Best of 2016

2016 has been a tumultuous year, for both the entire world and for me personally. I have categorized some of the best hits and big changes below into three categories: Life, Posts and Media.

Life

Death and rebirth

This year we had a cancer scare in my family which made me put community activity on hold for a few months while we waited for test results (maybe I should write a post about how we were totally failed by the Canadian medical system, and had to get this sorted out in Japan?). I had to leave ORCA, which was sad because I think they do important work. I stopped playing D&D. There were many serious talks.

However, two good things came out of this: first, it doesn’t look to be cancer. Second, it made me rethink my life. What they say about near-death experiences is true.

New job

After 4 years in startupland, 3 of which dealing with adtech, I finally moved on to a new, more stable (and less morally hazardous) work environment. My new company is in a massive growth phase, so I get to use a lot of my startup skills. The nice thing is they have lots of customers and resources and experienced executives, making it a much easier to execute.

Vegetarianism

On December 28th 2015, I decided to stop eating meat. A year has passed and I am still not eating it, and am pretty happy about the decision. I wrote about why at the 6 months mark →

Travel

I had the opportunity to visit Texas for the first time, and learned a bit about that state’s history, and of America’s as a whole. My wife and I also took a getaway to the Sunshine Coast, where we could delve a little into BC’s aboriginal history.

This year we took two trips to Japan (I am still on one as I write this). Since we stay in Kyoto, the city of temples, I took both opportunities to explore Japanese Buddhism. Here are a couple of posts exploring the issue:

Public appearances

Early this year I did a couple of radio interviews: one on downsizing and one on Syrian refugees. I was on a public panel about transportation. Lastly, and totally randomly, I was on local TV news.

Posts

blog-posts-by-year-2009-2016

This year was a good one for blogging. I have 54 posts (including this one) for 2016, which is an uptick over recent years. Starting a newsletter to help people who do not use Twitter or RSS to help keep up gave me some more motivation to write, holding me accountable to a schedule. Also, I hit 500 posts this year since starting in early 2009. Lots of introspection about how my thinking has changed over the years here.

Standout posts for the year include:

Media

53 films

The Force Awakens (second viewing) was my first film of 2016. Rogue One (first viewing) was my last. Well, the first 45 mins of it anyways, since my (not quite) 5 year old got a little too scared and we had to leave. I am sure I will get another opportunity to see it.

In February and March I went on a tear and watched a bunch of Oscar-related films which was just about the deepest, non-Marvel non-superhero, non kids watching I did. Standout films include:

62 books

This year I set out to discover new podcasts and Great courses, so I originally set my Goodreads challenge low, to like 30 books. I was still reading a lot, so I kept having to up the challenge. But now when I look back, 20 of those 62 books were graphic novels (including the 8 volume series on the Buddha reviewed here), which means I actually didn’t hit my final goal of 45 books. Also, only 10 of those 42 books were in text form, making my audiobook ratio 76%, which is pretty high, even for me.

I read a lot on Syria, about Marxism and leftist politics, and a lot about Buddhism this year. It is a reflection of the ever-changing perspectives and interests of someone trying to live the examined life (or write the examined blog at least).

My standout books this year are as follows:

Event: OnPoint – Do we need a new relationship with transportation and mobility in our region?

onpoint header image

What are the possibilities for city beyond transportation? How do we think about transportation in terms of making a city more vibrant, rather than a deadening concrete grid where we travel isolated in our cars?

On December 8th I will be on the panel for the Urban Systems On Point Series Getting Unstuck – Do we need a new relationship with transportation and mobility in our region?. The event is the fourth in the series, and happens at the Laurel Packinghouse from 7PM. There is wine, food and music, and about 200 to 300 interesting people to meet and mingle with. See all the details and get your FREE tickets here →

I will be on the panel with a few others to discuss transportation. Here are some related posts on this blog that will likely be mentioned on stage:

The unexamined blog is not worth writing

Blogging is an activity I have been doing for more than a dozen years, under a few different guises: an anonymous personal blog, a pseudonymous group blog, and then another pseudonymous Tumblr which actually provides the basis of this blog.

Almost 8 years later I am now at 500 posts on this blog.

500

Early in 2009 I laid out why I was writing this blog. Looking back, it is interesting to see how things have certainly changed over time. I view this public repository of writing as a sort of changelog of my thinking. And over 8 years, scrolling through my old posts, I can see that it has changed quite a bit.

This blog started out with lots of Apple and tech punditry from Japan. I spent a lot of time talking about things like why Japanese cellphones aren’t that smart and how Japan got emoji on the iPhone. It was a lot of hot takes. Short pieces that were too long for Twitter.

Looking back on that writing in Japan, probably the only real lasting stuff is on parenting. Posts like The Baby Staring Problem are memorable. Even today I share End of paternity leave and a lesson on negative support, in which I share how to better support my wife as a new mother, after finishing 6 months of paternity leave. The Japanese version was published in a feminist newsletter in Japan.

After returning to Canada I still wrote about tech and design, and less about Japan. Around this time I also decided to forgo anonymity and began to use my real name on the net. That was a big turning point. For six years I used pseudonyms. For the last six I have been very open. Maybe too open.

My love affair with tech began to widen beyond interaction and design and into entrepreneurship. Startups became a featured topic, especially after moving to Kelowna and participating in the startup community here. I also started thinking more about thinking, not only about dealing with information overload but also in wider society: how public intellectualism has changed in the internet age, and maybe more importantly, how audiences have changed. After a few years out of graduate school, numbing myself with mindless hot-takes on tech, I started to wake up and think and read more critically again. This was the beginning of another turning point, a new evolution in my thinking.

Working in startups and having my critical faculties engaged I began to see more and more of the problems of tech. In about 2013 I started digging more into techno-optimism. Just a few months later I was in San Francisco and saw the social division first hand. In the beginning of 2014 my faith in tech started to fall down and by late 2014 it was lying down. And then I came to the realization, that it wasn’t “tech” per se, that tech is just a symptom.

2015 is probably the year I completed my conversion from neoliberalism to leftism… a far cry from my years as a center-rightist at Coming Anarchy. Since then I have written more about politics and social issues: journalism, anticonsumerism and environmentalism (downsizing), racism and the immigrant experience. Tech still makes an appearance, especially when I write about privacy and surveillance, but to a much lesser degree.

Having your thoughts on record, even if they are in a private journal, makes for interesting retrospection. You can see how much you have grown and changed over the years. In 2009 I wrote:

My life is ruled by four themes: 1) international politics, 2) Japan, 3) technology and 4) design.

International politics are important, but I focus more on local politics now. I will write more about Japan when I move back someday. I still think about tech, but not as a cheerleader anymore. Design is the only thing on that list that no longer interests me to the same degree.

Things have changed. Eight years later and nearing 40, I am more interested in grassroots community building and living the “examined” life: working to make things better for my family and the people around me. Still, writing this blog and putting my thoughts on “paper” and out in public, is a great way for me to practice being examined — whether by others or by myself. Here is to 500 more.

Off White

Spike Lee’s film Malcolm X was released in 1992 when I was just 14 years old. Denzel Washington’s performance was powerful and it struck me. I became very interested in Malcolm X. During a trip to a nearby city I bought one of those X caps. The next week I wore it to school. I was a young white kid in a rural mountain town that was overwhelmingly white. My highschool went from grade 8 to 12. I was in grade 9, and let me tell you, some of the older non-white kids did not appreciate my expression of solidarity. I suffered at their hands. Although I did know that racial hierarchy was wrong, at 14 I did not have the sophistication to know how to navigate it.

From this incident I took the wrong lesson — a lesson that I think many white Canadians learn at a young age — when it comes to race: keep your opinions to yourself.

Canada has over 200 ethnic groups, but is 80% “white.” Canadian policies make it easy to ignore our race problems. The multiculturalism policies enacted since 1971 allow us to hide under a veneer of inclusionism. The truth is since we don’t collect data on race we have no idea how big our race problem is. Canada’s last segregated school was closed in Nova Scotia in 1983! In 2016 we are more integrationist than the United States. Our government has a dedicated foundation to dealing with racism that nobody has heard of, and we have hundreds of years of discriminatory policy towards the indigenous population.

angus reid chart

As the majority, white people have a responsibility to stand up. The first step is confronting whiteness.
Continue reading “Off White”

“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.”

6 months meat-free

On December 28th 2015 — 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.

The Interest Stack and Attention Debt

Me in 2003, deep in thought watching the Cambodia jungle.
Me in 2003, deep in thought, watching the Cambodian jungle, back when life was simple.

Levels of analysis is a way of studying a political problem from (generally) three different perspectives: individual, state, and the international system. Using this framework I started examining my interests — all of the things I keep tabs on and projects I am involved in outside of my day job. There are a lot, and I fear I might have to go on another information diet. This is simply an exercise in mapping all the directions my brain is being pulled in a at once. Once that is achieved, I can better apply the scalpel to gain back more time to think.

Lining my interests up by scale like some sort of technology stack I came up with the following categories:

  • Individual
  • Family
  • Community
  • Citizen
  • Global
  • Space

Here is a breakdown of each one:
Continue reading “The Interest Stack and Attention Debt”

Travel advisory

For the next few weeks I will be on the road. One of my business partners and I will be in San Francisco for the next month or so (leaving tomorrow morning) to raise some money for the new business we have been working on for the past year. Anyways, I will probably posting a lot of tweets and photos of the trip. The last time I was in SF was almost exactly 2 years ago. I wrote about my impressions then. I am really looking forward to the challenge it will be this time. Give us a shout if you are in the area and want to meet up. We will have office space in Runway while we are down there.

In late December I will be back in Canada briefly before jetting off to Japan to meetup with the wife and kids, who left for Kyoto last week. We will be hitting Tokyo Disneyland for Xmas, then Tokyo Skytree before heading back to Kyoto for New Year’s. As always, following my postings on Twitter and photos on Flickr. All four of us will be returning in early January. Then, who knows where the journey will take us next?

Finding Balance

Work-life balance is difficult enough to achieve, especially when you must balance your own development with that of your dependents. Like the information diet — limiting the intake “junk” information and information over-consumption — I thought of how my attention is spent, relative to my goal of leading a “considered life”. What are the “food groups” for my attention that require balancing? Considering how I fill each 24 hour period, came up with some categories:

  • professional
  • physical
  • mental
  • parental
  • entertainment

These categories reflect the current situation in my life (ie. a new parent), so your mileage may vary. Also, I am not arguing that each of these categories have equal distribution. The “professional” category takes up about 50% of my time and attention, and the physical only about 5%. But I digress…

The above categories might remind you of the top bits of Maslow’s hierarchy. Indeed, the first three categories are about self actualization; the fourth is about love and belonging; and the fifth is the stress-reducing “junk food” of attention, which is overlooked by Maslow, but important in itself (and if you look close enough, you will find that even here one can find personal development).

Both your time and attention are a limited resource. If you are to spend them in the pursuit of work/life balance, or living the considered life (or whatever your goal is) consider what the optimal balance should be for you. Think of all you do and how they fit into the above categories, and how much time in total you dedicate to each. It is a simple problem of economics: the allocation of scarce resources.

Forgive me now as I break down each of these categories using personal examples.

Professional

Obviously work, and the types of R&D, Meetup groups, and extra-work study you do to better yourself professionally is important. Having a work environment that supports your personal development gives you a great sense of well being.

Physical

This one has been a challenge for me since having children. When you do have a spare minute, who wants to go to the gym? I just want to sleep. I look forward to my kids becoming more independent so that I can get back on this. Walking or riding to work, having a good diet, going to the gym and doing some jujutsu are what I wish I were doing.

Mental

For many, mental development is closely aligned to professional development. For me, it is exercising my brain in ways that my professional environment does not. This usually means reading, specifically non-fiction (politics, science, philosophy, etc) or challenging literature. Writing about my thinking is also important to me and my mental development. It is why I dedicate so much time to this blog, despite having a very small audience. 😉 To paraphrase Christopher Hitchens, “Those who cannot speak, cannot write.” Engaging in enlightening discourse through different types of talk clubs are a great way to exercise the brain. The internet — being asynchronous — does not count.

Parental

Developing as a parent is important, since your kids will only have one childhood and it is your duty to give them the best one you possibly can. I mix this a lot with Entertainment, since it usually also involves play, outings and watching movies together. Another important part of parental duty is being a spouse. Don’t skimp on the husband+wife time, especially if your spouse is stay-at-home.

Entertainment

Life without fun, isn’t. For me TV, movies and reading (eg. genre fiction or comic books) fall into this category. I also watch the occasional football game, and recently was invited to a D&D group which is about as escapist as one can get. That is not to say any of the above categories cannot be fun. They should be. (In fact, “husband time” can be a highly recommended form of escapism, wink-wink, nudge-nudge).

Taking stock of each of these categories in your life and arranging your activities for optimum balance, even on paper, is a brilliant exercise in self-evaluation. If you are a subscriber to the idea of “the quantified self” you already understand the value, even if this is more of an abstract/subjective approach. A constant struggle, and like a diet you must occasionally return to first principles, periodically taking stock of how your spend your time and attention is rewarding.