Information Filtering

With so much information available on the internet, it would be onerous to find anything if we didn’t have a little help from filtering and customization.

Every time you search for something, everything is essentially available. Think of how many results Google returns in a fraction of a second. However, what appears at the top has likely been filtered by the search engine to guess at what you will find most interesting. The filtering is based on any number of factors including, but not limited to: previous searches, tracking websites and advertisements you click, IP addresses, keywords found in your electronic communications (e.g., email), operating system (Apple vs. Android vs. Windows) and location, to name a few. It’s designed to filter items to the front that you will like the best.

The danger with too much filtering, and customization, is that you may never be exposed to contrarian points of view. You may never discover new things that you might find interesting. I’m hooked on reading news with my NYTimes app. Although I sometimes wonder if I’m only offered headlines of stories that the app guesses I will be interested in based on behind-the-scene algorithms and tracking. 

One of the things I used to enjoy about paper newspapers was browsing through the sections and reading whatever grabbed my attention. In my younger days I would have immediately tossed aside the Sports and Business sections unless a headline enticed me. Consequently, I’ve developed a real interest in some aspects of sports and business.

The old school version of filtering can still be experienced in a library, except a library is a “filter out” instead of a “filter it front.” Every item in a library has been vetted and assessed by a professional for inclusion in the collection. What you see is what’s available. Libraries have always been, and still remain, a place to share and exchange ideas, or to be challenged by new ones. In library school I learned that in a good library everybody should be offended by at least one thing in the collection. This demonstrates that the library offers a wide range of materials to suite a diverse range of needs.

It’s healthy to be informed of different perspectives and try to understand them. This helps us to develop as people and learn how to be compassionate towards one another.

Digital Bookmakers

I recently started the process for getting an e-version of my new book, The Art of Making Space: Choosing Quality Over Quantity. I’m self-published and the entire process has been peppered with a lot of lessons learned. The biggest one was probably that the e-version is a lot more complicated than it seems.

Initially I thought the e-version would be as easy as uploading the digital file for my book. Nope. It’s actually more complex than that. When I started researching it, I discovered that the e-version has to be carefully coded on the backend to make it work on the various devices and operating systems available. An ebook won’t sell well if it can only be read on one type of device or e-reader application. It has to be readable on everything, comparable to the ease with which anyone can pick up a paper book and start reading it.

The e-version must be flexible and adaptable to change sizes. People often like to zoom in/out on images and tables. Or increase the text size. Paper books don’t do this.

Since my coding skills are rudimentary, at best, I hired a company to do the heavy lifting. While filling out the paperwork, I noted that the owner referred to her staff as “bookmakers.” Bookmakers? I remember thinking. Is that what they were? After some thought I realized that yes, they are digital bookmakers. The print version looks amazing, but I’ve already had to accept there will be some differences with the e-version. And yes, I need a professional digital bookmaker to handle the adjustments and formatting.

One surprising thing I learned is that digital books don’t really have back covers. When looking at paper books, I think most people look at the cover first (yes, we do judge books by their covers!), then flip it over to read the back. If it’s hardcover, people may also read the inside flaps. But with ebooks, there is no way to “flip” it. Therefore the promotional bits must be delivered in other ways, such as embedded in the book as a description, or on a page near the beginning.

Yup, more lessons learned. Despite all the setbacks, I’m thrilled that the digital bookmaking process is a fairly short one, about two weeks.

E-version coming soon to your favorite device!



Artificial Human Intelligence

Last weekend my neighborhood was in a state of jubilant chaos to celebrate Pride. Friday evening I hopped into a cab to take what is normally a 15 minute ride to my friend’s place. She literally lives down the street from me. OK, it’s two miles (about 3.5 km) away, but it’s off the same street. The ride took over 45 minutes, longer than it would have taken me to walk. If I hadn’t had so much to carry, I definitely would have.

The main problem was that the cab driver relied on his smartphone to direct him. However, the map app he was using didn’t take the Pride festivities into consideration. Consequently, none of the major street closures related to the events were showing up. Even worse, the map app couldn’t readjust itself to the new route we were taking and kept bleating out useless commands to get us back on the original path. It was maddening. I hate “When Smartphones Make Us Dumb.”

I rarely drive in the city and it didn’t occur to me to check. But honestly, I expected better from the driver. And I expected him to use a better map app to get around. It’s fortunate I used Uber so the price was set for the loooong ride.

We’re so overly reliant on technology to do the thinking for us, that we fail to use even common sense sometimes to make things easier for ourselves. Last weekend’s driving fiasco is a classic example. Our public transit system is so deficient, that I always check the transit website if I need to use it on weekends. I also follow their Twitter account for updates. Point is, I don’t rely on Google maps to give me a complete picture. There’s an element of human intelligence required to get around the city. To think fast and readjust.

It’s common to hear about and interact with new technologies in our daily lives such as artificial intelligence, smart appliances, and digital assistants (e.g., Alexa, Google Home, etc.). They’re becoming so integrated with everything that it’s easy to overlook the fact that they were created by human intelligence. It’s not magic.

My father was fond of saying that the only thing you ever really own is what’s inside your brain.

Today’s advice, disconnect to connect. Turn your device off. Exercise your brain by learning something new, like getting around without Google maps.


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 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.