The Human Touch: Learning

This past weekend I made a pizza completely from scratch. Usually I buy the dough pre-made. I’ve been trying different techniques with the pre-made dough for years. Some of the things I’ve adjusted are the length of time to let the dough rise. How I pull and stretch it into the right shape. The pan I use to cook it in, etc. I’m always amazed how so much of pizza making is all in the technique. The dough is simple, but all the details matter.

Homemade Sourdough Pizza margherita

My usual dough supplier stopped making pizza dough leaving me in a lurch. It was time to finally figure out how to make sourdough pizza. I located an old bag of pizza flour in the back of my cupboard that I bought years ago for this reason. I prepped my starter and got ready.

During the pandemic I kept reading about all these procrastibakers. Or people who even started baking so much they ended up opening their own businesses! I suppose with the pandemic, people were home enough to commit to making dough, which requires small amounts of work over a period of days.

I looked up a recipe that didn’t seem too intimidating. As mentioned earlier, it’s not really the recipe that counts. Anybody can get the right ratios of flour, water, starter, and salt. It’s the instructions on technique and details that matter.

Usually I improvise recipes a little, even when making them for the first time. However, this time, I stuck to the script, at least in the beginning. I pulled and stretched my dough at the required intervals. But my dough never seemed to look or react the same way as the one in the recipe. I even watched the video and read some comments to troubleshoot. This also happens when I try to make bread.

Honestly, it’s the kind of thing that could likely be resolved after one conversation with a professional, or an experienced procrastibaker. But searching aimlessly on the internet to figure out why my dough didn’t look or stretch the same, left me short on answers.

Another turning point came when I cooked up the pizza. I strayed from the recipe and took out my dough hours earlier than instructed. Despite my dough difficulties, the pizza came out delicious. I’m tempted to take an in-person course to figure out the small details and gained wisdom.

A New Direction for Search

As online content proliferates, searching for something becomes harder, yet easier at the same time. The hard part is figuring out what exactly you’re looking for and the best place to look for it. The easy part is typing in the words to find it. For example, I’ve been reading articles about how popular Tik Tok is becoming as a top site for searching. People search it for everything from restaurant reviews to fashion tips and recipes. I even read some people use it for more professional searches such as how to write a cover letter or a resume.

It seems that more people are going to a specific site to search rather than using a broader search engine, such as Google. For example, if I wanted to find a tutorial video on how to do something, I would probably go straight to YouTube rather than searching on Google or DuckDuckGo. Although search engines typically separate results by content type such as news, images, videos, etc. sometimes it’s easier to go straight to the source. Or the perceived source. The danger is the results could be restrictively narrow, biased, or poor quality. Mainstream search engines, however, may not be much better. Secret algorithms rank results, but at least it’s providing options from different resources.

In the early days of internet searching, to be good at it required knowing a whole bunch of commands. Using “” meant a keeping words together as a phrase in the search results. Using the “+” meant combining words together. What I’ve noticed in the past decade is that most search engines will combine search terms with an “and” by default. This limits search results, though the searcher may not realize that about this default feature. All of the terms must appear in the result for it to appear. Whereas using the word “or” in a search broadens the results. Using “or” means the results can contain any of the search terms, but not all of them.

Now, search is great at interpreting natural language. Some search engines will even correct spellings, or assumed mistakes and offer results based on the correction. For example, searching for “aple” will pull up results for “apple.” From that point, the results are a little less successful because without more details it’s impossible to know if the term meant the fruit, the technology company, or something else.


The past two weekends I attended events sponsored by the local public library. The events were live and in person. Both felt novel and yet, a reminder of how things used to be at the same time. On some level it feels strange to have so many activities available after two years of lockdowns. It also feels strange to navigate social situations, especially ones with lots of people.

One of my favorite things about the public library is its diversity. The library has something for everyone. After all the lockdowns I have a new appreciation for both the variety in library collections and in the patronage. Libraries attract all kinds of people and manage to serve them all in some way or another. Attending these events the past two weekends evidenced that.

I’m always impressed by the adaptations made by public libraries to remain a relevant and viable part of the communities they serve. It’s funny to me that the iconic symbol of a library is books, yet they only represent a fraction of the collections, services, and programs offered by public libraries. In recent years I’ve noticed articles on new and innovative designs to make public libraries attractive and welcoming communal spots.

In my local district they recently removed late fees for the first 30 days. For a certain part of the community late fees represented a barrier to borrow books. I read about libraries in another district acquiring portable hotspots to loan to people who don’t have internet connectivity. Some libraries now carry naloxone in case of an overdose emergency. It never ceases to amaze me how welcoming and prepared libraries are to serve all their patrons.

Another thing I love is how a good public library always makes me feel like I belong to the community. I hope other patrons feel that way, too!

There’s an App for Everything!

About 10 years ago I wrote a post “There’s an App for that.” Back then it seemed that no matter what I wondered about or pondered, there was an app for it. Or the promise of one coming. Whether I needed to monitor my sleep habits, automatically count calories or know if I was stressed out, an app was available.

Flash forward 10 years, now it seems there really is an app for everything. The other week I received a promotional for a free pilates class. However, I wasn’t able to register for my first, promotional class without first downloading the app and then registering. This required me to create another login and password. I found this a little bit annoying and tedious. Before I commit to creating a login and downloading a customized app I like to know if I’m going to use the service more than once. I feel this is a minimal requirement.

Last week I went to the local hospital for an ultrasound. A day or two before the appointment I received an automated text message to remind me. The text also included instructions for, you guessed it, downloading a special hospital app to check in for my appointment. I think I can also check results on the app, too. Since it’s rare for me to visit the hospital for any kind of procedure, fortunately, I didn’t download the special app.

However, when I arrived at the hospital, I was surprised at the manual effort required to register. The admin took my healthcard. Then she used a pen to handwrite my information on a piece of paper I took with me to the appointment! It’s as if processes have no middle ground anymore. As though all process inefficiencies halted to jump ahead with a slick app. This means the options are sleek, streamlined app OR clunky, manual, repetitive, and inefficient process.

I took the paper from the admin and went to the waiting room. The whole time wondering would an app have improved the experience? Would I still have received a piece of paper with my name handwritten on it?

Though I don’t have the answers to these questions, I’m sure there’s an app for that.

Making the Most of the Hybrid Workplace

There have been new developments since my previous post on the hybrid workplace in December 2021. Back then, we had only started our two-day a week pilot. Little did I know that right after that post went live, another lockdown descended. We stayed in full remote work mode for another three months and restarted the pilot at the end of March. Coincidentally, I got Covid a week or two into the pilot. I ended up working remote for at least another month until the “covid cough” subsided.

Since starting the pilot in earnest around May it’s been an interesting experience. I try to make the most of my “in-person” days by booking meetings with others also in the office. We sit distanced, but we’re mostly in the same room. The mask requirement is lifted, although I still wear mine in public areas.

For one recurring weekly meeting, I booked a room for anybody working onsite last week. One person showed up. It was my first time meeting him in person since the project started in August 2021. Everybody else was remote. They were projected on a large screen. However, nobody else turned on their cameras. All we could see the entire meeting was a row of colored circles with people’s initials.

As we start to embrace the hybrid environment more, I wonder if people will become more strict about when it’s appropriate to be on camera. I certainly wouldn’t want to be on camera for every meeting. However, is that really so different from being in-person for every meeting? On the one side, being on camera can be exhausting. It’s hard to read body language and keep a good angle, especially when I’m working between multiple screens. And of course there are the occasions when I might get something to drink while the meeting is happening. On the other side, it can also feel exhausting to talk or present with almost no interaction.

I must confess that I get a little frustrated sometimes by the row of muted circles and lack of response. This is especially irksome when I’m presenting. Sometimes I don’t even get a digital response such as a thumbs up or clapping.

As we move forward with the new environment, I suppose we’ll strike the right balance of on camera, on site, and online time.

Tiny Pause

In 2009 Toronto started charging five cents for plastic bags at retail stores. The reduction in plastic bags was significant, exceeding the prediction. I learned this while collaborating with the Toronto Environmental Alliance (TEA) to implement a number of “green” initiatives at the condo tower I lived in.

The TEA representative explained by forcing people to take an extra step, i.e., pay five cents per bag, required people to think about what they were doing. It forced them to take a tiny little pause. Ultimately, this had a big impact. She mentioned this strategy as something we could use in the building. Or even how this strategy could be used to eliminate single-use plastics. For example, if somebody had to ask for a straw instead of including it automatically. Or if people had to request plasticware for take-out and delivery orders. Requiring people to take this little extra step could result in reductions, similar to the plastic bags.

I love this idea of changing something small, but big enough that it makes people think. And even more importantly, change their behavior in a positive way. I’m always looking for ways to implement this strategy at work and in my personal life.

Last week I finally had my car repaired from the fender bender. They also repaired a chip in the windshield. The chip was a new claim. When I arrived at the autobody shop, the admin had a blank paper form ready on her desk. I watched as she kept leafing back and forth between multiple pages in my (paper) claim file to fill it out! The information on the claim form was very basic. It included things like name, address, make/model of the vehicle, insurer, policy number, etc. In my mind, it was all the information that should have been kept in one central location. Even better, if she could have auto-populated the form based on my electronic file. Or at the very least printed out a label with the details. But no, she hand wrote everything.

Watching this process, I felt challenged to come up with a tiny pause for this diligent worker, so habituated to her routine. For me, using the paper form would be a tiny pause. However, maybe in this scenario, the tiny pause would be to eliminate paper forms. Or place them somewhere inconvenient to make the electronic option seem more appealing.