Considerations for planning out your online portfolio

I am looking for advice from online creatives. How do you organize your various projects online?

Let me give you some context. I have a couple of ongoing projects I am planning to start next year. I would like to blog/photo/video/post the progress of these projects, but I don’t think doing it on my main chadkohalyk.com domain is the right spot.

Historically I used to use different domains for various blogs and podcasts I have done, but in the past few years I have tried to consolidate all my work under one URL. The main thinking behind that was authorship: to establish that all these projects are done by the same person. Generally, I think keeping traffic in one place is desirable since it allows you to keep your focus on growing a single audience. You also get the added benefit of increasing the discoverability of other projects. That said, I want to make things easy for the audience to only look at or subscribe to the project they are interested in, without having a bunch of stuff they are not necessarily interested in crowd things out. And I want each project to have URLs that last forever… I don’t want old projects to die or move so that years on people can’t find them.

Splitting things up into distinct silos could be the best way to achieve that, but I am not really interested in forever maintaining a small network of sites. I know I will have chadkohalyk.com forever.

However, there could be some technology limitations. I currently have this domain pointing to a hosted instance of WordPress.com. I can use subdomains for projects like the Timeline of Japanese in the Okanagan. For photos right now I just put everything on Flickr, and Twitter becomes a sort of aggregator. It is super low maintenance, and it is fine for just a personal online presence. But there probably is a better strategy when you have some specific, distinct projects. In the past I tried various lifelogging and aggregation services (remember when Google+ was supposed to solve this?) but none panned out. It seems there are a few tradeoffs that need to be balanced here.

  • time/cost of maintaining different sites/platforms
  • convenience of using different tools/platforms for specific projects
  • siloing of audiences
  • challenge of aggregation

So, with those in mind, I have some questions for you:

  • Do you use different URLs for different projects?
  • Do you use subdomains?
  • Are you a fervent cross-poster?
  • Do you integrate private audiences with public audiences or keep them separate by posting “family things” in a totally different place? (I love Flickr’s permissions work… a single stream with three views: Anyone, Friends, Family. Super low maintenance.)

I would love to hear your strategy. Please comment below and feel free to post links to your “portfolio” of web projects as an example.

To witness excellence

This past weekend Skate Canada International was held in my small city of Kelowna, BC. It brings together some of the top figure skaters in the world. I am not really a figure skating fan, but thought this would be a great opportunity to see some amazing athletes at the top of their game (and in the flesh!). I went in with an open mind, and was certainly amazed at the level of precision these athletes brought to the ice — and at such young ages! Even to these untrained eyes, I could tell that they were special. All the skaters were amazing, but two stood above the rest: Hanyu Yuzuru and Alexandra Trusova.

Hanyu is a legend in Japan. Maybe more like a god. He won two Olympic gold medals back-to-back, and is the recipient of the 国民栄誉賞 (People’s Honour Award) in Japan. Once we found out that he was coming to Kelowna, we bought tickets right away back in early July. And we weren’t disappointed.

Tons of the local Japanese community turned out to see Hanyu, as well as lots of diehard fans from Japan and around the world (a Japanese fan sitting beside my wife came to watch Hanyu from London England!). It is probably easier to see Hanyu here in Canada than getting tickets to see him in Japan.

Rows of fans seated holding Japanese flags
The Japanese fans sure turned out!

And when Hanyu finished his last, first-place-winning routine which put him 60 points ahead of second place, the crowd reaction was amazing to behold.

The FULL aftermath
The aftermath

There are lots of YouTube videos, live television broadcasts and DVD sets that allow you to see excellence, but it is a whole other thing to witness it — to experience it collectively with a group of other admiring human beings.

Like I said, I know nothing about skating, so I had never heard of Alexandra Trusova, the “Jumping Queen.” Trusova is the first female figure skater to land a quadruple lutz (one of those spinny-jumpy things) in a competition. During this event, she scored over 100 “technical” points, the first for a female in history. Oh, and she is 15 years old.

She was amazing to watch. At the very end of the event, when only the diehards were left in the arena to catch one final glimpse of their heroes, Hanyu and Trusova came out and had a “quad-off” (I caught it on video). Seeing them fail repeatedly; to not give up; to strive and not be satisfied until they have done it… is very inspiring. Combine all the hard work and the drive with the natural talent that the two of these have, and it is a privilege to see them in person. They are very rare beings on this earth.

It made me think of all the other human endeavours (besides figure skating or even sports) that I know nothing about and could experience. Even if I am not of their world, I can still go and appreciate their skill at a human level, and take away a feeling of awe and inspiration. You might be thinking sarcastically: “Boy, Chad just discovered the joy of sport…” Well, yes, I don’t think I am saying anything particularly insightful. I just feel a great sense of appreciation and freshness(?) after my Skate Canada experience. I am otherwise content by myself in my little office, reading and writing; or to walk places I have never been and take photos to share with friends and family. But now, I think I shall endeavour to get out more and witness excellence.

Advocating for the teaching of knowledge to kids

Having been in the Canadian education system for a few years now, I am very impressed with the high-minded ideals of the early education system here. Things like teaching critical thinking, creativitiy, breaking down a problem, LID, etc are challenging and interesting, and meant to get a jump on the future. However it is pretty unsettling how little our kids actually know.

A few weeks ago I tweeted a recommendation for this piece on skills vs knowledge-based curriculum in The Atlantic. This is an extract from The Knowledge Gap, a book by Natalie Wexler that challenges the shift in elementary education away from teaching knowledge (often derisively referred to as “rote learning”) to teaching skills “that will enable [students] to discover knowledge for themselves later on.” Wexler covers some of the history in the article, but I think her argument can be captured in the example she gives about an experiment in reading comprehension using baseball:

… they constructed a miniature baseball field and peopled it with wooden baseball players. Then they brought in 64 seventh and eighth graders who had been tested both for their reading ability and their knowledge of baseball.

[The researchers] chose baseball because they figured lots of kids who weren’t great readers nevertheless knew a fair amount about the game. Each student was asked to first read a description of a fictional baseball inning and then move the wooden figures to reenact it. (For example: “Churniak swings and hits a slow bouncing ball toward the shortstop. Haley comes in, fields it, and throws to first, but too late. Churniak is on first with a single, Johnson stayed on third. The next batter is Whitcomb, the Cougars’ left-fielder.”)

It turned out that prior knowledge of baseball made a huge difference in students’ ability to understand the text—more so than their supposed reading level. The kids who knew little about baseball, including the “good” readers, all did poorly. And all those who knew a lot about baseball, whether they were “good” or “bad” readers, did well. In fact, the “bad” readers who knew a lot about baseball outperformed the “good” readers who didn’t.

There is a lot more in the article (read it!) — but it really hit me coming from an international family. We are always straddling the line between the British Columbian education system and the system “back home.” Furthermore, my day job is related to the US education system and kids’ education is probably the main topic of discussion amongst our immigrant friends, all who bring different perspectives. There is a lot of (amateur) comparative analysis going around, and a lot of confusion. Wexler’s article really captures one of the main challenges in understanding elementary education here when you come from Asia. It also makes me wish there was a way to mash the East with the West.

Now, I bring this article up again after reading an intriguing essay on developing transformative tools for thought. This essay argues for a new ways to leverage technology for efficient memorization techniques. It is adjacent to the “skills vs knowledge” argument from the above article, but hits some of the same notes.

For example, Matuschak and Nielsen present a caricature of a “skills first” proponent:

“Why should I care about memory? I want deeper kinds of understanding! Can’t I just look stuff up on the internet? I want creativity! I want conceptual understanding! I want to know how to solve important problems! Only dull, detail-obsessed grinds focus on rote memory.”

This sounds so much like the “we teach concepts not memorizing facts. The students can look up facts on the internet!” that I have heard from local elementary teachers.

Matuschak and Nielsen then go on to illustrate some challenges experienced in teaching quantum physics:

He noticed that people often think they’re getting stuck on esoteric, complex issues. But, as suggested in the introduction to this essay, often what’s really going on is that they’re having a hard time with basic notation and terminology. It’s difficult to understand quantum mechanics when you’re unclear about every third word or piece of notation. Every sentence is a struggle.

It’s like they’re trying to compose a beautiful sonnet in French, but only know 200 words of French. They’re frustrated and think the trouble is the difficulty of finding a good theme, striking sentiments and images, and so on. But really the issue is that they have only 200 words with which to compose.

So, in order to understand concepts, you need a certain fundamental layer of knowledge. I am not advocating a total swing back to a Confucian-centric pedagogy — there is certainly a balance to be had. We struggle with this as we try to support our kids’ learning from home. It would be ideal if schools took advantage of those little sponge-like young brains in their early years and filled them full of facts before introducing higher-order thinking skills. But in lieu of that, I suppose it is up to us parents to provide them with actual knowledge (eg. in the forms of structured textbooks, encyclopedia, atlases, etc.) to fuel the skill-based curriculum they get at school. We have tried a few things (tutors, workbooks from other education systems, etc) but are always looking to improve. If you have any recommended resources or techniques for supporting your kids, please share!

Walking and talking — a review of Another Kyoto

Another Kyoto by Alex Kerr and Kathy Arlyn Sokol

Alex Kerr’s latest book Another Kyoto is another take on an old city, but in an old sort of way. Those of us who read a lot of historical work are conditioned to diligently check each footnote and to closely examine the bibliography (silently judging the book, even before we read it). Non-scholars too expect sources even when doing the daily task of reading an article on Wikipedia! However, Another Kyoto is an oral history, a conversation with a tour guide of deep knowledge, and not beholden to your scholarly standards. He says it right in the Preface:

Much of what I saw may turn out not even to be true. Although it should have been.

That doesn’t fill one with much confidence so early in the book, but Kerr’s conversational tone and profusion of insights (mundane, holy, and profane) draws the reader in quickly. Another Kyoto is a pleasurable read, bursting with knowledge, and it is best to just go along for the ride.

Continue reading “Walking and talking — a review of Another Kyoto”

Growth

self portrait of Chad with bristly beard and sombre expression

The last time I shaved was 2 weeks ago. It was the last time that I saw my grandmother alive. She was in hospice and I had been driving up to Vernon to visit her. We knew this was the end. (She was 87). So, I decided to stop shaving.

I have done something similar only a couple times before. Like when my wife told me she was pregnant, I stopped shaving for the whole pregnancy. I let my hair grow and everything for nine months and then shaved it once the baby was born.

There must be something deep — evolutionarily speaking — to do this kind of ritual at important life events. Some sort of inner emotional need to externally represent cycles — whether birth or death. I am not sure. I don’t think I learned it, it is just a feeling… a thing that has to be done.

My grandmother — my last living grandparent — is gone. She passed away on her terms, helping people while she went. It was pretty amazing actually. She will be missed.

Her funeral is soon. It has been exactly two weeks, so tonight I will shave the beard.

Let a new cycle begin.

Sharing some Asia podcast discoveries

I love podcasts, and have been a regular user for about 15 years. I also love audiobooks, which means when I discover a podcast and start going through the backlog, my GoodReads Reading Challenge suffers.

This year I have discovered a number of deep podcast catalogs that I thought I would share (in no particular order).


AnalyseAsia

analyse asia cover art

Topic: Startups in Asia

You probably know who the “unicorns” are here in North America, but do you know what is happening on the Asia side of AsiaPac?

Map of the most well funded started in Asia-Oceania
Credit: CB Insights

Bernard Leong’s AnalyseAsia podcast features interviews with various startup founders, VCs, institutional tech economy people from all over Asia. He is based in Singapore, and there is a good amount of content about Southeast Asia which is what interested me.

For a quick hit, check out this informative interview with Justin Hall on VC in Southeast Asia →


Disrupting Japan

Disrupting Japan cover art

Topic: Startups in Japan

Earlier this year LinkedIn listed Japan’s 20 best startups to work for. On the list is a company I was interested in called Shizen Energy, a utilities startup based in Fukuoka (a place I really want to visit!) that has been building renewable energy

Looking around I found this English-language interview with founder Ken Isono on the Disrupting Japan podcast. This was a fascinating interview as it turns out the podcast host Tim Romero works for TEPCO Ventures. I did my master’s thesis on energy security in Japan, so hearing two energy people discuss how to revolutionize Japan’s (and the world’s) energy mix was brilliant. They discuss all sorts of things, including the decentralization/localization of energy projects, which reminded me of the Citizen Energy project I learned about in Ikoma-shi, Nara.

During the interview Ken Isono uses a very interesting metaphor. He argues that in the future renewables will make energy free — so cheap it won’t be worth metering. He points out that in some areas of Europe the energy price is negative. In thinking about what that future looks like for utilities, he says they will have to shift much like telecom industries after the rise of Skype 20 years ago: “International calls became free. I think the same thing will happen in energy.” That didn’t destroy the phone companies, but they had to shift their business model away from charging for long distance calls to selling other value-added services. The same thing could happen in energy.

Fascinating interview. Give it a listen.


The Meiji at 150 Podcast

UBC Meiji at 150 Podcast cover art

Topic: History of the Meiji period

I love Japanese history, but my focus has always been the Sengoku and Edo periods because of my background in classical Japanese martial arts. I almost minored in Japanese history when I was an undergrad at UBC. This year I have been exploring other parts of Japanese history by reading a few books. Then I discovered the Meiji at 150 history podcast — produced by my alma mater UBC — and well, I have been stacking up the books on my Want To Read shelf all year listening to this thing.

Last year the 1868 Meiji Restoration celebrated its sesquicentennial, and UBC kicked off a lot of projects to explore that period of Japan’s modernization. In the show, Dr. Tristan Grunow interviews academics on various aspects of the Meiji, and I have learned a lot. Just listen to the show on coffee in Japan (I bought the book).

Trickle-down ethical leadership — a review of The Just King

cover of the book "The Just King"

The Just King: The Tibetan Buddhist Classic on Leading an Ethical Life by Jamgön Mipham

Take a moment to think of the good leaders that you have had in your life and/or career. Think of the qualities they possess, the qualities that you admire and might even emulate. I am sure we could come up with a common list of attributes (good communicator, humble, fair, etc). One key attribute I have seen across a number of sources is self-awareness. This not only translates into a mindfulness of how a leader acts around her people (self control, humbleness), but is the basis on which a leader can improve her skills. Even if you have a map to good leadership, if you don’t know where your starting point is…

Self awareness requires self reflection. Taking time to self reflect is one of the valuable tenets of Buddhism, and it is thus why on this year’s meditation retreat I spent time reflecting on what makes a good leader. To facilitate this internal discussion, I thought I would turn to one of the great thinkers in Buddhist philosophy. During my free time between meditation sessions I read The Just King: The Tibetan Buddhist Classic on Leading an Ethical Life by Jamgön Mipham.

Mipham was an illustrious polymath of 19th century Tibet who wrote on all sorts of topics, from art to science to religion. The politics of 19th century Tibet are fascinating and turbulent (I highly recommend Tibet by Sam Van Schaik to learn more), and when a new king took the throne in the high pressure region between Tibet and China, Mipham was requested to synthesize all best Buddhist teachings on being a good leader.

The breadth and depth of this book is vast. It covers a couple thousand years of writing on ethics, and puts it into a succinct form. A fairly quick read, it is full of pithy advice for people trying to be better leaders… and better people. At some points I felt that this book could be Mipham flattering his audience. This letter was directed at a king of course, so you cannot deny the power imbalance and potential for that to interfere in this enterprise. Like Machiavelli’s book The Prince, how much of this writing is putting “sweet words” into the mouths of those in power merely for ingratiation? I do not know. Still, there is value in reading The Prince despite its historical purpose. Mipham’s work should certainly not be written off either.

Continue reading “Trickle-down ethical leadership — a review of The Just King”

Learning to lead in a transforming world

This summer I had the privilege of taking an online course. Usually you don’t hear the term “privilege” and “online course” in the same sentence, because online courses have such dismal completion rates. But my experience was so good I felt I should share.

3 charts showing course completion rates for Coursera in 2018: for non-degree consumer completion is 4% for unpaid, 50% for paid. For Enterprise learners 44% completion. For Degree consumers 89% completion.
Coursera course completions can be as low as 4% — from Mary Meeker’s Internet Trends 2019 report

The course was a five week Executive Education program from INSEAD called Leading Organisations in Disruptive Times. I was lucky that my company paid for the experience. I was pretty wary. The course is the first in a 3 course sequence to get online certification for “Leading in a Transforming World.” However, since my experience with the first course was so good, I intend to continue on with the program and obtain the certificate.

I have spent the last 7 years working on change initiatives in various companies, and INSEAD is a world-class business school, so it makes sense to brush up on some of the established frameworks and get better at this thing I do.

Leading Organisations in Disruptive Times was great for introducing tools for leading change. The course focused on the high-level factors involving change, rather than the on-the-ground tools and processes of change management that a program/project manager would employee. It covered decision-making, political challenges, and cultural impacts from a leadership perspective. I will give a bit of a summary of the course content, but first I would like to talk about how they approached the assignments, including the final project.

Continue reading “Learning to lead in a transforming world”

Cycles: 2019 Meditation retreat

sunset with different hues with building in foreground

For a third time I went on retreat to Birken, a Buddhist monastery in the Thai Forest tradition. I try to do retreats like this annually as a way to reset my meditation practice. Going up on Friday, we stayed three nights and enjoyed complete silence, 45m meditation sessions at least twice daily, and lots of time in our rooms for introspection. I spent most of my alone time reading The Just King (review forthcoming). However the first day and a half I actually just spent sleeping! It took time simply to drain all the emotional stress of a busy 2019.

Since it had been nearly two years since my last visit, I was surprised to see so much change. There are newly transformed buildings at Birken, including a new studio and editing room (YouTube channel here) and a brand new state-of-the-art Abbot’s kuti (a meditation hut) with a 40 foot walking meditation path and super-insulated for the cold winters. The Abbot Ajahn Sona has been known for designing and building zero-impact “green monastery” facilities for cold weather climates.

The monastery is completely off the grid and not easy to get to. They added a new battery station and solar panels to the roof of the office building. Apparently the monastery generates more power than they can use in the summer months.

building with solar panels on roof
The office building’s solar-panelled roof provides electricity to all the buildings on the property.

One thing that hasn’t changed is Birken’s wonderful meditation facilities. The main sala, with its cool, reflective black floors, is a wide open space that facilitates the cultivate of a wide open mind.

mural of Buddha with rays of light emanating from him, and reflection on floor

Going down into the lower level to the eating area, my companion exclaimed, “Well! This place is special!” (in an awed whisper of course!). The eating area is adjacent to the walking meditation space, lined with ferns and vines to evoke an image of a walking meditation path in a Thai jungle. Amongst the plants are a number of wooden pillars adorned with beautifully lettered tiles — inspiration for introspection.

A series of concrete paths lined with plants and pillars. The pillars have words on them.
The walking sala

The words on the pillars are the Ten Pāramitā – or 10 Perfections – a list of characteristics that will help you on your way. Although meant for those pursuing a spiritual path, I think they could apply to lots of endeavours in life. Simply, the list is:

  • dāna – generosity
  • sīla – virtue
  • nekkhamma – renunciation
  • paññā – wisdom
  • viriya – energy
  • khanti – patience
  • sacca – truth
  • adhitthāna – resolve
  • mettā – loving-kindness
  • upekkhā – equanimity

These are real basics of Buddhism, but are useful reminders. And that is what retreat is about: periodically disconnecting from the noisy world and spending some time reminding yourself about what is important. You take that back to your daily life and practice at a higher level, until the daily noise gets too overwhelming and you struggle to stay on that straight and narrow path. Then you go on retreat again, and the cycle repeats. It is simple, but a very useful technique for self care, whether your path is Buddhist or not.

Not about process

If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up the people to gather wood, divide the work, and give orders. Instead, teach them to yearn for the vast and endless sea.

Antoine De Saint‐Exupery, author of The Little Prince