Loose Change

It’s funny the things you learn about someone after they die. Or the things that can spontaneously trigger a memory of your departed loved one. June is always a hard month for me. Contained within a two-week period are my father’s birthday, Father’s Day, and the deathdays for both my grandfather (mother’s side) and my father. A month loaded with memory mines.

For those of us with less than perfect memories, recorded details of our loved ones serve as a starting point. Old letters or emails, journals and diaries, pictures, videos, etc. My father died before social media existed, but now we can also have things like Facebook pages, Twitter, and Instagram to find traces of our loved ones. A treasure trove of memories.

And yet nowhere in any of my father’s stuff did I learn that his favorite donut was a Boston Cream Pie. My mother told me one day. To be fair, my father was an indiscriminate eater. He had one of those mythic metabolisms that allowed him to eat everything and stay rail thin with lean muscle mass. He definitely had his favorite foods, but after he died, we were hard pressed to think of something he didn’t like.

Equally valuable are the things I experience and do that make me feel as though I can still be close to him. Small, random gestures and things that just kind of happen every once in a while. The kind of memories that are best felt by being in the moment, or having a conversation, and not scrolling through memorabilia.

I recall walking with my father one day. He looked at me and said, “Boy, I must really be sick.” He was already quite ill by this point so I couldn’t imagine what he was talking about.

“What do you mean, Dad?”

“I just saw a penny and I didn’t bend down to pick it up.”

We no longer have pennies in Canada, but I still make a point of picking up change off the ground. It’s a small gesture, but one that now makes me smile. As though he’s sent me a small wave “hello.” Encapsulated in that tiny movement is a strong reminder of my father’s values, his humor, and the kind of person he was. It’s also an opportunity for me to appreciate my good health. A win-win.

Dedicated to all the great father’s in the world, alive and deceased. 

Carrying Cash

Lately I’ve noticed a lot of people don’t carry cash anymore. To be fair, it’s easy to get around without having cash 90% of the time. All the things I love about paying with cash, are also some of the things that make electronic transfers seem more appealing.

I love cash because it’s untraceable and anonymous. It’s fast, easy, and instant. When somebody pays me in cash, the money is transferred instantly.

On the other hand, electronic transfers are amazing because they track everything. With electronic transfers nobody has to worry about having enough change, or getting more. In many scenarios, electronic transfers are also as fast, easy, and instant as their physical counterpart. Exact amounts can be transferred and neatly recorded with confirmations, account updates, emails, automatic postings, etc. This saves a lot of time for workers that would otherwise have to count, and reconcile, cash with transactions. It also creates a safer work environment because there’s nothing to rob.

Last week I was selling a few things online through kijiji.ca. Everybody paid cash except for one person who asked if she could do an e-transfer, to save her a trip to the bank. We loaded part of the purchase in her car. Then she whipped out her phone and set up the e-transfer. She showed me the confirmation on her smartphone. I didn’t receive it in my inbox until after she had left. Luckily everything worked out, even after I had to contact her to reset the password. However, I can imagine a few scenarios where things could get a bit sketchy selling stuff online.

I know a lot of people prefer cashless transactions. But this only works when both parties are set up to send and receive money this way. And there are just some scenarios when cash is a lot easier and more convenient. For example, farmers’ markets and yard sales are a great place to use cash.

For larger merchants, or even for people selling high-price items at a farmers’ market, being equipped to accept electronic transactions is a huge benefit and a necessity. Even people that carry cash on them, like me, might not have enough to buy the more expensive items.

Maybe I’m old fashioned, but I always like to have cash on me. It’s still a magic 4-letter word to me.

Summer Reading

This summer I decided to do something that’s been on mind for a long time, read every unread in my bookshelf. It seems I always have a lot of these major clean-up projects that get pushed aside because they are too time consuming and too laborious. Most of the time, they’re just not that urgent. My list of longer term projects include organizing my photos (both physical and digital), dealing my collection of CDs (yes, I still have CDs and a stereo that plays them), and my unread books.

I’ve decided that NOW is later, at least for the books. Summer is a great time for a reading project.

First step was assembling all the unread books. Twenty-eight! To be fair, some of the books are partially read. What the collection really represents are books that I haven’t committed to keeping or giving away.

A real mix of genres. Everything from plays and poetry to non-fiction and reference.

I took a few moments to reflect on how I had even acquired so many. I’m an avid reader. Since my ereader broke a couple years ago I have been reading more news than books, but still, it was surprising to me.

Among the unread books are gifts, from friends or for attending a conference or buying something. Books that looked interesting to me. Old, used books that I found and thought “I should really read this, it’s a classic!” Promptly put them on my shelf and never read them. Books I purchased because they were authored by somebody I admire (e.g., Victor Wooten – amazing bass player). A book by Alice Walker, one of my favorite authors, that I still haven’t read. Business and reference books, non-fiction and fiction, plays, how-tos, short stories and poetry.

Always something I’ve had a great intention to read.  Always something that I would get to later.

I’m starting the project by reading the ones that look the most interesting to me. I’m allowed to read two – three at a time, which will help me to cycle through the ones I don’t like faster. I’ll be applying librarian Nancy Pearl’s Rule of 50 (read here). In essence her rule is after the first fifty pages of a book, only keep reading if you’re interested.

The goal is to only have books that I’ve read and enjoy.

Totally Tethered

Last week, as I was setting up for a meeting, I felt a twinge of annoyance at the reliance we have on cables, cords, and power outlets. Despite the high-tech, wireless option available for projecting in the meeting room, I still had to spend 20 minutes running around looking for the right adaptor and a cable.

Initially I was pleased to see that the meeting room was equipped with a smart board. A smart board can be used as an electronic white board, a projector screen, and more, usually with a wireless connection. I quickly discovered that I didn’t have the right app installed to connect wirelessly. I was disappointed, but knew I could connect with an adaptor and cable.

The smart board would only accept an HDMI cable, which generally isn’t a problem, except the cable wasn’t there. I found instead a large bundle of cables, snaking across the table like a giant boa constrictor into the floor close to the smart board. The bundle ended in a thick coil with several different ports sticking out of it, including a shredded HDMI. However, nothing in this jumbled mass of options was actually connected to the smart board, or it seemed, to anything else in the room. The only port that could be used was an HDMI one that could be felt, but not seen, behind the screen.

After I secured the necessary adaptor and cables, I then had to figure out where to plug in my device so the power wouldn’t run out during the meeting. Even more tripping hazards. Argh.

We have access to so much great and innovative technology including wireless options. So how come I’m always running around looking for cables?

Even when I don’t need cables and adaptors to use a projector, it seems I’m always stumbling over chargers and wires. The one flaw of all these neat gadgets and devices we’re always tethered to a power source. At one point in time I did use a wireless charger for my phone, but it was slow. And I could either use the phone or let it charge. When the phone is plugged in directly I can do both.

No matter how free and mobile we feel with our devices, we’re still reliant on a power source.

Personally Identifiable Information

As a Records and Information Management (RIM) professional, and a librarian, I’ve always been concerned about keeping private information protected. When working in RIM, I’m constantly evaluating the sensitivity of the information I’m managing to ensure proper safeguards are in place. Typically this entails defining different levels of sensitivity (e.g., secret, top-secret, etc.) for the business documents. Once established we then determine who is allowed access to each levels.

I have to confess that managing personally identifiable information (PII) is a completely different story. On the surface, PII seems obvious and assigning a sensitivity level should be straightforward. About 10 years ago, I would have only considered protection for obvious PII such as names, birthdates, gender, address, social insurance/security numbers, government-issued identifiers, etc. However, the way different data points about a person are now used to determine their likes/dislikes or influence how s/he may vote have really broadened the definition of PII.

So much information is collected, known and unknown by users, PII needs to be expanded to incorporate other factors. For example, when I first blogged about big data I learned that people could be “outed” (i.e., identified as LGBTQ) based on their interests and other “non-personal” data points. Data was analyzed to reveal patterns, preferences, and behaviors, all without a specific admission of being one way or another.

Recently Europe’s new General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), which goes into effect on May 25, 2018, has been in the news. Essentially the regulation focuses on protecting personal data, which is defined in Article 4 (1) in the Regulation (EU) 2016/679 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 27 April 2016 as:

“(1) ‘personal data’ means any information relating to an identified or identifiable natural person (‘data subject’); an identifiable natural person is one who can be identified, directly or indirectly, in particular by reference to an identifier such as a name, an identification number, location data, an online identifier or to one or more factors specific to the physical, physiological, genetic, mental, economic, cultural or social identity of that natural person; “*

As technology changes, it’s important to reframe and contextualize our definitions. Now including things like genetics or cultural identities as personal data seems appropriate, especially considering how powerful data analytics have become. It’s easy for companies to create profiles from PII that may not initially appear to be specific, but taken in conjunction with multiple other data points can actually be quite revealing. But in order to protect it, we have to first be able to define it.



*Eur-Lex: Access to European Union Law. “Regulation (EU) 2016/679 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 27 April 2016 on the protection of natural persons with regard to the processing of personal data and on the free movement of such data, and repealing Directive 95/46/EC (General Data Protection Regulation).” European Parliament, 27 April 2016. Web. 21 May 2018.

Virtual Assistant or Virtual Spy

I last wrote about virtual assistants and using voice commands almost two years ago (Google Home). Since then, the quality and options have gotten much better. Now when I verbally dictate a message, the transcription is near perfect. This is likely attributed to a combination of the system getting used to my voice and improvements made to the technology.

Now that I’ve mastered dictating all kinds of things into my phone, the next step would be to invest in a virtual assistant, like Google Home or Alexa. Like most new technological advances, I’m both creeped out and fascinated at the same time. My first reaction was complete aversion to having yet another device hooked up, synced, and monitoring me in my home. We’re always being forced to make decisions between Control and Convenience.

In addition to my specific voice commands, I want to know what else the device will be listening to? How easy will it be for somebody to hack into it and listen to what I’m saying, or send their own commands? When I first heard about virtual assistants, which all require some kind of command (e.g., “OK, Google”) to notify the device that you’re ready to give directions, it never occurred to me that the device would stay on all the time. I assumed it would be the voice command that activated the virtual assistant, but if it wasn’t alert and ready, how would it register the command was given.

In one sense it’s like voluntarily putting a surveillance device in your home. A recent article in The New York Times, titled “Hey, Alexa, What Can You Hear? And What Will You Do with It?”  described some of the other uses being considered when one engages with a virtual assistant. Some of the options discussed included having the device listen for keywords in conversations to tailor advertisements.

I have to confess that once I started thinking about using a virtual assistant, I considered many scenarios when hands-free voice commands could be useful. For example, I like listening to the radio or podcasts while I’m cooking or cleaning in the kitchen. While washing the dishes the other night, I realized I had forgotten to turn on the podcast first. My hands full of suds, I looked longingly at my smartphone wishing I could utter a few words to automatically start the podcast.