Life Changing Moments

On this day in 1988 I had my first bassoon lesson. It was one of those random, flukey things that can happen in one’s life with a lasting impact. Initially I had decided to play the clarinet, not so much because I liked it, but because it’s a versatile instrument. My band director approached me and said how about I try the bassoon instead. With only a vague idea of what a basssoon was, I agreed and took home the Box.

I arrived home that day, opened up the box, stared at the pieces for a few minutes before closing it again. I decided to wait for my lesson later that week.

Very confusing how the parts fit together, especially in the days before Google and YouTube.

By the end of the lesson, I decided that this was the instrument I wanted to play. I still remember how amazing it was to breathe through the instrument and flap my fingers around to make all these cool sounds. I still feel that way, thirty years later. In that first hour I learned how to assemble the instrument, play an F-major scale and E-flat. More than enough notes to do some damage.

Action Shot.


I left the lesson completely enchanted and motivated to practice. In the beginning my practice sessions were short, but frequent. My lips were not used to the hardness of the reeds. But I was diligent and used to practice in short spurts multiple times in a day. I guess it got a little out of control. One of my earliest bassoon memories is of my older brother complaining to my parents that I couldn’t just play whenever I felt like it. I needed restricted practicing hours. At the time I figured it was sibling rivalry and my brother’s failed attempt to thwart my creative genius. For years I was only allowed to play from 3-4 and 7-8.

I have since had a change of heart about that. Some years ago I was subjected to the playing of a new bassoonist, something like a cross between an animal being sawed in half and rusty hinges. I had a new appreciation for my brother’s complaints and a new respect for my parents. Maybe I wasn’t as good as I thought I was when I started…

Playing the bassoon is still one of the greatest joys of my life. I feel lucky that the “right” instrument picked me so many years ago.

The Media Circus

Watching Brett Kavanaugh’s “job interview” last week, I had flashbacks to the 1991 hearings between Anita Hill and Clarence Thomas. I was a teenager at the time, but I remember talking about it in school, discussing it with friends, and watching clips of the hearing together. I definitely wasn’t one of those teenagers that read the newspaper, so I primarily learned about the news from other people.

My experience watching the Kavanaugh-Ford hearing couldn’t have been more different. I was working from home last Thursday and watched the hearings alone on my TV. Every break in the hearing flashed immediately to a panel of analysts discussing a play-by-play account of what was happening, how the outcome was looking, and the reactions of people. If my phone hadn’t been on silent, I’m sure it would have been vibrating and pinging frequently with updates and notifications from news feed, posts, and updates. If I had checked Twitter during the hearing, it would have been updating non-stop with commentary and insights, offering a play-by-play account, even if I hadn’t been watching it live.

By the time the hearing finished, my NY Times app was flooded with headlines of articles, op-ed pieces, analysis, updates, and thousands of comments from readers. Many radio and TV channels were offering distilled summaries. Entire news programs were dedicated to discuss the hearing in minute detail. Two news podcasts I enjoy both had shows dedicated to the hearings.

Every major news story has now become like a 3-ring circus. While the main event is going on, the side rings feature social media feeds or commentaries and analysis. The most striking thing is these things happen simultaneously. There’s no time to digest and reflect on something, or to discuss it with others before the relentless torrent of news and analysis start flooding the media streams, each one with its distinctive spin and interpretation. It’s distracting. And we’re naturally influenced by which news streams we choose to read, watch, or listen to for updates and analysis.

It’s normal to have media streams dedicated to and focused on big stories like the Ford-Kavanaugh hearing. What I increasingly fail to notice in today’s media circus is the pace at which news is delivered, how relentless the updates can be, and how little time we have to process any of it. It feels normal to me now.

The Art of Making Space

Do you ever get an urge to purge? That overcrowded email inbox could use some attention. Or maybe you want to organize your thousands of digital photos and videos, or at least locate them all. Some are on your phone, some on your computer, and others tucked away in social media feeds on Instagram and Facebook. Or perhaps you just want to work on the clutter covering the surfaces in your home. How does all this stuff accumulate anyway?

Armed with good intentions, and the motivation to finally get this stuff done, you start the process. Only a few minutes in you realize the clean-up project is actually a lot bigger than you thought. And a lot more complicated. If this sounds like the kind of thing you struggle with, you’re not alone. My new book, The Art of Making Space: Choosing Quality Over Quantity, is designed to help you through these challenges.

When people think of getting rid of things, it’s often associated with destruction or purging, and maybe a touch of frustration. However, the other side of that process is the art of making space. The beautiful part about making space is you get to fill it with whatever you like. The possibilities are infinite. This idea applies to tangible and intangible things. Ever been friends with an energy vampire, somebody that leaves you feeling drained and tired? Ditch the vamp and make space for someone who recharges your energy instead.

Last April I had a baby book launch for the print version of my book. In alignment with my book, I made space for all the wonderful people who supported me and continue to support me. I’d like to thank the many friends who ran in to buy the book during the event, gave me hugs and some encouraging words, even though I got the time wrong. erp.

For a limited time, you can download a free chapter of The Art of Making Space: Choosing Quality Over Quantity, when you sign up for weekly postings of The Deletist. The sign-up form is to the right. Note: if the screen goes white during the download, refresh your browser. 

Save the date for the official book launch: October 25

If you’re interested in attending the book launch, or any other future workshops on decluttering, sign up here and select GTA Decluttering Events / Workshops.



Controlling Global Language

With all this disinformation and misinformation flying around the internet at viral speeds, controlling it is a daunting task. Equally as daunting as trying to discern the good quality information from all the fabricated and sensationalized stories.

Everything good about the internet, when pushed to one extreme or the other, becomes something entirely different. For example, Facebook was designed to allow people to connect with each other. The default in Facebook was to share with friends and friends of friends, etc. and become “friends” with all of them. On the surface it seems like a great way for people to form new bonds and connect to others with similar interests. Although many people had problems with this, myself included, the full extent of why this default was so problematic wasn’t realized by many until their data was scrubbed by Cambridge Analytics. Remember them, the company that paid some people to take a survey and then quietly accessed all their friends’ information?

I’ve been reading articles lately about regulating the large social media and tech companies with a great deal of interest. One of the main issues has always been that the social media platform is the host (e.g., Facebook, Twitter, etc.), but that doesn’t necessarily make them responsible for controlling the content and determining what people can and can’t post.

Since I’ve lived in North America all my life, for me the big question is where does freedom of speech end and censorship begin. And who’s in charge of creating the rules and then policing them? Is it a good idea for dominant social media and/or tech companies with a global reach to be in charge of this?

If somebody unknowingly spreads (e.g., retweets, posts, forwards, etc.) disinformation (i.e., false information that was intentionally posted), does that make him/her guilty of misinformation or disinformation? How could this be verified or proven? What’s the difference between fake news and beliefs that we hold dear to us, even if they can’t be “scientifically” proven?

To complicate this issue, all of the social media and tech companies are used around the globe. Facebook now has around 2 billion users, more than any one country. How could they ever regulate so much content in so many different jurisdictions in so many different languages around the globe? And should this be up to the companies to do this?

Disinformation Misinformation

These days I’m constantly bombarded with headlines about disinformation and misinformation. The words, seemingly used interchangeably, create yet another layer of confusion in trying to figure out what, and who, to trust on the internet.

I had an idea about how the two terms differed in meaning, but I wanted confirmation. Naturally I consulted the dictionary first. Confirming the definition and meaning of your terms is always a good start, even if you think you already know what they mean. Then I read another favorite resource, Quick and Dirty Tips, by Mignon Fogarty, Grammar Girl. This amazing website is full of short, targeted grammar tips.

Essentially the difference between the two terms is intent. Misinformation is incorrect information that is unknowingly, or mistakenly, spread. For example, people who retweet or forward articles containing inaccurate information. Whereas disinformation is intentionally spreading false information. According to my research, it is derived from a Russian word, dezinformatsiya.

For those of us who are just trying to figure out what’s going on in the world, it can be challenging to discern the difference between real news and fake news. Between advertisements and articles that are misinformation, disinformation, or simply propaganda. In early September, the New York Times posted an interactive article entitled “Can You Spot the Deceptive Facebook Page?” to educate people on how to detect the differences, including four examples to test your skills.

I managed to correctly identity the fakes, but I found it challenging because they are so well done. Some of the tips offered to spot fake ads included things like noticing spelling or grammar mistakes, but honestly, who doesn’t post something with a typo once in a while?

I also think having the two samples placed side-by-side made it easier to tell which one was real and which one was fake. In a real world context, if one of the fake ads appeared in your social media feed alongside everything else, it could be even more difficult to tell it wasn’t genuine. To further complicate matters, sometimes the fake campaigns on Facebook are populated with content by real people from real groups.

It’s also easy for disinformation to go “viral”, making it complicated to validate if it’s real or not. My advice, rely on a trusted source and observe the details. Check out this guide on Evaluating Information for more tips on how to spot disinformation.


Organizing Phone Apps for Productivity

September is a month of transition. We kiss good-bye to the long, lazy days of summer. As we return to work, or school, refreshed from vacations, the pace speeds up in an endless quest to get things done and feel productive. With so much going on, coupled with days getting shorter and more inclement weather, time counts more than ever.

I think we’re probably all guilty of wasting time with distracting things on our phones, but organizing your phone apps is a quick way to recoup some of that lost time. Make it easy to find and access the apps you rely on most. You might only be saving a few seconds, but considering that many of us touch our phones hundreds of times a day, those few seconds can really add up.

Here are some easy, quick steps to make your phone apps work for you.

  1. Put your most heavily used apps in a place where they are always visible and accessible. On my android phone, my top apps remain as static shortcuts at the bottom of every screen. I’m sure iPhones have something similar.
  2. Declutter your apps by removing shortcuts, or uninstalling them. A lot of smartphones or devices come pre-loaded with shortcuts on your screens. If they’re useless to you, remove them.
    1. On my android phone, I press the app for a few seconds until options appear to remove the shortcut, or uninstall the app.
    2. On my iPad, I press one app for a few seconds. All the apps start to wiggle and a small “x” appears in the upper left hand corner. Click on the “x” to remove the shortcut. I imagine this is similar on an iPhone.
  3. Group similar apps together. Press one app for a few seconds. Then drag and drop it on top of another app to group them. For example, I have separate groups for transit, messaging, and document management apps. This may help you locate apps quickly and reduce clutter. Or place apps close to each other. All my “math-related” apps are close to each other: calculator, unit converter, and currency exchange. See image below.
  4. Review your apps every September to see if you still use them. Then do #2.

If you accidentally remove a shortcut causing the app to disappear from your screen, you can easily restore it by going to your apps folder.

For more instructions, watch some YouTube videos.

My most heavily used apps (calendar, internet, gmail, and messages) remain static on every screen. Some apps are grouped together for easy retrieval. I arrange my apps around the borders to get a better view of my wallpaper.