Categories
Culture Tips & How To's

How To: Work From Home, Be Productive and Stay Sane

I just spent a few minutes looking through my draft posts for inspiration to restart blogging.

I came across the oldest draft in my queue, dated November 11, 2009.

I missed 11/11 1:11 by 6 minutes!

The post read as follows:


I’ve worked from home for 6 of the past 8 years in a variety of workspaces. Initially I worked in my parents basement, I briefly worked in my mother-in-law’s dinning room and for the past 2 years I’ve worked in the common space of a 2 bedroom apartment, with a toddler. Over this period I’ve maintained a 35 – 50 hour work week and managed to stay sane (and reasonably productive). Now that I’ve had my own dedicated works space for a couple of weeks I’ve had some time to reflect on a few of the ways I’ve been able to make it work.

  1. Good Employer
  2. Keep A ToDo List
  3. Don’t Answer The Phone
  4. Set “Business Hours”
  5. Don’t Follow Them
  6. Be Distracted

Reflecting on this now that we’ve all been covidworkingfromhome for the past 18 months (or is it 32?) and have just started a permanent remote positions, I’d say that list of advice still rings true.

1. Good Employer

Simply put: you need an employer who trusts you to work from home. One who understand that things might come up throughout the day and doesn’t have a problem with that.

If you’re having trouble finding an employer like this in 2021, imagine how rare it was 12 years ago.

During COVID, even bad employers didn’t have a choice but to begrudgingly let their employees work from home. Good employers will differentiate themselves from by ones by allowing their employees to continue working from home into 2022 and beyond.

2. Keep a To Do List

What I really meant by this was “be organized and focused.”

I still prefer physical to do lists. I like crossing things off with a pen and crumpling up the list at the end of the day.

Organizational tools and apps have really matured and keeping a physical to do list is not really necessary.

Don’t forget to include personal/home things on your to do list. Writing everything down is a great way to keep yourself from getting distracted.

3. Don’t Answer the Phone

“The phone” is much less of a thing in 2021.

Better advice would be “don’t read text messages, or non-work DMs”.

4. Set “Business Hours”

Over my years working from home this has come to be the main key to success.

Setting business hours adds the structure that I need to stay focused. It also sets expectations with my family. They’ll know not to interrupt or distract me between 8 – 5 unless it’s urgent.

Having an office door that you can closes helps, but it’s really not as crucial in my experience.

5. Don’t Follow Them & 6. Be Distracted

These two rules are really the same thing “allow yourself to be distracted.”

I’ve found that giving myself permission to break the rules has been the key to staying “sane.”

Take a long lunch, grab a coffee, go to the store.

Just don’t stray too far, too often.


In 2021, I would only add two additional pieces of advice to this list.

7. Wear Pants

Get dressed for work.

I’ve found that it really puts me in the mindset to get to work.

This has been a rule I’ve always followed, I don’t know why I didn’t add it to my original list.

8. Have an Amazing Partner (or I guess, live alone?)

I couldn’t have made it this far without an understanding wife.

Categories
Culture

When Facebook Turns Against You

Yesterday Facebook surfaced one of my aunts posts in which she alluded to a conspiracy theory that the COVID-19 death numbers are being fabricated. Normally my response to these sorts of posts on Facebook these days is to simply hit the “snooze for 30 days” button.

But this was my favourite aunt who I’ve respected since I was a child. She is not a “crazy aunt,” she is level-headed and well educated. Facebook has also never shown me a post of hers like this before, so I assumed she still had her wits about her.

I decided to spend some time with a thoughtful and researched reply. It was as follows.


There are a bunch of ways in which this statement doesn’t pass the smell test:

1. “We can’t know that the people who died, died from Covid19” I don’t think that the statement is true. I think we can know in the vast majority of cases. People are not randomly getting some a combination of symptoms similar to: kidney failure, pneumonia, meningitis, etc. Doctors know what the symptoms look like, they even have a test for the disease. If someone has the symptoms, they test postive for the disease and then subsequently die, it would be silly to say that they didn’t die of the disease.

2. “ANYONE who tested positive with COVID at the time of death has been marked as a COVID death.” I believe this is consistent with the way that causes of death are typically attributed. For example, if someone suffering from HIV/AIDS dies of a pneumonia, their cause of death will be recorded as “HIV/AIDS.” Same with people suffering from cancer. If someone with lung cancer dies of lung failure or pneumonia, their cause of death will be listed as “cancer.” Perhaps in an obituary it may be listed as “complications of cancer.” But in terms of statistics and epidemiology, deaths are attributed to the deadly diseases the victims were suffering from. So the statement “we can’t know that the people who died, died from Covid19” is not relevant because it’s consistent with the way that we normally attribute causes of death.

3. “…even if they died from any other cause.” If someone dies in a car crash what is their cause of death? Cars don’t have some sort of ability to suck our souls out of our bodies. A car crash will cause various injuries which will end our lives. Those injuries are the direct cause of our death, but the car crash is the reason we received the injury, so we say that the car crash was the cause of death. If an unwell person becomes infected with COVID and their body is unable to go living with the added stress of fighting off COVID, then COVID is the factor that tiped the scales of fate, so we would say that COVID caused their death.4. I think you might be alluding to this idea that non-COVID deaths are being attributed to COVID. Even if this were true, the numbers don’t add up. For example, the average number of deaths in New York City 145 per day. On April 7th, New York City reported 545 deaths. Even if every single death under normal circumstances was being reported as a COVID death in NYC, the numbers would only be around 145. Not 375% higher!

Now there’s no denying that the US media thrives on fomenting fear uncertainty and doubt. They make a living keeping the US public in fear and uncertain of the truth. But I can assure you that the Canadian media and media in most of the rest of the western world do not operate this way. The tone here is not one of fear, it’s one of solemn resignation to a fate beyond our control. It’s one of steadfast dedication to flattening the curve by doing our part.We’ve got this.


Her response was short and polite but I did not sway her opinion.

It’s becoming more clear every day, the USA is a failed state. We are witnessing the fall of an empire.


A friend of mine told me that he literally hits “snooze for 30 days” on every post that comes up in his feed.

It works rather well. The people you don’t care about, you only see monthly. For the people who you do care about, you get a monthly reminder to creep their profile

name redacted to preserve his privacy

I think I am going to give this a shot.

Categories
Culture

One Night In Finland. Or Is Europe Obsessed with Latin America?

During my stay in pre-COVID Finland in Feburary I participated in far to many nights of cycle-based pub crawling for a man of my vintage. One night we checked out a local pub called Ravintola House (Restaurant House?) a minutes from our place Pateniemi.

We arrived early for a midnight performance of Kulmakunnan Kutkuttajat. As the regulars started to trickle in the DJ played typical euro-dance-esque. For a few rounds Aura (or was it Karhu) none of the music piqued my interest in particular. IIRC Canada’s own Len made an appearance on the playlist.

Then the Venga Bus showed up and when it drove off suddenly the music took a distinctly tropical turn. It was the last thing I expected, I was so blown away I quickly downloaded Shazam and let it log the playlist for the next hour.

Today I finally transcribed that playlist into Spotify.

You can’t not to chair dance while you give this a listen. Read on for my thoughts, supplementary research findings and ratings.

R3HAB x A Touch Of Class – All Around The World (La La La)

In retrospect, I’m not sure if my Shazam log caught the entire set or when exactly it kicked in, there’s nothing particularly out of place or samba-influenced about this one.

Often when I’m working on code in the evening I’ll throw on an EDM festival live set and this one seems to be a staple banger. I assume it’s popular with the kids.

If the audience wasn’t primarily middle-aged Finnish rock fans and instead college-aged flower lei fans this would be have been totally expected

Verdict: 4/5 – It’s catchy.

Arash feat Sean Paul – She Makes Me Go

Arash is a Swedish Iranian singer who represented Azerbaijan at Eurovision 2009 because wut?!

Sean Paul must have the world’s most terrible yet recognizable voice. I can’t stand Sean Paul.

Suffice to say I was not expecting to hear Mr Paul 9000km from Jamaica. I wonder if you’re random pop star in a non-English-speaking country, can you just hire Sean Paul to appear on your track?

Verdict: 0/5 – I hate Sean Paul.

Madcon – Glow

I assumed this was some Will.i.am produced project that just never heard of before. It’s got that inoffensive 2010s vaguely electronically, rappy formula that Will.i.am has repeated dozens of times. But Madcon is totally Swedish and as far as I can tell, no will.i.am involved. Though they were most certainly “influenced” by him on this album.

Their claim to fame appears to be touring with Gang Starr in the 90s. I gave 2010s Contraband a list, it’s decent.

Verdict: 3/5.

Adelén – Bombo

I cannot stop listening to this track. ABSOLUTE BANGER!

Adelén is a Norwegian latin pop singer. It’s an English song with an Spanish hook because European are doing absolutely everything they can to prove that borders are meaningless.

Verdict: 5/5 – Corazón.

P.S. Her other hit Olé is an inferior song and everything about this performance is exceedingly weird. I do not want to go to Sweden.

P.S.S. Wait, is this a Zumba song? That might explain everything. I don’t care I still love it. Maybe I should try Zumba.

Tones and I – Dance Monkey

This one is popular with the tik-tok-set worldwide. The first time I heard it I thought it was decent. But it’s one of those one hit wonders that relies heavily on repetition and get stale quick.

Verdict: 2/5 – meh.

Mr. President – Coco Jamboo

If I had watched Electric Circus in 1996 I am pretty sure Monika Deol would have played this one every week. But I definitely didn’t watch that. Nope.

Song was the most blatant Ace Of Base imitator of 1996. But it’s tropical reggae fusion beat fits right in with this set. Amazingly.

Verdict: 3/5 (+1 because it was snowing outside).

Eppu Normaali – Vuonna ’85

I wonder if Finland has a CanCon-esque regulation that requires clubs to play a certain amount of Finnish music. Because that track was totally out of place in the set.

Wikipedia lists them as a punk band and I was pretty excited to check out some 80s Finnish punk. Unfortunately this track is the only cut on 1985’s Kahdeksas Ihme that’s vaguely punk. As a standalone it’s catchy.

Verdict: 4/5 (+1 for that weird 80s stereo vocals thing).

Hausmylly – Ikävä Lokakuu

Verdict: 0/5 – Bad 90s eurotrash.

Anssi Kela – 1972

Kela seems to be a big deal in Suomi. His debut album sold 150,000 copies which seems huge. The video for this song has over 2.6M views.

1972 starts out strong with a soft Les Paul and softer drums, an intro that wouldn’t be out of place in mid-00s emo. For a moment I excitedly thought “oh, have i stumbled on Finnish emo?!”

Unfortunately the chorus proves I am totally wrong and this is just standard “rock.” I gave the rest of the album a listen, but nope, no emo to be found.

Verdict: -1/5 for leading me on.

P.S. Reddit says I Love Your Lifestyle is the only Nordic Emo band. They’re from Sweden and they’re great!

P.S.S. det är därför vi bygger städer screamo from Sweden. Also great!

Eiffel 65 – Move Your Body

Back on track with the dancey-dance. I’ve always thought Move Your Body was a more solid track than exceedingly cheesy “blue.” The stronger acid bass ups the banger factor by an order of magnitude. The bridge is more melodic. The string pads suffer a bit from that late 90s thing where SoundBlaster 16 can’t properly reproduce string samples or something. Blah, blah, great track.

Verdict: 5/5 – still holds up.

ICE MC – Think About The Way

I am almost certain that this was another Electric Circus standard. I mean it shouts out Canada after all. The vaguely Reggae styles of Mr MC must have been what earned it a place on this playlist.

Fun Fact – this single was released on the short-lived CD Maxi format.

Verdict: 3/5 – would be better as a happy hardcore remix.

Günther (with The Sunshine Girls) – Teeny Weeny String Bikini

Swedish vocalist + latin influences = the spiritual successor to Bombo. Teen Weeny String Bikini has no redeeming qualities. Dude’s creepy AF voice ruins it. I wouldn’t be surprised if he tried to murder the Carol Baskin of Sweden in a bikini-based feud.

Verdict: 0/5.

Don Omar feat Lucenzo – Danza Kuduro

Last track on the playlist is legit Latin Pop from Puerto Rico. I recall hearing Danza Kuduro in a few place out and about. Looks like it hit number 1 on every chart in most of Europe (didn’t break top 80 in North America).

It’s a solid banger.

Verdict: 5/5 – Europe is having a real Latin Pop moment and so am I.


BTW, you can get a solid Burrito 100km from the Arctic Circle.

Oh. The band came on after midnight. They were pretty good and the crowd was really in to them.

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Categories
Culture Design

What I Learned About Cycling Infrastructure in Finland

I sometime describe myself as “an aspiring cyclist.” I enjoy cycling a lot and recognize all its environmental and health benefits, but unfortunately like most Canadian parents my day-to-day is not very conducive to a cycling-based lifestyle. In Winnipeg, as is the case in most North American cities, the built environment abandoned the bicycle sometime in around the 1950s when we started to replace electric trams with diesel buses. So at best, I can only aspire to be a cyclist.

Earlier this February, I had the pleasure of joining the Counterpoint team in Oulu, Finland for a winter cycling retreat of sorts. Oulu is a city barely south of the Arctic Circle in Northern Finland. It has a population and land area of roughly half that of Winnipeg, yet it boasts and incredible 600km of cycle/pedestrian pathways, including over 100 underpasses. I spent 6 days (logged 100km) exploring the city by bicycle.

In addition the the many underpasses, in the few places where cyclists are required to intersect with a car crossing Oulu’s streetlights are designed to sense cycle traffic and prioritize it by switching the car traffic lights to red. With this system we were able to cycle the 10km from our suburban airbnb to the downtown core without stopping. The cycle path system also includes comprehensive way finding and a west-to-east numbering system making navigation easy, even without Google maps.

Overall it’s an incredibly well designed system, built from the ground up with cycling as a priority. Unlike our systems here where we are largely trying to wedge a cycling network into an environment built for cars.

But unpinning Oulu’s cycling network is something that Winnipeg already has. Something we could adopt in many places around the city without spending massive amounts of money building new infrastructure… two meter wide “sidewalks.”

Examples

The quiet suburb of Pateniemi in Oulu
A random industrial area near the Helsinki Airport in Vantaa

Every single roadway in Oulu (and I can only assume much of Finland) includes a roughly 2 meter wide light traffic right of way along side at least one side of the car/truck right of way.

Have We Been Overthinking Cycling Infrastructure?

Dedicated protected bike lanes are great and super important for much of the existing road network that we have in cities like Winnipeg. But they’re also very expensive to build and they’re hard to approve since they often involve disrupting the ever-important car. Thing is, in my entire time in Finland I didn’t encounter a single “bike lane.” I’m not sure they actually have any.

And when I got in to my car for the first time after getting back and drove down Ness avenue, it immediately hit me! We already have wide sidewalks all over the city! We are just using them poorly.

Cycling On The Sidewalk

Under current city bylaws it is technically illegal for adults to cycle on the sidewalk. Many parts of the city have <1m wide sidewalks and on those narrow sidewalks it’s understandable, they’re not really wide enough for a cyclist to share with a pedestrian.

Unfortunately, this regulation sends a strange message that bikes are dangerous and completely sidesteps the real problem of sidewalks that are much too narrow.

I’d propose changing this legislation to allow for wider sidewalks to be designated shared pedestrian and cycling pathways. Explicitly, with well placed signage and a proper public awareness campaign. (Oh and while we’re at it get rid of those lame no skateboarding laws too!)

Examples of Poor Use of Space

Ness Avenue

Much of Ness Avenue has wider than average sidewalks. For some reason the utility poles and signage is in the middle of the sidewalk! Move that junk to the outside edge and suddenly you have cycling infrastructure on Ness! For much lower cost than ripping up the street and building some bike lanes.

Portage Avenue

Portage Avenue has sidewalks that would be plenty wide for cyclists to share with pedestrians, if it wasn’t for all the random garbage cans, no parking signs and other junk. Moving those out of the way would cost nothing at all. Perhaps we’d need some new regulation to explicitly describe how we are allowed this space. But do that and suddenly we have cycling infrastructure down portage!

Henderson Highway

Similar story on Southbound Henderson Highway. The sidewalk is plenty wide, but it has all kinds of random, no-sidewalk junk all over the place. Get rid of that junk and SUDDENLY WE HAVE FREE CYCLING INFRASTRUCTURE!

Conclusion: Just Do It

I’m sure I could find many many more examples like these around the city. I seem to recall the city “upgrading” these sidewalks a couple of decades ago so that they could stop replacing grass that was destroyed by the road salt every winter.

A couple of simple bylaw changes and relatively small scale projects to move a couple of light posts and garbage cans and suddenly we’ve unlocked kilometers of cycle paths.

I’m not saying we don’t need dedicated bike lanes and active transportation paths through our beautiful forest. I am just saying that if we see those as the only solutions, we are making the problem more difficult and costly than it needs to be.

Categories
Culture Random

Services Should Help Us Remember

With the beginning of a new year decade everybody is posting retrospectives on anything and everything. For the most part, these retrospectives have to be complied manually by compiling data from different sources. I’d argue that our lives would be more interesting if more services give us easier ways to reflect on the content we’ve posted over the decades.

In fact, services could probably get away with collecting more sensitive data if they surfaced it for us in interesting ways. For instance (despite my better judgement) I’ve had Google’s location tracking fully enabled for the past 3 years. The Google Maps timeline generates this map of everywhere I’ve been that is just totally fascinating to me. I can’t bring myself to turn if off.

Everywhere I’ve been in the past 3 years according to Google. It’s actually missing some data and I’ve never been near Detroit. So that’s somewhat comforting in a way.

An Experiment

This week, I started an experiment where I will be logging every single interesting link I come across online in a public twitter feed.

It would be cool to see what happened if browsers tried to include a feature like this using your local browser history. (I’m getting deja vu, was there a web 2.0 era browser that did something like this?)

WordPress Historical Posts

A few years back I created a WordPress plugin that surfaces old posts in dashboard and sidebar widgets (you can see it in the footer of my blog if you scroll down). IMHO any blogger with more than a couple of years of content could benefit from this plugin. I love seeing what I posted a decade ago. Occasionally it spawns new or update post ideas.

The plugin is called Historian, you can download it from the plugin repository.

Other Services

I know the photo services have started adding “on this day” and “then and now” features to their main products. I personally enjoy those quite a bit. Seeing my kids grow up is an acceptable of inherently anti-piracy facial recognition.

I mentioned Google Maps Timelines as another acceptable reasons to leak private data. But I actually think Google could do more with this data, especially on Android. It would be cool to automatically see all the times I’ve been at my current location and any photos or related data that I’ve logged there. Google Health could have workout data (and analysis) automatically available when I’m at the gym. Stuff like that.

Are there other services that have interesting retrospective features?

Would you be more open to giving up private data if services gave you interesting or useful data and analysis based on you private data?