Common Courtesy

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In a world of deteriorating civilities, I’ve found it oddly comforting that people seem to share a common courtesy when it comes to taking pictures in public.  Ever walked down the street and slowed down, or stopped, to allow someone else to take a picture?  Ever changed the path you’re walking on because someone was trying to take a picture?

I certainly have, even for people posing with selfie sticks.

Part of me is cautious out of fear.  I’m always nervous about accidentally photo bombing someone and ending up on his/her instagram feed with an unflattering caption.  The other part of me feels more empathetic.  I know what it’s like to want to capture an important moment instantly, or to take a picture of that special someone with just the right setting in the background.  It’s fun!  And easy, and convenient.  And we all do it. Perhaps this is why I see so many people willing to extend these small courtesies to each other when it comes to taking pictures.

Ever since I started carrying a smartphone, and therefore a camera 24/7, I’ve become more aware of how I take pictures in public.  It is this heightened awareness that has impacted my willingness to accommodate people taking pictures in public.  At times I have changed my path, or stopped moving for a few seconds, to allow someone to finish with the camera.  This is also influenced by the number of times strangers have reciprocated this courtesy to me.

Last year while vacationing in NYC over the holidays, I was surprised at how easy it was to take pictures.  Even in crowded areas like Central Park, people stopped moving for a few seconds, or altered their path, just so I could finish with my camera.  I naturally found myself doing the same thing for others.

It is curious that people can’t seem to take the time to write anything with proper grammar and punctuation, but they’re willing to stop moving, or go the long way, so a stranger can take a picture.  It’s something I’ve observed for several years.  I would’ve thought with so many people snapping pictures constantly in public that we would become immune and stop noticing, or accommodating this behavior, but that’s not what has happened.  Instead we’ve collectively become more aware and modified our actions to be nice to each other in this one area.


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My family and I make a point of getting together, or supporting each other, on my father’s deathday.  Somehow we decided organically to acknowledge the day he died, instead of his birthday.  We didn’t plan it this way, it just kind of happened.  Similarly, my friend and I have a long standing tradition of going out for steaks on her brother’s deathday.  Her brother was one of my greatest friends when I lived in Vancouver. (Read more here.)  Interestingly enough, both my father and my friend died within a couple weeks of their respective birthdays.

Initially, it seemed strange to me to be experiencing anything remotely joyful on the deathday.  But then again, it also felt weird to acknowledge the birthday.  He wasn’t around anymore, what was I celebrating?  The birthday was a painful reminder of what I was missing.

In the first few years following my father’s death, the deathday served as a new calendar for me to mark the passing of days and events.  Life before…and after.  Each occasion in those first couple of years served as some kind of milestone, or a reminder that I could get through another day, another event, another anything.  One month without my father, my first day of school without my father, my first holiday without my father, even my first birthday.  I was definitely in a fog the first year.  Even on today’s date, June 19, I still sometimes experience a haunting flashback of the last time I ever heard my father speak, over a decade ago.

Grieving is a process.  As time moves on, I’m often surprised at the intensity with which I can still experience the grief, the sadness, and the heartbreak, all in an instant.  Fortunately those instants have become less frequent with each passing year.  And in between I often recall lots of pleasant memories.

Birth and death.  Two things we must all experience.  I now take comfort in commemorating the deathday of my loved ones.  It’s given me a way to honor and value the life they lived.  It feels fitting to celebrate the day my loved ones left, rather than the day they were born.

Pictures below are from one of our “deathday” trips to Alaska in 2007, a place my father loved.

View in Denali National Park, commemorating the deathday in June 2007.


A rare treat to see Denali. Normally it’s enshrouded in mist and clouds.


YouTube The New Age Learning Centre

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YouTube is a platform where people can share videos with each other.  The content varies dramatically from how-to videos to advertisements to entertainment, and everything in between.  And it’s all free, at least for now.

Over the years I’ve found YouTube to be invaluable for figuring out how to do something on my own.  This is especially true when I have to do something with technology, such as install something on my blog/website or do something new on my phone, etc.  I’m not a techie by nature, so having a video demonstration I can watch repeatedly while performing the actions on my device (e.g. smartphone) is key.  It gives me the confidence to try something new outside of my comfort zone, though it is critical to watch a video by somebody who knows what s/he is doing.

I’ve also found videos useful for learning how to assemble or fix something.  The other day I even felt brave enough to fix a rear flat tire on my friend’s bike.  I had just taken a basic bike maintenance course where I watched a flat being fixed.  But I also knew if we got stuck, we could watch a couple of YouTube videos.  My friend, however, decided to take his chances with the bike shop before I could make an attempt.

I frequently use YouTube when I need to learn a new piece of music for my orchestra.  I enjoy being able to watch and hear the performers, especially when we’re doing an opera.  Even though I’m usually too far back on the stage to see a lot of the action, it’s useful for me to see and hear how my parts fit in with the singers, the action, and the other musicians.

Last summer I attempted to teach myself harmonica with YouTube.  After several frustrating weeks, and many, many videos on how to “bend” notes, I eventually paid for a lesson with a professional.  By the end of the lesson I was squeaking out some baby bends.  But this summer, armed with my new bending technique, I’ve decided to continue the self-study by “jamming” to YouTube videos.  I’m a classically trained musician, but my more hip musician friends tell me that I can practice improvising with YouTube videos, the go-to source for learning, and seemingly everything else.

What do you like to watch on YouTube?  Please comment below.

Selecting an App

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Every time I find myself spending too much time, or taking too many steps, to accomplish one thing, I think to myself, “there must be an app for that.”  And then I pick one that looks good.  Too often I’m seduced by the miracles promised, only to be sorely disappointed later with another useless app hogging up data and containing my information, some of which may be personal or sensitive.  

I’ve learned a few things over the years and refined my approach, as described below.

    1. I identify my needs.
    2. Then I search to see which apps match my requirements.
    3. After narrowing down the options, I read reviews and check ratings.
    4. Then I try it out.

For example, I’d been using Trello, a task management system, to manage my grocery lists.  It wasn’t ideal, but I made it work.  However, I couldn’t get Trello to alphabetize, or categorize, the items automatically.  It was time consuming to alphabetize my lists manually.  I shopped around for a new app with alphabetizing and categorizing my list (e.g. produce, dairy, meats, etc.) as a top requirement.  Now I’m using Out of Milk.

Here are some things to think about when selecting an app:

  1. What do you want the app to do? Will it be able to accomplish this?
  2. How much time and effort is involved to set up the app?
  3. Does the app and/or the company have a good reputation? Has it been around a long time? What are the risks of the company failing, or getting bought out, and then not supporting the app in the future?
  4. What kind of security does the app have?  How will private and personal information be protected?
  5. What are the deletion policies? Will you be able to leave the app and remove your information? (Check
  6. What features are free and which ones cost money?
  7. Where will the data be stored (e.g.the US, Canada, another country)?  Will the app sell or give away my information to a 3rd-party?

Unfortunately, the answer to many of these questions will be buried in lengthy service agreements in language that is challenging to understand.  Additionally, many apps will also require access to data stored on your device (e.g. contact lists, photo galleries, etc.).  Read more here.  And here’s a useful website called “Terms of Service: Didn’t Read.

Apps are an investment.  I recommend learning about an app before installing it.

Silly Scraps: The Digital Edition

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Last week one of my readers posted an insightful comment, reminding me of some terrific technology solutions for dealing with silly scraps of paper.

The first option is to avoid getting the paper by receiving things electronically instead.  Many companies now have the option to email receipts.  Or if you have an account, it’s likely all of the invoices and orders would be accessible online through your profile.  I use both of these options whenever possible.

Apps can also be a wonderful way to deal with little scraps of paper, especially if you are a small business owner who is on-the-go all the time and needs to retain all those tiny receipts.  Prior to investing time, money, and energy into setting up an app, it’s important to understand what your requirements are.  Many apps will allow you to scan, or photograph, a receipt right to your smartphone for instant processing.  Some of them are even quite good at automatically transferring information (e.g. amount paid, date, vendor name, etc.) from the receipt to a tracking system.

If you decide to go for an option to scan, or photograph, receipts (and other scraps of paper), here are some tips.

  1. Make sure the scanned image, or photograph, can be searched.  Typically this means the paper has been scanned with OCR [optical character recognition].  This will allow the text on the scan to be searched.
  2. If you need to have the receipts available for your taxes, check the IRS, or CRA, requirements about accepting scanned reproductions in place of a paper original.  In Canada, the CRA will accept the scans, but require the electronic reproductions to be made according to certain procedures.  Read about it here.
    1. Ensure the scans/photos will be useful for your accountant, or bookkeeper, if you use one.

In the end, regardless if you prefer to maintain your silly scraps in a paper or electronic format, they will still need to be managed.  For electronic documents, this means having a way to search content, naming them appropriately, and storing them in a place that is secure.  And similar to my set up with paper documents, I prepare my electronic spaces too.  For example, I have a folder in each email account where I store receipts until I’m ready to process them.  Another trick is to set up rules in email to automatically sort them.

Silly Scraps of Paper

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I’ve been trying hard to become more electronic in my daily interactions and transactions, but at the end of the day I still seem to have loads of paper in my pockets and wallet.  I’ve tried to set up some experiments to analyze what I actually collect on a daily basis, but I found it too annoying.  I usually end up throwing out, or filing, the scraps long before I do any analysis.

Accumulation of paper receipts.

As a small business owner, I must now dutifully collect and manage most paper receipts for my taxes.  I know from experience that if I don’t make something easy for myself, the chances of it getting done are pretty slim, especially if the task is tedious.  Over the last 4 years I’ve refined my process for dealing with paper (and electronic) receipts.  My system is not fancy, but it’s fast and easy, increasing the chances of me actually doing it.

After years of keeping a pen in my mailbox to instantly label mail “return to sender”, I decided to replicate this practice (rule 3 below).  Here are 3 quick and easy rules I created.

  1. I dedicate places to collect and store paper receipts when I’m on the go.  Typically I designate the inside pocket of whatever jacket or purse I have with me, or a special spot in my wallet.  I have multiple spots so I always have an option regardless of what I’m wearing or doing.  This is especially useful when I’m traveling.
  2. I dedicate places in my home to store the paper receipts.  Again, I have multiple spots to ensure I always have a quick access spot to dump my collected receipts.  I have one bowl near the front door, a common spot to unload my wallet.  I have another box in my office, which is the “official” holding spot for the receipts until they get entered as expenses.
  3. I prepare the dedicated places with the tools I need (e.g. pen, stapler, labels, envelopes, post-it notes, etc.).  For example, I like to staple the original receipt to the credit card slip.  Then I use a pen to write the amount and a short description directly onto the receipt, in case the receipt ink fades.  Each box contains a stapler and a pen because this makes it easy for me to prepare receipts instantly.

This process saves me hours of time in searching each year.