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.


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.


Upgrade

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.


Sitting in the dark

As I sit here sans power with just the light of the window to see, and cold coffee to drink, I have the opportunity to explain to my son for the 11th time why he can’t keep opening the refrigerator. The kids are generally mystified why there are problems with power. For the past number of years we lived in the Hsinchu Science Park where it would take an act of war to knock out essential services like electrical, water and Internet. While the rural areas on the Island would be recovering from severe typhoons or earthquakes, the Science Park would continue churning out the important bits of the tech supply chain. Nary a storm day either.

With our experience in Taiwan as context, it’s amazing to me just how fragile the infrastructure is in Prince Edward Island.

In Taiwan and in China I kept a go-bag stocked with the essentials and large water containers filled and placed throughout the house. I have been slowly creating something similar here and with just how sensitive P.E.I. is to infrastructure failures and possible food shortages, I should speed up my efforts.

Not all is lost. There are a few books I’ve been meaning to read but haven’t had the time, and my son took the opportunity this morning to go and clear a neighbors walkway. So some good has come from our relegation back to the dark ages.


Why You Only Need To Test With Five Users

When discussing user research and testing recently I blanked out on the actual reasons why I don’t use the same number of participants that people with marketing backgrounds are convinced they need. Generally I schedule 6 – 7 in case a session goes awry but otherwise my reasons for using limited participants mirror those below:

The five user number comes from the number of users you would need to detect approximately 85% of the problems in an interface, given that the probability a user would encounter a problem is about 31%. Most people either leave off the last part or are not sure what it means. This does not apply to all testing situations such as comparing two products or when trying to get a precise measure of task times or completion rates but to discovering problems with an interface. Where does 31% come from? It was found as an average problem frequency from several studies
Why You Only Need To Test With Five Users

Also: Do you really only need to test with 5 users?


Quitting Instagram

But Richardson isn’t a bystander reckoning with the ills of technology: She was one of the 13 original employees working at Instagram in 2012 when Facebook bought the viral photo-sharing app for $1 billion. She and four others from that small group now say the sense of intimacy, artistry and discovery that defined early Instagram and led to its success has given way to a celebrity-driven marketplace that is engineered to sap users’ time and attention at the cost of their well-being.

“In the early days, you felt your post was seen by people who cared about you and that you cared about,” said Richardson, who left Instagram in 2014 and later founded a start-up. “That feeling is completely gone for me now.”
Quitting Instagram: She’s one of the millions disillusioned with social media. But she also helped create it

Instagram used to be this special place where you could go and sometimes see beautiful pictures of interesting places and things. Over the years it changed somewhat, I initially thought all the food shots were ridiculous, but I joined the fray with my own banal photos of latté’s and some such. Lately my feed has been inundated with extremely long diary-like posts, ill suited to the format, and a seemingly endless stream of self-help style entries. If I see another post telling me how awesome I am or encouraging me to take action on some “thing”, … well I think it’s just time to leave the platform. Most of it just seems like a marketing or sales channel, and almost every budding entrepreneur or local “marketing expert” all tout it as being so. A demographic shift has occurred and it doesn’t include me.

While I won’t join Bailey Richardson in deleting my account, I for some reason don’t feel comfortable doing so, I will delete the app and waste my time elsewhere.


A possible replacement for my morning coffee

Years ago I had a project manager who recommended that I first thing in the morning go outside and walk on the grass in my bare feet. This was her advice after sharing that I was feeling lethargic and a bit down in the dumps. The January blues perhaps. I didn’t take her advice, though I will say walking on grass is mildly therapeutic, but this conversation came to me this AM as I was outside having a snow ball fight with Camren in my bare feet. There is nothing that tells your body to wake up more than putting your bare feet to snow. Exhilarating and eventually mildly painful over time. Highly recommended.


A collection of empty notebooks

Yeah, that’s my sketchbook. It’s very cheap. I like it because it doesn’t put pressure on you. I prefer cheap. I don’t like the moleskins or those other notebooks because they’re so expensive. They look like a book with no printing inside, and it puts the pressure of getting something that a real book, which people have been editing for a year, that’s the kind of pressure you get for every little line you put in.

This is exactly how I feel about many of my notebooks – the paper (especially the paper), binding and cover all have a quality to them, so much so that I feel whatever I put in them would not be worthy of the space that they occupy. But I love notebooks, so my collection keeps growing, until one day in the future when I have a wall full of empty notebooks. Perhaps by then I will have something worthy of their empty pages.

What’s In Your Bag, Simon Stålenhag?


iPhones are hard to use

Very advanced, very tuned-in people learn about, and learn how to use, new Apple features by watching them being demonstrated onstage during Apple keynote events.
Then there’s everybody else.

I used to blame having a communication designer manage the human interface group, or the perception that usability/behaviour side of the user experience was deemphasized for the emotive, but for whatever the reason, I agree with the gist of Joe Clark’s article.

One part he didn’t mention specifically is how when pinching to zoom in maps the text stays at the same unreadable size. I once in frustration grabbed a magnifying glass so I could clearly see the garbled text.

iPhones are difficult to use.


Blind Faith

I thought I had my backup strategy all figured out. I have time machine backups, a NAS for archiving and remote access, a back-up of the NAS, a back-up drive in a safety deposit box, iCloud, Dropbox for collaboration, and I have been using Google drive for my active projects folder. Some redundancy, and though it may seem complex, it isn’t, and it should just work. Except it doesn’t.

I’ve been working on a podcast, and wanting to hear the final file on my iPhone before uploading for distribution, I looked for the file on Google Drive for iPhone. It wasn’t there. Neither was the file folder, or any new folders and files added since this past April. The same with the GD web interface.

The Google drive icon is spinning, and every time I check, it says it is syncing, except it isn’t. All the right boxes are checked and I looked for the usual silly errors that I might have made. Nothing.

I’m sure after digging deeper the problem will resolve itself but I think it wise in the future to not believe that software services should just work as advertised. Because if they don’t, and the rare failure occurs, the results would be disappointing to say the least. From here on out, I’ll be setting a reminder to check data versions between local and remote files – or perhaps set an automator action to do it for me.

Interestingly, in my regular review of where my “cloud service” dollars go, I gave Google Drive a pass, accepting the status quo. I think I’ll revisit that decision and perhaps GD will join Flickr and Evernote in the no longer useful column.


Our Sackville Diversion

Cranewood on Main

With the kids having so many days off over the weekend I thought a road trip of some sort might be in order. My first thought was a trip up West, but as I don’t recall ever travelling past Summerside I had no experience to guide us. So I relied upon Peter Rukavina’s Visit West Prince Every Five Years post to build out a 2 day 1 night itinerary. Unfortunately, almost every point on his route has disappeared or was closed for the season. I forgot how the Island tends to close down come November.

So as we often did in Taiwan, I looked into booking some time in a resort – the only one being the Mill River Resort near O’Leary. Unfortunately, questions sent to the resort via email were never answered, so I scuttled those plans for a last minute day trip to Moncton.

I’ve had on my todo list for some time, whenever en route to Halifax or Truro, to make a quick diversion to Sackville’s Cranewood on Main Bakery and Café. We haven’t been able to find the time during out last couple trips, but I made a deliberate route change on our drive to Moncton. I wasn’t disappointed. The coffee and food was fine, but the main attraction for me is the ability to sit in an interesting place, whilst soaking up the conversations of arts students intent on changing the world.

I like small college towns and after we finished our sandwiches, soup, latte, hot chocolate and cookies, we went for a quick walk around the town and campus, buying some used books as we went.

We’ll likely visit again – despite the extra bit of milage, it’s a much more interesting waypoint than the admittedly more convenient Irving Bigstop that we have been visiting in the past.


This afternoon’s diversion. I’ve lived in some unbelievably noisy places but nowhere have I been required to constantly wear earplugs until I moved to Stratford. This due in part to a building made from wood and a couple neighbours who were never taught to not stamp their feet. I’d have moved by now but am hampered by Charlottetown’s housing crisis and the lack of affordable homes that suit our needs.

Effects of floor impact noise on psychophysiological responses

Effects of Low Frequency Noise and Vibrations: Environmental and Occupational Perspectives

The effects of low frequency noise on people


Relaxed education

We are in the midst of a long 5 day weekend for the kids and as I sit to organize my calendar for the next couple weeks I see that they have yet another 4 day weekend coming up this month. Though we consciously came here for a change in how our kids are taught, coming from the frenetic system that they grew up with, the education system here still comes across as a shock. The amount of paid PD days teachers get here would be the envy of the people I have worked with in the past.

Thus far the greatest challenge they have faced, other than English writing, is that they no longer face the overwhelming workload and pace of study that they had in Taiwan. The effect of this was that their days from early morning to night were completely prescribed. Often my daughter would start the day at 5:30am with the swim team and end it at 9:00pm with test prep classes. My son hasn’t had any homework to date and my daughter hasn’t much in High School either. Tests are few and far between.

I fear they will become complacent or bored.

The positive side to this new found freedom, is not that they can brag to their old classmates about how relaxed everything is, but that they now must be self-directed learners. There are no requirements or pressure of any kind. If they want to achieve excellence then they must do so on their own, without the goading of a teacher, or a long checklist of things that must be finished. They only have to put up with me – which is likely enough for any child to bear. If they can manage to study above and beyond the modicum that is provided here than I think they will be far better off in the long run.