Lost semester

Schools are closed across the country. We are told by education experts and the media that the pandemic has created an educational catastrophe, that millions of children’s learning will be severely stunted, that we may have created a lost generation. Various groups are calculating the months of lost learning, which, we’re told, will be far worse than the “summer slide.” It might be up to year in mathematics! Some suggest making up those losses through compulsory summer school. Others absurdly recommend holding all students back a year — or perhaps the requisite number of months?
Via WP

There have been many positives as a result of our experience StayingHome during this pandemic. We seldom drive, we eat great and spend a great deal of time together as a family.

Our greatest concern now that we know the path forward is how our daughter Catriona is going to manage to get into an off Island university after next year with practically a whole semester of key courses essentially incomplete (Charlottetown Rural for some unknown reason scheduled all these courses this semester). She’ll pass, as will everyone, but considering how weak the math curriculum is already, how will she be able to compete with kids from elsewhere? There won’t be summer school or remedial classes, nor will the intensity in instruction be increased, so either topics of instruction will be dropped or simply less time spent on them.

True distance learning is pretty much a no go here. The network infrastructure just does not exist, and I would go as far as to say that even within the areas with Fibre it’s still inadequate. On every call I have been on there are always people who cannot adequately participate due to network issues.

Camren will be fine. He has the benefit of time and the math curriculum that he is being presented with in grade 8, he covered in elementary school.

Luckily they both have great teachers, particularly those at Birchwood who admire greatly, more so since spending all this time with Camren, trying to persuade him to learn. The patience they have must be monumental.

And we really have no answers to this problem other than to hire tutors to help prepare her for the curriculum that she will face in university and which she may not get adequate class time covering.

In perspective, in the grand scheme of life, one semester off from school is not a big deal. They both may even look back on this time fondly. But while our kids stay home reviewing material, other kids elsewhere are pushing ahead, which I think considering the amount of wealth in this country, is a shame, and further illustrates a digital divide between those who have critical infrastructure and skills, and those who do not.

50 Million Kids Can’t Attend School. What Happens to Them?
School closure and management practices during coronavirus outbreaks including COVID-19: a rapid systematic review
Taiwan’s coronavirus protocol might be seen as ‘extreme’ to Canadians, but it works


Send help

One of the unfortunate aspects of having everyone in the house for long periods of time is that we then need to share in each others taste in music. Camren has been listening to these 2 songs incessantly for the past week; music he discovered from his other obsession Brooklyn Nine Nine, a TV show I really don’t understand. Luckily Catriona keeps her love of KPOP largely to herself, though lately she has been sending me playlists of what might be considered MANDOPOP.


Best Podcasts for Sleep

Tuck, who bill themselves as the most comprehensive source in sleep, recently published their annual list of the Best Podcasts for Sleep. We are happy to be a part of their list.

I think I used Tuck to help come to a decision on what mattress I should buy (perhaps one of the most complex purchase decisions possible) when I first arrived here in Stratford. A decision I have since come to regret, though that had nothing to do with the information they provided.

Sleep Tight Stories was selected for Best Bedtime Stories, while Sleep Tight Relax for Best Podcast for Relaxing Sounds.

It’s a small win, but we take our victories where we can.


Baby Face

I don’t remember exactly when this photograph was taken but I would guess it was more than a few years ago.

The act of playing a brass instrument is amazingly simple*, you simply breathe and create, or wind and song to quote Arnold Jacobs. But this simplicity in action and thought, hides a life time of struggle, study, and practice. Once you get to that point it’s meditative; nothing brought me focus like my morning warmup (running comes pretty close).

*A simplicity I miss greatly as I struggle to understand Facebook’s befuddling page management UI. How is it possible to make something so complex when you have legions of talented well compensated people working for you? Complexity by design is the only answer I can think of.


What I was wearing today

It must be a couple months now, or maybe more, when I was noticing that during some activities at CrossFit my heart rate would spike and sometimes stay above the 200 bpm mark. It was a rare but regular occurrence. 185 bpm was quite common. When I am running regularly my resting heart rate is about 42, which makes getting up quickly a dizzying activity.

On top of that I’ve been suffering from the occasional irregular heartbeat. I at first experienced this on a couple long runs in Taiwan, which when you are out running 15 kilometres from home can be concerning, especially as I never run with a phone or much of anything anymore. I figured at the time it was just another symptom of poor electrolyte balance, something that I struggled with in Taiwan, to the point of almost passing out during one night time race.

Here on the other Island I’ve experienced an irregular heartbeat on a couple of occasions, both when doing burpees after some other extreme exercise. Both times I had to take a knee as the world started to close in around me. Trying to keep up with athletes in their 20’s during CrossFit has taught me just how far my heart and lungs are willing to take me.

Common sense says that someone my age should seek medical advice, especially before starting a more rigorous training plan. Before we entered this lock down, I was planning on continuing CrossFit while I trained for an ultra. Now most of my heart rate increases are a result of the 8 cups of coffee I now drink a day.

But before the world came to a rest, I did manage to see a doctor at the walk in clinic, where he ordered a number of different tests (He didn’t seem as concerned as other people). The last of which is what looks to me as very old tech., a heart rate monitor (Holter monitor) that I must wear for 24hrs. The timing of the test isn’t great, but perhaps the doctor will get some useful data.


Low Status

It feels like blogging is still frozen in amber today because we haven’t yet figured out how to attach status to it. People have been blogging for decades, but the most successful bloggers still look surprisingly old-school, with entire micro-communities that thrive solely in their comments and adjacent forums. Although there are an endless number of blogging platforms, they’ve all struggled to create value beyond utility. They provide technical infrastructure for writing and publishing, but not social infrastructure. Eventually, these platforms churn out, with a new prom king crowned every couple of years (Xanga, LiveJournal, WordPress, Blogger, Tumblr, Medium…).

No platform seems to have figured out how to make blogging a legibly high-status activity. I refuse to believe that this is just because bloggers are too cool for platforms, because the same argument could’ve been made for online forums and gaming, and yet we have Twitter and Twitch.
Internet friends


Website Using Camera And Microphone

I’ve had my head down and haven’t been generally aware of what is running on my Mac. I also treat some browser tabs as a todo list of sorts – I have a course open to help me navigate the quagmire of the Ximalaya podcasting platform, design patterns to practice, and a course on Design Thinking that IDEO made free for April all ready to start. I guess I fear if I close these tabs, or quit my browser, I’ll forever forget about these tasks and move on to something else.

With the increased usage of Google Meet and Zoom for meetings, comes a personal responsibility to safeguard my privacy; on principle, as I do nothing involving others proprietary info. these days, and certainly nothing nefarious. Google and Zoom (and Facebook of course) all represent the “dark side” of consumer privacy, and as the icon in the picture may illustrate, they don’t always want to relinquish their hold.

So once I get started on going through those tabs, I’ll restart my PowerBook MacBook and hope the at first glance disturbing icon disappears.


More masks

After searching my photos for and not finding any evidence of the strangeness that was living through the SARS outbreak, I’ve been looking for other photos of members of our family wearing masks. My #covidbrain finds this strangely interesting, either that or I am suffering from general tiredness brought on by neighbours who have taken the opportunity during this crisis to socialize more, and into the wee hours of the AM (I’d take the opportunity in response to start practicing fanfares again on my trumpet in the AM, but there are other more “turned in” people nearby).

This one was taken in January of last year when there was yet another viral outbreak making its’ way through the schools.


Digital water cooler

One of the most powerful nudges Humu has found during this crisis is a reminder for people to set up what we call virtual watercoolers.

“Set up a meeting, and have it run on Zoom or Google Hangouts on whatever platform you want, forever. … Set up a three- month long meeting. So anyone can just pop in when they need support. That reinforces affinity and kind of replicates that randomness and serendipity you have where people bump into one another,” Bock said.
What we’ve learned about how remote work is changing us

This is an interesting idea. One of the things I miss, not just since self-isolation but since returning to PEI, is the lack of idle chit chat around design or the work we are doing.

There are a lot of traditional graphic designers, fine arts folks, and a handful of talented people in UX, but there is very little in the way of afterwork mixing going on, or much taking at all really. Likely people get enough of that in their workplace, and treat 5pm as a time to leave that behind. There was a meetup of sorts, but it was generally poorly attended and as far as I can see has been put on hiatus.

There are many avenues online to have serious discussions about design or design research et al., but that’s not really the same, and to be honest not as interesting to me as it was before.

What I did try last week, was starting a Facebook Live session. I thought since my goal was to continue to ignore Twitter and read something of interest I could in a short video share what I was reading. This would have the added effect of some accountability and perhaps most importantly, help me confront my hatred of seeing myself talk on video.

So I started the session early in the morning while I was drinking coffee, picked Interaction Design Lessons from Science Fiction By Nathan Shedroff as my first read, and pressed Start Live Video. All of a sudden I had I think 700 people watching my live stream, a number of who peppered me with questions like, “Where are you from?”, “What are you doing?”, and etc.

Not exactly what I was expecting.

The beauty of having an audience of a few (like this blog) is you can do whatever you want. All of sudden during that live-streams I realized that someone might actually watch it and that might require some preparation, which gives it a sense of seriousness I was not really counting on.

I may try it again, by embracing the banality of it (fitting extension of this blog) or by trying something else. But like a casual talk, I hope I don’t have to prepare.


Mask

My son this month in 2014. I don’t remember what virus was making the rounds then, it seemed non-stop after SARS, but it was suggested that it might have been H5N1.


The key to improving my mental health

It’s very simple. Stop reading Twitter.

I’m not a believer in most self-help methods, and find the recent near constant refrain of “be kind to yourself” rather nauseating. My personal approach is likely closer to Jocko Willink than Tamara Levitt; I am a strong advocate for breathing exercises, visualization and sound as a means to deal with difficult emotions, particularly before sleep, and for me, before public speaking.

But nothing in reason memory has affected my mood in these past few months so effectively then simply to stop reading the garbage that appears on Twitter. Ignoring the noise, and instead focusing on something of value, during my morning coffee has improved my days immensely.


There’s just a tremendous amount of craftsmanship in between a great idea and a great product. And as you evolve that great idea, it changes and grows. It never comes out like it starts because you learn a lot more as you get into the subtleties of it. And you also find there are tremendous tradeoffs that you have to make.
Steve Jobs quoted by Philip Elmer-DeWitt, The parable of the stones


Mr. Itchy Face

I’ve noted that lately without fail whenever I make a trip to Sobeys or NoFrills my face starts to immediately get itchy leading me to want to rub or scratch my face. Though I don’t knowingly feel stress, apparently we touch our faces as a way to relieve stress and manage our emotions.

Only humans and a few primates (gorillas, orangutans and chimpanzees) are known to touch their faces with little or no awareness of the habit. (Most animals touch their faces only to groom or swat away a pest.) German researchers analyzed the brain’s electrical activity before and after spontaneous face touching, and their findings suggested that we touch our faces as a way to relieve stress and manage our emotions.

To break the face-touching habit, try using a tissue if you need to scratch your nose or rub your eyes. Wearing makeup may reduce face touching, since it may make you more mindful of not smudging it. One study found that women touched their faces far less when they wore makeup. Another solution: Try to identify triggers for face touching, like dry skin or itchy eyes, and use moisturizers or eye drops to treat those conditions so you are less likely to rub or scratch your face.

I end up constantly rubbing my face with my sleeve.

Via Nytimes


Finally sorted

Last years tax return was I thought just about as easy as I thought possible – during my first 6 months back I had no Canadian income to report.

What turned out to be complicated was when it came time to claim our children on the return.

I forget the exact language the CRA used, and I can’t find the screenshot that I took at the time, but in effect they believed that in a 2 parent family the woman is considered the primary caregiver. So I, as a male, had to set out and prove that I was for the year of the return the one taking charge of our children’s care. This assumption didn’t and doesn’t sit well with me. There may well be data to support their conclusion but it stands in contrast to all the grand efforts that Canada makes to become an inclusive society.

So I went through the steps I was instructed to and was still met with a roadblock. I might have been entitled to a remittance of some sort but I figured that further calls to the CRA were not worth my time. So I gave up and left it on my someday todo list. I had gone 20 years without any support from any government, why start now?

I do realize that this attitude towards money is also the reason why I remain poor.

After filing this year I realized that the CRA still didn’t take in account our children in my return so I got on the phone, eventually got through, and after talking to a positive yet weary sounding agent for 45 minutes managed to clear up the confusion. I think.


Not so strange now

When I first arrived in China I kept a large supply of n95 masks for those days when the PM2.5 AQI was dangerously high, that way I could keep running while apparently reducing the risk of damage to my lungs. Like many I also had one for biking in traffic in Taiwan which came with removable filters, and cheaper disposal ones in case I was sick or had to spend any time in a hospital. As would be expected when I shared this photo of me prepping for a run in my room in Fuzhou, it was met with a much stronger reaction than it would today.

Incidentally, air pollution in China today, though still considered unhealthy, is a far cry from when I was there. I bet in some places you might even be able to see the sky.


I joined the Startup Zone’s accelerator

Last week marked the start of Startup Zone’s Accelerator Program for spring. They describe it as follows:

Our Spring 2020 Accelerator Cohort will be focused on the growth and development of the company’s involved, and we will specialize the program to fit your needs. Our focus will be on finding growth-focused entrepreneurs who already have traction in their business, and getting them in a room with like-minded entrepreneurs, and expert advisors!

The room in this case is a Zoom conference.

As the worlds worst capitalist I’m definitely the odd man out amongst all the others that are enrolled.

When I was approached to join I was sceptical at first, and jokingly asked if they were desperate to find participants. If there is one thing I have learned during my time hanging around the Startup Zone is that while I certainly appreciate people starting small (tech) businesses, I’m not so sure I am interested in the whole money focused culture that surrounds it.

Sheryl and I have a successful hobby and we are both pleased with the experience thus far. Our goal over the short term is to see if this hobby could occupy an increasing amount of our time. Hopefully the accelerator will give us some needed accountability towards doing all the activities required to help make this a reality.

The fact that both Sheryl and I are now at home throughout the day, it’s an ideal time to work on something together.


Day 3,679 or so it feels

I never thought I would say it but I miss our daily rush to get the kids out the door in the morning and the nightly rituals of taking them to swimming, jujitsu, and choir. And as much as I’ve had mixed feelings about it, I miss the shared suffering of our night time CrossFit classes.

Staying together in a tiny apartment day in and day out is a challenge, as are the neighbours who seemingly are having the time of their life, but that has thus far only meant more time than usual with headphones on, tuning out the world.

Life right now seems otherwise rather ordinary. There is an undercurrent of stress brought on by the uncertainty of work and the concern that we may find ourselves without any income by June. Somehow I feel this #StaySafeAtHome experience would be easier to handle if there was an air of emergency; living in the sedate suburb that is Stratford tends to isolate you from the horrors that people are experiencing elsewhere.

That kind of isolation is something to be thankful for.


You should make something. You should bring something into the world that wasn’t in the world before. It doesn’t matter what that is. It doesn’t matter if it’s a table or a film or gardening — everyone should create. You should do something, then sit back and say, ‘I did that.’
Ricky Gervais


Simplicity is not about making something without ornament, but rather about making something very complex, then slicing elements away, until you reveal the very essence. After all the slicing away, you may realize, now that you can clearly see the idea, that it’s actually not very good.
Christoph Niemann, The Story of My App


Call after call

Yesterday was a flurry of calls over Zoom and Google Meet (gone are the days of Skype). It’s been a long time since I’ve been on a remote meeting with a dozen participants and it reminds me just how poorly it feels, especially on mobile, which I think is the only safe way to use Zoom.

One to one, or one to a few works ok, but the more people you add, the less natural the conversation becomes. This isn’t a problem with centralized systems in large companies I’ve experienced, as people can speak and act freely.

While it’s great to talk to and hear from people from disparate backgrounds during this time of isolation, I don’t foresee this as an ideal way of working for me going forward. There just isn’t enough communication bandwidth.

But I concede that I perhaps just need more practice.


Staying at home

We are attempting to give the kids some kind of a resemblance of structure, structure that they used to have as we filled their days with school and after school activities.

I subscribe to the notion that this is a great opportunity for them to follow their own path of learning. To take on a project of their choosing. With so much free time there is so much they could accomplish, learn or do, but alas the lure of Xbox and its immediate dopamine rush wins far more often than I would like.

The education system here seems ill equipped for a transition to distance learning and there is an overwhelming focus on “taking it easy” and not giving the kids any new challenges. Talking to people in Taiwan they seemed to have the opposite problem when they briefly closed schools, the kids couldn’t keep up with the work load. Different culture and different values in terms of academic achievement. I’m 100% certain that my kids prefer this Island’s approach, but I’m also fairly certain that my daughters dreams of a university education may be put on hold for a year as a result. Math and science education here already lags behind, with the strategy they seem to be following here for at home classes she will be at an extreme disadvantage.

Yes we are in the midst of a pandemic, with our southern neighbour now the epicentre, but I prefer to focus on a brighter future than wallow in fear of what is beyond my control.

Now that my COVID-19 like symptoms have abated, I went last night to retrieve the last of my items at my desk at the StartUp Zone. I’ve set—up a desk in our small living room which now puts us altogether, working at the same time. Which is kind of cool.


My ignorance is just as good as your knowledge

“There is a cult of ignorance in the United States, and there always has been. The strain of anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that “my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge.”
Isaac Asimov

I see this quote periodically on Twitter, particularly now with COVID-19 and the American public’s unrepentent love of their current President, distrust of science and belief in all kinds of snake oil remedies and fairy tales.

I’ve yet to have the opportunity to read the article that the quote comes from until I came across this scan.


When you share a smile or laugh with someone face to face, a discernible synchrony emerges between you, as your gestures and biochemistries, even your respective neural firings, come to mirror each other. It’s micro-moments like these, in which a wave of good feeling rolls through two brains and bodies at once, that build your capacity to empathize as well as to improve your health. If you don’t regularly exercise this capacity, it withers.
Barbara L. Frederickson, Your Phone vs. Your Heart


Goodbye Adobe Fonts?

I received an email today from Adobe letting me now that my Creative Cloud single-app membership for XD was about to renew for USD119.88 plus Tax. I didn’t sign up for Adobe XD but was given a free trial a year ago (time has flown) when I believe they made the final changes to Typekit. Typekit was bought by Adobe in October 2011 from Jeffery Veen’s Small Batch, Inc. I have been a user of Typekit almost from the very beginning and currently have 12 websites using the service.

But I have no interest in any other of Adobe’s products and the year that I have had the opportunity to use Adobe XD I haven’t even bothered to install it. Adobe Audition might prove useful, but at US$31.49/mo (if paid monthly) the price is ridiculously high. There are good enough solutions out there for far less, or in the case of Pro Logic, you can pay a hefty one time licensing fee and over the course of the life of the product save money compared to Adobe’s pricing.

Sketch provides almost all I need in a design tool these days and their pricing model, though still a subscription, is far more agreeable. If the need arises I’m sure Serif Labs tools will more than suffice.

But that leaves me with what to do with Adobe fonts. They don’t offer a separate subscription for the service and I’ve spent in some cases considerable time finding suitable typography for each project I use their type with.

I’m considering a monthly subscription to InCopy which at US$7.49/mo is currently their cheapest plan. But long term I will look for alternatives at Google Fonts and investigate the feasibility of smaller independent foundries that have a sizeable collection of web fonts.

I’ve completely divorced myself from Microsoft office years ago. It seems time to say goodbye to Adobe as well.


Life is Beautiful

When I was living in China alone and particularly missing my family and Taiwan, and/or when the stress level was particularly high I would listen to 美麗人生 by Gary Chau (I think some mornings I had it on repeat while raced to get ready). Not so much because I thought it was a great piece of music but it brought back memories of a simpler time when we were camping with Camren’s classmates in the mountains a couple hours from our home. It was one of the songs they performed. Kids and families form stronger bonds there, than what I experienced growing up here, with lots of group activities for kids and parents alike.

During the particularly dark days in China the song served as a reminder that life was more positive than my mood at the time might have expressed.


Sheryl Sharing Stories

Starting this Monday past at 10am AST (GMT-3) and continuing at the same time all week, Sheryl will be reading some of her favourite story books on the Sleep Tight Stories Facebook page. Suitable for kids in elementary school or older, our hope was that this might prove useful as kids are in isolation at home or may have limited contact with their English teacher. Listening to stories may also help children understand change, and new or frightening events, and also the strong emotions that can go along with them. Also, it can be fun.

Some suggested at home activities to try after listening to the story (or any story):
– draw a picture or pictures representing the story
– tell someone about the story, and/or
– try to write something about the story

Each session will be short and will either be pre-recorded or live. Our first 2 sessions were live, one of which ignored the fact that Facebook forces you to position the camera in portrait mode – so viewers had to tilt their devices or their heads to view properly.

There are a multitude of resources that parents can access to allow their kids to continue learning and using their imaginations while staying home from school, and away from their friends. Perhaps these videos might be a useful addition to their playlists.


Thankful for simple pleasures

My coffee intake has spiked to record levels this past week and I have been finding myself dreading drinking each cup of stale store bought beans. So being able to buy a couple of bags from Receivers was a welcome respite and treat.

I have a lb. of unroasted beans arriving today, so I expect our place to be filled with the smells of roasting coffee beans shortly after their arrival.


Worries

I’m sitting here at my desk in a somewhat zombie like state after yet another night of no sleep. I thought I was on the mend, I was well enough yesterday to go for a run and didn’t experience burning lungs and throat like the day before. Unfortunately as nighttime arrived my cough returned and I didn’t have an hour of solid sleep all night. This has basically been my whole week and never have I experienced a cold such as this. I’ve had little energy to get anything done. When I developed a fever, I decided it might be wise to test for COVID-19, because prior to developing symptoms I and my family were out and in contact with people. Unfortunately, according to the online self-assessment tool, you can only be tested if you have recently returned from travel abroad, or have been in contact with someone confirmed to have the virus. This would seem unwise, but I assume that this is due to a lack of testing capability.

Now that the initial shock that an “Asian Style” outbreak has followed us here has somewhat reduced we are now filled with worry about other practical matters.

How will we educate our children and how will we pay rent are our immediate concerns.

Due to lack of employment opportunities I fear that we will soon have to leave PEI. Of course, if the global economy tanks, then demand for design talent will go down as well. Educators like my wife should be safe for the short term, at least overseas.

Starting Monday we have to start homeschooling. There have been some rumours that the school year might not be continued, and I’ve heard that at present there are no plans to implement some kind of e-learning component to allow it to continue. Resources for parents are being made available but it’s entirely voluntary.

Other regions have been successful in implementing adhoc e-learning programs during isolation, and returning kids to school after a period of self-isolation (though Singapore just closed schools again). I doubt it would fly here due to our lack of experience and our western sense of individuality – would we allow the rigorous testing of our kids health here that they follow in Taiwan? The most obvious reason why e-learning might not work is that in 2020 many still don’t have reliable high speed internet access at home.

Next week should provide for a rewarding challenge. The mornings will be filled with the kids working on academics, while the afternoon the kids can do project work. Maybe we can create a podcast together, or Catriona can learn more Python, while Camren tackles Javascript. Some time outside would be wise as well.

All of this will require patience on everyones part. If I can develop that, then this break might almost seem worthwhile.