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James Wanless

this is where I write

Progressing to Simple

I’ve been journaling my various back and gut maladies enough lately that I need not delve any further into that topic for the time being. As such, a brief update on the other main thing taking my attention; the march toward a simpler, more minimalist lifestyle.

We’ve been slowly moving toward this goal most of the year, the main catalyst of which is to sell our 1800 square foot, double-garage townhouse and downsize to a condo of roughly 1000 square feet, further west. Just how much further west depends on many things, but we could even end up all the way over in Victoria. I’m not going to get ahead of myself though.

Changing Gears and Making a Plan

From the end, to the range

Not that long ago, we thought it likely we’d stay where we are for several years, and we renovated our kitchen and baths accordingly two summers ago. We’d probably have done some updates to the then 30 year old rooms even if we’d have known we were going to sell, but I suspect we may have gone in a more budget-oriented direction with the work. What we’ve done will help the place show well and sell, but we’ve got a little line of credit debt we want to clear up from the sale before committing to our new mortgage.

As partial empty-nesters of two now-adult sons, our home had collected the amount of stuff you’d expect a place of its size to contain, including two vehicles, and enough furnishings, TVs, conveniences and the like for a family of four with three bedrooms, a family room, den, three bathrooms, a very small yard space, bicycles, etc, etc, etc.

Nonetheless, we decided that we needed to begin the process of purging and eliminating. Our main goal is to be lean and mean by the time we move, with just enough left to furnish a home half the size of our current one. As we have house-sized furniture, it’s possible we’ll need to over-purge and then get very small and simple things for our new place.

Even with neither of us being packrats by nature, the things that accumulate in your garage and storage areas take a lot of work to remove. We already know we’re donating a bunch of digital media, electronics, clothing and the like to the Developmental Disabilities Association. That pickup is scheduled for May 1st, so we have a fixed target of ten days from now for deciding exactly what’s going where in our purge. To meet this goal, we’ve decided to separate the things slated for landfill and sale/donation in our garage. In a perfect world, we’d donate or sell everything, but some things simply don’t have the value for either fate.

So Far …


I sold our 2005 Xterra a few weeks ago and got pretty much what I asked for it. While I liked driving it much more than our Subaru Imprezza, not only did the cost of operating it sway me, but I realized that driving an off-road 4×4 around town hardly screams minimalism or simplicity. As part of the reason for moving closer to the city centre is a significant reduction in driving, keeping the larger, less efficient vehicle made no sense.

We took this week off, in part, to get some small/medium things done around the house in preparation for listing it. In particular, I had some long-standing wall patch and paint touch-up work to do. I’m happy to report that the three main things all got done and ended up looking not too bad, if I do say so myself.

Gettin’ all electrical

I should also mention at this point, that while I’ve been patching, sanding and painting, Connie updated the remainder of our plugs and switches updated to decora style. Much like what I’ve been doing, this has been on the back burner for some time. Nothing like deciding to sell to get your ass in gear.

We still have this weekend before it’s back to work, so my hope is to get a bit of the yard work and a trip or two of the definite dump stuff taken by the end of it. We also presently have the beginnings of three distinct piles on the side of our garage which no longer accommodates a vehicle.

Coming Up

Our main reason for taking a week off together in the spring was to get these little things done before the whole sell and buy process of moving begins. We still have more purging and organizing of the garage piles left to do before we know exactly what’s being dumped, donated or possibly even sold via a garage sale in the next few weeks. We also have more furniture that we’ll need to sell before we move. However, we need to leave it in place for now to show our townhouse. Not only the extra furniture we will no longer need, but I expect our dining and bedroom furniture to be too large for a smaller condo.

We have our pre-approval financing application rolling with our mortgage broker, so we’ll have a good idea of where we stand before we begin looking seriously at condos with the notion of making any offers. Given the rental market in Vancouver and us being dog folk, there’s no way we can consider renting for a while after we sell, and then buying a condo. As such, similar to our last move eight years ago, I expect we’ll be into the wonderful world of bridge financing for a short period. I don’t expect selling our townhouse to be too difficult. We’re in a nice quiet family neighbourhood with great schools, with an end unit in a well-run strata. We also have one of the largest townhouses in our entire neighbourhood, with three full (renovated) baths. Our place kind of screams “ideal for families.”

All in all, our goal was to be in a position to list by early May and I think we’ll pretty much be on track. The only thing I’m still not sure about is how much yard work I’m going to do before selling. I expect any new owner will want to change a few things and give our place a coat of paint, so the goal with all of it is more about being presentable than perfect.

2017-04-08

When it rains, it pours. Or, something like that. I’ve documented some of my previous issues this winter – multiple bugs, including a two week doozy over Christmas, and a dislocated shoulder chief among them. Even just in terms of said rain, March was utterly dismal and a week into April, things haven’t improved much.

Back attack

At various times, I’ve also alluded to a lower back issue that’s gone on for well over a year now. It started in early 2016 as a small flare up after runs, and slowly progressed to the point that it was constantly tight by late in the year. It presents as a QL muscle or perhaps SI joint issue, and has been plateauing for the past three or four months. If there’s a slight silver lining, it’s that it isn’t too problematic for cycling unless I climb a lot or do longer rides (the kind I like).

I had an x-ray back in November that didn’t show much, and have been working through some moderate physio and had little relief. Thursday I opted to go to my old physio for some IMS, or as I like to refer to it, needle torture, in the hope that something a little more invasive might trigger the muscles to relax. I’m pretty sure I got 50 needles if I got one and, two days later, I’m still waiting for things to settle down.

I’ll need at least two or three sessions and some manipulation before I’ll know if it’s helping in this case. I’ve found IMS to be hit and miss in the past, so I’m loathe to make any predictions. While they aren’t necessarily very conclusive in these cases, I’ve got my doctor getting me an MRI, as it seems strange for this type of thing to be going on this long.

Gutsy

About the time my back began to plateau, around Remembrance Day I also had a pretty intense gastrointestinal attack, the details of which I’ll spare you. Suffice to say, I was damned lucky I just happened to be off work for the week because I doubt I would have been able to anyway. As the runs on the first couple days gave way to several days of constipation, bloat and a complete lack of appetite, I dropped about three pounds that week.

I went to the doctor at the time and he wasn’t really prepared to order any tests unless my symptoms went on for considerably longer. Things were back to normal after about a week, but in the four or five months since, I’ve had a couple smaller flare ups, including one I’m dealing with now. I just visited him again last week and had some blood taken at the lab. At present, we’re just looking for obvious deficiencies.

Should I suffer another, I suspect I’ll be looking to begin all the tests (including the joyful colonoscopy) to eliminate all the more serious things that would point to an IBS diagnosis by elimination. Given the pattern that’s emerged, I suspect that’s what I’m dealing with, particularly in the absence of any of the red flag symptoms that typically suggest something more serious.

I’ve always had somewhat sensitive digestion, but nothing like these last few episodes. I’m also ready to test a total FODMAP diet for a week or two, to see if I can reduce my food sensitivities.

Had my fill

Between the horrible winter weather we’ve had, getting sick a bunch, dislocating my shoulder, my gut and my back, I’m really done with this shit. As you might imagine, my cycling and running have taken a major hit this year, easily down by more than 50% from what it would normally be. No racing so far and none planned until things chill a little more.

I know it’s not all going to suddenly resolve like rain clouds parting to reveal sun, but there are also a few glimmers of hope. The winter bugs seem to finally be done and the shoulder is probably about 95% at eight weeks, with just the tiniest range of motion tightness remaining.

2017-04-04

This began as a summary of the IA Summit, which I attended the weekend before last. However, after you take enough notes at enough 30-45 minute sessions, you end up with a journal post that is far too long, totally unfocused and likely of not much use to anyone. So, I turned it into a more focused piece, prompted in part by one of my favourite presentations of the weekend.

Something has been brewing in my head for a long time, but it’s a hard issue to articulate without sounding harsh or ending up finger-pointing. However, in the past few weeks one article I read and a presentation I saw spoke to me on this issue in ways that few things have.

I’m in my 50s and I’m still a practitioner. That may sound like an odd thing to say, but when you’ve worked primarily in large organizations, the inevitable issue of moving into management roles arises from time to time. And, while managing teams and their inherent political and personal issues aren’t everyone’s bag, there are other management roles that one can take, which are more in a strategic or consulting vein.

For me, it’s always come down to doing the work versus being less involved in production design and development. Particularly in large organizations, being a manager often means sitting in endless meetings and having very little to do with building things. However, I also realize that doing the right things as a manager of design and development teams can have a huge impact on the quality of the work and the effect a web/digital team can have on its organization. Good managers set up their teams for success through strategy, structure and process.

Poor Management = Mediocre UX Design

In a recent survey, the Nielsen Norman Group (NNG) surveyed 360 UX and related professionals from companies of all sizes about how powerful UX design was, and how powerful its voice, within their organizations. Issues such as lack of senior UX/customer focused roles, lack of research budget and resources, and not reporting into an actual UX/design team were all cited as problems.

What I found most interesting though, was the respondents’ opinions of the quality of their work. On the issues of ease-of-use, aesthetics and innovation, design work received middling ratings at best.

I guess my comment on this issue would be that, when a large organization focuses on explaining its internal processes and equates their brand with logos, colour palettes and the proportion of print elements on a page, design suffers and usability and innovation are the first casualties. When new design projects are approached, not from a genuine curiosity about how their customers feel and what they need, but from ensuring things look good and pages of copy no one will read are dedicated to explaining the labyrinthine internal machinations of the company’s outdated processes, then design solutions serve the company and not its customers.

While a senior leadership customer focus vacuum is definitely a design-killer in my personal experience, direct design team management can still have a very positive (or negative) impact on the work satisfaction of team members.

Creative Clarity

I found Jon Kolko’s presentation to be right on spot about what design leaders need to do to ensure their teams are engaged and get meaning from their work (beyond a paycheque). You can either watch his whole 30 minute presentation or read some of my key takeaways below the presentation video embed.

Some of his key talking points:

  1. We probably spend 30% of our time doing the work and 70% of our time doing everything else. Critiques, visioning, meetings, etc. ‘Build trust by filling the 70% with value.’ Acknowledge these feelings.
  2. Give your team a reason to go to work (vision). ‘Show your team the data, show them why there’s a reason to believe.’ Constantly use data to reinforce why their work matters. People need to understand why the problems are worth solving.
  3. Articulate a strategy. Help inform your team. Articulating the team’s journeys can help them understand the path they’re on. You have to speak to the vision in a way that is clear enough that the designer can tell what you’re asking for. Visualize the strategy just enough to set a trajectory.
  4. Constantly tell the retrospective story. Review and tell about progress as the vision moves forward and progress is made. “The tricky part of being a leader is that you have to get people to follow you.” Make the team feel like they’re doing the right thing, even though the process is messy and unorganized, just like a coach.

That’s really where I want to leave things. We are all culpable and have impact on the quality of design work. However, if you’re in an organization that doesn’t value a user/customer-centric approach to what they do (at the highest levels), the quality of the work suffers. If you work for a team with a leader who doesn’t make clear why they’re doing the work and that their work matters (inspires), then engagement suffers.

I’ll leave it to you to figure out what impact poor organizational management AND poor team leadership has on work quality and people.

2017-04-03

I only realized this afternoon that, with a family gathering last night for a bite and some beer, I’d completely forgotten to journal yesterday. This was only the second day of my recommitting to journal every day. As letting go is a big theme for me these days, onward and upward.

It’s a funny thing, committing to doing something daily, no matter. There will come days you simply can’t do that thing, and others (hopefully very few) where you forget for some reason, and others still where you’re sick or otherwise indisposed.

And then, what to write? Some days something will occur that makes your topic crystal clear. A joyous, sad or otherwise noteworthy occurrence driving a story that pretty much writes itself. It may have been a mistake or it may have been serendipitous, but I just happened to start watching a documentary as I began journaling tonight. I can’t add much to the linked blockquote below, just that since I began watching I can’t think of anything else.

From PBS:

On December 14, 2012, a disturbed young man committed a horrific mass shooting in Newtown, Connecticut that took the lives of 20 schoolchildren and six educators at Sandy Hook Elementary School. Filmed over the course of nearly three years, Kim A. Snyder’s searing documentary Newtown uses deeply personal, never-before-heard testimonies to tell the story of …

I remember the day in late 2012 like it was yesterday. It may as well have happened last Christmas. I don’t think you need to be a parent to have an idea of what it would be like to lose a child, particularly in that manner. If you are, though, I can’t see how something like this doesn’t absolutely gut you. Very difficult and, at least for me, very necessary watching.

In case you’ve forgotten Barack Obama’s public reaction …

However, it was what he did privately for the families that has stuck with me, since I read about it. The scenario below apparently repeated over and over for hours, for rooms full of the families of slain children.

Person after person received an engulfing hug from our commander in chief. He’d say, “Tell me about your son. . . . Tell me about your daughter,” and then hold pictures of the lost beloved as their parents described favorite foods, television shows, and the sound of their laughter. For the younger siblings of those who had passed away—many of them two, three, or four years old, too young to understand it all—the president would grab them and toss them, laughing, up into the air, and then hand them a box of White House M&M’s, which were always kept close at hand. In each room, I saw his eyes water, but he did not break.

Tepid

If there’s a word I hate, it’s tepid. Nothing but a negative connotation, I always have a mental image of a cat gingerly dipping it’s paw in water, shaking it off and walking away.

From dictionary.com:

adjective
1. moderately warm; lukewarm:
tepid water.
2. characterized by a lack of force or enthusiasm:
tepid prose; the critics’ tepid reception for the new play.

For my purposes, let’s go with a lack of force or enthusiasm. In describing the last month, tepid really covers all the bases. 2017 was to be a year where I began making several personal changes aimed at thinking differently, writing, reading, playing music more, and the like. It’s only nearing the end of February, so the year is nowhere near a write-off, but the past month was a beast, capping a pretty awful winter season, overall.

I already documented the bug I caught at Christmas in its early days, but what that post doesn’t describe is the two-plus week plague that finally went away a week into January. As I recovered, I got the year rolling with some solid running and cycling base work, and felt like I was off to a pretty good start. Yeah, well, the best laid plans and all that, right?

Tepid Sinuses

While the nasty cold ended up leaving eventually, a minor sinus infection lingered so I still spent the month of January … kinda gunky. I’ve got bad sinuses anyway, and have been down this road a few times. Let’s just say I spent a lot of time with saline rinses, treating my olfactory with kid gloves and looking for any kind of relief I could find. As the cold went away, the sinuses subsided somewhat, but not completely throughout January.

Tepid Shoulder

After a month of decent easy running and trainer riding, as February rolled around I was having a lovely jaunt through fresh fallen snow just over three weeks ago. Hidden black ice hidden isn’t good for much, but apparently it’s excellent for dislocating a shoulder.

Tepid Immune System

Damned if I didn’t pick up an additional gift in the hospital when getting my shoulder put back in place. It wasn’t much of a cold, but it triggered my sinus infection so much that by the weekend after the dislocation, I finally gave in and went to the doctor for some antibiotics. With my shoulder keeping me out of action, for a few days my forehead and cheek pain was excruciating. Well into my second month of sinus infection, I knew it wasn’t going away on its own.

Tepid Everything Else

With my arm in a sling for a few days, and with weakness and limited mobility in the joint lingering still, pretty much everything else in my life has also been tepid. For a couple weeks post-dislocation, lingering ice and the risk of re-injuring my shoulder had me totally sidelined. I missed a week of work, three weeks of anything resembling normal cycling or running and really haven’t been able to do much involving my upper body.

Needless to say, some of the other things I’ve been trying to change or improve upon (particularly writing) have also taken a hit.

As of this writing, with a few physio sessions under my belt, I’d say the shoulder is around 75%. I’ve been running carefully and easy, and riding the trainer for a week now. I wouldn’t trust the shoulder road riding just yet, though. Work or extended arm use of any kind is still a bit fatiguing at times, but I’m doing some level of just about everything now.

I’d say the only things that benefited from this February adventure were my reading and meditation, which I’m happy to say are now pretty much daily occurrences. I guess those are small victories, but they take nothing away from a month that I’d prefer to avoid repeating.

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