

I’m very much a political novice and know little of the issues concerning Canadians. For the past 20+ years, politics, like religion, was just not something that was wise to talk about. In China, a mere mention of Taiwan is good cause for being forcibly placed on a flight out of the country. I made that mistake once, to a party member no less, but fortunately he thought it was just another example of my poor sense of humour.

As far as the election goes, my concerns are entirely practical. I’d like to consider more nuanced, or issues affecting my children’s future, but it’s difficult (but not impossible) to be concerned about environmental topics like zero carbon when you are concerned with keeping a roof over your head. If we lose the apartment we live in tomorrow, we would effectively become homeless. Affordable housing, and housing in general is of great concern. As is PEI’s broken medical system. We paid an effective tax rate of 9% in Taiwan, that combined with a small monthly MHI contribution entitled us to access to care, that puts what we have great difficulty accessing here, to shame. I’ve had to set aside a couple small investments to cover the costs of a flight overseas in case we need prompt medical care.

There are a myriad of other concerns … I find it extremely disconcerting to see people homeless, or begging on the streets, while people brag about taking their kids out for $16 burgers for burger love (the optics of such, seems to be lost on a particular Green Party candidate). For a peoples so concerned about social inequality, we seem overly fixated on over priced burgers.

After I become more educated in the local political environment, if possible, I hope to become involved in some small way. Until then I’ll spend my time listening, pay my taxes, and try to be an educated voter.