What I am up to now

Following in the foot steps of Peter, and others, I’ve created a what I am up to now page which is linked to on the right (if you are on a PC) or on the about page.

I think Peter described it as “Think of what you’d tell a friend you hadn’t seen in a year”, but for me if that was the case I would limit it to a few sentences. So in addition, I think of it as an experiment to both keep myself honest by publicly declaring what I plan to do month by month, at least in a general big picture sense, and inspired by Hello Code’s business stats, being far more open about the activities I choose to do. Being open, or sharing what I do is something I’ve always had problems with – it reached a point that at one time my wife couldn’t even describe what I did all day (to be honest I had a hard time describing it too). Hopefully this page will over time help with this.


Office Ergonomics in 2019

Carrie Jones has written a well thought out article on her hopes for a shift from reactive to proactive ergonomic strategies in the workspace.

How many who work in an office environment, receive training on the hazards of prolonged sitting or on the optimal placement of the monitor when they start at a new job? How many are shown the features of the chair they were provided with and how to adjust it and why? My guess is not many. If any. More typically, one has to wait until they are experiencing symptoms (i.e. until after they’re injured) and even then it can be somewhat like pulling teeth. Some companies will require that an employee provide a ‘doctor’s note’ before they can obtain an ergonomic consult. Do companies require a doctor’s note in order to be fit for their fall arrest equipment or be trained on how to safely use a forklift?

I think we all experience the side effects from poorly thought out workspaces – in the spirit of fairness and efficiency we are all stuck with the same height desks, cheep chairs, and etc. Outside of smaller start-ups, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a company give much thought to office ergonomics. This is something we all should focus more of our attention on, especially more aged workers such as myself, who require more time to heal from long or short term stresses to the body.

Looking forward to Office Ergonomics in 2019


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.


Blind Faith

I thought I had my backup strategy all figured out. I have time machine backups, a NAS for archiving and remote access, a back-up of the NAS, a back-up drive in a safety deposit box, iCloud, Dropbox for collaboration, and I have been using Google drive for my active projects folder. Some redundancy, and though it may seem complex, it isn’t, and it should just work. Except it doesn’t.

I’ve been working on a podcast, and wanting to hear the final file on my iPhone before uploading for distribution, I looked for the file on Google Drive for iPhone. It wasn’t there. Neither was the file folder, or any new folders and files added since this past April. The same with the GD web interface.

The Google drive icon is spinning, and every time I check, it says it is syncing, except it isn’t. All the right boxes are checked and I looked for the usual silly errors that I might have made. Nothing.

I’m sure after digging deeper the problem will resolve itself but I think it wise in the future to not believe that software services should just work as advertised. Because if they don’t, and the rare failure occurs, the results would be disappointing to say the least. From here on out, I’ll be setting a reminder to check data versions between local and remote files – or perhaps set an automator action to do it for me.

Interestingly, in my regular review of where my “cloud service” dollars go, I gave Google Drive a pass, accepting the status quo. I think I’ll revisit that decision and perhaps GD will join Flickr and Evernote in the no longer useful column.


My Current Problem

While money is nice, caring about what you do with your life is better, because true wealth is about experience.

Naturally life is full of problems; how to convince your kids that money doesn’t grow on trees, how to convince your teenage daughter that yes I know some things about life and people, how to tell a young boy to do something once instead of ten times, how to make money, and perhaps the biggest of all – how to stop needing to sleep.

These are all real problems, but the one I have been thinking about recently, as I bob my way through Charlottetown bumping into people I used to know, and sort of making new acquaintances, is how to distill a lifetime of activity into a conversation, a sentence, a document or a resume (my CV makes me cry every time I look at it). And should I even care.

During a Pitch Camp workshop I attended, Robert (Bob) Williamson in a sideline conversation, provided me with some valuable advice in how to answer the simple, and somewhat annoying question, that I was failing to answer time and time again, “what are you doing here?” His advice wasn’t something new, but served as a reminder to keep responses to one complete sentence and then pause, allowing those truly interested to ask further questions.

But this doesn’t help with the broader problem.

My wife has a similar difficulties, but she’s pretty much had a singular focus all her life – different roles maybe – but easier to relate to. In short: She has taught kids from all over the world in a foreign country, worked with and managed Taiwanese and international colleagues, raised her family in Taiwan, and travelled the world. Pretty awesome.

Some people would say that I don’t care what you have done in the past, only what you can do now. Or 10 years ago is irrelevant, what did you do this past year? I don’t agree, experience has value, it matters.

Relating experience is tricky. My family (had) recognizes outcomes like a new car, a house, shiny useless objects and job titles with understandable nomenclature. A big house means you are either somehow managing a crushing debt load, or you “have made it.” Taking 6 years to be able to negotiate a contract in Chinese doesn’t compute.

My years playing trumpet have had a profound effect on me. Studying Chinese and subsequently using that ability to secure and hold employment changed me immensely. The struggle of living away from home without any support, government or family, shaped my (our) character.

Linear career paths in traditional corporate structures are easier to understand. You start as an intern, maybe get a masters, then your first job at the junior level, followed by no junior title, and then they add senior. If you like telling people what to do you get to manage ever larger amounts of people, then maybe dictate strategy, and by the time you have forgotten how to do the job as well as those with a junior title, you get a “director of,” added to your name.

I deliberately do not have such a complete experience.

My life and professional experience has been a windy road full of challenges, wonderful people and interesting work. As a jack of all trades, and just generally lucky, I’ve been exposed to projects, people, and responsibilities far above my station.

How can you possibly relate 30 years of experience in a LinkedIn profile with the route I have taken?

You can’t. Experts will tell you to contextualize, to build a personal brand, have an online profile, engage on social media, and blah blah blah. I’m not so interested in their advice anymore, I’ve tried those things, and I’ve never really been comfortable taking a loud approach.

In Taiwan it was easier. No one really cared, as it often just seemed about status, so I would share in Chinese that I worked at such and such a company, graduated from such and such a university, and where I lived for the past x number of years and I was done.

So why care at all? There are only so many things we can give a f**k about and devoting any cognitive time to this may be stupid. For years I didn’t bother, no one knew what I was doing and where I had been. Few care to hear about your 15th trip to Thailand anyway. But my kids do and finding a way to share what there mother and father have done with there lives seems like a worthwhile effort. Of course, since I am poor, and need to work, there is that whole are you any use to me thing.

And so it goes.


Social revisited

I wrote back in February about how I am increasingly aware of the clicking of father time and how I don’t have the time to waste today, as I felt I had in my late teens and early twenties. Ideally I should spend my time on activities that have value for me, and reject all the other “things” we get caught up in in an effort to look busy or fill in time..

Specifically, now as then, I questioned exactly what value I get from spending time on any kind of social media. I think the answer is generally none. Its like carbs vs. protein, or filler for my day, or sometimes with the extreme politics of today, its bad for my blood pressure.

With the exception of this blog, which serves as a quick exercise in writing semi-complete sentences, I’ve thought of giving up all my social accounts completely. But lately after attending event after event touting the importance of having a “social media strategy”, or a “digital marketing initiative” for your business, I’m going to try broadcasting more (PEI seems to have a dis-proportionately large number of marketing professionals, it’s like Hsinchu and the number of engineers/researchers). I’m an introvert, seemingly anti-social, so conversations with strangers online, like in real life are infrequent, but I might be able to handle sharing more of the banality of my professional interests. This should make for some interesting ads on Facebook at the very least.

Against the advice of the marketing folks I have recently met, I’m going to see how it goes for a shortish period of time (they suggest much longer), say a month or so, and see if it doesn’t work out to be a waste of time.


Looking for a desk

I spent the better part of a week going store to store in Charlottetown looking for a hard surface I could work on. My needs are simple, a flat surface, preferably wood, that is of a certain modest size and cheap. The cheap part is a bit tough here. For years I have bought kitchen tables from IKEA for this very purpose – often I would leave them unfinished but have also taken to staining them to help cover the change in color brought on by age and the effects of humidity. I wasn’t able to find much of an equivalent here, with most furniture stores opting for larger more showcase like units. My desk is going to be hidden away in a room, unseen by anyone but me. Staples had an inexpensive stand-up desk, but I imagined one frustrated fist on the desk would bring the whole surface crashing down. Eventually I realized that IKEA does indeed ship to PEI and for a price cheaper than local furniture stores.

Finding a figurative desk has thus far been easier. For the years that I freelanced while in Taiwan I often found the experience extremely … lonely. First when we were in Hsinchu’s equivalent of the suburbs, I would never come into human contact for weeks on end. When we moved to the Science Park, there were world class coffee shops aplenty but they were noisy or not conductive to longish sprints of work. Most of what I was missing was the “water cooler” talk and the opportunity to learn from people smarter than myself, collaborate, or ask for help. Hsinchu is full of big brains, but they work 12+ hours a day and there was little in the way of support for independents or small entrepreneurs. Taipei was the centre for that. So in Charlottetown I find myself in coffee shops, and at least for now occupying a hot desk at the Startup Zone. I find it a tad expensive but at least I get to see people walking by the windows and hopefully later absorb the work ethos of a bunch of young people working on their new companies (the office is generally empty these days). Despite being an introvert, I do find surrounding myself with people healthy for work. Just don’t ask me to “work the room”.

Later as I get my sea legs I might rent a more purpose built space, maybe joining the underground society, but I think the combination of working from home and getting out a couple days a week might work for now.


In user experience design (UX) research, we think a lot about mental models — how a user believes a process works vs. the system model of how it was actually designed; and framing — the context in which an interaction is interpreted. In essence, your satisfaction within an experience can depend a lot on your initial expectations.

For new employees, the expectation we need to set is that while the initial learning curve is steep, the on-boarding process actually never ends nor does it move in a predictably straight line.
The UX explanation for why you hate your new job after three months

Companies should approach new hires with the same vigorous approach they have, or wish to have, with product development. People aren’t software but understanding each new hire, and their needs and expectations, to the extent that you know the users of you product would go along way to producing happy talent. And happy talent has a whole slew of side benefits. Unfortunately, to my knowledge this is seldom done in Taiwanese or Chinese companies.


Interruption is Not Collaboration

Hey, are you busy? Can you listen to this real quick? It’s an episode about interruptions in the workplace. You’ll hear from academic researchers, Basecamp’s head data wrangler, and the CEO of a remote company about how they’ve tackled not just the disruptions themselves, but also the workplace culture that allows those intrusions to flourish.


It’s not a failure until you stop trying.
[…]
I don’t think you can achieve anything remarkable without some risk. Risk is actually a rather tricky word because humans aren’t wired to tolerate it very much. The reptilian part of our brains wants to keep us safe. Anytime you try something that doesn’t have any certainty associated with it, you’re risking something, but what other way is there to live.
An interview with Debbie Millman.


Cannot connect to world

Common minecraft error message

This was pretty much a central theme during my time working in China. When you are conditioned to always be connected to the hive mind suddenly losing access made for some adjustment. Ready access to information is central to experience design work today.


Modern laziness
The original kind of lazy avoids hard physical work. Too lazy to dig a ditch, organize a warehouse or clean the garage.

Modern lazy avoids emotional labor. This is the laziness of not raising your hand to ask the key question, not caring about those in need or not digging in to ship something that might not work. Lazy is having an argument instead of a thoughtful conversation. Lazy is waiting until the last minute. And lazy is avoiding what we fear.

Lazy feels okay in the short run, but eats at us over time.

Laziness is often an option, and it’s worth labelling it for what it is.
Seth’s Blog


– Dan Shapiro

… courage was more important than confidence. When you are operating out of courage, you are saying that no matter how you feel about yourself or your opportunities or the outcome, you are going to take a risk and take a step toward what you want. You are not waiting for the confidence to mysteriously arrive.
An interview with Debbie Millman in Tim Ferriss’s book, Tribe of Mentors: Short Life Advice from the Best in the World


    Were all pros already.

  1. We show up every day
  2. We show up no matter what
  3. We stay on the job all day
  4. We are committed over the long haul
  5. The stakes for us are high and real
  6. We accept remuneration for our labor
  7. We do not overidentify with our jobs
  8. We master the technique of our jobs
  9. We have a sense of humor about our jobs
  10. We receive praise or blame in the real world
  11. Steven Pressfield

From the book The War of Art.


What I have been up to

Waiting for my order at Starbucks in Fuzhou. It was hard to find good coffee there and I would have to rely on Starbucks for a Latte fix. Unfortunately the milk they use would often cause problems.

I have been back in Hsinchu since July, staying under the radar, as I often do, but have been asked on a number of occasions what I have been doing to keep myself busy. As is also often the case my responses have gone off in all kinds of directions – my conversations are still often like hypertext and it takes effort to focus.

Though it was only official in September, I left NetDragon at the end of June, immediately packed my bags, and got out of Fujian as fast as Cathay would take me. Which as it turned out wasn’t that fast, as I had a layover in Hong Kong. I had been thinking about writing about the experience but I have decided that there is little point in sharing much of the details. If we think of companies as products, like Apple reportedly does, NetDragon ticked all the boxes, the feature list was long, but like so many tech. products the actual experience was poor. Poor to the point that I wasn’t going to achieve what I set out to do. There are some good people there and I worked on some interesting things, but over the long term it just wasn’t worth being away from my family. As I get older I have less patience for wasting my time, our greatest commodity.

Now, I am taking a risk by spending time on pursuing something different. I would like to say that it’s all puppies and pizza but it isn’t. It’s hard, frustrating, and very often boring. Through a combination of books, online courseware, and tutorials I have been spending my days learning programming with Swift. I’ve taken programming classes in the past, worked on apps. in Xcode, and did a lot web development, but with the exception of mark-up languages I was at best a hack. A cut’n’paster. So I am giving myself 4 – 6 months to see how far I can advance with my studies. To be honest I am not making great progress, boring tasks plant the seeds of procrastination, but I’m not ready to quit yet.

Lastly, I started with Sheryl a new company. It’s called Smart Bean, and I see it is as a new kind of family business, with everyone involved in it’s success. It’s akin to stalls at the farmers market, a breakfast shop in Hsinchu, or what younger, more hip people than myself, call a side hustle. When I was a musician we called it surviving. Though it’s my main focus in the months to come we don’t have grand ambitions like so many start-ups you read about in tech blogs. We just want to work hard at something that’s fun to do and hopefully be rewarded with experience and enough business success to smooth out the rough spots as we transition away from Taiwan. Our company has an educational product focus with Apple’s iOS being our platform of choice, for now. The iOS app business feels like the “Pro Blog” trend of past and we are going in realizing that it’s very difficult for a small independent developer to make money. I think it’s fun to be working on the whole product development stack, not just writing reports or managing the work of others.

Other than that, it’s great to see my kids everyday again. I spent the better part of a year in China and Canada, and visits were sparse. I’ve had to lay off running for a while but I’ve been training and hope to be running again ASAP. Now that the heat has gone, Hsinchu is a pretty decent place to be right now.


If you can’t explain it to a 5 year old …

One of the consistent problems I have faced both as a result of a highly irregular career path (I don’t even like the word career), and my own extremely broad interests, is that answering the inevitable “what do you do?” question inevitably leads to a stuttered response on my part.

This problem in no small part has been a result of living in Taiwan for 18 years, where design specialization is a difficult path to take.

My responses have been purposely vague and often include the titles designer, design manager or engineer. Inquisitive people, like my son, often want more detail and that’s where I usually start to fail. How to explain my work, experience, and/or my interests to non-practioners, which is to say just about everyone.

Last December I attempted to do just that, as I was required to do so as part of 3+ month evaluation presentation. I wrote the following:

For over 20 years I have worked with organisations to help them build applications, websites, music, and other digital products that work for real people.

I’m a maker, love my craft, and enjoy working with others to realise a products vision. I have experience, and am comfortable, working in a variety of roles.

我有著20年的經驗幫助各類組織製作應用、網頁、音樂 、提升使用者體驗、以及開發其他幫助人們實現其 目標的數碼產品。

我是一個製造者,我愛我的手藝,並樂於同其他人一 同努力實現產品目標。 我有著豐富經驗,能夠適應在 工作中扮演不同的角色。

I don’t like it but it served it’s purpose at the time, particularly the Chinese version.

The problem with these couple of paragraphs is that they don’t actually explain anything. And the term maker in English has all kinds of connotations that I don’t want.

So this is a problem I hope to solve over the next couple weeks as I make some time for a healthy does of introspection and define some further focus for the next few months.


A quick departure

NetDagon’s very impressive ChangLe campus attracts allot of new recruits and tour groups. Really well done and the whole campus is incredibly well maintained. Missing from the picture is the new executive “borg like” apartments on the right. While it deserves all the attention it receives, it becomes obvious over time that the campus and office buildings were designed more for the “wow”, than for the needs of employees.

Some decisions are difficult. While I am really excited to be returning to Taiwan for these next few months and have a direct impact on a new company’s product, I can’t help but feel a tiny bit of disappointment that I am leaving China early without accomplishing all I had set out to do (it was a big list). I’m a bit of an outlier, an odd duck, for a lot of good reasons, but instead of wasting time trying to fit a square peg into a round hole, I thought it best to part ways, quickly, and on friendly terms.

I hope to write more about my experience in the coming weeks


Inside look at NetDragon

I always find it interesting to have a voyeuristic look into the work environments of others. While I wish these photos were as beautiful as many I see of design studios around the world but I hadn’t given any forethought to this series. My other photos of the of the ChangLe campus largely feature the buildings exterior and environment.

Most of the team at a dinner activity.

Cramped quarters in the Fuzhou office – less room for thinking and collaborating, more focused on production.

Afternoon meeting

Merry Go Round near the industrial design teams workspace.

Lots of space creates possibilities for thinking and co-working.

If I have the opportunity I’ll come back and update this with new photos.


Less Adjectives More Verbs

In other words, less talking more doing.

Taken from the blog of the same name, this should be my mantra for the rest of the year.


“The work you do while you procrastinate is probably the work you should be doing for the rest of your life.”
— Jessica Hische


Creativity isn’t linear

I die sitting at a desk all the time, and despite most of my favorite ideas coming at times I’m not even at work, I must sit there for at least 8 hours a day. Many don’t truly understand the following, and prefer a factory model of employee productivity and value.

… let’s remember that research shows human productivity does not follow a linear continuum with time. Specifically, according to Pareto’s principle, people produce 80 percent of what really matters in approximately 20 percent of the time they spend at work. So when I hear clients complain about summer hours, coffee breaks, or employees’ short days, I always remind them of the result of the study. Timesheets for employees are a relic of the past. They made sense in the industrial era when the scientific management of labor was implemented to organize work in assembly lines. But in today’s global economy more and more companies rely on their employees’ creativity for their success. Because creativity does not follow a linear relationship with time, time management for creative employees shouldn’t either. For instance, great advertising copy can take weeks or even months to be worked and reworked to final edit, whereas, conversely, a brilliant slogan may come to mind in just a few seconds. Time spent on copywriting is not a guarantee of success. So when Google provides employees with space and resources for a break, relaxation, or a massage they actually are managing the 80/20 rule of human productivity very well. They know that at some point in the day it inevitably becomes useless to require employees to sit at their desk. From this article which is excerpted from Francis Cholle’s The Intuitive Compass, Jossey-Bass