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.


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.

Culture Design travel

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.”


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.

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?


Two Songs From Each of My Favourite Albums of All Time, Part One

The late 2010s are an interesting time for music. Streaming services have effectively commoditized music, all of the world’s music is available to everyone at any time, for next to nothing. Meanwhile, The Internet is effectively killing pop culture — at least in the sense of a common experience shared across an entire generation. There is no longer a central source of truth for “cool,” instead there are many niche communities defining themselves, propping up their own niche celebrities and musical styles. Don’t get me wrong, this is awesome! Mainstream music sucked, CDs were expensive.

Unfortunately, I feel like this current state of music is causing my kids to miss out. It seems like they are not really gloming on to music in the same way that I did growing up. It’s like the lack of a pop culture is removing the influence of music on their daily lives. As a parent I suppose I’m partially to blame, we purposely kept our kids away from terrible kids music (instead of Raffi we played Ramones) and as they’ve grown this has morphed into playing podcasts instead of pop radio.

At 9 and 11, maybe my boys are still a little young to really get into music. Regardless, in an attempt to spur some level of interest I’ve started to compile a playlist of two songs from each of my favourite albums of all time. My 11 yr old has downloaded the playlist to his phone and mentioned having Kraftwerk stuck in his head, so I think it’s working already.

The Rules

Compiling this list has become quite a fun exercise but I quickly realized that it was going to be an insane task if I didn’t give myself to some criteria.

My definition of “favourite albums of all time” for the purposes of this list is essentially (a) any album that I have played on repeat at any point in the past (b) that still holds up when I listen to it today, (c) where I still enjoy the majority of the tracks on the album. I’m leaving this broad to expose my kids to as much music as possible; and narrow enough to exclude one-hit-wonders and “bad” albums.

When choosing songs, I’ve tried to pick my favourite songs on the album. When I’ve found it too difficult to choose, I’ve picked two songs that are most typical of the artist’s style. I’ve also made a conscious effort to exclude songs with rampant profanity, overt sexuality or that overtly depressing/negative.

The Playlist

Part one of the playlist contains 50 songs from 25 albums. I’m positive there will be a part two, maybe even a part three. For posterity, I’m going to write about my choices below. Feel free to listen to the playlist and read on.

The Albums

For the sake of organization, I’ll list the albums in chronological order of release date. I am not insane enough to try to rank these in any sort of order.

Johnny Cash – At Folsom Prison (1968)

I grew up mainly listening to 70s-era country music. Waylon Jennings, The Statler Brothers, Conway Twitty, Loretta Lynn, Charlie Pride, Dolly Parton, Kenny Rogers, Johnny Cash, George Jones, Tammy Wynette, etc, etc. My tweenage years even included a family trip to Nashville.

Even though country music was a big part of my childhood, but as a city boy the music didn’t really stick with me. Except for Johnny Cash.

Singing about prison at a concert in prison in Folsom Prison Blues is just about one of the most hardcore things I can think of. 25 Minutes to Go is a little grim but it’s a great example of Cash’s story telling (and I’m a fan of grim anyways). I think I’ll include more Johnny Cash in the future

Wendy Carlos – A Clockwork Orange Soundtrack (1972)

I actually had a hard time finding this one on Spotify (and I’m not certain these are the right one). The soundtrack in incredible. Even moreso when you consider the analog hardware Carlos was working with at the time. I’ve included this one mainly as historical context for the current state of electronic music.

Ramones – Ramones (1976)

Ramones invented pop punk, fight me.

Mainly, I’ve included this one because I want my kids to remember the music they rocked out to as toddlers.

Joy Division – Unknown Pleasures (1979)

To be honest, this is one of the weaker inclusion on the list in terms of “favouriteness” and it probably breaks my rule about being “too depressing.” I just feel this is an album everyone should listen to at least once. It is hugely influential to many of the other albums that come later on this list.

Kraftwerk – Computer World (1981)

Another album that I’ve included mainly for historical context. With electronic music being the root of so much music in <current year> it’s important understand its roots.

Minutemen – Double Nickels on the Dime (1984)

This is one of those albums that I wish I’d discovered much earlier in life. In my mind, I can draw a straight line between my love for Johnny Cash’s story telling style to D. Boon. I choose Viet Nam because well, most 9 yr olds don’t know anything about that war. History Lesson Part 2 is cool little song about history of punk to that point in time.

Nirvana – Bleach (1989)

Bleach is my favourite Nirvana album. I think I bought it with a Columbia House subscription on a whim and I have distinct memories of listening it on my discman in the back of my parents car circa 1994 and being totally blown away. Blew is probably about drugs but “You could do anything” is also sort of unusually positive. Love Buzz is classic Nirvana before they were classic.

Iron Maiden – Fear of the Dark (1992)

I when through a brief period when I listened to a fair bit of Maiden on repeat while programming. But in honesty, this is almost a token metal inclusion.

Nirvana – Insecticide (1992)

I don’t think I ever owned this album. Silver is a song that seems super relatable to an 11 yr old. Aneurysm is just plain amazing! Thought the live version on From The Muddy Banks of the Wishkah is arguably better, but so be it.

The Smashing Pumpkins – Siamese Dream (1993)

I picked up the guitar around around 1994, this is one album that I learned to play front to back. I think I even jammed out with a friend a few times. I couldn’t pick a favourite track. #hipsterunite

Nirvana – Nevermind (1994)

By this point you should have seen this coming. I just can’t let my kids grow up without listening to Nevermind, it would be irresponsible parenting.

There’s a great VH1 Behind the Music (I think) with Butch Vig about how he convinced Cobin to use vocal doubling on this album – by telling him John Lennon did it IIRC. I’ve never been able to unhear the vocal doubling on every single chorus on this album.

In Bloom is essentially a modern Beatles song – as brilliantly illustrated in the music video. Drain You feels like bookend to Love Buzz, sorta.

Veruca Salt – American Thighs (1994)

Veruca Salt was the opening act for the first concert I ever attended. If I recall correctly they came on stage in nude onsies (complete with tassels, it was a different time) and we we sitting just far enough away in the nose bleeds of the old Winnipeg Arena that for a few moments we weren’t sure if they were actually dressed. Seether feels like the most “90s” song on this playlist so far. Forythia taught me plant names.

Bush(x) – Sixteen Stone (1995)

Until this very moment, I did not realize that “sixteen stone” is a weight (224lbs, 102kg), I am a dummy. Due to strange copyright/trademark issues Bush will forever be “Bushx” in my mind. If memory serves, they were the headlining act that Veruca Salt opened for. Little Things and Machinehead are solid “pop grunge.”

Foo Fighters – Foo Fighters (1995)

Another album that I taught myself every song on. Dave Grohl really made career out of this band, but I could never get into any of the other albums after the first one. Too much of the same no-objectionable slightly-upbeat rock-ish. Hard to pick a favourite on this one too.

Hum – You’d Prefer An Astronaut (1995)

Earlier this week, I heard a new slightly shoegazing track that reminded me of the few weeks in 2002 or so when I was really in to Hum. I was surprised how well the album holds up.

Propagandhi – Less Talk, More Rock (1996)

I attended a fair number of local shows in the late 90s, early 00s but I don’t think I saw Propagandhi live until much later. For a long time my main exposure to them was the Fat Wreckords compilations. Propagandhi is probably the most important musical act from Winnipeg since The Guess Who? BTO?

Including Resisting Tyrannical Government in an attempt to corrupt my children with anarchist propaganda, also “Jesus Saves, Gretzky Scores.” Gifts is so Winnipeg.

Descendents – Everything Sucks (1996)

Descendets are just great, upbeat and fun.

The Promise Ring – Nothing Feels Good (1997)

The Promise Ring is one of the few bands on this list that Odessa & I both love equally. For that reason, they feel important. Pink Chimneys is proof that The Promise Ring should have incorporated more synth. B is For Bethlehem has one of the catchiest choruses in emo.

Saves The Day – Can’t Slow Down (1998)

Saves The Day was the first emo band to really hook me in my early 20s. Like, drive down to Minneapolis and drive back after the show, hook me. In making this playlist I skimmed through their discography and I was disappointed to find that most of their music doesn’t really appeal to me much anymore. Can’t Slow Down is a solid album.

Ed Rush & Optical – Wormhole (1998)

When I first heard Ed Rush & Optical in 1998 my impression of electronic music was forever changed. By way of a couple of friends and IRC, I managed to catch the local rave scene at the very end of its underground era. What a time to be alive.

The entire Wormhole album is chalked full of bangers that haven’t aged a day in two decades.

The Weakerthans – Fallow (1999)

“I have a headache, I have a sore back…” lyrics more poignant now that ever. Unlike Propagandhi, The Weakerthans are a band that I have seen live many many times, I think I may have even been at their first show ever? They hold a special place in my heart. If Propagandhi is the most Winnipeg band ever then The Weakerthans are the most Southern Manitoba band ever.

NOFX – War on Errorism (2003)

NOFX is one of those bands that I feel like my (much cooler) friends in highschool always listened to, but I didn’t really get in to at the time. Music streaming has just made it some much easier to track down music and go on a deep dive for a week.

The Separation of Church and Stake is a bookend to the Minutemen’s History Lesson Part 2. Franco Un-American has synths and themes of anarchy, an important combination for any growing boy.

VNV Nation – Matter Form (2005) & Of Faith, Power and Glory (2009)

VNV Nation is quite unlike any of the other music on this playlist and easily one of my top 5 artists of all time. I think that deserves some explanation. VNV coined the term Futurepop to describe themselves. The genre combines many individual elements from early trance and techno influence, with gruff, unfiltered vocals — in this sort of ultra-modern way that would fit perfectly as the back drop to some utopian steampunk thriller. Futurepop is an offshoot Industrial/EBM a genre that literally sounds negative and often discusses dark and disturbing themes. Unlike many of the artists in that scene VNV is exceedingly positive and uplifting.

Chrome is a perfect song in every way, I have listened to on repeat many times. Perpetual will be the song I play on my alarm clock in 2077. Sentinal sounds like a hymn sung in a church I’d drive my cybertruck to. Defiant is just so positive.

To Be Continued…

Ryan is the type of guy who starts a blog post bad mouthing pop music, then spends 1500 words discussing relatively popular music.

This playlist only scratches the surface of my music tastes. It’s missing entire genres of music. So if you liked this post, you’ll love part two.