December 22, 2017

At the end of the year, we slow down

It snowed here, in North Vancouver, earlier this week.

Our impression was that we would be leaving the snow behind when we traveled out west for the holidays, as the weather here is usually much milder—rainier, yes, but milder. We were mistaken.

By Tuesday night, there were at least four or five inches of snow on the ground; the hedges around the house were bending under the weight of the accumulation, and the roads remained uncleared, slick, somewhat treacherous.

View from the house window as the snow fell outside

We had, of course, made many plans for our trip out west—people to see, places to visit, things to do—but the snowfall waylaid some of our intentions. Instead, we spent more time in the house, chatting and cooking and reading and laughing; we spent more time with each other, slowing down and enjoying the winter wonderland outside.

The snow was a necessary reminder that we were here to celebrate, but also to relax, restore, and reflect. The skies opened up and told us that, at the end of the year, we needed to slow down—and so we did, and for that, I am eternally grateful.


I’ve always been a fan of Mandy Brown, and I’m even more of a fan after reading the transcript of a talk she gave at SRCCON. It is absolutely brilliant, and perfectly related to the work I’m doing these days.

I love this passage about building a culture of curiosity:

Each member of a team needs to respect and be curious about the work of other disciplines. Engineers need to be able to love and recognize good design. Designers need to be curious about editing and reporting. And engineers good enough to ask code about the engineers. We have to understand that we have a shared territory. It’s easy to imagine that the of people here at SRCCON are especially good at this because so many of us have hyphenated titles. And working in intersections. But none of us can have all the expertise to do all the work. The work is too complicated for that and it isn’t sustainable to ask us to become an expert in everything. So that means we have to enable a culture that supports real, humane interdisciplinary collaboration and then we have to build the institutions that support and maintain that culture.

And this, about intersectionality and belonging:

We have to make every effort to ensure that everyone on our teams can bring their full selves to the work regardless of the circumstances of their worth. We have to foreground intersectionality, we have to recognize that improving diversity does not simply mean hiring more white women. It does not mean — and it sure as hell does not mean expecting people from different backgrounds and different privileges to conform to the culture set in place at a time when they were excluded.

A perfect summation of the importance of curiosity and inclusion:

A healthy collaboration will never be as neat or efficient as our Trello boards, spreadsheets, tests. Absent an effort to be curious, to be inclusive, to be messy, we can succumb to prescriptive technologies. We can become automatons.

If you want to learn more about the work I do every day, and the work every organization should be doing, read the entire transcript of Mandy’s incredible talk.


A few things to read and explore:

Last week, I wrote a little something about Indian-East African food and building community through cuisine.

Does the word reconciliation” ring hollow? Should we be using restoration” instead?

A sentence that will linger with me for a long time: When your community fights for those same people who terrorize you, it sends a very complicated and mixed message.”

The reason I wanted to join the Urban League is because I’m passionate about how local, oft-mundane policy decisions affect the way we build and live in our cities—and I want to help shape that policy for the better.

Colin Kaepernick’s protest will be remembered, years from now, as another turning point in America’s fraught race relations; this piece on where he donates his money shows that his cause is bigger than just protest.

I don’t seek out new music much anymore, preferring Spotify playlists to do the heavy lifting of discovery for me; the question of what Spotify means to music discovery is worth asking.

What was the last meal you ate? What does it say about what your habits, your life? And did you know botany could be so cool?

I spend too much timing drafting and editing emails; perhaps I should let robots take over. After all, what could go wrong with that?

Always one of my favourite lists of the year: the best-designed book covers of 2017.

We are living in a world unable to learn from itself. What would sane societies do, watching each other, watching each other’s fortunes rise and fall?”

I’ve read a lot about wage gaps, but this surprised me: 1 in 6 Torontonians are South Asian, and South Asian make only 68% of what the average white man makes in this city—and a South Asian woman makes only half of that.

There are people who work at Starbucks who do nothing but pick out the music (and forge the partnerships to make that music accessible) that play in the coffee shops around the world.

Disagreements arise from perfect comprehension; from having chewed over the ideas of your intellectual opponent so thoroughly that you can properly spit them out.”

It’s easy to argue that Southwestern Ontario is part of the Rust Belt, but what part” of the Rust Belt do we really belong to?

We talk a lot about trust as the linchpin for good workplaces, for good relationships, and for good governance, but we never really talk about the fact that trust is earned, not given; that in order for trust to exist, we need to first break it.

Today is the winter solstice, and with it, a recognition that darkness is something to be cherished as much as the light—a sentiment I heartily agree with as I relish the darkness of the early morning.

The weaponization of awkwardness.

My panic attacks and mental anguish often present themselves as physical symptoms: an important reminder that mental health is physical health.

Most of these are common sense, but they bear repeating seeing as how my city leadership continues to disrespect the pedestrian: 50 reasons why everyone should want more walkable streets.

I recently facilitated a session on supervised consumption facilities in this city, and some of the responses and rhetoric reminded me that the idea of harm reduction is still vilified and woefully misunderstood by most people in the community.

I never understood why so many people on planes order tomato juice, but now I realize that the sounds of being caught in a tube in the sky strongly affect our taste buds and the things we crave.

It’s true that doctors are not taught business management in medical school, but the same is true elsewhere: we promote people to management not because they are good managers, but because we have no other way to recognize them—and that needs to be fixed.

Womanhattan sounds wonderful.

Grief is something we all grapple with, and it’s important to get help when we need it most.

I’m lucky that, though I work in tech, the mandate of tech in government is to make public services better for people, and not just make tech because we can.”

Related: Bianca Wylie is one of the smartest people writing about tech in government these days.

The Not Yorker is a collection of declined or late cover submissions to The New Yorker.

If you’re looking for even more holiday reading: the Journal of African American Studies has published a collection of articles placing Prince at the center of scholarly analysis.

You’ve probably already seen the amazing Black Thought freestyle on Hot 97 earlier this week, but it’s worth revisiting. Tariq’s rhymes are nuanced, powerful, thought-provoking, evocative, and an incredible lesson in how hip hop is inherentely poetry through physicality. Once you’ve watched the freestyle again, check out Rachel Kaadzi Ghansah’s amazing profile on The Roots from 2011. And then, go ahead and read Questlove’s Mo’ Meta Blues again, too.

I have an affinity for Detroit (all of the midwest, really) so this photo of the legendary Fox Theater caught my eye. (Thanks to Tanja for the tip.)

Fox Theater, Detroit

I had no idea that icebergs looked like vivid blue crystals when they flipped over. Wow.

Flipped iceberg, by Alex Cornell

Flipped iceberg, by Alex Cornell

We’re just a few days away from Christmas, so I leave you with the Christmas song that has been stuck in my head (pleasantly, as it is an excellent rendition) for a few weeks: Carly Rae Jepsen’s take on Last Christmas.”


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