Diarrhea of words

I guess this is what it means to be in government.

The Green Party of Prince Edward Island has released their so labeled Return to School Framework yesterday which if you remove all the excess verbiage is nothing but a simple list of questions that most of us might have been asking around the dinner table. No deep insights, plans, or ideas from what are a highly educated and well paid group of people.

And I would argue that their priorities are wrong. The mental health and social well-being of all students, teachers, and parents is not the priority. Returning kids to school, whereby they can enjoy rigorous academic learning and physical activity, with minimized risk, is the priority. The main source of stress in families is the simple fact that kids are not in school. The Green Party should be aware of this.

These people are paid to come up with solutions, but between them and the nebulous plans of the department of education, I fear we will be left waiting.


A coffee day

Can there be any better day, than a day when you get 11 bags of fresh roasted coffee beans?

Friends from Taiwan sent coffee from a variety of local roasters, while our order of single origin beans from 49th Parallel arrived as well. I’ve had a cup of Ethiopia Worka Sakaro and it was superb.

Also from Taiwan came 100 surgical masks, Taiwan published books and a fan that wraps around your neck. 😂


以夢為馬

朱婧 music was on just about every playlist I was listening to a few years ago but during the mess that occurred when I transferred my Apple account from Taiwan to Canada I lost all of her music until she resurfaced under the weird pinyan name of June Zhu or Zhu Jing. Much of her early music found on Chinese Youku or elsewhere were beautiful Yunnanese folk songs sung to throngs of adoring fans. Her music in this collection was perfect for learning Mandarin, I discovered her from an episode of Popup Chinese, and sitting back and day dreaming.


For twenty-five centuries the Western culture has tried to look at the world. But it hasn’t understood yet that the world is not to see, it’s to hear. It is not to read, it’s to listen to. Our science always wanted to control, count, abstract and limit the senses, forgetting that life is noise and only death is silence.
Pivato, Il secolo del rumore, Il Mulino, Bologna 2011, p. 8. via The Dialectic Of Noise. An Aesthetic Perspective


Catriona’s Podcast

5 years ago as part of her grade 6 graduation project Catriona produced a podcast where she introduced and reviewed over 100 books that she was required to read that year. Luckily she likes to read. There were 25 episodes in total and the above audio is of the 9th episode.


Devices are boring

I got a new iPhone on Monday and decided to finally take it out of the box today. My kids were curious why I seemed so disinterested in what must be the next great thing, and even Sheryl was asking why it had been sitting on the nightstand so long.

The truth is it’s pretty much the same device as I had before. It fits in the same case, is the same color, and iOS is full of the same problems. The only immediate difference is that I opted for more memory.

There was a time when I was fascinated by the latest gadgets or objects du jour, but for age, different priorities or the lack of anything really interestingly new, I find this as about as exciting as buying a pair of socks. Unless they are new running socks, which I would find more interesting.

What is exciting is the 4 lbs of coffee coming from Taiwan, and the 3 bags coming from the 49th Parallel in Vancouver.


An anniversary of sorts

The still waters of the Charlottetown harbor

The beautiful beaches at the North Shore

The quiet of Clyde River

DayOne has reminded me via their “On this Day” function that it has now been just over 2 years since I moved back to PEI, a place that I have always referred to as home, despite spending much of my life elsewhere.

With a pandemic, being a single parent for a year, trying to find my way, and adjusting to what at times seems like a foreign culture, it’s been a dramatic couple years, to say the least.

It was a risk for us to move here, particularly due to the lack of employment for us both, but a life with risk is a life worth living and I think there have been many positive experiences since I/we have arrived. It doesn’t feel like I come home yet, but that may come if we put down more permanent roots. Also, despite being born here I feel a little like an outsider, it’s like you can only belong on the Island if you were born here and never leave. There is no place where who you know, and being a part of the system is more important than PEI.

A friend recently asked if I planned on staying. In retrospect it was a bit of an odd question, but perhaps he knows my nomadic nature. My answer was and is, I don’t know. Last year, I would have unequivocally said we are staying, but that we would be returning to my children’s home for extended stays. A somewhat reversal of my long held plan of spending time on PEI, while living elsewhere.

These days its teetering towards leaving, due primarily to the afore mentioned lack of employment. I’m fine with my almost lifelong quest of avoiding stifling work environments, unless they are of my own making, and some days I like the personal challenges that working independently bring. This has meant our lives have been primarily about rich experiences vs. equity and ever more stuff. But Sheryl wants to teach children until the day they lock her out of the building, and our way of life has often depended upon the stability that her life’s work brings. Risk is easier to accept when you know there will still be a roof over your head and something to eat. We knew it would be challenging to find our way here; patronage and arcane union rules are frustrating to navigate (imagine running a business whereby you are not allowed to interview a talented recent graduate, or highly experienced professional, or someone from abroad because they haven’t worked as a temp and paid union dues the requisite number of days) and PEI is not near as diverse and inclusive as it might wish to be.

When I get aggravated by situations like this invariably something will happen to stem the tide of negativity. Like running into an old classmate, or yesterday when a young child said hello and wished me a happy day. Or the fantastic blue skies, clean air, and serene countryside. Or the idealistic talk of a 4 day work week.

The coming months will be key, but with the pandemic and all, staying put might be the only choice.


Sleep Tight Science Trailer

Sleep Tight Science, our latest podcast venture was launched yesterday. We describe it simply:

Sleep Tight Science is an exciting science facts and stories podcast for the whole family. In each episode we investigate the questions that kids have about anything science related.

It’s a slight departure from our efforts to date, it should be far more collaborative, and I see it as a good next step in our growth before we start trying interviews. I have years of experience doing design interviews but I find the work that journalists do to be the stuff of magic.

Most shows in this genre feature people with peppy high pitched voices and are really exciting. Some are just really great. It will be fun to see how our approach resonates with listeners as we improve over time.

The podcast is currently waiting for the podcast/app world’s Saint Peter before it will start propagating through your favorite podcast app.


Sometimes slow is best

In his latest blood blog post Peter writes:

Early in the pandemic times, I noticed a small growth on my temple that, given the general sense of entropy in the air, was cause for concern. I made an appointment at my family doctor last week, and while he was pretty sure it was nothing to worry about, he offered to refer me to a dermatologist, cautioning that it might take some time to get an appointment, as we have only one dermatologist serving the entire Island. As it turned out, it took less than a week: my appointment was for this morning

Thankfully as it turns out it wasn’t a cause for concern, he was “simply a victim of age”. Which from my talks with my 87yr old uncle seems to be a common prognosis for those of us over 40 whenever you see a doctor. I think I’ve heard you aren’t 25 anymore at least 3x this year.

Far be it for me to say something nice about the PEI medical system, but sometimes the delay in seeing a professional can have a positive effect. I had a mole near my temple for seemingly forever, but a number of years ago it felt ‘alive’ and seemed to be getting larger (I did write about this but for the life of me I can’t find the post). Taiwan being the cancer Petri dish that it is, I thought the worst and scheduled an appointment with one of the best hospitals to seek this kind of treatment in Taiwan. Upon arrival the doctor looked at it and said that the mole was likely benign, but let’s ‘operate’, slice it off and send the biopsy off for tests. Ok, I said. And then I asked, when? She said, I’ll send you next door and we will do it immediately. Umm, could I have 5 minutes to chill and then make a decision?

Luckily it did indeed turn out to be nothing, but the speed from which we went from me thinking I had cancer, to being told it was likely benign, to getting my mole frozen and sliced off was disorienting. Sometimes we need time to process.


Signs of life

Though it’s still early in the season, Charlottetown seems so devoid of life without tourists. No families walking the streets, no kids, no one outside eating, none of the usual cacophony that comes with people on holiday. Sadly we have far too many restaurants and small business that such a small place can support, and many may fail or find their fortunes greatly diminished.

Perhaps, the government could take this as an opportunity to get Islanders to come downtown again. To be able to ride their bikes safely and walk the streets without worry of collision. I love dense cities, I lived in them for over 20 years, and it would be great to see the downtown become a place for people to congregate other than avoid due to lack of parking or whatever grievance people have.

It will be hard, as Islanders love of soulless big box stores seems to have no bounds (and pining for whatever Moncton has), but I would love the opportunity to make the downtown my one stop and to leave the car at home.


Dave’s Service Center to the rescue

With yesterday possibly being the best beach day of the year, I decided to try to finish up my days work and speed out to the North shore for sand and sun.

Unfortunately our car had other plans, and once we reached the QEH we pulled over to see what was banging on the inside of the car engine. I was thinking perhaps fox, cat or some large metal object left on the road. Luckily we saw nothing on the inside but the sound remained.

My understanding of the inner workings of a car is limited to the knowledge that when you press on the gas pedal it goes forward and you have to put fuel in it far too often. Something I’ll likely never get around to rectifying.

After a quick call to Daves Service Centre we slowly limped to their shop where they agreed to identify the problem so that I could go elsewhere to get a fix. They were already booked for the day but I trust them more than some other shop.

It was a “belt” that apparently seldom needs replacing, except in my case. They managed to fit it in and though it cost a bit, we were able to continue on our way a couple hours later with just enough time for my first visit to Richards for fish n chips.

Incidentally, I posted the above photo on Twitter and a friend DM’d aghast at all the people so close together without masks. My experience of late has been wherever I go most businesses have been following CPHO guidelines, but people have not changed. Most people do not use hand disinfecting stations, wear masks when in enclosed spaces, nor practice social distancing. There is little risk at preset but despite having all this time, I worry that we are still unprepared for when COVID-19 arrives on our shores in earnest.


Booth Finished

We have finished, bar finding a way to affix a panel to the door, our latest changes to the podcast booth. I should say, Sheryl finished, as my ability to put anything together is hampered by my absolute lack of patience.

Tomorrow we will take some time before we record to check if the booth has as dead and dry a sound we were hoping for.


New Vocal Booth

Helped along by Covid-19 isolation and an aging brain, I can’t remember exactly when we last invested in our podcasting pod. But months past we created a sound isolation booth comprised of Rockwool boards, wrapped in black sheets to keep the fibres out of our lungs. We use our storage room for this purpose but the rules of bootstrapping suggested we first start small, and so the first implementation was simply a covering around a cheap IKEA desk. This worked remarkably well and helped to create as dead an environment as possible, without going to the other extreme which would be investing in a whisper room. Not capturing the sound of the room is important to us, and if you listened to any podcasts of late, those that due to Covid are now recording remote, suffer from the sounds of kitchen tiles. With the exception of Ira Glass who I believe records in his clothes closet.

We still live in an apartment building (thanks COVID) and so it’s difficult to be completely noiseless. We are at the mercy of our upstairs neighbours and various electrical feedback loops, but thanks to or current set-up our biggest problem has been eliminating annoying mouth noises that most commonly occur due to various hydration issues.

We could have stayed with this set-up for the foreseeable future but for the fact that the ideal mic placement on the desk made recording uncomfortable. Proper vocal technique requires the free flow of air from the bottom of your abdomen through your vocal chords and out your mouth. I was always hunched over and Sheryl found our set-up limiting.

This weekend we decided to sound proof the whole room and despite a lack of planning it looks like it might work out.


Freddie Lim on Taiwan’s Covid Response

Freddy Lim, vocalist of the metal band Chthonic and a member of parliament in Taiwan, discusses with Emily Y. Wu amongst many things, the success of Taiwan’s Covid-19 response and some of the challenges it poses to personal freedom. Metalhead Politics (政治重金屬), is a joint production of Ghost Island Media (鬼島之音) and the Taiwanese heavy metal band CHTHONIC (閃靈).


Whatever you do don’t sit down

Though I tried in the beginning I just couldn’t summon the motivation to participate in CrossFit workouts, or workouts of any kind, in our living room during the time when everything was shut down and we stayed home. I preferred to simply work and by the end of the day I had little energy for much else. It’s a tad disappointing.

When the temperature made it possible to run without freezing to death I did manage to slowly add weekly mileage to the point that this week I was due to run 50km. It continues to increase until basically I run out of time. As the heart specialist at the QEH reminded me at least 12 times during a recent visit, I’m not 25 anymore, and though at that age I was so plump I couldn’t climb a flight of stairs, my preparation and recovery needs have changed greatly. So while I have been running, I haven’t been stretching, or warming up, or much of anything. I have been just dragging myself out the door in hope of gaining some mental clarity.

I have noticed my achilles complaining and I’ve been getting all kinds of cramps and other warnings.

So then I went to the first socially distanced CrossFit class on Monday. The owner worked hard to create as safe an environment as possible; quite laudable. I laughed at my new found inability to do push-ups and my loss of grip strength. The air squats felt fine and it was nice to stretch my hip abductors. I took it easy and just tried to appreciate the ability to get out the house to move my body.

Except, as the day went on yesterday I got progressively sore (DOMS) to the point that this morning I asked Camren to bend over and pick up a wrapper on the floor that I dropped.

I’ll recover but there is nothing worse than sitting down after using your body in new or demanding ways. Which is what I have been doing and am now suffering from.


The weekend

This was the first weekend since we were in lockdown/stay at home* that I wasn’t working. It was a long cycle of work, I usually prefer short bursts of activity or 6 week cycles ala Basecamp but work I find is a great way to get through periods of uncertainty, and if I have the rare pleasure of working on something I like, it’s fun.

Other than running, I didn’t do anything, it felt odd, and I had these periods of mild anxiety from the belief that I should be doing something. With the warm temperatures we could have gone somewhere, though I have no idea where that somewhere would be. My kids seem to be at an age that suggesting we drive to Georgetown for fun would illicit strange looks. Actually if suggested, I might give strange looks too.

*there are so many terms I get confused.


Emptiness

Receivers Operator Blend is still the best deal in coffee around these parts. Only slightly more expensive by weight than store bought, but it’s fresh (roasted within a week prior to purchase), and importantly local. And while the taste won’t appeal to all, I think it’s great.


How fast is fast enough?

I have documented at least a couple times the effects of poor or non-existent response times from businesses and organizations here on this Island and elsewhere. To restate the obvious, if your primary means of interacting with those outside your organization is email, social media, or other channels, then you should strive to answer queries in a timely manner. If you don’t have people in a dedicated customer support role, it might be a good idea to set some kind of expectations in terms of when you can reply (Facebook does this for you via algorithm). This I think is polite and makes good business sense.

I’ve been looking for dev help since I came back to the Island, which as of this week was 2 years ago, and have largely failed to find people who fit my niche. This is due to my social awkwardness, bootstrapping, and the simple fact that the pool of talent is not that deep. It’s not difficult to find help off-Island, a simple Instagram message this week immediately lead to someone interested, but I like or have been more comfortable kicking off the work in person.

The positive side effect of this is self-sufficiency, and a return to learning to code, at least until I can afford to hire regularly remote.

But I can only do so much and when Sheryl had a new project arrive that might tie in nicely with our podcast work, I reached out to hire a popular dev team. I also got on a Zoom call with an American company who has a subscription product which is, I would realize, about 1/3 the price of the dev.

I started reaching out about a month ago about the possibility of doing some work. It was very casual and I was at first just looking for some advice, while at the same time seeing if they would be someone easy to work with. Many relationships start this way, a simple hello, questions, praise of their prior work, or even a request to have a short talk.

It took a week to get a reply. I chose the wrong method to reach out, and at the time I wasn’t in a rush.

Finding out that our timeline to get a quote was moved up a month, I emailed the dev and asked if they could meet the rough scope of work outlined in an email or recommend someone who could. They replied immediately and said yes they could do the work, in fact they had already finished a rough prototype of that exact product. How fortunate.

Over the course of a week, and after I wrote a very rough software spec., constant promises to reply to email were broken and I had to chase them to see if they were truly able to join the project. They kept promising to get back to me. They never did.

If you are busy, or uninterested, it’s best to set expectations or simply say no. Saying NO can be liberating. Or set up processes to deal with customer requests.

Yesterday, I reached out anonymously to the American company via their online chat window and asked if they could give me a written quote for their product. They cheerfully replied, yes, let me see if I can work that up for you, and less than 10 minutes later I had a quote and rough statement of work.

My needs were extremely simple and didn’t require a complex plan upfront. The work didn’t even need to start for months.

Which company will get the most repeat business and future recommendations?


Haircut

I got a haircut today and while it wouldn’t be worth protesting at a state legislature for my right to get one, it was nice to be able to go and accomplish what would otherwise be an ordinary task.

I had briefly toyed with the idea of getting into the habit of cutting my own hair, but my attempts at doing so (had to look my best on Zoom), were pretty abysmal; lots of oops and such during the process. So at the advice of family, unless I wanted an army cut, my dreams of being an in home barber have been put aside for now.

Besides, what better place to learn about the habits of people half my age than at a barber shop? A number seemed to have been spending a great deal of time binge watching Netflix and were uncomfortable being inside their own head when alone.


The PSB’s Reality Distortion Field

We have been very impressed with the work of our teachers, who have migrated to home learning platforms with tremendous efficiency and creativity during this global pandemic. Teachers have been very busy preparing lessons, providing feedback on learning, connecting with students, working through year-end transition processes and supporting the social and emotional well-being of students. Teachers have and continue to be available to students and families through various means of communication.
Parker Grimmer – PEI Public Schools

The public school boards messaging across all the platforms its engaged in usually espouses the outmost in positivity. It’s all rainbows and sun, and “everything is beautiful, in it’s own way.” I get it, this is part of their job to highlight the good work that the teachers do throughout the province.

Generally most of the email communication from the PSB is long winded and difficult to read through, particularly when it comes after an evening meal and I feel like having a nap, but last nights email caught my attention immediately, particularly because of the first paragraph which seemed to come from a different reality all together.

In fact, when I first read it, I yelled out, “what nonsense is this!”

While there has been “learning” occurring during this time at home, there has been no “schooling”. It was my understanding that teachers were under strict guidelines to not attempt to teach, how else could we explain what has been occurring. Nothing new has been attempted at the intermediate level, with review worksheets sent out with the answers attached, and little to no communication from teachers at all levels. Having kids watch a video is not teaching. Some teachers of course, despite instructions to the contrary, have been communicative, giving new material and immediate replies to questions. They have been wonderful.

The PEI Home and School sent out a question to parents recently, asking for our experiences during the pandemic, in my reply:

  • I commented on how teachers were not allowed to experiment with various online teaching methods and how that seemed like a terrible mistake. What better time to try, and fail, when it’s all review and no marks are being counted.
  • I shared how my kids couldn’t even reach their teachers with questions and how many teachers would simply send out some simple worksheets with the answers attached. Kids see this for what it is and realize it’s largely a waste of time.
  • What has happened as that parents have had to fill in the role of teacher, which most of us are unprepared for, and while trying to work from home.
  • There was an overwhelming theme of not wanting to “stress” the kids with work, or a trend of taking time together as a family. I countered that sometimes keeping kids minds occupied with schooling reduces the stress from what is happening around them. Working hard, or working in general, is not a bad thing, even during an outbreak.
  • I noted that the most stressful part of this whole pandemic, after the initial shock, was trying to play the role of teacher, while knowing that our children were being let down academically.
  • Lastly, I also stated, based on our unfortunate experience with viral outbreaks, that I had little confidence that any plans were being formulated to return kids to school and deal with the inevitable return of COVID-19. Have they started training teachers? Any negotiations started to change the length of the school year? Virus mitigation procedures?

I’m writing this in a hurry as I do with all my blog posts. Issues like this require more articulate responses than I have time for, or talent to give. But the PSB’s eagerness to bend any fact to fit the communication purpose at hand required some kind of response into the abyss.


“Unfortunately not everyone is on board”

We went out to run some errands today at noon, which included a stop at NoFrills, the Post Office, and Receivers.

The Island being the Island one stranger shared that they were now on a diet and not eating meat. Another, showed me their feet (they had shoes on) in order to detail their injury and I shared that I have forgotten how to wear pants.

With the exception of Receivers, no one was social distancing, wearing any kind of PPE, nor utilizing what little sanitizing your hands apparatus was available. It’s like nothing had happened; nor was still happening.

We can’t stay inside forever. We need to eat, and not everyone has the opportunity to work remotely as a programmer or other desk bound occupation.

Islanders have from my vantage point been great, at least until it was decided that people from away could come to their summer residences (I don’t think they should). Real leaders make unpopular decisions based on the available data and experience, it’s hard.

Living through viral outbreaks, or in this case, hopefully a once in a lifetime pandemic, requires a massive cultural shift for Islanders. Washing your hands, carrying antiseptic wipes and hand wash, wearing a mask, using store provided antiseptic hand wash, installing antiseptic matts, and on and on, must become an ingrained habit. It is elsewhere; they’ve been screening travellers in Taiwan and elsewhere for over 15 years. Arriving from a region known to have an outbreak? Step aside sir while we ask you a few more questions. Have a fever? Off to quarantine you go. Not wearing a mask? Please leave the building. Kid sick? Isolation and then a call to come collect the child.

These are the things you do. Take matters into your own hands, complaining about people coming in from outside the province is not enough.

Via Ruk.


Patti Larsen: Cat City

Our last Sleep Tight Stories episode featured a chapter from a story by Island author Patti Larsen called, Cat City. It’s wonderful to bring her work to a new audience. It’s a great story, sure to spur the imagination of kids of all ages, myself included. Sheryl and I are her latest fans.

In my short conversations with her I also learned a great deal about the mental model of, or how publishers and authors differ in their approach to book promotion, and more.

One of the benefits of being on the Island is that people here tend to be friendly and approachable, which can lead to all kinds of interesting conversations, and sometimes collaboration.

To purchase her book please visit: https://books2read.com/CatCity or your favourite bookstore.


What have I become?

When we lived in Taiwan fellow parents used to say to me that I was more Chinese than they were, referring to my attitude towards education I suppose. It would seem I still harbor some other Taiwanese characteristics that I didn’t know I had.

Here it is Saturday morning, and I remarked to Sheryl that I still haven’t received an email reply from a potential partner for a project she is developing. I thought it was strange that she wasn’t working Friday night and Saturday morning. Sheryl gently reminded me that people don’t work Friday night and weekends here.

I’ve become what I used to constantly rebel against when I worked for those bosses in Taiwan and China.


Behind the scenes

This mornings Facebook livestream with Sheryl. Replacing the iPhone’s internal mic with an external makes all the difference in the world. Some lighting would help too, but by the time we felt the need the prices for lighting went up measurably due to the pandemic.


Blue

I went for a walk Monday evening and while this section of Stratford has that lack of life feeling that comes from quickly building houses on a farmers field, the blue skies and clean air can’t be beat. I could stare at the skies on PEI for hours on end.