Hello heat

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

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

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

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

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


“No Worries”

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

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

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

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

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

I’ll definitely be back for that chowder.


“Successful” podcasts and language

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

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

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

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

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

Some feedback should of course be ignored.

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


Quiet

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


Absence of thought

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

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


Eyesore

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


Office View

No getting lost in blue sky white cloud induced daydreams in this space. It’s all business. What we do need is a neon sign with our logo to give it a more pro-podcaster/designer vibe. ;)


Fitness data

Yesterday was a picture perfect summer day on the Island so after the days work was finished Sheryl and I headed to the beach to enjoy some of the clear blue skies while she walked and I went for a run. The Gulfshore parkway is a wonderful stretch of road perfect for a Sunday afternoon run. And if you keep going from the Cavendish boardwalk until New Glasgow, you could enjoy a nice post run feast at the New Glasgow Lobster suppers – something I will consider for later in the season.

While the weather was perfect, my run was less so. The whole 12k was a struggle, not just due to my now chronic Achilles issues, but also a seeming inability to keep going. The blame is in part mental, it can be hard to enter that zen like state where you forget the discomfort of running. 10+k has always been my sweet spot. I’d just put on my shoes and go, with little to no thought. So I was surprised at how difficult the run felt. I shouldn’t have been, as the charts below suggest, for distance running I am completely out of shape.

Running distance – my distances this past year pale in comparison to years past

Time spent on Crossfit

Health data is a wonderful thing. I can track trends and make correlations – like how my BP has taken a surprising spike along with a decrease in sleep and an increase in weight. In the case illustrated above, I can see that despite continuing to spend roughly the same amount of time focusing on fitness, the amount of time I have spent on my feet has decreased dramatically. Having good cardio fitness is only one part of running and CrossFit doesn’t focus enough on endurance.

I can expect more discomfort until my legs adjust to the increase in mileage, and if my Achilles holds, I should be back to my old self in September.


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.