Lots of people procrastinate, of course, but for writers it is a peculiarly common occupational hazard. One book editor I talked to fondly reminisced about the first book she was assigned to work on, back in the late 1990s. It had gone under contract in 1972.

I once asked a talented and fairly famous colleague how he managed to regularly produce such highly regarded 8,000 word features. “Well,” he said, “first, I put it off for two or three weeks. Then I sit down to write. That’s when I get up and go clean the garage. After that, I go upstairs, and then I come back downstairs and complain to my wife for a couple of hours. Finally, but only after a couple more days have passed and I’m really freaking out about missing my deadline, I ultimately sit down and write.”
Why Writers Are the Worst Procrastinators

I set aside this week to write, which was obviously a mistake, as I sit here staring out the window at the wet winter-like weather, getting nothing done, much like every other day this week.

Design Leadership for Introverts

When people paint a picture of what a leader looks like, it often looks like this: A leader commands the center of attention. A leader is outgoing, talkative, and dominant. A leader is able to deliver charismatic speeches, rallying large audiences at a drop of a hat. A leader is the ultimate salesman; people hang onto their every word, waiting for their next one with bated breath.

A leader is, in essence, an extrovert. I’m not saying this is a BAD way to lead. I’m saying this is not the ONLY way to lead, and certainly not all the time.

Which begs the question: If we can accept that the world desires extroverts, how can we as introverted designers and design leaders operate successfully within it?
Tom Yeo – Design Leadership for Introverts

I don’t have the answer, but the article by Tim Yeo attempts to answer it. Most of the advice seems geared towards corporate environments, which I have come to loath, but his advice on networking, which I also loath, works well for me. By making every conversation a potential user interview I am able to overcome my natural social awkwardness. But generally, like the recent StartUp Zone event, I just don’t care if I network or not, which I realize is likely not a very healthy attitude.

But articles like this tend to only focus on one form of leader, the frontman, but there are many other kinds – one doesn’t have to be at the front of the room to drive forward ideas, thoughts, or strategy. If your team is running well everyone has a voice and it just then becomes a matter of roles based on interests, talents and competencies. I’ve never been a General but I feel I make a competent Captain.

Dinner at Hojo’s Japanese Cuisine

Tuna & Salmon Don

We started with Miso soup which was good, but left me wanting more.

Last Sunday evening we had a delayed birthday celebration at Hojo’s Japanese Cuisine on Kent St. in Charlottetown. I’ve been looking forward to visiting since I heard they were opening and the food didn’t disappoint.

In the past we would eat from a similar menu weekly. Of course there were differences, the restaurants in Hsinchu tend to have a larger selection overall, especially deep fried seafood or fried meats. 鮭魚丼 has long been one of my favourite dishes – I ordered Dojo’s variation called Tuna & Salmon Don, which included a generous 12 pieces of fish. It was expertly prepared. Even the rice was about the best I’ve had locally. They could give a more generous amount of wasabi but perhaps that’s a local adaptation.

The kids had Ramen, and the pork broth, though a tad salty for my taste, was extremely tasty. My daughter liked it and she’s our resident noodle expert, so I expect I will hear frequent requests to return. I heard lots of kudos from other patrons while there as well.

The wait staff was friendly and attentive but seemed some how out of place in this environment.

One point of contention is the use of cheap disposable chopsticks. First, considering that the menu prices put this in the mid to high end in Charlottetown, it seems like an odd decision. Second, bleached chopsticks have long been frought with problems both for the environment and in some cases your health. Taiwan even moved to ban all disposable utensils years ago. Reusable plastic or metal utensils would seem more fitting for the surroundings and would remove the possibility of ingesting biphenyl or hydrogen peroxide.

As is the case with most restaurants in Charlottetown, the cost was about 2-3x the price of a similar meal in Hsinchu, but unlike the “fries-with-that” places that litter the city, it’s a worthwhile treat.

What the worst thing that could happen?

… other than public embarrassment

Thursday was the Start Up Zone’s 3rd anniversary and/or demo day and I volunteered to get up and do a demo.

I used this event to kick off a possible collaboration between myself and Pam Boutillier (Zoopothecary) on a new storybook app for iPad. To add some evidence of our collaboration I decided to give myself an added challenge to see what I could develop in an afternoon with some old bits and pieces of Gamekit code I had from an earlier project. There is nothing like a hard public deadline to give you some focus. It was the most fun I have had in sometime.

There are some common sense rules regarding any kind of presentation, demo or product introduction. Make sure the app or product works, create and practice your slides long before hand, and rule out any issues that will inevitably come up with the projector. I only did one of these – I grabbed a dongle for my iPad and made sure that we could easily switch between a Powerbook and my iPad.

Pam forwarded me some of her wonderful art and accompanying story late Tuesday (4am Wednesday) and I set to work early Wednesday afternoon. I sketched some basic wireframes as a guide, opened Sketch to create some high res pdf assets to import to Xcode, and got to work trying to tie together 4 simple screens. I spent most of my time having fun with adding some physics to the main menu animation, after which I somewhat successfully tied the 4 screens together, dealt with all the red bugs, and ignored the warnings. The only problem was that I couldn’t test on a device. My iPad was updated to the latest version of iOS, while I hadn’t updated Xcode for a couple updates. Updating Xcode always has the potential to add problems so I delay updating as long as possible.

On Thursday late morning, mere hours before the event I took the chance of updating Xcode, an update which took over 2 hours.

Luckily the update didn’t break anything, and the app loaded and launched without a hitch.

When I was told Startup Zone was having a demo day I was expecting a somewhat relaxed affair where we all gathered around to share what we were working on with a few guests. Not so different from team meetings in the past. Instead, the fishbowl was packed with far too many people to make an introvert like myself feel comfortable, so I stayed in the sidelines during most of the events networking and demo and pitches preamble.

Demo done, without any embarrassing crashes or glitches, I then slid to the back of the room, where I could stand in obscurity to hear what others were working on.

Links on form design

Website Form Usability: Top 10 Recommendations by Kathryn Whitenton, Nielsen Norman Group
Design Better Forms — Common mistakes designers make and how to fix them by Andrew Coyle
Sensible Forms: A Form Usability Checklist by Brian Crescimanno, A List Apart
Better Form Design: One Thing Per Page (Case Study) by Adam Silver
20 Guidelines for Usable Web Form Design, J.A. Bargas-Avila, O. Brenzikofer, S.P. Roth, A.N. Tuch, S. Orsini and K. Opwis, University of Basel
Avoid Multi-Column Forms by Jamie Appleseed, Baymard Institute
Placeholders in Form Fields Are Harmful by Katie Sherwin, Nielsen Norman Group

That everyone is participating in the same way, that age or background doesn’t somehow disqualify contributions, and being treated as having an equal stake in being there.
Crafting {:} a Reflection

A common mantra for me is that leadership can come from anywhere. Leadership can come in many forms; ideas, expertise, authorship and well … leading, and it does not depend on age, title or any other hierarchical construct. Thats not to diminish experience but to accept that we all have our limits and everyone has a voice.

I learned this lesson very early when I had an ego the size of Charlottetown and a young kid straight out of high school took over the lead chair in a big band I was playing in. I had seniority but he simply had more potential in the role than I. It stung at the time and the conductor didn’t sugar coat it, which has made it stay with me all these years later.

Books on Interviewing

I sent out this short list of reading material which goes into more detail about what I often talk to people about. My knowledge of interviewing is not so much on the science but how to present yourself (acting) to others so that you can get answers to your research question(s). These books cover just about all you need t know. My favourite is Mental Models by Indi Young – it’s concise and easy to understand. Indi Young and Erika Hall are just about my favourite people working in design right now. Erika Hall is one of the few reasons why I still use twitter.

Interviewing Users: How to Uncover Compelling Insights

Mental Models ch. 4, 5, 6, 7, 8

The User Experience Team of One

Qualitative Research: A Guide to Design and Implementation

New Bike

I purchased a bike recently for a number of the usual reasons, but primarily as a means of maintaining some ability to get downtown when Sheryl arrives next month. As the fall arrives she will have more pressing needs for a car than I, and acquiring a second car at this point seems unwise. Finding a bike was a bit of a challenge as I found the selection was limited and prices here in PEI were far higher than what I would have paid in the past (this is a common refrain for me, as almost everything outside of “fast fashion” is more expensive on PEI than elsewhere I’ve recently lived). The used market was also surprisingly devoid of choice. After a brief infatuation with a fixie that a shop in Montreal was selling, I found a Specialized commuter bike at MacQueen’s Bike Shop which magically dropped $150 in price when I mentioned I was also looking at a Giant at Sporting Intentions, a brand I prefer.

Peter quotes Elmine on her experience riding in Canada from a Dutch perspective, and her experiences ring true to me:

But it’s not just the roads that needs a redesign. It will take a generation to retrain everyone driving the road, both by car and on bike.

Riding in Hsinchu was always a challenge. It often seemed like a death match between rider and driver. With the narrow streets packed with cars, pedestrians and angry dogs you really had to learn to drive with extreme awareness of your surroundings. Good brakes helped too. But people there are accustomed to all manner of vehicles on the streets and there is a sort of intuition that develops over time. As a result, despite facing down dump trucks on narrow mountain roads, and fighting through crazy traffic, I survived unscathed. The pollution was a bit harder to avoid.

Riding in Charlottetown should feel much safer and yet it doesn’t. Particularly when crossing the bridge, which drivers seem to treat as a raceway or major city highway, for which they would seem to lack the experience or skill to drive on.

The first problem is the condition of the roads themselves, which particularly on Water street where rocks from trucks force me to ride out in traffic when a perfectly good bike lane is available. The city of my youth used to have a street sweeper that kept the roads clean but perhaps that program has disappeared. Potholes and general disrepair make predictable riding more difficult as you need to duck and weave, otherwise you are likely to either ruin your rims or end up on your head.

With the exception of the bridge, drivers on the roads in PEI I find exceptionally polite, sometimes to a fault. But I’m not convinced that they have complete awareness of their surroundings. I’ve already seen a number of close calls in my short time riding. Perhaps as more cyclists hit the road drivers will be more accustomed to occasionally checking the right side mirror.

One thing I haven’t grasped yet is the expected riding behaviour. Some ride their bikes as if they were a car, while others are on the sidewalk some of the time, and on the street the other. In Hsinchu I followed scooter behaviour. You stay to the right and you don’t turn left at intersections. There are actual painted boxes for scooters and bikes at each intersection. This is what I have been doing here thus far, particularly at the Stratford main intersection where I walk my bike across.

Charlottetown is so small that you can easily cover all of the city in under 30 minutes, making the whole city suitable for travel by bike, something I hope to do more of as the summer progresses.

Alba Armengou

I found this wonderful young artist on Instagram which shows I think that there is still some hope for the platform, at least in artist discovery.

This is something that I find is missing from my life, good music curation, like what we used to have when you had a circle of friends who would share mix tapes or you could walk into Sam The Record Man on Younge Street in Toronto and listen to an LP (or talk to the excellent staff). Apple Music is great, all the music you could listen to at any time you want, but it’s curation never quite makes it for me. And the whole experience of finding an artist to listen feels unsatisfying. We need more human like or social curation from those around us.

One thing I have been talking about lately is how friction in experience results in more intention. Buying an LP at a record store requires time, space and money. This requires more thought on your part and as such should result in better more considered choices. It’s difficult to have value when everything is unlimited.

Instagram seems like the perfect place to have found Alba Armengou – her Instagram account isn’t filled with the usual my life is perfect presentations – the image she portrays seems an important part of the impression I have of her art.

WeChat and the Surveillance State

I spent a great deal of time setting up WeChat while I was in China – particularly WeChat wallet which is almost an indispensable addition but often difficult for foreigners to activate. It’s no exaggeration to say that WeChat is almost a requirement for living a normal life in China. It also delivers to the Communist Party a life map of pretty much everybody in this country, citizens and foreigners alike.

I’ve just been locked out of WeChat (or Weixin 微信 as it is known in Chinese) and, to get back on, have had to pass through some pretty Orwellian steps – steps which have led others to question why I went along with it.

“Faceprint is required for security purposes,” it said.

I was instructed to hold my phone up – to ‘face front camera straight on’ – looking directly at the image of a human head. Then told to ‘Read numbers aloud in Mandarin Chinese’.

In China pretty much everyone has WeChat. It’s almost impossible to live without it. People wouldn’t be able to speak to their friends or family without it. So the censors who can lock you out of WeChat hold real power over you.

WeChat could “deliver to the Communist Party a life map of pretty much everybody in this country, citizens and foreigners alike.

Capturing the face and voice image of everyone who was suspended for mentioning the Tiananmen crackdown anniversary in recent days would be considered very useful for those who want to monitor anyone who might potentially cause problems.

The app – thought by Western intelligence agencies to be the least secure of its type in the world – has essentially got you over a barrel.

If you want to have a normal life in China, you had better not say anything controversial about the Communist Party and especially not about its leader, Xi Jinping.

China social media: WeChat and the Surveillance State

This would have made a worthy addition to the discussion that followed Oliver’s excellent presentation on surveillance during the Crafting {:} a Life unconference.

Crafting {:} a Life initial impressions

“There is no one way”. Outside the unconference.

This Friday and Saturday past I had the pleasure to attend Peter’s unconference, Crafting {:} a Life. It was both humbling and inspirational; humbling to meet so many who have done so much with their lives and for their communities, and inspiring to think that maybe I might follow their example. I’m still taking notes, processing all that I learned but I thought I might share some initial impressions before it fades.

Since returning to PEI I have been gorging myself in a veritable Chinese buffet of workshops, networking events, talks and conferences. I’ve also been forcing myself to escape my introverted ways long enough to try and have conversations with people; after almost every conversation I can come away with one point, that might inspire me to try some new direction or file an idea away for possible later use. But many (not all) of the workshops attended left me feeling empty, with little inspiration or actionable information, and tired of the same old routine of pitching and business card swapping. There was little opportunity for discussion and in some cases I got the impression that these good people were placed in a box where they were forced to be an expert in a topic, for which they had little expertise.

Crafting {:} a Life was a breathe of fresh air. The unconference dispensed with pretension, titles or faux expertise. Everyone had for the most part a chance to share their story, contribute, and talk. While some asked what I did for a living, it was only after all other avenues of discussion were explored. For the most part one-to-one conversations were much like what I had with Robert Patterson, (“What is Clark’s story” he asked) open ended, personal, and with the ability to discover new things about the other. The activities emphasized small groups and there was no “oh my God my PPT is out of order what will we talk about” that I myself have fallen victim to. There was music, laughter, food and tears. It was genuine, a great counterpoint to the Instagram-isation of everything.

I had one small disappointment. The first activity involved breaking off into small groups and sharing the thing you have created that you are most proud of. This is far superior to forcing a group full of introverts to stand up and one by one introduce themselves, whereby many would fall back on the oft spoken 2-3 liners spoken everywhere. After each person told their story we wrote down keywords on sticky notes that described what we heard. In the end a whole wall was filled with notes describing the attendees stories. What would have been interesting would have been to analyze that data and see what emerged. It often seems a shame to have a bucket of data and not do something with it. I say this in hindsight, as the thought didn’t occur to during the days of the event.

The conference structure itself and the conversations that resulted were the highlights, and I think how I hold talks in the future may forever be changed, but being taken by Leo Cheverie to the ‘Tent town’ was an opportunity I might not have otherwise enjoyed. While there I was fortunate to meet our Mayor and have a short talk. Luckily he is an amiable guy as I criticized the recent survey released by his council to help address the housing crisis. I told him it was the worst research attempt I had ever seen and I hoped no decisions would be made based on the bad data collected. He said he was displeased with the survey as well, but not due to bad research design, but because the comments section had no line break. I talked with members of the affordable house group(?), asking why they created such a biased survey, instead of perhaps using qualitative methods, their response was that they had to do something to counter the city’s own survey. Unfortunately 2 bad sets of data does not create more insight. I’m thinking that what Powerpoint has done to communication, Survey Monkey has done to research.

With intention, the simple act of spending time together talking about life for a while, Crafting {:} a Life has set a very high bar and is one the highlights of what is fast becoming our first year on the Island.

Crafting {:} a Life Unconference Day 1
Crafting {:} a Life Unconference Day 2
Crafting {:} a saga
Leaving PEI
Fantasy Cartography
Crafting {:} a life

System Malfunction

Yesterday my daughter Catriona remarked at how hot the floor was in our kitchen, at the time I dismissed it as some combination of heat coming from the fridge and perhaps her penchant for exaggeration.

That is until I woke up this morning and saw that the temperature in the livingroom was 29.

Our place has in-floor heating which sounded really great prior to our moving in. I envisioned cold snowy days enjoyed inside with comfortably warm tile flooring. In practice, while we were warm in winter, the living room only had one strip of heat emanating near the wall. I thought it was a case of ChaBuDuo-ism or simply a developer cutting corners to reduce cost.

But as I discovered the morning, the whole floor only gets warm, blazingly so, when you turn the whole system off like I did. There is a cool setting too, but as far as I can see that’s never worked.

Last vestiges of winter?

It started yesterday morning, after a somewhat sleepless night, the scratchy throat and general hoarseness in my voice, indicators of a cold in bloom. This will be my 3rd cold in 2 months which must be some kind of record for me.

A quick check with Dr. Google states I could be suffering due all kinds of reasons, including vitamin d deficiency, poor diet, sleep deprivation, poor hygiene, bad oral health and the biggie, an immune system disorder. Luckily I don’t smoke, as that seems to be a catch all for every malady.

Hopefully the good weather we are finally due will serve as a suitable tonic and I’ll be on the mend asap.

A CrossFit Intervention

In hindsight perhaps I should joined a fitness class for seniors at the nearby retirement home.

This past winter has been particularly dark, both literally and figuratively, and before I spiralled any further down the depths of despair, I decided to do something drastic to rid myself of the funk I had been in for months. So I signed up for CrossFit.

This year I discovered just how much I dislike winter on the Island. For 5 months I have been completely inactive; didn’t run, hardly walked, and stopped my nightly yoga/stretching routine. Gradually as the weather worsened I stopped heading downtown to work and didn’t socialize much at all, preferring to stay in my closet sized office where it was warm. This isolation coupled with the challenges of trying to work alone meant that my productivity, and as a result my general mood, worsened over time. My diet hasn’t been that great either – we ate primarily fresh fruit, vegetables, and meat in Taiwan but in an attempt to keep costs comparable, we ate far more prepared food and breads than I should.

I’ve been going to CrossFit for just about a month and my goal, other than enjoying the benefits of exercise, was a kick in the pants that you get from the commitment to group activities. The first class resulted in me hobbling home to have a nap, and I was sore for days afterwards. 4 one-on-one coaching sessions followed where I learned a number of different warm-ups, discussed my limitations, and did some olympic lifting minus the olympic sized weight. I’ve been attending regular classes since and despite my conscious attempts to keep my tendency to want to kill myself through exercise in check, I’ve been teetering on the verge of serious injury ever since.

Couch to CrossFit would seem to be a bigger challenge than I anticipated. But it seems to be working and if I can strike a balance between challenge and safety, I think it will work out for the long term and perhaps make me a better runner, and a happier, more productive person.

Downtown for the summer

I’ve taken up residence at the Start Up Zone for the summer, planting my monitor and associated apparatus on a desk with my back against the wall. It’s only been the 3rd day (I like working on Sunday afternoons) but so far it’s been going fine.

As far as a working environment goes I see working in the fishbowl as the lessor of 2 evils. I generally hate open offices and since the StartUp Zone for some strange reason combines kitchen, conference area, and work space into one, the distractions reach at times an insane level. But it beats the isolation of my closet at home and the stamping, yelps and hoots that appear out of the blue from my Upstairs Neighbor.

One of the main attractions for working downtown is that Charlottetown is a great place to be when the sun shines, the air warm, and people present. The city is very walkable and will make for some pleasant breaks from work. It’s much better than the desolation of Bunbury.

Trading away money and freedom for convenience

Why do smart people trade away so much money and freedom for just a little convenience?

We do it all the time. We take the easy path, the simple shortcut or the long-term bad deal simply because it feels easier.

The reason? Thinking is not worth the hassle.

Cognitive load overwhelms us. Too many choices. The stakes feel too high. Every day, we make 1,000 times as many different decisions as our cavemen ancestors did. We’re exhausted from all the decisions, and more than that, from the narrative we have about making them poorly.
Seth Godin

I shop at NoFrills partially because I have found the prices on many commodities to be markedly cheaper than elsewhere. But I also shop there because of limited choice. More choice actually makes you less happy, which is counter to what many believe. I asked some people why they would shop at Super Store knowing that the prices are in some cases much much higher (same product, same parent company) and it came down to convenience, and choice. People may unknowingly make themselves less happy by these decisions.

Notre Dame high school has an interesting cognitive load links which differ from my usual reading on the topic.