Conscious labour and supreme blessings

To be well caring of mother, of father, to look after spouse and children, to engage in a harmless occupation, this is a blessing supreme.

This line is from a discourse with the Buddha known as the Mangala Sutta. The Buddha is approached in a grove and is asked about the “blessings supreme.” He lists 38 (included below) including not associating with fools, abstaining from intoxicants, looking after your family, and other common sense responsibilities that one has to choose to be blessed.

In the above quote, “to engage in a harmless occupation” really stands out to me. Although the Buddha might be referring to soldiery or banditry, two occupations that he was surrounded with on his journey around northeastern India, I have a different reading.

In recent years I have thought long and hard about what work I do. Most recently I spent two and a half years in adtech. Trying to come up with ways to make people click more online ads might be joked away as a “harmless occupation”, but as I became immersed in the business I began to become uneasy about all the negative externalities of adtech: loss of privacy, financialization, content commoditization, botnets and clickfraud. The sheer amount of money in that vertical attracts many entrepreneurs, but the amount of waste is astounding. I only half-joke that the person who actually figures out “The Attribution Problem” (ie. which click lead to which purchase: what digital marketing was supposed to solve for us, but hasn’t by a long shot) would win a Nobel Prize and simultaneously destroy about 80% of the digital advertising space. Ensuring that consumers get what they want in an efficient manner is a bedtime story advertisers tell themselves, and is lost amongst the harmful noise.

So, I left. Continue reading “Conscious labour and supreme blessings”

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:

Quarterly review: FY16Q4

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

★★★☆☆ Fight Club

★★★☆☆ The Essential Dogen: Writings of the Great Zen Master

★★★☆☆ Weapons of Math Destruction: How Big Data Increases Inequality and Threatens Democracy

Not a lot of reviews this time round. I would like to plug two books that I thought were really great:

1) The Wicked + The Divine graphic novel. I blasted through the first two volumes. It is deep and beautiful.

2) Raymond Chandler’s The Big Sleep. I picked this up because Michael Chabon referenced Chandler’s work in his excellent book The Yiddish Policeman’s Union, and wow was it great! I mean, besides all the sexism and stuff. Chandler’s similes are as hilarious as they are peculiarly specific, like seeing your father-in-law get roasted at a celebrity dinner by Dave Chappelle… I dunno, Chandler does it better. ¯_(ツ)_/¯

Film

★★★★☆ The Hateful Eight

★½☆☆☆ Suicide Squad

★★★★☆ Arrival

Mental Flexibility: My first Zen experience

In 1335, a few years after he abdicated the throne, the 95th emperor of Japan Hanazono (1297-1348) decided to become a Buddhist monk. He entered the Rinzai school of Zen Buddhism and donated one of his palaces, turning it into a temple complex. Almost 700 years later, the Myoshin-ji (妙心寺) complex houses almost 50 sub-temples, and lays just up the road from the JR Hanazono train station in northeast Kyoto, a station I used to frequent often when I was a student here in 1999.

Last Saturday, on a crisp morning with a cloudless blue sky, I wandered about the temple complex in search of Shunkō-in (春光院). A few times a month, the Reverend Taka Kawakami gives an introductory zazen (seated meditation) lesson in English. Having only done guided mediation on my own, listening to podcasts or books, I was really looking forward to trying zazen, especially under the guidance of a teacher.
Continue reading “Mental Flexibility: My first Zen experience”

On stage at OnPoint: An argument from culture

Me providing (unpaid) plug of OGO Carshare on stage. Photo credit: Deon Nel Photography

Urban Systems rounded out their series of workshops on housing, the economy, and climate with their fourth and final workshop on Transportation. The evening focused on thinking about how transportation could enable vibrancy in the community.

I shared the panel with autonomous vehicle enthusiast Joseph Hlady and Lisa McIntosh, one of the founders of Urban Harvest Organic Delivery. You can read a bit of a roundup of each of points of view in the Kelowna Capital News.

As you can see, there was a bit of diversity on the stage. Lisa McIntosh was closer to my position of less car usage overall, but Joseph Hlady went a completely different direction. He painted a wondrous if ambiguous future of autonomous vehicles providing last-mile transportation support to the elderly and disabled. His vision had people using automated rideshare, rather than purchasing their own cars. Of course, he neglected to say what international venture-backed behemoth would inevitably own these vehicles.

He argued from the perspective of efficiency, how automated cars would mean less vehicles on the road, and from safety (less auto accidents) and accessibility. To me, this came off as just arguing for a more efficient version of the terrible system we already have, rather than a more radical vision of what we need.

Joseph argued against light rail and other forms mass transit, and actually argued that AVs would allow Kelowna to remain spread out. This floored me and many people in the audience. We just spent the last 3 sessions of OnPoint talking about YIMBYism, and the need to densify.

Me furious writing notes while Joseph talks.
Me furiously writing notes while Joseph talks. Photo credit: Deon Nel Photography

A future of every individual being whizzed around in little tin cans is exactly the opposite of what I argued for on stage. My position is that we need to abandon car culture, the real cause driving our current disastrous environmental, economic and social transportation system.
Continue reading “On stage at OnPoint: An argument from culture”

3 years of real-world OGO carshare usage data

ogo_car_usage_2014-16

It is end of year data time! Here is our 2016 data for OGO Carshare. The average we spend on our vehicle is about $3000 per year, well below the average Canadian who spends $10,456. Keep in mind that this year also included a round-trip to Vancouver (to take my family to the airport) and our trip to the Sunshine Coast when we used a partner carshare to explore the communities there.

Buddha, the manga

Historical drama can sometimes be dangerous. Subtle twists of creative license to fit a narrative can give a false impression of the facts. Osamu Tezuka’s massive 8 volume series on the life of the Buddha is anything but subtle.

You may know Osamu Tezuka as the creator of Astro Boy and Simba the White Lion. He is one of the grandfathers of modern manga. In the late 1970s he spent 10 years on a series called Buddha. The series was translated into English and collected into 8 volumes.

buddha_books

Despite being the titular character, the Buddha is just one of a large ensemble cast, featuring many people from the various sutras and stories of the life of the Buddha. In fact, it isn’t until about page 260 of volume 1 that the Buddha is even born!

Tezuka’s genius at character design really shines in this series. Every character is distinct, with one or two simple visual flourishes, a characteristic (flaw), and a distinct voice. Tezuka is irreverent, and often goofy. When Siddartha leaves the palace and meets the ascetics who will one day become his first five disciples, one of the ascetics has taken to hanging upside down as his trial. In every frame he is upside down, his legs out of frame and hanging from something … nothing? It is ridiculous and funny. Characters often make modern references (eg. about movies, or sports) or are often modern themselves. Take for example the doctor who examines the sickly young Siddartha: it is Professor Ochanomizu from Astro Boy!

But it isn’t all silliness. Serious teachings of Buddhism find their way into the pages. Tezuka obviously made a deep study of a number of texts in order to be familiar enough to give it such a spin. And the art can be astounding, especially the landscapes, drawn in painstaking detail.

Extremely detailed lush scenery, topped by a naked cartoon kid.
Extremely detailed lush scenery, topped by a naked cartoon kid. (Source)

Similar to the way that watching the TV series Game of Thrones helps put a face to the massive cast of characters in the books, making it easier to follow, Buddha does a great job giving you a simple visualization of characters from one of the greatest stories ever told, from the obscure to famous disciples like Sariputta and Mogallana. That is one of the values of historical drama, and books like this. It certainly makes it easier when reading other, more academic histories like Karen Armstrong’s Buddha, or even the Buddhist canon itself. The one thing to remember is: take the details with a giant bag of salt. Tezuka’s Buddha is not historical document, and it helps that he doesn’t deign to pretend it should be. That said, it is a great introduction to the life of the Buddha and some of the basic tenets, and furthermore, is a masterwork in the medium of manga.

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.