Remembering San Mao

Taiwanese writer San Mao died 28 years ago this January. She was a role model for women of her time, casting off the social strictures of martial-law-era Taiwan, escaping abroad to travel, write, love and have the kind of exotic and tragic life that was the stuff of romance novels. I loved reading her short stories when I was learning Chinese and listened to an audio version of one of her short stories so often I had committed it to memory.

People’s Daily writes:

“She was born in Chongqing, moved to Taiwan, studied in Spain, and settled in the Sahara. All of her life she pursued freedom and touched the hearts of many with all of her words. Her love-story with Jose stirred people’s emotions. Her mother said that maybe her life was not perfect enough for her, but we now know that her life-long pursuit of her dreams has already become romantic legend. Today, in 1991, writer San Mao committed suicide.”

Remembering San Mao – the Bohemian Writer That Captured the Hearts of Millions of Chinese


To learn something new requires interviewing, not just chatting. Poor interviews produce inaccurate information that can take your business in the wrong direction. Interviewing is a skill that at times can be fundamentally different than what you do normally in conversation. Great interviewers leverage their natural style of interacting with people but make deliberate, specific choices about what to say, when to say it, how to say it, and when to say nothing. Doing this well is hard and takes years of practice.
Interviewing Users


The True Cost of 2 Day Shipping

One of the often cited key benefits of living in Taiwan is the convenience of many aspects of life there. Especially so when ordering anything online – 24hrs or less (more often less) shipping makes the hassle of fighting traffic pointless. Why bother driving to a box store when they will ship it to you at your home, or the nearest convenience store the very same day. The waste of such activity became more apparent when during the toilet paper crisis, large boxes full of nothing but rolls of toilet paper started clogging up the logistic infrastructure.

Moving to Charlottetown you get nothing near the same level of service, but habits die hard and I signed up for Amazon Prime and their free 2-day shipping. For PEI that generally translates to a week or more, depending on the mood of the Postal Union. I loath the likes of Walmart, and the arrangement of Charlottetown’s big box stores which are spaced far enough apart that you need to drive between each one. But when my house starts filling up with boxes, I’ve often wondered if sacrificing my sanity by listening to those poorly designed pay terminals might be better for us all in the long run. Apparently, not necessarily so:

Transportation experts are split over whether online shopping reduces or increases emissions. In theory, online shopping can be more environmentally friendly than a traditional brick-and-mortar store: Either way, a truck has to deliver the items, and in the case of online shopping, you don’t have to drive to the store as well.

“Our research shows that delivering a typical order to an Amazon customer is more environmentally friendly than that customer driving to a store,” said Melanie Janin, sustainability representative at Amazon, in an email.

But, and I don’t now if this applies to our experience since there seems to be little difference between shipping times, apparently the environmental cost of 2 Day shipping, which comes with Amazon Prime, is huge, when compared with other shipping methods, per this article on Grist.

Free two-day shipping — the hallmark of Amazon’s plan to squeeze out traditional retailers — burns through significantly more emissions than standard shipping or traditional in-store shopping.

When you wait three to five days for shipment, Jaller explains, Amazon has time to find the most efficient (and cheapest) way to deliver goods. Aviation is by far the most carbon-intensive transit option, and with more time the company can route your package by land, instead of by air…and group your package with other, similar deliveries.
“The concept of Amazon Prime pushes us towards more emissions…and makes the marginal cost of purchases very small, so you have motivation to buy more. And of course, that’s what Amazon wants.”

So seeing there is very little difference in the speeds of shipping methods to PEI, perhaps giving Amazon extra time might be a suitable alternative. Especially when you consider they are sending me a small bottle of brass cleaner across the country (the inspiration for this post) because it wasn’t ready as fast as the other items I ordered.


A few changes

I’ve removed the commenting from the website and deactivated the Disqus plug-in. If any discussion or commenting happens with regards to what I share here, it always happens off-site; either via email, twitter, or the best of all, real life. For an already glacial website the performance penalty isn’t really worth it. To compensate I’ll create a more findable contact method (it’s hidden now so I’m not forced to reply to but the most dedicated communicators).

And speaking of performance, while I don’t have the time at present, I think I’ll be looking into other methods of content management. I don’t imagine I’ll go back to using Movabletype but I’ve been inspired each time I hear the engineers from Forestry.io talk about flat file websites and their performance benefits. Since my templates are decidedly simple, importing all the posts intact might be the greatest challenge, especially since I seem to muck it up each time I have tried to migrate data from one system to another.

My usage of WordPress here is very vanilla and doesn’t require much thought on my part. But a recent experience with a wonderful freelancer who I hired to create another website for me has renewed my hatred for such heavy handed approaches to publishing. She used a theme that would make an excellent case study of all the things you can do wrong in user interface design. It’s attempts at hiding the WordPress UI and code obfuscated the whole process, making it slow and painful. But apparently clients like it.


The bathroom fan

From Seth’s Blog:

In our office, the kitchen exhaust fan blows the smoke from the cooktop–back into the kitchen.

It’s a closed loop, a palliative, a noisy device that doesn’t do much except make you feel like at least you’re trying.

Most of the exhaust fans in our lives are actually part of a closed system. The detritus, pain or actions we share don’t go very far away before they turn around and head back toward us.

The fan in the master bathroom in our apartment in Hsinchu was making an awful noise one day and eventually quit working. Upon installing a replacement we realized that the fan didn’t actually lead to anywhere – it simply circulated the humid air to the space above our false ceiling. I thought it was hilarious and synonymous with much of the problems I experienced in local culture – a face saving measure to cover for the inability to meet a requirements spec. Of course this resulted in more black mold and a rusty fan prone to failure.


Alexa and Siri sitting in a tree

I’ve had an interest in voice user interfaces for some time but living in Taiwan kept my experiences limited to Siri, due to I suppose limited support for local languages and I’m sure a host of legal/licensing issues. I’ve in the past been underwhelmed with Siri’s natural language processing, perhaps do to my dreams of interactions more akin to science fiction, like in the film Her.

Siri does often surprise, as she did by suggesting on my iPhone lock screen that I call my wife on her birthday.

When Amazon had the Echo Dot’s for sale at half price, I bought four, which is excessive, but I justified the expense since they can function as a decent bluetooth speaker for each of the kids room. The sound that comes out of them is about what you would expect from a speaker of this size, and better balanced than most of the bluetooth speakers we have purchased in the past. Pairing two together makes a for a pleasant enough bedroom listening experience. I haven’t spent a great deal of time with the devices but here are some insights thus far:

  • Siri is interesting in that after a short training period it will only respond to your voice, which is great when you consider the hilarity that would ensue with the potential number of iPhones in one room. Alexa out of the box has no such limitations. So unless you speak quietly, one person activates all the echo dots at similar times. You can set-up a voice profile but it’s buried within the iPhone app. and not readily that you can do so.
  • It’s much more enjoyable interacting with a device with decent sound output but I don’t find Alexa’s responses to be as smooth as Siri’s.
  • Apple Music skill is US only. A big disappointment to my kids.
  • My kids love music, but Alexa won’t play anything on their accounts. Alexa won’t play podcasts either. I have prime so I get a subset of music, but the catalog and experience pales in comparison to Apple Music.
  • I paired 2 Echo Dots together for stereo separation but this only works for music and not for anything else. When playing a sleep sounds skill it plays through 1 speaker only. This seems like an incredibly glaring oversight on their part which I hope they fix in the near future.
  • When you pair 2 speakers, the volume increases when you play anything other than music. It’s like the Echo is compensating for the loss of the other.
  • Alexa skills have discoverability problems, and
  • Skills are only interesting in theory as it requires the user to remember a long set of commands. UI should not add to the users cognitive load – I feel like I am back to having to write down common commands for Unix because I don’t use the system enough to commit them to memory. While I understand you are supposed to be able to ask Alexa what skills are available, I’ve never been able to get it to work. There is no equivalent to typing “help” in Alexa.
  • Skills seem very similar to traditional interactive voice-response systems, very unnatural.
  • I’ve yet been able to get it to play a podcast. This is likely due to not linking one of the music sources that contains podcasts, but Alexa describes it as an unknown error.
  • All the common requests (weather, etc.) seem to be handled with aplomb.
  • You need to think very clearly before you ask Alexa (or Siri) to perform a request. I suspect most don’t. There is no mid sentence error correction.
  • There is no way to get Alexa to repeat a response – no please repeat that again. Often times a response to a request is too long and it’s difficult to fit all the information into working memory.
  • Most surprising to me was when I asked a more advanced query, “Alexa, I would like to buy toothpaste”, it responds with an error message stating that I would have to change the primary language of my account. I thought Amazon would have this part nailed down tight. At least I can be assured that my kids won’t be buying their favourite treats via the Echo in my bedroom.
  • The most fun usage (for me) thus far is the Rooster skill. I walked into my sons bedroom early this AM and asked Alexa to play Rooster and it proceeded to loudly play a variety of Rooster crowing sounds. He hates me now.

Other than hardware that many people can afford, I as of yet see no major advances with Alexa over my experiences with Siri. It’s a pity that Apple hasn’t developed a similar smart speaker “for the rest of us”, $450 for each HomePod is not money well spent I think. Despite their limitations, I do look forward to digging deeper into skills and routines – in our effort to keep kids eyes away from screens, I hope to develop my own.


Winter on Prince and Richmond

We made our weekly sojourn unscathed to Trinity on Sunday despite streets that were heavy with slush and drivers driving like it was still summer. Downtown Charlottetown in winter is quite beautiful – I only wish I wasn’t in such a race to get home and could have gone for a long walk taking pictures as I went. But looking after 2 kids alone has made me far more cautious than I have ever been in the past, so my irrational fear of a snow-apocalypse sent us scrambling back to the relative safety of Stratford.


6 months on Prince Edward Island

The end of the year is often a time for introspection and establishing goals for the new year. In terms of goals, I don’t have any broad resolutions for the coming year, its’ not something I find useful (though Julia Rothman’s More Less list might serve as a good reminder), but since we just crossed the 6 month mark in our move “back” to PEI, sharing the highlights of what we have accomplished might keep me honest.

So in the spirit of the weekly/monthly reports I hated writing in the past, the following is a 6 month report*:

  • The kids, especially Catriona, enjoy school far more than in recent memory. This can be partly attributed to having little to no homework, few tests, and a whopping 12+ days off due to teacher PD days, holidays and storm days. Their days are much shorter too. Credit should be given to the teachers who have created a far more relaxed and open environment for learning than what you will find in the Taiwan school system.
  • Catriona has completed 3 months of CrossFit training and Camren has received his first bar in Gracie JuJitsu.
  • Camren has competed in 3 separate swim meets with the Bluefins, winning some, and placing in others. Catriona’s participation with the Harmonia Choir culminated in a series of wonderful concerts. Looking forward to hearing more from them this year.
  • Despite living here for 6 months, I would be lying if I said I didn’t still suffer from culture shock on a daily basis. All of us do to some extent. I expect this will diminish overtime, but I imagine I will always retain much of what I was affected by in Taiwan.
  • We were accepted as a resident company in the Start Up Zone in mid to late September, the benefits of which weren’t immediately discernible. Unfortunately, working out of the fishbowl, as I call the place, hasn’t really worked out. Open offices are nice if you like interruptions and noise, but not so great if you need quiet and space to focus. Also, I can’t really seem to align my schedule with the limited availability of buses in Stratford, making trips to the downtown (via car) expensive.
  • We started our company Minzoo in October, but the roots have been in place since July of 2017. The products we have in our pipeline are the easiest I’ve ever worked on, and yet it’s the most difficult and slowest to launch.
  • The past 6 months has brought about a sea change in terms of the amount of networking, workshops, meet-ups, coffee chats, and meet & greets I’ve attended. I’ve had far more opportunity to attend events such as these in the past 6 months, than the past 6 years in Taiwan and China. This is exactly what I was hoping for when I moved here. All in all I have been averaging 3–4 events a week, making this one of my primary activities.
  • From all these workshops and get togethers, and the reading done, I’ve received the equivalent of the Coles Notes version of an entrepreneurial MBA. Or so if feels, but I still know nothing about finance and marketing.
  • The longest event I participated in was StartUp Weekend. There was a lot to unpack from that weekend long event, not the least of which was that an army marches on it’s stomach – great food helps make any event a success. This was the first time I took non-design savvy folks through a customer journey map and got buy in for the importance of experience design. It went well.
  • We launched a podcast called Sleep Tight Stories, the quality of which is improving over time. It’s not wildly popular as of yet but its audience continues to grow.
  • I’ve largely dropped out of social media but still enjoy looking at puppy pictures on Instagram. It helps me end the day on a positive note. I still have the @hsinchunews twitter account, but I expect I my interest in following what is happening in Taiwan and the Hsinchu Science Park will diminish over time.
  • I’ve written 175 diary entries and 101 blog posts.
  • We launched 3 new or refreshed websites, 1 I contracted out to a young designer. Playing the role of client, gave me some new insight to the client and contractor relationship.
  • We carried out 4 different users tests since October, the results of which, like most user research, was enlightening and interesting. Individuals are always interesting and have stories to tell, performing user research is as good an excuse as any to hear them.
  • Apple doesn’t offer commutative data but app downloads are, but for one exception, all up – some over 1000%. The most popular efforts are stickers I created with my son – I’m not sure what that means. A respectable number of downloads does not equal revenue unfortunately, and I don’t see us breaking even anytime soon.
  • Our business is at risk of being a cliché. Most businesses fail and our venture is struggling. As such, I’ve started looking for job opportunities. It’s early days and I have no idea what form employment might take; remote, freelance, consultant, or something I’ve never considered before. I have no answers as of yet as to how I could do the work I have been doing these past few years while living in Charlottetown.
  • This year is a bit of an experiment. Could we have a similar lifestyle in Charlottetown to what we had in Hsinchu. I’ve been keeping fairly accurate data, not complete enough to publish, and thus far it has proven to be very difficult. We’ve never been able to stay within budget, part of this is start-up costs, but the rest is simply due to a higher cost of living. The greatest dollar increases are found in kids activities, which can cost 2x what we might pay in Taiwan. As an example, the price I pay for my son to be a part of Bluefins is the same price we payed for both kids in Taiwan, except in Taiwan they had almost double the amount of time in the pool and it included dry land training. But in terms of a percentage increase, nothing beats the cost of connectivity on PEI. The kids mobile plan costs increased 1433%, mine has increased 184% – with a drastic reduction in service, and our home internet has increased 225%. Food costs have increased, with boneless chicken, a key ingredient to my kids comfort food curry chicken, twice as expensive as what we paid before.
  • I ran my 2nd marathon this year in October and despite some problems during the race I am happy with the results. To prepare I was running an average of 75km a week. Unfortunately I have been rather inactive since which is being reflected by my ever growing waistline – when you are training you get used to eating a lot of food. A fun habit which is hard to break.
  • I’ve put 6000kms on our car. I’ve no idea if this is a modest amount of milage. Driving my kids to various activities is where my late afternoons and evenings are spent. I do realize that a car is a burden I wish I didn’t need to bear, but public transit in Charlottetown is only effective along certain corridors and not really useful for our needs. I’ll wait until Uber arrives before I rely upon the overpriced taxi companies here.
  • We launched Sleep Tight Relax. It’s loaded with bugs, some of which are an easy fix, but a weird Xcode bug has delayed any update.
  • I’ve made some progress these past 6 months in being able to survive the inevitable “introduce yourself” section of any get together. I still have some work to do with removing jargon and speaking like a normal person.
  • Somewhat related to self-introductions, was the need to refine our business pitch. I took three separate workshops on how to pitch effectively and managed a polished 1 minute delivery, only to later realize how fake it all sounds. The people who like these pitches seem to prefer the fake.
  • We travel far less than in the past. We’ve managed a couple trips to Summerside, 2 trips to Truro, 2 to Moncton (Costco), 1 to Halifax and 1 to Sackville for coffee. We explored a bit of the Island in the summer but seem to be at a loss for winter activities – I guess we could try snow shoeing, but other activities like skiing are out due to their high cost.
  • We invested in too much tech gear, including TV, game console, sound bar, smart speakers, laptop, keyboards, headphones and sound recording equipment. With the exception of a new iPhone, none of these products came from Apple, because either Apple doesn’t produce them or they are too expensive if they do. In some cases Apple’s product is actually inferior. If this was a trend, it may help explain their drop in profits.
  • One disappointment was my inability to find time to volunteer or socialize. Outside of working with stray dogs, I didn’t have much opportunity to contribute in a more direct way to our community in Taiwan (volunteering is actually illegal for foreigners), so I was hoping to be able to find opportunities to contribute here. I’m going to make volunteering one of my priorities for this year.

It’s been an extremely busy 6 months. There are some key upcoming events which just come in outside the 6 month mark, including: the kids write their first exams, and I have some important work related deadlines to hit. I’m looking forward to what the next 6 months might bring.

*I’d love to incorporate more data, with presentations akin to Nicholas Felton, but one of my many weaknesses has been good record keeping and I time box all my blogposts (which means I don’t give myself the time required to create something similar).


Design for Non-Designers

This presentation will go over design for non-designers, skipping the university-level concepts and jumping right to shortcuts and easy-to-remember principles. Recommended for those who want to learn just enough design to be dangerous (or for designers who’d like to better teach their coworkers and colleagues); featuring quick hits, easy to understand and utilize principles that anyone can use to improve their design skills


Why you don’t need a representative sample in your user research

Engaging a representative sample of participants in user research sounds like a good idea but it is flawed. It requires lots of participants, does not work in an agile development environment, stifles innovation and reduces your chances of finding problems in small sample usability tests. When combined with iterative design, theoretical sampling (where theory and data collection move hand in hand) provides a more practical alternative.
Why you don’t need a representative sample in your user research

People coming from a marketing or advertising background often have trouble believing the effectiveness of small sample sizes.


Short Visit

At the airport

Sheryl’s journey back to Taipei started with an all-too-early 5am flight out of Charlottetown yesterday. Luckily her return was uneventful – unlike her flight from Taipei which was marred by an Air Canada aircraft having technical problems in Shanghai. While a short visit, we did enjoy a wonderful Christmas as a family and were lucky to see family from afar while visiting Sheryl’s homestead in Truro.

It’s going to be a long 7 months until she returns in late July – especially for the kids. The kids get worn by my strict parenting style and lack of patience. If I believed in resolutions, developing more patience would be at the top of the list.


Kuroshio House Blend

While I don’t always take the time to drink coffee as good as this, there is no better way to start my day than with a cup of coffee and time to scan the headlines of the day, even the increasingly asinine headlines coming from south of the border can’t disrupt this essential routine. I’ve tried other morning routines with mixed results, getting out of bed and immediately doing burpees is best left to the Jacko Willink’s of the world.

The picture above is of Ink’s “Kuroshio House Blend” (墨咖啡). I’m not a fan of blends in general and prefer single origin, particularly almost anything from Kenya. This was ok, less bitter than most of the roasts found in PEI but perhaps not as good as other varieties they produce.

I received a healthy supply of coffee beans from two of my favorite roasters this Christmas, it’s still a surprise that such great coffee can be found in Hsinchu and other cities throughout Taiwan. This should make for an enjoyable to start to the new year.


Why would we bother to talk to our users?

People who make a product think and talk about it fundamentally differently than people who don’t. While both groups may use the same product, their context, understanding, language, expectations, and so on, is completely different. From a user’s point of view, a Big Mac eaten in Moscow is hardly the same product as a Big Mac eaten in San Jose, CA. And neither one is very much like a Big Mac eaten at McDonald’s Hamburger University in Oak Grove, IL. A strong product vision is important, but understanding what that vision means when it leaves your bubble is make-or-break stuff. Interviewing Users: How to Uncover Compelling Insights by Steve Portigal


Sleep Tight Stories Podcast

We launched a new podcast called Sleep Tight Stories back in October and have been releasing weekly episodes since. It hasn’t been widely shared, even amongst friends, primarily due to my issues with promoting myself and the projects I am involved with – which I discussed in another previous post.

We describe Sleep Tight Stories as: “Sleep Tight Stories brings you new and captivating bedtime stories every week. The stories range from retellings of fairy tales, folk stories, classic Canadian works, and original stories written by guest authors. Each episode is usually less than 20 minutes long and suitable for kids of all ages.”

This is largely an effort of my wife and I, but we were lucky to enjoy the talents of an American voice over artist, who I had hired for another project, for a few of the episodes. I’ve produced other podcasts in the past, most recently I helped my daughter create a 20 episode podcast about books called 志大才書 for a school project, but this is the first visible efforts of some recent collaborations between Sheryl and myself.

While podcasts like ours are no replacement for parent and child story time, they can play a great part in a child’s bedtime routine, and can help children develop early literacy skills, like the ability to listen to and understand words. It’s a great way to get kids focused and prepared for sleep too.

As this is a timeboxed effort we hope that the quality will improve over time. In the interim we appreciate any positive or negative feedback – sharing positive comments on iTunes is greatly appreciated. Subscribing, if the podcast is of interest, even more so.

Sleep Tight Stories on Apple Podcasts and Google Play


A little Christmas cheer

I had a romantic notion of what Christmas would be like back here on the Island, something akin to what you see in Christmas movies, with gently falling snow, elaborate decorations everywhere, ice skating, people out and about holding hands as they go, and the sounds of carollers floating through the air. The reality has been Amazon and trips to Walmart (and those other soul-less box stores nearby).

In retrospect Hsinchu did pretty well, at least on the elaborate displays front.

But today I had a small sample while shopping downtown for some final small items – books, candy, and silly things. I went into Kitchen’s Unlimited and purchased just a couple small cups and was greeted by friendliness and cheer. The two staff also boxed my 2 small gifts and did a fantastic job wrapping — all without an extra charge. This may not seem like much but compared to the “just a transaction” type of experience at the box stores and online, it’s a wonderful human touch that is missing all too often today.

Also, I don’t know if the small local shops downtown treat their staff better, but many I have interacted with recently feel genuinely interested in being there (or as much as you can in any job) vs. the feeling conveyed by many staff at Walmart et al, that this is employment of last resort.

So my small recommendation is to shop downtown, and if you can, visit Kitchen Unlimited.


Social media has been blamed for ruining our democracy, shortening our children’s attention spans and undermining the fabric of society. But through it, I was able to be with Paulina out in the world again, to see what she sees, to virtually stand beside her and witness the people and places she moves through, in nearly real time. Not in a parent-policing role, but in a wonderful-world sort of way.
Rediscovering My Daughter Through Instagram

I face similar problems raising a 15 year old daughter but luckily she doesn’t have the social media habits that many her age have, partially because “I am the strictest father in the world” and restrict her usage as much as I can.


Pretending to be busy

A couple photos by the venerable Rachel Peters whereby I, and a bunch of other people, pretend to busy working at the fishbowl. She also was kind enough to take some headshots which turned out much better than the last shoot where I looked like I was a giggly drunk. This time I just look like the unkept old guy that I have become.


Just Do It

Good advice for myself, not just for art, but just about everything else I do:

Lesson 1: Don’t Be Embarrassed

I get it. Making art can be humiliating, terrifying, leave you feeling foul, exposed, like getting naked in front of someone else for the first time. You often reveal things about yourself that others may find appalling, weird, boring, or stupid. People may think you’re abnormal or a hack. Fine. When I work, I feel sick to my stomach with thoughts like None of this is any good. It makes no sense. But art doesn’t have to make sense. It doesn’t even need to be good. So don’t worry about being smart and let go of being “good.”

Lesson 5: Work, Work, Work

Sister Corita Kent said, “The only rule is work. If you work, it will lead to something. It’s the people who do all of the work all the time who eventually catch onto things.”

I have tried every way in the world to stop work-block or fear of working, of failure. There is only one method that works: work. And keep working.

Every artist and writer I know claims to work in their sleep. I do all the time. Jasper Johns famously said, “One night I dreamed that I painted a large American flag, and the next morning I got up and I went out and bought the materials to begin it.” How many times have you been given a whole career in your dreams and not heeded it? It doesn’t matter how scared you are; everyone is scared. Work. Work is the only thing that takes the curse of fear away.
How to Be an Artist 33 rules to take you from clueless amateur to generational talent (or at least help you live life a little more creatively). Via kottke.


iCloud Directory Sort by Modified Date Bug

I’m going to call this a serious bug because like so many things that Apple is doing lately it breaks their HIG and basic usability heuristics.

In a discussion on severity ratings at a recent meetup in Charlottetown I mentioned how an increasing amount of non-severe ratings add up to cause harm to a customers experience with a product, but it’s difficult to get buy in (for change) from stake holders, as when viewed alone these are minor issues. I think Steven Garrity described as “death by a thousand cuts”. I wouldn’t characterize the issue I am having as minor, but many of the problems I see with Apple’s UI are, but collectively they show that usability is not the priority in once was.

In my “work” directory I sort all folders by date modified. This allows me to have the most immediate projects, files, and such always at the top. I find this reduces my cognitive load when having to think of names or by sorting alphabetically. This has worked for me for years, I’m sure is an accepted and common method for others, and is respected by every service I have used. Except for iCloud. I use this scheme through-out MacOS, with the exception of the downloads folder which I sorted by Date Added.

I wrote recently that I was running out of space on iCloud and Google Drive hadn’t synced properly for months. Despite getting some great suggestions I dropped Google Drive and went with iCloud for all my work files, until I could spend more time with the suggested alternatives.

But what iCloud did is change all the modification dates on all the top-level folders within the directory to the upload to iCloud date. Ok, I guess they were technically modified. It’s confusing, much in the same way that opening a file can change the modified date (because often opening a file changes some meta-data). Few understand these nuances of course.

What makes this worse is that despite working on files within the folders, the folders modification date does not reflect that some file or folder within has been modified or something added. This may or may not be now technically correct, but it is absolutely different from the behaviour you have elsewhere throughout the MacOS and different from what I have read in the HIG. The modified date on a folder represents not just the folder itself but what is contained within (changing the folder name does change the modification date). Dropbox respects this, Google Drive does, and in fact I’ve never seen another service not. So as result this behaviour is inconsistent and does not match the users mental model, resulting in confusion, moderate frustration, and a poor experience.

Perhaps the excuse is that this is simply iOS design principles spreading to the Finder, in iOS you are supposed to downplay file handling as much as possible. Whatever the reason, it’s a mistake and wrong.


Snow Squall

Yesterday afternoons snow squall, a term I had to look up, had some of the most beautiful snow flakes imaginable. It made for a great winter scene in downtown Charlottetown, all the more special since technically winter still doesn’t start for 10 days. The picture above, taken just outside the “fish bowl“, doesn’t do justice to what I later witnessed, but in my inexperience, I was in a rush to get home before the whole town shut down. Which of course it didn’t.


Redragon Keyboard

During travel between China and Taiwan I was a little too aggressive with my packing and my beloved Apple Wireless keyboard’s aluminum casing got bent, resulting in a duck tape and paper fix to make it level. I’ve been looking for a replacement ever since, especially recently as it has been getting increasingly wonky these past few months. I have a couple Logitech K380’s which are nice, but they don’t have as nice a typing experience as the Apple. This is primarily due to their silly round keycaps which provide too small a target for a chicken pecker typist like myself. I hate Apple’s newest bluetooth keyboard, and especially don’t appreciate its high price.

I’ve always been interested in mechanical keyboards or anything that approximated the feel of the Apple ADB Keyboards of old, but always hesitated due to price. That is until Amazon had a flash sale on the Redragon USB keyboard pictured above.

Initial reaction is extreme dislike. Apples and Logitechs keyboards have a nice slope starting in the front which feels comfortable over long periods. There is no such slope on the Redragon, which forces me to continuously hold my arms at a weird angle. Otherwise, the left of the space bar function keys are mapped differently than every other keyboard I have ever used. Overriding years of muscle memory might be too great a challenge.

Luckily the cost of this experiment wasn’t too high and perhaps someone on Kijiji will give it a new home.


Infinite Loop

I’m caught in an infinite loop with Apple trying to get a refund for a charge that should never have happened. I purchased Minecraft for iOS some time ago and it should be available to download to others in my Family Sharing scheme. It worked for my son, and across other devices, but not for my daughter, and I was charged $9.99.

Following multiple entry points through Apple support always ends up in the same place, the “Report a Problem” page where it lists all your purchases – except for the recent Minecraft charge.

I’m guessing that by the time I have this sorted, and assuming I work for minimum wage or less, I will be out far more than the $9.99 mistakenly charged to my account.

Despite being charged to my account, I guess I am to assume it may show up in my daughters list of purchases, of which this would be the only one.

This has happened in the past, and I don’t recall it being this “loopy”. Unfortunately, much of the Apple Experience I am having these days is less and less Apple-like. That’s my impression anyway.


Promotion Commotion

As far as I can remember, I’ve always been the worlds worst self-promoter, which I generally see as a good thing, since I have enough problems without adding self-aggrandizing ass* to the pile. But this inability to talk about myself also includes any and all work that I am doing, or have done, my capabilities and how I might be of service to others, and pretty much any project I am involved in. This is a problem, and has manifested itself to such a degree that for years my own mother had no idea what I did for a living, nor much of what I accomplished the 20 odd years I was outside of Canada.

This is due in no small part to being my own worst critic. When someone says “that looks cute”, I think the colours are off. When I received a compliment about an app. MVP I developed, I just thought about how simple it would be for a “real developer” to create the exact same thing, or the UI glitch, or how the audio doesn’t taper properly etc..

Logically I know that people outside my industry don’t care about such things (nice people in the industry understand and give you a pass) and just see the value to them, or lack there of, in what you are doing. Or the “specialness”, or the “neatness”.

As such, this is something that I have been working on these past few months. This blog is part of this effort, setting words to page and accepting their inelegant disjointedness as a byproduct of time and ability. I’ve taken pitch workshops, which have been great practice for stage fright, but though having created decent results, the results are rather inauthentic. Much more effort is required there. I have met some really great people in the process, all of whom have been willing to help, and I’ve learned a great deal.

All this learning is of no value if I don’t actually put it into practice and do something. This hump is really the hard part. I need the opportunity to make mistakes, learn from them, and get over these perfectionist traits instilled in me from years of misguided music instruction and my own irrational fear of embarrassment.

So please excuse if I use this space as a start of these efforts. This blog and my somewhat dormant FB profile seem like good places to start.


Ave Generosa

I came home last night to the sounds of the above song being played loudly by my daughter Catriona. What a delightful change this is from her current obsession with Korean Pop.

This I owe in no small part to her participation with Harmonia, a local all girls choir, and their recent series of concerts they performed with Sirens. Sirens performed Ave Generosa as part of their program.

Beautiful music, perfect for the season.