Monthly Archives: May 2021

How we work is not good for us

Likely in a few hundred years people will look back at us and wonder how we could be so screwed up when it comes to work. If you are reading this while you have the Sunday Scarries, you likely won’t need much convincing.

If you do need convincing, then read these two pieces:

There are benefits that we as individuals get out of work. But we need to seriously question and challenge how good those benefits are in comparison to the drawbacks.

Many of us are becoming less religious in the 21st century. We recognize some of the benefits, but the drawbacks of it are too great to keep us religious. If you were to go back in time 500 years ago, most people would have thought this inconceivable, that we would give up on religion. Well, what those people think of religion then we think of work now.

If you do have the Sunday Scarries, I don’t envy you. But at least you know the problem is not you, it’s work.

(Photo by Alex Kotliarskyi on Unsplash)

Getting out of your comfort zone gives you a new and better comfort zone

During the pandemic I have found myself retreating into my comfort zone. It makes sense to some degree: life is hard enough with the lockdowns and worse that this stupid disease has brought us: why make things harder?

What I have realized now though is my comfort zone has shrunk as I retreated to it more and more. This has led to a bad downward spiral. Take exercise, for example. A 30 minute run used to be in my comfort zone while a 60 minute run was not. But as I exercised less during the pandemic, now even a 5 minute run is barely in my comfort zone anymore.

This made me realize that to have a larger comfort zone, you need to regularly go outside your old comfort zone and get uncomfortable. Staying in your comfort zone only shrinks it. But by going outside it more, you expand it. Having a larger comfort zone means you feel more comfortable and in control more often.

I’m going to start pushing on the boundaries of my comfort zone not because it is fun, but because I want a bigger one. I believe life is better when you do that.

One provision I would add is to make sure that when you go outside your boundaries it is in the direction of growth, not harm. Some people avoid going outside their comfort zone because they are afraid of getting hurt. Other people go too hard (eg runners) and end up returning to their old comfort zone and get stuck. Don’t do those things. Be gradual and be consistent as you stretch yourself: that’s the best way to expand your comfort zone.

Making your organization more inclusive


I’ve always been a fan of Chatelaine magazine for its content. Now I am also a fan of them for working to build a more inclusive Chatelaine. That link shows the many ways they aim for and measure their inclusiveness. Any organization wanting to be more  inclusive should look to them for ideas and approaches.

The link also shows the limits or obstacles any one organization has in becoming more inclusive. A smaller organization can only scale out so far, and there is always more to include than is sometimes possible. But by aiming high, they have achieved much. I’m hopeful that they will try and do more, and other organizations following their example can do more too. Inclusivity spread over more organizations leads to greater inclusion for all.  That’s a great thing.

(Photo by Clay Banks on Unsplash)

Upgrade your thinking about economics


If you want to upgrade your thinking on economics, I recommend these four pieces:

  • The Choice Isn’t Between Capitalism or Socialism – this seems obvious to me and likely you too, but it is a good reference to keep around for whenever you hear people talking about capitalism and socialism.
  • America Never Learns the Limits of Bootstrapping – a good piece on the limits of social safety nets built using private initiatives. My belief is that social safety nets should come both from governments and individuals, and that we should be looking into how our society is set up to provide a wide range benefits for everyone. For example, unemployment insurance is good, but free or low cost education to allow people to improve themselves and others is important also. We need more initiatives to improve people’s lives.
  • A Basic Income Could Solve 8 of Society’s Biggest Problems – the big initiative in the 21st century should be this. We can eliminate poverty and remove many social ills with it. It will not be a cure all, but it can cure a-lot.
  • If You’re so Smart, Why Aren’t You Rich? Turns out It’s Just Chance – finally, some many say if you have all these social programs, no one will every try again because we need a system in place that encourages people to work hard and get rich. If you think that, read the article.

Not everyone will benefit from these pieces. I did, though, and for some of you reading this, you will as well.

(Photo by Aziz Jus on Unsplash)

The best book to learn calculus from

This may be the best book to learn calculus from: Calculus Made Easy.

I like it for two reasons. One, it’s free. Two, it does not take itself seriously nor does it take calculus seriously. To see what I mean, here’s a clip from the beginning of the e-book:

Considering how many fools can calculate, it is surprising that it should be thought either a difficult or a tedious task for any other fool to learn how to master the same tricks. Some calculus-tricks are quite easy. Some are enormously difficult.

The fools who write the textbooks of advanced mathematics—and they are mostly clever fools—seldom take the trouble to show you how easy
the easy calculations are. On the contrary, they seem to desire to impress you with their tremendous cleverness by going about it in the most difficult way.

Being myself a remarkably stupid fellow, I have had to unteach myself the difficulties, and now beg to present to my fellow fools the parts that are not hard. Master these thoroughly, and the rest will follow. What one fool can do, another can.

So if you want to learn calculus but are struggling, give that book a look. Sure it’s an old book, but calculus is an old subject. It may suit you just fine.

(Photo by Jeswin Thomas on Unsplash)

How our relationships change over time, represented in minimal graph form

This is lovely:

I especially like “Parent” and “Dog”.

More on that, as well as the source of the image, here.

What solitary confinement teaches us


Solitary confinement is terrible. Most people confined this way for a stretch are badly affected by it. A few manage to come out of it better. It’s their stories that are told in this piece: How to Survive Solitary Confinement

The people that managed ok tend to have grit and the ability to make their minds work in a way to defeat being alone and confined. To see what I mean, read the piece. It can help you in some way if you are feeling alone and confined, as we all do from time to time.

(Photo by Marco Chilese on Unsplash)

It’s Monday. You need to start getting back in shape. Here’s a good start

If you think, I got to start exercising again, I just got to, but you can’t even begin to know to start, consider this: Easy Cardio Challenge

If you think: that’s too easy, then consider doing them faster. Or add on an additional fitness challenge from Darebee.

And if you aren’t sure how to do these exercises, here is how you a side jack:

Here’s how you do a step jack:

You’re all set. Print off the challenge and put an X through each day you do. In 30 days you will be in better shape than you are now. Just as important, you will have created an exercise routine for yourself. Kudos to you!

Desks of the near future

I’m not sure what the desk or workstation of the near future might look like, but these two articles are providing some ideas:

  1. This home office desk comes with hidden storage systems to keep your desk setup organized! | Yanko Design
  2. This retractable office solution provides privacy and isolation for remote work and WFH days! | Yanko Design

With the pandemic still ongoing, the thought of going back in the office seems remote, but when we do, I expect things are going to start to look different. They might even look like these designs.

Treadmills are horrible and have been forever

A horrific accident with a treadmill happened this week, causing lots of understandable worry. To see what I mean, see this: Peloton recalls treadmills after a child dies | CTV News

If you were wondering if treadmills were ever good, read this: The Torturous History of the Treadmill | Wirecutter

They have their uses, sure. But as equipment goes, they are one of my least favorite.

(Photo by Ryan De Hamer on Unsplash)

if you want cheap land, Cape Breton is an option

I mean, seriously. As the local news says, there is….Still time to become a property owner for $600 in Cape Breton Regional Municipality | SaltWire

Now you aren’t going to get a mansion or anything, but clearly if owning land is your chief goal, that’s one way to do it.

DBT is one way to deal with strong emotions

As this piece argues, if you need help or struggle with your emotions, approaches from dialectical behaviour therapy (DBT) may be helpful. Consider the article as a bit of emotional first aid.

First aid may not be sufficient for everyone and you may need to see a therapist. But try the piece first and see if it is for you.

P.S. Another good piece on managing your moods is here.

The fascinating history of art in the Oval Office of the White House

The New York Times does a great job of telling the story of The Art in the Oval Office. There’s a good story of how it has evolved from Kennedy to Biden, and the Times does a good job of telling it by using various interactive tools. Well worth viewing.

Personally I like how different Kennedy was than the other presidents. But judge for yourself.

On Bill Gates


This piece in The New York Times on Bill and Melinda Gates Divorcing   got me thinking about Bill again. I’ve written about him several times on this blog. I often think of him because for most of my career my field (IT) has been shaped by him. Then he left Microsoft and went off to save the world. In doing so, he transformed from the Bill Gates of old to a newer and gentler Bill Gates. The change has been so remarkable that many people likely don’t know that young Bill Gates and what he was like. If you want a better understanding of that, this old TIME article from 1997 by Walter Isaacson s helpful. (Isaacson was Steve Jobs’ biographer among other things.)

I think old Bill Gates still has some of that personality in him. I am curious to see how the divorce will change him. Whether we will see Bill Gates v3.0, someone who is neither CEO nor philanthropist. Time will tell.

(Image is a link to Wikimedia.org)

It’s Monday. You have some difficult tasks in front of you this week. Here’s some help with that.

It’s always hard to deal with difficult tasks. If you are struggling, read this: Getting Good at Just Starting a Difficult Task – zen habits zen habits.

I especially liked the idea of making it meaningful and joyful. Sometimes just thinking about how you will feel when it is done brings joy. Focus on that.

Also shrink it down. I sometimes make a difficult task more difficult by imagining all the follow on activities. That’s wrong. Stay focused, break down the task, make it easier to do the next thing.

Good luck!

(Photo by Sigmund on Unsplash )

What I find interesting: dealing with getting old

Here’s some links I found around the topic of getting older and retiring. Maybe you aren’t thinking too much about that yet, but you should. For example, here’s a piece about how to have a long, fulfilling career and perhaps never retire. But if you going to retire, here’s how to retire on a fixed chuck of money. To get a fixed amount of cash, you need a plan. This piece can help you get to a million bucks regardless if you are in your 30’s, 40’s, or 50’s.

Money is just one challenge to deal with as you get older. Another is a potentially deteriorating brain. Here’s a sobering essay on how this person is preparing for the dementia she believes she will get. One wait to fight such things is to keep your mind active. One way to do that is to engage in activities such as games. Chess, for example. You might think you are too old to learn chess but this person learned when they were 40 and so can you.

(Photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash)

Why it takes longer than four hours to build a system for a large organization like a bank or a government

A lot of people have very strong opinions about the IT that has been rolled out for Ontario’s vaccine distribution system. I understand that: it has been very challenging for people to get a vaccine here in this province. People look at other provinces like Nova Scotia with their centralized system and ask why didn’t the province do that. They look at this site some very smart guys hacked together in four hours that allows you to text it and get back nearby vaccination sites and they say the government should be more like that. They attribute the government with being cheap, racist and other things, and say they didn’t build a good IT system because of that.

I have strong opinions about the vaccine IT that has been built out for the province too.  The difference is that my opinions are based on working on several large scale projects with the province. It’s also based on working on emerging IT for several decades. I’d like to share it in the hope it helps people gain some perspective as to what is involved.

Building IT systems for a large organization, private or public, is difficult. There are many stakeholders involved and many users involved and often many existing IT systems involved. You have to meet the needs of all of them, and you often have to go through many reviews with internal reviewers to demonstrate your new IT system meets their standards before you can start to build anything. Even then, with all of that, the IT system you are about to build could still fail. Big organizations are very sensitive to this and work diligently to prevent it. You can’t just hack together a proof of concept one day and then the next day have it go live on some banking or government site. Not in my experience.

Failure is a big concern. Another big concern is the needs of the stakeholders. For government systems there are many of them. There were over 50 other organizations that I had to work with external to the government on the projects I was leading. Each had their own IT systems and their own way of doing things. We could not just come in and say throw out your existing IT and use this new thing. There was a whole onboarding process that had to be developed to bring them into the new way of doing things. And that didn’t include all the people in the province or the country who will use the IT system and are therefore are also big stakeholders: they were taken into account and consulted separately.

A third big concern is systems integration. Not only do you need to work with the external IT systems of the stakeholders mentioned above, you have to work with internal IT systems to get data or send them data. In all cases that means not only do you need to understand what the government needs the new IT  system to do, but it means you have to have some understanding of how all these other systems work. Your new IT system can not be effective if you don’t know how to work with the existing systems. It’s a lot harder than scraping existing web sites and calling it done.

It is one thing to develop an IT system to provide new functionality; you also have to make sure it satisfies a number of non-functional requirements (NFRs). Reliability, performance, security, maintainability, data integrity, accuracy are just some of the NFRs that must be determined and met. Even cost and speed to market (i.e., the time it takes to develop a working system) are important requirements. Then there are regulatory requirements you need to meet, from SOC 2 to HIPAA, depending on the type of system you are building.

In addition to all that, there may be technical or design constraints that you must meet. The organization you are working with may require that you use certain suppliers or certain technology for anything you build. You may want to use Mongo and Node in a GCP region in the US for your IT system, but your client might say it has to run on Azure in Canada using Java/Springboot and Postgres, so your new IT system will have to accommodate that.

Once you have taken all that into account, the organization may have some other requirements, including dates, that must be met. In the case of systems like the vaccine IT, that date is “yesterday”. That will force some decisions on how you build your system.

All that said, my educated guess – and it is a guess, because it is based on my experience and not inside knowledge on how the system was built – was that Ontario decided the quickest way to roll out the vaccine IT was to build on the basis of what already exists. For example, many of the individual pharmacies in Ontario have their own systems for working with their patients. And several hospitals I checked use other software like Verto to manage their patients. The integration of all those systems is on “the glass”. By that I mean you can go to the government web site (“the glass”) and then you are redirected to other systems (e.g. a Verto system for a hospital) to book an appointment.

There are benefits to going with this approach versus building a new centralized IT system. It’s cheaper, for one. But it’s also faster to rollout than a new system. It’s less prone to failure than a new system. If you assume people are going to sign up for COVID vaccines like they do flu vaccines, then you know this approach will work, and reliability is a key NFR. If you are designing IT systems, you have to make assumptions to proceed, and that one is based on things you know, which is usually good.

Unfortunately, it turned out to be a bad assumption. Unlike the flu, where uptake is around 30% and spread out, people are scrambling to get the COVID vaccine. This has led to the downfall of the current approach in Ontario as people try all sorts of ways to get a shot asap.

You might say: well that was a dumb assumption, why would anyone make it? In my experience, with new IT systems, it is hard to predict how people will behave. My colleagues once built a system for a government agency that allowed people to weekly update their status on their workplace. The system was available 24/7, but they had to put in their information by Sunday night, 23:59. All week no one would use the system, and then at 11 pm on Sunday it would get hammered with users trying to send in their information. We did not predict that. We assumed there would be peak usage then, but almost all the traffic was at that point.

To mitigate the risk of bad assumptions, IT projects will often do a gradual rollout. However that was never going to be an option here: people wanted the vaccine IT system “yesterday”.

Nova Scotia chose to develop a centralized system and people are saying Ontario should have done that. Possibly. It’s also possible that conditions in Ontario could have resulted in delays in rolling out a centralized system. Or the system could have been on time but failed often. Many IT systems and programs (e.g. Obamacare) have this result. Or some of the big hospitals and independent small pharmacies could have opted out. Then people would have been complaining about not being able to get a vaccine at all and that would have been much worse.

I am happy for Nova Scotia that theirs works well (although people are bypassing it and just showing up in Nova Scotia, so it’s not all roses there either). It’s fair to compare Ontario to them to some degree. And when all this is over, there should be an audit done by objective third parties to see what worked and what didn’t and what Ontario should do next.

I hope after reading this you have a better understanding of what goes into building IT systems for large organizations. I wish they could be built in a day or a week or a two week sprint even. I do know that large organizations are becoming more nimble and are working to getting out IT capability to their clients and citizens faster than ever before. But as you see, there are many things to take into account, and even with many people working on a new IT system, it does take time. Time measured in weeks and months and even years, not hours.

So the next time you hear someone say “they had all this time to figure this out”, take this into account. And thank you for reading this. I hope it helps.

Finally, these thoughts expressed here are mine and not those of my employer.

(Image is a link to the wikipedia page on system context diagrams, a diagram often used to determine how a new IT system fits in with existing IT systems).

Innovative furniture designs for small homes

I love small spaces, but a lot of mainstream furniture are not suited for it. That’s why I was glad to see this piece: Tiny home-friendly foldable furniture designs that are the modern space-saving solution we need! | Yanko Design

There’s some brilliantly designed furniture for small spaces, including the desk above. Click on over to Yanko Design and take a look.