Look up

trees in beautiful BC

I’m tired of watching people looking down all the time at their devices but at others too. It’s time we looked up for a change.

When you look up, you discover a new perspective.

Towering trees, brilliant skies, amazing architecture.

Sunshine, positivity, admiration, kindness.

Leaders who deserve to lead.

Just look up.Kingston city hall

 

goats grazing on a roof
Goats on the roof at Coombs country market in BC
ceiling of BC provincial government building in Victoria
Ceiling of provincial legislature building in Victoria, BC

Start with the main in the mirror

Black lives matter mural in Washington

For the past few weeks, I’ve watched the world raise a collective fist on bended knee in support of #BlackLivesMatter.

I have not publicly spoken about the protests and George Floyd until today.

I needed time. Time to process my feelings. Feelings of disbelief that in 2020, systemic racism continues to exist. I am dumbfounded, stupefied, appalled, and ashamed. As Barack Obama said this past week, “This shouldn’t be ‘normal’ in 2020 America. It can’t be ‘normal’.

I also needed time to think about my response and what we need to do to effect change.

I believe change will come from two driving forces. The first will be companies, organizations, police bodies, justice systems and governments that will begin the slow process of addressing systemic racism, gender inequality, ageism and other forms of discrimination.

The more powerful change will come from us as individuals within. It all starts with the man in the mirror.

Derek Chauvin killed George Floyd but there were three former police officers who stood by and watched and did nothing. If even one of those men had intervened, George Floyd would be alive today. What do those men see when they look in the mirror each morning? What change will they make within themselves to make the world a better place?

Some are shaming individuals and brands for not speaking up and showing their support for the #BlackLivesMatter movement, saying if you don’t speak up, you are part of the problem. Not only is that not helpful, it is hateful and perpetuates the same type of ignorant assumptions that the anti-racist movement is fighting against.

One of the reasons I’ve remained silent until now is I didn’t want to be a hollow voice in a chorus of “convenient outrage” as the son of Royson James, a black journalist with The Toronto Star phrased it. Royson, who admits he is “jaded, exhausted” having lived through too many promising moments and forgotten promises asked his two sons their perspectives on this unique period in history. One sees progress and opportunity but fears “convenient outrage” will ebb as in past moments in the history of the civil rights movement.

I am also shocked and frankly a little frightened of how people are vilifying every word, syllable and utterance that can be perceived negative towards the #BlackLivesMatter movement.

Many celebrities who wanted to show their support and posted black images on their feeds on #BlackOutTuesday were criticized for not using their platforms to educate people.

Wendy Mesley, a respected 40-year veteran of the CBC was suspended last week after using a racist phrase. It was not on the air, and it was not her own words. She was quoting a source or fellow journalist in a staff editorial meeting. A Toronto Sun column hailed this despicable move by the CBC as the “death of modern journalism” saying Wesley was offered up “as a human sacrifice to vultures on a diet of cancel culture.”

We need to change. We need to commit. We need to act.

But the commitment and actions must be pure and swift, not hollow platitudes or hateful criticisms. There are important conversations taking place right now about anti-racism and discrimination in boardrooms, police organizations, governments, and households. The most important conversation is the one with ourselves.

Because it all starts with the man in the mirror.

Putting the social in social distancing

inspirational message

For many of us, social media has been a haven these past weeks. It has allowed us to stay connected, share fears, laughter, stories and uplift one another.

Here are some of my favourite posts from friends and strangers that have brought little rays of sunshine into my day. Thanks in advance to everyone for letting me share your photos and messages–I used first names only to protect your privacy, but you know who you are!

Two dogs looking at a bed

This photo from my friend Trish with the caption, “Is there any room in that bed? That’s actually our bed—you should be at work.”

The wonderful music videos artists and everyday people are posting to share their talents and creativity. Here is my favourite: a couple at their piano singing a parody of Simon and Garfunkel’s Homeward Bound. Thanks to my friends Leslie and Jill for sharing.

#socialdistancingpickuplines on Twitter:

  • From Will Ferrell @itsWillyFarell: “You can’t spell quarantine without “u r a q t”
  • “Like the last roll of toilet paper, I’d roll with you any day”
  • “You smell so good, is that Purell you’re wearing?”
  • “Looking for your Prince Charmin? I’ve got a six pack”

A quote from my friend Kellie who has been posting #100daysofgratitude on Facebook:

“i thank You God for most this amazing day; for the leaping greenly spirits of trees and a blue true dream of sky; and for everything which is natural which is infinite which is yes.”

E.E. Cummings

This post from my friend Mark who always makes me laugh.

 

 

 

The daily video jokes my friend Jill is sharing on Facebook from her “Great Big Book of Jokes”.

Photos posted by my friend Cathy of inspirational chalk messages on the sidewalk, seen on her morning walk.

sidewalk message "party at my house when this is over"

And finally, these beautiful words of hope, shared by a fellow hockey Mom on TeamSnap posted above.

This week’s #HappyAct is to put the social in social distancing. Keep them coming everyone. Let’s continue to brighten our days.

Break up with your smart phone this summer

Smart phone

There’s a legion of research on how smart phones are making us unhappy. The most recent article I read was called “Kind of a sad story: Pessimism increases among millennials and Gen Z”. The article talked about how economic, social and political optimism is at record lows with millennials and the fact that 60% of millennials and 59% of Z-ers say they’d be happier if they spent less time on social media.

The obsession with our phones is not just limited to this age demographic. The average person spends 3 hours and 35 minutes a day on their smart phone.

Let me repeat that in case that staggering statistic slipped past you. THREE HOURS AND THIRTY-FIVE MINUTES a day.

That’s insane!

It’s time to kick the smart phone habit. Here are some things to think about to inspire you:

  1. Ask yourself what better things you could be doing with three full hours a day, or three full days a week? You could learn a new sport, tackle a home reno project, go hiking, or here’s a crazy thought, actually talk to your family members.
  2. Catherine Price, author of “How to Break Up With Your Phone” encourages people to ask the three WWW’s when they pick up their phone: What for? Why now? What else? If you are simply reaching for your phone out of habit, or boredom, it’s probably time to find something else more productive to do
  3. This may be a sacrilege suggestion, but make a point of not bringing your phone with you wherever you go. If it’s not within reach, you won’t spend as much time on it.
  4. Finally, ask yourself is it helping you grow as a person, or is it numbing you or making you feel inferior or disconnected? If it’s the latter, you know what you have to do.

This week’s #HappyAct is to break up with your phone this summer. Get out and enjoy the great outdoors. Thanks to Mark Hurst’s Creative Good blog for some of the ideas in this week’s post.

How to make friends with the bots

talking to a bot

Let’s face it. Bots are going to take over the world. One day we’ll all wake up, and every online interaction will start with talking with a bot. Think of them as Walmart greeters for the internet (except that Walmart just announced they’re laying off all their greeters).

I’m fascinated with bots. In my work, I’ve been helping our bot team choose language that is friendly, clear and helpful. But herein lies the problem with bots. For communication to be effective, you need to understand how people are feeling, thinking, and what you want them to do. It’s called knowing your audience. And with bots, you’re not exactly sure what the frame of mind is of the person at the beginning of the interaction, and just as important, at the end of the interaction.

I’ll illustrate this by sharing my latest interaction with Koodo’s bot. Koodo’s tagline by the way is “Choose Happy”. It went something like this:

————————

“Hi Koodo bot. I need your help. My daughter has fried her phone a second time and I want to know my options for my contract.”

(Four options popped up for me to choose, none of them was what I needed help with.)

So I said, “I think it’s probably easier if I just called you. What’s your toll-free number?”

(The bot in its programming must have picked up on the keyword phrase “toll-free number” so it answered this)

“1-800 numbers are free of Long Distance charges, but the local minutes to connect you to the network are still billed at the local minute rate. The numbers you can call are (list of numbers). If you run out of minutes, you will be charged for additional airtime. You might get a prompt to a recording message if the toll-free number isn’t available in your area.”

Then it asked me if their answer was helpful. I gave it a thumbs down.

We went back and forth a few more times. At this point, I couldn’t believe how difficult it was to just get their stupid 1 800 number from the bot and the UX tester in me went into overdrive, so I wrote,

“OK, so what’s the number you stupid bot” just to see how it would respond.

The bot answered, “Now, now, let’s play nice!” and send me a GIF of Maggie Smith looking affronted.

giphy

OK, so I don’t know how you would react to Maggie Smith raising her eyebrow in a supercilious manner just because you wanted to talk to someone in customer service, but my emotional response went from a ha, ha, I don’t believe it said that, to incredulous, to how dare you, you stupid bot? I showed it to Clare who had been sitting beside me the whole time and asked her how she felt about it. She said the exact same thing.

Let’s just say, I didn’t “Choose Happy” from Koodo in that moment.

To end the story, I ditched the bot, found their 1 800 number somewhere else, called them and finally found a human that was very helpful and resolved my dilemma. I did have to wait on the line for about 10 minutes though to speak to said human.

So if bots are here to stay, how do we make friends with them? Here are some tips:

  1. First, go in knowing their limitations. Bots do serve a purpose—they can answer simple questions, freeing up customer service agents to address more difficult issues and concerns.
  2. Be aware if you are dealing with a bot or a human. Sometimes this can be hard to know. If you’re not sure, ask. You’ll know after the first few interactions when five lines of text appear instantaneously.
  3. If after the first few questions it’s clear the bot’s programming isn’t giving you what you need, ask to speak to a live person. Most bots that are programmed well with have a human offramp, where you just pick “speak to a person” and they’ll redirect your enquiry.

If all else fails, you can always derive some entertainment value by messing with it. Just be prepared for the Maggie Smith gifs.

The art of observation

Girl at Kitty Hawk statue
Grace at the statue of John Daniels at Kitty Hawk

Some of the most iconic photos in the world have been taken by amateur photographers.

Take for instance, the photo of first flight. When the Wright brothers decided they were going to take to the air in Kitty Hawk, North Carolina in 1903, they needed someone to document their feat. They turned to John Daniels, who worked at the life-saving station in the coastal town.

Orville Wright set up the Gundlach Korona camera on his tripod and showed Daniels how to trigger the camera’s shutter by squeezing the release bulb. Daniels took the picture of the brothers ascending into the air, but it wasn’t until much later until they knew it had been captured on film.

Since those early days of photography, we have been intrigued with capturing moments in time through the glass of a 35 mm lens. Today, thanks to smart phones and digital technology, we all have the ability to share our view and observations of the world around us.

Elliott Erwitt once said, “Photography is an art of observation. It’s about finding something interesting in an ordinary place… it has little to do with the things you see and everything to do with the way you see them.”

This week’s #HappyAct is to take a photo of something that intrigues or inspires you, then share it.

This blog post was inspired by the award winning photographs of my two daughters who entered their photography into the Kingston Fall Fair. Grace won two firsts and a third, and Clare won one first, second and third, with her winning photo being chosen Reserve Champion (second best of all photos submitted in all categories) for the junior category. Here are some of their award winning photos.

Photo of flowers

 

Photo of dog on couchPhoto of chickensPhoto of flower

Imagine a different future

Museum exhibit of the apartment of the future

Imagine it’s the year 2050 and you’re sitting in your apartment. The low hum of fog machines drones in the background as you skim the morning headlines citing worldwide crop failures while munching on your breakfast of mealworms, kale and mushrooms.

This is a new world, a world of empty supermarket shelves where humans have learned to adapt to survive.

This is just one possible future a new hero of mine, futurist Anab Jain challenged us to imagine at the conference I was at last month in Montreal.

Anab works for an organization called Superflux, a UK design studio dedicated to translating future uncertainty into present day choices by imagining and creating different futures. They run experiments, build prototypes and simulate possible versions of the future so companies and governments can make bold decisions today.

Superflux has learned the most powerful way to change human behaviour is to help people directly, tangently and emotionally experience the change.

Anab told us about how the government of the United Arab Emirates commissioned them to shape their energy policy. Superflux created a prototype of a device that emits vapour simulating what the air quality would be like in the year 2050, then invited the UAE delgation to breathe in the air. The next day the government announced they would invest billions of dollars in renewable energy.

One fascinating insight Anab shared is that for every advancement or breakthrough we’ve seen in society, there are always expected and unexpected consequences.

For instance, facial recognition technology is being used by law enforcement agencies, governments, schools and companies under the auspices of keeping our society safe, but for every positive intended consequence, there can be negative, unintended consequences.

A university in China uses facial recognition technology in its classrooms. The technology registers if students are paying attention and assigns an emotional response. Students say they have learned to not register emotion to circumvent the technology.

Anab also shared a scary statistic: 95% of facial recognition software is inaccurate. Not only is big brother here to stay, he is basing his decisions on inaccurate data.

The ethical implications of this are enormous, and exploring both the intended and unintended consequences of possible futures is a key aspect of Superflux’s work.

Another project involved imagining if in the year 2050, we were living in a world of scarcity and there was not enough food to feed the billions of people on the planet. They simulated an urban apartment, which was made into a museum exhibit.

At first glance, the one side of the space looks like a normal kitchen with shelves, a coffee maker, appliances. On closer look, you see signs of the new reality—a newspaper headline that reads, “Worldwide crop failures in 2049”. A book on the bookshelf called “Pets as Protein”.

You notice the other side of the apartment is filled with industrial shelving and fluorescent lighting, where the residents are growing their own food using fog. Oyster mushrooms are being cultivated on the top shelf while smaller plastic containers are full of live mealworms.

Freaked out yet? You should be. The future is looking scary these days. Trump. The resurgence of nationalism and isolationism. Global warming.

We can’t let the future happen to us. We need to imagine and fight for the future we want.

Want to be a futurist? It’s not as far out there as you may think. Google, NASA, even Ikea, have a futures team.

Conquer the Savage question

HQ trivia screen

On Friday, my most awesome co-worker Jess invited us to a secret meeting at 3 p.m. The meeting was to play HQ Trivia.

HQ Trivia is a live trivia game that broadcasts each night at 9 p.m. and on weekdays at 3 p.m. You play along on your phone and the prize money is split between all the winners. The prize tonight, Sunday, February 18this an epic $25,000, their biggest prize ever.

I played twice on Friday and was hooked immediately.

There were six of us playing at 3…along with 668,000 other people. You read that right. Six hundred and sixty-eight thousand people! At 9 p.m., there was Clare and I….and just under a million other people playing.

Both times, we killed it on the first three or four questions, but here’s the skinny—they make the first questions really easy to hook you in. After each round, the questions get harder and harder. Just when you think you’ve got this, the host lays it on you–the Savage Question–the question that knocks out hundreds of thousands of people.

Not only is HQ Trivia fun and addictive, it’s a social and technological marvel. It boggled my mind to think I was online with hundreds of thousands of other people at the same time doing the same thing and watching the elimination numbers each round: from 998,000, to 924,000 to 762,000 to 682,000 then down to 324,000 (after the Savage Question) until the final round when only a handful of players claim victory to split the $2,500 jackpot.

This week’s #HappyAct is to download the HQ Trivia app and play along tonight. And whatever you do, don’t call our house at 9 p.m. We won’t answer the phone.

Ten cool apps for an appy Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving—the time to give thanks, spend time with family with friends and download some new apps on your phone as you curl up into turkey-induced coma on the couch.

Here are some of my favourite apps to check out that are useful.

  1. TeamSnap—Have a child on a sports team? TeamSnap allows coaches and parents to see schedules, who’s available for practices and games and even allows you to upload photos from games to create an online team photo album.
  2. Carrot—Developed in partnership with Canadian Diabetes Association, the Heart and Stroke Foundation and different government agencies, Carrot rewards you with Aeroplan, Petro Points or other reward program points for making healthy choices, taking fun interactive quizzes and even for your daily steps.
  3. Slack—Tired of endless emails at work? Slack is quickly becoming the go-to app for teams and companies who are looking for simpler, easier ways to communicate and collaborate. Many teams at my company are using Slack.
  4. Calorie counter and diet tracker—A great post-Thanksgiving app for losing weight and getting healthy.
  5. Aura: Meditation and Mindfulness—it’s like having your own personalized mindfulness coach who will guide you for three minutes a day to better mental health and happiness.
  6. AroundMe—Handy app for finding restaurants, gas stations or businesses nearby.
  7. Find My iPhone—even if your iPhone isn’t missing, it’s fun to track yourself on the map; if it is missing, it’s a lifesaver.
  8. WeTransfer/WeDownload—you don’t even need to download the app for this one, just go to the website. Allows you to transfer files up to two gigabytes free—great for sending videos, large photo collections.
  9. Stubhub—buy or sell tickets to any sporting event or concert.
  10. Yonder Outdoor Adventures–Check out posts from fellow outdoor enthusiasts on the best hikes and paddles around the world.

And if downloading apps isn’t your preferred way to while away Thanksgiving Monday, Clare informs me there is a spongebob marathan today “Spongegiving”.

What’s your favourite app? Leave a comment. Appy thanksgiving, everyone!