Design workshop theatre

After hours and hours of deliberate practice over years some people still cannot step into design thinking. Changing habits is hard.

Now let’s look at how design thinking is often taught: in boot camps and one day workshops. That’s design theater, not design thinking.

It’s not enough to say, look there is a better way! It takes practice. Lots of practice.
Christina Wodtke

I’ve been thinking of this quote as I get started outlining a series of workshops I have been tasked to facilitate for some kind of accelerator program that the Startup Zone (SUZ) is going to hold.

To their credit SUZ has held numerous workshops and talks over the past year, my favourites have generally been the smallish ones that are more conversation than speech, allowing for a more enjoyable flow. My least favourite are the almost day long events, in particular there was a workshop designed to teach you about personas with experts from off Island that taught without once uttering the word data. Personas without data are something else all together. The design thinking workshop was only moderately better, and only useful in that the facilitator was great and the activities entertaining.

In the past my approach to all talks was to cram as much information into peoples heads as I possibly could. This followed the philosophy endeared to me at Humber Music where they would often say that it will take us years to unpack all that we learned. This worked well with audiences in Taiwan and China in the past (I now know the younger generation desires more hands on, conversational approaches) but I realize this doesn’t fly here. Nor should it.

My other method, the method I use upon myself, is to simply point people to a few books and say – go read. When I joined a service design project in Fuzhou, despite all the similarities to what I had done in the past, I ordered and read the 3 most popular books on the topic. Not because I am smart, or like to read, but primarily out of fear. Despite all the available material available online, or in print, much of it cheap, this approach isn’t popular either.

I think my approach will likely combine what I experienced at Crafting {:} a Life (the conference that keeps on … influencing), kick off a topic of discussion with some salient points, give people something to work on, point them to resources to help them learn and maybe understand, and make myself available for help if I can give it. I’m not sure what else I can accomplish in an hour with people who may never have broached any of the topics we need to go through.


Good bye old girl

Elsa was the last of our 3 dogs. Our first dog in Taiwan was Buster, a large black lab and my daughters protector, who I had to send over the rainbow bridge due to a burst liver. Lulu, another Lab and an adopted sister to Elsa, developed cancer and I had to send her as well over the rainbow bridge, my last task before leaving Taiwan. All our dogs were adopted, Buster from the streets of Kaohsiung, Elsa and Lulu from the streets of Taipei. All had acute behavioural problems which required loads of time to work through as they became integral parts of our family. The kids miss them all.

Elsa didn’t join us here partly due to her age, we aren’t entirely sure, but we guess her age to be close to 15 years, which might make the stress of a long international flight too harrowing. There is also the simple fact that with the housing crisis on PEI, there was no place available that would allow pets. Our current lease forbids it and with the uncertainty of our life here the commitment of a house seems unwise.

Finding her a new home was an almost 1 year heart wrenching task for my wife; finding a home for any dog in Taiwan is difficult, we have re-homed many, but a senior dog is especially so. Luckily, in the end Elsa has a found a family that she can enjoy her final days with in love and comfort.


Switching to Amazon.ca

Canada selection

US selection

I switched my Amazon digital account to Amazon Canada from the US site recently, primarily to be able to try Kindle Unlimited, which has been running a .99$ 3 month trial recently. My daughters English reading habits were starting to be an over $30 a week expense, and I thought this might present some cost savings, and perhaps encourage her to read more. I could already access Kindle prime, but the selection is even more pithy than Unlimited has turned out to be.

My hesitation to date has primarily been the mess that my 3 Amazon accounts (US, CAN, CN) presented to me when dealing with Alexa and the belief that the American store would always present the best selection of books. A cursory search has proven that the category of books I might be interested in, the selection is indeed less on the Canadian side and in some cases more expensive.

Of all the possible specific titles I might be interested in reading, none were available as apart of Kindle Unlimited. So I suspect, other than my fascination with easy reads from fantasy and sci-fi genres, this will have limited utility for me. Hopefully it might be of interest to my daughter and possibly Sheryl.


St. Peter’s Harbour Lighthouse Beach

I’m not much of a beach person – I don’t swim and the kids seem to be just outside the age that we need to be concerned about beach shovels and the like. Also, I don’t particularly like going somewhere to relax, and can’t fathom travelling anywhere to just lay down (the beaches in Thailand are as much about the scenery, people watching, and sharing my kids love of the water as anything). But I appreciate the beach at St. Peter’s Harbour Lighthouse for its beauty, PEI has some of the best beaches I have seen anywhere (no medical waste garbage problems here), and for the fact that few if anyone ever goes there, so we often have the beach to ourselves.

That was the case yesterday and the kids and I walked along the beach talking, arguing, and enjoying the warm sun without any of the hubbub of the touristy areas. My son also collected drift wood, creating swords to protect against possible zombie attacks, and my daughter wondered if the buildings in the distance had any food. Admittance was free, as it should be.

Since it was only a short drive further, we drove to Ricks Fish ’n’ Chips in St. Peter’s Bay where we all had the haddock.

I’m glad we took this little afternoon diversion, as the weather this summer seems to be unusually cold and wet which would seem to continue for the next 10 days or so.


I hate open offices even more now

Most open offices I have worked in have the din of idle banter, or the sound of hushed conversations, but have unwritten rules about noise and rampant interruptions. The din is still disrupting, resulting in a requirement for headphones which also serve as a do not disturb sign.

The fishbowl, where I work out of now seems to not follow these rules. Few will ever interrupt you since we are all working on our own thing, but people will still think it’s ok to be on calls half the day, which since are generally voip, people believe they need to talk at twice their normal volume. Loud team meetings are also not uncommon.

It’s rude and annoying.

Open Office Etiquette and Ground Rules


Just read

In updating my What I am up to now page, something I haven’t been keeping up with, I realized the two books that I started reading earlier this year haven’t been finished. I’ve read, mostly trashy things that entertain, but nothing that requires my full attention, or perhaps challenges me in ways a harder text might. This is a somewhat embarrassing mistake on my part which I think illustrates just how much more challenging long form reading has become when my overwhelming habit is to skim for information. When reading in this manner, including the tweets, headlines, rss and websites that I visit becomes habit, it’s difficult to return to the kind of texts that really educate you, books “which force us to think deeply about ourselves and our world”. When trying to refresh or learn some new perspective with regard to design research, I even have the habit searching out a video first, and ignoring a more complete tome.

I now spend an increasing number of hours training my body every week, I think it’s time I return to doing the same for my mind. Reading challenging books should help with that.


Just Write

Ben Norris shares how writing and publishing a blog can be a helpful exercise even without a large audience, something I also believe:

Deep down, I know that part of what has held me back from writing more is the feeling of shouting into the void. There is not a large reader base waiting for me to publish again, and so the pressure is less than in other areas of my life. However, throughout the course of this year, I have learned that writing is a helpful exercise for me and my mind. I do not need an audience. I am my audience. The act of processing my thoughts sufficiently to express them is healthy and productive, and requires no other validation to be worthwhile. Hopefully I can remember that.

Via micro.blog


An Island moment

Yesterday, I had an eye exam at the Family Vision Centre, which encompassed far more tests than the garden variety done by teenagers at the ubiquitous eye glass stores in Hsinchu, and seemed lest harried than visiting the famous eye doctor on Dongda Rd in Hsinchu who has massive photos of herself covering the outside of her office. Afterwards, I hopped on my bike to see the on call eye doctor at the QEH ER.

The pace from eye exam, to further tests at the QEH, to sitting in a chair for a procedure was entirely unexpected. I didn’t even have time to consult with Dr. Google. This is how it should be, but I have been conditioned to having to wait from months to never for any kind of treatment here on the Island.

The fact that I have a health problem has chipped away at my belief that I am somewhat invincible. For the past 7 – 8 yrs or so, I’ve had an almost religious conviction that refraining from bad habits, eating right and vigorous exercise would shield me from the advancing maladies of middle age. While I can run up flights of stairs with greater ease than the colleagues of old who were half my age, there seems to be no avoiding some of the challenges brought forth by Father Time. Anyway, at this point it’s nothing serious.

After getting an injection in my eyeball, which at the time conjured up images of Blade Runner and had me wondering what the doctor now knew about me, the doctor asked how I was getting home. He knew I had arrived by bike but was concerned that I shouldn’t be riding over the bridge after having the procedure. Either due to the bridges reputation for carefree driving or concern over my now inability to see clearly out of my left eye, he insisted he drive me home.

So we walked out of the emergency room, I grabbed my bike, threw it in the back of his van, and he drove me over across the river to Casa MacLeod.

This could have happened no where else.


A bathroom reno

The bathroom in our apartment in Hsinchu has seen better days.

On the Island, renovations such as this, well likely far less extensive than this, result in what people have been calling renovictions, whereby the landlord is using renovations as an excuse to evict tenants and charge higher rent. But in Hsinchu at least, workers seal off the work areas, people keep on occupying the space, but with the added stress of even more dust and dirt in their homes.


The CBC has taken a detour into the lifestyles of the rich and famous with a piece on an expensive renovation project by AmberMac.

Reading Amber MacArthur gives P.E.I. historic home a high-tech makeover one would be led to believe she is transforming a century home into a Jetsons like experience. What we get is a short piece detailing things which as far as I’m concerned have been commonplace for years.

This piece seems more like a wasted opportunity to have her explain in more detail the “green and sustainability angle” of what she is doing, instead of the self-promotion piece it is. AmberMac has a talent for explaining technology in a way that most people can understand, it’s a shame they didn’t utilize it.


Unexpected efficiency

I have been experiencing problems with my left eye to the point that I’m finding work more annoying than it should be. As this has been ongoing and getting progressively worse a trip to the doctor was in order. “You only get one set of eyes” said someone who never watched scify movies.

My first planned stop was a walk-in clinic. PEI does not for some reason cover visits to an eye doctor as part of its universal health coverage, so keeping up with my el cheapo persona, I thought it best to discount any generalized causes before I paid out of pocket for privatized medicine. I half expected the doctor to tell me to stop running and going to CrossFit because almost every doctor I’ve met seems to be against pushing your body to it’s natural limits.

As it turns out it was a complete waste of time as the doctor simply flashed a light in my eye and sent me on my way. A very friendly yet perfunctory experience not unlike Taiwan.

As an aside, I find interesting the start contrast between visiting the offices of the public walk in clinic and the privatized eye doctor. It’s stark. The staff in the eye clinic are obviously paid far more (all wearing matching smart watches), the environment more relaxing, and you can actually see a doctor, and keep seeing that doctor within reasonable periods of time.

The problem with all this was the timing of the clinic visit. I used the Skip the Waiting Room system to book my time with the walk-in clinic doctor. It’s an effective, yet surprising, privatized efficiency infusion to a social system. I started the registration process shortly after it opened online and no doubt due to it’s popularity I wasn’t given a spot until close to closing. With my 15 minute lead time I was told I wouldn’t have to leave until about 3:10pm. I figured later.

Unfortunately I had somewhat of a scheduling conflict. I had a short meeting at 2pm discussing the possibility of helping various tourism SME’s develop a more cohesive experience strategy for their business. Businesses here have seemingly endless options for marketing expertise but few seem to be talking about customer experience or service design or other jargony speak. Intense competition in Taiwan makes staging an experience a necessity for survival for many businesses; but they call it something else and seldom hire experience designers specifically. Since I am a poor capitalist and dislike the word consultant, I envisioned doing this advising somewhat for free, much like what I do at StartUp Zone.

The meeting was short, a 30 minute meet and greet, so I decided to keep both appointments. That turns out was a mistake.

We were just in the midst of discussing customer journeys, and all that boring stuff you need to mention, when I started to get sms notifications to come to the clinic – a full 45 minutes earlier than expected. This doctor would seem to be quicker than most.

So I had to quickly wrap things up, bid adieu, and race out the door. No doubt never to hear from this government official again.

In the future when booking appointments with doctors here, I’ll be sure to block out either the whole morning or afternoon for the visit. I experienced a similar problem with a visit to Dr. Flemmings office with Camren recently, when a short visit became multiple hours due to delays and his fastidious attention to detail.

Lesson learned.


One cannot observe everything closely, therefore one must discriminate and try to select the significant. When practicing a branch of science, the ‘trained’ observer deliberately looks for specific things which his training has taught him are significant, but in research he often has to rely on his own discrimination, guided only by his general scientific knowledge, judgment and perhaps an hypothesis which he entertains.

Powers of observation can be developed by cultivating the habit of watching things with an active, enquiring mind. It is no exaggeration to say that well developed habits of observation are more important in research than large accumulations of academic learning.

Training in observation follows the same principles as training in any activity. At first one must do things consciously and laboriously, but with practice the activities gradually become automatic and unconscious and a habit is established. Effective scientific observation also requires a good background, for only by being familiar with the usual can we notice something as being unusual or unexplained.
The Art of Scientific Investigation


A taste of the exotic

Sheryl often sends me pictures of the treats that we loved when we lived in Taiwan. This was a favourite in the summer.

Peter writes:

Relative to 25 years ago, when we arrived here in Charlottetown, the proportion of “fries-with-that” restaurants has dramatically decreased; there was a time when that was almost all you could get if you ate out.

Certainly the selection of food in Charlottetown has improved dramatically since I left years ago, both in terms of what you can find in the grocery stores or in restaurants. When I lived here, a taste of the orient, or let’s have something “different”, meant a trip to the Canton Cafe or a package of frozen Wong Wing from Kmart foods. Now when the feeling strikes I can head to Walmart and source some Asian Pears (水梨), Bok Choi and a wide assortment of sauces and spices. The Asian Pears coming direct from China and the Bok Choi often sourced from Mexico. For some reason Walmart seems to have the best selection which forces me to visit despite my general hatred of the place.

The only complaint I have with Chinese cuisine here is that it is either loaded with sugar or that it is what I can only describe as being too clean. Old woks impart flavour in food. I talked to the owner of Mad Wok on an occasion and he confirmed the change in flavour to suit local tastes. This is common of course, which is why in Taiwan they have hideous pizza covered with corn, stinky tofu, tuna and on and on. Incidentally my kids think these flavours are great.

The problem I have is that every time I mention eating out the kids refuse to go for curry, noodles or the like (my son does like the all you can eat Chinese buffet at St. Awards, but though the owners are nice, the food is garbage), so it’s almost always a “fries-with-that” restaurant, because for them, hamburgers and fries is exotic.


The Art of Observation

“When I hear you give your reasons,” I remarked, “the thing always appears to me to be so ridiculously simple that I could easily do it myself, though at each successive instance of your reasoning, I am baffled until you explain your process. And yet I believe that my eyes are as good as yours.”

“Quite so,” he answered, lighting a cigarette, and throwing himself down into an armchair. “You see, but you do not observe. The distinction is clear. For example, you have frequently seen the steps which lead up from the hall to this room.”

“Frequently.”

“How often?”

“Well, some hundreds of times.”

“Then how many are there?”

“How many? I don’t know.”

“Quite so! You have not observed. And yet you have seen. That is just my point. Now, I know that there are seventeen steps, because I have both seen and observed.”
The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes


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

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

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


Design Leadership for Introverts

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

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

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

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

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


Dinner at Hojo’s Japanese Cuisine

Tuna & Salmon Don

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


What the worst thing that could happen?

… other than public embarrassment

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Links on form design

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


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

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

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


Books on Interviewing

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

Interviewing Users: How to Uncover Compelling Insights

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

The User Experience Team of One

Qualitative Research: A Guide to Design and Implementation


New Bike

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Alba Armengou

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

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

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

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


WeChat and the Surveillance State

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

China social media: WeChat and the Surveillance State

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


Crafting {:} a Life initial impressions

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


System Malfunction

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

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

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

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


Last vestiges of winter?

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

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

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