December 2013 Update

With the holidays coming to a close and the new year approaching, I’ll soon be back into my regular routine. My much-needed break away from everything was longer than anticipated, but refreshing! I’m easing back into things this week, starting with this post.

I was in Miami, FL the week of December 9 for work. We had a very productive week of meetings, and got to enjoy some fabulous weather too. Florida was the only place in the US with warm weather that week.

We also took a trip to the Kennedy Space Center. It’s easy to get inspired to tackle your own moonshots by learning about everything NASA has accomplished over the years.

From there I flew to New York City to meet Sharon for our vacation. We last traveled to NYC in 2007 also just before Christmas. This time we skipped most of the touristy things and made much better decisions and where to eat and what to see! It definitely helps to travel with an excellent planner like Sharon. Highlights included the High Line, Brooklyn Bridge, Chelsea Market, and upper west-side.

The trip was a lot of fun, but also a bit tiring thanks to our 20,000+ steps every day except one! We’ve uploaded a bunch of photos here if you’d like to check them out. Sharon will be writing more about our trip in the future too.

Of course, it was a special trip for another reason too. I proposed to Sharon on December 18 in Central Park, and she said yes! Thanks to all of you for passing along your “congratulations” and “finally” comments, we enjoyed reading each and every one of them! (And yes, it was about time…)

Since coming home to Edmonton we’ve been enjoying some much needed down time, as well as a visit from my Mom! It’s been great to see her, though I’m sure Dad will be happy to have her home for New Years. He’s had to deal with some crazy weather in Yellowknife this week.

Lastly, I turned another year older on Saturday. I had a great day, included go-kart racing with my brother at Speeders (a surprise gift from Sharon). I’ll let this photo illustrate how we did.

If you’ve read this far, I hope you’ve had a wonderful holiday. Happy New Year!

Off the grid for the weekend

Tomorrow evening Sharon and I are heading up to Goose Lake for the weekend. My family has property there and my parents are currently on vacation “at the lake” as we say, so it’ll be nice to spend some time with them.

It’s somewhat amazing to me that despite being just a two and half hour drive from Edmonton, the area still has very limited cellular or Internet service. On the other hand, according to the 2011 census just 4300 people live in the entire Woodlands County, so it’s not like there’s a huge customer base. It appears that CCI Wireless recently extended coverage to the area, but it’s somewhat expensive. Just a reminder of how big Canada really is, I guess!

For me it’s an opportunity to go “off the grid”. I don’t think I’d ever attempt Paul Miller’s year without Internet, but a couple of days certainly seems doable. I’ll probably bring my Kindle and maybe even my laptop in case the urge to write strikes as it often does, but I intend to spend most of my time on the water or around the fire pit, beer in hand.

Mack & Sharon
Sharon and I at the Goose Lake sign back in 2008

Have a great weekend!

My parents are on Facebook – so what?

Post ImageIt was only a matter of time I guess – the “oh my god my parents are on Facebook” articles have started to appear in the MSM. Here is what Michelle Slatalla wrote about her experiences with Facebook in the New York Times a couple weeks ago:

After I got my Profile page, the first thing I did was to search for other members — my daughter and her friends — to ask them to be my friends.

Shockingly, quite a few of them — the friends, not the daughter — accepted my invitation and gave me access to their Profiles, including their interests, hobbies, school affiliations and in some cases, physical whereabouts.

You can read the whole thing if you like, but essentially the story is that Slatalla’s daughter was very unhappy her mom had joined Facebook. A week or so later, Patrick White wrote a similar article for the Globe and Mail. I was interviewed for the piece, but my quotes were not included, probably because my story is pretty boring by comparison – I don’t mind that my parents have Facebook at all! Anyway, here’s a quote from the article:

The site now bridges a chasm once rarely crossed between student life and family life by offering a window into the lives of both children and parents. Family dynamics may never be the same.

Mark Evans and Chris LaBossiere, among others, have also written recently about the older crowd joining Facebook.

I don’t understand what the big deal is. Facebook is just a tool – not a tool for teenagers or a tool for older folks, it’s a tool for everyone. My parents joined Facebook about a month ago and use it daily. They have connected with colleagues and friends, and they both update their status many times a day.

So what if there are pictures of me drinking on Facebook? Who cares if they can read all of my wall posts? Let’s assume they saw something they didn’t approve of – what are they going to do about it? There’s nothing they can do! Besides, I know my parents trust me to make smart decisions and to take responsibility for my own actions – that’s the way I was raised.

If you have a problem with your parents joining Facebook and seeing your profile, I think you need to take a closer look at the relationship you have with them. Having your entire family on Facebook shouldn’t greatly impact the family dynamic, except maybe for the better by creating another avenue for communication (but for communication that should already be taking place).

The only big difference Facebook has made for my family is that we use MSN Messenger slightly less. We don’t have to send the standard “what are you up to” messages because we get each other’s status updates instead.

When my parents joined Facebook, my first thought wasn’t “omg what are they going to see now” it was “damn this is cool my parents are technologically savvy!” At the risk of sounding condescending or mean, I would suggest that if your reaction is the “oh my god” kind then the relationship you have with with your parents probably isn’t as good as it should be (maybe you already know this, maybe you don’t). View them joining Facebook not as a negative thing, but as a way to improve your relationship!

Of course it’s easy for me to say these things, because I have a great relationship with my parents. All I am trying to get across is that whatever problems you think your parents joining Facebook will create likely existed long before Facebook did.

Happy Birthday Tom!

Today is my brother’s birthday, making him “bar age” in the Northwest Territories, not that you’d want to go drinking there but that’s another story. We went to the reptile show today, which was kind of cool though not as big as I remember it being the last time I went. Tom has a few snakes back in Inuvik and has always liked reptiles and lizards and things. You can check out some pictures here (they were quick shots without a flash, so a few are fuzzy).

After the show we came to the office to play some Madden on the Xbox 360 – I was winning by two touchdowns when the Xbox restarted because the cord on the power box had come loose (thats what I get for having cords all over the place). It’s just as well, Tom probably would have made some spectacular comeback!

So we’re partying it up tonight! If you want to come, give me a call on my cell and I’ll give you the address. Things will probably get underway around 8 or 9.

Happy Birthday Tom!

Notes on Why Stories are Essential

Post ImageJulie Leung is up on stage now to present her keynote Starting with Fire: Why Stories are Essential and How to Blog Effective Tales. Julie always has an interesting presentation so this should be good.

  • Just as she did at Gnomedex, Julie has started by sharing a story from her past, using pictures to illustrate her words. I’ll pick out some of the key quotes from her story.
  • “We are surrounded by stories. Nature reveals why stories are important.”
  • “It is in our nature to seek stories. We are our stories.”
  • “Stories can be indirect, yet powerful. Stories are perfect for complexity.”
  • “Stories are tools of change.”
  • “Stories heal us emotionally.”
  • “We come together around stories. They continue culture, and they change culture.”
  • “Stories are essential because stories are essentially human.”

Julie is now sharing some of her principles for blogging stories:

  • What is a story? They usually have a beginning, a middle, and an end. However “one way”, is for traffic signs! She highlight’s Robert McKee’s book “Story”.
  • Change the familiar! Avoid cliches, but also try to take the ordinary and give it new color and new meaning.
  • How to begin? When beginning a story, listen and link to others.
  • Take notes. Include sensory details.
  • Use the power of pause, blank space, etc.
  • Blogging has a freedom you can’t find in other places – a story can be any shape or size. You can break a story into many pieces, and each can become a blog post.
  • Hiding! Make it suspenseful, as in life, we don’t know all of the story until the end.
  • Experiment to continue growing as a blogger.
  • Voice comes naturally, and you’ll find it as you experiment and share your stores.
  • Have fun, be creative, and play.
  • It’s the raw and sometimes the imperfect that speaks to us the most.
  • Linking and commenting make stories real. The story is corrected, confirmed and can lead to collaboration. It takes two to make a story, the teller and the listener.
  • Blogging is transforming story telling.
  • Be generous and creative with links; they can add another dimension to stories.

Now Julie is sharing some examples of blogging stories:

Julie says: start with fire, start with the hearth.

Changes at Light Speed

Post ImageLife is funny sometimes. One day, you’re just working away and things are pretty much status quo. The next day, you’re registered for school and your brother arrives in Edmonton! At least, that’s what happened to me in the last two days.

It wasn’t too long ago that I was still unsure of whether or not I was going back to school this semester. I feel like a break, like I don’t want to be in school. I gave it quite a bit of thought, and had some good reasons for just working for the semester, but then I started talking with an advisor and reality hit me like a brick. Our post secondary school system, which we pay like $500 per course for, isn’t really setup to allow taking a break right in the middle. The University seems to want you coming back, spending the money – imagine that!

I flirted with the idea of graduating with a general science degree and just a minor in Computing Sciences as I only needed one more course to do that, but I decided against it. I am going to try and finish what I started, the Specialization in Computing Sciences with a Minor in Business. So I’m now registered in three classes, meaning I’m once again a full time student.

At the same time, I found out that my brother was coming to Edmonton to attend Centre High this year. Apparently the high school in Inuvik was deemed unsafe, as the majority of the building’s pilings are rotting. So in what was probably the fastest turnaround time ever, the decision was made for Tom to come down and live with my grandparents, just as Kim did last year. Kim and I picked him up from the airport tonight, and tomorrow he registers for classes (a little late, just like me). I’ve created a photoset for Tom’s arrival in Edmonton, so you can see the initial three pictures here.

I’ve got to get Tom blogging now! Kim has started once again – she posted today.

Julie Leung's session at Gnomedex

Post ImageI think I know why people like Julie’s talk so much. Unlike most speakers, Julie tells a story more than she does just talk. And she does so in such a way that it is very compelling! As she talks, she shows a slideshow of images up on the screen. The photos have very interesting perspectives and subjects – some are of family, some are landscapes, and others are closeups of objects. The images serve to provide humor in some places, and reinforcement in others. Above all, Julie is an excellent speaker. She knows just where to insert the pauses, or place the emphasis.

Julie talked about blogging and some of the social concerns you might have. For example, Julie posts a lot about her family, but she has chosen not to post pictures of her children’s faces (and thus, Gnomedexers are asked to follow this rule). She has an entire theory about blogging, and how it can be socially beneficial. Here are some of the things I picked up:

  • Bloggers generally do not practice narcissim, but rather create opportunities for the sharing of ideas.
  • It’s okay to post something private or personal, because by doing so you can educate and encourage others. The example she gave was how she posted about her brother passing away.
  • Julie says its about the chronicle. Writing the story so that it can be remembered and shared. Humans enjoy stories from a very early age, and have been creating the chronicle for centuries.
  • Blogging can help us find out who we are and what we’re meant to do.
  • “If you’re willing to make what’s private public, you can plant the seeds of new ideas.”

I really enjoyed Julie’s session; it was definitely as good as people made it out to be (she delivered a very similar talk at Northern Voice in February). If you ever get the chance, I highly recommend attending Julie’s session.

Read: Gnomedex

Living apart while living together…

One of my new favorite bloggers, Julie Leung, has an excellent post about a Seattle Times article that explores how families cope. Ever feel like you are apart from your family even though you all live under the same roof? I am sure you have.

Julie highlights four trends found in American families, though I am sure Canadian families are not too different. Definitely worth a read!

Read: Julie Leung