You don’t tell me when I should speak English — multicultural parenting and language rights

From @@JRhodesPianist
From @JRhodesPianist

Last month, this story from Wales:

The most perfect thing I have ever seen just happened on the replacement train bus service between Newport and Cwmbran:

White man sat in front of a mother and her son. Mother was wearing a niqab. After about 5 minutes of the mother talking to her son in another language the man, for whatever reason, feels the need to tell the woman “When you’re in the UK you should really be speaking English.”

At which point, an old woman in front of him turns around and says, “She’s in Wales. And she’s speaking Welsh.”

Perfect.

Apocryphal maybe, but perfect nonetheless. It’s got all the elements of a great story: some ignorant rube makes an ass of himself in public and gets his comeuppance.

Unfortunately, the vast majority of publicly ignorant rubes get away with it. Continue reading “You don’t tell me when I should speak English — multicultural parenting and language rights”

Danshari — thinking about “stuff”

When people find out about our efforts at minimalist living, bearing in mind our Japanese background, many ask us about Marie Kondo and her “life-changing magic of tidying up.” The KonMari Method is the latest in decluttering techniques. It seems pretty effective for many people, but we have not read any of her books.

We don’t subscribe to any one methodology. Our homebrew system is a mix of learnings, mostly informed by the Socratic method, based on the discussion of various principles. A key term of discussion is danshari. Continue reading “Danshari — thinking about “stuff””

Site refresh and newsletter launch

The site has been refreshed to a more traditional blog layout that exposes a bit more content. I like the idea of a super-minimalist site that focuses entirely on the writing on the page, but I have nearly 500 posts, many that are still valuable as part of this interconnected web of thinking I call My Blog. Hopefully this new layout will help readers discover that value.

That is the past. What about the future?

There is now a newsletter! Seeing as I only write about twice a month, this is obviously not a destination site. RSS and Twitter probably shouldn’t be relied upon as the sole channels for distribution, so I’ve decided to fall back on trusty old electronic mail and publish a “monthly-ish” newsletter to keep you up to date. Take a look at the first edition and please sign up.

Addendum: Controlling information velocity

Content distribution online is fractured (Facebook notwithstanding). Readers use different channels to limit the flow of information, and control how and when their attention is spent.

Not every update deserves to be a push notification on your phone. And checking every single website every hour of every day for updates is impractical. RSS is great for pulling new information to the reader as it was published, but it seems to be used less and less. Social is a much more casual way of consuming information since you access it when you want, but risk missing things as the stream flows by. Being a social media completionist is hard work! For Twitter I maintain a number of lists, from a small number of accounts that I never want to miss, to a wider net for those long waits at the bank, all the way out to my entire list of Follows.

If you want to get the whole picture, but in a digest form that is not in your face, email newsletters are a great solution. Rather than an urgent notification of something happening now, email newsletters are a gentle reminder that something happened in the recent past. For many types of information, this is a comfortable velocity. It is the convenience of not having little chunks of your attention stripped away daily. I think it is key to the email newsletter resurgence in the past few years.

Publishers would do well to consider what rate their readers would like their content, and offer choices based on “information velocity” rather than merely publishing to every platform at every moment just to be there.

“Area CIS white Man applauds diversity”

Me on GlobalTV

I got cornered at the park during lunch today to offer a “Random Area Man” soundbite about our mayor’s attendance at the Sugarplum Ball, a cool little event put on by my pals at the Okanagan Young Professionals. Watch the whole segment:

This is a complete non-controversy. I reverse-interviewed the journalist who said she had a difficult time finding anyone with a negative opinion. Even if I am not the ideal person to be speaking about these issues, I am glad to support our mayor in championing minority communities that make our city a place of vitality. I am sure the ball will be a blast.

Watching the segment afterwards though, makes one think of the classic Charlie Brooker sketch:

“I hate these sound bites. I don’t want some punter’s opinion usually.”

Working through Ramadan: the inverse edition

For Muslims working in non-Muslim work environments, observing Ramadan is an epic feat of self-discipline.

Working through Ramadan is an excellent piece on the Slack blog that I recommend for Muslims and non-Muslims alike. For Muslims, there are some tips on toughing it out with a 9 to 5 schedule, how to prioritize your focus throughout the day, and patience. Also, dealing with co-worker questions. For non-Muslims, this is an opportunity to learn about some of the things a minority has to deal with in the office, which only helps with your perspective as a human.

This blog post reminded me of the exact inverse situation: being a non-Muslim office working during Ramadan in the Islamic Republic of Iran.

Even as a traveler in Tehran during Ramadan, I struggled with not eating in public during the day. From my travel journal:

I got into the taxi the embassy called for me and headed back to the hotel. Once back in my room I made a few phone calls … I also ate a granola bar. I was starting to feel a little dizzy from hunger. Maybe coming to Iran during Ramazan wasn’t a good idea.

When traveling I always make sure to have a few granola bars packed just in case.

The Ayatollah Khomeini stares down at Sarkiss Cathedral, a spectacular Armenian church in Tehran. There are about 250,000 Armenian Christians in Iran.
The Ayatollah Khomeini stares down at Sarkiss Cathedral, a spectacular Armenian church in Tehran. There are about 250,000 Armenian Christians in Iran.

One of my goals in Iran was to learn about the daily life of religious minorities there. It was during a party in northern Tehran, over pizza and beers, that I got the opportunity to learn more. I had a conversation with an Armenian Christian woman, who worked in a marketing office in Tehran. Since it was Ramadan I asked her how she dealt with it at work, since she is not obliged to fast. She told me that she had to be very careful, since just about everyone else in the office was fasting and struggling as the month went on. Her and one of her Christian co-workers would retire to a closet to eat during mealtimes or have a cup of tea.

Everyone was rejoicing by the end of the month.

Today is the last day of Ramadan for 2016, and I expect some excellent feasts to be had tonight.

Quarterly review: FY16Q2

Each quarter I do a quick roundup of the book and film reviews that I do on Goodreads and Letterboxd. These reviews are too short and too off-the-cuff to be included with the more in depth reviews I do on this site. Below are the highlights of the quarter.

Books

This month I technically completed my 2016 Goodreads Challenge — 16 books ahead of schedule. It is a little misleading, since of the 14 books I read this quarter 6 were graphic novels. This year I decided to try and read more comics at the long-time encouragement of The Incomparable, one of my all-time favourite podcasts. Hence why I set my Goodreads challenge so low. However, most of the graphic novels are on GR, so I am racking up points!

Also, I have been much better of making at least a note once I finish a book. Thus follows a list of everything I read this quarter, for probably the first time ever. Looking back, I would say that Debt, the First 5,000 Years is a must-read that I will recommend to everyone, and Alif the Unseen, though not perfect, certainly had me thinking and talking about it for days after reading it.

Graphic Novels

★★★★★ Astonishing X-Men, Vol. 1: Gifted

★★☆☆☆ Power Man and Iron Fist: The Comedy of Death

★★★★☆ Buddha, Vol. 1: Kapilavastu

★★★★☆ Batman: The Long Halloween

★★★★☆ Batman: The Killing Joke

★★★☆☆ Superman: Earth One, Vol. 1

“Real” Books

★★★★★ Debt: The First 5,000 Years

★★★☆☆ The Sword of Shannara

★★★☆☆ Rebel Cities: From the Right to the City to the Urban Revolution

★★★★☆ Devil You Know

★★★★☆ The Grace of Kings

★★★★☆ The Fall of the Ottomans: The Great War in the Middle East

★★★★☆ Mindfulness in Plain English (my 500th Goodreads book!)

★★★★☆ Alif the Unseen

Film

Pretty light on film this quarter. I was catching up a lot on TV, and found that graphic novels (as seen above) became my go to evening entertainment when I didn’t have the bandwidth to read a tract on Buddhism or debt.

★★½☆☆ The Good, The Bad, The Weird

★★★½☆ Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation

6 months meat-free

On December 28th 2016 — about to consume yet another holiday family dinner of turkey and ham with all the trimmings — I decided to stop eating meat.

It has been six months and I have kept to that promise. It has not been very difficult actually, but I should be sure to give full credit to my wife for her great recipes… otherwise I would be doomed to canned veggie soup and frozen fish and chips forever.

Since that holiday meal of mashed potatoes, corn and salad, I have not eaten the flesh of any animal that casts a shadow upon land. I still do consume fish and other seafood, plus eggs and some milk. My diet is ovo-lacto pescatarian, but I self-categorize as an environmental vegetarian.

The reason I stopped eating meet is fight climate change.

Feed production and livestock production account for 14.5% of global carbon emissions according to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization. Beef produces the most carbon.

chart from UN Food and Agriculture Organization

Producing corn for feed, hauling it to the cows, watering them, feeding them, hauling them from one location to another, dealing with their “methane” production, then slaughtering and shipping the beef to parts around the world… now when I look at the label on a pack of steaks in the supermarket and see “Product of New Zealand” I just shake my head. And with the post-war advanced consumer culture we have, more meat is being consumed making things even worse.

So I removed myself from the system.

Is this a real solution? Should I be comfortable and complacent while riding gallantly on my moral high horse? Well, no, not really. Although we grow some of our vegetables, and frequent farmer’s markets and the like, much of the fruit and veggies we get in western Canada come from Washington, California or Mexico, especially in the winter months. And the shrimp I still eat has many other ethical problems. But like all things, you have to take it one step at a time. And this certainly has been a good talking point over the past half-year. I think I have been able to contribute a little to awareness of the problem, and I see no reason to stop now.

Photo: Some recent food pics from my Flickr.

Questioning “normal consumption” — find out what you actually need!

One of the first things we did when starting our downsizing program was stopped using our credit cards. We had to figure out what our real expenses were each month to get our spending under control, and the cards did not help. In fact, they were a hindrance. Take a look at some stats from a recent Neal Gabler piece in The Atlantic:

  • “only 38 percent of Americans would cover a $1,000 emergency-room visit or $500 car repair with money they’d saved”
  • “55 percent of households didn’t have enough liquid savings to replace a month’s worth of lost income”
  • “38 percent of households carried some debt, according to the analysis, and among those, the average was more than $15,000”
  • “Thirty-two percent of the survey respondents said they couldn’t afford to live a healthy lifestyle”
  • “21 percent said they were so financially strapped that they had forgone a doctor’s visit, or considered doing so, in the previous year”

The point of Gabler’s piece (entitled “The Secret Shame of Middle-Class Americans“) is that it is not simply the poor that are being affected by this phenomenon (though they certainly are the hardest hit). Again, from the article:

“…in 2013, prime-working-age families in the bottom two income quintiles had no net worth at all and thus nothing to spend. A family in the middle quintile, with an average income of roughly $50,000, could continue its spending for … six days.”

We as North Americans have an addiction to debt, and an aversion to saving and living within our means. The reason for this is hidden in this one sentence:

“Even in the second-highest quintile, a family could maintain its normal consumption for only 5.3 months.”

Emphasis added.

Abnormal consumption

What is your “normal consumption”? One of the major points in downsizing is find the answer to that question. What is the baseline — what do you actually need — every month. You need to put your consumerism on a leash.

To get there you need to do the simple things:

  • track your expenses
  • cut back to just essentials for a period of time
  • have a dedicated savings account where you put a small amount no matter what
  • keep things simple, for example:

Every payday I take out $100 in cash and put it in my wallet. That is my budget. I pay for everything (I can) in cash. Any day of the week I can take stock on where I am at in my budget by simply looking in my wallet. Every penny is tracked in Toshl. Any day I can get a sense of the bigger picture.

Taking stock of what you spend money on helps. For example, here is a week’s worth of groceries in our house:

grocs_for_a_week

Just seeing it as tangible goods on the table — not abstract future derivatives — makes it a lot easier to deal with mentally.

There is a great pull quote from the Atlantic piece:

In the 1950s and ’60s, American economic growth democratized prosperity. In the 2010s, we have managed to democratize financial insecurity.

Consumer debt is out of control in North America. If you want a (funny) taste of how messed up the system is, check out John Oliver’s segment from last week on Debt Buyers:

In our house, we have removed ourselves from the system and gained back a measure of financial security. Two years ago I could not answer “Yes” to any of the “surprise expense” questions posed above. Now I can, and I live in a single-income household of four, carrying over $40K (down from $60K jsut a few years ago) in student loans. We are not totally free yet, but in just a year or two of minimalist thinking, we have gained back a measure of economic freedom, and gotten rid of a whole lot more financial distress. I recommend it.

The Seven revenue models

Consider the following chart showing how the Revenue per User flows for each of the major mobile platforms:

dediu_rev_models

The chart belongs to a presentation where Horace Dediu looks at the future of online services. (Disclaimer: I have not been to the event, nor have I seen the presentation.)

At first glance, my first impression was: “Only four revenue models?” (Transaction, Subscription, Ad, or a mix of the three). On second glance: “Wow Advertising is pretty much the same size as Transaction.” But then later, in the shower, I started to ask: “What does ‘transaction’ mean anyways?”

Generally there are 7 revenue models:

  • Production
  • Markup
  • Fee-for-service
  • Commission
  • Advertising
  • Subscription
  • Licensing

Horace has split out Advertising and Subscription in his chart, but Transaction seems to fold a few of those rev models inside of it. So I decided to attempt to reverse engineer the chart. Let’s take a look (click to enbiggen):

Transaction is made up of four subcategories: Transportation, e-commerce, Travel and App. I reorganized each of the companies featured in the slide into their category, then labelled each with one of the five remaining revenue models (Production, Markup, Fee-for-service, Commission and Licensing). This is a complex endeavor since some of these companies do more than one thing. For example Amazon sells its own hardware, sells other people’s products, and licenses you Kindle and Audible books. Ridesharing companies charge you a fee-for-service and then take a commission from the driver (doesn’t sound like “sharing” to me, but that is another post).

Inside of the Transaction category the biggest group belonged to the Markup category. I have no way of separating out production and licensing revenues from those companies, but even simply adding them all up and comparing them you can see that Ads are bigger than any one Transaction subcategory.

dediu_ad_v_markup

Hey, ads are big (and growing), we know that already. But that fact may be hidden in Horace’s chart.

Why go through this exercise?

True, since I do not have access to the data set, and do not know what Horace’s intention is for this particular screencap, I could be speaking out of turn. That said, I find it very interesting to see how consumers are parted with their money, myself included. Think about what you spend your money on each day, and think about what you used to own, compared to what you merely rent or lease today. I don’t own much of anything anymore, not least my hundreds of Kindle and Audible books, iTunes tracks, or Google Play Movies and TV Shows. As a minimalist, I am okay with owning less, but I have issues with proprietary formats (I now use Downpour for audiobooks), and it seems especially egregious as they are pushed into the real world (ahem… John Deere).

For all the talk of innovation there has not been much on the business model side. We have had these 7 revenue models for a long time. Regardless of how dominant the Ads model is, it doesn’t work for everyone, and is in fact failing many of our vital institutions it once supported (ahem… public interest media). Unfortunately, most of the “innovation” around business models have been on the finance side, with very “innovative” accounting and debt models (ahem… [subprime lending](subprime lending)). The results have been runaway household debt and financial collapse. As with all things, technology helps out here too.

So, Innovators, we could use some new revenue models that are straightforward, and not detrimental to consumers.

500

500

This weekend I passed 500 read books on Goodreads. I started using the site Dec 27th 2009 and added a bunch of read books in early 2010. Since then I have logged 295 reads, averaging about 46 a year.

books_2010-present

My 500th book was Mindfulness in Plain English by Bhante Henepola Gunaratana aka. “Bhante G”.cover_mindfulness-in-plain-english I purchased this book five years ago, and read only a quarter of it before stopping. I wasn’t ready.

After reading about the life of the Buddha, listening to a couple of Jon Kabat-Zinn guided meditations, and prepping for my tour of Buddhist temples in Kyoto, I understood this book much better on the second attempt. I am glad I did. I will continue to explore how to integrate meditation in to my daily life. From the book:

Our mind is analogous to a cup of muddy water. The longer you keep a cup of muddy water still, the more the mud settles down and the water will be seen clearly.

I have tried to take that lesson and apply it to reading. Upon finishing a book, I usually let it settle in my brain for a few days, then look over the annotations I made, to get a good sense of it as a whole. Then I write a short review on Goodreads. When I read a related book, going back and looking at old reviews sparks a lot of interesting conceptual connections — insights I would have totally missed had I merely just picked up the next book. Books are part of a literary universe, you shouldn’t start tabula rasa every time you crack one open. Keeping notes helps you to navigate the connections. It is sort of like how a commonplace book works.

If you are looking for a similar experience, I recommend using Goodreads. If you become a member, connect with me.