Jeneral finds of the week: 2016-10-16

The start of the movement to make our devices less addictive,the terrible environmental costs still incurred when recycling smartphones, could a Donald Trump happen in Canadian politics, and Michelle Obama’s powerful response to the 2005 Trump video —on my Jeneral finds of this week: 2016-10-16

The movement to make our devices less addictive

Blackberry launched the first portable device with email in 1999, hooking the corporate and government world. Then when Apple launched the iPhone in 2007, the consumer market for smartphones exploded. In Canada and the US, over two-thirds of the population have smartphones and/or tablets, and growing. It is a massive technological shift in this generation, creating an explosion of new companies to make different software and social media applications for our digital devices. Combined with a generation of users trained to expect that content and services should be free, the measure of success for many of these companies are things like size of user base, time spent interacting on the tool, and the data freely given by users in exchange for the free service.

However, in the rush to adopt all the wonderful and exciting that these devices and services offer to us, we are slow to consider the all the ill-effects of the technology. These applications are purposefully-built to be more addictive in the attempt to win the competition for our attention. In addition to the consequence of the time we spend on social media and games, there are many, many secondary consequences that we aren’t aware of yet. (I highly recommend Reclaiming Conversation: The Power of Talk in a Digital Age by Sherry Turkle to help illuminate these consequences.) And if we aren’t aware of the consequences, we can’t devise strategies to deal with them effectively.

In many ways it feels like the wild west, where the laws and regulations and enforcement to protect citizens are setup after the initial fray of competition. Perhaps now is the start of the movement to deliberately make the usage of our devices less additive. Should there be something akin to the Hippocratic oath for software product design?

Tristian Harris may well be an evangelical leader for this movement, as profiled here in The Atlantic, “The Binge Breaker” I’ll definitely be keeping an eye on his progress.

What I learned about phone recycling from Samsung’s combusting Galaxy Note 7 recall

Continuing on the theme of smartphones, I mistakenly thought that recycling old smartphones can reclaim the precious metals for reuse. That is dead false. The best case scenario for your old device that you don’t want anymore is to return it to be refurbished and resold:

Could a Donald Trump happen in Canada?

The election south of our border has me both captivated and horrified. I can’t look away and stop reading about it, even though it just aggravates me to no end. Thankfully I’m in Canada, but I know I can’t sit here smugly in the belief that someone like Trump could not rise in power in Canada. It already happened in Toronto with Rob Ford. This article in the Globe was an interesting analysis about the factors that may have kept the similar extreme-right sentiments at bay to date in Canada:

Michelle Obama’s speech on Trump’s comments: ‘Enough is enough’

I hate that I’m continuing with another item related to that man, but this one inspires and creates fortitude, instead of indignant rage and disgust. Michelle Obama has given some powerful speeches in the last few months. This speech in New Hampshire, days after the tape of Trump uttering his lewd comments in 2005, was devastating. She made the political personal, and her reflections of her own experiences with men who objectified her body mirrored our own. She demanded better from those who would seek to lead the country, as we all should.


Things I am thankful for – 2016 edition

It’s a beautiful Canadian Thanksgiving weekend in Toronto, even as the temperature is starting to dip down. The leaves are starting to turn colours and there is a certain nip in the air. It’s a perfect atmosphere to stop and reflect on the things I am thankful for:

  • Laughs and high-fives with my best friend, confidante, and partner in this venture of life—my husband Tai.
  • That my daughters are funny, decent, curious, imaginative, book-loving little people. Most of the time i do enjoy hanging out with them. I know they are in the honeymoon ages now (i.e. between 6 and 12 years old) I hope I can still say the same thing when they become teenagers.
  • The smooth, round cheeks of my daughters that are still just perfect for kissing. Their bodies barely fit on my lap for long snuggles any more, their limbs poking out every which way like tree branches.
  • My health, and that of my immediate and extended family. Reading the memoir When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi made me contemplate my feelings about my own mortality, and I appreciate how my good health lets me plan for longer time horizons, years into the future. But, it’s a gentle reminder to appreciate the here and now.
  • The companionship and good humour of my friends. We continue to invest in time with each other, and make new memories. Although, the memories are starting to blend together, as the years add up. The bonus is seeing our children become close friends with each other as well.
  • Even after a year of growth at GrantBook, I still love my work and my colleagues in my current job.
  • The joy of watching beautiful dance, and reading many wonderful books this year. It feeds my soul, perhaps as an antidote to the stresses of the daily news. This upcoming year I hope to add some great theatre to the mix. Starting with…
  • Hamilton! Our friends C-squared were able to get us tickets to see the musical Hamilton in Chicago! For Tai and me, this is our 10th anniversary present to each other. Road trip!
  • That the federal election campaign period in Canada is typically only 5 weeks, compared to the nearly 2 year process in the United States. I’ve been horrifyingly transfixed with the US election campaign between Clinton and Trump. Thank goodness our federal elections and leadership races have never been this crazy. Our election a year ago seems so quaint in comparison. Is the Canadian political system is structured in a way that prevents a Trump happening here? I’d love to talk though that theory.
  • And the Jays made the playoffs!

Happy Thanksgiving everyone!


A decade of married love

It’s been 10 years since Tai and I held hands in front of our family and friends, and said the words, “I do”. That moment formalized something that I already knew for years – that Tai and I would journey through the rest of life together, hand in hand. jandt_yorkville

A decade of married love later, we are still best friends, still kindred spirits, and still deeply in love. We may have added a couple of kids, a few pounds around the middle, and a lumbering mortgage to the mix, but I still feel the same way with him now as when we first started dating all those years ago in university. I fall in love with him over and over again as he keeps demonstrating his character. Tai encourages me to challenge myself. He supports my different endeavors and schemes, and props me up when I am down. He laughs at my jokes and makes me laugh. He respects all of who I am, even the silly and frivolous sides of me.  He is an equal partner in parenting our two girls. He pays attention.

In short, Tai is a shining example to our two girls of what they should expect from any potential suitor in their future. Winning their love should not be easy. And to illustrate this point, I share the following story from our wedding day.

It’s a Chinese wedding tradition for the bride’s side of the wedding party to put the groom through some various obstacles before he can retrieve the bride to marry her. Because the bride is loved too much, her family and friends will not let just anyone cart her off. He must prove his worthiness to be her husband.

My beloved bridesmaids devised a series of challenges. They did not let me in on what their plans were. As Tai and his groomsmen successfully completed each one, my bridesmaids would let them come closer to finding me. One involved trivia questions about me and my friends. Another involved creating and performing a cheerleading stunt along with a cheer. Yet another involved bribes of cash payments in hong bao (red envelopes). Tai and his groomsmen breezed through these with good humour, until the final challenge: eating a package of nattō, or Japanese fermented soy beans.

Tai had never tried eating nattō before. He was quite aware of nattō though, particularly since he helped organize an Amazing Race-style fundraising event the year prior. The eating challenge station, that he manned, consisted of this particular item. I participated in this race with Team Buns on the Run, and Tai was there encouraging me while my teammates and I struggled to eat the stuff. The taste, texture, and smell all combine to be a truly horrible experience for the uninitiated. But he never did try it himself.

Until our wedding day.

It tastes like f33t and smells like @$$.

The entire time while Tai was going through his challenges, I waited in the bedroom of my parents’ condo, with no idea of what was going on. I could only hear groans and cheers and laughs, and some slightly worrying silence. I stood  in the room, pacing the floor in my white wedding dress, with equal parts of boredom, excitement and worry.

Finally there was a big cheer, and Tai burst into the bedroom, a little unsteady on his feet, the wedding party crowding in after him. He gave me a beany kiss, (ugh) and claimed his worthiness to be my husband! My hero vanquished* the nattō beans! Then after a few words, he went off in search of a toothbrush. We spent the rest of the day enjoying the merriment of our family and friends.

Tai, I love you more than my words can adequately describe. I’m so excited to face the next decade with you, hand-in-hand.


*Well, technically he had help from his close friend and groomsman Cort, but details, schmetails. 

Jeneral finds of the week: 2016-10-02

An amazing example of storytelling to make space science relatable, discovering there are such things as Pun battles, and how your footwear impacts your comfortable temperature in the office, in this Jeneral finds of the week: 2016-10-02.

Wake Up Rosetta

This past Friday on September 30, the European Space Agency (ESA) satellite Rosetta finished its’ 12-year mission by completing a planned crash landing on Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerisemenko. This was one of many huge milestones in this mission to study a comet up close. (and one that looks like a rubber duck) You may remember two years ago there was some news about its lander named Philae.  Philae didn’t land as expected, couldn’t get enough sun to recharge its batteries, and so had to go into premature sleep. You don’t remember?

Well I discovered this week that ESA has put out a whole series of short animated videos to help explain the mission. And I don’t know if it was because I was sick, but I really did get emotional from watching the last video. Yes, they anthropomorphized the satellite and lander and dramatically simplified the science and don’t mention the large costs of space exploration. But, it’s a really wonderful way to engage and educate the public about the space work, so we can care to keep supporting it.

This Globe article is also a more straightforward write-up about it:

Good night Rosetta and Philae!

To joke is human, but to pun is divine!

I always appreciate a good pun, even if I end up groaning after hearing it. It’s one of the many reasons I love listening to CBC’s As It Happens, because they always have great puns in their intros or outros to their segments.

But apparently there are competitions out there where people can battle head-to-head in the linguistic art of puns! Like a rap battle, but for dad-joke nerds! Peter Rubin writes of his own pun battle experience in this Wired article, “ReflexLOLogy: Inside the groan-inducing world of pun competitions“. While I’m nowhere as linguistically nimble to compete, I would love to be in an audience for this one day. I can just picture my kids rolling their eyes in the future at how lame I am.

Gotta get a cozy for my feet

I’m one of those people who always feels colder in an office than most others. Apparently it may have to do with what I’m choosing to wear on my feet, according to this article “Why Shoes are the Key to a Comfortable Office Temperature“. Now I know what I’ll need to do this coming winter to stay warm in the office.


p.s. The Blue Jays made it to the playoffs with home-field advantage in the wildcard game. It was kind of a nail-biter this last week, but it’s off to the playoffs now. Go Jays!

Bewilderingly watching the 2016 American election

Hillary vs. Donald. It may be my outsider’s view of the 2016 American election, but how is this even a contest? What rational, informed person would ever think that Donald can even hold a candle next to the qualifications, significant achievements and abilities of Hillary? She has spent her entire adult life advocating for others and only slightly fewer years in public service. He only ever had interest for himself and his businesses until he started his run for president last year.  Ugh, should I even attempt to write a blog post about my bewilderment about the 2016 American election happening south of our border? The whole thing is disheartening.

But, I love puzzles and mysteries. I get a real satisfaction from thinking through a puzzle and coming up with an answer. And so, I’m following the election with the kind of perverse interest and investment of time, because feels like there will be the big plot reveal come November 8, 2016. I have clues and strings of narrative in the jumbled ball of information stuck in my head.  The following is an attempt to lay out these clues and muse about what it might mean for the outcome.

Globalization of goods, people, capital, and information

Just think of the advances in technology in the last 40 years in transportation (airplane travel, cargo shipping), communications (cable television, cellular telephones, internet, social media), and computing power (calculators, personal computers, smartphones). The rate and distance of “things” moving now from one place to another is staggering compared to 40 years ago. With this movement comes change. And we humans don’t typically like dealing with change because it means we have to recognize there is a change, and then make the effort to change ourselves.

The rapid pace of change unmoors us from feeling secure

We derive a sense of ourselves by a)the families and communities we belong to, and b) the benefit to our society through the work we do.  Continue reading Bewilderingly watching the 2016 American election

Jeneral finds of the week: 2016-09-20

One man’s constant connection to the endless news and media feed and how it broke him. The differences between being rude, mean, and a bully. And the amazing tale of two brothers’ discovery that their parents were not Canadian emigrants to the US, but rather Russian spies. That’s the Jeneral Finds of the week: 2016-09-20

This is your brain on continuous information feed

The pervasive usage of digital devices is on my mind a lot lately. And by lately, I mean for the last two years. It started off as an exercise to come up with a strategy of how and when I would be comfortable getting a mobile phone for my daughters. As I read and think more though, the exercise is quickly morphing into examining what my own device usage is doing to me.

Andrew Sullivan’s long-form piece “I used to be a human being: Technology almost killed me” in the New York Magazine this week is an eye-opening cautionary tale. It is all the more terrifying to foresee how easily many more of us will experience the same breakdown as Sullivan.

Rude vs. Mean vs. Bullying

My younger daughter got pinched and pushed to the ground by another unknown child at school last week. When she later worked up the courage to tell me about it, she started off her story with “I was bullied today”. A phrase that sends the heart up the throat of any parent.

The info in “Rude vs. Mean vs. Bullying: Defining the Differences”, by Signe Whitson, was helpful to keep in mind while I assessed whether I needed to be alarmed about the occurrence. (thankfully it seems to be an isolated incident of a kid being super rude) With the hyper awareness and classroom discussion on the issue of bullying now in our schools, it is not surprising that she labels all aggressive behaviour as “bullying”.

Most of all, I am so proud of her that she put her hapkido self-defence training to use. She told us she immediately confronted the child by making a stop sign with her hand and saying assertively, “Stop that! That was not nice!”. She was shaken up by the experience that day, but she seems be be okay now.

The Spies who loved me

The day we discovered our parents were Russian spies“, by Shaun Walker in The Guardian is a fascinating read. The title of the article says it all; it’s a crazy story out of a TV show plot that happens to be true and real life.


What if I have nothing interesting to say?

Recently my friend Eric proposed an idea to his circle of friends in the interest of deepening our knowledge of each other beyond our shared history and current situations of jobs and family. Would we be interested to gather one evening and to trade 10-minute talks about a topic we each find deeply interesting, TED-talk style?

Inspired by Shonda Rhimes’ memoir, Year of Yes, I immediately said “Yes”, even though I felt uncomfortable with the idea. Now that some weeks have passed, though, dread creeps upon me. Because even more frightening than the idea of public speaking is the thought, What if I have nothing interesting to say?

Continue reading What if I have nothing interesting to say?

Who will be the Battle Axe Champion?

A group date activity involving sharp implements and competition = a dubious decision?

Group date night. My hubby and I are fortunate enough to be a part of a circle of friends that make such a thing a reality roughly every 4 months or so. Among the 7 couples, we take turns planning the dates, involving activity and food. Then on the appointed days, we ditch our kids with babysitters, and enjoy some company, food and  activities with only adults.

This past spring, the planned activity was battle axe throwing. In general, the point of it all is to throw the axe 10 meters and have it stick in the plywood target as close to the bullseye as possible. The bullseye scored you 6 points, with the score decreasing the with each subsequent ring of the target. To make things interesting, there are two small blue circles worth 10-points located within the 1-point ring, at the 10 o’clock and 2 o’clock positions.

The nine of us split into two teams. Eric was captain of Team Axe FX; Aneil the captain of Team Buns on the Run. The teams battled over the course of 3 different tournaments, each tournament with a different objective to achieve. The day ended with a forth tournament: the individual knockout.

Who will be battle axe champion?

The final two contestants in the final round of our individual Continue reading Who will be the Battle Axe Champion?

First day of school and the passage of time

First day of school. There’s nothing quite like the start of the school year to reflect on the passing of time. During my school-age and university-aged years, September always felt more like the natural start of a year than New Year’s Day. It’s the start of a new grade, new subjects, new teachers, new school supplies and clothes…nothing quite gave the feeling of a blank slate of opportunity than the first day of school. It was an exciting, energizing, if slightly anxious, feeling.

When I became an adult and joined the working world, the reset-button feeling of September faded from memory as the months and years blurred together. The feeling that September brought was of some irritation as the traffic on the roads were noticeably and considerably heavier than in the prior summer months, but otherwise life went on. New Years and birthdays passed, but it felt like aging was put on indefinite hold. A pause button instead of the reset button.

Fast forward a few more years, and now I have school-aged kids (aged 8 and 6) of my own. They change so much every 6 months that it really feels like life is being played at 2x speed. Their shrinking clothes and shoes play tricks on me, because they certainly can’t grow that fast that quickly, can they? And yet their weight is heavier while sitting on my lap. Their faces are higher in the view of the car’s rear-view mirror. Their stories and imagination are so vivid and complex. These tell me that no, this is not a trick.

The passage of time for me is now marked by their milestones—their birthdays, their first days of school at the beginning of September. Another new grade: new classroom, new teacher, new configuration of classmates, and subjects to learn. September to my daughters is like a reset button again. For me, however, it’s turned into a stationary marker that whizzes past me and makes me realize how fast the years are passing. And so I give them extra squeezes, cuddles and kisses, trying to will the tactile memory of their feeling in my arms and lips into the woefully inadequate storage vessel that is my brain. There is no other choice though, there’s no app or solution that can store that feeling in your heart, and in your throat. Quickly now, before another September rolls around.

Girls walking to school with backpacks


Star Wars, and other Arts and Culture that moved me in 2015

I don’t get out on the town that much anymore, other than my season’s tickets to the National Ballet (young kids are such a bummer). Even so, there was still lots of arts and culture that moved me in 2015. And since it’s already into February in 2016, without further ado, let’s get to the list!

TV / Webseries

The Lizzie Bennet Diaries, a webseries on Youtube.

This 2013 production takes Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice and updates it to the current modern era and format with aplomb. Lizzie Bennett is a video blogger (aka vlogger) and through her semi-weekly videos (each usually lasting between 3 and 5 minutes), the story unfolds. It’s not necessary to know the plot of Pride and Prejudice to enjoy this series, but it does give an extra layer of enjoyment to be able to anticipate the plot, and compare the adaptations. It even won an Emmy! I love that Charlotte and Bingley/Bing Lee are Chinese! I love the costume theatre! (you’ll see) I missed this web series during the original publishing back in 2012, so I did lose out on the interactive trans-media aspect of it, but it was no matter, I was hooked all the same and binge watched this in two sessions. If you’re a romantic, give it to episode 7, and see if you too aren’t hooked for the count. Continue reading Star Wars, and other Arts and Culture that moved me in 2015

A personal potpourri of thoughts

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