Categories: personal

Beatrice on Hannah

This is Beatrice’s first time on a horse, on cousin Al’s Percheron Hannah (Johanna I think), who once was part of a driving pair, “but” her partner died a couple of years ago. Unfortunately, Hannah’s back leg isn’t right, so the old girl isn’t long for this world. I’m glad Beatrice got to meet her.

Kiki on Hannah
Kiki on Hannah

Categories: personal

Our Daughter

Our daughter was born November 2, 2010, at 8:50am. No official name yet. Mum is recovering well, and baby is lovely, don’t you think?


Categories: personal

Getting Things Done Again

A friend just asked if I was GTDing again, and here was my answer:

First: a warning: in my experience, GTD (and other time management techniques) is world-changing for a while when you first introduce it – it really clears everything out and increases productivity, reduce stress, and helps … get things done. GTD can feel like it will revolutionize your life.

But it won’t, unfortunately, or at least not completely. Often after a few of months, as the pile of undone things on your list start lingering, you start getting what my friend Maurizio calls the “black cloud of GTD oppression” … where (if you are using GTD software) you start feeling fear of opening up the software because of how guilty you feel about all the undone things.

I think part of this problem comes from trying to get a system to combat your personality and failings; whereas what you really need to do is find a system you like, and shape it so that it works well with your personality and failings.

So: GTD is great, but don’t rely on it to solve everything, you need to adapt it to yourself. I have been fairly successful with this recently – I’ll get back to you in six months. I am using Things, a very nice mac app/iphone that syncs between devices. I’m liking it very much.

One of the important things you have to do is figure out your “contexts” – in the end I didn’t like the suggested way that GTD likes you to organize things, by “project” and by context = “how you get that work done.”

So typically, you would have a set of projects, for me:

You can label your projects however you like of course.

Then there is the “contexts” sorting … which could be, if I understand orthodox GTD procedure:

But I found that I really do not like sorting contexts that way at all – not sure why. My need is more time-based – making sure I get stuff done on time.

So my contexts are:

And every morning I resort my Things list – adding new things to the today, and bumping things off that I realize I won’t have time to do.

The “oppressive” context was a real revelation for me – that’s where I put things that are nagging at me that I just can’t seem to get done for whatever reason. They are the great drivers of the black cloud of GTD oppression, so quarantining them is helpful. It lets you acknowledge to yourself that you won’t get those things done, because you just can’t get at them, and that they are increasing stress levels enormously. So stop thinking about them. The surprising result is that by acknowledging that you won’t get those oppressive things done, it gets much easier to get them done.

GTD is always a great way to declutter the brain, and break work down into component bits. But the challenge is integrating it into a long-term workflow that suits your personality – and acknowledges your faults rather than trying to defeat them.

The Tourist Dynamic

My pal Chris wrote a moving post about an experience he had growing up in South Africa, a white boy who went with his church to talk about Jesus in the “coloured” townships.

Which made me think about traveling and the relationship we rich, “white,”[*] educated people have with the rest of the world. I commented on Chris’ blog, but here’s what I wrote:

I was in Cuba some years ago on holiday and I recall reading before I went about how Cuba had been “spoiled” by tourism, and how you couldn’t have a genuine interaction with people any more because they see Westerners only for their wallets now. It’s true, as far as it goes – those Cubans did see me as a wallet.

But these days (even then), that kind of talk makes me angry, because built into it is this assumption that we deservea certain kind of treatment, as if the world is a kind of park, where we can go visit various places to get wonderful experiences: Bhutan for the mountains and the sage monks & yak-milk tea; Philippines for the sunrise while visiting tropical islands in a skiff guided by a wiseacre biologist; Hong Kong where we can do commerce with the shouting market people, who get such a kick out of Gweilos straying beyond Kowloon. Drinking beer late at night in the veld listening to stories of African leopards. Cuba for sexy music and smiling, dancing people.

I’ve experienced all these things and loved them, they are experiences I cherish. But I have done these things, am able to do these things because I am wealthy and white, and the world, truly is my oyster. I remember being in university, thinking: I will travel the world, I will undertake adventures, I will see distant land and do great things. And for a few years I did. I loved it; it was dashing and daring and exotic and all the things it’s supposed to be. And granted to me with ease, and no sacrifice, because of who and what I am.

I hated that trip to Cuba, not because Cubans see me for a wallet — which actually is “annoying” — but rather because of what I, as tourist, saw Cuba as: a place filled with people who should like me for who I am, give me the benefit of the doubt, people who should see beyond my colour and my new running shoes and instead have a conversation with me about what life is really like for them, because, well, I’d be happy to do the same for them if they came to Canada. That is, I saw Cuba as: entertainment. I’d paid for it, and didn’t get what I wanted.

And it pissed me off, not that Cuba didn’t deliver; but rather that I had put myself in that position, of “he who has paid to be entertained.” I don’t mean that on a surface sense, but at a deeper level. Tourism puts us in such an odd dynamic with people: you are there to get something out of an “experience” … joy, wisdom, commune with nature, commune with another culture, history, something…And the exchange? What do we give up? Our time and our money. Only one of which is worth anything to anyone.

I have this odd feeling that tourism and it’s thinly veiled cousin, “international development,” are about as colonial as a military invasion: the real beneficiaries are the tourists, the NGO’s and their rich, adventuresome consultants; just as the beneficiaries of military invasions are rarely those under whose name invasions happen, these days at least.

I say all this because I am conflicted by Chris’ story of the townships … I have been treated well by people all over the world, treaded poorly by others; i’ve been robbed and cheated, threatened and bored to death. All of it great, and I wouldn’t trade it. Saying I’ve had yak’s milk in Bhutan gives me great pleasure (I was there to “help” the Bhutanese, naturally).

But it’s curious when our own innocence or blindness is caught out — as I guess the young Chris Hughes’ was — by something so moving, which is the twin realization that:
a) we do not belong somewhere
and yet:
b) we are welcomed nonetheless.

I think that might be just the thing that irks me about our modern white fascination with “doing” Asia, or “doing Columbia,” … this assumption that we do belong there. It’s our world afterall.

So I find Chris’ story very moving because, I interpret it something as a recognition that he did not belong where he was … and yet….and yet…there was kindness, despite his naivete, despite where he came from, despite the preposterousness of the situation, and not because of it.

* Re: “white” I use this term broadly, and really it’s the wrong term. It’s not “white”, so much as “affluent middle-class, educated westerner…” I’m using it as a cultural marker, not a racial one; though the two are not totally unrelated.

Categories: personal, technology, web

Ada Lovelace Day: Danielle Zaikoff (and many others)

My friend and colleague Suw Charman-Anderson launched an Ada Lovelace Day initiative (site, twitter) getting bloggers to pledge to write a blog post about women in technology.

To honor my pledge, I am writing about Danielle Zaïkoff, P. Eng.

But first, a little introduction about my more recent experience with women in technology. Every project I’ve worked on on the web has had women playing integral an role in making it happen:

LibriVox started growing with the help of Kristen (designed the site) and Kara (pretty much ran the forums, and continues to do much of the heavy-lifting on cataloging), and later Betsie (developed the structure for the cataloging system), Annie (developed the structure for the cataloging system), Cori (helped develop the community podcast, and general internal systems), Gesine (designed much of the internal systems workflow), and Kristin (numerous wordpress improvements and php hacks). Of course many more people, men, women and children contributed to all of this, but it’s fair to say that LibriVox never would have succeeded without the efforts of these, and later, many other women.

Collectik (RIP): was designed and turned into html/css by Kristen.

Earideas, and the Canadian Podcasting Directory (RIP): were designed by Marie-Eve, with html/css integration done by Patricia and Madeline.

Datalibre: is driven mostly by Tracey.

The Atwater Digital Literacy Project: is run by Miriam.

The Atwater Library’s computer centre: is run by Jun.

BookCampToronto: is being organized by a team including Lex, Erin and Julie.

Book Oven, my biggest and most ambitious project, was co-founded by my business partner, the extraordinarily talented Stephanie (read the Ada Lovelace post about Steph here) who is CTO, product manager, production manager, project manager, UI designer, and countless other things, every day. Marie-Eve does the design; and Suw Charman-Anderson is developing our community management approach, managing user testing, and generally helping us think better about that grey zone where people and technology intersect.

So it’s fair to say that my life in web technology has been spent surrounded by dedicated and skilled women who have helped me build some things that I am proud of.

But back to Danielle Zaïkoff.

My first real job out of university, was with a group called the E7 (now E8), a non-profit group funded by electric utilities from G7 (now G8) countries. The mandate of the group was twofold: to develop joint policies about sustainable development in the electricity industry, around pressing issues such as climate change; and to do knowledge transfer projects about best practices and environmental management in developing countries. I worked in the Secretariat (permanently based at Hydro-Quebec in Montreal), which consisted of a senior engineer, nearing retirement, and a small team of junior engineers just out of university. The Managing Director (I worked for two, both women) was generally a senior executive from Hydro-Quebec, who was winding down a successful career, and wanted to spend a couple of years doing something challenging, but not necessarily tied to central operation of Hydro-Quebec.

Danielle Zaikoff was my first boss at E7. She had started as an engineer at Hydro-Quebec in 1972, I believe she was the first female engineer on staff at the company. Not content to stay in the offices in Montreal, she worked as a project engineer on the huge James Bay hydro installations, a post she was initially refused, because the company did not think women should work in in remote field operations. She went on to become the first female director of Hydro Quebec, the first female president of the Ordre des ingénieurs du Québec and the first woman president of the Canadian Council of Professional Engineers.

I learned many things from Danielle, mainly the importance of precision and clarity in work, and the dangers of sloppiness. She was a generous boss, who spent much time mentoring the young engineers and others under her command. She demanded excellence and promptness, was exacting, fair, tough and dedicated.

Like many of the women I’ve worked with in tech over the years.

Categories: personal

The Meat Sink

One in a while I get together with some friends and make home made sausage. An important phase in the process is what we like to call the “Meat Sink.”

meat sink

Here is a pic of the links. And the drying sausages.

UPDATE: The meat sink is the key to all good start-up pitches.

Categories: personal, politics

No, You Can’t Be a Doctor Here

I wrote my political platform the other day, with Health being one of my ten planks. One of the problems with Health is that it’s in provincial jurisdiction, so my federal platform would have difficulty really affecting health here in Quebec.

This province has the lowest rate of citizen access to family doctors, which you would think would be a priority problem for the government. It’s not. Having access to family doctors is the best way to keep healthcare costs down, by providing true preventative medicine that catches problems before they spiral out of control. Having health issues dealt with in the Emergency is the most expensive way to run a health system. (I suspect the government has a better economic equation: just letting people die is the cheapest course of action).

Why do we have so few family doctors in Quebec? Here’s one reason:

Medical students from out-of-province are REQUIRED to sign an agreement saying that they will leave Quebec after their residency. If they choose to stay, they must pay a significant fine.

So one of the reasons that we have a lack of doctors is that doctors who have gone to medical school in Quebec, and trained in Quebec medical residency programs, all at taxpayer expense, but come from other provinces are REQUIRED to leave when they are done their training in Quebec.

Make sense?

Categories: personal

steady accumulation

There is time enough for everything in the course of the day, if you do but one thing at once, but there is not time enough in the year, if you will do two things at a time….Steady and undissipated attention to one object, is a sure mark of a superior genius; as hurry, bustle, and agitation, are the never-failing symptoms of a weak and frivolous mind.

Lord Chesterfield, quoted by Christine Rosen.

Categories: art, personal

competence when chips are down

From an article by Andy Rutledge, about design & martial arts, but applicable to anything related to life, I think:

In short, it is simply not enough to be highly competent under the best of circumstances, when you’re filled with inspiration and all the gears are turning. What matters most—and most often—is how competent you are when things are not going well.


Categories: personal, web

find boredom again

I worry for the children …that with all of this information, they will not have the chance to be aware of their own lives… Head for the hills! Go to the woods, get away from all these people! Go to a place where boredom is available to you; there’s where you will start to remember all the things that have ever happened to you.

Garrison Keillor, on the Book Show.

Indeed. There is so little time to really think these days, what with the constant processing processing processing processing of information. New, surface, ephemeral information, constantly updated and replaced by more.

Mike and I and a few others had dinner with Jon Udell the other night, and Mike raised, convincingly, this big spectral question:What are we really doing, we digital do-gooding evangelists? To what degree will these “improvements” we wish to bring to people’s lives actually bring improvements? Mat’s complainging about the SNR on the web.

Ursula Le Guinn thinks books are doing OK (subscription only), and while I agree with her, I haven’t finished a book in months (this happens occasionally).

So: Is your life improved by the web? By your mac? Your iphone? I mean, I know you love the web and your mac and your iphone, but have they truly improved your life? For me the answer is a very big yes, and a very big no, and they compete furiously. (Though I don’t have an iphone yet, so maybe I should wait to make final judgments).