Context

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

How Mental Models Unlock Your Thinking


Head cold hell

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

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

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

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


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

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


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

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


A New Chair

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

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

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

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


Conducting User Research with an Interpreter

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

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


PEI political party websites are a mess

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


Copy machines

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

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

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


Building a library

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


Educating girls: the key to tackling global poverty

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

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

Literacy empowers.

Educating girls: the key to tackling global poverty


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


A First: An Election and Taxes

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

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

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

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

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

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


Café barbershop menu

While I didn’t have the opportunity to sample their lattes or get a hair cut, I do appreciate the look of the signage in a cafe/barbershop that I visited in Quebec City last week (we could nitpick about weighting and categories). It’s a good concept really – drink a nice cup of coffee while getting your haircut. Most salons I visited in Hsinchu have this feature but the coffee was almost always poor and the timing imperfect. Inevitably your cup would end up getting hair in it. The Humble Barber in Charlottetown attempts something similar with beer on tap, but it doesn’t really work, and who in their right mind wants to get inebriated during the day (there is work to be done!). The benefits that I could see in Quebec are a stronger sense of community, like the barber shops of old, where you get people hanging around for longer periods of time – preferably talking. Unfortunately, the reality is, most would just take advantage of the generous seating and free wifi to stare at their various devices. Thats what they were doing in Quebec.


Cognitive Decline

I walked out of the house today without my keys, which resulted in a taxi drive to downtown. This is surely further evidence of my cognitive decline, which I attribute to my laziness towards studying Chinese or deep reading of any kind. If there is a bright side, it’s the knowledge that it’s pretty difficult to get into our house without the fob and key. No windows to slide in through.


There is a reason why “our religious services aren’t five minutes long”

A great experience which engages the senses trumps efficiency.

Multi-sensory

The entire experience of vinyl helps to create its appeal. Vinyl appeals to multiple senses—sight, sound, and touch—versus digital/streaming services, which appeal to just one sense (while offering the delight of instant gratification). Records are a tactile and a visual and an auditory experience. You feel a record. You hold it in your hands. It’s not just about the size of the cover art or the inclusion of accompanying booklets (not to mention the unique beauty of picture disks and colored vinyl). A record, by virtue of its size and weight, has gravitas, has heft, and the size communicates that it matters.

Records, in all their fragility and physicality, pay proper respect to the music, proper respect to the past. They must be handled carefully, for the past deserves our preservation. They are easily scratched, and their quality is diminished as a result of those scratches. They are subject to the elements—left in the sun, they warp. Like living things, they are ephemeral.

Why vinyl records survive in the digital age


First Contact

One of the greatest points of concern when we were deciding to return to Prince Edward Island was access to quality health care. My views on this were shaped in a large part by my mothers inability to get timely care for the maladies that struck her late in life – that is until she came to the end of her struggle where she had what can only be described as world class treatment during her time in Palliative Care. There are also the stories from friends detailing the experience of sitting in pain for hours and hours at the hospital emergency room. If there was any motivation to stay healthy and fit it is this.

I’ve also set aside a small investment to use in the event that we need to seek treatment abroad – a medical tourism fund, so to speak. I can’t afford additional insurance as of yet, but that’s something we will be looking into in the future.

Any criticism/negativity I may have is not directed towards the professionals themselves but the system. The people who worked at Palliative Care were the most amazing people you would ever meet.

There have been a few instances where I might have sought a doctors advice if we were still in Hsinchu, but have thus far been lucky enough to medicate our way out of any problems, with over the counter meds. That is until now.

Camren has a minor problem that through his dogged independence has become a bit of a bigger problem. He has an ingrown nail on his toe that has become infected, which if left untreated might lead to greater problems.

Following instructions on the foot care service menu of the Water Street clinic I called to see what service might be appropriate for him. To get foot care I was told I would need a referral from our doctor. As we don’t have a doctor (and likely may never), we will be off to the walk-in clinic so they can assess where we go next. Fingers crossed they don’t suggest the emergency room or like they used to say to my mother, see you in a few months.

Update:

I used the Skip the Waiting Room online booking form to what I previously would have called registering to see the doctor. I don’t know what it is called here. I could talk at length at the problems with Skip the Waiting Room user experience, but it in the end worked, and I appreciate the efficiency of the system. It not only saved time but also would seem to be the only guaranteed method to actually see a doctor. The small fee was a bit of surprise, considering this is a socialized medical system.

The doctors visit went well – we got our 3 minute consult and were out the door with a prescription. The cost of the medicine was reasonable as well.

One parent didn’t have as smooth an experience as we had. She arrived without registering and was told that the clinic was full and was informed that there was no where else in the Charlottetown area for her to go. Visiting a doctor here requires a measure of advanced planning.

Overall my preconceptions of the medical system were today somewhat unfounded.


If someone cares enough to dislike our work, the best response is, “thank you.”

Thank you for taking the time to consider it, thank you for caring enough to let me know…
Seth Godin


… go and sit in the lounges of luxury hotels and on the doorsteps of the flophouses. Sit on the Gold Coast settees and on the slum shakedowns. Sit in the Orchestra Hall and in the Star and Garter Burlesque. In short, go and get the seat of your pants dirty in real research. Robert Park

In an ideal world I could split my days between “making” and collecting qualitative research data from observation and interviews.


Serious leisure

The sociologist Robert Stebbins identifies “serious leisure” activities as the most fulfilling: pursuits that require regular refinement of skills learned in earnest. Hobbies are declining, but a hobby is exactly the kind of activity that adds value to the weekend. Stamp collectors and basement inventors may not be cool, but they know the benefits of becoming fully immersed in an activity and losing track of time – that rejuvenating “flow” state.

A hobby is an activity undertaken purely for its own sake, but technology attempts to monetise it. A friend used to make beautiful earrings occasionally. Almost ritualistically, she would buy the beads, and carefully craft the small, coloured jewels in a quiet workspace. Then came Etsy. Now she makes beautiful earrings and sells them, ships them and manages this business along with a full-time job and a family. What was leisure became labour. The side hustle is a weekend thief, but in a time of stagnant incomes, many must choose income over time.

Even though she is exhausted and a little miserable, my friend is praised for her hard work. The Protestant mindset has a firm grip in the culture: live to work, not work to live. We get competitive about our busyness (“I stayed until 9pm!” “I stayed until 10pm!”) because it makes us look wanted and worthy – supply and demand. It is hard to shake the ingrained value that time must be utilitarian and occupied, which is why taking two days off can seem suspect, or a bit like failure.

I was just about to sit down and do some really unimportant work but I think I’ll go hang out with my son instead.

From Who Killed the Weekend?