My leadership principles

The path not taken

I’ve evolved my approaches to team-leadership over the years (as to be expected), but I’m not sure I’ve ever sought to explicitly write down a These Things I Hold To Be True. Many of these are fairly office-directed, but most apply to my approach when I’m team captain or kids’ coach too.

While writing this, I realized how much of what I consider to be important leadership activities are not things that come naturally to me, but are rather trained skills that I work at consistently. So please consider this a living document too: I’m always looking to improve both this and myself.

  • A successful leader creates more leaders. Remember you’re standing on the shoulders of giants. You don’t become a leader just because of your skills, but also everyone’s around you. Your teachers, your mentors, your peers, your reports – they all help make you a leader. Respect that continuum and play your part to carry it on.
  • Expect to learn from those you lead. This builds on the first idea, but is more explicit. Just because you’re in charge, doesn’t mean that you’re right, or that you always know better. Ask questions. Be curious. Respect opinions. Corollary is to try to hire people who have something to teach you, whether those are hard or soft skills.
  • Facilitate independence. Don’t be a roadblock for your team. Create structure and process that lets your team explore on their own. Encourage decision-making & independent thought. Provide scaffolding for them to stand on while they work. Be a safety net (or rope-and-harness?) if they fall. Transparent, living documentation of process & procedure is good for all.
  • Do the things that don’t scale. Alternate: sweat the small stuff. Remember birthdays. Remember family names. Ensure the pens work. Have the one-on-ones. Make sure the environment is solid. Clean the white board. Show up a little early to the meeting to make sure there’s water, chairs, whatever. If someone mentions something in an off-hand comment, follow up. Pay attention.
  • Own your team’s failures. When something goes wrong (and it will!), take ownership. Don’t pass blame down the line. Be the shield for your reports. Within your team, don’t point fingers. Post-mortems are your friend. Understand what went wrong, and look for how to prevent that in the future.
  • Let your team own their victories. This is the corollary of the last item. Chances are you’ve had plenty of opportunity to shine on your way up. Step aside, let them accept credit. Better yet, go out of your way to give credit to your team-members publicly for their effort. Related to this: celebrate milestones.
  • Be decisive. You need to be ready to make the call when asked. Or step in when something isn’t working. Do your homework, read up, be ready. Trust your instincts. Remember that *most* decisions are reversible. Be ready to provide a path, a solution, or just an affirmation when needed.
  • Be deliberate. A corollary of the previous point: sometimes, a decision is paradigm-shifting –  *not* reversible. So take the time you need, but be firm and committed to the path chosen.
  • Practice and encourage self-care. Your manner, your tone, your emotional state has an outsized effect on your team. If you want your team to be their best selves, do what you need to be your best self. Demonstrate this so your team knows it is ok when they need to do it.
  • Experience the front-line. Participate in pager duty and answer support calls. Push code. Whatever the most junior among you, or the most publicly-exposed experience, make sure you have a reasonable understanding of their day-to-day.
  • Advocate for the Customer. That customer could be yourself, a client, another department, whatever. Chances are your team is delivering something to someone. Be the voice for the customer internally. Talk to the actual customer. Keep the relationship between your team and the customer healthy.
  • Earn your team’s trust every day. Listen actively. Believe, and believe in your team. Be right. Be focused. Be honest. Be self-critical. Be ethical. Default to openness. Give trust. Support your team-member when they need it.
  • Embrace Constraints. It is almost always worth figuring how to do more with less. Optimize where possible. Lean on limitations to see where they lead you. Create limits and boundaries where they are otherwise unclear in order to provide direction & guidance.
  • Confront your bias. You’re human. You have blindspots. You have biases. Keep these in mind. Build a team that helps you reduce, confront and account for these. Find mentors, peers, advisors to explicitly work on these.
  • Fight Culture-fit. This both seems counter-intuitive and oppositional. But “culture-fit”  is a step on the path to homogeneity. Diversity of people leads to diversity of opinion & thought. It leads to better compromise and outcomes. Culture-fit is not the same as team fit. The former is an ephemeral, subjective judgement of person. The latter is a quantifiable, objective judgement of skill, role, expectation.

Community Amenities in Vancouver

Liam in his waterpolo cap

I’ve been peripherally involved with the use & planning of Community Amenities in Vancouver for a long time – by being politically involved with the Park Board;as a both a participant and board member for the Vancouver Ultimate League; as a parent of a kid in Vancouver Thunderbirds Hockey; as parent of a kid in Vancouver Vipers waterpolo; and as a parent of a kid in Vancouver United FC Soccer. And, there’s a few things (that are probably in some ways obvious, but let us be explicit here) to note about doing all this in Vancouver. Let’s of course be clear that this is all anecdotal based on my experience and limited conversations with other families.

  1. With the exception of my experience as an ultimate player, community sports is heavily weighted towards the periphery of the city: rinks, pools, courts, fields are all generally on the western & eastern edges of the city. If you live in the centre, you’re pretty much guaranteed a fairly lengthy commute. It is sort of the inverse of the home-job principle.
  2. There are not enough playing-surface resources in the city of Vancouver compared to the number of participants. Ultimate, which has the *most* fields, because of the surfaces they’re willing to use, probably has this best. But it is still not enough. In my experience, from least available to most, it is probably: pools, quality fields, rinks, flat(ish) grass surfaces. I don’t know about baseball, but from the outside, it looks like each “area” has a really nice-looking “home” field where stuff happens.
  3. UBC is a terrible community partner. Each association I’ve been part of has been “forced” to use UBC’s fields/rinks/pools because there’s not enough in Vancouver, but each association complains bitterly about how expensive renting UBC’s facilities are. I’m not entirely sure of the justification for this, outside of free-market economics (supply v demand), but it sucks.
  4. The lack of playing surfaces leads to some pretty crazy scheduling decisions by the related associations. In practice, this has meant my elementary-aged kids are doing sports both SUPER early in the am (which generally sucks more for the parents) – as early as 6:15am Sunday in my experience – and also SUPER late at night – as late as 10:30pm Friday in my experience. Perhaps not surprisingly, this leads to some drop-off in participation.
  5. Compared to kids in related associations in the suburbs, Vancouver kids have way less access & time to their chosen sport. At younger ages, this has translated primarily to my being jealous of how little other parents are paying per hour-of-activity. At older ages (let’s say 10+) this tends to translate directly into a lack of competitiveness. In each sport I’ve participated in, as a general rule, suburban teams play at a higher level than Vancouver-based ones. Beyond that, we’ve seen several Vancouver families move their children, if not their actual domicile, out to be part of suburban associations just to give their kids access to higher compete levels.
  6. At an association level, these constraints put incredible pressure on the few paid staff & mostly volunteer organizers. I’ve sat in on several board meetings, AGMs and ad-hoc parent meetings where participants and/or parents complain about fees, ever-reducing availability of activity-time, and so on. And, at the core, the answer is always the same: the association is making awful trade-offs between allowing access to participate vs cost vs scheduling. These are generally pretty committed fans of the activity, and the wear on them shows.

So, what can be done?

Real Estate pricing in Vancouver means we are pretty unlikely to find large tracts of land in the city centre (increasingly, anywhere) to build new pools/rinks/fields. As far as I know, developers are not incentivized to build these sorts of community-centre amenities alongside developments. While I’ve always been a big fan of the existence of our park board, I increasingly wonder if it being distinct from city council really just lets council punt community amenity discussion out of “prime” discussions, to somewhere no one really cares about (if you’re to judge by average number of votes it takes to win a seat come election time).

I don’t have answers, but do have some things I wonder about:

  1. Could/should the city strike some sort of deal with UBC to allow community groups access to UBC facilities at a deal closer to what they pay for city amenities? What if the city bought all the available slots at UBC and then re-apportioned them via the existing city model? I don’t know enough about the political/fiscal relationship between Vancouver & UBC to know how possible that might be. If only from an operational/staffing view, a single purchase-source would be good.
  2. The Park Board’s operational & capital plans are being set for the future. Much like the issue with class-sizes & schools, they strike me as being planned for what’s there now (and not nearly enough), not what is coming in the future, regarding population size. But, I recognize they’re incredibly resource-constrained (both budgetary & physically). I don’t know what the answer is to that, outside of investment from perhaps all 3 levels of government & private enterprise. I’ve been historically averse to having corporate sponsors of community amenities, but if that would, say, double the available pools & rinks and/or cut costs by some significant %, maybe it would be worth it.
  3. Open up school resources more, including private schools, perhaps via the same methods as with UBC. Ontario’s LCBO gets good deals on booze by being (I think) the world’s largest single buyer of alcohol. Why couldn’t the city of Vancouver do that for space on behalf of the residents, and let associations just have one source, at, hopefully, lower costs, rather than various small associations all competing with each other across various sources?

 

Quick Thoughts on the new MacBook Pro (with touchbar)

After 5 years of service, my trusty, much-loved iMac died suddenly (and of course, in the middle of trying to meet a crazy deadline). We also had a 5-year old MacBook Pro in the house – the family computer, and my backup computer.

Because I work from home (which means I work from coffee shops, and other people’s offices, it made sense to replace the iMac with a laptop). After briefly flirting with the idea of a) switching to windows and b) getting a refurbished older MacBook, I took the plunge and ordered the brand-spanking new MacBook Pro 15″ with Touchbar (I need a shorthand for that. TouchBook? MBPT? Ehhh). This new system, like all first-generation Apple products, has not been without its issues.

Following personal priorities, I ordered a version with the 2.9 GHz quad-core i7 CPU, Radeon Pro 460 with 4GB, and the standard 500GB HDD (my rules: always max-out CPU/GPU capabilities on a laptop, deal with everything else). I’ve had the system for about 8 hours, so these are all early impressions:

The Good

  • The screen! Oh, the screen. It is so, so lovely. I’m somewhat colourblind, so I wasn’t sure I’d be able to see the new color range, but I can absolutely, 100% see the difference, particularly when looking at my photos. It’s one of those “it’s hard to describe but you’ll know it when you see it” differences.
  • The keyboard. My favourite-ever OS-X era Mac keyboard. So clicky! It feels much like an old-school mechanical keyboard, despite very clearly being not at all.
  • Can run ALL THE THINGS. I usually am working with several VMs. On the old iMac, I would regularly run out of RAM, so I’d habitually spin up a VM, work, shut it down when done and move to the next project, spin it up, etc. Doubling the RAM has made that unnecessary – I’ve currently got 4 VMs up and running for my current projects. With all those running, I could still play Civ VI without the system breaking a sweat.
  • Games: I don’t do a lot of graphics work, apart from photo-editing and the occasional video. But! I do play games. I played both Civ VI and Cities: Skylines last night, and was able to play *both* in “High Performance” mode, for the first time ever on a mac. It was so lovely!
  • Touchbar: TouchID makes virtually every issue ok. Interestingly, it would appear that the “needs admin password” is not some sort of “core” system, because, while anytime an Apple app asks for it, I can use TouchID, I couldn’t, for instance, use TouchID to give Adobe permission to install Lightroom. As apps update, touchID will just become better and better. But 1Password + TouchID is everything. I’ve just started customizing the touchbar, and I think that as I do that, I’ll come to like it more and more.

The Bad

  • Touchpad: It’s too. damn. big. It feels weird. I keep getting issues from my palms touching it while I type. Because it is so big, I have to retrain some gestures that expect me to use the whole space: 4-finger pinch, swipe from edge, etc. I’m also not a fan of how it “clicks” – this is similar to my issues with the new home button on the iPhone 7 – they both are in the “uncanny valley” of clicking for me, that somehow makes them feel cheap and plastic, not nice and solid.
  • Touchbar: I know, I know, I liked it. But – I keep accidentally tapping it with my fingers and having weird things happen – in particular the escape button. Also, I sure wish that the touchbar provided haptic feedback so it felt like I was clicking on something, rather than brushing against it.
  • RAM: I know I just said above that it could do all the things. But given that 16GB is the “currently comfortable amount” of RAM I need to do my work, I worry greatly that this will artificially limit the lifespan of the computer to 2-3 years, instead of the 5-6 I’m hoping for.
  • Buggy: I’ve already had to restart the computer twice because of weird issues: The first time, all of a sudden the system was no longer recording clicks within app windows. Anything outside worked, but not within. The second time the keyboard just stopped working. couldn’t type anything. Super weird. All things that can be fixed via OS Updates, but annoying. I’m used to not restarting my macs for months on end, not every day.

Review: Wolf Parade and The Pack AD at The Imperial

Some seven years after the last time I saw them, I went with Leah to see Wolf Parade at the Imperial last night. &, plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.

But let’s start with the Pack AD, who’re amazing, impeccable and can rock. I’m pretty sure I saw them a long time ago when they were participating in Shindig (maybe 2007? so after I was there every week, but before I stopped going entirely). I have a personal fondness for the stripped-down sounds of a guitar-drum two-piece. Add in serious vocal chops and yeah – just see the Pack AD if you enjoy garage rock, at all. There’s a line in their official bio that is pretty perfect, and true:

the Pack A.D. have owned every spotlight and stolen every show they’ve ever played. Becky and Maya are relentless and riveting, playing with the kind of fuck-off freedom that makes everybody in the room vicarious rock stars, even if it’s just for the night.

Wolf Parade is really a tale of two bands: Spencer Krug’s Wolf Parade, and Dan Boeckner’s Wolf Parade. And they really are two bands dressed up at once explains why still, some seven years later, the same line still applies – they don’t really know how to run a concert. There’s awkward silences (they had technical difficulties tonight as well), for most of the night there didn’t seem to be a lot of joy on stage, and while no one can fault their musicianship, they didn’t seem particularly tight for a band that’s been around as long as they have (even given their long hiatus).

Songs that Spencer (keyboards) sings lead on (and presumably, wrote), are synth/keyboards-driven melodic garage pop. They are ambitious, involve everyone in the band, are lyrically more diverse. Songs that Dan (guitar) sings lead on (and presumably, wrote), are straight-up guitar-driven guitar rock. Both are excellent – but different. I definitely have a preference, based on last night’s show, on Spencer’s version of the band (at the same time, it wouldn’t be nearly as good a band, or show, if it was just his stuff). Everyone seemed more involved, more together on those songs. Perhaps they are more difficult to play? Not sure.

It’s worth noting that by the end of the night, they’d really come together. What was a really rough start was totally put aside by their finale, an amazing, long, high-energy jam to end the night. It was the first time all night I saw Dan and Spencer looking at each other, smiling, playing with each other. If that’s the band that’ll show up the next couple of nights (this was the first of 3 shows at the Imperial this week), everyone else is in for a real treat.

La La Land: a sort-of review

Griffith Observatory

I watched La La Land just over a week ago, and have gone through a sort of evolution in my thinking about it:

  1. During the movie, i was fully in love with it. The cinematography, the acting, the music, the decoration.
  2. Then it ended. That Ending! I really wasn’t sure what I thought about it.
  3. Walking out, chatting with Leah, I absolutely loved the movie again – it was chipper and light and lovely and everything I’d wanted in the movie when I was walking into it: it met – and exceeded – all my expectations.
  4. Over the week, I kept thinking about the movie, and, slowly, a comparison came to me. Have you ever seen the Led Zeppelin concert film The Song Remains the SameIf you haven’t, don’t. If you’re not a Led Zeppelin fan, there’s no reason to. If you are, don’t: nothing destroys your heroes like humanizing them. However, I think there’s a lot of similarities between some principals at play. The Song Remains the Same is a display of musical virtuosity: Musicians at their best, knowing this, and playing with that fact. It is both stunning, amazing and worst kind of Music-God onanism – guitar solos, drum solos, weird “ahh”ing vocal solos.
    La La Land is that. Damien Chazzelle is Really. Really. Good – and he knows it. And this film is film-making wankery at its very worst. It is so self-knowning, and winking and mannered. So yes, it is amazing and wonderful to watch – in the moment – but, like unnecessary guitar solos, afterwards, it leaves you annoyed.
  5. It strikes me (now) as incredibly sexist: Sebastian (Ryan Gosling), careens through this film, ending up getting almost exactly what he wanted at the beginning of the film. While he ostensibly takes actions for Mia (Emma Stone), he still never sacrifices for him. Both he and Mia are performers, and yet, somehow, he never once sees her perform, while her story arc is continuously informed and catalyzed by her watching him perform. She has to give so much of herself – to him, to her career – and he doesn’t really give anything. Even his so-called sacrifice (taking a job he doesn’t really want so she’ll see him as a success), is wildly successful, and leads directly to him reaching his own goals.
  6. Still though, that ending.  I could probably watch that end-sequence 100s of times, never tire of it, never not see/think something slightly different. Even as I write, I both hated and loved the ending, and, following on from that, everything that precedes it.

2016 — my year in books

Liam reads an Elephant & Piggie book to Kellan

I made a New Years’ resolution in 2016 to diversify my reading — not by genre, but by author. I had realized that in 2015, of 26 books that I read, 22 were written by white men — an astounding 85%. So I had a goal to flip that percentage in 2016. Here’s how I did, in a quick summary of books:

  1. Golden Fool (The Tawny Man Trilogy #2), by Robin Hobb
    I love everything by Robin Hobb, and have loved every page of now 8 Fitz books by her. They’re true page-turners in the best meaning of that.
  2. Brooklyn, by Colm Toíbín
    I hated this book. I read it because of reviews and the movie (which I also hated) … and I should’ve stopped about 20 pages in, but I just kept reading, alternately to see whether it would redeem itself (no) or what it felt like to hate-read an entire book (not good).
  3. Fool’s Assassin (Fitz & the Fool #1), by Robin Hobb
    This new series, set when Fitz is much older, is heart-breaking for fans of the series and so, so good.
  4. Fool’s Quest (Fitz & the Fool #2), by Robin Hobb
    See above.
  5. A Man In Love (My Struggle #2), by Karl Ove Knausgård
    If my darkest inner voices were given public attention, perhaps they might sound like this. It is brutal honesty (although fictional? maybe? I hope? A devastating book.
  6. A Darker Shade of Magic, by V.E. Schwab
    So! Much! Fun! I don’t know why I didn’t immediately get the next one in the series, except that I wanted to let Kell ruminate in my mind for a while, this was such a lovely tale.
  7. The Hidden Oracle (Trials of Apollo #1), by Rick Riordan
    So, I’ve read all of the various Percy Jackson-related books to, and with the kids, so I got this one too — and the magic is gone, and Liam didn’t care and I regret reading this.
  8. Ancillary Sword (Imperial Radch #2), by Ann Leckie
    Onto book two, where the gender-fuck of the first book has become normalized and the characters, story and setting can truly shine. This is my favourite of the series.
  9. The Fifth Season (Broken Earth #1), by N. K. Jemisin
    An amazing, different take on magic in a dystopian (future?) society. Possibly my favourite book of the entire year.
  10. The Underground Railroad, by Colson Whitehead
    The buzziest book I read all year (an Oprah bookclub selection!) that totally held up despite the hype. I loved the magic-realism of the device of a real underground railroad, and it was heartbreaking and hard and beautiful. Contains the most gut-wrenching sentence I read all year (which, for spoiler reasons, I won’t share).
  11. The Obelisk Gate (Broken Earth #2), by N. K. Jemisin
    Not quite as good as The Fifth Season as it normalizes into a fairly standard fantasy/odyssey book, but still well-worth the journey if you love the characters as I do.
  12. Ancillary Mercy (Imperial Radch #3), by Ann Leckie
    Read this as a meditation on the a nature of identity and empathy and, well, yeah. There’s so much going on in this book, in this series. It should probably be the subject of several academic think-pieces.
  13. The View from the Cheap Seats, by Neil Gaiman
    I needed a Neil fix, and was getting on a plane, and this did the trick (It’s a solid habit to read one book by Neil Gaiman every single year, IMO). It’s all over the place. The best thing though is his unabashed love of Books, in all their forms, and the humans who write them. I added a dozen books, by a dozen authors, to my wishlist from reading this (NB: I’m still reading this. I have read a few sections between each of the rest of the books this year).
  14. A Heart so White, by Javier Marías (Translated by Margaret Jull Costa)
    I struggled mightily with this book — It came highly recommended by my mum, who rarely is wrong about these things, and, much like reading Shakespeare, it takes a while to wrap your head around the language and format, but once I did, wow! I read it nearly twice over.
  15. Charmed Life (Chrestomanci #1), by Dianna Wynne Jones
    Silly, simple fun. Ends before I was ready for it, but also definitely felt a little dated.
  16. Babylon’s Ashes (The Expanse #6), by James S. A. Corey
    The best entry in the series since book 3. Either you love The Expanse, or you haven’t read it yet.
  17. The Grace of Kings (Dandelion Dynasty #1), by Ken Liu
    I learned of Ken Liu through reading Cixin Liu, and, am so much the richer for it. This book deserves all the accolades it received, but, it took me a while to get through it, as I didn’t get fully into until about 100 pages in.
  18. The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet (Wayfarers #1), by Becky Chambers
    This book is sci-fi equivalent of a Belle & Sebastian album. It is lovely and twee, and not quite what I hoped it was. That being said, I immediately started reading the follow-up, so there you go.
  19. A Closed and Common Orbit (Wayfarers #2), by Becky Chambers
    The first book in the series was self-published — I don’t know if this one was, but it feels so much tighter that I wonder if it at least a new, better editor was found. A similar feel to the first one, only moreso, in all the right ways.

I fell way short of my goal for reading this year — I was aiming for 40 books, and didn’t even crack 20. Of 19, 6 were written by men, or 32% — which also fell way short of my goal of reading only 10% white men. But, a definite improvement over my previous habits. Noticeably, when browsing the Kobo store, the recommended books are much more diverse in authorship than they were prior to this.
I’m hoping for follow-ups from Robin Hobb, V. E. Schwab, N. K. Jemisin & Ken Liu this year, and will continue to try and diversify who I’m reading.

Making Money isn’t Enough: Considerations for a digital company in 2017

I’m starting a new company, with Steve Fisher. I can’t reveal just yet the first product we’re building, but don’t worry, there’ll be more on that in the not-so-distant future. This post is focused on deeper considerations about the company we’re building and why those matter.

In 2015, at The Design & Content Conference, I watched Sara Wachter-Boettcher give a career-altering talk on designing for kindness.

In 2016, this theme was built upon at the same conference by virtually every speaker, but I want to call out two in particular who’ve stuck with me:

Anil Dash’s talk “Storytellers” — particularly the unintended consequences of design decisions, and accountability at a personal and organizational level for them. The Alexa Story, starting at 3:45 is such an excellent illustration.

Ron Bronson’s talk “Designing for Empathy: Context Matters”, largely about the idea of recognizing one’s own blinders and working through them to discover other context, other uses. The story about Pokemon Go/Ingress starting at 6:35 is solid example.

These three talks in particular have informed a pretty massive shift in my approaches to: code, operations, design, business, etc. Positive shifts that also come with a set of concerns that I hadn’t been as focused on.

Concerns we will address:

Geophysical Portability

We’re going to have customers, at least to start, across North America. I also recognize that where your data resides has become more important than ever. For many companies and organizations, where their data is stored, and the locations of libraries they use matters. In BC (Canada!), government entities aren’t allowed to use US-soil services. Governments will use our product, and so we need to ensure that every piece of code we run, every piece of data we store resides in their country. So, from the get-go, we need to write software that is portable and works with third-party-hosted libraries, tools or services that are similarly portable. It’s an interesting and exciting constraint.

Our Privilege

We’re two middle-aged, middle-class white dudes from Canada starting a tech company that is mostly self-funded. The privilege in that is staggering. Basically, we’re walking around with blinders on when we think about the product, the company. We need to do the work to see past our own biases and blinders. First step for us is to engage with a set of advisors who are significantly more diverse than we are, to provide alternative insights and voices in our planning. AND, most importantly, pay these advisors fairly for their time.

Protecting the Vulnerable

The product we’re building exists to help our customers. But it only took a few minutes to think of how someone could abuse our product to help them advance their less-wholesome objectives. Unintentionally so, but it would be easy to use this tool for bad. It is our responsibility to build in constraints, restrictions, community, etc that could prevent this. But, how far does that go? Not everyone is going to do things I like or agree with — but they’re not necessarily bad. Nothing is politically neutral, but do we want to have “neutral” software, run by an opinionated company? We’ve seen first hand the damage that can cause with companies like Twitter. We need to dig in and discover what tools, features, guidelines, legalese we can, and should, build into the product and company. It should be part of our job to build tech that protects the most vulnerable.

Data Security

We will be tracking lots of activity within our product. This is for growth targets, sales, insights and customer support. All good reasons. And we will require user accounts. For most use-cases that’s not an issue, but I can’t guarantee that’s true for everyone who might see a use of our product.

Some guidelines we’re working from:

  1. Data security must be baked-in at every level.
  2. We hold our customers’ data in trust, and data should only be used for our collective greater good
  3. Our customers’ data remain theirs, and they should be able to remove it as needed.
  4. Data available online is vulnerable. It is our duty to both minimize that vulnerability and to act responsibility if it is ever targeted.
  5. Privacy doesn’t mean the same thing to everyone. We must support various levels.

Tools & Software

We’re building the first version of this software on our own, but hope to be able to hire engineering staff quickly. Cutting edge is less important than broadly known — for both hireability and learnability. Our team will leverage, and contribute back to, existing and potentially new open source projects. Where possible, we will prefer open-source tools over proprietary (particularly given our concerns about geophysical location). We’re building a web-app first, but I expect we’ll soon see use for both a mobile-native app for at least parts, and, perhaps less expectedly, a desktop app.

HR

We need things such as revenue, first, but I’ve learned from my previous companies that hiring happens faster than you’d expect, and having values and policy in place is essential.

Some things we’re thinking about:

  1. Both Steve and I have dogs, who we want to have around the office.
  2. We have kids, and we like to see and hang out with them.
  3. We like to travel.
  4. Be able to offer valuable perks like full parental leave, childcare and flexible hours.
  5. Encourage and support community involvement and personal passions.
  6. Collaboration and conversation is better than competition and direction.

But, I don’t want an office full of perks and free things. There’s some middle ground of “recognize your staff have lives and accommodate fully” and “your staff should be treated like adults” Be passionate, stay passionate, engage and encourage passion, but leave work at work. A few years ago, I wrote a piece about finding other paths to success (“A million dollars isn’t cool, you know what’s cool?”), and the ethos behind that still resonates with me. I want to build that into this new company.

Utility

I’m confident we’ve identified a need and a niche that we can work in, but there’s something to the axiom “the greatest minds of my generation are figuring out how to make people click ads”. There are real problems that people can, and are solving. Teams at Code for America & the USDS are solving real problems, for real people, using tech. We need to make sure we’re contributing too — if not directly through our product, through our expertise, our staff, our community.

A Company for Good

Starting a company is hard. Most fail quickly, so adding additional constraints, or targets could feel like a fool’s game. I’d like a company that structurally contributes back to our community (see HR, above). And I’d like a company that isn’t just building a product and selling it. Existing isn’t enough. We need to put our effort, success, and privilege towards something more. We’re not totally sure where we’ll draw the line, but it’s something to figure out. It’s too easy to leave these decisions to later, and then later never comes. We need to start these as we start everything else.


These are not in order of importance and jostle from day-to-day in my head for position. As we move forward I will to write more about how we embrace these challenges and opportunities How each point becomes not only part of the product, but of our new company, and more part of ourselves as partners in this. And finally to talk openly about where compromises were made, where things are left to do, and how we’re changing.

“All we have to do is go to first principles and what you all know every single time you ship something, every single time you put something out in the world. You know what it looks like when it counts. You know what it looks like when you care about it, and all we have to prioritize, one simple thing, that the story we tell includes the most vulnerable people. If we do that much then we can be worthy of all the things that people say about the transformative potential that technology has on the world.”
Anil Dash at The Design & Content Conference

Quick thoughts after a morning spent driving on the North Shore.

Vancouver Skyline

I spent this morning driving, roughly:

  • Lions Gate to Mount Seymour on highway/Mt. Seymour Parkway.
  • Mount Seymour to Deep Cove on Mt. Seymour Parkway
  • Deep Cove to Lonsdale on Dollarton/Main st/Low Level Rd/Esplanade
  • Lonsdale to Park Royal on 3rd/Marine dr.

So, mostly on the southern/coastal parts of north shore. Holy traffic!! I don’t know how anyone could stand to drive this everyday. It’s just a giant parking lot, once you’re west of the Second Narrows.

Some observations:

  • Cycling infrastructure is scary AF. Sharrows that disappear, giant trucks, narrow lanes, nothing separated. & yet counted some 50-odd cyclists braving the roads I drove today.
  • There’s some really interesting mid-rise densification happening everywhere west of Second Narrows (apart from along Low Level Rd)
  • The current streets appear to be full already: I don’t envy transportation planners on the North Shore.
  • Lonsdale itself is just BEGGING for better mixed-use infrastructure: a cycle track, a street car, something. It’s a beautiful street, only way too car-dominated for what should a be a slow, shopping/ambling street.
  • There seems to be both enough density & more importantly a hugely dense commercial base to warrant some sort of LRT between Lonsdale & Park Royal: streetcar? Tram? Something. Maybe take out a lane of traffic, or street parking (most mini malls appear to have that) & add in rails & a cycle track? Open the city to more exploration!
  • Entering/exiting at the bridges has VASTLY improved compared to just a few years ago.
  • Busses must suck: I saw 3 the entire width of the north shore & all were just as stuck in traffic as I was. Bus lanes?

Stray thoughts about this week’s Computer Announcements

On Wednesday, Microsoft the Surface Studio:

Immediately followed by Apple announcing the Macbook Pro (2016) the very next day:

These computers show very much where each of these companies are right now. Having recently watched Steve Jobs, it also struck me as how much these companies have changed over the past 20 years, in many ways, each becoming what the other one was.

There is nothing in the new Macbook Pro that still smacks of the old “Think Different” campaigns that Apple used to live by. They’re no longer the plucky underdogs targeting the people who think different — they’re the massively popular overlords who’re targeting their audience: everyone.

Conversely, Microsoft (despite the still-dominance of Windows in corporate installs), has more or less lost the popular mindshare of personal computing. Everyone has macs. And so their audience isn’t everyone anymore. It’s people who’re not being served by Macs.

So, 20 years ago, Apple targeted creatives — who were not well served by Microsoft. Today, the opposite is true — Apple, effectively, has ceded the “pro” space, the people who need all the things on their systems. Michael Tsai’s excellent evisceration of the new Macbook Pro says that better than I could. Whereas the Surface Studio is explicitly aimed at creatives who need something “different” than what is usually available out there.

20-odd years ago, Apple was squarely targeting the 10% of people who were not being served by what Windows offered (nb: I’m not saying they didn’t want everyone using a Mac — they certainly did, and, indeed, their current success indicates their ideas were right). They targeted designers, creatives, thought leaders who helped turn their brand around. What’s weird for everyone who’s been a long-time Mac user is that whereas previously there’s a sense that “they” were the audience for Apple — that’s no longer true. Apple’s now got to appeal for the very general user, in many ways the lowest common denominator user — what used to be the domain of the Microsoft. Given their volumes of devices sold, there’s zero financial incentive to add features that appeal to only a small subset of people anymore. Conversely, and what is a pretty big cognitive shift for everyone — consumers, tech media, probably the company itself, is that it is important for Microsoft to do so: they’ve ceded the mobile space. They appear to have recognized that desktops & even laptops are increasingly niche devices, and, on top of that, they’re no longer the default choice for most shoppers. So, stealing directly from Apple’s playbook, it looks like Microsoft is asking people to Think Different these days. Gabe (from Penny Arcade) wrote a long puff-piecereview of his involvement with the development of, and use of, the new Surface Studio that is incredibly compelling.

A last thought: I’m not arguing that Apple is in any way less innovative than it was. I feel like there’s a pretty direct line of continued hardware innovation from them. What’s dramatically different is where they’re innovating. They’re no longer pushing the bleeding edge for a particular subset of users — they’re finding ways of making the bleeding edge more palatable for the mainstream.

My guess: Whereas for the past 3–4 years I pretty much only saw MacBooks & iMacs on coffee shop tables & office desks, over the next 3–4, we’re going to see an increasing number of Surfaces on both too, because suddenly, the industrial design of Microsoft products has caught up (surpassed?) with Apple, but with Windows 10, there’s a fundamentally different, but also very compelling approach to modern desk(lap)top computing. I’m not sure we’ve had a time (maybe the early-to-mid 80s?) where multiple computing hardware and OS companies have been firing on all cylinders creating such compelling competition for our dollars.

MacOS Sierra: Solving an external drive mounted as read-only after install

When I installed MacOS Sierra, my trusty Drobo, who’d been flawless through so many OS updates, suddenly stopped working. Or, more particularly, suddenly was no longer writable. I just solved this, and, as I was unable to find any of this online, thought I’d write it up in case anyone else has this issue. Particularly as Drobo’s support suggested:

If you’re like me, you have no media capable of holding everything in your Drobo.

Of note: My Drobo is formatted HFS+. If you’ve got an external NTFS or FAT drive, YMMV.

The cause of this change is that in MacOS Sierra, the /Volumes folder is no longer writable by default. So, to change, I needed to do the following:

First remount the drive as writable:

sudo mount -u -w /Volumes/YourDriveName

(the -u means you’re modifying an already-mounted filesystem; -w makes it writeable).

I could now write to it if I sudo vi a text file. But — neither TimeMachine nor (most importantly for me) Lightroom could write to it at this point. It turns out that ownership of everything in the Volumes folder changed too, away from root:wheel. So, next step:

sudo chown -R root:wheel /Volumes/YourDriveName

(the -R is recursive, so all files. root:wheel is the owner & group — you could make this your own user, but I chose to make it match other “system” files here.

Lastly, check the read/write privileges. For me, everything in the Drobo was now -r--r--r-- (read only). Which just won’t do at all. I wanted everyone to read, and owner and group to be able to write. So, next:

sudo chmod -R 774

This changes permission so that the owner & the group can read, write, execute, and everyone else can read — which is what I wanted for this drive (in particular, group-writable was important for Lightroom, while TimeMachine seemed perfectly happy to start working with only the owner having write permissions).

So — this may have been a particular-to-me issue, but given that I have many, many TB of personal photos, videos — and TimeMachine backups on my Drobo, I’m certainly glad I took the time to solve this.

What’s left to do

So, I can read and write to my drive — but I still can’t figure out how to get the drive to show up in the list of Devices in the finder. I can live with this, but it would be nicer if it just “appeared”. If you know how to solve that (and no, clicking the “show external drive” off and on in preferences doesn’t work), let me know!