30 years!

We’ve been together 30 years this week. I lack the ability to adequately express what this occasion means to me beyond the hope for many more healthy years together.

Serendipitous conversations

A couple of weeks ago or more I had a short talk with Mathieu Arsenault about goal setting and how he structures the multitude of activities he is involved in. It wasn’t so much what he said, the brain is amazing in how it forgets everything you have learned in the past, but more the timing of the conversation, which has lead me to attempt to re-prioritize the activities I spend time on. Without a boss or employees I tend to spend time on work which though “very important,” doesn’t really help us buy groceries. I really love how serendipitous conversations can lead to all kinds of new insights.

I haven’t really found a way to fit my blogging and twitter activities into the mix but I’m trying to find a way to justify it (it feels similar to how I have been trying to justify buying a new running watch just because it’s on sale).


Apples broken audio

I wasn’t intending to update my Mac or my iPhone to the latest versions of the operating systems that were recently released. My greatest concern was with Xcode, as I have a renewed focus on development this month I didn’t want any hiccups from Apple’s recent software QA problems. Most I talked to stated they experienced no problems and since I saw the updates as an excuse to clean out old Microsoft apps and do some general file management chores, I went ahead and installed the updates last week.

Generally I’ve experienced no problems and nothing really interesting in the updates as a whole. Until I can have a natural conversation with my computing device, I doubt there will be much in the way of ‘wow moments’ from any of these incremental updates (though I do appreciate some of the small advancements with SIRI).

What I didn’t give any thought to was Apple’s consumer software, like Garageband, which I use to produce our podcast Sleep Tight Stories. Sleep Tight Stories, and the others we plan to launch, are only viable if I can produce them in a very short period of time. “If only I had more time,” is a determining factor in many projects. To this end I have created a master Garageband file that I use for each episode, which is tuned for our usage and the equipment we have on hand. The latest version of Garageband breaks this in a couple of ways:

– As the screenshot illustrates the timeline is completely out of sync, ignoring the first 10 seconds where there is a sound file.
– Anytime I place an audio file in the timeline it changes the speed of the file, making all the sound files I’ve licensed or created unusable.

So lesson learned. Rolling back to a previous version of the software does not work. But converting files to wave format does for some. Perhaps I will take this opportunity to try Adobe’s more capable software, which will also slowly remove my reliance on Apple for all my professional or semi-professional computing needs.


The beauty of game design as a learning experience…[is that] it doesn’t feel like learning. It feels like… play… You’re learning the scientific method when you conjure up a game, but you’re also learning product design…Designing a game teaches your kid how to think. And it reminds you how much there is to learn from playing.
Wonderland: How Play Made the Modern World


How China’s Social Credit Score is playing out in Fuzhou and Xiamen. So far, all carrots no sticks.

In 2018 Xiamen and Fuzhou, two cities in Fujian province, a region on the coast in the southeast most famous for its historic trader links and global diaspora population, became one of just a handful of cities in China with their own city-level personal credit scores (个人信用评分). These are algorithmically created scores, using data gathered by the local government to assess citizens’ level of “promise keeping” (守信), that can be used at places like hospitals and tourist sites, or when paying school tuition fees and borrowing books. However, a look under the hood reveals a reality far from any utopian or dystopian picture.

A Case Study on Social Credit Scores in Xiamen and Fuzhou


A house divided

Both Birchwood and Rural include in their classwork mock elections, with the requirement that the students investigate the party platforms and form their opinions based on how they feel they address the issues of the day.

It’s a wonderful and essential part of the curriculum.

It’s something new for my kids, as outside of following the circus show of American politics we haven’t had many political conversations at the kitchen table. And, while in Taiwan it felt like we were a family state, or self-ruled, as we were not allowed to participate in local government in any shape or form, and we were so far removed from Canadian life we had little idea of what was happening.

They cast their mock votes with Catriona voting Green, and Camren voting Liberal.

It’s my hope that they will continue to think critically and not fall victim to all the disinformation that is so prevalent today.


Hillsborough Bridge Construction

The construction on the bridge, or the Hillsborough Speedway as I refer to it, has meant the end of riding my bike across to Charlottetown during rush hours. In fact it’s probably unsafe for the majority of cyclists who might use the route to make the trek to work.

We had long since planned that I would ride a bike to wherever I needed to be during the days that Sheryl was in need of our car. There is nowhere in the city that I can’t reach by bike in less than 30 minutes and if I can reach the entrance to the bike trail unscathed, it feels pretty safe. Bridge construction aside, it hasn’t gone as smoothly as planned, as I don’t particularly like riding in the rain, and with two active kids and all the errands that I need to run, we drive more than ride.

The bus has proven a great alternative, particularly on wet days. No where have I seen a happier group of bus drivers; they talk to the passengers, help them whenever they can, and know the regulars almost by name. I have seen some forget their bus pass and the bus driver wave them on, because they know them. It’s the exact opposite experience that I had riding the TTC in Toronto for the 10 years I lived there. It’s also an efficient time box for the type of work I do in the downtown – 9 to 4 is plenty of time to accomplish something. It’s a great stress free alternative to the car if you can make it fit into your schedule (which can be difficult when you have active kids who also require near daily trips to the grocery store).

The current construction on the bridge forces cyclists to ride as close to the edge of the road as possible, which is always full of garbage and gravel, and when I rode across last, there was only a few inches between handle bar and mirror. At one point I had a long line up of trucks behind me when on the bridge proper, because thankfully they realized it wasn’t safe to pass. I’ve seen the same with other cyclists.

It would be safe to say that the bridge is a product of an era when the car was the primary stakeholder in urban design. The recent construction of the Shoppers Drug Mart in Stratford, whereby it’s location is far enough away from the other buildings to require all but the most dedicated walkers to drive, indicates that this era is still alive and well. There is still a great deal of work to be done to make it attractive for people to even consider replacing their cars for bikes in Charlottetown’s bedroom communities.


Don’t Give Up

This song by Peter Gabriel will serve as my theme song for tomorrows marathon (as it has served for all my long runs). I don’t take anything on my person when I run, so I’ll likely start chanting the words over and over in my head whenever my legs turn to lead.


Robert Pollack: Rethinking Our Vision of Success

How do we understand that our 100,000-fold excess of numbers on this planet, plus what we do to feed ourselves, makes us a tumor on the body of the planet? I don’t want the future that involves some end to us, which is a kind of surgery of the planet. That’s not anybody’s wish. How do we revert ourselves to normal while we can? How do we re-enter the world of natural selection, not by punishing each other, but by volunteering to take success as meaning success and survival of the future, not success in stuff now? How do we do that? We don’t have a language for that.

We do have structures that value the future over current success. I’m at an institution that has one of those structures. Columbia University is one of the most well-endowed universities in the world. That endowment, which is permanent, according to the economic structure of the country, is stable, it produces wealth without taxation, and that wealth is, by government regulation, required to be spent in the public interest. My job is in the public interest, my teaching is in the public interest, my salary comes that way, my sabbatical, which allows me to find the time to talk to you now. The idea of an endowment is perhaps an expandable idea. If I were talking this way, not to you, John, but to the people I hope are watching this, it’s the most wealthy and powerful of them that I wish I was talking to. The more you have, the more you can set aside in a de facto endowment to stabilize the present so that the future doesn’t collapse on us.

That’s not a taxation. That’s not a redistribution. It’s a withholding. It’s an agreement to do with less now for the sake of the future. I don’t see economic structures that do that. I don’t see politics that does that. But I see kids, like those in the street this week, knowing if we don’t do something like that, they don’t have a world.


X mark

Sheryl and I spent our Friday night having dinner at MadWok, which she found underwhelming (she needs more time to forget what PadThai really tastes like), followed by a quick trip to NoFrills, and capped by a visit to the local polling station to cast our vote in the advance poll. Once at home we attempted to finish El Camino on Netflix but failed.

This I think was a far more rewarding evening than in my youth when I would spend my time standing around in a crowded bar pretending to have fun.

This morning after having burpees for breakfast at Crossfit (the Saturday crowd are a lively bunch), we dropped by the Farmers Market to get some rainbow carrots, my sons surprise favourite, fill him with rice noodles and hopefully run into Elizabeth May. Which I did, as Glen Beaton brought me over somewhat reluctantly to meet her. I had nothing to say other than some niceties, but it would be rude to take her away for more than a brief moment, from what looked like a delicious lunch, to ask yet more questions of her.

She is I think the perfect antidote to the Andrew Scheer’s of the world.


Another cut

I walked into the barbershop this afternoon 5 weeks after the last visit for another cut. At 22 minutes in and out it was slightly slower than my previous visit but I am more pleased with the result. Perhaps adding more time to a task does result in a corresponding increase in quality. I think she styled me as she might see her grandfather, if she had one.

She is new I think, and doesn’t know me, so we started our short time together with some small talk about Thanksgiving. My lack of desire for chit chat during an activity which brings no joy to me was apparent and we stopped at that.

I do continue to enjoy listening to the way they talk and phrase the beginning and end of topics. “Well it is October”, was a convenient excuse for talking about what they described as a dark topic. Todays topic was a comparison between getting tattoos and giving blood. Both use needles, but getting a needle at a hospital is seen as far scarier in part because of something leaving your body vs entering your body (ink), which is the case with getting a tattoo.

I wanted to ask them some questions about all the whiskey on display. Do people really want to drink whiskey while they are getting a haircut? Many places offer you something to drink upon arrival, which I think is polite. But the ones that do this best are the places that give you time to enjoy quality tea or coffee in an environment conductive to doing so. There is a barber in Quebec City that doubles as a café which looks worth a visit. Some places in Taiwan do this well, but most don’t which often resulted in hair floaties in my cup.

Todays barber was rather inspiring with her died hair color an exact match for the color pattern on her sneakers. Something I might try in the near future.


I’m seeing an increasing need locally for the same kind of design education I experienced and helped provide throughout my time in Taiwan and China. Not just theory and strategy, which I love, but artifacts creation – like wireframes and prototypes. Maybe there should be not just a learn to code movement here, but a learn to create and communicate your ideas movement of some sort as well.

Interactive Prototyping, Part 1
Wireframes and prototypes enable you to present your design concepts and show a Web site’s or application’s basic functionality to your stakeholders and clients


Race Prep.

I signed up for the PEI Marathon recently, leaving it to the last possible moment due to my uncertainty that I could actually finish the race. A part of me is glad when it will be over as following a 14+ week running regime tests my propensity for boredom.

The route itself takes you through some of the most beautiful parts of the Island which makes the somewhat gruelling experience worthwhile (You don’t realize how hilly Charlottetown is until hit the arterial road after running 30k).

My inactivity all winter hasn’t positioned me for an entirely pain free run. Last winter was the coldest I’ve experienced in over 20 years and looking back over my activity data for that period it would appear I did nothing more than walk to and from the car. This has made for a maddenly slow return to fitness with no time to improve upon what I had built before. Fitness, especially with the slow recovery times brought on by middle age, is an investment which must always be paid.

For this training cycle I tried some different approaches. I eased up on the milage considerably, giving my body more time to rest. I averaged about 56km per week, topping out at 70, which is considerably less than I attempted in the past. When you include the stretching, body weight workouts and CrossFit, I devoted about 15+ hours a week to training. Generally, I follow a regime that doesn’t take in consideration my age, and I would push myself with both milage and speed. Often resulting in an injury of some sort. So far, other than some recent tightness in my achilles, I have had no long lasting issues. This may in part be due to the fact that I started this training cycle not by running but by going to CrossFit.

If I had to describe Crossfit in a word, I would describe it as humbling. Working with athletes, and being the beginner, has that effect.

Standing on the sidelines watching people, somewhat in concert, throw around metal bars, falling on the floor in exhaustion, with all the resultant cacophony of sound, makes it look like some kind of industrial ballet. The whole routine seems a bit ridiculous to me at times but it has forced me to address some problems head on that I haven’t dealt with since elementary school. Rope climbing, olympic style lifting, and some of the other movements require not only the development of a strong core (it’s done amazing things for my hip strength and mobility), they also require the development of grip strength. I’ve long since accepted my hard limits, missing the digits on my left hand means there are some things I will never be able to do, but I don’t ever remember testing those limits until now. In my childhood my inability to do strict pull-ups and rope climbing was an embarrassment, now I see it as a challenge. Luckily the coaching and community at Court6 make meeting challenges easier.

My somewhat more gentle approach to this cycle is with an eye to the future. I take my time during CrossFit and never lift heavy. If finances will allow I hope to run the NorthFace Ultra in Thailand this coming winter and have in mind either the Capes 100 in the summer or one of the many in the American Midwest.


Quiet Please

This August past we were given the best of gifts as both of the neighbors, who for over a year caused me so much grief, moved out.

Their absence combined with beautiful weather, friends visiting from Taiwan, and the whole family together again made for a great month.

Stampy as I called him, and the young man who did nothing but scream at his tv all day and night, left suddenly without much fanfare, leaving the apartment above us to be occupied by people who have been largely invisible. The best kind of upstairs neighbors are those that don’t make their presence known.

The young person who would have loud parties in her bedroom was replaced by a delightful family who cook the most delicious smelling food. Certainly, they represent the best of apartment living.

It’s been so quiet that I was starting to believe that living in an apartment in Stratford wasn’t so bad at all. I even considered removing the earplugs that I started wearing last year.

But alas winter is coming.

Recently there has been a noticeable change in activity levels upstairs – with a new heavy foot and someone operating some kind of machine that vibrates the floors at all hours. As it turns out new residents have moved in with the tenants above bringing the number of adults to 5. There may also be a young child in the mix.

As far as problems caused by the housing shortage goes, this would be far far and away from those who are sleeping in their cars. We are warm and we have a place to sleep, for which we are thankful.


Number 2

I’m playing catch up this week, trying to understand each political party’s platform, as I head to the advance poll this Thursday or Friday. I think this is only the 2nd time I’ve had the opportunity to vote and Sheryl believes it may be her first, so there is a certain thrill to being able to exercise this privilege.

The kids have questions too, but I’ve only been able to talk about this election in the most vaguest of terms. During the provincial election I was much more engaged, meeting with representatives, going to speaking events and digging into their various platforms. I’ve been distracted for this election and unable to attend the speaking events – Sheryl often needs the car and it’s still very difficult to get from Stratford to anywhere without one.

The only representative who made the effort to reach out in our building was Wayne Phelan of the Conservatives. As is often the case on PEI we established that first I grew up here, and how we might be connected. I went to high school with his older brother Alan. We also have something in common in that we both spent time in Asia. When asked if I had any questions, I felt like asking his opinion on resume padding, but seeing as he seems like a far more amiable person than his national leader, I simply apologized as I hadn’t had time to think through the issues.

The Liberal party did leave a poster, and the Green Party a slew of pamplets, which doesn’t seem so green at all.

I have a “can you please just get out of my way” attitude towards government, which places me at odds with all the major parties worth considering in Canada. It’s been easy to avoid governance for over 20 years, but it’s not so easy now.

Watching the debate last night was much like listening to my kids when they are tired of each other, often times nasty and frequently incoherent, with Elizabeth May seemingly the only adult in the room. She comes across as authentic and honest, something rare in politics I think. But we don’t vote directly for her and I remain unconvinced with Michele Beatons father.

I have a couple days.


A talk on data analysis

A photo from last Thursday’s workshop “Introduction to Interview Data Analysis” which shows I still have bad posture.

After a brief recap of the previous weeks talk on customer interviews, this week focused on how to extract that data into affinity notes and create an affinity wall. Being able to analyze deliberate or serendipitous research is an essential part two.

Creating affinity walls are a great bottoms-up and data-driven methodology which captures explicit customer requests, and tacit and latent needs. And if design studios walls are any indication, it is one of the most popular artifacts created by design researchers. When you are not directly involved in creating the part of the end product that you can see or operate, having walls full of research artifacts becomes a means of proving activity.

I have my doubts anyone will use these methods in the short-term, but I appreciate the opportunity to start introducing these concepts, and their terms, into the minds of these business owners. I know they work, and are being used elsewhere to great success, so perhaps if people hear the terms and concepts enough they will start investigating on their own.


A talk on interviewing

I gave a talk yesterday entitled Introduction to Customer Interviews, as part of Start Up Zone’s nascent accelerator program. It was the culmination of an all too lengthy self study into qualitative research in general and later some review on interview methods.

The possibilities being so broad, it’s difficult to talk about conducting interviews in a short period of time without a great deal of focus. The same could be said for most generalized design workshops, particularly design thinking, which I have complained about in the past. I had been floundering on previous attempts when meeting with people who reached out for some help and appreciated this opportunity to write some thoughts down on paper.

I made a critical mistake. Who was actually going to be attending the talk wasn’t decided until the last minute, and like so many of the companies in the StartUp Zone there was a wide range of interests and capabilities. Not knowing who was in the audience, the talk I designed was suited for my idealized group, who thus far I have yet to meet. I always have the wrong assumption that everyone finds design and design research as interesting as I do. To compensate, I decided at the last minute to improvise, and after the opening 15 minutes that I hoped would give some context, I opened the floor to questions. This was moderately successful in giving them control over their learning, but not so successful in imparting the knowledge I think we all need before starting a research activity.

An interesting fact, a fact that still confounds me, is how few people talk to customers/users before embarking on the long road to building a product or business. I’m not sure where this seeming fear of human contact comes from. It not a question of right or wrong (what do I know) but something completely different from my most recent experience.

After all this study, I’m not sure what I will use this fresher perspective for – I still question why I continue to read and take such an interest in design research at all. I see no application for these skills locally, and I have little interest at present in becoming some kind of full time “product coach.” Some say knowledge without action is useless, but for now I am content to continue reading about research for fun.

Next week is a workshop on Affinity Diagrams/Affinity Walls/Thematic analysis.


This Friday’s Coffee Chat

I’m hosting this Friday’s coffee chat at the StartUp Zone. Though they don’t often attract the same level of attention as other events in Charlottetown, I have found these coffee chats to be some of the most informative sessions I’ve had the pleasure to attend. This is in part due to their informality; there is no agenda, no “I’m going to show you how to be an Instagram influencer”, or other marketing nonsense. It’s just people sharing their story, being open to questions, and the resultant conversations. The last one I attended was hosted by Kaaren May, who would later spend 90 minutes of her time giving me a personal tour of UPEI’s School of Sustainable Design Engineering.

Still under the influence of Crafting {:} a Life, I had gotten permission to lead a different kind of talk, I was going to demo how to roast your own coffee, and use that as the jumping off point for conversations. Unfortunately, with the recent arrival of all the roasted beans from Taiwan, I forgot to place an order. It’s likely for the best, as it can be a smokey process and not everyone in the office might appreciate the smell of coffee.

I’m not sure what we will talk about, like many others before me I’ll rely primarily on whatever questions people might have, but it doesn’t have to be limited to design or design research (aka work). I love talking about all kinds of other things; running, language learning, education, Taiwan and China, and etc..

The coffee is free and I encourage you to drop in and go as you please.

More info on the event can be found here.


It’s like Christmas

Sheryl has the best friends

This came last week.

A testament to the relationships that she was able to build in Taiwan and the quality of her teaching, a parent of one of her former students sent us a large box of our favourite thing. There is enough roast coffee here to get us through the crispness of fall.


Todays long run

Today felt like a dress rehearsal for just about any marathon I have run; very little sleep, upset stomach, out the door before sunrise, and pain and huge appetite after the run.

I took a similar route as last time but wanted to give the hills on Sherwood road and on University a try on tired legs. The last time I ran the PEI Marathon these pushed my left hamstring over the edge and I started to cramp, which caused a loss of about ten minutes in my final finish time. Today I had no such problem, but I was also running far slower. The protests from my body have progressed this year to the muscles around my hips, which have been getting a great work out from CrossFit and my running. Every year of running brings some malady – I’m hoping that this year, with the 15+ hours of training I do a week, may be different.

I’m still not convinced that I can complete a marathon in October within a respectable period of time. At the pace I am running now it’s mostly a mental game. As I don’t listen to music, I usually pick work related problems to solve while running. But work is far less challenging than in the past so I usually spend time writing blog posts or stories, which never see the light of day. I also do other visualization exercises (sometimes visualization a huge feast at the end of a run helps) to keep my mind off the fact that once I hit the 21k mark I start to feel real discomfort. When I start looking frequently at my watch I know that I am near the end of my patience, today that happened at around 25k. At that point though I still had ways to go and had little choice to continue.


Storms

One of the benefits of apartment living for us (I might say the only benefit) has been that when a storm of any magnitude comes the responsibility for cleanup and prep largely lies with someone else. That was the case this past weekend when Dorian hit and we, with the exception of a loss of power for four hours after dinner, escaped unscathed. Others were not so lucky, and the topic of sore backs, the love of hot showers, and the zombies lining up for hours for bad coffee was the topic of many recent conversations.

Being the Gentle Island whenever the wind picks up some level of devastation follows.

Incidentally, it was 3 years ago this month that I experienced another storm, a typhoon this time, right after I landed in Fuzhou.

We were pretty accustomed, as much as you can be, to the yearly onslaught of cat 1-5 typhoons that wreak havoc on Taiwan, China and the Philippines. Living in the Hsinchu Science Park meant that we were well protected, the power never went out, and flooding was at a minimum. But we still would be prepared with fresh water and food in case the need arose.

I was entirely unprepared when I first landed in China. For some reason the company’s HR department required my arrival just as everyone was about to go on a week long holiday. The logic behind this was never explained and it was one of the many mysteries of working there. Since there was no one to show me to my apartment on the new campus I was given temporary accommodations at one of the dorms in the city. And then after a meal of dumplings left alone for a week. Which is fine, I’m in China, on holiday, lots to see. Except, I couldn’t leave the city until all my papers were sorted, which would take longer because people were all on holiday.

I had about a day before the rain started and during that time I covered as much by foot as I could of the sprawling city of Fuzhou. I’m not sure why but for some reason when I went back to my room that night I brought water but no food. Perhaps, it was due to the typhoon being downgraded to a simple tropical storm, which in my mind meant business as usual.

Unfortunately, in the part of the city I was staying in, rain meant flooding, and flooding meant sewage everywhere. So when the storm struck I was stuck in my dorm room. The murky water wasn’t deep, only up to my knees, but any cut from the debris might bring along all kinds of maladies. So at the behest of the building security guard I stayed put.

On PEI Dorian brought out best in some Islanders, and in China as well there were moments of kindness. As the day went on people were checking in via WeChat, there were frequent offers from my new colleagues to come and fetch me, or have food delivered. There were still some restaurants open nearby with people willing to risk the possibility of infection, but I hadn’t yet started the long arduous process of setting up WeChat Wallet, so I had no way to pay. It was the security guard who came to my aid first. Noticing that as the day dragged on I still had nothing to eat he insisted I share his dinner. Which I did, and thanked him as best I could. His simple act of kindness made an otherwise dreary day all the brighter.

By the next day the water receded and the legions of workers came out to clean up the mess. A week later I was settled in my apartment on the new campus by the beach.


The Blue

Sept., 2018

Of all the benefits of living on Prince Edward Island certainly the clear blue skies, which I could stare at for hours, must rank near the top.

The summers when we would arrive from abroad would be a healthy respite, a noise and pollution detox. My mother used to say that the sea air cures all, and I can confirm that the effects of finally breathing air free of pollutants feels curative, like some kind of magic elixir. Others leaving Asia for extended periods report similar effects.

This morning was near perfection, with crisp cool air of the type that I seldom experienced during all the years I lived and traveled throughout Asia.


Homework is wrecking our kids

A child just beginning school deserves the chance to develop a love of learning. Instead, homework at a young age causes many kids to turn against school, future homework and academic learning. And it’s a long road. A child in kindergarten is facing 13 years of homework ahead of her.

Then there’s the damage to personal relationships. In thousands of homes across the country, families battle over homework nightly. Parents nag and cajole. Overtired children protest and cry. Instead of connecting and supporting each other at the end of the day, too many families find themselves locked in the “did you do your homework?” cycle.

When homework comes prematurely, it’s hard for children to cope with assignments independently—they need adult help to remember assignments and figure out how to do the work. Kids slide into the habit of relying on adults to help with homework or, in many cases, do their homework. Parents often assume the role of Homework Patrol Cop. Being chief nag is a nasty, unwanted job, but this role frequently lingers through the high school years. Besides the constant conflict, having a Homework Patrol Cop in the house undermines one of the purported purposes of homework: responsibility.

One of the reasons we wanted to leave Taiwan was the overbearing high pressure rote methods employed in the schools. But our experience was that this didn’t start until junior high – generally elementary school in Taiwan, especially the private school our kids went to, was great. In many ways a superior experience to what they might have had elsewhere. Homework and studying starts in earnest in 7th grade, and is especially heavy from grade 9 onwards.

It was just today I read on Facebook a friend in Taipei complaining that his daughter started school at 6:30am and didn’t get home until 9pm when she still had homework. Our daughter started at 6. I don’t think my son, outside of a few assignments had any homework at all last year. Which I don’t consider an entirely good thing as I believe there is a time and place for individual learning, but there is no denying both kids are far more relaxed. The only pressure they received last year was from me.

Homework is wrecking our kids: The research is clear, let’s ban elementary homework


My Haircut

Kudos to The Humble Barber for yesterday’s haircut experience.

At about 2:40pm I suddenly realized the time, and that I had an appointment for a haircut at 3. I was in the car 5 minutes later and with the help of the Hillsborough Bridge Raceway managed to walk in their door on Kent St. at 3 on the nose. By the looks of the staff standing around in a circle, they expected me to be a no show.

In years past I would take advantage of my time getting a haircut to practice various Chinese language phrases or listen to the banter of the other customers in the shop; it was a great way to gain some insight into what is important to people outside of my usual social circle, or to find out where the latest and greatest restaurant is. But generally I find getting a haircut a chore, and prefer to go and be finished in as short a time as possible. With the exception of language practice, I seldom have the inclination to talk. Some barbers here on the other Island try to engage in conversation, younger ones especially, who use unique difficult to understand language full of adjectives. After a few concise replies, they often give up, figuring I am unfriendly. The ordeal often leaves us both uncomfortable.

It would seem though, that I have found my haircut nirvana. During the whole time I was in the chair at The Humble Barber yesterday, the barber didn’t once attempt to engage me in idle banter (in a previous visit another barber admitted that she didn’t like people). Also, she didn’t discuss hair styling – in Taiwan this always frustrated me, as barbers would always give themselves lofty titles such as “artist” and yet would rely on me to tell them the best look for my big head. What am I paying all this money for if I am doing all the “art?” Lastly, she positioned my chair so that I didn’t have to continuously look at myself in the mirror, another pet peeve, and instead could look out at all the curious characters on Kent St. In the end she performed the big reveal by turning my chair around to explain my new do.

All in all it took less than 15 minutes and I was out the door on Kent at 3:15 dodging the smokers crowded outside of the Tim Hortons.


When technology design provokes errors

Did you ever forget your chip & pin card in a card reader? Leave the original on a photocopier? Send an email to the wrong person from your address book? The way technology is designed can make errors more or less likely. Most everyday examples are just annoying; if a pilot or a nurse makes similar errors in the course of their work, the consequences can be much more serious. This talk discusses some of the causes of these errors and how the design of technology can provoke or mitigate them.

I’ve been quickly reading some of Professor Blandford’s work in preparation for my talk on thematic analysis and affinity diagrams on October 3rd. The above video was a bit of a diversion from that; diversions often occur when preparing most talks on what I consider somewhat dry topics.


Don’t ride here

When we lived in Hsinchu it was common knowledge that whenever a driver of any kind of a large vehicle hit you it was best for them to make sure you were dead, because the costs related to your death were less than your continued care while in and out of the hospital. So it was said that if you get hit watch out as truck drivers might back up for another pass to finish the job. How true that actually was I don’t know but I do know that the cost of hitting anyone with your scooter, bicycle, or car could cripple you financially. This despite Taiwan having a health care system equal to, or superior to, what we enjoy here.

With that in mind I still road my bike for a number of years, and when Camren was really young, with him in a trailer behind me. This we would do in the back narrow roads that lead from our house in the hills, to his kindergarten, all the while sharing the road with huge cement trucks that would regularly come within an inch or two of my bike. The same could be said of running, which was at times in a pretty hostile environment, as you dodge vehicles that would speed close enough so you could rap on the window to break the drivers from their stress induced myopia.

That said I think it mostly worked, at least for me as I’m still here, and able to utilize my legs. Part of this was due to a combination of looking out for yourself, the realization that there are kinds of things (people, dogs don’t fare well, cars, scooters, bicycles) sharing the roads, and the confidence and skill to be able to negotiate small distances when driving.

These factors don’t seem to exist here in Charlottetown – particularly in the heavily trafficked Hillsborough bridge and connecting streets. Every time I ride or run across the bridge I am convinced that drivers of vehicles large and small have no idea I exist on the road. It’s especially disconcerting when you see a large gravel truck slowly veering over the white line on the road as it speeds towards you.

This isn’t necessarily the case everywhere. When running on rural roads many drivers give me an extraordinarily wide berth. In Cornwall people used to slow down and ask me if I wanted to talk a break and get a drive home. In other cases people toot their horns and wave as they go by.

There is something about that Stratford to Charlottetown connection that brings out the less than friendly part of people.


Sunday’s route

In a place as small as Charlottetown it’s hard to find routes that stay within the town limits. Running for me is as much a mental challenge as it is physical; learning to ignore the pain while trying to enter into some kind of zen like state. It works for a while but then I get bored and need the kind of visual stimulus that running through an urban setting provides. Running in parts of Hsinchu was a bit like being hunted by people in machines and maimed by all manner of traps on the road. This required a level of mental alertness which is thankfully not usually necessary here

I’ve discovered much of the various neighbourhoods of Charlottetown on my feet. This is the second time I’ve run this route and my favourite part is not urban at all. The Robertson Road Trail goes through a beautiful piece of nature which looks much like how the world may look when all the humans have left. I think we will return this evening for a more leisurely walk around the area.